Batman V Superman is a massive film in every sense of the word. Whilst it features some great performances and action sequences, it is heavily weighed down with fan expectation and inevitably buckles under its own weight.
Dawn of Justice begins with another recap of the Wayne tragedy, where Thomas and Martha are gunned down in front of their son, Bruce. By now everyone knows the catalyst that propelled Bruce to become Batman, however it was nice to see this shot very closely to Frank Miller’s interpretation from The Dark Knight Returns comic series. We jump to Bruce (Ben Affleck) as an adult during the epic Metropolis battle from Man of Steel. Bruce is racing through the streets to help his staff at Wayne Tower. Unfortunately he is too late and we see the initial setup for Bruce’s hatred of Superman (Henry Cavill). I really liked seeing these events from the ground level, it really hit home the level of destruction that took place and felt very visceral.
We then move to Africa where Lois Lane (Amy Adams) gets tangled up in a hostage situation, shortly to be rescued by Superman. For me this was where the plot started to take a downward turn. In fact, most of the issues surrounding the film are down to Superman. Here, the enemy gang are slaughtered by soldiers that we later learn are working for Lex Luther (Jesse Eisenberg). Superman gets the blame for these deaths back in America and the public’s opinion of him begins to shift. This seemed ludicrous to me, surely proof would have to be presented for the deaths that Superman was being accused of? It wouldn’t take long for a coroner to realise these men had been shot and that Superman doesn’t use guns! It would have been more plausible had they been crushed or burnt.
Next, we are introduced to our aged Batman, who’s crime fighting methods have begun to creep over the edge of justified and move towards brutality; branding villains as a warning to others. Superman, as Clark Kent, learns of Batman’s antics and his righteous side dictates that he must confront the Dark Knight and convince him to retire once and for all.
Working behind the scenes is Lex Luther, portrayed here as a young, rich lunatic who seems to be less obsessed with money and power and more with the occult. Lex plots throughout the film to force Batman and Superman closer and closer to a showdown. Unfortunately, by the end of the film, Lex’s motivations become quite murky and you are left questioning some of his actions, even if they are the actions of a mad man.
Superman becomes embroiled in the political debate over his powers and Batman works to obtain a Kryptonite sample capable of defeating Superman, who he sees as a loose cannon with the ability to destroy humanity. That is the basic premise of the movie, I don’t want to say too much more to avoid spoiling everything. But what of the performances? Firstly, I thought Affleck’s Batman was fantastic. He’s a chunky, brooding, unstoppable force of nature that takes no prisoners. Every time he was on screen you knew someone was moments away from a severe beating and he really had a dark energy that made you feel nervous just to see what chaos he would unleash. Batman was easily the highlight of the film for me and with every appearance I couldn’t help but wish I was watching a solo Batman movie instead. My favourite scene was the warehouse where Batman takes down about ten enemies in a really vicious onslaught. The movements and pace felt like they had been lifted straight out of the Rocksteady Batman Arkham games and I can’t wait to see his standalone film. Amy Adam’s Lois Lane and Henry Cavill’s Superman felt much like their previous interpretations in Man of Steel and there isn’t really much to add here. It was good to see Lois getting involved in some of the action again and it feels like we’ve finally moved away from the damsel in distress characters of older movies. Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luther felt like a wasted opportunity. I like the actor and I was quite interested to see his take on Lex but changing the character into an off-the-rails psycho who appears happy to see the world destroyed for no logical gain, perplexed me. I ended up squirming a little whenever he would appear as I felt his antics and babbling commentary derailed the story at times. Lastly, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman appears in an extended cameo. Although she had next to no character development, I did enjoy her inclusion and feel that the cameos should have ended there. Gadot definitely looks the part and she was great in the final fight with a dynamic camera following her that felt like it was straight out of a videogame. She feels as though she fits into this new cinematic universe but I would have liked to have seen Batman and Superman questioning her presence further, they seem to quite quickly accept that she has these powers without asking if she’s an alien or a god.
During the early parts of BvS there are a number of dream sequences that delve into the fears of the protagonists. This is a plot device that isn’t often used in superhero movies and I felt was quite effective here. A few jump scares are included which create a feeling of uneasiness in the viewer and also make you question whether what you’re seeing is real or not. One sequence in particular, which has come to be known as the Knightmare, sees Batman in a post apocalyptic future where he clashes with soldiers that bear Superman patches on their uniforms. I loved this sequence, it was just so different to the tone of the rest of the film and displayed different sides to the main characters. I believe it’s meant to be a glimpse of what could happen if Darkseid (the rumoured villain of the Justice League films) wins the day. I would happily have watched more of this sequence and think that it would be great to revisit if Batman’s visions continue as a theme throughout the rest of the movie series.
Somewhere that the portrayal of the characters disappointed me was in their actions. A lot is done here to address the slaying of General Zod by Superman during the conclusion to Man of Steel, something that received a severe backlash from fans. The writers even went to the lengths of having the final battle take place outside of the city to try to make up for the sheer destruction of the first film. This time around we see the American public and government struggling to accept an alien who at times saves them from peril, but also is an unknown, capable of mass destruction. I really enjoyed the political side to this situation with snippets of talk shows and news headlines glimpsed. It really helped to engage the audience in the fictional setting and felt quite realistic. Other than this, Superman doesn’t do a great deal or speak very much at all. At one point he fails to notice a bomb in a crowded room because he ‘wasn’t the looking for it’. Surely, from just a cursory glance around a location he would take everything in? As I mentioned previously, I really liked Batman in this film, except for one flaw. In this universe Batman kills people, breaking his one, absolute rule. I’m happy with this older Batman going to greater lengths to obtain information and intimidate crooks but not to commit murder. In one scene we see Batman smash a car out of the way with the Batmobile, attach a tow rope to it and drag it around, bouncing off everything in its path before colliding it with another enemy vehicle. It’s quite clear that everyone aboard both cars would have been killed but it all seems to be in a day’s work for this Batman. Later, when confronted with a large anti-aircraft gun, Batman simply blows it up, including the man operating it. For me, this destroyed the character somewhat and created a brand new ‘Superman killed Zod’ scenario. Perhaps the writers wanted to set both Superman and Batman on the same level in this movie?
