What I'm Watching: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Almost three years ago I watched and review Man of Steel, like a good comic fan with a movie review website. My views on the movie were contrary to popular opinion, to say the least. I genuinely enjoyed the movie, in spite of its flaws, and to this day will fight people and defend Man of Steel.
So now we come to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. It's been highly anticipated, and controversial, for things the movie actually did, and what the people online thought it was going to do, AND what rumour sites claimed it was going to do.
Many reviews have already come out, giving this movie pretty damning reviews, and a few even calling this an outright travesty.
I am here to tell you...it is far, far from that. In fact, I actually REALLY enjoyed BvS. ...I am not typing that overly long colonated title over and over again.
Great, I am going to become known as Jason Grey, the defender of Zack Snyder's Superman movies.
The story picks up RIGHT after MoS, from Bruce Wayne's point of view during Zod's attack on Metropolis. It's a great sequence, unquestionably. It restates what came before for people who didn't see the other movie, it reframes it in a whole new context, and with Bruce Wayne setting things up, everything is framed from HIS perspective, which also sets up the conflict nicely for the movie. The first ten or so minutes is like watching Zack Snyder's Batman movie, and that makes NOT calling this "Man of Steel 2" make a lot of sense.
But make no mistake, this is not Bruce's movie. It easily could have been, with the starting scenes, but it does serve to give Bruce equal weight in the story, and he needs that if he's going to go toe to toe, in a figurative way, against Superman.
The first movie used a lot, A LOT, of Christ imagery and allegory, and the second movie actually makes use of that, with people thinking of Superman as their new god, their saviour. I can actually forgive a lot of the previous imagery now, since this movie heavily leaned into it and made it PART of the narrative, just not cool images. Of course, any good Superfan knows, it's supposed to be Moses allegory, but I digress...
I genuinely like that the idea of a Superman appearing now totally works in this context. You have people thinking he's great, you have the paranoid people thinking he's here to take over, or worse, and it actually makes Lex's motives seem far more reasonable than they ever were before. Hooray for paranoia!
The movie juggles a LOT of plot threads, with Bruce investigating some stuff, Lex's machinations, Superman dealing with governmental concerns, and his own crisis of faith in himself, and if he should step back...oh, and there's also Wonder Woman lurking about. And somehow, the movie actually pulls these various ideas together in the final act, in an overarching plot that actually makes sense. Probably less so if you look really closely, but comicbooky supervillain plots generally do that ANYways.
Henry Cavill continues to be great as Superman and Clark, bringing his own sensibility to the roles, while still giving gentle nods to other portrayals. I have zero complaints with Cavill, but the plot does do Superman a disservice or three. The story demands there be this arrogance to Superman, and that just COMPLETELY misses the mark on who and what the character should be and what it represents. I gave the first movie a giant pass on a lot of what it did with the character, simply because it was positioned as the first few adventures of Superman, and he was still learning. He's not fully baked yet, so he's not 100% the Superman we've known for almost 80 years. But this movie he SHOULD be that character, he SHOULD be Superman, more or less. But when he has this *arrogance* and attitude of "Wait, I *do* know better than you humans! I AM your saviour!" then we start to have problems. First of all, that's not Clark. Second of all, it makes every single fear from every other person in the plot ABSOLUTELY JUSTIFIED. He *is* one bad day from taking over. It left a bad taste in my mouth.
Remember when Ben Affleck was cast as Bruce/Batman, and everyone lost their minds and said it was going to be terrible? Well, I was one of the few people who went against the internet hate machine, and said wait, wait. Ben's actually a good actor. Sure, Daredevil was a flop, but he actually had some good stuff in there. That's another movie I'll fight people over, but I digress. And let me tell you, I was right on this one. Affleck is GREAT as Bruce. Maybe a little less so as Batman, but he is just amazing as Bruce. He brings this level to the character, and you can feel all the pain and tiredness he's gone through in this unseen story of his fight against crime for 20 years.
The same goes for Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. She has less to do in the plot, but she stands equally strong against the other two of DC's trinity. Her character shows her cunning, saves the day a few times, and she is more than at home amongst these other characters.
