Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) – Movie Review
This review of ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ is spoiler-filled. Since ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice‘ is a terrible terrible terrible movie, I don’t feel particularly bad about this. But you have been warned.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: Chris Terrio & Zack Snyder
Starring: Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Jessie Eisenberg, Gal Gadot & Jeremy Irons
Music: Hans Zimmer & Junkie XL
Release Date: March 25th 2016
Ever since Marvel Comics set up their own movie division and established their “Cinematic Universe” with ‘Iron Man’ in 2008, the movie-going community and film industry has had their eyes on DC Comics and pondered what their response would be. Fortunately for DC, all of their characters’ movie rights fall under the Warner Bros. umbrella whilst Marvel’s are spread across Disney, 20th Century Fox, Sony and more. 2011’s ‘Green Lantern’ was meant to be Warner Bros’ introduction to connected story-telling but after that critically and commercially bombed they re-grouped and teamed with Zack Snyder for 2013’s ‘Man of Steel’ and the fallout from that was…mixed.
Even the movie’s most ardent defenders admit that ‘Man of Steel’s foundations for a Cinematic Universe are shaky at best, but Warner Bros. have invested hundreds of millions of dollars and the next 5 years of their release schedule to future DC movies like ‘Suicide Squad’, ‘Wonder Woman’, two ‘Justice League’ movies, ‘The Flash’, ‘Aquaman’, ‘Cyborg’ and ‘Green Lantern Corps’. But before that, we have ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ which will be a new, secondary launch-pad to this Universe. Will the inclusion of Ben Affleck and his ‘Argo’ co-writer Chris Terrio give the Universe a more solid foundation than ‘Man of Steel’ did or is this juggernaut of a film be akin to building a castle on top of quick-sand?
It’s 18 months after the Kryptonian Alien Invasion that levelled the city of Metropolis and naturally, Superman (Cavill) has become a figure of controversy as the world asks what he stands for and if he should be governed. One terrified citizen is Bruce Wayne (Affleck) who has been acting as a crime-fighter in the neighbouring Gotham City for 20 years as Batman with his faithful butler Alfred (Irons), who decides to take matters into his own hand to defeat Superman. After stealing Kryptonite from philanthropist Lex Luthor (Eisenberg) the two slug it out whilst in the background a new threat is approaching that also brings in Diana Prince (Gadot) and other meta-humans.
The above plot-synopsis is not even remotely comprehensive as we also have plot elements involving a terrorist attack in Africa, senate hearings, Lois Lane doing journalism for the Daily Planet, Diana Prince doing some spy-work and Lex Luthor engineering certain events behind-the-scenes. It’s a big, ambitious movie with a two and a half hour run time, plentiful DC cameos, foreshadowing and a cliff-hanger ending as well as a $250M+ budget…
…and I can’t quite comprehend how any of the higher-ups at Warner Bros. thought this movie was a good idea.
‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ is such a staggering misfire on a conceptual level that it’s legitimately hard to quantify it or put it into words. This isn’t a movie that didn’t come together in the editing room; this is a top-to-bottom disaster on a fundamental level right down to its genesis. I am literally speechless at the idea that dozens of higher-ups at Warner Bros. looked at THAT script and THAT story and thought “Yep, this is worth investing billions of dollars and half a decade of tent-pole release dates into!”.
There is so much wrong with this movie that it’s hard to know where to even start, so let’s talk about the fallout from ‘Man of Steel’ in the context of ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’. It’s 18 months later, but the audience aren’t told what happened during that time and it’s clear that Superman has not been changed one iota by his experiences. Those who didn’t like him snapping Zod’s neck in ‘Man of Steel’ were hoping that that incident would be the catalyst for why he would never kill again. But his first moments in the movie, 18 months later, have Superman commit an unwarranted, unjustified and preposterous act of murder in Africa.
