And another review has arrived! This time, I'll be talking about a movie that again has been reviled by critics, even more so than my last review of Daredevil Season 2. This film has a 30% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 44 on Metacritic, but is it as bad as they seem to believe?
Short answer, no. Long answer: no, and here's why.
Batman v Superman is one of the most over-hyped movies of the past few years, right up there with Avengers: Age of Ultron and Star Wars Episode VII. These all were announced around the same time in 2013, and BvS was hit hard with backlash from the get-go. Why are Superman and Batman fighting? Why did they title it Dawn of Justice? Why Ben Affleck? And to make matters worse, it was pushed back not once, but TWICE, first to May 6, 2016 (in order to perfect the story) and then to March 25 of that year, to avoid a certain other superhero beat-down coming that same day. As the other two films came out much earlier, people had to wait even longer for BvS and I honestly don't think that helped matters, but that's neither here nor there. Let's dive into the actual review and see just why this movie was actually very different from the critical portrayal.
Spoilers for the entire film ahead (covered, of course).
If there are any major problems with BvS, the cast is surely not one of them. Honestly, these three up above are the best live-action versions of every one of their roles. Ben Affleck, in his much-hated and much-memed casting as Batman, shines as a tortured and grizzled old warrior who has been fighting for far too long and has experienced far too much heartbreak and death. His portrayal is better in my opinion then that of Christian Bale: no growling, equally good Batman and Bruce Wayne sides, generally stellar acting moments, etc. He really deserves praise for this role and the critics have actually been happy to give it to him. Gal Gadot absolutely STEALS the film as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. The only time that I heard a large amount of applause in the theater was when she arrived, and her arrival as well as the build-up to that point are fantastic. Fans wanted a good live action Wonder Woman and boy, did they get one. And by the way, while we're here, STOP INSULTING HER BUST SIZE. I have had it up to here with this anti-feminist and ungentlemanly garbage from comic fanboys that just want to see women as a sex object, and so has she.
So now I have to get into spoiler territory to discuss Superman. Henry Cavill again shines in this role, a role I feel was actually made for him. Grandma, if you're reading this, I love Christopher Reeve, but this version of the character is multi-layered with an excellent backstory (albeit overshadowed by Man of Steel's bigger flaws). In this film he gets even better treatment, mostly by the virtue of Cavill's acting skills rather than the writing (but I digress). And of course I have to talk about the actual spoiler here, which is his death. They decided to adapt the Death of Superman story from the 1990s along with The Dark Knight Returns for Batman, and believe it or not it is actually done very well. His demise is emotional and truly a noble act, as he sacrifices himself to save Metropolis from Doomsday. This is exactly what fans who complained about his disregard for human life in MoS should really look at. Honestly, the only reason there was so much carnage in that film was his inexperienced nature, and this film gets into that.
The supporting cast is no joke either. Again, Lawrence Fishburne plays an excellent Perry White (please don't kill him off, DC). Amy Adams also does well in her returning role as Lois Lane, though she gets less screen time than before; she is actually pretty integral to the plot as I will get into later. Jeremy Irons is honestly the heart and soul of the movie as Alfred Pennyworth. He gets some excellent and truly sarcastic and witty lines during his many conversations with Bruce, and he is far more active (and actually younger) than any other actor in the role. Holly Hunter does well as Senator Finch, another witty character, but I felt that she was underdeveloped and that her motivation was nonsensical. Tao Okamoto is also underdeveloped and underused but still fine.
And of course, the villains. Ahh, Jesse Eisenberg...perhaps the miscasting rumors were at least partially true. I will admit that the villains of this movie are NOT its strongest points. Eisenberg is 100% too crazy, following a disturbing trend of DC Comics villains being too maniacal and far too over-the-top. However, at least Michael Shannon as Zod in MoS was credible, had a good backstory, and was motivated. In this film, Luthor's only motivation seems to be exactly the same as Batman's-he thinks Superman is a threat-but the general premise and his plot are sometimes foolish. His ending plan was good (which I'll get into in spoiler talk later) but overall he was too rapid-fire, over-the-top, and not at all Machiavellian like his comic counterpart until the very end (and even then still too crazy). The thing I did like about his performance was its setup for Justice League, in that he hints at the arrival of a certain villain that I'll speak more about later as well. Doomsday, also, is not perfect. He does not follow the comics at all in his size, his power set, or his intelligence and origin (mostly). The part that bothered me the most was his explosive shockwave powers, which are not in the comics and just gave Snyder the excuse to have more destruction in a film that was doing well in that regard. The side villains were fine, however, and the hints towards the Joker were great.
