‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ is a mess, let’s get that out of the way with first. It’s three or four films merged into one. Even with its lengthy running time, it feels rushed in many places. It darts from plot to plot and character to character that there’s barely enough time to take in what’s happening. However, in spite of all its flaws (and the mostly negative critical reaction), there is a fairly enjoyable film hidden in among all the clutter. Yes, I am a Batman v Superman defender! It’s not the best comic book ever made, but it isn’t the worst one, either. I’d say I enjoyed it more than ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ (as a comparable film).
I agree with most, if not all, of the criticisms levelled at ‘BvS’. Just like ‘Age of Ultron’ (click here for my review!), the film is trying to fit too many plots, characters and teasers for future films in. Of course, with BvS, that is made even more difficult than ‘Age of Ultron’ because we only know Superman and the others characters from ‘Man of Steel’ (click here for my review of ‘Man Of Steel’). BvS has to introduce Batman, Alfred, Lex Luthor, a few senators and Wonder Woman, among others. In ‘Age of Ultron,’ we know most of the main characters (apart from Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Vision, who we don’t learn much about!). Batman/Bruce Wayne probably has more screen time than anybody else, but we never really get to grips with his history (apart from the murder of his parents…did we really need to revisit that on film?!?). Why did he hang up the cape? Why did he run into the chaos that occurred at the end of ‘Man of Steel’? So many characters, so many questions, but so little time!
“Nobody cares about Clark Kent taking on the Batman”
You have to concentrate a lot to pick out the various plot points, as the film shifts from scene to scene faster than The Flash. Not only that, but there’s an extraordinary amount of unnecessary scenes squeezed in, as well! Bruce Wayne’s dream sequences quickly become tiresome and questionable. An early scene in Africa that establishes that Superman can be a menace seems pointless; couldn’t his actions during the climax of ‘Man of Steel’ be questioned? He was partly responsible for levelling much of the city! It’s doesn’t take a leap to go from that to Superman being held responsible for that much destruction. The Africa scene does lead to important story developments later on, but even they feel contrived. I’ve read and heard a lot of people rave about Wonder Woman, but I found her appearance distracting rather than integral to the plot. If she was absent from the film (or in a simple camero), it wouldn’t take anything away from the story.
The mashing together of so much stuff means that characters motivations are sometimes murky (especially Lex Luthor’s). The need to mark the beginning of the Justice League means that (minor spoiler alert) that Batman v Superman isn’t the main event of the film. Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman have to unite against a bigger threat. And that’s simply a CGI bore-fest worse than the climax of ‘Man Of Steel.’ It’s uninspiring, loud, and easily the worst part of the film. We’d have been happy with Batman fighting Superman to finish the film! I mean, that’s the title of the film, right? The final battle is as exhausting and enervating as the climax of ‘Man Of Steel.’
“How do we determine what’s good?”
It’s a clichéd complaint, but the film would have benefitted from copying the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We needed a Man of Steel sequel, a Batman film, a Wonder Woman film, and maybe one other before we saw the “greatest gladiator battle in history.” BvS is all of these, plus a prequel to the Justice League film. How any watchable arose from that is beyond me, but above all odds, it did (just about). But, in spite of myself, I enjoyed it…
Ben Affleck’s is the best Batman AND Bruce Wayne on the screen. He’s convincing as the dark, brooding Wayne and the terrifying Batman. Wayne’s first appearance as the unretired Batman is plucked straight out of a horror film. It’s scary, unnerving, and the best introduction to the ‘Batman’ since the opening of 1989’s Batman. Sure, we see more of Batman at the expense of Superman, but we’ve already had a film with Superman. Apart from his needless dream sequences, Affleck steals the show. There’s a fight scene towards the end where Batman takes on some thugs that rivals almost any fight scene out of the ‘Daredevil’ TV show. It’s brutal. We need a solo Batman film. ASAP! Not only that, but the fight between Batman and Superman is convincing and satisfying. How could a mere mortal go up against Superman? We find out, without breaking our suspension of disbelief.
I found the first hour or so leading up to the battle engaging. We saw enough of our two superheroes to understand why it’s inevitable that they should fight. The debates on Superman and his efficacy (or lack of it) were a high point of the film. At times, they reflect many of the debates that arose due to the ending of ‘Man of Steel,’ so much so that it almost excuses the thoughtless destruction of Metropolis. They’re thought-provoking. The beautiful visuals are another plus point. Zack Snyder is a talented visual director, there’s no doubt about that. And this film shows him at his most artistic, with some scenes matching the majesty of anything in ‘The Revenant’ (and that was a film all about the visuals, was it not?0 The mixture of philosophising and the beautiful visuals make you wonder what could have been…if the film had come after a few DC solo films.
“They taught me the rules only make sense if you force them to”
“You know you can’t win this, it’s suicide,” Alfred tells Bruce before his battle with Superman. That’s how Zack Snyder must have felt having to direct this film. After the mostly negative reaction to ‘Man of Steel,’ he had to create something awesome to keep the DC Universe afloat. I’d say BvS just about manages to keep it afloat, albeit with a few holes in the lifejacket. There’s so much to do and achieve in the film that scenes fly by, and characters pop their heads in for a few seconds, that it is hard to keep up. Plot strands are forgotten for a length of time, then suddenly picked up. Superman is relegated to second best behind Bruce Wayne/Batman. But, in spite of all the chaos (and the inevitable CGI-filled climax), I found enough to enjoy to make the film worthwhile. Maybe I had my expectations lowered so much that I was bound to enjoy it, but even so, it’s not as bad as the critics would have you believe.
VERDICT: 6/10. Batman v Superman is a chaotic film, by its very nature. But among all the plots and characters, there’s a half-decent film in the cracks.
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Click here for my review of Man of Steel (2013)