Warner Brothers has a long road ahead of them to catch up their DC Comics properties to the sheer scope of Marvel’s cinematic universe. While Marvel’s films are hit and miss in terms of quality, what they have managed to accomplish in terms of creating a series of movies with intersecting characters and stories, on top of bringing previously little-known comic characters to the big screen, is nothing short of impressive. It’s a universe that has taken many years and many films to build, but it has progressed and evolved at just the right pace.
I didn’t initially intend to compare DC with Marvel, but the fact of the matter is that Warner Brothers’ latest comic book movie, “Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” often feels like they are doing everything they can to catch up with Marvel as fast as possible, which means cramming more than is necessary into one movie and sacrificing quality in the process. At the same time, they are trying to make themselves as distinct from Marvel’s films as possible, in terms of tone. The Marvel movies are colorful, and frequently light-hearted. Warner Brothers’ films are about as dark and somber as they can get, both visually and tonally.
Zack Snyder returns to direct this movie after helming Warner Brothers’ Superman reboot, “Man of Steel.” This follow-up has Henry Cavill reprising his role as Superman/Clark Kent, as well as introduces Batman/Bruce Wayne, played by Ben Affleck. The intro to the film establishes the relationship between Superman and Batman, as a distraught Bruce witnesses one of his companies buildings in Metropolis be destroyed—with many innocent lives inside—as a result of the battle between Superman and Zod at the end of “Man of Steel.” Fast forward a couple of years, and people are torn between worshipping the heroic Superman and questioning just how much he should be allowed to exercise his power. Eccentric genius Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) promises a potential solution in a weapon made of kryptonite recovered from wreckage of Zod’s ship—something that could weaken and potentially kill Superman if the need arises. But many people are also questioning the morality of Batman’s brand of justice over in Gotham City—literally, he brands a bat symbol into the skin of the criminals he captures.
The story’s set up is promising. The opening scene nicely juxtaposes the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents with his falling into the cave that would later become the Bat Cave, rather than giving viewers the whole origin story. A lot of Snyder’s imagery is very powerful, particularly regarding the questions surrounding Superman’s God-like status. A victim of the Metropolis attack spray paints the phrase “False God” onto a monument to Superman. We see a montage of Superman rescuing people, floating down from the sky bathed in light like a God figure. He rescues a girl from a burning building and as he walks into a crowd, people surround him, reaching out to touch him, worship him. Snyder also helmed Warner Brothers’ adaptation of the classic anti-hero comic “Watchmen,” so he has dealt with these issues in the superhero genre before, and is quite good at it.
It’s completing a story that Snyder isn’t so good at. The battle between Batman and Superman, the emotional fight between heroes that this movie is supposed to revolve around, is relegated to a mere side plot that is rather forced, as the climax is overtaken by a CGI-riddled battle with a giant monster Lex created. Even the emotional aftermath to the climax rings false, despite some nice cinematography and another powerful juxtaposition of two events.
And then there are all the allusions to Warner Brothers’ future DC Comics movies that aren’t even necessary to the story. They’re just there to be there, to scream to all the moviegoers that yes, this movie is leading up to big things. There’s a strange dream sequence foreshadowing the future Justice League movie that is rather confusing and out of place, and there’s a whole scene devoted to showing surveillance footage of the Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman in action. Again, there’s no reason for this, other than to point out that they will play a part in future movies. Fortunately, these scenes are brief, and don’t overcrowd the movie as much as one would think.
One character who will play a part in future movies and is active in this film is Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman, who is perfectly embodied by Gal Gadot. Despite her brief screen time in this film, she is just the right combination of strength and intelligence in every scene she’s in, promising good things to come from her solo movie. As for the other performances, Cavill still looks the part of Superman but gives a rather wooden performance, both as Superman and as his normally nerdy alter ego. Affleck makes a solid Batman and Wayne, imbuing the part with just the right amount of brooding. Eisenberg’s Luthor makes for a rather disappointing villain, however, particularly considering how large a part he plays in the Superman mythology. He tries too hard to be quirky, almost more like a Joker-type character than any of the previous incarnations of the role, and it just doesn’t work. Also joining the cast this go around are Jeremy Irons as Batman’s butler Alfred and Holly Hunter as Senator Finch, who is working to put checks on Superman’s power in place. Returning from the cast of “Man of Steel” are Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, Diane Lane as Martha Kent, and Amy Adams as Lois Lane.
There are some really well-done elements to “Batman V. Superman.” Like “Man of Steel,” it borders on artistic at times, which is a refreshing change from the Marvel blockbusters. But there is literally no joy that can be derived from watching this movie. There is not a single joke or humorous scene. There isn’t anything especially unique or exciting about the fight scenes (besides Wonder Woman); they are pretty much just going through the paces. It’s too dark and gritty for its own good, and in trying to differentiate itself from the competition, it has spelled out its own doom.
Runtime: 151 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality.
Check out showtimes for this movie and more at the following St. Louis-area theaters:
- Wehrenberg Theatres
- AMC Theatres
- Regal Movie Theatres
- Galleria 6
- Chase Park Plaza
- Moolah Theatre
- Hi-Pointe Theatre
- St. Andrews Cinema
- Plaza Frontenac Cinema
- Tivoli Theatre