Film Review: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
"He has the power to wipe out the entire human race and if we believe there is even a one percent chance that he is our enemy, we have to take it as an absolute certainty."
- Bruce Wayne
I'm going to do my best to avoid any big spoilers in this review though I'm sure a little will slip through.
I've a tough time deciding how I felt about Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (henceforth referred to as BvS). I think the thing that keeps coming to mind is I don't think Zack Snyder really gets the appeal of Superman. In the comic books Superman is clearly a force for good. Despite his vast powers you get the feeling that most people trust him. Christopher Reeve's portrayal Superman in the 1970s and 1980s deserves a large amount of credit for that. He is a man of the people.
Henry Cavill's Superman is not a man of the people. You sense he'd like to be but he is always a god above them. I keep coming back to the way that the Christopher Reeve Superman vs. the Henry Cavill's Superman fly. Reeve's Superman does this little "up, up, and away" maneuver while Cavill's Superman levitates, willing himself into the air.
It also seems the world of Man of Steel and BvS is rather brutal and seems out to get Superman In the first film, General Zod tracks Kal-El to Earth and unleashes destruction. A lot of people blame Superman for this, a major plot thread in BvS. Anything Superman does gets second guessed.
To be fair, this is probably realistic. Watchmen gives a pretty good view at the sort of impact a single superhuman could have on the world. And I think this is where Snyder's strength really is. The optimism that is your typical Superman story is an unacceptable break from reality.
I've talked a lot about tone and I think that's because I found it an overall oppressive movie. Superman gets absolutely no joy from what he does - not even a sense of satisfaction in knowing he made the world a better place.
Beyond the tone this film was pretty dependent on cast. Like I said, Cavill's Superman is a distant god who longs to be loved and be one of the people. I'm not faulting Cavill for this portrayal, it is clearly a deliberate choice and he does it well. This Superman is not a bad man but he is also not a trusted man.
Amy Adams' Lois Lane is in a relationship with Clark Kent/Superman. In many ways she seems to function like Laurie Juspeczyk and provide Superman with some connection to humanity. This becomes something exploitable as it becomes clear that Superman will allow no harm to befall Lois Lane.
Ben Affleck's Batman was well done. His origin is given in very broad strokes. He is a brutal Batman and far more physical than most of the previous ones. He is also a clever Batman, one who has been at it for many, many years. He is not a well man. The death of his parents clearly wounded him and witnessing the Kryptonian assault on Metropolis first hand in a flashback to the first film damaged him even more. This Batman has gotten brutal to the point of branding criminals with a bat. Jeremy Irons' Alfred functions more as a sort of mission control than a butler. He does continue the trademark Alfred wit.
Gail Gadot's Wonder Woman wasn't as well realized as Batman and Superman, though one gets the sense that this was intentional so as to give her a full debut in her own movie. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed her scenes and she seemed the only hero in the film to show any happiness - mind you it was happiness at the thought of taking on a super-monster, but given how grim the film was, I'll take it.
Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor seems to have been controversial. He's a technical genius, albeit one who is rather socially awkward. As the trailers have indicated, he plays a large part in setting up a battle between Batman and Superman. I liked this portrayal. My favorite incarnation of Lex Luthor is probably Michael Rosenbaum's in Smallville, but I liked this one.
Given the whole point of the film was to set up a fight between Batman and Superman, did it do that successfully? I think so, but it could have done it better. Clark Kent is horrified at what the Batman of Gotham does, but this contrast would have been better realized if Superman was allowed a bit of idealism. Batman's animosity to Superman is understandable. An early scene in the film shows Bruce Wayne coming to the aid of girl who has lost her mother - and Bruce Wayne is one who can empathize with orphans. Also, without giving anything beyond what the trailers reveal, Luthor himself is helping nudge him (and events) in that direction.
The film also gave us brief glimpses of the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg - just enough to acknowledge their existence and make us curious.
Like I said, the overall tone of the film is oppressive with large aspects of it (including dialogue) taken straight from The Dark Knight Returns. Despite that the film manages to end on an overall hopeful note, something that truly surprised me.
Overall I'd say I enjoyed it but it wasn't a film without flaws.
Oh, one random note. One part of the story featured some product placement of my employer's (EMC's) Isilion Network Attached Storage. As I saw this as a group outing with my group at EMC, we got a chuckle out of this, though we were disappointed when we saw it wasn't our own product (VPLEX) featured. Though we did laugh when it became clear that Bruce Wayne was going to crack into the data it accessed.