Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg
After Superman (Cavill) defeated General Zod (Michael Shannon) it lead to the loss of many innocent lives, including many employed by Bruce Wayne (Affleck). Convinced that Superman is a potential threat to humanity, Bruce Wayne embarks on a personal vendetta to stop Superman. Meanwhile maniacal industrialist Lex Luthor (Eisenberg) revels in the ensuing battle between the two to hatch his own potentially devastating scheme.
Marvel has become one the most dominant forces in cinema in the last decade with the whole Avengers franchise seemingly becoming an increasingly unstoppable juggernaut. Well, now it seems that DC understandably wants a piece of the action and so as the less than subtle title hints at, they want to bring their own Justice League to the cinema in another uber-franchise. However as Marvel have had a ten year head start on them they will be forever be playing catch up. To get things started, as was promised in the poster in I Am Legend, we do have DC’s two most famous heroes (sort of) facing off against one another, and inevitably the whole thing feels forced, contrived and more than a little anticlimactic. I really wish this were not the case, but despite some great individual moments and performances, thanks to the shoddy plotting, Dawn of Justice does feel like it its exists simply for the sake of it.
This is not only a shame, but also a massive waste as there are so many potentially powerful and pertinent themes that Dawn of Justice could have taken on. Ideas and themes such as hero vs vigilante, the true meaning of vengeance, fear of what you do not understand and the fine line between giving a population hope or fear are often hinted at and flirted with, but never given any real thorough examination. Instead, despite the 150 minute running time, director Zak Snyder and writers Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer just skirt over the more interesting ideas to give us big, expensive set pieces but very little justification for them existing.
On the subject of set pieces, of course many (myself included) found the CGI heavy climactic battle sequence of Man of Steel more than a little repetitive and ultimately quite dull, well at least the plot at the beginning of Dawn of Justice does in some way justify why it was like this and provides an initially quite interesting plot point. However no lessons are learnt from that as the climactic battle sequence (the trailer certainly seems happy to give away the fact that certain characters decide to join forces in the end) is just as repetitive and dull, not to mention the plotting that leads up to it feels contrived and lazy, and there is no real sense of danger.
The giveaways in the trailers were perhaps obvious anyway, but they make what are quite anticlimactic sequences when the two titular protagonists face-off seem even more pointless. Admittedly such a build-up and the fact the film is called Batman V Superman may mean that it was always going to be an anti-climax, but how it is setup by the plot is lazy. The problem Clark Kent/ Superman has with Batman is very indolent and feels very forced, but at least Bruce Wayne’s issue with Superman is a little more interesting, if it never actually gets the full coverage it deserves.
Indeed, even though Dawn of Justice is in some ways a sequel to Man Of Steel, Bruce Wayne/ Batman is very much the main character as he gets the most screen time and character development. We are yet again reminded of his parents dying and his tragic backstory, but at least the motivations behind his actions feel a little developed. Despite all the uproar of his casting (I was personally cynical), Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne is the best thing about the film and is the best cinematic Bruce Wayne since Michael Keaton. Affleck captures perfectly the darker, conflicted and haunted side of Bruce Wayne and the fact he treads a very fine line between good guy and vigilante. He sums it up perfectly when he says to Jeremy Iron’s Alfred “we were always criminals.”
Though Henry Cavill looks the part, once again his Jar El/ Superman is just bland as it seems the script is only focussed on pleasing the Bat-fans and trying to keep the episodic and contrived narrative together around him. Though he is in the title, Superman does feel very much like he is at the mercy of the narrative, where as it should be his actions that dictate the narrative. His character is admittedly more difficult to make interesting as he does not have the obvious dark side of Batman, but this film really doesn’t do his character and the potentially interesting character arcs he could have justice (no pun intended).
Of course the main villain of the piece is Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor and we could all predict what his take on Lex Luthor would be as we all know his range as an actor, and he is suitably hyper/eccentric/annoying as ex Luthor, but is ultimately as forgettable as the film is in general. Likewise the supporting cast are all excellent in their relative roles, Jeremy Irons a particular standout, but they still just feel like the narrative does not care about them. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman (though no one calls her that) is used sparingly, but she has her own film in the pipeline soon to soften the blow.
Meanwhile ‘visionary’ director Zack Snyder (if your sole speciality is being able to show scenes in slow-motion makes you a visionary director then Hollywood is in an even more sorry state than I thought) delivers some stunning individual visual moments, but often his unusual camera angles and silly slow-motion shots just feel like him trying to make up for the film’s ultimate lack of genuine substance. All of this is a shame as the scoring partnership of Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL does actually deliver on its potential, with Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Lex Luthor all getting their own themes and their musical score providing a pulsating accompaniment to what are often generic and lazy plot developments, often making them more engaging than the generic script could ever do on its own.
I am sure that there are many that always wanted Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice to fail miserably, well I am not one of those, but as much as it has some great individual moments and certainly entertains while on screen, its contrived and disjointed plotting means that it cannot escape feeling like it exists as a cynical money making franchise starter and no more.
Despite some great individual moments, the occasional hint at taking on some powerful themes and Affleck’s excellent Bruce Wayne, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice could have been the defining cinematic superhero film, but as it is directed by Zack Snyder, all we get is lazy, contrived and anticlimactic plotting and way too many slow-motion sequences.