Movie Review: ‘BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE’ lands with a thud

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Jared McMillan // Film Critic

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE | 151 min | PG-13
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy AdamsJesse Eisenberg and Gal Gadot

Let me preface this write-up by saying I will always be endeared towards the comic book movie, regardless of box-office draw or Rotten Tomatoes rating. Long after it has been cast aside by the zeitgeist, it will be a genre that will constantly rekindle the escapism felt in my youth. This escapism has much to do with our minds handling conflict by way of our comic heroes.

It goes without saying that a lot of story arcs/characters are shaped by what is occurring in our culture at that time. However, serious undertones are embodied by our heroes and each issue plays to their personalities. In other words, good vs. evil is just a theme, with personalities acting as a way to translate these stories to the audience. We can all relate to rising up against feelings of oppression, in our own right.

Which brings me to DC movies…

This mandate that has been passed to make all of their movies serious in nature goes within direct violation of what a comic book adaptation is supposed to do: They are adapted to further translate these personalities and conflicts to a wider audience. Yet, with every DC adaptation, Warner Bros. and Zack Snyder are playing with fire by trying to fit all of these different personality square pegs into a round hole.

By forcing a comic book movie to be serious, we, as an audience, take the movie more seriously than we would like. This year’s success of DEADPOOL, or the success of Marvel in general, happened because they don’t take themselves too seriously. The story dictates the mood, not the other way around. By having the need to seek out a specific tone, the story will be forsaken, and the audience, who is now taking the movie seriously, will find all of its flaws. Such is the case with their latest entry, BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE.

The movie opens on yet another montage of Bruce Wayne’s parents getting killed, but is also a recurring dream of The Caped Crusader, played this time by Ben Affleck (no, I will not refer to him as Batfleck). After the credits sequence is over, we flash back to the battle at the end of MAN OF STEEL, except from Bruce’s point-of-view, which is total chaos and destruction. This leads to his personal vendetta against Superman (Henry Cavill), who he identifies as an unknown threat.

Henry Cavill returns as Superman in BATMAN V SUPERMAN. DAWN OF JUSTICE. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Henry Cavill returns as Superman in BATMAN V SUPERMAN. DAWN OF JUSTICE. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Meanwhile, Superman is battling Congress and public perception that depicts him as either a deity or an alien threat. Spearheading this investigation is Sen. Finch (Holly Hunter) and independent weapons contractor Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), who has obvious ulterior motives. These motives also catch the eye of Batman, and the ménage-a-trois of one-upmanship is set for the audience.

Before getting to what makes BvS: DAWN OF JUSTICE the mess that it turned out to be, it’s important to know that it looks solid visually. All of our parts fit their molds, especially Affleck and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Affleck’s Bruce Wayne/Batman has a tension that seethes beneath the surface with every clinch of the jaw, and every act of violence has more dangerous intent. Gadot has the elegance and strength needed to embody Wonder Woman, and she (deservedly) got the biggest response from the audience. Also, seeing it in IMAX gave the spectacle the feel it deserved with every moment of action. But, it’s what lies in between the action that is almost cringeworthy.

First of all, it becomes abundantly clear that Snyder has no idea what to do with Superman. He compares Superman to God so much it becomes ad nauseum, which makes the movie come across as something self-indulgent. “I have things to say about society, and Superman is my conduit.” But because he is supposed to be this lightning rod of debate or cultural subtext, it feels that’s all he is there for. Cavill looks like Superman, but there is no charisma or swagger to him and it leaves him devoid of personality.

This brings me to another issue with BvS, which is that the movie is terrible at keeping the audience distracted from its flaws. The dialogue is so boring that it made me feel like I was renting a car; just tuning out the disclaimers until I can get my keys and drive. Furthermore, they transition scenes so ineffectively that it made me tilt my head in confusion. They just jump to points in the story at various instances, or they don’t have any continuity (example: Batman had half his cowl torn, but then has a new one immediately in the next scene), or they just leave out pertinent information, like how Lex Luthor knows so much about EVERYTHING. These details should be commonplace in storytelling, but they get put aside.

The mood needs to evolve from the writing, and that’s what DC Movies has to remember moving forward. There’s a reason its television shows are more universally accepted than its movies, which is that they have personality. So, when you go see the spectacle that is BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, try and do the opposite of what DC wants and try not to take it too seriously. They’re going for the visual home-run, and that’s what needs to be kept in mind. It’s going to be difficult see through the grey, but just know this coming out of it: Zack Snyder isn’t directing or writing WONDER WOMAN.

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE opens tomorrow, and in participating early screenings tonight.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.