By: Samar Khan
This may have been the most frustrating review that has ever been penned by any one of the members here at Team TFL (The Film Lawyers).
After our Man of Steel review that praised the Superman reboot but noted it had some glaring flaws that needed to be ironed out in this enhanced successor, our expectations were, therefore, slightly lowered heading into Zack Snyder’s latest blockbuster. In the case of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (henceforth abbreviated as BvS), skepticism was at the kind of level unseen for any major film in recent memory, and rightfully so. Does BvS live up to the enormous hype generated by its title alone? The answer isn’t either yes or no; rather, the answer sits somewhere in the middle.
MINOR SPOILERS FOLLOW FOR BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE.
Ben Affleck as Batman/Bruce Wayne in Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Let’s begin with the plot. Simply stated, it was fairly well told. We get some nice banter setting up the relationship between Superman/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) and Lois Lane (Amy Adams). We also get some superb scenes between Ben Affleck, as Bruce Wayne, and Jeremy Irons as Alfred, the butler. Irons’ version of Alfred contrasts heavily with Michael Caine’s preceding portrayal in Christopher Nolan‘s Dark Knight trilogy. Irons is the “I’ve been with you for 20+ years as Batman’s butler so just be a wrecking machine if you want” sort of Alfred. Caine’s approach to the character from the Dark Knight trilogy, on the other hand, was far more grounded, and better suited a younger Bruce Wayne. The story was definitely ambitious at points, with some scenes going over very well with the audience. For example, even something as overrepresented as the murder of the Wayne parents was actually not annoying here, as its use and presentation in BvS is breathtakingly gorgeous.
Of course, there were some issues with the story. To call the plot flimsy would be doing it a great injustice. Those who have seen the trailers, especially THAT second trailer, know Batman’s motivation for feuding with Superman. It mainly centers on the former’s dislike of the latter’s collateral damage ensuing from his fight with General Zod in Man of Steel. The opening scene of BvS explains where Bruce Wayne was while the brawl was taking place. It does an absolutely excellent job at setting up the issues Earth with Superman could have with the alien demigod running around unchecked. The rest of the film follows a formula that is rather basic: Batman gathers intel, they fight, they become friends. Simple enough, right? For the most part, this formula works. The issue, however, concerns just how flimsy the reasoning for Batman’s quest to beat down Superman is portrayed. The film lacked the kind of deep internal struggle and heart searching required to cause his perceptions to change throughout the course of the story, leading up to the ultimate change in the end. Instead, it almost comically under-discussed this dimension of his character arc, allowing its absence to stick out as a bit of a sore point.
Keeping on topic in regards to issues with the story, it felt as if there were 7 storylines taking place at the same time. Seven. While the majority of them were easy to follow and mostly resolved, it lent the story – and by extension, the film- an air of clutter that it didn’t rid itself of until the climactic battle(s).
Doomsday in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Despite the flaws with the story, the film’s strongest aspects were clearly the visuals and the strong acting (and boy, did they shine). Beginning with the visuals, I’m not exaggerating when I claim that this is probably the finest looking superhero-based film since Snyder’s own Watchmen. The fine use of CG and the orgasmically wonderful characterizations of Batman and Superman blended beautifully together. Their ultimate showdown in the final hour was a spectacle that needs to be witnessed. Snyder nods to the greater DC Universe (the “knightmare” scenes in the film hint at one of the most powerful villains in DC lore appearing in the near future), acknowledging its existence as an important element to establishing a wider franchise ala Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. The visuals were one department in which Snyder upheld his reputation. The fight choreography was phenomenal and addressed a MAJOR criticism of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Namely, said criticism centered on the fact that the celebrated auteur (Nolan) horrendously failed to capture the fisticuff prowess of his larger-than-life characters and delivered poorly framed quick cuts instead. It should not be a surprise that such scenes were excellent as, for all of the criticism garnered over his career, Zack Snyder has demonstrated that action and visuals are something that he probably is the standard bearer for.
The acting was another strong point, but not quite how people expected. Jeremy Irons and Amy Adams were strong as usual (although Adams’ ‘damsel in distress’ narrative was rather painful and limited for a multiple Oscar nominee). It is Ben Affleck, however, who easily steals the show. For those unfamiliar, the greatest source of skepticism for most was whether or not Affleck could truly don the role popularized again by Christian Bale, and wow audiences. This author, who firmly enjoys everything Ben Affleck related post-2007, was rightfully optimistic. Let’s put it this way: Affleck’s version of Batman was so badass, it’s not a stretch to say that it may be the best interpretation of the Dark Knight to ever be put on screen, barring Kevin Conroy in select animated Batman films. That’s how impressive the Oscar winner was, both as the suave and brooding Bruce Wayne, and as the brutal and dark Batman himself. Here’s your tagline again: Come for the superheroes, stay for the Batman. That wasn’t hyperbole.
Another surprise was the performance delivered by Gal Gadot as Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman. She too fell victim to intense scrutiny for being cast in the role of the iconic DC superheroine. Gadot was phenomenal as the Amazonian goddess. Her character had the requisite charisma to make her sly smirk, and epic-in-nature lines delivered during a certain climactic battle rather mesmerizing to witness. All this was complemented by a very, very wonderfully tuned score crafted by Hans Zimmer. If you can, give her tune a listen. Her theme was as “kick-ass” as one would expect for a hero of her stature.
