I went and saw Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice last night, before the movie Zack Snyder came on the screen to tell us that we were seeing the movie before anyone else, and to make sure we don’t spoil any of the secrets to others.
This review will be as spoiler free as possible, if you have seen any of the trailers for Batman v Superman, then you will not be surprised by anything I say here (although I am going to go a little more in-depth to the comic book meaning behind some things).
Batman v Superman is the movie that is supposed to kick off Warner Brother’s connected DC Universe series of movies. Suicide Squad which features a cadre of villians taking on missions that the government wants to be able to disavow is up next August 23, 2016 (directed by the very capable David Ayer), followed by the Wonder Woman film (directed by Patty Jenkins) June 23 2017.
Let’s talk about the performances. Ben Affleck as Batman is incredibly good. He’s a much better Batman than Christian Bale was, and is very believable as Bruce Wayne. Henry Cavill is still wooden as Superman, he doesn’t have the boyish charm of either Christopher Reeve or Brandon Routh, he is stiff, intimidating, and incredibly overconfident. Gal Gadot though is incredible, she has me more excited about the future of the cinematic DC Universe than anyone else. The fact that her movie takes place during World War 1 has me very excited.
She is tough, clever, and amazing in a fight. There are scenes with her where she is getting tossed around and she pauses to flash a smile that looks like she is genuinely loving the moment.
Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor is playing the 1970’s style cackling villain, a lot of people have criticized his portrayal, but having been in tech long enough, I cringed at how similar to various people I have met Eisenberg appeared. He suffered from something that we see all too commonly among young men who have been incredibly sheltered their whole lives and who have been allowed to hide entirely behind their intellect at the expense of all other social pursuits, they aren’t really people and do not understand how to interact with the humans. To this end they often wear social masks where they attempt to emulate what they think someone would do in this situation. They know, for example, that they should start a conversation off with a joke to get people’s attention, but they don’t know what to do when that joke falls flat. They might make a very smart reference to an obscure Plato quote, unaware that their audience hasn’t memorized the complete works of Plato. This to me is what Eisenberg was striving for.
There was a ton of world building in this film, and as we’ve seen from the trailers and promotional material, there is a plan for Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg to be in the next Justice League instalment. The “Nightmare Batman” scenario that we see in the trailer has some great moments in it that foreshadow the rumoured big bad for the Justice League movies, Darkseid and his Parademons. He is exactly the kind of threat that would require a large team to be assembled, and he has the powers that could put all of the members in jeopardy.
The problem is that Snyder is just not a great director, he’s good, and he has an uncanny ability to ape moments from panels out of comics. There are incredible scenes all throughout the movie that look lifted out of a comic. He has a unique visual style where he films action and peppers it with slow motion to give his action scenes a rhythm. He is very good at action, but he isn’t good at the connective tissue that ties a movie together.
Take the Avengers movies, which while not as strong as many of the solo films (see Iron Man, Captain America, and Ant-Man in particular), have character beats that are far more memorable than the big battles. Iron Man debating Loki in Avengers, Cap quietly handing $10 to Nick Fury when he sees the bridge of the Helicarrier, Ultron’s monologue in Age of Ultron, the scene around Thor’s hammer which has an incredible payoff later…all of these serve to connect us to the characters on a human level, and make us believe that they care about each other and that they’re part of the larger world.
Batman v Superman has none of that.
Instead there is more punching, more fighting, and more destruction of property and massive loss of life that gets casually glossed over. In the Snyderverse, life is as cheap as CGI is plentiful.
In the end it makes for a movie that has moments of awesomeness but without the cohesiveness that makes a movie good or memorable.
I think the most telling thing about this film was Maks’ reaction this morning when his mom asked him what he thought of the movie. He had actually forgotten that we watched it last night.