Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Movie Information

The Story: A simple story about Batman being on the outs with Superman that's overly complicated in order to bring in other characters and the requisite mayhem and property damage. The Lowdown: It's neither as bad as it's been painted nor as good as one might hope. It takes itself too seriously and so isn't much fun. It's also way too long, but it does have some value.
Score:

Genre: Bicep-powered Disasterthon
Director: Zack Snyder (Man of Steel)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot
Rated: PG-13

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Yes, Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a mess — a spectacular mess, but not spectacular enough to make it fascinating. I was at least hoping for a grand, jaw-dropping folly (like Snyder’s 2011 Sucker Punch), but got something far more ordinary. It suffers from the general perils of the modern comic book movie — it’s too long, way too overstuffed and takes itself very seriously, indeed. Less generally, it bears the burden of having been made by Snyder, a man who seemingly possesses no sense of humor or absurdity. To say that he makes Christopher Nolan look like a firkin of simians is an overstatement, but not by much. But then I’ve never really understood how you can take a form that includes things like “Pow,” “Bam” and “Zoom” to indicate sound effects and uses “Arrgh!” for dialogue but not realize there’s a certain base absurdity to it all.

 

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I will now climb down — well, sort of — from my usual Big-Men-in-Tights reservations about overly serious superhero movies and look at this latest Spandex Spectacular on its own merits. And, yes, Batman v Superman does have some merits. Let’s start with its Batman. I’ll get some flak for this, but Ben Affleck’s Batman is easily the best since Michael Keaton’s. But it has to be realized that this a middle-aged Batman of a decidedly world-weary variety. He’s also quite the nastiest Batman the movies have given us. Seriously, this business of branding his adversaries with a large bat symbol is more in line with something you might expect from his criminally insane inspiration, The Bat, from the 1920 play (and 1926 and 1930 film versions) by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood.

 

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Regardless, this is a singularly unpleasant Batman, but one that fits the film. And it’s a characterization that no amount of flashbacks to his parents’ deaths justifies — despite the film’s overselling their deaths. Yeah, we’ve seen it all before, but did anyone seriously think Snyder, of all people, could resist a funeral scene? The man does dearly love funerals. (He ends up with three before the movie ends.) At the same time, this Batman is something of a Boobus Americanus. OK, so he’s already cheesed with Superman (Henry Cavill) for knocking over his building and killing off his co-workers by way of collateral damage in previously unseen footage from Man of Steel (2013). But why — when he knows full well that Lex Luthor (a spectacularly unhinged Jesse Eisenberg) is duplicitous and deranged — does he so readily buy into Luthor’s smear campaign against Superman? And, no, “because the film promises us a battle between Batman and Superman” isn’t a good enough answer.

 

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Some sequences work, some sputter and flame out. Others simply don’t make sense — like why the Daily Planet hasn’t simply fired Clark Ken. The biggest sin, however, is the way the film seems compelled to take what is actually a fairly simple story, drag it out for two-and-a-half hours and still have to shoehorn all sorts of things in. (The fact that Snyder mistakes slowness for importance plays into this. If scenes didn’t drag on, this would be less of an issue.) I realize that we have to have something for every member of the admittedly impressive cast to do, but there’s a limit, especially when we get to a pointless scene with Pa Kent (Kevin Costner) — back from the dead — counseling the troubled Superman. Hell, it feels like the movie has been invaded by Dead Grandpa from a Family Circus comic.

 

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In the end, the film falls into the smackdown doldrums which seems to be the fate of all superhero pictures. Of course, this was inevitable just because of the title, but dragging in Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and this hulking monster Lex Luthor has created is in the overkill range. This creature — who I guess is created from Zod’s (Michael Shannon) corpse (this is poorly developed) — is completely characterless. It’s like an oversized orc — only more irritable and allergic to kryptonite. As an adversary, he’s just not that interesting. As an effect, he is very, very CGI. Batman v Superman ultimately can’t help but feel like a very long buildup to a rote ending, followed by more false endings than Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), all in the service of a movie we’re supposed get in 2017, The Justice League Part One. As a stand-alone movie, it’s at best massively OK with sinking spells of stupidity and occasional outbursts of true worth. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality.

 

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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23 thoughts on “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

  1. T.rex

    SPOILERS HERE PEOPLE, DON’T READ UNLESS YOU”VE SEEN IT………”God’s Holy Trousers!” I can’t believe you were kinder to this movie than I was. It was awful, simply awful. So bad I almost walked out and Im the so called DC fan even though I now realize that the days of fun and hope of the Donner movies are loooooong gone. Yes there are some good things, the aforementioned Ben Affleck, Jeremy Irons, and Lawerence Fishburne (who happens to bring the humor into the movie). The always annoying Jesse Eisenberg was turned up to 11 and I will skip any future DC movies with Lex Luthor. What the hell were his motivations anyway? Did he create Doomsday with just Alien Magic Juice? There were three major items crammed i to this and the script was written around those. The basic main plot was..”I hate you Superman! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I h— what? your mom has the same name as me? ok, lets be best pals.” This will probably go on my worst list this year or at least be the most disappointing.

    • Ken Hanke

      You have to understand that a.) I expect less from these things than you do, b.) I expect even less when I see the name Zack Snyder, and c.) I thought the Donner Superman pictures were absolute rubbish. I thought that before you were born, in fact.

