It has taken forty-seven years for Warner Brothers to release a film where their two most popular comic book characters meet. In an era where a superhero movie arrives every two to four months, how does the long-awaited and much anticipated Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice fair? Completely uneven. Before you scream Marvel fanboy, hear me out.
The task of bringing these two characters together is no small feat. Director, Zack Snyder, along with screenwriters, Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, had to not only continue the events of Man of Steel (2013) but bring a new Batman to the screen for the first time. This is not Christopher Nolan’s Batman, but one we haven’t seen before. It’s a Batman (Ben Affleck) who is losing (if not lost) his humanity, brands his victims, and even kills. He believes that taking out this alien, Superman (Henry Cavill), is merely a preventive measure that has to be carried out. What the audience is left with are numerous questions as to how Batman got to this point. We see his origin play out perfectly in the opening title sequence of the film. It not only brings the audience members up to speed (as if they really need to be after 8 theatrical films) but serves a purpose to the overall story. However, with only a few things eluded to, we aren’t given much as to why “The Bat of Gotham” is this bitter individual who doesn’t believe that there are good heroes left. It also doesn’t help that he proves that point in his own actions. Another Batman film, with Affleck in the lead, prior to this and we could have been given a basis for the character’s extreme motives. More often than not, I felt as if the powers behind the film assumed that the audience would just go with it, because after 8 films, why should we flush out the character’s motives even further? If this was their mentality, please point me to the Batman that kills.
The studio is gambling on the audience’s investment in these characters and believes that is what will draw them to the theater. Yet, much like this new incarnation of Batman, we are only given half of the story for Superman. The world which Man of Steel set up, showed us that not everyone was in support of him. Many people, both in the film and in the audience, held Superman responsible for the deaths of thousands around the world when the surviving Kryptonians raged war on the Earth. In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, we find that this fear still exists, but by the end, Superman is held in such high regard they honor him as if he had done no wrong. Again, the issue becomes time. We weren’t given two, if not three, films to see how the world feared and eventually embraced Superman. Warner Bros. gambles on our love for the character himself, not the one portrayed by Henry Cavill in only, now, two films.
What I found to be so incredibly contradicting is how well this story works, that not only brings Batman and Superman together and introduces Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) but finds time to set up a Justice League movie, as well. Snyder, Goyer, and Terrio pull from some of the greatest and most monumental DC Comics stories ever written to tell their tale. Elements of Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” populate the story and even turn the media focus on Superman as the threat. There were several panels that obviously inspired full sequences in the film and not just Batman’s armor. They also managed to place “The Death of Superman” by Dan Jurgens into the film, where Doomsday enters into the fray and becomes the motive where Wonder Woman has to decide whether or not she will stand with the heroes. The introduction of The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa) were also fitting for the story. Cyborg (Ray Fisher), on the other hand, was a bit much.
Wonder Woman’s entry into the story is the highlight of the film. It is done in an organic fashion, which helps to shed light on the other “Metahumans” that are in hiding. Gadot, who plays out the majority of the film as her alto ego, Diana Prince, is perfect as the Amazon Princess that we all hoped would appear in this film. She actually makes Affleck’s Bruce Wayne look foolish in their major, no-tights scene together. This brings us to the major sore thumb of the film, Ben Affleck. With or without the cowl, the actor is still Ben Affleck, a media celebrity and, unfortunately now, a regular in the tabloids. When his face is on the screen you think, there is Ben Affleck, not Bruce Wayne/ Batman. Henry Cavill was a relative unknown before he put on the blue suit, as is Gal Gadot. There is no face branding of them as of yet. This is great for the characters they portray and for the audience to separate the actor from the part in which he/she is playing. Affleck reminds you that you are watching a movie and that he is in it. It’s a role he doesn’t act poorly in, it’s just incredibly jarring that he is there.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a rushed film. It took Marvel years to get where it is with its characters, crossovers, and tentpole event films. Zack Snyder is the perfect director for this film. He proved with both his Dawn of the Dead remake and Watchmen, that he can tell a story with an enormous cast and make you feel invested in everyone. The fault here lies with the studio not giving the characters, Henry Cavill’s Superman and Ben Affleck’s Batman, time to develop on their own. We need to have more than just the nostalgia and spectacle of Batman and Superman squaring off. We need to be emotionally invested in these cinematic representations of the characters we care so much about. Without that, it might as well just be a video game.