And then...and then there's Jesse Eisenberg. This was not so great. When he was cast, I was willing to give it a shot, but I was a bit more hesitant on this one, and again, I was right. I hated him far less than I feared I would, but he is still cringeworthy, and something just doesn't work. There are moments, and they are fleeting, where you see that he gets it, you see why he was cast, but then he Eisenbergs it up again. All his lines feel overly rehearsed. They didn't sound like dialogue, they sounded like planned lines he thought about all the time. Which could *almost* work for a character as controlling as Lex, but when it comes off as unnatural, it doesn't work. Even the uhs and ums feel planned meticulously.
There's a moment in the trailers, where he has the line, "The red capes are coming, the red capes are coming!" and in the trailer, it is played up as this MOMENT, this trailer moment of importance, and I was so relieved that stuff like that worked MUCH better in context of the movie, because the movie itself isn't playing it up as a big trailer moment, it's just Lex doing his thing.
My biggest problem with the movie comes from the rest of the DCU cramming itself in. This movie loved to use prophetic visions to tease us. They really added nothing to the plot, and could easily be removed. Giving Bruce a magic power of foresight just makes me cringe. It was fun to see the birth of these characters, but do we *really* need to spend five-ten minutes as Diana watches videos of other characters *not even in this movie*?
One things Snyder excels at is action. He's become known for the Snyder slow motion effects that then snap into normal speed. He overused that a bit in Man of Steel, but I felt he got the balance right this time around. They build things up so well with the conflict between Bats and Superman, that you genuinely believe that this human really can defeat the Man of Steel. I hate the fan notion (Bolstered by Grant Morrison in the comics) that Batman can defeat ANYONE. But he IS a master planner, and if given enough time to think about things, he CAN plan and find a way, and this movie works that in more or less nicely, and Batman may need a suit of armour, but he manages to almost defeat Superman, using everything at his disposal, including the bathroom sink!!
And really, that should have been the movie. Batman versus Superman, manipulated by Luthor into an impending conflagration, and then they realise they've been duped, and team up to punch Lex in the face. Preferably using Bruce's master planning skills to go right up against Lex's Machiavellian level plotting. Seriously, I love Lex's plot, even if it does fall into overly complex. That's LEX through and through, he loves the long game. It would have been sheer joy to see him and Bruce square off on a more mental level.
Largely, the movie IS what I wanted in that respect, but then it swerves into a final act where Lex creates Doomsday out of Zod's body and his own blood. Which really, Kryptonian DNA and Lex's should have created Superboy, but I digress.
Doomsday was unnecessary. All the movie needed was Batman versus Superman, then teaming up for great justice. Doomsday was tossed in just to bring it up to an epic catastrophe level, because this is the start of the summer blockbuster season. IN MARCH YES. THAT is a rant for another day.
Then the movie tosses in Wonder Woman (Which I at least don't mind) and then all the little teases of the Justice League coming in five years, and this and that...This really could and should have focused on Bruce and Clark, their conflict, and Lex. THEN we go to another movie with Doomsday and the Justice League. This was two movies crammed into one, and neither of them quite have the space they deserved.
Also, the ending swerved me. I did NOT see it coming, and that's rare. And the most frustrating thing is, knowing what I know, seeing what the movie had done up to that point, I REALLY SHOULD HAVE SEEN IT COMING.
Still, it was a thrill ride, and nowhere near the powerful locomotive wreck everyone feared, and so many people are saying. If you liked Man of Steel, you'll probably like this as well. If you hated MoS, this *still* might be worth your time, as it fixes some problems there, and has some solid action and great actors.
The movie is *almost* worth seeing for Affleck's Bruce Wayne and Wonder Woman, but just barely. I'd recommend seeing it on their performances alone, but the other problems of the movie counterbalance that a bit too much to say absolutely go see it. The acting is the single greatest reason to see this movie. The story might not be great, but the cast is top notch.
You already know if you want to see this movie, and I hope that if you're on the fence, I give you that last tiny nudge to going, because while this is far from perfect, far from great, it is a LOT of fun, and I *really* enjoyed it.
And while Ben may be great in this, and one of the strongest selling points, never forget that he was the bomb in Phantoms.