Speaking of Africa, this is actually the inciting incident of the movie. A terrorist attack takes place, Lois Lane is put in danger, Jimmy Olsen is killed (no, really, even though Jimmy was played by a woman in the last movie), Superman comes to save the day, kills a terrorist in cold blood and then the scene ends. Then, for the next hour of the movie, all the other characters keep saying how Superman is responsible for these events and that he should be tried and that he’s a menace.
But the audience aren’t told exactly what Superman was supposed to have done, so the inciting incident doesn’t actually MEAN anything and characters are constantly referring to events that the audience aren’t privy to. And to top it all off, there was no need for an inciting incident in Africa to turn the world against Superman. THE DESTRUCTION OF METROPOLIS IN ‘MAN OF STEEL’ IS ENOUGH! In fact, despite it being 18 months later, it’s established that the Kryptonian World-Engines are still at the bottom of the ocean. Why has Superman or the government not cleaned them up yet? In fact, if that happened, then Lex Luthor wouldn’t have been able to get his hands on Kryptonite.
We later learn that the incident in Africa was actually orchestrated by Lex Luthor in order to frame Superman. You see, Lex hates Superman because….because….okay, there is no reason. In fact, exactly what Lex Luthor’s company does isn’t even said because this movie doesn’t give a crap about world-building. Incidentally, this may not matter to many audience members, but this movie doesn’t do a good job at introducing these characters to the uninitiated. The movie never actually establishes what Wayne Industries is or where Bruce Wayne got his fortune from. Obviously, most audience members know the backstory of Batman but it’s demonstrative of Zack Snyder’s and Chris Terrio’s utter ineptitude at world-building and storytelling despite making a launch-pad movie for a cinematic universe.
But let me back up. Lois Lane was able to trace the incident back to Lex Luthor because the soldiers in Africa were equipped with experimental bullets which ONLY Lex Luthor’s company uses so he practically signed the crime-scene. But why he used experimental bullets is never explained and only exists JUST to Lois Lane can trace it back to him for the sake of the narrative.
Holy fuck, this movie.
Later on the U.S. hold a senate hearing and invite Superman to attend in order to say his piece, but Lex places a suicide bomber in there and kills dozens of innocents, his own personal assistant (presumably), members of the government with Superman being the only survivor. Was this done to frame Superman again? Possibly, but as soon as the explosion happens the audience see news reports that confirm it was a bomber who hid explosives in a wheelchair that Lex Luthor gave him. So that attempt to frame him failed meaning it was absolutely pointless to the plot.
AND THEN…Lex Luthor engineers a scheme to get Batman to distrust Superman (even though he already does) so he can steal the Kryptonite (even though he was trying to keep it away from Batman earlier on) so he can fight and kill Superman (even though Lex already has a back-up plan in the form of Doomsday, but we’ll get to him later). Lex Luthor’s plan is not only bone-dead stupid and self-contradictory, but it’s needlessly complicated and he didn’t actually have to do anything. And in the end, it turns out that Lex Luthor knows about some approaching threat that is going to destroy the world, but if that’s the case then why the hell has he concocted a plan to destroy Superman in the first place; the only person strong enough to combat such a threat?
I’m 1,200 words into this review and I’m barely even scratching the surface. That’s how much of a colossal failure this movie is.
But let’s go back to Batman’s involvement in Lex’s plan. Batman tells Alfred that Lex is trying to smuggle a “dirty bomb” into Gotham and he needs to intercept it. However, it turns out that he was lying and that it’s actually Kryptonite and he wants to use it to kill Superman. How Batman even KNEW about the Kryptonite and that it could be used as a Superman-killer is something the movie never establishes, even though later on in the movie Batman hacks into Lex Luthor’s files and discovers everything but that’s AFTER he already knew about the Kryptonite because Alfred confronts him about this lie later on and…this screenplay was co-written by an Academy Award winner, folks.
Also, how does Lex Luthor know Superman and Batman’s secret identities? Once again, despite this movie having an abominable run-time, it’s never stated.
