Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams and Jesse Eisenberg.
All you people who disliked Man of Steel (a group which I’m not a part of) – Zack Snyder has answered your criticisms. By totally ignoring them. I’m glad he stuck to his guns – those Superman fans who hate different interpretations of the character are the reasons we get dull, lifeless reboots like Superman Returns. As you can probably tell – I loved Man of Steel and I really wanted to love this one. But I didn’t.
Warning: Major Spoilers!
Dawn of Justice was divisive before shooting had even started, mainly because of its casting. Affleck as Batman??? Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman???? Eisenberg as Lex Luthor?!?!? So, two years on, were those concerns justified? In Gal Gadot’s case the answer is a resounding no – Wonder Woman is easily the best thing in the film – she looks the part and excels both when fighting as Wonder Woman and when sparring with Bruce Wayne as her alter ego Diana Prince. Eisenberg is less successful and the most divisive of the three. His manic, unhinged Lex Luthor has shades of the Joker and is clearly sociopathic/psychopathic/insane in a way most variants of the character haven’t been. His motivations are murky and his take on the character isn’t particularly close to the original version (but after that’s been true for both the Bat and Superman, should we expect anything else from Snyder?). Critics have been divided, but personally, while he had his moments (pushing Lois off the Lexcorp tower/unleashing Doomsday) his interpretation wasn’t my favourite.
As for Ben Affleck? His older, somewhat broken Bruce Wayne is a different interpretation on the character, but one with plenty of potential. The scenes between him and Alfred (a wonderful Jeremy Irons – who not only equals but arguably betters Michael Caine) work well, even if he is remarkably stiff and serious when interacting with others (the playboy Bruce Wayne is long dead in this film) which does make him less likeable than Christian Bale (but his take on the character wouldn’t have worked in this film). Where Affleck excels is as the Bat himself: cruel, brutal and as brooding as ever, Batman is genuinely terrifying here in a way he hasn’t been for decades, if ever. We’ll probably learn why he’s this way when a solo-film comes around, but it’s hinted at that Bruce has lost any hope he had of changing Gotham and has lost most of his allies along the way. His no killing rule? That hasn’t survived – which I suspect may ire some fans – but before you all rise up in anger, the first 4 Batman films (1989-1997) and the comics for a long stretch never included this rule – it’s a recent thing, and a darker Batman who is willing to kill is nothing new – and frankly, quite an interesting prospect. Apart from the fight with Superman, I’m pretty sure the Bat killed more than a few of Lex Luthor’s thugs in this film with the Batmobile and Batwing (there’s even a dream sequence in a hellish dystopian future where the Bat is a rebel leader willing to use guns – but it’s only a dream fortunately, as that would be a step too far.)
Now for the film itself. It’s a game of two halves, with a muddled, slightly directionless first half and then a pulsating, brutal second half. It starts promisingly, setting up Batman very well in the first 10 mins (first by incorporating the murder of the Waynes into the opening credits and then by showing Bruce being bad-ass in Metropolis trying to save people on the ground during the Superman-Zod fight in Man of Steel). Unfortunately most of the rest of the first half is spent moving Bruce, Superman and Lex into the positions we know they’ll be in during the film’s climax. There’s a fair bit of philosophising/moral dimensions/Luthor being crazy, not all of which comes off. This isn’t helped by how some of the dialogue is very clunky and doesn’t sound remotely natural in places (mainly with Bruce and Lex) We see how Clark Kent is frustrated at the Bat taking the law into his own hands in a way Superman wouldn’t, as Lex Luthor conspires to turn the media against Superman while getting his hands on some Kryptonite/Zod’s body/the Crashed Kryptonian ship, while Bruce’s underlying hatred of Superman for metropolis, underpinned by a couple of nightmarish dream sequences and one very weird vision/warning given by what appeared to be a time-travelling flash. Fortunately Snyder throws in a thrilling (brutal) Batmobile chase sequence to serve as some ‘light’ relief. This is one serious film, barring a few comments from Alfred, Diana and Superman’s mother Martha Kent, there aren’t many laughs.
Fortunately things pick up in the second half. We get some mini-trailers for the Justice league members courtesy of Lexcorp intelligence (because DC doesn’t do post credit scenes!) with Jason Mamoa looking particularly badass as Aquaman – not a phrase you’d normally associate with the character! Then the main event – Luthor forces Superman to fight and kill the now enraged Batman by kidnapping Martha Kent and holding her hostage at a unknown location – but the Bat has stolen Luthor’s kryptonite to fashion some gas grenades and a lethal looking spear capable of killing Superman. The fight scene itself is unremittingly brutal – and those who think Batman doesn’t stand a chance are in for a shock as the Kryptonite really levels the playing field. However its the end of the fight sequence and then the final fight against Doomsday when the film is at it’s best.
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! DO NOT READ BEFORE WATCHING!
Doomsday is one of the strongest monsters in DC. You should check out the Wikipedia page on him – the backstory is both interesting, horrible and terrifying. And the film gets Doomsday right – even though they completely change/simplify his origins (unless there’s an original version we’re set to meet in a Justice league film later). Here he’s created by Luthor using Zod’s body spliced with his own DNA as an abomination to use as a back-up if Batman loses. But Batman (to most of the audience’s surprise – but not mine because I’d seen the Dark Knight Returns part 2) doesn’t lose and actually takes down the Man of Steel. And does so believably. If it wasn’t for Lois’ timely appearance and Superman’s last request to save Martha (coincidently also the name of Bruce’s mother), the Bat would undoubtedly have killed him. We then get a great fight scene as Batman rescues Martha from Luthor’s thugs and a tense showdown as Superman confronts Luthor aboard the Kryptonian ship. Then all hell breaks lose as Luthor screams that line from the trailer ‘if man won’t kill God… the devil WILL DO IT!’ and unleashes Doomsday. Doomsday lives up to his name – as his ability to evolve and absorb energy means he’s effectively immortal. The following scenes are brilliant, as Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman team up to fight him – and lose. Even when Superman drags Doomsday into space and the US military fires a nuke at them – Doomsday at best looks mildly pissed off. This was what i’ve been waiting for from Marvel but haven’t got yet – a villain who isn’t easily beaten in the final 10 mins and who poses a genuine threat on their own. Loki and Ultron were amusing and a threat when one on one or backed up by an army – but the avengers as a whole have never faced a threat capable of fighting them all at once (until Thanos finally shows up or they bring in Galactus?) Here even the 3 greatest heroes in DC can barely hold their own against him. Then comes the one shock in the film that wasn’t spoiled by the trailer: Superman unexpectedly dying while using the Kryptonian spear to kill Doomsday. Didn’t see that coming before the Justice league film – don’t see him staying dead though (he doesn’t in the comics – but ways to take risks just 2 films in DC – it took Marvel 9 films before they were brave enough to pull the SHIELD/HYDRA twist (to date the only risk they’ve taken).
Overall a film that delivers on it’s promise to pit the two greatest superheroes against each other – but isn’t that successful everywhere else. The first half is weak and Lex Luthor just plain mad, but Wonder Woman is brilliant and Doomsday terrifying. Also – bleakest Superhero film ever? Surely we’ll never see one this uncompromisingly serious, brutal and downright depressing in places. I liked it. But I don’t love it. Can’t wait for Wonder Woman next year though!
Rating: 3.5/5 (Not a flop like Green Lantern, nor a Dark Knight trilogy triumph)
If you didn’t like Man of Steel, you probably won’t like this – and if you like your violent superhero films upbeat, go watch Deadpool again! (Like anyone needs an excuse!)