What do you get when you take three of DC comic’s biggest superheroes in all of comic book history, and then place them in a movie together? Well in theory you should result in a film that will have comic book geeks salivating and having nerdgasms from the moment the movie begins all the way through the final credits. Marvel proved that when they ended their Phase I set of films with Avengers. Now Warner Bros., given that they are the owners of DC Comics, naturally wish to capitalize on their own pantheon of heroes and have embarked on an equally ambitious venture. However, did they succeed?
Warner Bros. has been making superhero movies for some time. One of their earliest attempts in 1978 with Superman: The Movie was an enormous success. They then returned in the late 80’s when Tim Burton was brought on to helm the first of the Batman movies. From that moment Warner Bros. started to push these films out like a machine, but sadly not with the exact same type of acclaim as they had first experienced. There was also no thought as to creating one cohesive universe. Then Marvel came along and proved that it could be done, so not to be outdone Warner Bros. decided to stake out their claim with a DC Cinematic Universe when they released Man of Steel in 2013. So what does the studio decide to do next? Do another Batman film? Well Christopher Nolan has done that repeatedly, most recently in a trilogy of films. However Batman has proven to be one of the most popular heroes in all of DC Comics. What to do? Pair Batman up with Superman! Then the Warner Bros. suits really get excited. “But wait, let’s use this film as a stepping-stone to grab some of that Avengers movie crowd and we’ll create our own Justice League films!!! But wait, let’s really up the ante by throwing in the greatest female hero in all of DC, that being Wonder Woman! It’s the DC holy trinity! It’s a trifecta!!! We can’t lose!”
But did they?
There could be numerous causes as to why this movie did not live up to expectation. It’s no secret that Warner Bros. deliberately chose not to have one cohesive vision with their various properties between the movie and TV divisions. Even with the Marvel properties there is an overseer, but there is no such person guiding all of these potential projects for Warner Bros., and as a result this movie sort of flounders. Some of the characters are interesting. Henry Cavill, returning as Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman does bring a very solitary and sad performance to the character. As much as Superman tries to fit in to a world he has grown to love, he finds that he doesn’t. Even as Clark Kent, he still carries virtuous values with everything that he does, and still does not fit in with a society that has grown cynical and cold.
On the other hand we now have Ben Affleck debuting as Bruce Wayne/Batman. He too does not quite fit in, and Affleck does a very good job at also bringing in a solitary quality to his character, only his is tinged with anger and pessimism. Both Cavill and Affleck each brought the perfect qualities to their characters that helped to reflect the differences between Superman and Batman. Sadly that is not enough to see the film all the way through. While compelling and interesting characters are necessary, if there isn’t a strong story then all of the greatest performances from the best actors in the world won’t be able to hold the interest of the audience, and what makes this story weak is the sheer length of the film. Coming in at 2 hours and 31 minutes there just isn’t enough story to satisfy the viewer. While there are some good action sequences, those scenes aren’t placed very well throughout the film so whatever energy and intensity level director Zack Snyder is trying to create just ends up bottoming out amidst plenty of what can only best be described as padding. The title of the film is Batman vs. Superman, and while the film constantly points us towards that ultimate showdown, the set up not only takes way too long for it to finally arrive, but when it does the manner in which it happens is terribly contrived leaving the viewer feeling a bit cheated. As a result the battle rings very hollow and all we could do was just hope for it to mercifully end and move on to the next plot contrivance.
This leads me now to the weakest aspect of the film, and that is Lex Luthor. Played by Jesse Eisenberg, we are given a Luthor who is anything but the cold, genius, and brilliantly calculating villain that the comic books have given us. Even past performances of Luthor by Gene Hackman in the earlier Superman movies, as well as Kevin Spacey in Superman Returns shows us a much better Luthor than what is delivered in this film. Luthor is brilliant, and his super power is that he’s always in control by means of his sheer genius. He never overplays his hand and always plays the odds so long as it guarantees his success. However the Luthor we got here was about as much of a departure from the “real Lex Luthor” of the comics as one could possibly imagine. In the film Lois Lane (played competently well by a returning Amy Adams) calls him “psychotic.” In comparison to what Eisenberg gave us I could handle psychotic. Instead what we have here is a villain who is simply (please pardon the pun here) batsh*t crazy!!! Instead of giving us a character that we should have some respectable level of fear for what he is capable of doing, we are looking more at a caricature. Luthor is strictly two dimensional, which only damages the overall story to the point where any dangerous situations he might bring about end up feeling absurd. Even in the face of one of the greatest dangers the Earth has ever faced, Eisenberg’s bonkers-crazy portrayal of Luthor does not help to create any sense of impending danger. Even when the outcome (which was sort of telegraphed for those who are familiar with some of DC’s most notable comic book stories) was upon us, we do not find ourselves emotionally invested with what is happening. The Lex Luthor in this film is so incredibly unbelievable that even the threat he unleashes on the world comes off as unbelievable.
With all of this I should say that this movie isn’t entirely bad. There are some wonderful story threads that permeate this film. One leftover issue from Man of Steel is revisited regarding the destruction that Superman caused, and is potentially still capable of committing. For a time it becomes a recurring question, for no matter what good Superman does for people, with the myriad of wonderful rescues that only a hero of his stature could perform, the idea that he’s an alien rises to the surface and blinds people to any good that he is capable of performing. It then transforms into paranoia as typified by Bruce Wayne who believes that if there is only a 1 percent chance of Superman destroying the world that must then be taken as an absolute certainty. Now the only downside to these threads in the film is that it really puts human society in a generally negative light, and that was not something that I enjoyed. I did appreciate that the issue was brought up, but it’s then dropped in favor of nothing more than just endless padding. It wasn’t until the last few minutes of the film that human society is redeemed, and while there was some good emotional resonance to that moment, these threads are not enough to sustain itself throughout the movie. It should also be mentioned that this film drops some major seeds regarding the proposed upcoming Justice League film with the appearance of some very interesting characters, and at the risk of being very spoilerific here, the appearance of the movie franchise’s Flash was dreadful. Once viewers realized who they were looking at it garnered murmurs of disapproval throughout the theater.
So, having addressed all of these issues let me get back to my initial question, which was what do you get when you take three of DC comic’s biggest superheroes in all of comic book history, and then place them in a movie together? Do you get something of equal quality to the Phase I or even Phase II Marvel films? No, instead what you get is nothing more than Batman v Superman: Yawn of Justice.
On a scale from A (excellent) to F (fail), this movie earns a C-.
Have you seen Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice yet? Are you planning to at some point? Do you have any overall concerns going into seeing it for the first time, or did you walk away from it feeling that Warner Bros. delivered a home run?
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