The story-structure is so hackneyed and the pace so terribly done that I don’t think that whoever wrote and edited this story has ever watched a movie in their entire life. Scenes come and go without any real purpose, there are no character-beats to speak of because the plot is so needlessly convoluted that the first 70 minutes are entirely made up of exposition as we hop from location to location but with no effective progress being made. This movie clocks in at around 150 minutes but it feels like the first act doesn’t actually START for around 90 minutes. And yes, you read that right.
I honestly cannot imagine sitting through a 3-hour cut on Blu-Ray. Seriously, just the thought of it makes me wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.
In the meanwhile, we have some groundwork being laid for future movies. How does this work? Well, Wonder Woman is on-hand with her own sub-plot as she investigates LexCorp who have knowledge of other super-humans such as The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg and there’s an entire scene dedicated to Wonder Woman watching almost-literal trailers for future DC movies.
And no, I’ve not made that up.
We also have numerous, out-of-place, never-referred-to-again dream sequences and at one point the Flash shows up to talk about Lois Lane destroying the world and that Bruce is right about Superman or some nonsense like that (the audio is so distorted that it’s almost impossible to get an accurate sense of what’s being said) and then Bruce Wayne wakes up from a dream within a dream and the entire 5-minute sequence is NEVER referenced or brought up afterwards and once again I’m not making this up.
But for the main-crux of the narrative, the fight between Batman and Superman, my main concern going into the movie from the trailers was why these iconic figures would be fighting? After watching the final movie, I’m STILL wondering why they were fighting. Batman’s motivations are clear cut, if a bit extreme (“If there’s even a 1% chance that he is our enemy, we have to take it as an absolute certainty”) as he was in Metropolis when it was destroyed and many of his friends died. But the movie doesn’t have any confidence in this perfectly reasonable motive because it also has Lex Luthor send cryptic messages in the mail, framing Superman for stupid stuff etc. As for Superman’s motivations…he has none. As Clark Kent the journalist, he briefly talks to Bruce Wayne about Batman being a vigilante but Superman answers to no authority either so it’s hypocritical.
Actually, while I remember, it’s established that Batman has been working for 20 years and that the Joker exists in this Universe as he killed Robin and his suit is displayed in the Batcave, but no-one other than Bruce Wayne and Alfred acknowledge this history. Literally, EVERYONE ELSE in the movie from Clark Kent, Perry White, news reporters, police officers and criminals act like Batman has JUST turned up! This is meant to be a cinematic universe where continuity is a vital component but here it can’t even remain consistent from scene-to-scene!
Holy fuck, did not a single person actually proof-read this script before throwing around a billion dollars at it!?
There’s a scene where Batman is taking down criminals in the Batmobile and then out of nowhere Superman shows up and makes him crash before giving him a warning saying “The Bat is dead” (it’s the exchange we’ve all seen in the trailers). But why Superman was there, why he didn’t stop the criminals Batman was chasing and why he hates Batman is NEVER established.
In fact, Superman feels like a non-entity in his own movie. Superman comes across like the ultimate-hipster as he broods and comes across as rather miserable but he doesn’t actually SAY anything. This makes the 18-month gap after ‘Man of Steel’ such a puzzling inclusion because despite all of this time to find his place and collect his thoughts, he doesn’t seem to take any sort of stance on himself. When he arrives at the Senate Hearing I was hoping he’d give a speech talking about his ethics but throughout the entire sequence he never says a word. It’s a massive missed opportunity.
Also, while I’m on the subject of talking…why does no one talk to each other in this film? Batman and Superman only exchange vague threats and in-jokes in the 90 seconds of screen-time they have before the titular fight takes place. They never verbally debate their side, they never communicate, and they just go straight to threats. There’s no sense of escalation, is what I’m getting at.
