Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice is a flawed movie that I enjoyed.
This movie is visually stunning in and out of fight scenes, and the central story is fundamentally a good one. I saw many cool moments and even a few emotionally moving ones. It has several mostly interesting subplots that mostly come together and make sense as one story at the end, while being mostly effective if a bit clumsy in setting up the inevitable Justice League sequels.
Much like my feelings on the previous movie – 2013’s Man of Steel – a lot of bits and pieces reminded me why I love Superman and Batman and their supporting characters, while about an equal number of bits and pieces were frustratingly wrong.
I believe that Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill are the right actors for the roles of Batman and Superman, and Gal Gadot was excellent as Wonder Woman. Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor was a very unsubtle villain with a manic and disturbed personality. I have mixed feelings about Eisenberg’s portrayal of the classic Superman villain, but I like what they were trying to do here, so I’ll reserve judgment for future appearances.
The visual style choices and tone are very similar to Man of Steel. It’s a bit grim and dark. It’s not entirely joyless, but it’s not a happy-fun-time superhero movie like the Marvel Comics films. If you didn’t like Man of Steel’s handling of a Superman origin story, you probably won’t like this movie’s handling of a Justice League origin story.
This is where the movie falls short. If it hadn’t tried to be a Justice League origin movie AND the first time Batman and Superman appear together on the big screen AND a good sequel to Man of Steel, it could have been excellent at one of those things as opposed to merely adequate at all three of them. The movie jumps around a lot and doesn’t give certain scenes the time their potential impact deserves. Despite its flaws, the movie completed its three main jobs in a way I mostly enjoyed.
For those unfamiliar, Man of Steel ends with a deadly confrontation with General Zod. Like Superman, Zod has the powers of flight, invulnerability, heat vision and superhuman strength. Zod can kill the entire human race without really trying, and will unless Superman stops him.
Batman vs. Superman opens with young Bruce Wayne/Batman’s parents’ deaths at the hands of a random mugger in an alley in Gotham City. After that sequence and a weird memory/dream sequence from his parents’ funeral (Batman will have a LOT of weird maybe-real dream sequences) we’re treated to that final battle from adult Bruce Wayne’s perspective as he tries to aid his employees in evacuating the Metropolis branch of Wayne Enterprises. It clearly shows the human cost of a fight between people with Superman’s level of power that Man of Steel was widely criticized for ignoring. A girl loses her mother. A man loses his legs. The head of the branch prays for his soul when he realizes it’s too late to escape and he is going to die.
Bruce Wayne’s expression as he hugs the orphaned daughter of one of his employees shows his rage at the Man of Steel, which drives of all of his actions throughout the film.
Batman is personally angry at the damage Superman caused to his people, and he sees Superman as a dangerous threat to all humanity. Superman sees Batman as a criminal who terrorizes the people of Gotham. Lex Luthor’s actions push them closer to an inevitable clash and a suitably epic fight scene to answer one of the most important questions of all time: who would win in a fight, Batman or Superman?
As all superhero fights must, this fight ends with a resolution of differences and a team-up against the real bad guy. The exact source of conflict resolution is a big spoiler I won’t share. If you’re familiar with DC Comics lore, you might be able to figure it out from the beginning of the movie.
The final sequence of events in the movie is now one of my favorite things in comic book adaptation cinema, despite the messy setup. It left me eager to see what happens in future installments of DC’s fledgling movie universe.
Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality. The DC cinematic universe continues with Suicide Squad on August 5.