Review: Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (Bumbray's take)
PLOT: After watching many of his employees die during Superman’s (Henry Cavill) battle with General Zod in Metropolis, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) aka Batman declares war on the man of steel. Little does either of them realize that they are merely pawns in a larger, more sinister scheme hatched by billionaire industrialist Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg).
REVIEW: Everyone knew that BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE would be divisive, but did anyone think DC and Marvel fans would be going to war over it like they have on Twitter since the review embargo broke Tuesday night? Indeed, the majority of negative reviews from the first round of critics that have seen it are painting a dire portrait of the DCU franchise, but is Zack Snyder’s ambitious, would-be epic as bad as they say? In my humble opinion, not even close. There are some true flashes of inspiration scattered throughout the 150 minute running time and while it’s far from perfect, BVS is never anything less than a proficient, entertaining superhero epic.
One thing no one could ever accuse Zack Snyder and the execs at Warner Bros of is not being ambitious. No one phoned this one in, but if the film has a failing it’s that they’ve built a massive universe too quickly, with so many hints being dropped about the next few installments that unless you’re totally caught-up on DC lore, some scenes will be baffling. One moment in particular had me scratching my head, with it almost like the watermelon scene in THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI, although a friend more caught-up told me this opens the door for JUSTICE LEAGUE in a big way. The same thing goes for numerous other scenes and it’s very possible that once we’ve gotten the expanded universe on the big screen, BVS will suddenly seem great at the way it foreshadowed things to come. Again, it’s ambitious.
What many of the movie’s harshest critics seem to be overlooking are the things BVS does right - and there are plenty. For one thing, Ben Affleck is absolutely perfect as Batman, something even the most furious fanboy who bristled at his casting will have to admit. From the moment a Wayne Industries helicopter drops him off in the midst of The Battle of Metropolis (well-depicted from an on-the-ground perspective) to the first time we see him in the cowl, he’s spot-on. With his salt-and-pepper temples and tailored suits, Affleck’s Wayne is different from any other iterations of the character we’ve seen. A kind of suave, James Bond-like figure, a lot of time is spent establishing Wayne’s detective skills as his most valuable asset (with a techie Alfred played by Jeremy Irons - providing a much-needed dose of humor). In the Bat-suit he’s absolutely vicious and while some fans might be shocked at how willingly Batman kills, it’s strikingly different from the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale take.
As heavy duty as that version of the Bat-saga was, BVS is even darker, with this being the grimmest superhero movie ever made. There’s very little in the way of levity, but this ultra-bleak tone works mostly because it’s so different from what Marvel’s doing. If this had been a Marvel Studios clone, we’d all be complaining about that. This one truly is its own thing for better or worse.
The worst of it is Henry Cavill’s Superman. While quite good in MAN OF STEEL, Cavill’s Superman here is arrogant and often a bully. I’m of the mind that only Christopher Reeve ever really possessed the kind streak to do this character justice and Cavill struggles with the David Goyer/Chris Terrio take on the character, with him coming up as the movie’s weak link. However, this isn’t too much of a deal breaker as Superman is really in support of Affleck’s Batman. Think of this more as BATMAN I or JUSTICE LEAGUE 0.5 than MAN OF STEEL 2.
Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is also pretty dire. Again, it’s a thoroughly different take but he’s so pompous and evil that it’s hard to imagine anyone would be fooled by him - especially the brilliant Bruce Wayne. Many figured this casting wouldn’t work out and in this case, they were right.
But, back to the good stuff. While her screen-time is limited, Gal Gadot is terrific as Wonder Woman. She doesn’t have much to do until the grandiose finale, but she’s so exciting and vibrant in the part that it’s not a stretch to think everyone leaving this - even the ones who hate it - will be marking their calendars for the release of her solo movie. Amy Adams also gives the movie some much needed warmth, as does Diane Lane as Martha Kent. They give the often bombastic film some humanity and are essential ingredients to its success.
It should also be said that BVS is BIG. I was lucky to see this on 70MM IMAX (2D - thank God) with many sequences blown-out to the full IMAX aspect ratio, and it was impressive. While curiously short on action for the first half, the last hour takes an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach, and coupled with Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s raging (and often memorable) score, it’s quite the spectacle. Snyder’s given the film a rich look, toning down the Terrence Malick-inspired visuals of MAN OF STEEL in favor of something more specifically comic-book like. It’s very cinematic, which is not always the case for superhero films.
While obviously not a four-quadrant crowd-pleaser like the best of the Marvel movies, BVS is still an exciting time at the movies and a real epic stab at creating a new world. While it’s a little all-over-the-place it’s at least an attempt at greatness. Sure, that attempt may not have worked perfectly, but the result is a pretty interesting take on the DC Universe and certainly good enough to spawn-off a fun series in it’s own right. And who knows? Maybe after a badass JUSTICE LEAGUE movie we’ll all look back and think how underrated this was.
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