Cinematic Releases: Batman v Superman - Dawn of Justice

We review the much anticipated DC epic. Guaranteed spoiler-free.

I have to be honest with you. Hell, I have to be honest with myself. This review doesn't matter. It's worthless. A ludicrous amount of people have already decided Batman v Superman is a bad movie without seeing the opening scene. Nothing I say is going to change that. If you already decided you don't care for the film, you can stop right here because this review is a waste of both your time and mine. The sad thing is—the thing that truly, deeply wounds me as a comic book and film fan—is that absolute trash like Transformers and Twilight go on to spawn sequel after rotten sequel. Yet, far better films like Batman v Superman come along, being completely honest with what it is from day one: dark, serious, grim, and adult, then it gets torn to shreds for those same qualities we knew for more than two years it would be chock full of. I'm worried that critical reception and irrational hate mongering could set a bad example for Warner and inspire some unwarranted apprehension about the future. If Twilight can live to fight another day, an imperfect Batman v Superman deserves much better than that.

From the opening scenes, it's clear that this is going to be a serious drama with some somber, and sometimes surreal moments where you're not even sure what you're seeing is real or not. It lets you into the headspace of the characters, seeing and feeling their obsessions, what they're made of, how they tick, what disturbs them, and what brings them happiness, if any. It's all laid on the table in a way that I've rarely seen in a film like it. In fact, to the lengths they take it, I think the closest is Zack Snyder's own Watchmen. This is a heavy film. Heavier than most will want to lift. It does lay a lot on you and expects you to carry this knowledge with you into their conflicts, their resolutions, and skirmishes. For some, this will be daunting, but it adds a necessary weight to the action scenes. It fuels them with some purpose that again I've rarely seen in films like it. You'll know precisely why Batman needs to fight Superman. You'll know precisely why if Superman wanted it, Batman would be dead already. You'll know exactly what Lex Luthor seeks to achieve from this. You'll see his manipulative evil claws digging at every player, pulling the strings and setting up a master plan that ties everything and everyone in a noose. It's pretty darn gripping seeing it all come together and the payoffs are huge!

"Tell me. Do you lift, bro?"

This sounds like high praise, but Batman v Superman, is certainly not perfect. It's not even my favorite superhero movie, but I can also certainly say that, like Man of Steel, it will likely grow on me. It's an indisputably dense movie, convoluted maybe, but dense, nonetheless. There are a lot of ideas and teases for the future of the franchise, but it can buckle under its own weight at times as it did in its opening act. Unfortunately, I think the biggest mistake of this film is not the self-serious, straight-jawed drama that unfolds, it's that we now know for sure that there was more than 30 minutes cut from the theatrical release—30 minutes that I believe being omitted will work against the theatrical reception more than leaving it in would have. It's really tough to find good footing in the first act of the film. Really tough. You can tell that from scene to scene there are transitions missing; necessary details or establishing sections that would have done wonders for comforting the audience through the developing sections of this epic. Honestly, it was challenging to put some of the pieces together and I don't mean any heady, intellectual stuff. I'm talking about basic plotting. I had to consciously force myself into thinking harder and faster so that I wasn't left in the dust. The first batch of scenes don't stick around long enough to get a good grasp of where it's heading or why before another totally unrelated scene juts into it. It's clunky and it was a worrisome first impression, but at some point it all starts to gel and ramps up in the best way.

No matter how well it ramps up or unfolds, though, not everyone is going to like what they did with these characters. Jesse Eisenberg had me on the fence going in and in some ways still does. I appreciate that they wanted to carve a new path for Lex not yet seen in film, but apparently not well known in the comicverse either. For those that don't know, this Luthor is highly inspired by the young, long-haired neurotic kid from Mark Waid's amazing Superman book, Birthright. If you haven't yet read it, please, I implore you to get a copy. It's beautifully penciled, gorgeously colored, and written like a smart blockbuster movie. No matter how great the source for this Lex is, however, I have a feeling he's still not going to go over well for most audiences. He's still just Jesse Eisenberg, love him or hate him, but I can say without question this is his best performance and deepest character he's ever taken on. He is 100% Lex Luthor in action and in philosophy, appearances be damned. He's written with surprising complexity and Eisenberg steps a few inches outside of his comfort zone to toy with a man struggling to maintain the smarmy wunderkind facade while the vile, manipulative genius beneath tries to scratch its way through. Some particular scenes you'll see Eisenberg impeccably pull this off and it shocked me. Much of this won't matter to many, I imagine, as more often than not I only saw him as Jesse Eisenberg even if he did take it up several notches. He did the best job I think he knows how and I have immense respect for that, but ultimately he's going to annoy a good deal of comic fans.

"The negative nancies are coming. The negative nancies are coming."

What can I say about Affleck that hasn't yet been said? He's the best Batman we've gotten so far. Hands down, he rocks, but there are some dangerous plays Snyder and Terrio made with him, some that are still confusing me, and I guess it will be up to you to decide how bothersome they are. You'll know exactly what I'm talking about when you see it. Personally, I'm accepting them for now just for the fact that he is undeniably awesome in every other way. Because of how content rich the film is, we didn't get enough of anyone, really, and it leaves you wanting more—a lot more–but that's inarguably better than not wanting more at all. He's scary. He's brutal. He's angry. He's had quite enough of this shit and you can tell he means serious business. As intense as his scenes are—as satisfyingly bad ass as they are–I still wanted more, but you can only fit so much Batman in a film with Superman, Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, and Doomsday. This Batman uses more gadgets and tools than I've seen any Batman on film before, coming close to the Batman in the Arkham games. The fight choreography was flat out stunning as we actually get the pleasure of seeing Batman use every tool possible to destroy his opponents. You'll laugh aloud at the sheer exhilaration of seeing him dispatch bad guys like rag dolls, slamming them through walls and into pavement with sharp, tactical finesse. Joyless, my ass! Seeing Batman in action in this film is nothing but joy concentrate and Affleck killed it in all departments whether it's chasing down goons in his Batmobile, beating the pulp out of a group of thugs, squaring off, jaw-to-jaw, in a wicked robot suit against the strongest hero of all time, or just being the rich guy with dead parents, Bruce Wayne.

