Film Review: Batman v Superman – Dawn of Justice

(This week I took a trip to my local Showcase cinema to watch the new release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Thanks again to Showcase Cinemas for asking me to host a game of #OscarsBingo. By playing, I won two free cinema tickets, which I used today.)

Rating:

Directed by Zack Snyder, the follow-up to 2013’s Man of Steel and the second instalment in the DC Extended Universe, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice sees Batman (Ben Affleck) and Superman (Henry Cavill) share the screen as the world wrestles with what kind of a hero it really needs. Two years after Superman’s battle with Zod, which left the city of Metropolis in ruins, the collateral damage has left many feeling angry and helpless. Fearing that the actions of Superman are left unchecked, Batman takes on the Man of Steel, convinced that Superman is now a threat to humanity, while the conniving Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) launches his own crusade.

DC’s had some serious catching up to do. Aside from some brilliant, and equally not-so-brilliant, Batman instalments, Christopher Reeve’s distant Superman films, and an impressive one-off from the Watchmen team, 2013’s Man of Steel has been the only DC film not to be deemed a complete flop over the past few years. Decades even… And even then, most audiences were still left unimpressed.

With Marvel releasing hugely successful character instalments on a yearly basis, and now having two assembled blockbusters hosting the Avengers team, DC feels somewhat left behind. Sure, there’s been some brilliant TV series in the works, including Flash and Arrow, but when it comes to cinematic experiences it’s all been about The Avengers. But what Zack Snyder has done with Batman v Superman is to take the huge leap of filling this gap. It’s the Dawn of Justice, and even if Batman v Superman may not be the instalment we were all hoping it would be, at least it shows us that there’s a lot more to come.

With Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) joining the team and glimpses of Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash, Batman v Superman works excellently as a teaser for what DC have planned for the future, building up to the assembling of the Justice League and to more of DC’s own character instalments. Sadly, as only the second instalment in the DC Extended Universe, Batman v Superman doesn’t quite fill the bill, so we’ve still got some waiting to do.

It’s difficult not to compare the two comic book franchises when, as comic book fans and cinema-goers alike, we’ve been overwhelmed with Marvel’s efforts. Both handle their superhero universes very differently and, because of this, each have their own qualities. DC is the much darker universe of the two, and Batman v Superman certainly excels on this front, but it just doesn’t have the same entertainment quality.

This latest instalment from DC has very little humour to take the edge off, which we have grown used to with Marvel, but if you look at DC’s successful films so far – most notably, Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy – they haven’t needed to add such distractions before. Yet Batman v Superman feels mundane without it, which largely comes down to how unengaging its characters feel.

Being a Superman prequel and also the first instalment starring Affleck as Batman, there’s not enough time spent on either of these heroes to really care about them individually. It’s difficult when trying to focus on two, separate, strong characters, but what Snyder needed to was to put Superman at the focus of the film, introduce us to this new Batman, and then allow Affleck’s solo films to delve deeper into his character at another time.

It was supposed to be a Superman film, after all, and what feels so uncomfortable about this film is that we’re not used to seeing Batman in such a ‘supernatural’ environment. So far, Batman’s villains have all been everyday men and women, albeit psychotic ones, and we have yet to see him take on anything outside of Gotham. Seeing him face a monster from another world, therefore, felt quite strange; it didn’t have that sense of realism that we’re used to from his films so far, leaving his character feeling very misplaced.

Although Batman is introduced well at the beginning, there’s too much left unsaid for audiences to really engage with a new actor in the role. Instead, Batman v Superman is very much a film that focuses on style over substance. There are so many amazing visuals and effects used throughout, that what’s important is often left undeveloped. The battle itself between Batman and Superman is very short and, whilst Wonder Woman’s entrance is brilliant, the following battle also feels under-used. What should be the focus of this film is what we don’t see enough of and, even though the runtime feels quite lengthy, Batman v Superman could easily have been split into two films to give us that much-needed development of its new characters.

That being said, Ben Affleck, Jesse Eisenberg, and Gal Gadot are all excellent. There’s still a lot more we need to learn about Affleck and Gadot’s characters, but Eisenberg really steals the show.

On a final note, what also feels lacking from this film compared to Marvel’s films, is that DC tend to forget how the fight/wars going on affect the residents in the largely populated cities that these heroes are destroying. There’s a short scene at the beginning of the film where we see Bruce Wayne amongst the locals of Metropolis, and a short flashback to the world that Superman left in ruins from his previous film, but after the huge battle that is the focus of this film, there are no after-thoughts of the city. Marvel focus on their superheroes trying to protect its residents, rushing into apartment blocks to save as many as they can, thinking how to cause as little damage as possible (even if it is still billions of pounds worth), but Superman couldn’t care less. As the city is once again left completely destroyed, this aftermath is not an issue. This may be merely a personal irritant, but it’s one of the bigger reasons as to why Superman is one of my least favourite heroes.

Most of all, Batman v Superman feels very muddled and, overall, it isn’t worth the dragged out run-time. Snyder didn’t know where to put his main focus so, instead, we get glimpses of excellence which are quickly blown to smithereens. Alongside some narrative confusion, with many scenes needing clarification, Batman v Superman didn’t fulfil its needs as the second instalment in the DC Extended Universe, leaving us still wanting more from DC.

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