Sunday, 27 March 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - Is It Really That Bad? [Review]

[This review contains spoilers for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.]
Zack Snyder's DC Comics sequel Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has finally seen release this weekend after many years in production, only to find itself on the receiving end of some truly scathing reviews. This wasn't something I found particularly surprising; having suspected that the film would suffer similar flaws to its predecessor Man of Steel, I released a public service announcement over a month ago warning people not to raise their expectations too high. Needless to say that video was just a drop in the ocean of Batman v Superman coverage and so did little to prevent the heartbreak many DC fans felt this weekend. Many, but not all.
Indeed, some fans have left screenings of Dawn of Justice singing the film's praises which ended up leading me to purchase tickets for opening night, as I look for a place to stand on one of the most divisive blockbuster films since... well, Man of Steel I suppose. So the question is, is Batman v Superman really that bad? I would say no. While undoubtedly deeply flawed, Zack Snyder's two and a half hour epic isn't unwatchable -- whether or not that's a compliment is debatable, but frankly it's more than I expected.
The biggest problem with this movie is the same one present in every Zack Snyder production, and that's a bad case of style over substance. Snyder can undoubtedly create some visually arresting action sequences, but he struggles to understand the humanity in these conflicts. Something I couldn't help but notice was that many of the scenes in this movie failed to make me feel something -- anything in fact.
Whether I was watching Amy Adams'  Lois Lane be held at gunpoint, seeing a young Bruce Wayne struggle to come to terms with his parents death, or even witnessing the brutal "death" of Superman (one of the world's most beloved super-heroes, need I remind you), my general feeling throughout this film's runtime was one of indifference. I didn't care when I saw Superman impaled on a spike and that puzzles me.
I feel that perhaps the root cause of this problem is that the characters in these movies are lacking in something. I hate to compare the DC films to those produced by Marvel Studios, as that would suggest I'm implying all super-hero films should follow the same formula. I don't believe that for a second. However, it's hard to argue against the fact that the Marvel movies have well defined characters, each with a unique personality and it's because of this that they play off each other so well in the Avengers team movies.
The DC characters at present are severely lacking strong personalities. Henry Cavill's Superman comes across in this film as little more than a grumpy guy with super powers. Ben Affleck's Batman makes a similar first impression, as a grumpy guy without super powers. I think perhaps this is why I appreciated the presence of Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman quite so much: she was the only character in this film who genuinely seemed like she was having fun.
A smile during the overwhelming final battle. A fun remark about how Bruce Wayne has never met a woman quite like Diana Prince. These are miniscule things that go a long way in a film otherwise devoid of any comic relief whatsoever, and carrying an overall tone that is depressing enough to prevent all but the most dedicated DC fans from coming back for repeat viewings.
Wonder Woman isn't the only thing this film has going for it; given that her screen-time isn't huge, that would be rather dire indeed. But she is quite possibly the stand-out, which makes me optimistic that perhaps Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman solo movie coming next year could fare better than this film has with critics. Jeremy Irons and Holly Hunter are also worthy of praise, crafting characters with more personality in their relatively minor roles than arguably either of the two lead actors do in this film's entire run-time.
A figure of much disagreement has been Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor, who is indeed a drastically different take on Superman's arch-nemesis than we've seen before. I fall somewhere between the groups that love and hate this interpretation of the character, believing that while the performance was by no means disastrous it wasn't compelling enough to justify changing a character who was fine to begin with. Indeed, one can't help but wonder how different this film would be had the fan-casting of Bryan Cranston come to fruition.

Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor was an interesting but unnecessary experiment.
The plot of this movie also isn't entirely without merit. It's true that the premise of the film i.e. watching two characters who have no reason to fight each other doing just that, does feel forced and indeed I feel this film could have been stronger had it been focused on a team-up rather than a showdown between these two iconic characters. Additionally, this film does fall into the trap that many comic-book movies have found themselves in recently (The Amazing Spider-Man 2 perhaps the worst offender), of being more concerned with building a 'cinematic universe' than they are with telling a coherent story.

Cameo appearances from other DC super-heroes while fun for fans to see, do feel somewhat shoe-horned in to a story which really doesn't involve them in any way. Although that being said a certain Flash cameo has the potential to be very exciting if future films can successfully tie into it: that's a big 'if'.

However, credit should be given to screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer for juggling all these balls and not ending up with an utter disaster on their hands. Dawn of Justice's plot may be messy but it isn't totally incoherent, and with the exception of a few moments here and there held my attention for the duration.

Batman v Superman perhaps isn't as bad as its harshest critics are claiming, but unfortunately it's too flawed to be called a success. Performances from Gal Gadot, Holly Hunter and Jeremy Irons combined with Snyder's dazzling action sequences provide this film's glimmers of brilliance, but ultimately aren't enough to save it from mediocrity. Having two lead characters with little in the way of personality certainly doesn't help matters, while the scattered story pales in comparison to some of the much more sophisticated work found in the comic-books from which this movie takes inspiration. As I stated earlier in this review, Batman v Superman is watchable but by no means is it the masterpiece many fans were no doubt hoping for.



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