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'Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice' Review: For Better or For Worse


★★★★☆ (4/5)

(Spoilers ahead) Writing a review for Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice on the other side of the record-breaking opening weekend adds some more context and perspective. That's not to say the box-office amount proves the critics who tore the film apart were wrong any more than the ticket sales make it a great movie. But after a week of online debating about the merits of film criticism, comic book canon, and aggregate review websites it still boils down to one ambitious yet divisive tentpole movie. It's not as bad or as good as you've heard. 

Let's get to the negatives as that's been the popular approach thus far when talking about Dawn of Justice. Admittedly, I'm a long-time fan of DC Comics and Batman specifically but I'm well aware that Warner Bros is capable of great films like The Dark Knight and terrible films like Batman & Robin. Dawn of Justice lies somewhere in-between.

The notion that because it's dark and grim makes it bad is false. A film can be dark, grim, and still be enjoyable. I've heard it said a lot lately that superheroes "should be aspirational, light-hearted, and fun." That is not a fact it's merely a preference, an opinion. Dawn of Justice is dark and grim because like director Zack Snyder's other Superman film Man of Steel, being a hero is a heavy burden with major consequences for your actions. Superman (Henry Cavill) learns that his efforts to save Metropolis came at a heavy price. 



If there is one overall problem with the film it's the first half. It could have been more fluid and energetic as opposed to the slow-burning convoluted narrative it is with some liberal story editing. It tries to establish the basis for the Batman/Superman conflict. Essentially, Bruce (Ben Affleck) sees Supes as the dangerous outsider, an alien who recklessly "saved" Metropolis by nearly destroying it. In the fight with Zod, Supes managed to collapse building after building including one belonging to Wayne Industries causing massive casualties. We see this from Bruce's point of view in the opening. As you can imagine this made Bruce especially peeved. 

Clark Kent has his own reservations about a certain vigilante from Gotham City who throws out civil liberties and applies his own brand of justice on criminals, torture and all. He wants to begin a crusade through the Daily Planet but Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) isn't interested. It only drives Kent's desire to put an end to Batman's reign of terror. And there you have the crux of their mutual distrust. Certainly, it should be enough to get them together for a hotly debated conversation over chai tea but alas, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) has other more devious plans for them. 

It's really not worth going over the ludicrous machinations that Lex uses to turn up the hate between the two heroes and it's woven into the first half. From the disabled survivor of the Metropolis fight, played by Scoot McNairy, to the deal struck with Holly Hunter's senator, and the congressional hearings all seem unnecessary. Bruce's dream sequences or "knightmares" were also very odd. Lex's hatred of Superman is deeply rooted in his loathing for an abusive father and a God that didn't intervene. Superman presents that god-like figure that let him down. 



The dream sequences were beautifully shot and sometimes scary or action-packed but there was no explanation for them. They were often premonitions that came to reality soon after. Even the sequence that had a frantic Flash (Ezra Miller) warning Bruce, something torn from the comics, comes during a dream but didn't have to be since it's a prelude to 'Justice League' and should have happened while he was awake. 

The take-away from all this is that instead of slogging through 60+ minutes of set-up and Snyder's self-indulgent artistic flair he could have whittled it down to a sleek 45 minutes by eliminating the dreams and condensing the hearing. Snyder is undoubtedly a talented director but you have to take the good with the bad. That's why it's maddening to see Snyder take his time with his ode to Terrence Malick when he should be speeding things up. 

Now let's talk about the positives. The entire cast is fantastic. Cavill has the burden of getting the crap beat out of him physically and emotionally. He carries the role with dignity and strength amid a barrage of emotions. Amy Adams was rock solid, Jeremy Irons was snarky and smooth, and Laurence Fishburne was the quintessential Perry White. 

Jesse Eisenberg was a surprising choice to play Lex and he does a great job at being arrogant, condescending, manipulative, and just plain weird. He seems a little off, losing his train of thought at a public function, displaying a tick and manic energy. He's sufficiently hateable but he isn't "Lex Luthor." The Lex we've known is a way more imposing figure, supremely smart and tactical, and a lot more menacing. Eisenberg was great with what he was asked to do but is in no way the definitive big screen Lex. 



For all the bad internet buzz Ben Affleck received when he was cast as Batman he proved that not only could he do the part justice he could become the best Dark Knight ever on film. This Batman is clearly influenced by Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. An older, more grizzled veteran vigilante whose 20 years of battling crime has taken its toll creating a much more violent hero. Affleck embodies this Batman right down to his mech-suit. 

In recent years, Affleck has produced some incredible work as an actor and director. Yet, fans decried the casting for roles he had done in the past including 2003's Daredevil movie. In Dawn of Justice, Affleck captures Bruce Wayne's charm and ego but really excels as the angry and ingenious Batman. He's a brawler and a tactician. When he finally fights Superman it's thoroughly planned out and as brutal as you'd expect. Batman is nothing if not prepared. 


This is where Zack Snyder, the auteur, comes in handy. His staging of the fight scenes, the spectacle and scope are genuinely thrilling and bone-crushing. It's the battle we expected but to see it on the big screen it's even more epic and visceral. 

The moment I think all fans were waiting for was the arrival of Wonder Woman. After spending the first half as Diana Prince, mysterious, glamorous party-goer and object of Bruce Wayne's curiousity, she bursts on screen in spectacular fashion. As seen on the trailer, she absorbs the nuclear blast from Doomsday and redirects it back to it. She is all business, unfazed by the giant alien abomination in front of her. She doesn't hesitate to take on the beast, even smiling when it hits back. This is not her first rodeo While Superman and Batman do their part, Wonder Woman is clearly the veteran warrior who has little to say but plenty of ass to kick. Her no-nonsense approach and skill had fanboys like me extremely giddy seeing her in the flesh on screen finally.


This is why despite the ill-conceived, convoluted plot and poor pacing of the beginning the third act is all action but also the long overdue assembly of the most iconic superheroes in history - Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman - finally together. Batman uses his smarts and gadgets to evade Doomsday, Superman does all he can to defeat it even taking him to space, and Wonder Woman fearlessly and relentlessly wields her sword and even ties Doomsday up in her lasso. These things actually happened in live-action. My comic book-loving heart could hardly take it all in. 

Ultimately, Snyder followed another well-known storyline from the comics, "The Death of Superman." It made for an unexpected twist in this universe-building chapter but it proved many things about Superman - heroism, sacrifice, selflessness. It also disproved that he was ever a threat to go rogue. Now it'll be up to Batman to recruit other metahumans to form the Justice League. 

'Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice' isn't perfect and that's been well established. Critics haven't been entirely fair either but the box office receipts will speak for themselves. At present, it may not make a billion. Simply making a profit isn't enough these days for huge tentpole films. Who's right or wrong, critics or fans, is really a moot point. Warner Bros. is committed to making the DC universe a reality with 'Suicide Squad' and 'Wonder Woman' on the way. Pre-production has begun on 'Justice League' and creative teams are being assembled for 'Aquaman' and 'The Flash.' DC movies aren't going away and hopefully, with the right execution audiences will want to come back. 


'Dawn of Justice' is an ambitious, challenging film that suffers from a slow start but finally emerges as the visually stunning action blockbuster fans had been waiting for. Affleck defies expectations and turns in the most authentic Batman performance ever. Gadot proves naysayers wrong and comes away stealing the show adding exciting anticipation to her upcoming solo film as Wonder Woman. For all its faults, 'Dawn of Justice' delivers on most of its promises no matter how clumsy it is to get there. Seeing Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman together, at last, makes it all worth it. 

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