‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ a beautiful mess
I’m going to do something in this review that will probably piss off a lot of DC Comics fans: I’m going to compare Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith—and I don’t necessarily mean that as a diss. (Let’s not forget that Sith was really the only semi-decent entry in the prequel trilogy.) I just mean that both films left me with a similar reaction because both had really fantastic or iconic moments peppered into an otherwise boring and convoluted story. In fairness, both movies also took on the monumental task of bringing a highly anticipated cinematic vision to screen, and there was almost no way to live up to expectations. Still, those shining moments give you a glimpse of how great a movie could be if it didn’t have to spend so much time wading around in muddy storylines.
Dawn of Justice sees Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Superman (Henry Cavill) a few years after the almost total destruction of Metropolis in Man of Steel. The nation is rebuilding and adjusting to the reality that humans are not the only intelligent species in the universe, let alone the strongest or most powerful. Superman has elevated from Christ-like metaphor to pretty much full-on deity, with millions worshipping him as a hero and others questioning whether it’s right for one person to have so much power. Superman’s facing his age-old dilemma of putting Lois Lane (Amy Adams) above everyone else and potentially causing more damage by insisting on saving her all the time. Meanwhile in Gotham, the Dark Knight is older, more refined, but also more cynical and disenchanted. He doesn’t believe in Superman’s all-powerful good nature, having seen the dark side of humanity and the seemingly never-ending surge of crime.
The two are bound to cross paths at some point, and it just so happens to be at an event thrown by eccentric young billionaire Lex Luthor—who you will probably refer to as Mark Zuckerberg for at least the first fifteen minutes because Jesse Eisenberg isn’t straying too far from that iconic role.
At the same party, a mysterious brunette (Gal Gadot) catches Bruce’s eye and piques his curiosity when she seems to be a step ahead of him at every turn. So we’ve got all our characters together, but we’re not ready to get things started…not by a long shot. Unfortunately, we still have senate hearings, overly topical political controversy, the Superman-Lois love story, and many, many, many dream sequences to fill the 151 minute runtime. See what I mean when I say it’s kind of like Revenge of the Sith?
Somehow the end result is a movie whose plot feels simultaneously wafer thin and bloated with completely unnecessary scenes or characters. A lot of people will find themselves fidgeting in their seats by the time we finally get to the epic final battle. Everything from the inclusion of Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) to Perry (Lawrence Fishbrune) bitching about the sports section to Superman dreaming about getting advice from his dad (Kevin Costner) to a shootout in an African desert to Lex’s plan itself feels more like a draft than a final version, like someone said, “Shit! We’re already almost an hour into this thing and we still haven’t gotten to the part where they fight. Let’s just figure all that out later.” Unfortunately, this leaves us with way too many stories that don’t seem to go anywhere and scenes that are supposed to carry larger allegorical meaning but end up way too obvious.
The Superman-Jesus metaphors practically club you over the head—at one point there’s even a Kryptonite Spear of Destiny—but it feels like they’re only brought up when the movie suddenly needs to have a “heavy” moment. And honestly, I get it. Superman movies are obligated to lay some religious undertones on us just like Batman movies have to rehash how his parents died no matter how many times we’ve seen it, but you have to earn these moments through a plot, not just stick them in when it feels like you’ve strayed too far from your central story.
Now yes, I did have several major complaints about this movie, but it wasn’t all bad. Zack Snyder has proven to be the king of style over substance, so even the more boring scenes were visually interesting. It succeeded in giving Superman a depth that has been lacking in previous films without getting too cheesy. Affleck also silenced all the outraged fanboys who nearly revolted when he was cast as Batman, giving us a realistically hardened crime fighter who is more of a detective than the growly ass-kicker you might expect. While I like Eisenberg, I just couldn’t connect with Lex. There were a few times when his brand of crazy was fittingly menacing, but for the most part, I just kept wondering how this character orchestrated any of his more-confusing-than-dastardly schemes. The biggest surprise was that we got a very badass Wonder Woman who will be fun to watch in future installments.
If anything, the little teasers from the other members of the Justice League—including my beloved Jason Momoa as Aquaman—were a win, making me genuinely interested in seeing their individual films, no matter how tacked-on the cameos felt. When each character briefly appeared, I wanted to pause our current story and watch theirs instead. Dawn of Justice could have given us a solid story that felt satisfying while still leaving room open for the future cinematic universe…that is, if it wasn’t busy wading through such a muddy plot in the first place.