Like Batman, I want more Gal Gadot. Some thought her accent would falter. Some thought she was too small, too pretty, or too inexperienced to pull off the Amazonian warrior. If you come away from this less than impressed by her, you're several orders of magnitude more cynical than I've ever been. Gal Gadot kicks serious ass. Her accent makes sense. It sets her apart. It immediately paints her as someone of our world, but not quite—someone with a unique history that we can't put our finger on yet. She's shrouded in mystery, but there's nothing mysterious about how well she can handle herself even against gigantic, beastly threats like Doomsday. Fans and audiences will most assuredly be pleased with her performance and her role. I was looking forward to her debut solo film, but now I need it and we'll be getting just that, but not soon enough, damn it!

I want to say more about the other Justice League cameos which we all have known are in here, but I will say this, don't expect a lot of screen time for them as Snyder said, "they're just whispers." One whisper in particular could mean something monumental for the DC film universe and one I look forward to exchanging ideas with fans about. Comic fans will get a kick out of them, but many viewers likely won't care and these elements likely serve only to confuse rather than arouse critics and moviegoers.

"Say "too inexperienced" again. I dare ya. I double dare ya!"

Like its complex characters, Batman v Superman is not short of challenging material. One reviewer said, "A popcorn film - and this is a popcorn film - should never feel like Sunday night homework." Yeah, there was a scene or two that forced me to think a little harder than necessary just to sew together some plot points, but that's not what I'm talking about. When we're getting into the headspace of these characters, namely Bruce Wayne, Zack Snyder employs a less than literal approach that can be off-putting to some viewers, utilizing surreal visuals to represent the emotional status of the character or better yet, foreshadowing for the fantastical future of the franchise. Many of these sequences are arguably far too esoteric for the average viewer, merrily copying the wild sci-fi ideas in the comics that will surely tickle the hardcore fan's brains. There is a plethora of easter eggs and references liberally scattered throughout these scenes that will undoubtedly spawn a ton of speculation and fantasizing over what it all means. Rewatching this over and over should be an exceptionally rewarding experience as people like myself and my fellow geeks will rake through the details and symbols, trying to piece together the bigger picture. For the sake of being 100% spoiler-free, I'd rather not get into specifics here, but holy fan service, Batman! There is a ton to gain from multiple viewings. These portions I can understand will leave more people frustrated and scratching their heads, and it's without question not for the common critic, but you can't deny that Snyder knows his audience and he knows his DC mythos. This will be a blast to scrutinize especially when the extended three hour cut hits blu-ray.

Does Batman v Superman live up to the hype? No. Of course, it doesn't, but it's also not even remotely close in deserving of the ridiculous hatred slung its way either. I've never seen a film so unfairly criticized in my entire life. I mean that, with no hyperbole, it is by far the most unjustly bashed film I've ever seen in my thirty three years on this planet. God forbid we get a dark comic film franchise, because dark comics don't exist apparently? This film pulls from many critically acclaimed books, most of which are geared toward adults. They're geared toward people like me, for the fans so moved by those characters when we were children that we continue to read them today as grown men and women and we don't deserve to have one franchise–just one for crying out loud–that's geared more toward us?! Does every superhero movie have to follow a particular formula? Is there only one way to tell a comic hero film? Do they all have to be funny, lighthearted, or brainlessly good-spirited? I'm thirty-three years old now. In fact, I just bought two more Spider-man books (which makes 19 in my collection) and another Flash trade. I'm still a geek and perhaps always will be. Both haters and lovers of the film expected this to be the be-all and end-all superhero flick. If it wasn't mind-blowing perfection, it wasn't going to be worth a damn.

The standards we held up for BvS were and are utterly insane. Standards I've rarely seen for other films of its brethren. Similar genre films with far worse flaws that are far less interesting, far less risky, and far more formulaic are treated like do-no-wrong works of popcorn genius and anything bad you have to say about them is met with an onslaught of fanboy flaming. Dare you speak fondly or perhaps even fairly of this film or say that it's positives far outweigh the negatives and you might as well be a batshit fanatic. Batman v Superman is a killer action flick with an amazing Batman, a kick ass Wonder Woman, an angelic Superman, beautifully scored, well acted, far more daring than its genre predecessors, and by the end of a sometimes stilted plot, sees all its pieces locked and loaded for a massive third act that knocks it out of the park and beyond the exosphere. True, it's not perfect. It never would have been. Sometimes it's too serious for its own good, the plot clunks and drags out the gate, and comic book fans will nitpick until their dying breaths, but hot damn is it ultimately an awesome set up for an awesome new franchise with the biggest characters in comics. See this movie and see it again and again. It needs it. I need it and without a doubt will be strapping back in to a theater seat with my popcorn and soda ready to soak in even more of this jam-packed epic.

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- written by J.G. Barnes