REVIEW: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Theatrical Release Poster – Warner Bros.

The following is a spoiler-free review of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a Zack Snyder film.

Batman v Superman is finally here! Comic book fans have been wanting to see this film for decades, and moviegoers have been waiting for a proper sequel to Man of Steel since 2013. Somehow this film had to appease both audiences. My complicated history with Man of Steel has been heavily documented on this blog, and I don’t think I’ve really loved a Zack Snyder-film since his remake of Dawn of the Dead.

Needless to say, I was really worried about this film. Superman used to be one of my favorite comic book characters, and Batman still is one of my favorites – I want them to be given a proper treatment on the big screen. I just wanted to like it – that is all I wanted from this film. But, to be perfectly honest, I did not. At least not all of it. 

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice follows two of the greatest comic book characters of all-time – true legends – Bruce Wayne (played by Ben Affleck), the Gotham billionaire turned Bat-vigilante, and Kal-El, the Kryptonian god-like hero (played by Henry Cavill). The film opens by once again showing ‘the origin of the Batman’, and then jumps right into the end of Man of Steel.

Just like we saw in the trailers, Bruce Wayne was running around Metropolis while Superman was fighting General Zod in Man of Steel. This entire sequence was my favorite part of the film. It is absolutely terrifying and haunting, and it makes you think about what happened in New York in September of 2001. It is a really powerful sequence, and it sets us up with a great introduction of Bruce Wayne, and why he fears Kal-El.

I won’t go into spoilers, but suffice it to say that Superman’s reintroduction felt a little bit underwhelming in the theatrical cut – especially if you compare it to what we just saw with Bruce Wayne. Eventually, these two heroes are brought in front of each other, and we are left with a fight that, although somewhat brief, did leave me pleased with it being the promised ‘event’ of the movie (even if the end of the fight is really awful for reasons that I cannot get into, though I will say that it involves ‘a name’). Frustratingly, there is a lot that left me with a bad taste in my mouth both prior to and after the promised fight. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a very flawed film.

The first fifteen minutes of the film aren’t paced well, and, overall, I really, really hated how the film was edited together. That last thing really shocked me. Batman v Superman is all over the place – switching from one scene to an almost random one, at times (the extended edition really helps here). However, I love the cinematography in this film. Some of the shots are just extraordinary, and I especially love the sequence, which begins with a Dia de los Muertos celebration, that showcases Superman as the mythic savior character that he is in Snyder’s films.

I don’t think there was a lot to work with, dialogue-wise, but I will say that some performances will keep you locked in the experience of the film. And let us just start with the three most criticized castings: Gal Gadot as Diana Prince, Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, and Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman.

Gal Gadot isn’t in a lot of the film, so her performance was a bit tough to really criticize. Some of her lines really worked for me, but her last lines in the film didn’t. She doesn’t really hurt the film at all. In fact, I think people familiar with her alias will be very happy with what the character gets to do.

Lex Luthor is one of the most interesting antagonists in DC Comics, but I’m not sure everyone will be jumping up and down in their seats over this take on Lex Luthor. Jesse Eisenberg is a great actor, but I’m not really on board with everything he did in this film. I do think there is a chance that some will love what Eisenberg put into his version of Lex Luthor, but I fear that most will criticize him harshly. He definitely wasn’t as well-written as General Zod was in Man of Steel. And I was not a fan of Eisenberg’s version of the character. His Lex is just too silly for the tone that Zack Snyder’s DC films have gone for.

But the best performance in this film – without question – comes from Ben Affleck. He is a great Bruce Wayne, and he is one of the best live-action versions of Batman we’ve had. However, this is a very brutal and violent Batman, and I think the lengths he goes to might not sit well with everyone watching the film. But make no mistake, when this film was over, all I wanted was to see a solo Batman-film. And a lot of that has to do with Jeremy Irons, as well. Irons and Affleck worked well in their scenes together, and I definitely want to see more of that sooner, rather than later.

Now, on the Superman side of things, I really thought that Henry Cavill and Amy Adams worked better together in Batman v Superman than they did in Man of Steel, I liked their relationship here. However, I will also say that I don’t love the lines Cavill was given to flesh out his Superman. I will say that I wonder how huge Superman-fans will feel about Superman being very much outshone by Batman (and somewhat underwritten) in the film that was originally meant to be a sequel to Man of Steel. This film certainly seems more interested in Batman and the public reaction to superheroes rather than Superman himself.

Now, I haven’t, and won’t, go out of my way to reveal anything here, but one of the big official trailers made the mistake of revealing the appearance of a certain super-villain, and ‘it’ looks about as bad as ‘it‘ did in the trailers. Everything ‘it’ did fell flat for me. But ‘it‘ definitely wasn’t the worst thing about the film.

No, the worst superhero movie-sin this film makes is that it, at times, felt like a giant commercial for four of the upcoming DC Cinematic Universe-films. It lingers on easter eggs/previews of upcoming films for so long that it actually ends up being a much messier way of setting up the future of the cinematic universe than what Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 tried to do for Sony.

None of these previews, as I call them, were earned throughout the film. They just happened. And yes, I feel like the trailers revealed most of the plot points. The ending wasn’t revealed, but most comic book fans will figure it out along the way.

Also, some people might call it a plot-hole, though I’d rather call it an inconsistency, but they really don’t establish how great Superman’s powers are. Or rather, how great one of his powers is. Specifically, and I want you to think about this, Superman’s superhuman hearing only seems ‘super’ when it is convenient to the plot.

I’ve thought about it a great deal, and I don’t think this film was anywhere as good as it should have been. I actually think this is a bit of a mess. So, I definitely think that Man of Steel is a much better film than Batman v Superman, but I wouldn’t say that it is impossible to have a good time with Dawn of Justice. Ultimately, while there are some things in this film that I even came close to loving, Batman v Superman is a very disappointing film.

Ultimate Cut: In August 2016, I saw the ‘ultimate cut’ of the film. I think that version is somewhat better, even if a 3-hour movie is hard to sit through. So if you want to check this film out, then I would go with the ultimate cut. Even if it doesn’t fix all of the issues I have with the film.

5.5 out of 10

– I’m Jeffrey Rex