Amid the vast landscape of modern superhero movies, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice takes aim a little higher than the usual popcorn entertainment. It wants to ask the tougher questions of vigilantism and how a being such as Superman fits into the politics of national security. It delves into the damaging nature of pathos that shapes men into monsters of frightening horror. And it takes plenty of shots at relating to the struggle of man versus god versus devil. But in trying to hit all these key points while still making an action picture that serves as a commercial for future DC Comics features, the movie becomes a bloated mess of good ideas that never really solidify into a great film.
Director Zack Snyder has stated that he’s a big comic book fan, and I believe it. He directs this picture as if he’s at a buffet of his favorite DC comic titles, picking and choosing his favorite stories and moments to be placed in the movie. The Dark Knight Returns has a really cool fight between Batman and Superman—got to have that. Trinity was pretty neat, and it would be pretty awesome to see Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman on screen. And who could deny the emotional gravity of Superman valiantly fighting Doomsday? Rather than string all these milestones from the DC comics into a cohesive story, Snyder concocts a Frankenstein’s monster of a superhero movie that plays more like a best-of mashup with poor editing.
There’s a strong opening, with Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) racing through the streets of Metropolis during Superman’s fight with Zod from the previous film, Man of Steel. Having witnessed his employees go down in flames and saved a girl who lost her mother, the Dark Knight of Gotham selects the Man of Steel as his latest target. Upping his game as Batman, Wayne devotes his resources to forging an attack plan against Superman (Henry Cavill). He’s not the only one, either—many Americans have taken note of the Kryptonian’s fearsome power, and it has crippled them with hatred and paranoia. Eccentric billionaire Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) plans to capitalize on this for the chance to play the mad scientist of the picture.
But there’s hardly a moment to build on any of this as screenwriters Chris Terrio and David Goyer load the movie with too much of everything. There are too many unique areas of character examination that are rarely built upon, to the point where actions just happen to keep the plot on schedule. Why is Lex Luthor so determined to get his hands on Kryptonite? We know he’s Superman’s number-one human enemy, but the script could at least give a decent explanation as to why he’s so insane in this portrayal that he becomes more Joker than Luthor.
The dialogue also suffers from overstuffing the plot. Since so little time is given to explore Superman’s moral dilemma and Batman’s vengeful psychosis, most of their banter is blunt and simplistic. This sticks out as a sore thumb in a story that wants to say so much, but can’t find the right words (or even make time for them). Scenes that should feel powerful and poignant mostly fall flat due to approaching such subjects of justice and security with the subtlety of a wrecking ball.
What’s rather surprising about the movie is how many aspects of the production that had seemed questionable when the public learned about them ended up being bright spots in the final product. The biggest quarrel most seemed to have with Dawn of Justice was the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman, but he’s actually the strongest aspect of the movie; there’s a depth and dimension to his character as an individual succumbing to revenge. We spend more time with Bruce Wayne outside of the Batman suit, and Affleck’s performance makes this lesser seen on-screen identity shine brighter.
The big battle that comes standard with every superhero picture was rather engaging and easy to follow, with some great shots. There’s a brief moment of electricity in the air when Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are all fighting together with a common enemy, and the scenes clearly display that Snyder is better suited for handling the team-up aspect of Trinity than the social commentary of The Dark Knight Returns.
My worst fears were realized when it became very clear that Batman v Superman was more of an extended preview for other DC Comics movies. Like children who discover their presents before Christmas, the audience is subjected to the whims of a director and screenwriters who can’t help themselves from revealing all the superhero elements for this one picture, spoiling any possible surprise for upcoming DC movies. Wonder Woman is present, but only when called upon for the climactic battle, slinking in the shadows with sexy dresses until the fight starts. Other Justice League members are revealed, but only briefly in a forced moment of uncovering secret files. There is even foreshadowing via two dream sequences in a row about what dangers lie ahead for the forthcoming Justice League movie.
There might be some anticipation in all this for the hardcore comic-book fan, and maybe some curiosity for those that haven’t read the source materials. But as someone aware of the DC Comics mythology nods and a little burnt out on superhero movies, I found these additions pointless in the current climate of franchise building. I would have been excited by the presence of Flash and Aquaman if I didn’t already know that Warner Brothers had these plans set two years ago. It would also help if, you know, they had some role in the current story.
For being the first live-action movie pairing Batman and Superman, Zack Snyder wants it to be a grand event. While he certainly does attempt to inject the best parts of the comics onto the screen, he has taken on a project too grand for his abilities. I admire his ambition for shooting toward something more daring and questioning within a genre in dire need of a shift, but this is a case where you truly can have too much a good thing. There’s a great movie in here. In fact, there are three great movies, but having them all smashed together does not a superhero epic make. As such, Batman v Superman will most likely only be remembered as When Bruce Met Clark: a two-and-a-half-hour advertisement for Justice League.