"Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" (2016) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime: 151 minutes
Review by: JJ Mortimer
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a healthy balance of Batman movie and Superman movie, while simultaneously servicing as a setup to a bigger, Avengers-style mashup of DC comic characters (aka the Justice League). The film is expertly shot and entertaining, while displaying easily the best film version of Batman in Ben Affleck's violent, grizzled, and dark performance. I honestly don't know why this film was rated so low in the eyes of critics and fanboys.
To give my review some context, just know that I went into my viewing with full knowledge of all the negative shit that everyone (critics and audiences alike) had been saying about the film. From the first scene of the movie, I tried desperately to look for all the "bad stuff." The only gripe I had right off the bat was that I was disappointed there wasn't a cool opening credit/title sequence like 1989s Batman with a cool musical theme (two elements that have been sorely lacking to far too many blockbuster films in the past decade or two). Then the movie began.
And I watched and watched, smiled and watched, went "hooooly shit" a couple times and kept watching. I marveled at Affleck's seemingly and demon-like portrayal of a true "dark knight," a man disenchanted by older morals and motivated by a new anger. I watched the dream sequences that had some people confused but, again, I was able to put into context of the characters and understand why the scenes were there. I watched the hints at a bigger future movie that may thought didn't belong in this film, but instead I smiled like a giddy comic book fan hoping to see the next issue sooner than later. The movie teased, the movie pleased, and then the movie gave me an action sequence that was the best Batman fight scene I've ever seen in any Batman-oriented film. Lo and behold I couldn't find the movie-ruining moments everyone had been crybabies about. Surely there was something terrible. Given my hatred of Man of Steel, perhaps there was something with Superman...
Saying I "hate" Man of Steel may be a strong word, but I wanted to like it so much because of what director Zack Snyder had done in the past (I enjoyed 300 and Watchmen very much). I felt his portrayal of Superman was misguided, dull, listless, and thematically all over the map without a moral center. Here, in Batman v Superman, Snyder finally had a grip on the character and actor Henry Cavill was able to be the Clark Kent/Superman he should have been in that prior film. For the first time since that first film, I was able to connect to his performance. Even Superman worked as a character in this film.
And then we come to the "horrible miscast" of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. While I still would have much rather preferred a more distinguished actor for the role, I went into the movie knowing I was going to hate him. And.... I actually really enjoyed his performance. His version of Lex is a bit too close to the Joker in his quirky insanity, and may have actually been more frightening had he played the role a little more straight-forward and calculated (like you know a Bryan Cranston in full Breaking Bad mode would have), but given what we had I thought he was engaging and enjoyable.
Then we come to the battle, and all the criticisms on the "motivation" of why the fight had to happen and the reasons as how it is resolved. I had no problems with any of the choices the writers went with here. In all honesty, if you disliked how the skirmish either started or ended, try to think of a better way that would have made sense given the short period of time the characters had to resolve their issues. They NEEDED something to connect the two heroes, and the film found a way by using another character's name that surprisingly, after all my years of reading comics, had totally eluded me. It all worked perfectly fine for me. I won't spoil anything, so if anyone wants to argue why I agree with the choices the film makers went with here (especially given that these two characters will need to be on the same team one day), I'm open for all kinds of arguments about social character and psychological motivations that many of you probably haven't even given a thought to since this film came out.
One thing to note about this film's title is that it's not called Batman VERSUS Superman. I honestly have no idea what the "v" stands for, but I'm assuming it's more of a purposeful misnomer like a disguised ampersand, and the film is more about the buildup to a future Justice League film, and with that I was surprised with how happy I was with how the writers went about building this up (Marvel still planned and executed it better with their Avengers films). THAT element of pre-existing knowledge was something I was sure I would have been disappointed with before going in to watch the film, but instead I found myself wanting more and hoping the film would be longer than it was. Yes, I actually wanted the film to be longer than its two-and-a-half hour run time.
In the end, Affleck's portrayal of Bruce Wayne/Batman is easily the best I've seen on film, and his planned solo outing is something that, if in line with what we saw in this film, will be a home run. This isn't your "I don't kill people" Batman, either - he is scary, violent, haunted, and truly strikes fear (as well as knives) into the hearts of bad guys. Cavill finally gets to play both Clark Kent and Superman to his liking with the limited screen time each alter ego gets, and the inevitable showdown with Batman (and an atrocity that foreshadows a dark moment in comic book history from the early 90s) amidst a country at odds with super-powered heroes is, at times, dramatically powerful stuff.
Over time I'm sure I will become more nit-picky with smaller details of Batman v Superman, but I found that I misjudged the film by nit-picking it before I had even seen it, which made me appreciate and enjoy my time with this film that much MORE. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice may not be the huge beat-down, smash-em-up that many comic book fans had envisioned for years coming to a theater screen, but the movie they got is an enjoyable experience that felt more like an actual "comic book movie" than anything adapted from a DC comic since Tim Burton had his hands on Batman. As much as I loved Christopher Nolan's take on Gotham City and as much as I disliked Snyder's original take on Metropolis, THIS film gets the comic book feel right and finally, FINALLY, has both cities in the same film together in a way that worked. There truly is something awesome about hearing Superman say the word "Gotham" and then seeing him punching Batman in the face.
If you have yet to see the film, go in to it hating it, or with overly-lowered expectations. In my opinion, I've seen worse films with better reviews, and I feel this film will be more appreciated in future years. There will always be little things, and maybe even some big things, that could have been done or changed to make the film more to a fan's liking, but with the film we got and the enjoyment I had while watching it, I felt my money and time were well spent. This film was a blockbuster at heart that allowed us to take everything we know about the backstories of both main characters and fill in the gaps ourselves. And for that, I appreciated it.