I remember the immense hype at Comic-Con 2013 when they first showed the Batman/Superman logo. The only thing that could match it was the unveiling of the Age of Ultron, but even then BVS completely overtook the film world. The two characters are some of the oldest in comics and two of the greatest heroes in the genre. Both have enjoyed success on the big screen, though Batman more so. The two have united in many cartoons, most notably in the legendary World’s Finest three-parter. (Which was collected as the Batman/Superman Movie, a must have if you haven’t seen it!) A film starring the two had been in development, but eventually fell through. With 2013’s MAN OF STEEL, DC started their version of a cinematic universe. DAWN OF JUSTICE is perhaps the decade’s most awaited film crossover, and rightly so. It’s almost surreal watching the two together on the big screen, but is the story surrounding the encounter good? Well, here’s the thing: it’s not written that well but if you’re a comic fan it’s certainly an event.
It’s been nearly two years since Superman’s (Henry Cavill) colossal battle with Zod (Michael Shannon) devastated the city of Metropolis. The loss of life and collateral damage left many feeling angry and helpless, including crime-fighting billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck). Convinced that Superman is now a threat to humanity, Batman embarks on a personal vendetta to end his reign on Earth, while the conniving Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) launches his own crusade against the Man of Steel.
We now live in a world where we can see Batman dodging blows from Doomsday on the big screen. Twenty years ago this kind of stuff was the subject of fan fictions. Seeing Batman in his Dark Knight Returns armor throwing Superman around makes the film worth the price of admission alone. The film’s incredible climax however doesn’t negate the mediocre writing found throughout. (Mostly in the first half.) Also all of the trailers and marketing made it seem like that this was going to be an all-out action movie. The film surprisingly doesn’t have any real fight scenes for the first hour & a half. The two characters meet up at the halfway mark in a well written sequence, but the reason why we’re coming down to watch this, as Lex Luthor puts it: “the greatest gladiator match in the history of mankind” doesn’t happen until the climax. The film went the route of having a lot of exposition, and then making the climax one action sequence after another. I think the formula of having a couple of scattered fight scenes and then one big one an the end is better than what Dawn of Justice did.
Going into the film I thought a probable negative would be that it’s trying to be too many things. On the onset it’s being a Man of Steel sequel, a Batman reboot, and a Justice League setup. The film actually does a good job with these without feeling overloaded. I do think it was a mistake of marketing to announce all the cameos and updates on the League film, because it would have been far better to see them without the prior knowledge in mind. At the core, this is a Batman/Superman story with a cool appearance from Wonder Woman. But as I said, the writing isn’t spectacular, and when compared to a film like THE DARK KNIGHT, it looks pale in comparison.
I thought Henry Cavill was very solid as Clark Kent/Superman in Man of Steel. His appearance here was pretty good, but there are quite a few questionable scenes, which is more due to the writing. For one thing in the India sequence there’s a very empty death and then Superman comes out of nowhere to help Lois. Why couldn’t he have come a few moments earlier? I’m also not a fan of the line, “No one stays good in this world.” These type of lines characters like Captain America and Superman should never be found saying. Another thing is that after a major explosion sequence, Superman disappears, instead of saying something. It’s only natural that the people would assume the worst in this case. Superman’s portrayal wasn’t bad, but certainly could have been a lot better. He is an icon of hope, but the film chose not to utilize this major aspect of the character. Instead it decided to take a more political look at what Superman means to the world at this point in time. I do find this aspect intriguing, and it’s neither overplayed nor underplayed. I just wish the hopeful aspect of his character was a factor, but it’s sadly not. At the very least, Clark Kent’s portrayal was spot on, much like the version from the classic Adventures of Superman days.
