Since its dawn, seen in “Man of Steel”, the cinematic rendition of DC Comics (or DC Extended Universe as the powers that be christened it) has caused controversies. Not everyone bought the contemporary, more relatable Superman (though ironically, before the movie came out, the character had been criticised for being an unrealistic boy scout to whom no-one can relate) and the vision where the world is more sceptical towards the powerful alien than grateful for his willingness to save everyone. No wonder then that the sequel was also met with polarised reactions.
“Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice” serves as a new stage of DC Extended Universe and a jumping-off point for the creation of the famous Justice League. Hence the subtitle. The often mocked main title, “Batman V Superman”, suggests a fight between the most recognisable comic book icons, which is supposed to end in a sort of truce or even a lasting alliance (the “V” is usually used in court documents and is read either as “against” or “and”). But, more importantly, the titular showdown is as much a fight of brawns as a fight of different worldviews. So next to the visual spectacle, there’s a pretty deep storyline in store.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s get to the beginning. So, is “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice” is as bad as Rotten Tomatoes paint it or as good as the fans say?
The film was written by David S. Goyer and Chris Terrio (with that second one having much more control over the final shape of the story) and directed by Zack Snyder, the man behind “300”, “Watchmen” and “Man of Steel”. The story kicks off with a very familiar scene for Batman (Ben Affleck) fans – a sort of reminder of who the character is and why he dons his iconic cape and cowl. Unnecessary as it may seem to some, the scene – beautifully shot and served with a delicious slow-motion sauce over the top – is a good introduction of the character both for the new viewers and for the hard-core fans. We then get on to yet another introductory sequence, this time establishing Bruce Wayne in the universe shown in “Man of Steel”. We see him during the showdown between Superman (Henry Cavill) and Zod (Michael Shannon), as he dashes through the falling debris in Metropolis, trying to get to his people. And that’s when his lack of trust, which later evolves into hatred towards Superman, is born. From this point, the main story starts for good.
What the screenwriters and the director have in store for us is a multi-layered, sometimes quite difficult to follow, but ultimately very rewarding experience; a film where every thread leads somewhere – be it the titular showdown or the next big DC movies.
We don’t get much action at first. That’s reserved for the third act of the movie. But before that, we get a good chance to delve deep down into the psyches of the major characters. We get to understand the motivations of Batman; the obsessions of Lex Luthor (briilliantly played by Jesse Eisenberg) and the dilemmas of Superman. The drama playing out between these three characters establishes major questions, asked once by the likes of Alan Moore (“Watchmen”) and Brad Meltzer (“Identity Crisis”): what is the essence of being a superhero and how far a superhero can go. But Snyder and Terrio don’t stop there – they go on and tackle many contemporary problems, such as civil liberties, illegal immigrants and the limits of big corporations’ actions. Those who want easy answers could be disappointed though – the movie makes you think about the issues it raises and offers only hints rather then ready solutions. The filmmakers want you to take your own stance.
But there is one theme that gets emphasised strongly: the humanity of the characters, especially those with the superpowers. It’s this humanity that plays a big role in the “Batman V Superman’s” main conflict, and later on, when another big fight happens. And how are these big fights?
They’re great. It goes on without saying how spectacular and visually amazing they are (although it has to be noted that Snyder tones down a little bit and doesn’t offer as many explosions as he did in “Man of Steel” – which is good). One of the most important thing is how comic-booky this spectacle is. Snyder did his homework very well and put many visual references to famous storylines: not only Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” (to which the film clearly pays a homage), but also to other classics, such as “The Death of Superman”.
Said inspirations are not only visual – there are many plot threads which are borrowed directly from comics published by DC. The eagle-eyed viewers will be very pleased by allusions to “Justice League” by Geoff Johns, “Kingdom Come”, “Flashpoint” or even the video game “Injustice: Gods Among Us”. Of course, the fact that they are here raises a question: isn’t it too much? And the answer is: not really.
“Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice” serves not only as a very important, deep, doubt-raising tale in the ever-evolving superhero genre, but also as a set-up for the next movies in the DC Extended Universe. And magically (though note that it is just my opinion) Snyder and co. manage to connect these two functions of the movie very well, using a clever trick: introducing Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) into the play. And damn, is she wonderful (pardon the pun)! Intriguing and mysterious at first, she then turns on the full-on banshee mode, pleasing all the DC fans around the world.
All of this is of course really well shot by Snyder’s frequent collaborator, Larry Fong. The long fighting sequences, the smooth camerawork, perfect framing and the ability to make the audience feel as if they are part of the story makes “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice” a movie as deep and intense as immersive. The somewhat hasty editing by David Brenner, also an often co-worker of Snyder’s, after a while turns to be well thought-out, and again – very comic-booky. All this technical work is complimented by fantastic visual effects, great-looking costumes and make-up and excellent music composed by Hans Zimmer and Junke XL (just listen try to get these catchy Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor and Batman’s themes out of your heads!).
And how are the actors? Henry Cavill continues his work from “Man of Steel”, further developing the character of Superman and also showing his less majestic side in the slightly naive and idealistic persona of young reporter Clark Kent. Ben Affleck makes for the perfect Batman – one of the best live-action version of the character you’ve seen. As his superhero rival he’s both good as the fierce though weary Batman and the resourceful socialite Bruce Wayne. Gal Gadot is a Wonder Woman out of any geek’s dreams: smart, beautiful, intriguing and of course very brave. But the real star here is Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. He chooses to play the ‘crazy genius’ card, but they way he does this is outright brilliant. He makes his character as much disgusting and annoying, as interesting and deep. It’s definitely one of his better roles, even if he occasionally takes it slightly over the top.
And let’s not forget about the supporting actors: the great Amy Adams as ever-nosy (and frequently getting into hot water) Lois Lane, the ever-magnificent Jeremy Irons as a slightly less sophisticated Alfred Pennyworth (who’s more in the vein of the character’s interpretation in “Batman: Earth One”) and the superb Holly Hunter who plays a troubled senator trying to figure out on whose side she should be in the impending conflict.
“Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice” is not a movie for everyone. But if you love these characters, want to see their original big-screen interpretations and are in for some action with philosophical topping, than you should give it a chance. I loved the movie pretty much for everything: the comic book references, the deep themes it explored and the solid dose of action it delivered. I hope you’ll love it too!