So when Superman and Batman finally throw-down, almost 2-freakin hours into this movie, it not only feels unmotivated but there’s been so little build up to it. It starts with Superman being given an ultimatum by Lex Luthor; kill Batman or Martha Kent dies (which was pointless because Batman wants to fight Superman anyway so there’s no reason for the hostage set-up but I guess they wanted to give Martha more than 5-lines of dialogue) and Superman tries to explain the situation to Batman before triggering a mechanical trap which Superman effortlessly destroys. He tries again to let Batman know Lex’s plan but another trap triggers which, once again, he subdues without breaking a sweat, then Superman just thinks “Fuck it, let’s kill this guy” and starts throwing him through buildings instead of talking it out. Batman doesn’t even use his Kryptonite-weaponry for another two minutes so Superman has no reason to believe he can be injured by Batman, so why does he devolve so quickly into murder?
Why is Superman such an asshole?
But yeah, a good 120 minutes into ‘Batman v Superman’ the two actually throw-down and the fight lasts about 5-minutes and is a phenomenal disappointment. Oh, there are a few cool-looking moments but there’s zero emotional investment and nothing at stake so it’s just all flash and it demonstrates what everyone already knew; if Batman had time to prepare, was armed with Kryptonite weapons and Superman was vastly holding back, Batman would win. That was worth waiting 2 hours to find out… But Batman spares Superman because he and his dead mother have the same first name.
Holy shit, this movie.
But Lex Luthor had a back-up plan as he uses the Kryptonian technology to combine General Zod’s corpse with his own blood and that creates an unstoppable abomination that is practically invincible and gets stronger the more it fights.
Yeah, Doomsday comes THAT out of nowhere and with that little explanation. So, Doomsday shows up, destroys dozens of miles of city with orange beams and Batman deduces that the only thing that can kill it is a Kryptonite Spear that he has back in Gotham that was intended for Superman. So, instead of leaving Doomsday alone on an uninhabited island and flying in his BatWing to get the spear and then come back, he lures Doomsday to Gotham where it kills countless people and causes incalculable collateral damage all the while it will be chasing Batman whilst he tries to find the spear. So, essentially, Batman does the same thing he was mad at Superman doing with Zod in ‘Man of Steel’ and takes a dangerous threat to a populated area and is indirectly responsible for all of the damage caused.
But it turns out, Lois Lane threw the spear away for…reasons? And Superman needs to go and get it back whilst Wonder Woman keeps Doomsday occupied and the writers desperately look for a way for Batman to be useful. So Superman, spear in hand and severely weakened by the presence of Kryptonite, stabs Doomsday with it and the two die…even though Wonder Woman could have used the spear as she’s taken multiple direct hits from Doomsday and come out unscathed meaning that Superman’s self-sacrifice was unnecessary.
But the main issue with the final battle (apart from it being an absolute, visual mess but more on that later) is that none of the three heroes actually talk to each other. They never come up with a plan, they don’t co-ordinate, they don’t use tactics to defeat the enemy. There’s no sense of the trinity becoming a team and demonstrating that even a god like Superman needs help, that Batman is a master tactician and that Wonder Woman is a fearless warrior. Their plan just amounts to them hitting their foe a lot, even though Doomsday is an enemy that gets stronger the more you hit it.
The two do come together for the final blow as Wonder Woman uses her lasso to keep Doomsday in place, Batman uses his last Kryponite gas-grenade and Superman uses the spear. But those elements coming together aren’t co-ordinated, it’s just blind-luck and coincidence. Not to compare DC and Marvel too much, but the climactic battle in ‘The Avengers’ doesn’t just work because it’s blind-spectacle, but because it’s layered with dozens of meaningful character beats and the heroes interact with each other beyond punches and kicks. “I’m bringing the party to you”, “What, you getting sleepy?”, “I’m always angry”, “They can’t bank worth a damn” etc. That sequence is a marvel of dynamic co-operation and it makes me wonder what on earth Zack Snyder will be doing with future Justice League movies.
But everything I’ve talked about so far, EVERYTHING is from a story standpoint. ALL of this is stuff that could have been fixed in the writing room. This is stuff that could and SHOULD have been fixed before filming even started. The flaws are so glaringly obvious that there are literally only two explanations;
1) Warner Bros. put so much faith in Zack Snyder and Chris Terrio that they just blindly went forward without checking the story or the screenplay.
