Batman V Superman dodges several chances to devastate future potential, pulling out a massively different superhero roadmap that hits plenty of highs.
During the early showing of a 3D version of Warner Bros. attempt to break their own glass ceiling, these teeth were set on edge. For the first third-or-so of this dawn of a 10+ year money-making empire, there was a creeping, dreadful sensation that the dream of a DC universe in movies was going to die on the emptied husk of what could have been.
That opening act features very few bright spots at all with most of them coming the way of Ben Affleck’s Batman and one from Henry Cavill’s Superman. Everything feels so rushed and even out of order in spots as more and more factors are introduced alongside back story, neither of which make for particularly compelling film. The writing feels especially shriveled and unworkably thin with only a few flashes of something new added to the mythos of either of these legendary characters. It all seems exactly as bleak as the destroyed skyline is attempting to showcase, but not for the reason the movie intended.
Again, Affleck’s Batman seems to be the lone highlight, especially given the way in which we find his current, almost shocking lack of morality. This is, by a head and a half, the most emotional and visceral Dark Knight ever put to live action, and Affleck brings him to an almost seething level more than once. This makes for a different addition to the Batman dynamic as he has to rediscover his morality, and maybe some sanity, instead of being a paragon of the rule book. Plus, this fuels pretty intense action in some of the best fight scenes you’ll ever see Batman in.
His opponent for a great deal of the film actually seems to end up with the better overall story arc in Batman V Superman—almost surprisingly so. Cavill feels, through direction or vacancy of his soul, disengaged outside of the fighting scenes almost to Dr. Manhattan levels, and his stories haven’t been bastions of intrigue over the years either. Despite those drawbacks, his early story is well told in both the situation and his actions, evolving over a few short scenes into something beyond what the other characters have to go through. At the core, this is Superman’s story and feels more complete with that focused spotlight.
That full-picture of greatness for Clark Kent is only available with the whole picture, just as Batman V Superman seems to be made a much more entertaining, if not all that much better, film with everything between the credits having been seen. The overall plot plays out a bit more politically than many may have expected, fear and lack of options driving more decisions on both sides than overt challenges. Guilt and innocence are weighed here in a way that other superhero films have ignored, and while that ethical dilemma is not all that relatable, it creates a noticeably more somber ride than anything from Marvel. This leaves the world in the characters’ hands, their every action shaping the larger picture that culminates only when their options seem depleted, and it feels exactly right for their personalities and the climate presented. The serious tone may not please everyone or resound with the largest possible audience, but it’s a different, welcome approach that treats this superhero movie like a real superhero movie.
When the action starts flowing, Zach Snyder shows off his innate talent to build, tell, and cultivate stories within fight scenes. The battle of the movie—Bats against Kal-El—feels so well executed in their demonstration of power versus planning, neither character feeling out of place a single time and their strengths and weaknesses not once disregarded for a cheap movie thrill. Both Batman and Wonder Woman (more on her later) show their moves a bit more handily than Supes, the former telling more of his story of reconciliation in what he doesn’t do during these speedy actions scenes. It felt almost hypnotic to watch one late-movie fight unfold and think about how little Affleck has to speak in order to show the Bats’ journey. None of the action scenes feel like duds and a few transcend into full-scale destruction that the creatures of this power and destructive force could cause, lending a sense of power and detail all in Snyder’s wheelhouse.
Jesse Eisenburg as Lex Luthor (Junior) feels painful to watch. Eccentricity does him nothing as a character and brings awkward levels to their maximum in some scenes including two where the same line was written twice in a way that didn’t feel on purpose. Even if his diabolical plan does end up feeling like the most appropriate use of the Luthor name in movies so far, his entire concept doesn’t work for a large, large part of the film. His ending does seem to reign him back a bit into a more appropriate psychopathy, giving the character potential for future, more-balanced badness.
Lois Lane may very well be the only constant in any issues with Batman V Superman. It should be said first that Amy Adams does fine; nothing tremendous, nothing cringe-worthy. Her entire presence in this evolving conflict feels forced at best and rings a bit too closely to the Mary Jane of Spiderman levels of pointlessness, which basically describes her character in this movie. She is around to be Kent’s weakness and local deus-ex machina irradiator on the level of a Kryptonite factory. The basic concept of her character isn’t offensive or crippling, but the direction her character is given in this round of theater actively sucks away from what’s going on all around her, all in an effort to show how humans can human pretty well.
Of course, there has to be a little about the Justice League and Wonder Woman, who does not take much screen time in Batman V Superman. With a movie of that title, and one of her own coming in a few years, it’s understandable that she’s not in the spotlight here, but some may not like the fact that she’s like to a handful of lines and expressions to work with. The rest of the League receive light showings of power, ability, and origin before the ship clearly steers in that direction somewhere down the movie line. For now, Wonder Woman adds her smile and awesome battle abilities to this film without quite as many molds as some may have expected.
As mixed as this opening salvo feels, Batman V Superman also feels like the start of something with a full fledged plan that could lead to even more refinements in the new formula down the line. The core concept of hero versus hero in a political, melodramatic setting works in furthering these beings both above and into the plights of humanity. The second and third acts really do seem good enough to make up for the first in a lot of ways, but it still comes out relatively mixed when you see the monument rising all around you. But that first act is still a part of the picture alongside some wonky editing and extremely questionable actions behind the camera that may have just been the touch of too many people attempting to fit everything necessary into one large chunk of movie. Ultimately, there are a wealth of plot holes and errs along the lines of Lois, Luthor, and even some of Batman’s actions may be brought into question, but it adds up to a different kind of superhero movie than most are used to that is worthy of this new dawn Warner Brothers wants – but just barely.