The film smartly shows the climatic Man of Steel fight scene with Superman and Zod from another perspective: Bruce Wayne’s. Not only does this give us our first look at why Batman grows to dislike Superman, but we also see that intense battle from the people’s point of view. Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman was a shocking choice for most at first, but by the time the film started to roll around people began to accept it, and even happily anticipate it. Affleck portrayed an older Batman very well, and I’m eager to see him in his own solo film. The reasoning used for Batman’s justification of ending Superman is interesting, (if there’s even a slight chance someone with all that power could turn against us) but can be hypocritical when you consider that there’s at least two instances where Batman himself kills people. With his expertise and gadgets, he could equally be a menace and thus could use his own logic on himself.
Lex Luthor is no stranger to the live action world, appearing in almost every Superman film to date. Jessie Eisenberg brings something different to the table. He’s definitely a good actor, but as Luthor the writing went a little too crazy. He was basically the only comic relief of the film, but it was more bizarre than genuinely funny. The conversation he had with Finch in his house was so terribly written I had to question what the writers were thinking. A lot of his lines are unrealistic, and there’s this strange scene where he feeds a Jolly Rancher to a senator…and the latter just stands there! The writing then throws us this one-sentence backstory on why he hates Superman, which is out of left field. This version of Luthor is far different than the iconic one we’ve seen in the 90’s Animated Series. I don’t think anyone would dispute that’s the Luthor we would have rather seen. Honestly the best thing about this incarnation was the King Kong shirt he was wearing earlier in the movie.
As expected, Gal Gadot didn’t appear too much as Wonder Woman, but when she did she completely nailed the role. Her big intro scene is one of the film’s highlights. Amy Adams as Lois Lane wasn’t bad in Man of Steel. What was bad was the completely tacked-on romance at the end. (There was no build up to it at all.) At least here the romance feels organic. Her role as hardcore journalist, damsel, and encourager is identical to the comics, and Amy plays each of these parts well.
Even though the first half has some mediocre writing and odd scenes (the Batman dream sequence was rather long) there’s certainly things to like too. Superman overhearing Bruce’s secret conversation with Alfred was classic comic book fare. The Batmobile sequence was also one of the best car chase scenes in recent history. The references to the Joker were fantastic. Now, obviously the best part of the film is the actual confrontation between the two characters. Director Zack Snyder set a precedent in Man of Steel of how comic book fight scenes with characters like these should be done. As expected, the fight here is more down to earth, but this isn’t a bad thing. The battle is satisfying and the choreography is excellent. One forgets the mediocre writing from here on out until the credits start to roll.
The way the fight scene comes about however is a little questionable. If Superman had revealed right away what was going on, the battle could have been avoided. But predictably Superman doesn’t directly say the reason why he’s there, instead letting the battle happen. Then afterward things turn around unnaturally fast. One of the most unexpected aspects of the film was throwing in Doomsday. Once again, it was a mistake unveiling him before the film came out. (Imagine being in the theater and hearing the word Doomsday without having the prior knowledge.) The monster made for a nice final conflict. Still, he’s worthy of his own movie, not being thrown into the final 20 minutes of one. The soundtrack is very solid. There are a lot of standout themes, such as the one which played during the Batmobile sequence and Wonder Woman’s emergence. There are some questionable themes however, such as the out of place early Lex Luthor one.
Overall, DAWN OF JUSTICE is an event film, but not a greatly written one. There are numerous parts of the film that just weren’t done very well. (Keefe not knowing who Luthor is for example was pretty farfetched.) The actual conflict between the two characters doesn’t disappoint however. (There’s even a clear winner.) Zack Snyder still directs the best fight scenes to be put on a comic book book film. Ben Affleck as Batman is definitely a primary highlight, delivering an iconic portrayal of the character. Superman is more on the mixed side. His character was on point in Man of Steel, but seems to have regressed a bit here. The story progression was also better in that film. Here the major confrontation is saved for almost last. It’s an interesting formula, but the questionable writing and the cringe-worthy Lex Luthor takes away from the first half. Even though this paragraph sounds negative, the film is still engaging and despite not having many fight scenes, it’s never actually boring. Wonder Woman was great and the ending was completely shocking. With better handling of the story the film could have been a masterpiece.