Ever since the tepid critical reception of “Man of Steel” in 2013, DC Comics has tried to play a major game of catch-up with Marvel, which has essentially held a monopoly on the superhero genre since they premiered their Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008. I immediately had doubts when DC announced a slew of films in the same vein as those released by Marvel that included movies for The Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and the new Batman, all topped off by a Justice League film. In essence, DC is attempting to do what Marvel has done for the Avengers in half the time that it took their rival franchise. If “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (BvS) is any indicator of what is to come, DC is going to need more than a few superheroes to set things right.
From Zack Snyder, a director who has grown to believe more is better, “BvS” is bursting at the seams not only in terms of story-lines and characters, but also with mythology and dramatic lines about the nature of power. This is one of those cases where a movie is trying to be a dozen things at once, while never being fully competent in any single aspect. With Superman (Henry Cavill) receiving his own origin story in the aforementioned “Man of Steel,” Batman (Ben Affleck) getts just the opening credits. That’s right, the Caped Crusader’s backstory is basically revealed before the actual movie starts; this includes his parent’s murder, his transformation into the Dark Knight and his reasons for being upset with future BFF Superman.
Affleck does an adequate job of donning the Cowl. His Batman is grim and raw—a significantly darker and more brutal Batman than past versions; Affleck’s Batman actually kills criminals and has no regrets about any of his questionable deeds. This highlights a bit of hypocrisy, as one of his major issues with Superman is that the Man of Steel should be responsible for his complete destruction of Metropolis in the preceding film, thus labeling him as an unstable danger to society—while he prides himself on doing pretty much the same thing, except with villains.
One would think that this alone would be enough to push the two colossi into combat, but good ol’ Snyder also introduces Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and a governmental committee that wants to make sure Superman isn’t about to go all crazy and blow up the planet with his laser eyes. Thus the simple, “Superman could be out of control” motive gets blown clear out of the water as the story becomes progressively less focused. It introduces too many characters and tries to fit into the ever-growing myriad of heroes, villains and civilians Hollywood has pumped out since the Iron Man and Batman movies made superheroes cool again, while basically trying to set up every other movie in the new DC universe.
Eisenberg is deliciously wicked as Luthor. Maniacal and over-the-top, Luthor against Superman would’ve made for a hell of a movie, but he gets caught in the midst of two giants of the screen and does not always get his fair share of screen-time. Gadot takes on the first cinematic interpretation of Wonder Woman and raises hopes for that standalone film as she steals scenes immediately with her fierce determination. Cavill is fine, though he doesn’t improve much from “Man of Steel.” He is not a bad actor, but Superman is simply a wooden character. Trying to tie in the events of “Man of Steel” with his ever-growing amount of concern from the public would have been fine if it was in a standalone film, but here it just feels bulky.
I bet you’re all wondering about the titular showdown, you know the fights the trailers have been advertising since Comic Con in 2014. In that footage, the fight is bigger than Ali vs. Frazier or Rocky vs. Apollo Creed Well, I will say it is pretty fun…except it only lasts about ten minutes or so. Publicity stunt? Gimmick? Most assuredly, because with a title like “Dawn of Justice”—it was all too obvious it was never going to be just about them.
In the end, the immense hype and buildup for “BvS” makes it feel like one of those homework assignments you do at the last minute; you throw in whatever might work, extend sentences with superfluous words, make grand assumptions, throw in a joke here and there, turn it in and then hope you’ve included so much material that the teacher won’t care it isn’t actually decent. In the case of the film, a bloated script that overflows with introducing the mythology of the universe, big characters that needed more screen-time and a habit of getting lost in its own storytelling ultimately result in an assignment that nets itself a C- and a “better luck next time.” Because let’s be honest—DC is really going to need it.
Scott may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Scott Johnson is a senior Film Studies and Journalism double major. You can follow him on Twitter @scott7893 and find more of his reviews at RagingFilm.com