      • T.rex

        Im done with Zack Snyder, no more chances.
        I was born in time. Superman 78 was the first movie I saw in a cinema. Those movies became rubbish, thats for sure.

          • T.rex

            Old enough to know Superman is a classic. Americana.

          • Scott

            I really liked your critique, until I saw this comment. Takes a special kind of person to start questioning the age of the few readers you have that try to have a discussion with you. Wow.

  2. Fran

    I feel so validated by your commentary, Ken!!! Folks at my work were raving about this film. I found myself fidgeting and glancing at my Apple Watch fairly regularly to see if anything more exciting than the movie was waiting for me there.

    • Ken Hanke

      I think I only looked at my phone once to see just exactly how much time had passed, and while it was certainly dispiriting, I’d gone in expecting it to be a long sit. That I kept thinking, “This thing has the same running time as The Ruling Class.” and realizing I could have invested the same time far more profitably did not help. What I keep coming back to is whether or not Tim Burton had any idea the sort of dour, nihilistic thing his two Batman pictures would ultimately spawn.

  3. Xanadon't

    Ben Affleck’s Batman is easily the best since Michael Keaton’s

    Oh now you’ve gone and done it.

    • Jeff

      Still debating on seeing the film, so I have nothing new to offer there, but the Keaton comparo caught my eye as well. As I remember it, Keaton had to beg and beg and beg to get the part: “I can do this” he apparently told Burton. But Burton (like many since) initially saw Keaton as too small and thus needed some convincing. Acting chops or not he simply didn’t (doesn’t) have the girth or the proper tough guy lantern jaw. Sorry to get all un-PC, but most actors are famous because they’re pretty and/or fit the appearance of their character. Ignore Tom Cruise as 6’5″ Jack Reacher LOL. Most people (as I remember it) thought that Keaton was woefully miscast. So much so that an animated Batman appeared quickly on TV, as if it was specifically drawn to give Batman a blocky jaw that looked like in came right out of the Wayne Manor foundation. A healthy does of suspension of disbelief goes hand in hand with any superhero flick, so it seems silly to complain too much about any aspect as being unrealistic, but I thought Keaton was much more believable as a hacker sitting in the Batcave trying to decypher chemical compounds then he was throwing bad guys around like… well, like superman. ;) Thx

      • Ken Hanke

        I don’t recall complaints about Keaton’s Batman not being imposing enough, but maybe it got lost in the general rush of enthusiasm for a comic book movie that was so amazingly popular even with people who normally didn’t go to comic book movies. (Hell, my wife who doesn’t usually like these things went to see it three times.) It certainly didn’t hurt the film’s box office. The thing that I liked about Keaton’s Batman was that he nailed the insanity lurking just beneath. (It’s brought home in the “You wanna get nuts?” scene.) That, I suspect, is why I liked Affleck’s portrayal — except he takes it much further.

        • Jeff

          Ya… ’89 was a while ago huh!? After posting the previous comment I both went to see the movie and thought a bit more about Keaton. Other detractors over the years have said that he was fresh off Beetlejuice and other comedy flicks, and now that I think back I wonder if I wasn’t “sensitized” to later criticisms because I too thought of him as a comedic actor. (maybe Keaton thought the same and really wanted to shed that impression!?) I also remember discussions about the casting of Jack Palance as Nicholson’s boss. They were apparently hard pressed to find an actor with the gravitas to “belittle” JN’s joker. As you said, “You wanna get nuts” was a great line, and was delivered with passion, but (with the Nicholson/Palance issue in mind) I didn’t buy that Nicholson or his own insane character would be threatened much by relatively scrawny Keaton. I’ve never cared much for Affleck in anything, but his conflicted/ tortured hero portrayal was good… good enough to kick Keaton’s ass I’d guess! ;) Thx Ken.

  4. MAZZ0Murder

    I think the movie was good. There were certainly some issues regarding motives (either being too weak or never explained/shown well enough). As for Doomsday, and every comic book movie boiling down to fighting the big bad guy…isn’t that what it is in EVERY good vs. evil movie? In superhero ones it just happens to be a super bad dude (or not so super, like Lex).
    As far as the plot goes, well, would have been interesting to see Doomsday come from space like in the comics. I think that would’ve made more sense to show in a way that Earth is coming to realize really big threats from the rest of the universe are going to become more commonplace, and then Superman’s place in the world could have been looked into further.
    I liked Batman in this. Affleck played this version of him pretty convincingly. No idea why they made him start to just kill people, but somehow it just worked? Even Lex wasn’t so bad when I got a better idea of why his character was that way.

    Lastly, some people complain that this movie is irritating because it touts Batman vs Superman, but then they stop fighting and find a way to work together…well, what do you expect? That’s how any superhero vs superhero thing I’ve ever watched works. I was watching it to see how that would occur. I imagine Civil War will even do something along these lines since there is a named villain in the story.

  5. Robert

    Ken, I am impressed by how much you have responded in the comments section. Bravo!
    I just think that the movie worked best as farce when you consider poor character decisions and plot transitions that were as impossible as a jumping mine car landing perfectly on another section of track.
    While there are many critical articles, no one mentioned that the first thing we see when Batman needs to practice killing Superman was him using a sledgehammer on a truck tire. With poor filming decisions like that, Snyder should be kept on low-budget films until he make better use of the precious moments that movie-goers will experience.

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