We all know by now that DC is playing catch up with Marvel. Aside from the Nolan Batman trilogy and Man of Steel, which had plenty of problems, their superhero line up has been far from stellar. This has led to the cinematic universe being almost non-existent, and building one of those successfully is where the money is. They want what Marvel has and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is their big plan to get there. It may be the most hyped film of the year, but in their desperation to get even with Marvel DC has made a movie that ignores all the hard work and time Marvel has spent creating their universe. BvS is a short cut so concerned with setting up the next films to come it forgets that it needs to work as one itself.
The movie picks up 18 months after the events of Man of Steel. Well, not exactly. First we must once again watch through another tired retread of Bruce Wayne’s (Ben Affleck) parents being murdered and him falling into a bat cave. It’s as if we hadn’t seen it multiple times over and over. Then, in one of the more interesting parts of the film, we see Bruce Wayne rushing through Metropolis during Zod and Superman’s fight at the end of Man of Steel. It’s one of the high points of the film and directly confronts the complaints people had with Man of Steel‘s ending in an awesome metaphysical way. Sadly, the rest of the movie doesn’t stay as smart or interesting. Batman, driven by a barely understandable anger goes after Superman (Henry Cavill) because he has too much power. Meanwhile Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) appears on the scene trying to take down Superman through both the U.S. government’s inquiry into him and more nefarious means. The driving theme of the film is a question of power and its uses.
It’s a theme that is thoroughly mishandled for most of the movie. The biggest reason is that this shouldn’t be one movie. DC is in such a rush to get to Justice League that it’s made BvS too soon and the first half of the movie completely fails because of it. It is all too clear that there needed to be at least a separate Batman and Superman film (if not Flash, Aquaman, Cyborg and Wonder Woman films as well) before this movie happened. The plot as it is is bloated and plodding because it keeps getting torn between reestablishing Batman, bringing in Lex Luthor, cramming in action and creating a conflict between Batman and Superman. Sadly, it doesn’t pull any of this off except the action.
The movie suffers from the same character problems that Man of Steel did. You never feel like this is Superman, it’s just Henry Cavill brooding intensely over no one liking him. He once again seems like an action figure and not a hero. It’s so hard to pinpoint where this feeling comes from, but this is not Superman. Batman fares a lot better, though his character is rushed. You at least get a feeling for his character beyond the Bat, especially as he tracks down Luthor and some Kryptonite.
Batman’s hatred of Superman feels incredibly forced on the other hand, while Superman as a character is left in the dust of Batman’s recreation. Superman and Lois’ relationship especially suffers as we’re suddenly jumped into them in full love instead of just budding. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) makes appearances, and we’re forced to sit through cheesy inclusions of the other Justice League members coming soon to a theater near you. It’s all crammed in with very little context and very little feeling, as if they haven’t learned to honor these characters instead of using them as gimmicks. Everything is rushed into and so nothing is complete. This leads to the film feeling like it hasn’t earned the story it wants to tell.
Snyder’s direction doesn’t earn it either. Oddly, since he’s so good at doing action, the movie is hit or miss on its action sequences. An early car chase is a mess of editing and confusion, but Batman’s fight sequences are stellar as is the concluding battle. As usual Snyder is huge with symbolism throughout his direction and at points it works and at other points it becomes so obvious as to verge into camp. Snyder’s handling of the rest of the movie is a complete mess of directorial decisions. There’s a very cool dream sequence that doesn’t work because Snyder leads into it terribly and he seems to have no grasp of logic or timelines when putting scenes together. A lot of this traces back to the film being to full of content since it should have been two separate movies. The flow of the first half of the film is so disjointed that it almost feels like someone actually did take two films and spliced them together.
Affleck is definitely the highlight of the film. His elder Batman is pitch-perfect, both a charming playboy and a deeply troubled hero. His Batman is big and bulky and has fantastic presence throughout the film. It’s a bit confusing how they get him so right and yet can’t make Superman work. Maybe it’s because he’s the character that actually gets the majority of “his movie” in. If the film were three movies edited together (a Batman film, a Superman film, a confrontation film) he’d be the one with the most from his movie. The only time his character falters is when he’s forced to be the McGuffin to set up the rest the Justice League’s characters. Cavill once again feels like nothing more than a pretty face in spandex. It’s nearly impossible to get a read on his character since all his scenes involve him looking dour and angry until the undeserved ending comes around. Eisenberg does his best Eisenberg, but it doesn’t feel like Luthor, but maybe that’s because almost all of his scenes are full of exposition.
What’s most annoying is that there are some absolutely fantastic ideas in this movie. The people fearing Superman and Batman’s internal struggle with revenge are great subjects that shine through the movies multitude of problems. If it weren’t all so rushed together it could have been complete. Lois and Clark’s relationship could have been fleshed out giving Superman an actual human side instead of cliched conversations to establish love. Batman’s reasons for hating Superman could have been turned into something real instead of flat lining. And most importantly the film’s ending could have had actual punch instead of feeling completely undeserved for a universe that’s being crammed into one movie.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a mess that could have been avoided, and probably to everyone’s benefit. If Warner Bros. and DC had been more patient with the characters they could have come into this film with a little heft behind them. Instead we get a big, flashy attempt to grab cash and cache. They’ll probably get the former, but the latter still seems to be missing.