Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice Review
In 1997, the folks behind the ’90s Batman and Superman shows released a straight to home video crossover movie called The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest. Every time I rewound that VHS for another viewing I would dream of seeing these two DC juggernauts in live action on the big screen one day.
And now that it’s here nearly 20 years later, I just sort of want to watch that old VHS again.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice has been a long time coming. From the thundering applause at Comic-Con San Diego when Zack Snyder and co. revealed the project to the internet firestorm following Ben Affleck’s casting as Bruce Wayne / Batman, the road to Dawn of Justice has had huge highs and lows. The final film walks that same road – some sections flirt with greatness while others border on downright lame, resulting in a movie that evens out on average.
For the uninitiated, Dawn of Justice follows the destructive climax of Man of Steel that saw Metropolis nearly totaled in the wake of a battle between Superman and General Zod. The world is rattled by the sheer power of the Kryptonians, but perhaps no one is as enraged as Bruce Wayne / Batman, who we learn was present on ground level during the Metropolis battle. Both crime fighters view the other as unjustified, out of control vigilantes, and their disdain for each other is cleverly exacerbated by Lex Luthor whispering into both of their ears, manipulating each other into duking it out.
A lot of what fans had been looking forward to was seeing Batman and Superman compare ideologies in a similar way to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. But without spoiling anything, the two heroes’ motivations to confront the other never really felt entirely justified. In fact, I’m not even entirely sure their ideologies were any different. The anticipated brawl between Batman and Superman is certainly a spectacle, but it lacks the emotion it could very well have had if their punches were backed by philosophical differences.
Another unfortunate reality with the final product of the film is that many of the truly beautiful and iconic promotional shots that had stirred up the most curiosity for the film’s possible plot are either dream sequences or brief clips featured in montages. The trench-coat wearing “Knightmare” Batman seen so much in the film’s pre-release carries very little weight to this film’s story and – unless it becomes more relevant in future installments – feels more like an excuse to sell action figures than a necessary inclusion into Dawn of Justice’s story.
While the writing is certainly not the film’s strong point, several of the performances are top notch. Despite fans’ early concerns, Ben Affleck is a fantastic and, more importantly, a very new Batman than what we’re used to on the big screen. Both Henry Cavill and Amy Adams feel far more human than they did in Man of Steel, really selling their relationship and both characters’ desire to do good. Jesse Eisenberg’s take on Lex Luthor is exactly what a modern day billionaire genius would look like: an anti-social twenty something year old with his own tech startup.
But all eyes are on Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman who, while almost underused in the movie, is one of the most exciting aspects of Dawn of Justice whenever she’s on screen. Marking the character’s film debut, Gadot and the team behind her costume design and stunt choreography really sell the character existing in this somewhat grounded DC Cinematic Universe. Snyder’s new world is filled with the right players, they just need something better to do than butt heads like action figures smashing together.
The Holy Trinity of DC Comics’ team-up in the climax is really a great sight for comic fanboys and fangirls to behold. However, Batman’s utility to the group was never all that apparent, as Wonder Woman and Superman deliver the bulk of the real meaty blows to Doomsday. In the Justice League animated series, Batman always felt like one of the most valuable members of the team. Here, I wasn’t entirely convinced that this Dark Knight could take down the entire (forthcoming) Justice League with a list of contingency plans.
Tonally the film is just a hot mess. Perhaps its the byproduct of having two characters who are fundamentally about darkness and light that Dawn of Justice can never decide if it wants to be sombre or uplifting. Instead, it settles in somewhere around bland. As a result there are very few true emotional punches that really land, be it from the odd tone, confusing plot, or cheesy music ques. I can’t tell you how tragic this is to admit as a life long DC fan who wanted Dawn of Justice to be the best thing ever.
The problem with Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is that it gives you exactly what you expected and very little else. There are a few surprises that I won’t ruin for you, but for the most part you’ll have a pretty tight grasp on every story beat just before it happens thanks to the trailers and general safety of the storytelling. If you’re okay with that then you’ll have a fine time watching this two and a half hour prologue for the impending DC Cinematic Universe. But if you’re seeking a standalone tale about clashing ideologies Dawn of Justice is unfortunately going to disappoint.
But hey, at least that ’90s Batman / Superman movie isn’t going anywhere.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is an all but essential movie for DC Comics fans, it just isn't a very fun one.