Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot
Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer
I desperately wanted to love this film. I’ve been a fan of Batman and Superman since childhood and couldn’t wait to finally see them together. I went into this movie with great anticipation and when I finally saw the two go head to head against one another, it was an epic spectacle that was astonishing to behold. But it was done for the wrong reasons. Amazing as it was to finally see the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel in the same movie and engaging each other in battle, some of the choices that were made in terms of story and character defy sense and reason. I don’t know if the fault belongs to Snyder for masterminding the whole thing or with the studio for their interference, but the result is a visually stunning yet fundamentally misguided mess of a movie.
In the aftermath of Metropolis’ destruction in Man of Steel, Superman (Henry Cavill) has become a controversial figure in the world. Half of the public view him as a saviour while the other half sees him as a monster. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who witnessed Superman’s destructive abilities first-hand, believes Superman to be a threat to the planet and seeks to stop him as Batman. Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is also threatened by Superman and hatches a plan to assure his demise using the discoveries he has made from studying Zod’s corpse and his Kryptonian ship. A congressional hearing led by Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) meanwhile is held to determine whether Superman is indeed a threat to humanity and invites him to appear before the world to speak. Thus Superman must confront the responsibility he holds for his power and actions and must decide what kind of man and what kind of hero he wants to be.
When it was announced that the sequel to Man of Steel would introduce Batman into the DC universe by pitting him against Superman, I think that the excitement that arose was more than a reaction to the iconic status of the two characters. I think the reason that so many people were excited for this fight is because there is actually a valid ideological conflict to be had. Superman stands up for liberty and justice and believes in the power of hope to save people. Batman in contrast fights crime through fear and favours methods that are altogether more ruthless and brutal. Fans of the comics, the animated shows or of the previous movies featuring these heroes can understand and relate to both of their creeds which is why a clash between the two would allow for a complex and engaging dispute of epic proportions. Either the makers of Dawn of Justice did not understand this or the heart of this conflict simply got lost in the middle of all the many overlapping and convoluted stories that were crammed into this movie.
Maybe the bloated state of this movie is a reaction to the enormous success and widespread adoration of the Marvel franchise, as if DC thinks it needs to catch up as quickly as possible by doing in one movie what Marvel did in five. Even though the conflict between Batman and Superman had more than enough material to make a compelling, action-packed movie, Dawn of Justice also decided to include an inquiry into Superman’s actions, a mystery for Batman to solve, the appearance of Wonder Woman, a diabolical plot by Lex Luthor resulting in the creation of a villain the trailer saw fit to reveal, some set-up for the future Justice League movie, a number of dream sequences and an iconic storyline from the comics that occurs during the climax. While some of these stories do work, the simple reality is that the film as a whole suffers from a severe absence of focus and direction. The movie tries to juggle so many different elements that it never finds the time to adequately explore any of its characters’ motivations or the deeper meaning of its themes. Although we do get our Batman vs. Superman fight, and it is breathtaking, the investment just isn’t there.
Anyone who has seen 300 or Watchmen knows that Zack Snyder is a superb visual director. The action in Dawn of Justice is some of the best to ever involve these characters. Snyder however is not Joss Whedon and in this film he doesn’t seem to understand what it is audiences actually want from a Batman and Superman movie. He displays little understanding of the characters themselves or of how to use the story to serve them. He doesn’t seem to appreciate the virtue of establishing and developing this universe over successive chapters rather than trying to do it all in one go. Most infuriating of all was the ending where he saw fit to include an iconic event from the comics that was wholly and entirely unearned by the film’s story. As much as I admire his talents as a visual artist, I still cannot believe how profoundly misjudged some of his choices were.
I feel torn about criticising the movie in this way because there are genuinely amazing things in it. Batman himself is stupendous from the look to the action to Affleck’s performance. The inclusion of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman worked well and now has me very much excited for her solo movie next year. The visuals and action scenes were masterful with only some of the highlights being the vision of an apocalyptic future, the actual fight between Batman and Superman and also what is perhaps the single greatest Batman action scene ever put onto film. Even the climatic battle that has no business even being in this movie was impressive to watch, especially in the way it employed Wonder Woman. No other movie this year has managed to inspire such an ambivalent reaction out of me. Although I’m giving this movie three stars, I must stress that I do not think Dawn of Justice is in any way an average film. There are parts of this film that I utterly adore and there are parts that I bitterly hate. Even though I am disappointed that Dawn of Justice was not the movie I wanted it to be, I must admit that I was drawn in by the spectacle and that, all things considered, I am glad I saw it. I just hope that Snyder learns from the backlash when the time comes for The Justice League.