Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Directed By: Zack Snyder

Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Scoot McNairy, and Gal Gadot

For me, there are no two more iconic and awe-inspiring superheroes than Batman and Superman.  That's why I'm so heartbroken that their first time on the big screen together is being helmed by Zack Snyder.  The man behind comic book adaptations Watchmen and Man of Steel has a less than impressive record at the box office to say the least.  To make matters worse, Warner Bros. is jumping the gun and ignoring the Marvel playbook by showcasing their heroes first and building their stories later.  It's a recipe for cinematic disaster.  All that being said, I don't count myself amongst the majority of critics who view Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as utter garbage with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.  The reason I don't hold Dawn of Justice in the same negative light is simple.  I had low expectations for the film from the start.  The greatest gladiator match of all time Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is not.  Simply put, it’s not the great answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

In the midst of the climactic battle between Superman / Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) and fellow Kryptonian General Zod (Michael Shannon), Gotham, the twin city of Metropolis and home of Batman / Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), faces devastation on a mass scale.  As the Man of Steel battles in the sky, the Dark Knight is blazing through the aftermath on the ground in Gotham.  He watches as friends are lost and families are torn apart by the destruction, including Wayne employee Wallace Keefe (Scoot McNairy).  Batman solely blames Superman for this, and sees him as a threat that must be eradicated if there is any chance that the Kryptonian idol would ever use his powers against mankind.  This anger builds up for eighteen months after Zod's assault on the planet.  Against his butler Alfred Pennyworth's (Jeremy Irons) recommendation, the bat of Gotham launches a crusade against the last son of Krypton.

Meanwhile, the nation is watching in awe as Superman showcases his powers with every act of heroism.  Beyond the puff pieces by Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) at The Daily Planet, Kal  -El has drawn the attention of the US Congress, namely Senator Finch (Holly Hunter), and not in a good way.  He's also drawn the attention of Metropolis billionaire Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg).  For his part, the CEO of LexCorp wants nothing more than to prove devils like Superman come from the sky.  It certainly helps that he's identified a Kryptonian rock to help him do just that.  Luthor ultimately wants to pit Superman in a fight against Batman in what could be the greatest gladiator match of all time.  Elsewhere, Diana Prince / Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) surveys the scene in Gotham and Metropolis.

I may have had low expectations for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but I still do have a thing or two to say about the film.  One of my chief criticisms of Superman's first outing in the DC Extended Universe was that it's a jumbled film all about big explosive battles.  With Zack Snyder still at the helm, nothing has changed for Batman v Superman.  In fact, it's gotten significantly worse.  This is primarily due to a major strategic mistake by Warner Bros.  The studio has an incredible opportunity to rebuild its brand after a few dismal years following the Harry Potter and Dark Knight years.  It has the most beloved group of superheroes at its disposal.  Despite all it has going for it, the studio manages to bring a knife to a gunfight.  Marvel has meticulously crafted its cinematic universe.  Remember that The Avengers was the sixth film in the franchise and Avengers: Age of Ultron was the eleventh.  By bringing out the big guns in just their second outing, Warner Bros. has already capped itself at the knees, and it shows in the lack of any storytelling whatsoever.  When Zack Snyder is busy trying to showcase each of his heroes with all their powers, he forgets to bring it all together into a cohesive, functional narrative.

My other chief criticism of Man of Steel some three years ago was that it was fast and loose with mythology.  Superman doesn't kill, and there are no exceptions to this for the principled hero. This spring, I'm feeling déjà vu with the return of the caped crusader to the big screen in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  Simply put, Batman doesn't use guns.  He's above using that type of weaponry (other than as part of the Batmobile or the Batwing).  All that being said, it really unsettles me to watch this failed interpretation of the Bat as a follow-up to Christopher Nolan's masterful Dark Knight trilogy.  When you couple it with the continued problematic portrayal of Superman, we've gone straight to superhero hell.

The cast is not necessarily problematic in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but they're not exactly given the opportunity to inspire us either.  Let's start with our heroes.  For his part as the caped crusader, Ben Affleck steps into some well-worn shoes.  In his first outing, he gives us a Batman with a chip on his shoulder and a much looser moral code.  He doesn't wet the bed as many expected and delivers a mostly competent performance under the circumstances.  Reprising his role as the man of steel, Henry Cavill gives a slightly darker take on Superman.  He's still got the strut of everyone's favorite Kryptonian, but his character's moral fiber is still in question and changes on a dime fairly quickly throughout the film.  To round out our trio, we have the talented actress Gal Gadot giving us our first taste of Wonder Woman on the big screen.  The actress, comfortable as a heroine from her training in the Fast & Furious franchise, brings a great deal of mystery and intrigue to her performance.  I'm curious to see what comes in her solo installment next summer, which is thankfully not directed by Zack Snyder.

The other cast members offer a mixed bag of performances as well.  While Laurence Fishburne repeatedly convinces us that Perry White should have been portrayed by black men all along, Amy Adams convinces us that it's time to retire the damsel in distress role of Lois Lane.  Annoyingly getting herself into situations she can't handle and always needing saving, she's an anchor holding Superman back constantly.  With a less than compelling performance, Adams can’t enamor audiences in this role.  The other major supporting cast member is Jesse Eisenberg in his take on billionaire supervillain Lex Luthor.  While I'm still in the Heisenberg not Eisenberg camp, I must admit that he does fairly well stepping into the role Gene Hackman owned for so many years.  He modernizes the silliness that often comes with portrayals of Lex Luthor on the big screen.  Lastly, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Diane Lane, and Scoot McNairy all deliver decent performances as their respective characters.

Two films in now, it's safe to say that the DC Extended Universe is off to a rocky start because Warner Bros. is making all the wrong moves.  With the plot developments (if you can call them that), I should still be in my seat at the theater begging for more.  Instead, I'm writing this review begging for change.  There's still a chance to get this right, but the time to act is now.  The once-venerated studio needs to put this franchise in more capable hands, not those of Zack Snyder.  His work speaks for itself.  Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice sadly gets a wasted rating.  Have some mystery shots with this one.