Dawn of Justice is entertaining, but far from a Marvel killer
If Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice doesn’t leap over the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a single bound for box office and fandom supremacy, it at least proves we’ve finally got a comic book movie competition. BvS isn’t a perfect comic book film, but it provides the best hurry up and catch up franchise starter DC fans have been waiting on. The heavy lifting of franchise-building is accomplished here and the future is decidedly optimistic for the World’s Finest heroes.
Tonally, Dawn of Justice’s first half plays out like a natural progression of the thoughtful, epic Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy. Then the second half turns into a Zack Snyder movie, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Snyder brings a sense of unbridled mayhem that is probably a truer to life glimpse of people with unimaginable powers colliding with little regard for property damage. That was arguably the biggest criticism of Man of Steel and it’s a lesson Snyder still fails to earn a passing grade.
The fight scenes, particularly the final act, goes on and on with so much widespread destruction it seems doubtful anyone in Metropolis or Gotham could survive the chaos. In that sense, Snyder still comes across like a big kid repeatedly smashing his action figures against each other.
Sure it’s fun watching the mayhem unfold for a little bit, but Snyder keeps going at it long after the effectiveness of the moment has passed. Prepare for endless scenes of buildings being crumbled as characters get ragdolled through them. The CGI is up to the task though so the ever escalating action sequences look good without having much of the signature clunky animation.
Screenwriters David S. Goyer and Chris Terrio (Argo) faced perhaps the biggest challenge in quickly creating a cohesive DC cinematic universe in one film. That’s a massive undertaking when you consider the X-Men franchise is eight films deep and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is 11 films into its shared universe. Save one choppy and wholly unnecessary segment to help unite the seven, the corner cutting DC cinematic universe’s creation in Dawn of Justice largely works.
One cornerstone of a shared universe is seeing how the various films link the overall story and BvS kicks off with a promising premise tying into the epic final battle of Man of Steel [Buy Man of Steel Bluray]. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) arrives in Metropolis just in time to witness Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod’s destructive conflict through the city. Horrified of the thought of an unchecked super-powered potential menace, Wayne begins plotting a way to stop Superman.
Wayne isn’t the only one who questions Superman’s motives or his methods. The populace is nearly split if they want a cape wearing ‘savior’ or want this alien to leave their planet and stop taking the law into his own hands. The question if the world really needs Superman was intriguing and felt especially timely. A Senate task force led by Sen. Finch (Holly Hunter) wants Superman to answer for his actions while eccentric billionaire Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) has a more insidious means of handling the Superman dilemma.
Eisenberg’s take on Luthor is so far away from the usual approach on the character it felt like a setup for some big twist. The core element of the character is intact even if Gene Hackman can relax knowing he still delivered the definitive Lex Luthor. For his part, Superman/Clark Kent has concerns of his own with how Gotham’s vigilante handles criminals. Meanwhile, the mysterious Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) keeps putting herself in the middle of this escalating struggle.
There’s a lot of moving pieces for Goyer and Terrio to smoothly assemble into a two and a half hour movie. At times, the execution is clunky and the film doesn’t provide the streamlined experience it should. Good, bad, puzzling and intriguing ideas are added to the mix and the film occasionally buckles from its creators’ overly ambitious vision. After all, when you’ve got Batman fighting Superman, everybody and everything else in Dawn of Justice is secondary.
One area that’s consistent throughout Dawn of Justice are the performances. I wasn’t an Affleck doubter, but he’s outstanding here fully justifying the faith Warner Bros. has in him as the franchise centerpiece. Cavill also comes across more comfortable in his second appearance in the iconic role lending the right amount of humanity to a character decried too often in the film for his inability to experience life as a human.
Still, Affleck definitely comes out of the film as the Robert Downey Jr./MVP of the DC film universe. Jeremy Irons also shines as Wayne’s faithful butler Alfred. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from BvS is that a solo Affleck Batman could be the gem of the shared DC universe.
Gadot doesn’t have as major a role as I would’ve liked and this is more of a teaser for next year’s Wonder Woman standalone. Of the supporting characters, Amy Adams’ Lois Lane has the most pivotal role, but Snyder and his screenwriters still seem conflicted whether Lois is a capable, resourceful reporter or damsel in constant distress. Laurence Fishburne’s more modern approach to newspapers as editor Perry White remains fascinating to me from my days as an editor at a dying newspaper.
Goyer and Terrio weave in some nightmare scenarios that longtime DC fans will no doubt get the and geek out over the implications, but it may be information overload for newcomers that have no clue what the various visions mean.
It’s one of those riskier storytelling devices most recently seen in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, which teased a lot of upcoming developments that will take several more future films to come to fruition. In a marathon session, the hope is most of these questions will get answered, but for now the payoff is still inconclusive.
Hans Zimmer’s score really offers a grandiose feel to the proceedings and makes it feel like we’re watching a major happening. And there’s no denying the magic of watching Superman and Batman duke it out. Dawn of Justice isn’t DC’s big cinematic game changer yet, but it certainly makes that a possibility while setting the stage for the follow-ups to more than deliver on the franchise’s boundless potential.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Photo credit: Clay Enos/ TM & © DC Comics