By Jack Dignan
It's "the greatest gladiator match in the history of the world. Son of Krypton vs Bat of Gotham," as says Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor in the second film of DC's cinematic universe. It began three years ago with Man of Steel, the Superman (Henry Cavill) origin story that sparked more controversy than most people expected, including myself, and now, the Man of Steel is met with his greatest foe, Batman (Ben Affleck), making this the first time the two characters have been seen on screen together in live action. It should be monumental, but is it? In my opinion, and I'm well aware that the primary consensus is that I'm wrong, it is.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice begins during the final moments of Man of Steel, General Zod (Michael Shannon) and Superman (Cavill) wrecking havoc all across Metropolis. There's a lot of collateral damage, to say the least. Amongst the destruction, we focus in on billionaire Bruce Wayne (Affleck), who just so happens to own a building that's been destroyed, killing a close friend of his. Cut forward two years. Superman is a figure of controversy, much like his last movie, and is being put up for trial, being held responsible for a series of murders. Batman has just about had enough of Superman's actions, and after an unexpected disaster for which Superman is once again blamed for, Batman takes actions into his own hands, facing up against Superman in a one on one battle.
I'm not hating on DC, but I have to state the facts. They're well behind Marvel. Marvel has had an established film series up and running for a number of years now, spanning a shared universe over twelve movies and a few TV shows. They're undoubtably on top of things, and DC is only just beginning. Man of Steel opened to mix reviews, people disappointed it wasn't on the same level as Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, which only came to a conclusion one year earlier. Personally, I enjoy the movie. I've seen it a number of times and believe it to be a flawed, but entertaining film. I have a similar opinion on Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. It's a flawed film, and I will get into these flaws later, but I enjoyed it. A lot. In fact, it was sort of amazing.
Right off the bat, I will just say that the performances in this film are unreal. Henry Cavill once again proves himself to be the ultimate Superman, easily worthy of justifiable comparisons to Christopher Reeve. The thing is, he's not the stand out actor here. Don't get me wrong, the guy gave a great performance, but it's Ben Affleck who really steals the show as Batman/Bruce Wayne, nailing both personas and providing us with the best parts of the movie. His Bruce is flawed and old, whereas his Batman is brutal and unforgiving, branding his victims with a bat signal. He means business, and he gets shit done. He is, and I'll apologise to all Christian Bale fans now, the perfect Batman. He's not in a perfect movie, but he's perfectly cast. When I look at him, I see Batman. Not once since watching the movie have I even thought about Daredevil until mentioning it just now.
The two may give great solo performances, but when put together, there's nothing stopping them. This is our first look at the DC cinematic universe actually coming together, and when these two were on screen at the same time, I couldn't help but get giddy. It's something straight out of a comic book, the film full of homages and scenes from Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns, one of the most famous Batman stories of all time. Whether they're Bruce and Clark or Superman and Batman, their scenes together are unforgettable, and if this is just a taste of what DC has to offer in future films, count me in.
It moves at a slow pace, but it doesn't drag. It's light on action for the first hour or so, but it deals with the politics of superheroes and the aftermath of their giant battles, and it works. The dialogue by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer is powerful and piercing, the delivery of all the lines really hitting hard, and when the action goes down, boy does it go down. Batman is relentless, and as the film progresses, his anger continues to grow, so when we finally get to see the two confront each other, which occurs later than you'd expect and finishes sooner than you want, it's insanely cool. Batman shouldn't be a character that can beat Superman, but he proves himself to be a worthy opponent, even if I wanted the fight to be a little bit longer.
The thing is, this film isn't just called Batman V Superman. It's called Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. There's two separate components to this film, the first being the Batman V Superman part, and the second being the Dawn of Justice part, referring to the Justice League. While the first part is action packed and exciting, it's this second part that made me fall in love with this movie. As seen in the second trailer, Batman and Superman are forced to take on Doomsday, a creature created by Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) to target and destroy Superman. But he can't take it alone, and this is where we get our first look at Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), and just like Affleck, Gadot is the perfect casting. Many fans critiqued her physical physique after hearing she was cast, saying she was too skinny, but when you see her in action, she's damn good.
All of the action is fun, and somewhat less destructive than it was in Man of Steel, but it's what it leads up to that is most exciting. Obviously, I won't delve into spoilers in this review, but I will say that you're in for an emotionally driven finale that's powerful and went places I didn't think it would go. It's a solid ending that leaves things open for future films, but it's not without flaw. Like many epics before it, most famously The Lord of the Rings, Batman V Superman falls into the trap of ending a few too many times. There were about four different moments that could've worked as the very final shot of the film, but didn't. It just kept going and going and going to the point of exhaustion. It overstayed its welcome.
On top of that, there's also a few too many pointless moments in this film, resulting in a runtime that, while not necessarily too long, didn't exactly need to be as long as it was. Now, I'm not saying I was bored or I wanted it to be shorter. Heck, I'm keen for the three hour long director's cut on the blu-ray. What I am saying is that a lot of the scenes, while entertaining, aren't relevant to anything. Again, I won't get into spoilers, but I will say that the nightmare scene shown in the trailers, featuring Batman and Superman in some sort of an apocalypse, plays no importance whatsoever. It was a cool scene, but it was completely irrelevant, and so many scenes are like that in this movie, especially in the first hour. Everything tightens up after that.
There are scenes that are irrelevant, and then there are scenes that are just forced into the movie for the sake of forcing it in. Whether it's a Justice League tease or an "important" subplot, there are plenty of moments that just don't work, especially the appearance of Aquaman, which has been hyped up ever since Zack Snyder posted a picture of Jason Momoa in costume on twitter. We were promised Aquaman, but what we got was 5 seconds of pointlessness, and that's not the only moment like that, either. Again, I obviously won't spoil a thing, but the whole sequence involving Aquaman was so unbelievably lazy. I was irritated, that's for sure.
With positives and negatives out of the way, this only leaves me with one more thing to discuss.... Jesse Eisenberg. His persona from the trailers wasn't the Lex Luthor from the comics. He donned the name Lex Luthor, but he didn't feel.... right. This isn't to say I disliked him, I just didn't think he was the character I know and love. I was hoping the film would pull the rug out from under me and Eisenberg would show a truly dark side. I was wrong. He's exactly what you see in the trailer, except with a lot more anxiety. He's a nervous and unconfident person and while that could make for a compelling villain, in this case, it doesn't. If we wasn't named Lex Luthor, maybe I'd like him a bit more than I did, although again, I didn't necessarily dislike him either. I'm just conflicted.
To sum up, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is far from a perfect movie. It tries to put in more stuff than it needs and it ends way too many times, but the action is intense, the performances are unreal and the finale is emotional and powerful.