Movie Review: Batman v Superman – Dawn of Justice

Wow. There are an awful lot of different opinions circling around this movie at the moment.

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Starring:
Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Jessie Eisenberg
Director:
Zack Snyder (Man of Steel, Watchmen)
Rating: M
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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a whole lot of things, but to me, what’s most surprising about the Warner Bros/DC Comics take on “shared universe” filmmaking is that it isn’t primarily a prequel to the upcoming Justice League movies, or primarily a sequel to Man of Steel, or even primarily a new take on Batman. What it is, more than anything else, is a Zach Snyder movie. If that makes a chill run up your spine then I understand your trepidation. If that makes you intrigued, read on.

Sure, Zach Snyder directed Man of Steel, the last film to feature Henry Cavill‘s incredibly chiselled Superman. But there were a lot of fingers in that proverbial pie, and while the distinctive director’s reputation for stunning action sequences was hardly hurt by the 2013 mega-blockbuster, it was missing a few of Snyder‘s hallmarks. Not so with Batman v Superman. From the opening shot the director’s famous love for extraneous slow-motion is right there for all to see, as he shows off his take on the well-worn story of a young Bruce Wayne losing his parents. It seems unnecessary until you see just how arresting the imagery is – In my haste I accidentally bought a ticket to a 3D screening but my regrets faded very quickly when I saw the way this title sequence popped off the screen, in more ways than one.

Throughout the rest of the movie the slow-mo returns quite a few times, and with it several of the elements that defined the last decade of Snyder‘s work. The philosophising and moralising of Watchmen. The muted colours and dream-metaphor preoccupation of Sucker Punch. The near-obsession with the male body from 300. Batman v Superman feels like it would fit right into a Zach Snyder marathon or showcase far easier than Man of Steel did, for better or for worse.

For a lot of people, it will be for the worse, because this is a movie predicated on a blockbuster title fight that demands action. It doesn’t get said action for almost two hours of screen time. Instead it gets plenty of that aforementioned Watchmen-esque dialogue about man’s place among god-like aliens, and the feelings of powerlessness that come with that place. The kinds of feelings that might drive the most brutal (and oldest) Batman yet seen on the big screen (an excellently cast Ben Affleck) to attempt to commit borderline-deicide. There’s a lot to chew on for those so inclined, mostly thanks to the ponderous writing of Chris Terrio of Argo fame and Dark Knight trilogy alumn David S. Goyer.

While Cavill stands awfully statuesque for most of the movie – mostly to allow for some of the most overt religious imagery ever seen in a movie of this kind – Affleck simmers with fury, both enabled and manipulated by the genuinely psychotic Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg doing his Social Network thing cranked up way past eleven). Eisenberg‘s Luthor is definitely a different take on the classic character to say the least, as is Affleck‘s salt-and-pepper Bruce Wayne. But Affleck is far more magnetic and quite possibly the best thing about the movie, borrowing liberally from the comic The Dark Knight Returns for his portrayal of the character. Jeremy Irons‘ sassy, tired portrayal of Alfred is a scene-stealer as well, particularly as he provides some of the only comic relief in the whole rather grim affair.

For a long movie without all that much action, it’s disappointing how chaotic the narrative can be at times. It really does feel like scenes were cut out late in the film’s production – which has been heavily hinted by Snyder himself – as some plot strands fizzle while several inter-character relationships take scarcely believable leaps in familiarity. It’s unclear whether some of the unanswered questions raised by the film are setting things up for future movies or simply casualties of the cutting room. Luckily Gal Gadot‘s Diana Prince/Wonder Woman is largely immune to this, as she sneaks around the fringes of the story with quiet confidence before revealing her true self in the single best guitar-shredding moment of the whole movie. A moment, it must be said, that is dampened by its well-documented presence in the pre-release trailers for Batman v Superman. Ditto the presence of classic Superman villain Doomsday and a few smaller revelations it would’ve been nice to have avoided before the film’s release.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is hardly the movie to make more Zach Snyder fans, but it is undoubtedly one that showcases his strengths on a grander scale than ever before. Visually spectacular in a manner only Snyder seems to be able to deliver, rich in thought-provoking themes and smuggling quite a few cool moments (mostly Batman or Wonder Woman-related), it is unfortunately hampered by some strange pacing and plot choices as well as an overzealous marketing campaign. But it is well worth seeing. Yes, it’s slow, contemplative and dark, but do you really want every superhero movie to copy Marvel’s template?

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THE VERDICT

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Good:
Sharp and distinct visuals, philosophically meaty, strong work from Affleck, Gadot and Irons
Bad:
Light on action, occasionally haphazard plot, few remaining surprises
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3.5 VsG !

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