Not so many years ago the idea of releasing a massive blockbuster with the two biggest names in comic book history crossing over would have seemed ridiculous – a fanboy dream. In fact it almost happened before in the early 2000s as ‘World’s Finest’ with Jude Law and Colin Farrell as Superman and Batman, before collapsing under its own weight.
But now the world has become so used to the cross connecting multiverses of Marvel that audiences are finally ready, and the big battle is on.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a lot of different things – a reintroduction to the Batman character (and his new Ben Affleck face), an expansion on the cinematic world building for DC, a continuation of plot threads from Man of Steel and an intricate lead in to the next decade or more of superhero flicks from the studio.
These warring elements sometimes get in the way of making it feel like its own coherent film. The opening hour feels particularly piecemeal, kicking off with almost a dozen short vignettes with multiple jarring fade to blacks. The result is a stuttering plot that can’t seem to decide the story it wants to tell, reaching for connections to the previous film and attempting to draw them together as a basic for the antagonism at the heart of the picture.
The second half of the film improves significantly once director Zack Snyder settles on a his story and we get to the heart of the battle. There’s a cleverness here in the way screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S Goyer use the popular criticism of the over the top destruction of Man of Steel to inform the dispute between Batman and Superman, with themes of power and faith adding a little extra texture.
Snyder isn’t the ideal choice for a film with this much story and character but there’s a little more depth here than in the terribly plastic Man of Steel. He’s a filmmaker with a terrific eye for individual shots (there are some stunning images here) and he’s also capable of memorable scenes. But when it comes to mastering all the elements of a 151 minute feature it all starts to lose coherence. Still at least it’s a pretty mess.
Thankfully the acting helps to keep it together, with a little help from a script that drops a few less clunkers this time. Ben Affleck makes for a surprisingly good Batman and a suave Bruce Wayne. He’s dark and gravelly voiced when needs be (happily the Bat-voice is explained away by a throat mic) and adds a touch of lighter stuff with a wry smile and an eye twinkle. He actually knows he’s in a comic book film.
The same can’t be said for the rest of the cast which is almost uniformly dour, but the likes of Henry Cavill and an underused Amy Adams are solid, plus Jeremy Irons is always welcome. Jesse Eisenberg is a different thing altogether and I personally found his take on Lex Luthor to be quite irritating. Still he’s definitely got a take on the character and it works within the fiction. Gal Gadot is perfectly fine as Wonder Woman, though there’s little enough acting to do. We’ll have to wait and see if she’s up to the task of headlining her own movie next year.
There are problems to pick at if you were so inclined; from the far too plentiful dream sequences to an extended trailer for Warner’s upcoming DC slate. And there’s always Snyder, painting the walls with his utter lack of subtlety and quest for the next extreme close up or dramatic line. It’s all peaks with no down time, and far too serious for a film about a physics defying alien having fisticuffs with an armour wearing billionaire.
Batman v Superman takes a good long while to get going but the last 30 minutes finally brings all the elements together for quite the spectacular send off, complete with a very fine score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL. There are all manner of explosions and conflagrations, and the action is a good deal more grounded than in Man of Steel – though I wish it didn’t all take place at night. The end result is a pretty entertaining film and one which will function more than adequately as a launching platform for Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman and Aquaman and Cyborg and Flash and the Justice League well into the new decade.