If there was a performance that was questionable, it would be the one brought forth by Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, Superman’s biggest adversary. While his acting was fine, it was difficult to shake the feeling that he was just recycling his role as Mark Zuckerberg from the David Fincher classic about the Facebook founder, trying too hard to frame it around the character of Luthor. His inability to leave The Social Network persona behind drags his scenes down a bit.
Henry Cavill (L) as Superman, Gal Gadot (C) as Wonder Woman and Ben Affleck (R) as Batman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Getting into the technical bits is where the issues begin to show. As mentioned, the visuals were excellent and the soundtrack composed by Zimmer was as what you would expect from the Oscar winner. However, to reiterate a repeated sentiment across most proper critical reviews of the film, the editing was in need of some serious work. The first hour felt especially clunky. The scenes constantly seemed as if they were building to a required amount of tension, only to then be cut inexplicably. Additionally, it felt as if a considerable amount of scenes (mainly in the first hour again), were just jumbled together so as to move the plot forward, and get to the “action-y” bits. It’s clear that the studio meddled in this aspect, as the Director’s Cut of the film was close to 30 minutes longer than what audiences have been treated to. If the pattern holds as it has throughout Snyder’s career, expect to see the definitive version (and by far the better version) of the film to be the Blu-Ray release of the Director’s Cut. Watchmen and Sucker Punch have both illustrated this pattern. If the pacing of the first hour can be improved in any way in the Director’s Cut (understandably, that is a big “if”), fans can then properly enjoy 3 hours of two superheroes trying to settle their ideological differences. Here’s to hoping.
Additionally, this has not been a common train of thought but some of the quick cuts from perspective to perspective seemed very reminiscent of comic books, something co-writer Akram Shaban and I seemed to think was intentional. Snyder has experience directing comic book adaptations and it felt as if said cuts were indeed intentional to showcase how comic books are formatted. Fact remains that it still could have benefited from proper editing but the concept –if intentional- is admirable.
Another issue concerned the placement of certain scenes, namely the absurdly lazy way they were shoehorned into the film. Without getting into spoilers, one character sends another an email. In said email, there are videos containing glimpses of some members of the Justice League, which is DC’s version of a team of superheroes. While intriguing in concept and fairly well executed (the videos, at least), the way it was just randomly inserted into the middle of some different scenes was a jarring change of pace. It would have been better served as having been an after-credits scene, ala Marvel Studio’s way of doing things, as it would have kept the pace more consistent. Either way, catching glimpses of Chris Pine and Jason Momoa (Khal Drogo as Aquaman? Sign us up) was exciting and lessens the negative aspect of the poor placement within the film slightly.
Ben Affleck (L) as Bruce Wayne and Jeremy Irons (R) as Alfred in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
There were some other tidbits that were utterly fantastic and jumped out. In keeping with the darker Batman theme, the Batcave opening and Batmobile itself felt just appropriate for the character and earned major points for their beauty and placement. One aspect of the fight scenes particularly stood out: the ones that centered on Batman exclusively. The developers were very clearly inspired by the excellent Batman: Arkham videogames from Rocksteady Studios, with Affleck’s Batman using all manner of weapons and fighting techniques that were both fantastic to view on screen and a nod to the excellence of the combat from the acclaimed video game series. Seriously: Disruptor on guns? Check. Vertical takedown culminating in a henchman hanging upside down? Check. Enemies lifted straight from the Arkham games? Check. This Batman was a love letter to the Rocksteady Batman: Arkham video games and it showed.
The nods to the greater DC Universe referred to up above centre on the allusions to the villain Darkseid, the cameos of DC stalwarts Aquaman and The Flash were exciting and yet lacking. They were exciting for those that had an understanding of DC Comics lore and thus understood what was being portrayed. For those very new to the world of superheroes, more backstory was required, as the foreshadowing about Darkseid was ultimately too brief to mean anything to anyone except the 1% familiar with the character.
Henry Cavill as Superman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
So, after all of that, how does BvS score in The Film Lawyers’ more nuanced critical scheme? The film had some notable issues, that was for sure. However, those flaws were balanced out by superb visuals, solid acting, a FANTASTIC interpretation of Batman and insertion of Easter eggs that would make any DC Comics fan giddy with glee. Is it as bad as many reviews have been saying? No, it is not. The majority of the internet works with the mindset of a hive mind, meaning that once negative press gets out, it’s far easier to parrot that mindset than to analyze the entertainment medium in question properly. However, that does not mean that the film is perfect either. Similar to Man of Steel, the groundwork is laid for a future superhero adaptation in the same universe, this time with the upcoming Justice League film of 2017. It’s definitely worth a watch in theatres, albeit with lowered expectations. I’ll render ultimate judgement on the film come the release of the Director’s Cut, which may or not exceed the quality of the film we all did witness.
After careful consideration, The Film Lawyers have graced Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice with a grade of C+ (6.8/10).