Following up Zach Snyder’s divisive Man of Steel in 2013 comes the Dawn of Justice: the legendary battle between two of Earth’s greatest hero. Bat of Gotham versus Son of Krypton. It’s Batman V Superman. And it’s nowhere near as epic as it should be.
After it was announced that the sequel to Man of Steel would feature Batman, and then Wonder Woman, and then casting Lex Luthor, Cyborg, Aquaman, The Flash and god knows how many characters, it became clear that BvS was DC’s bid to catch up to the years of worldbuilding Marvel had accomplished since 2008’s Iron Man. Somehow with so many characters and moving parts, BvS still feels like it’s missing something. That there are over 30 minutes of cut footage is evident, and yet it still feels stuffed with too much content. The desire to tell a deep story about these two heroes with conflicting ideologies is hampered by the executive desire to use this film as a stepping stone into the greater DC Extended Universe. In this way it suffers the same flaws as Avengers: Age of Ultron, and to a greater extent, Amazing Spider Man 2.
Batman V Superman picks up a year and a half after the events of Man of Steel, with humanity coming to terms with their alien guardian in different ways. The people of Metropolis have created a park in his honor over the ruins of the battle with Zod (which apparently only took down like two city blocks.) People the world over begin to revere him as a god and look to Superman as their savior. And yet others see the threat he poses; the danger in one man having absolute power. Enter Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor.
This a very tired Bruce Wayne. One who has been Batman for over twenty years, and has lived a hard life. Aside from Alfred, everyone in Bruce’s life is either dead or good no longer. Seeing the destructive power of Superman and knowing that absolute power corrupts absolutely, he makes it his mission to kill Superman for the greater good. Ben Affleck is the best onscreen Bruce Wayne there’s been, the weight of the cowl can be felt in his every move and every action. He’s brutal too; knocking men over and face-first into the floor with a single punch and blasting away vehicles full of goons. Technically he doesn’t “murder” but the idea of Batman committing manslaughter (which he definitely does) leaves a poor taste in my mouth. This is a man who feels like in the end he has accomplished very little, and that this mission might just be the most important thing he can do for the entire world. Given how well the performances of Affleck and Jeremy Irons as Alfred are, it’s a shame that they end up being the only standout performances.
Lex Luthor on the other hand, sees Superman as a challenge. I actually like the idea of this incarnation of Lex. Re-envisioned as the mogul of a tech-savvy corporation ala Microsoft or Google, Lex isn’t the kind of person made to be in the public eye. He is no politician, just a man with some mental imbalance, delusions of grandeur, and the money and power to make his dreams happen. His motivations are theological; he believes God cannot exist, as God cannot be both all-good and all-powerful. To prove Superman is no God, he sets out to pit the two heroes against one another. If Superman kills Batman, then he is not all-good. If Batman kills Superman, then he is not all-powerful. Either way the only true winner is Lex. His motivations are consistent and fit the character; the caveat being that Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal is clearly of man mentally unhinged to the very core. Rather than having an ego and the drive to be the best, he clearly suffers from many psychological disorders and feels like a man who genuinely needs help. It’s over-acted, and comparisons with this Lex being more akin to The Joker aren’t without merit.
While the setup for the film leads you to believe that humanity is trying to hold Superman accountable for the destruction of Metropolis, instead the core dilemma which sets events in motion has to do with a completely unrelated incident in which innocents died due to Superman’s actions. In a way this was nice in showing that he is continuing to make mistakes, but it also removes the weight of Zod’s attack. Instead it seems to be celebrated as a victory over alien odds rather than a great tragedy on the scale of six or seven 9-11’s. The way in which Clark Kent suffers based on his actions, conflicted in not doing everything he can to protect others and faltering under the insurmountable hopes for the world is a conflict that only Superman can face; and yet next to no attention is paid to it. What could be a great opportunity for Henry Cavill to bust his acting chops and make a Superman who is determined to right wrongs and be a better hero every single day instead leads to a downtrodden Superman who sees nothing but failure in himself. Amy Adam’s Lois Lane is back at it again trying to get to the bottom of the mystery as she was in Man of Steel, but once the hot fiery action begins she is relegated to being a damsel in distress who just happens to be in the worst places at the worst times.
All of this built toward a massive showdown with Lex Luthor’s disturbing creation: Doomsday. The slow burn and seeing the gears fall into place and build toward the birth of this powerhouse of a monster is completely undermined by his reveal in the trailers. Though at first he appears to look smooth as a baby’s bottom due to having just been born, as the fight goes on he begins to grow the signature spikes from his comic book appearance. He isn’t a true villain though; more a weapon. He is unleashed upon Superman and then brought to a super-conveniently abandoned port in Gotham (this is more lazy post-Man of Steel damage control, ensuring to the viewers that no innocents die in the fight) for a mythical showdown with the now-somehow best buds Superman and Batman. Oh, and Wonder Woman too. She stars in this movie, and yet utters not even a single line of dialogue to anyone other than Batman. The fighting is cool, but in that same damn way we’ve seen every big superpowered battle go. There is no fight choreography; Doomsday smacks them around and they go flying like it’s Dragon Ball Z, and it’s clear that this entire sequence was computer engineered. All of this bombastic action divorces the film from all the philosophical drama which preceded it, as if the fact that there was a greater threat instantly resolves any differences the two main characters might have had.
You don’t walk away from Batman V Superman excited, feeling like the heroes have grown a bond together and become friends. You don’t feel excited to see them reunite and continue to form the Justice League and tackle even greater threats. Instead you’re treated with a depressing, nihilistic ending; a fitting kick off for DC’s cinematic experience.