So, here we are. After decades of anticipation, we’ve finally got the big screen battle between the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel, the Caped Crusader and Kal-El, the World’s Greatest Detective and the Big Blue Boy Scout, or, as Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor dubs them, Son of Krypton against Bat of Gotham. This is the one we’ve all been clamouring for: this is Batman v Superman. The big question on everybody’s lips now, though, is just whether or not Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel follow-up is actually worth the hype.
Plot-wise, the film starts by using Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne as our “in” to the tale, looking at Bruce watching the carnage of Man of Steel’s finale play out as thousands of innocents are put in jeopardy whilst Superman battles General Zod. From there, Master Bruce has just one aim: to stop the alien menace that has the power to literally destroy the planet. To the ever-grizzled Batman, this apparent super man is nothing more than another threat, another criminal, another person who needs to be accountable for their actions. And this is a mantra that many others actually share when it comes to the Last Son of Krypton. But not everybody, for there are those on the opposite side of the fence who see Superman as a God, as the savior and protector of mankind, as the bright shining beacon of hope in a world so often full of doom, destruction and death. Now whilst Bats is firmly on his crusade to bring down the Kryptonian, Superman himself is forced into a corner which means he simply needs to collect the Dark Knight’s head. So the battle lines are drawn, with the likes of Eisenberg’s Lex, Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince, Amy Adams’ Lois Lane and Jeremy Irons’ Alfred Pennyworth all watching from the sidelines as the greatest ever gladiatorial bout gets set to take place.
Just like the movie’s plot looks to get its audience and its characters to pick a side, Batman v Superman itself was a concept that many were a little undecided on at this stage of the DCCU game. With the initial plan calling for this film to simply be a Man of Steel 2, was this a case of too much, too soon? When Snyder’s Man of Steel underperformed critically and financially, plans for the already-confirmed Man of Steel sequel were quickly changed as the Caped Crusader was brought in to the fold in order to save Warner Brothers’ attempts at launching a DC Cinematic Universe. Then there was the addition of Wonder Woman, not to mention the confirmation that several further Justice League members will be accounted for in various ways here. Was the WB jumping the shark and throwing everything at the wall already in their attempts to catch up with Disney and their Marvel Cinematic Universe? Of course they were, but if handled correctly then Dawn of Justice could be a fantastic launching point for the DCCU and a movie that firmly establishes that Warners’ already-announced DC slate is something of substance, style and satisfaction. And it’s on this point that the success of this potential game-changer hinges.
To throw it out there, this particular writer was actually one of those going into Batman v Superman with a renewed sense of hope. Sure, on paper the film sounded like a mess that was merely waiting to explode in the WB’s faces - a case of let’s shoehorn in whatever we can so that we can say we’ve got a cinematic roster of heroes to rival Marvel Studios’ line-up – but if they could pull it off, and that was a big if, then we would finally be given an all-out battle for big screen supremacy between the two greatest rosters of comic book characters known to men (sorry, Xavier’s mutants). And that’s what we, as comic book fans, comic book movie fans, or simply just genre fans, want to see; that’s great for us. Ultimately and sadly, Zack Snyder’s hotly anticipated Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice does very little to actually satiate the cinematic appetite of DC fans, leaving a hollow feeling of regret and dissatisfaction at large parts of what you've just watched play out.
In fairness, Snyder’s Man of Steel follow up does have some shining moments, but they are too few and far between in an effort that is overflowing with illogicalities, gaping plot holes and moments that simply don’t make sense in any fundamental way that relates to the characters that we’re seeing being fleshed out on the big screen, particularly when it pertains to Superman. Yet again, the Big Blue Boy Scout is cinematically shafted. There are moments, especially in his quieter moments with Diane Lane’s returning Martha Kent, where the hope, honesty and innocent idealism of the Last Son of Krypton are crafted beautifully, but so much of the film falls flat when placed on the Man of Steel’s shoulders. Added to the feeling of dissatisfaction is a quite frankly ridiculous decision as to why Batman and Superman stop fighting – and no, there’s a lot more to it than just the spoiled-in-the-trailers arrival of Doomsday, the beast responsible for slaying Kal-El in the comic book realm. The way that the finale plays out will likely leave a lingering bad taste in the mouth of many longtime Superman fans as one of the key components of Superman and his abilities is betrayed before your very eyes. Similarly, Eisenberg’s take on Lex Luthor is something else that could well be a turn off for longstanding comic book aficionados. Snyder and Eisenberg must be commended for trying something new and different with Lex, but his frenetic, almost OCD-lite Luthor feels shortchanged and soon feels like an afterthought and a misjudged attempt to do something unique with Supes’ greatest nemesis.
On the major plus side, Affleck’s Batman is a welcome big screen debut for this new take on the Dark Knight. But it’s with the Bruce Wayne side of the character – the side that you always fancied Affleck to be able to nail – that the Argo actor stuns. His Bruce, who has been around the block and been patrolling the grim streets of Gotham City for many a year by this point in time, is as intense as they come as he never takes his eyes off the prize or loses focus of the job at hand, which is to protect Gotham and beyond at all costs. Affleck’s Wayne has a brooding intensity to him that would do Michael Keaton proud, and it could well be argued that it’s the film’s time with Bruce Wayne that’s even more impressive and compelling than the time spent with the Batman himself, especially the film’s opening ten minutes, which sets the tone perfectly for what should’ve been a truly epic movie. Sure, it’s epic in size and scale, and there’s plenty of heroes and villains at play – Gal Gadot’s Diana savagely sparkles when she finally gets to bring her sword, shield and famed lasso out to play – but the quality of the storytelling, again largely when it pertains to Superman, ultimately sees the film become a let down.
So, it may come across as a slightly damning verdict – and the DC geek in me really, really, really wanted to be wowed by this movie – but Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a massively flawed movie that could well be another huge nail in the DCCU coffin where many moviegoers are concerned. The film itself will likely end up doing huge business and eventually take home a box office figure that would make Scrooge McDuck happy, and it may even do well amongst casual cinema sorts who have no real affiliation to the characters, but sadly for us there’s just too many problems that unravel as Snyder’s Dawn of Justice stumbles to an unsatisfying close. The press push surrounding Batman v Superman has regularly promoted the #WhoWillWin campaign as it's looked to drum up interest in this battle for the ages. Regardless of whoever is portrayed as the victor here, it's certainly not the audience. In fact, mark this one down as a big win for Marvel Studios, and the apparent big screen battle between Marvel and DC’s finest is still just as much of a non-issue as it ever was.
BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR: ZACK SNYDER / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: BEN AFFLECK, HENRY CAVILL, GAL GADOT, JESSE EISENBERG, AMY ADAMS, JEREMY IRONS / RELEASE DATE: MARCH 25TH
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10