Or 2) No one involved in the creative process either knew what they were doing or cared.
Neither outcomes are good.
So, now that we’ve spent 3,000 words breaking down how terrible the story and script is, we can actually talk about what went in front of the cameras. Henry Cavill as Superman is a one-note; broody asshole. There’s honestly not much more to talk about here. But when it comes to establishing Batman, for the most part Ben Affleck and Jeremy Irons are the sole bright-spot in the movie. While the character himself is too flatly written and not given enough effective character moments to leave any sort of emotional impact, I think that visually we have the best version of Batman we’ve ever seen in a movie. Ben Affleck’s casting was a great decision, he’s absolutely invested in this material, his rage and intensity come across effectively without being too ridiculous and his rapport with Alfred is really engaging. We know that Affleck has multi-picture deals with Warner Bros. as Batman, but I hope Jeremy Irons will be back as well because while he’s the most unconventional Alfred we’ve had to date, he is another great casting choice.
On the other hand…we have Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor and nothing about this casting works. Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is possibly the worst comic book movie villain of all time as he’s so ridiculously over-the-top that he doesn’t feel like he could possibly exist in this universe. And bare in mind that this Universe contains gods, men dressed as bats and a mermaid-like man who can talk to fish. He has so many facial ticks and has such an unconventional delivery that it’s laughable and there’s nothing here to ground the character. His dialogue is laughable, his quirks are nonsensical and I never once bought him as a legitimate threat to Superman, nor as a genius businessman. Literally, nothing about this character or performance worked.
I honestly feel really bad for Jared Leto as the Joker in the upcoming ‘Suicide Squad‘ movie because Lex Luthor is so insane and off-the-wall in this movie that it feels like nothing Leto can do will ever be able to top it.
We also have the casting of Gal Gadot and while it’s not as blindingly terrible as Eisenberg, it’s still not a good choice. Oh, she looks great in the costume and she’s a beautiful woman who I believe as a sword-wielding badass but every line of dialogue she’s given is flat, monotone and blandly delivered. This is just a lifeless and bad performance. Wonder Woman as a character seems to have no depth and even in battle she doesn’t do anything particularly unique or memorable to make her stand-out. It’s possible that Zack Snyder just couldn’t direct her and that Patty Jenkins might do a much better job for next year’s ‘Wonder Woman’ movie, but as of right now, the most iconic female comic-book character of all time is just a boring prop in her first ever on-screen movie appearance.
And the realisation of that kinda makes me want to curl up in a ball and ponder just how on earth this movie ever got released in this state.
As for the rest of the cast, the performances are okay but there’s nothing that really stands-out. Amy Adams, Laurence Fishburne, Diane Lane and even Kevin Costner who turns up in a sorta-maybe flashback or dream sequence do okay. Although Laurence Fishburne as Perry White shows up in this movie as an entirely different character than he was in ‘Man of Steel’. But because the movie is 99% made-up of exposition, there’s no human moments to allow you to connect with the characters or give the actors anything to work with. ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ is a joyless, drab, dull as dishwater movie and my screening genuinely had a more vocal and enjoyable reaction to the ‘LEGO Batman’ teaser that played before the film.
And I know there will be idiots who will call me “biased” against DC or Zack Snyder or that I hate comic-book movies (both of those accusations are provably false) but I honestly cannot imagine people enjoying this movie all the way through, or even for the majority of it. I’m sure many people will enjoy the action scenes, but they don’t kick in until the last 30 minutes leaving a prior 2 hours of moping around with zero direction, structure, narrative heft, characters worth caring about and effective world-building. Practically nothing about this movie works on a creative, story-telling level.
