After years of anticipation, Friday's release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice finally realizes every DC fanboy's wet dream: The heavyweight showdown between two of its most iconic heroes. But this isn't just a clash of comic titans; it's also a box office skirmish between conglomerations. If Warner Bros. really wants to take on Marvel and set in motion its own cinematic universe, it needs to start with something big. Something more than big.
Unfortunately, big doesn't always mean better. Some people have waited a lifetime to see these two heroes exchange blows, but witnessing them do battle winds up being more nightmarish and horrifying than Doomsday himself. Who knew seeing Batman and Superman duke it out would be such a disorienting experience?
Still, it was something I couldn't take my eyes off of, partly because I was in awe, and partly because I was in a dizzying state of discombobulation.
Since the film's announcement—and subsequent casting of Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, and Jesse Eisenberg—Batman v Superman has been under heavy pressure. Not just because it's the start of DC's Cinematic Universe, but because director Zack Snyder, who also helmed Man of Steel, took it upon himself to facilitate such a monumental fight; The Fight of the Century; The Greatest Gladiator Match in the History of the World.
Try as he might, Snyder doesn't quite nail the execution—but not as bad as you've heard. It's an exhibition to be sure, one that's visually and aurally impressive in its production and effects. Plenty of buildings topple, and there are explosions aplenty. It's unfortunate, then, that Batman v Superman is so flimsy in its explanations that none of it is justified.
Warning: This review will discuss some mild spoilers, but mostly acknowledge what's been shown off in the trailers.
Here's the basic setup: Having experienced the devastating climax in Man of Steel, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) becomes intensely enraged, to the point where he decides the only way to save humanity, which may or may not be in danger, is to preemptively murder Superman (Henry Cavill)—and there's no convincing him otherwise. A character typically portrayed as someone who walks a fine line between heroism and insanity becomes so grotesquely obsessed with Superman's existence that it verges on psychosis.
Aside from the unfortunate collateral damage inadvertently caused by Superman during his battle with General Zod, Batman never provides a clear and concise reason for wanting to kill him. He simply concludes that the only way to preserve life is to take another, even when there have been no overtures from Superman to be a legitimate threat. You can even argue that the Kryptonian alien has done much less harm than good; in that respect, Snyder treats Superman as a tragic figure. He struggles to fit in and come to terms with the fact that he can't save everyone. But none of that matters, because Batman is pissed.
Batman's unstable emotions are what drives the movie, and it's equal parts confusing and frustrating. Even when Supes, who is in a constant state of emotional despair, wants to hash things out and make peace, Batman sadistically lures him into some truly cruel and torturous traps. To that effect, Batman isn't much better than Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), who is seemingly in the movie to do bad things and act evil. There is a brief mention of some underlying daddy issues that help explain his behavior, but that's the extent at which the film attempts to give Lex depth. Batman isn't even given the courtesy of such depth, as his one emotion up until the end is anger.
Even still, I didn't dislike the movie's more brutish Dark Knight, especially when it focused on him doing what he does best: fight crime. If you've played any of the recent Arkham video games, his portrayal felt a lot like that—a mix of gadgets and the awesome ability to incapacitate enemies with a single punch. That scene of Batman taking out a group of thugs—we saw it in the trailers—is his best set piece, exemplifying the terror and grace he brings to the big screen. If we do indeed get a standalone Batfleck movie, I would not be opposed based on this scene alone.
As for Eisenberg's portrayal of Luthor, you've probably heard it all by now; he's a squeaky, manic version of the character he played in The Social Network; he's the Joker without makeup, full of weird tics and unhealthy fixations. I wasn't as annoyed by this version of Lex as everyone else, but it certainly wasn't the boorish, threatening character we've seen before (maybe that's because he's supposed to be Lex Luthor's son).
Thankfully, Batman v Superman isn't all just explosions and angry frowns; it features some strong visual and existential messages—of power, whether it should be controlled, and how it corrupts; of God and man, heaven and hell. But the film spends so much time telling and so little time showing that any thematic motifs are overpowered by the onscreen mayhem. When the fight between the two heroes finally happens—more than halfway through the film—it's so sadistic and vicious that it's actually kind of difficult to watch. And the side characters just don't have much to do; they're merely plot devices.
To be fair there were some tender moments between Superman and Lois Lane, and finally seeing the Trinity was immensely satisfying. Snyder also cleverly hints at who will appear in Justice League Part One, giving fans a nice taste of what's to come. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), meanwhile, is also a highlight. She's strong and virtuous and coolly one-ups Bruce Wayne during a chance encounter at Lex Luthor's party (for I don't know what). Unfortunately, her involvement is brief, designed to tease her solo outing in 2017.
Despite its faults—and there are many—I left the theater excited and anxious to see more, hopeful that DC can build its own coherent cinematic universe; hopeful that Snyder can catch his breath and find his stride when Justice League Part One comes out.
From a pure entertainment standpoint, Batman v Superman delivers in peaks and valleys; it's the plot and the reasoning behind the plot that gets in the way. Although Affleck's Batman has asinine motivations, I liked the more hulking and barbarous portrayal. Cavill's Superman, meanwhile, goes through a powerful emotional arc, while Wonder Woman, who gives us a much-needed break from the movie's hypermasculinity, steals every scene she's in.
Batman v Superman is disorienting and loud and at times incoherent, but for what it's worth, I'm going to see it again this weekend. I suggest you do the same.
As an aside, if you do decide to check out it, do yourself a favor and check it out in Dolby Cinema, which provides a deeper, richer, and more immersive viewing experience. To learn more about Dolby's technology, and how it was utilized for Batman v Superman, check out this video.