I don’t think it is a big spoiler to say that in the final battle scene, our heroes (Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman) put aside their differences to take on a common foe. This much was shown in the trailers and was kind of an obvious way for the story to conclude. Much has been said of the CGI in this sequence, especially regarding the enemy but I didn’t have a problem with it. The one little nag for me was that often a laser blast would fire or the creature would be surrounded by energy and the glow would fill the entire screen. There was literally nothing but super bright energy covering the frame. I guess this can be effective at times to show the power level of the beings but it occurred a few too many times for my liking.
One last thing that took me out of the experience was the music. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Hans Zimmer fan and I’m sure many would disagree with me about this but I felt at times the music was at odds with the visuals. A fairly mundane event would take place but would have the most dramatic, impactful music playing in the background. I haven’t listened to the soundtrack in isolation yet so I’ll give it another chance on the daily commute to work.
When I sat down to write this article I had to look up how the word ‘versus’ had been abbreviated for the title. I realised there are lots of ways to do so: ‘v’, ‘v.’, ‘vs’, ‘vs.’. It took me back to my childhood when my brothers and I would pen countless stories pitting all manner of heroes and villains against one another. I don’t think I’m alone in this and I believe it speaks to the strengths of the premise of this film. It harkens back to the playground arguments of who would win in a fight: Batman or Superman, Cap or Iron Man, Wolverine or…well Wolverine would probably defeat everyone! From the moment the title was announced there was already years and years of pressure on the production from just these types of conversations and fan’s expectations were through the roof. One thing I think everyone could agree on was that they wanted to see an absolutely epic battle between these heroes. The trailers implied that the film would be one long battle scene or would at least feature several smaller skirmishes but what you actually get is one fight that lasts roughly 15 mins about an hour and forty minutes into the runtime. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an awesome spectacle and arguably the best part of the film but personally, I wanted to see a bigger battle with trash talking and each hero testing the other’s weaknesses. Of the battle itself, I loved where Batman had set traps for Superman such as the twin sonic emitters and would have liked to have seen this developed further, with Batman drawing Superman into a cleverly-laid trap. The fight had all the elements that you wanted or would expect to see but left me wanting just a bit more.
I think the level of fan hype for this film was at such a fever pitch because unlike Marvel, who steadily churn out their movies twice a year, DC releases come along very infrequently. Unfortunately, this leaves a potted history of hits and misses without the comforting thought that something better will likely be released in six months time. If you didn’t like Thor 2, Captain America The Winter Soldier would soon be along to cheer you up. DC cannot say the same, if the Dark Knight trilogy wasn’t your thing then you were stuck with no alternative (we won’t talk about Green Lantern). Going into 2013’s Man of Steel, DC had the chance to put this right, setup a new shared cinematic universe and give Marvel a run for their money. BvS tries so hard to do this but somehow falls flat. Wonder Woman fits in well enough but is ultimately underdeveloped. I can, however, see the point of including her. DC have introduced the magical realm of their universe and can now feature more bizarre and fantastical enemies and scenarios. Marvel are still trying to ween their fans into the same space with Thor and Dr Strange. It feels like DC are saying ‘here are these fantasy elements, accept them and let’s get on with it’. Whereas Marvel are trying a softly, softly approach. BvS’s real issue is how much it tries to cram in to its runtime. It unashamedly shoehorns teases in for Justice League and all other DC solo movies to the detriment of the narrative. One very clunky sequence has Wonder Woman looking through files stolen from Lex that contain bios on each of the future Justice League heroes. For some reason, Lex has designed logos for each of these characters and used it as cover art for their folders. We are then shown a little video file glimpse of each in action to familiarise us with them ahead of the ensemble film. Watching one video after another seemed so clumsy to me, it felt like the way a television show would present this idea, rather than a blockbuster. If we’ve got the Wonder Woman standalone film next and then Justice League, I don’t feel we will go into it knowing these characters and rooting for them. DC should have taken the slow burn approach of Marvel, try some different styles and Directors with each hero and then throw them together for a huge royal rumble.Of course, they may find a way for this to work but right now it feels like a rushed approach being taken to play catchup with the competition.
Overall, I did enjoy Batman V Superman, it featured a terrific Batman performance by Affleck, a thrilling (albeit, too short) clash between two titans and took the various franchises in some unexpected directions. Unfortunately, it was let down by an over-the-top Lex Luther performance, wacky plot developments and out of character actions from the heroes. I will definitely be buying the Blu Ray for repeat viewings and I’m sure there is plenty more to spot. I think for casual movie-goers I would probably recommend waiting for home video release but for comic book fans I would say to go and see it. At the very least make sure that you’ve seen Man of Steel beforehand due to the many references. With a little extra work I believe BvS could have threatened Marvel’s crown and made them sweat about the future competition but as it stands, Marvel can sleep easy for another year.
What did you think of Batman V Superman? Let me know in the comments below.