From the very first moments of Zack Snyder’s cinematic meditation on the concept of Apollonian and Dionysian dichotomy or lack thereof, religion, individual versus that of societal needs and the attainment of human perfection, we are thrust into an environment where we are not asked to ponder it all but indeed forced to. The superhero genre is now the dominant art form at this time in the popular cinema and even writing that statement would have been unheard of in a previous generation. In order to review Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice one needs to divorce themselves entirely from the fan frenzy both for and against the motion picture and in this respect it can be seen and judged in a manner befitting this director’s very personal vision of iconic characters.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a direct continuation of Snyder’s Man of Steel and begins with the quick retelling of the tragic night that forever changed Bruce Wayne(Ben Affleck) from an innocent child who enjoyed laughing and smiling to a haunted avenging knight of darkness who is forever trying to channel his anger against the underworld elements that plague Gotham City. Snyder establishes the Batman as a monstrous figure with seemingly supernatural abilities who is in essence the Dionysian figure of the film who prefers the cloak of darkness which enhances his nightmarish qualities. After this retelling of Bruce Wayne’s origin, Snyder wisely decided to further concentrate on Bruce Wayne’s point of view of the “Black Zero” event when Superman and the Kryptonian villains led by General Zod rained destruction upon Metropolis. In one of many religious and mythological allusions Snyder hints upon, Wayne sees Superman and Zod as literal fallen and falling angels whom appear to not be concerned with the affairs of mankind. Zack Snyder creates powerful imagery that evokes awe, terror and sense of wonder that any fan of comic books should quickly embrace. It also once again recalls the rather absurd argument that Superman should have somehow been able to control the battle that would have reduced the collateral damage and it is a subtle reminder that in a war such similar damage cannot be contained against an enemy who does not share those noble concerns. It is also a fascinating moment when the scene is subtitled-“When Mankind was introduced to the Superman” which further which is a brilliantly subtle suggestion that Snyder’s Superman is cut from a different cloth than we in which many were quite familiar with in the past.
The film then picks up eighteen months later with several dominos falling into place that involve a xenophobic Alexander Luthor(Jesse Eisenberg) plotting to pit the “Bat of Gotham” against the “Son of Krypton” in a bid to rid the world of what he feels is a being that is a danger to the existence of mankind. Eisenberg’s Luthor manipulates Bruce Wayne into unleashing his aggressive Batman by magnifying his own feelings by wrongfully blaming Superman for the destruction of his building and killing his many employees in the Black Zero incident. It is this inevitable battle that Snyder implies is one that mirrors Greek mythology by casting Bruce Wayne/Batman as Dionysus and Clark Kent/Ka-El/Superman as Apollo. In Greek mythology both figures are the sons of Zeus. Apollo was the god of logic and reason while Dionysus was the god of chaos and the irrational. It is just one of many fascinating example of the director’s wonderfully intellectual approach to what he sees as archetypical figures in comic book lore which can be argued to be the modern day equivalent of classic mythological literature.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is also a motion picture experience that is highlighted by a number of stunning performances by the ensemble cast led by Henry Cavill as Superman/Clark Kent/Ka-El. Cavill’s Superman is torn by the fact that he is an alien that was raised by human beings. He is the ultimate outsider who wears a human mask and shares human values but is doomed to the realization that he cannot be one of us despite all of his yearning and deeds that prove he is the ideal that humanity wishes to elevate to. Henry Cavill’s performance is a wondrous joy to behold. There is a sense of incredible restraint that Cavill imbues his performance and it is especially conspicuous in the tragic scene in Washington D.C. where a wheelchair bound “victim” activates a bomb which kills all present at a congressional hearing that is convened by Senator Finch(Holly Hunter). The look of sadness, disappointment and anger that Cavill projects in the scene is what an actor at the top of his game can bring to the table that is not often found in films of this genre. Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman does not share the same amount of screen time as Cavill and Affleck, but all of her scenes speak wonderfully of the Gadot’s abilities as an accomplished thespian. Gadot creates a character who is ancient, wise and entirely distrustful of men and the world that they have created. Gadot’s Diana Prince is an immortal who treats those around her like immature children and that is especially telling in the scene in the museum where Bruce Wayne feels he is flirting with her and she is obviously not impressed by the attempts at seduction by a child! It is an amusing and intricately woven sequence that recalls the best moments of banter as exemplified Eve Marie Saint and Carey Grant in North by Northwest. Gal Gadot also establishes that her Wonder Woman feels most alive when she is in the heat of battle. A sly and audience pleasing moment occurs when she is thrown by Doomsday only to recoil with a smile that signals to the creature(and the audience) that she is passionately devoted to battle against sometimes insurmountable odds. Ben Affleck perhaps had the most formidable role to fill as Batman/Bruce Wayne. Any doubts are quickly cast to a dust pile as Affleck creates the most impressive and in the opinion of this reviewer-the best interpretation of the much beloved character. Affleck’s Bruce Wayne is the consummate warrior who has created a terrifying creature of the night that convincingly strikes terror in the hearts of criminals and law abiding citizens alike. Affleck also establishes Wayne as the ultimate detective who uses his skills that he has honed to investigate several mysteries and criminal connections that can be found in the story. And yet despite all of his skills of logical deduction, Affleck brilliantly emphasizes that he is a human being sometimes blinded by rage which hampers and distorts how he views Superman and the supposed threat he poses to mankind. It is an acting tour de force which bodes well for future appearances of the actor as the character in the proposed series of Justice League films and single outings of the Batman character. Special mention must be given to Jeremy Irons who essays the role of Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred Pennyworth. Irons’ Alfred is a mechanic, butler, confidant and so much more. His Alfred is world weary who is prone to sarcasm that masks a genuine concern of the well being of Bruce Wayne and the interplay between Irons and Affleck is one of the film’s high points.
The cinematic introduction of another archetypical figure from the DC Comics universe is Wonder Woman/Diana Prince(Gal Gadot). Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are considered the “Trinity” and are also the crown jewels of the DC Comics universe of characters. Director Snyder once again touches upon the notion of the “Holy Trinity” that is found in Judeo-Christian religious teachings. Batman is the “father”, Superman is “The Son” and Wonder Woman is the “Holy Ghost” and together they become God. Indeed the fact Superman sacrifices himself in the battle against the “Devil” known as Doomsday is a transformative moment for Batman and humanity. Superman in essence dies for humanity’s sins and there can be no doubt he will be resurrected much as Jesus Christ was himself. Do I believe that these were the intentions of the director with the finished film? I would not pretend to speak for Zack Snyder but considering many of the themes he had explored in past film such as Watchmen, Man of Steel and 300 I am confident enough to understand that the director is not merely content to fill running time with admittedly stunning visuals. His films flirt with what haunts mankind-religion, transformation, responsibility and power and human perfection.
The running time of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is approximately two and a half hours in length and even at that length, the film is so richly detailed that this reviewer feels that it most certainly should have been longer. There are key moments that a viewer is left with the impression that scenes were cut and that should have been left in. I point to the scene where the results of a break-in by Batman at Lex’s facility that housed Kryptonite and how it appears that Lex had attained advanced knowledge of the identities of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and several other “meta-human” characters that are also briefly shown contained within a file created by Lex Luthor. This world created initially in Man of Steel is one that demands further exploration and one can only hope that the announced special edition versions of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will do much to rectify this issue.
If one merely views this film on its most superficial level it can also be celebrated as a success. I decided to see the film two times in order to satisfy my superficial and intellectual desires. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice can be seen as a celebration of the elements that first attracts one to read comic books. The need to read larger than life tales featuring characters that wield powers and the visual sense of wonder that accompanies these tales. The physical struggle between all of the characters captured in Zack Snyder’s motion picture perfectly exemplify and capture that desire many of us felt and still feel reading comic books. Upon my second viewing I was able to contain my fanboy enthusiasm in order to further engage my intellect and found that the film succeeds much more spectacularly because of the generous amount of intellectual discourse and symbology that can be relished when one’s emotions are disengaged. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice once again proves that films made from comic books can engage individuals of all ages and that the rich and sometimes wonderfully complex worlds to be found there is worthy of the popularity audiences continue to bestow upon them!