The story is the most attacked part of the film, and while I will admit it is not perfect, there is definitely a lot of promise present. I particularly like the buildup for the fight between Batman and Superman, which was done well and made good use of the suspenseful nature. I did think the fight was a tad short, but that has been hammered by most critics and I don't believe it was deserving of such hate. It is brilliantly shot and the characters' motivations make sense (more in spoiler talk). The idea of Superman being held accountable for the mass destruction in Metropolis makes great sense as well, and I think that this idea at least partially excuse the sheer level of such destruction. On a related note, the destruction level in this film is actually seriously reserved until the end, where it gets to almost the same level as MoS (thanks Snyder). The adaptations of the comic storylines as mentioned above are also good and very accurate, surprisingly enough.
In spoiler talk, the plan that Luthor has seems kind of stupid and nonsensical until the part where he pits Batman and Superman against one another. He kidnaps Martha Kent and tells Supes that if he refuses to kill Batman, he will murder her. Also, he knows that Batman has kryptonite that was stolen from LexCorp, which means that there is the potential that Batman could kill Superman. Either way, this works out for Lex, because in one version Superman looks bad for murdering someone in cold blood and in the other, Batman gets rid of the person that Lex hates so much. His contingency, also, makes sense; the creation of Doomsday means that probably both of them will die. Obviously he didn't expect Superman to sacrifice himself. However, this plan is very complicated and hard to understand in and of itself and the fact that it takes Lois's involvement to stop the two titans from fighting is somewhat dull. And yes, there is a lot of setup for the JL in this film; Wonder Woman and Batman are both trying to get at files that Lex has about her, the Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman. This setup is good but probably could have been saved for a post-credits stinger. I do particularly like the cameo from Jason Momoa as Aquaman, as it is well-shot. Also, Darkseid is hinted at in a strange vision that Batman has of a post-apocalyptic future in which it seems Darkseid has taken over Earth and Superman has allied with him. It seems that Flash shows this to him, but this moment made no sense whatsoever and I will talk about this and other dream sequences in the plot problems section. I overall liked the JLA setup but felt that sometimes it distracted from the main plot.
In more problematic news, the storyline could be extremely unfocused at times and definitely was out of whack in many places. In particular, there were about five or six dream sequences that, while well done, were mostly blatant and unnecessary. They distracted from the plot far more than the JL setup. To make matters worse, the use of Lex for any sort of exposition whatsoever was stupid to say the least. He is so motormouthed and insane that listening to him and attempting to understand what he was saying at the same time was impossible. So yes, I do agree that the storyline was flawed at times as many people said.
SPECIAL EFFECTS, CINEMATOGRAPHY, AND DIRECTION
As usual, the special effects in the film were generally fantastic. They were mostly well-rendered and shot, and the fight scenes and choreography were all phenomenal. I was particularly impressed, as mentioned, with the fight between Batman and Superman. Also, I loved the fight between Batman and the goons shown in the final trailer, which comes pretty late in the game story-wise. The Doomsday fight was also really good, with most of the spectacular special effects coming into play here. I also enjoyed the beginning, where it flashes back to Man of Steel. However, there were some effects that were poorly rendered, especially in some of those JLA stingers.
As for cinematography, I generally thought it was brilliant as Snyder films usually are. The main issue I had was the continuation of some of the grayscale from MoS, which a lot of people on YouTube have shown to take place for most of that film. It reappears in certain scenes in this film, which makes the lighting really terrible and often distracts. However, it was not as consistently used, so that was a big improvement. The opening sequence with Thomas and Martha Wayne's murder was also beautifully shot, with some very noir vibes.
And finally, the direction. Honestly I think this is the BIGGEST PROBLEM that this film had. Look, I love Zack Snyder in moderation, but the problem with BvS is that he made it. The scenes are too rapid fire, the shots and angles are often strange, the pacing is poor sometimes, and on top of all that the destruction once again rears its ugly head. Snyder just can't stop with the massive explosions and devastation. I will give him credit that it was more reserved than before, but it still was entirely unnecessary. Doomsday did not have to have his powers changed just so there could be massive nuke-looking energy blasts. And there was even an actual NUKE used, just like in the first Avengers movie. One point that I will give to Snyder (though it is probably the writers and focus-group coordinators that deserve credit for it) is that the military people that are seen intermittently during the third act make it quite abundantly clear that the places that Doomsday and the Big Three are destroying are uninhabited. However, that does not excuse the fact that the destruction should only have been on the level of perhaps the Hulk in the Marvel films, and Snyder specifically made it more over-the-top. I will be writing an editorial very soon regarding Snyder's effect on the DCEU and why I think that after BvS's reception, he should be fired and replaced.
Yes, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is flawed. Yes, it is not a perfect movie. And yes, it is deserving of some criticism for the plot and especially the direction. However, the saving graces of this film are more dominant than the flaws. The cast is stellar, the story is most often fairly coherent, the setup for Justice League makes me very excited, and the movie looks excellent. I think that Snyder should be canned, but don't fire the effects team, that's for sure. No doubt, the fans of comic book movies will generally like and appreciate this film. And for that reason I would suggest seeing it for yourself rather than listening to anyone's criticisms too wholeheartedly. Perhaps it is sometimes deserving, but as a movie goes, this one is far and away more good than bad.