There are some striking images, though most of them have been seen in the trailer such as Bruce Wayne running towards the collapsing building as dozens of frightened civilians run away. In fact, the opening sequence with Bruce in Metropolis is a great set-piece. We also have some stunning visual tableaus such as the Batmobile driving into the batcave, Superman pulling a shipwreck across ice, Wonder Woman’s entrance and more. But when you combine moments like that with Affleck’s Bruce Wayne and Irons’ Alfred, we have about 10 minutes of the movie that are actually watchable in a 2 and a half hour movie. Max.
And that’s because the fight scenes are an absolute slog. The titular fight is generic and conventional and only lasts a few minutes and the fight between Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Doomsday is an objectively terrible mess. To signify that Doomsday is absorbing all the punches thrown at him, he glows orange so WHO IN THE HOLY MOTHER OF FUCK thought it would be a good idea to set the fight in front of orange flames? And the camera is often so close to the action that the screen is just filled with orange and there’s no actual choreography on display. It’s a fucking mess.
Also, as awesome as the Batmobile looks, we never actually get a decent look at it and Zack Snyder cannot direct vehicle chases to save his life.
The CGI on Doomsday is about on-par with the Cave Troll from ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’ but the rest of the film looks okay with a few inspired moments of cinematography. The fight we’ve seen in the third trailer where Batman beats up a dozen guys would have made for an incredible introduction to the character near the beginning, but it actually happens in the last 15 minutes and at that point I was just exhausted with the movie and just wanted it to be over (once again, this movie was edited and structured by someone who didn’t know what they were doing).
Two brilliant composers, Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL team up to deliver a musical score of mediocre proportions. Honestly, despite the talent here, none of the music stood out and the piano motif from ‘Man of Steel’ got way too repetitive. Costumes and make-up are fine and the $250M budget is clearly up on screen, but it just feels like the massive amount of locations and globe-hopping don’t justify what should have been an incredibly simple story. I’m tempted to say that the movie only filmed in numerous countries and location JUST so that Warner Bros. could get tax-breaks or something.
Also, and I know this is a nit-pick but it’s worth mentioning, the way Zack Snyder photographs the male form makes Joel Schumacher’s bat-nipples and bat-ass look classy by comparison. Just saying.
‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ is an utter failure on every single creative level. How a movie this big and this important to Warner Bros. with decades upon decades of source material to draw upon and this many people involved and invested in its quality and success could turn out to be THIS bad is something that will rock the movie industry to its core over the next few years. With DC’s ‘Suicide Squad’ basically in the can and ‘Wonder Woman’ finishing filming anytime now with ‘Justice League: Part 1’ filming next month with at least 5 other movies in pre-production, expect to hear news over the next few weeks of major firings, re-shoots, movie delays and even outright cancellations, because building a cinematic universe upon the rotten, broken and decrepit foundations of a movie like ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ is akin to the travel industry building more hydrogen fuelled airships after the Hindenburg Disaster.
I normally don’t do this in these reviews but if Warner Bros. want to try and salvage this Cinematic Universe and recoup any losses then their best plan is to cancel all DC movies in pre-production and finish their current projects before a reboot. Release ‘Suicide Squad’, Wonder Woman’ and make one ‘Justice League’ movie (without Zack Snyder and Chris Terrio, obviously) to finish the story. Mark my words, ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ is going to be a cautionary tale on how NOT to make a cinematic universe and I wish it was a tale that didn’t have to have such a depressing ending that will surely kill the mainstream, blockbuster careers of almost everyone involved on the creative side.
Is it the worst comic book movie ever made? I can’t go THAT far, but it’s easily the most high-profile, far-reaching catastrophe of the sub-genre and the worst movie to bare the DC branding of the 21st century so far. Ben Affleck and Jeremy Irons are the sole bright-spots as well as a few affective images, but in a movie this long and a movie this portentous it’s simply not nearly enough to recommend to anyone but the morbidly curious. For a movie that should have been simple but visceral, blockbuster-fun…how could a movie THIS big and THIS important turn out THIS bad?
I give ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ half a star out of 5.
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Posted: 27th Mar 16