Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, Scoot McNairy, Callan Mulvey, Tao Okamoto
Run Time: 151 mins
(POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD)
What has seemed like an excruciatingly long wait, Zack Snyder’s vision of this epic superhero clash has finally hit the big screen and ever since production started, it has proven to be mightily divisive. ‘Man of Steel’ which was also directed by Snyder proved to be a very controversial film and the casting of Ben Affleck as the Caped Crusader angered comic book fans so much so that there were petitions for him to be fired and the casting of Jesse Eisenberg as nemesis Lex Luthor and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman also proved to be highly controversial. This film is so important in establishing a cinematic universe for DC comics and if it fails, then they’re going to be in big trouble especially as DC have mapped out a whole plethora of films that are due for release up until 2020. Zack Snyder is also a very unreliable choice for a director as critics really seem to dislike him and all of the films that he has ever made except for his debut, ‘Dawn of the Dead’ have had very mixed reviews from critics. ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ has again, proven to be a very divisive film and many critics have totally dismissed it. Financially, the film opened up very well in its first week scoring the 7th biggest opening of all time but once the bad word of mouth reached around, the film experienced a ‘historic’ box office drop in its second week of 68%. Ouch! To add further fuel to the fire, the first instalment of ‘Justice League’ (DC’s equivalent to Marvel’s ‘Avengers’) is set for release in November 2017 with Zack Snyder once again in the director’s chair. It could be a very interesting few years for the DCEU (DC Extended Universe).
‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ is wildly uneven and its overstuffed story is very incoherent at times but it is a marked improvement over its predecessor, ‘Man of Steel’ and is very entertaining and features some outstanding sequences and some interesting ideas. Despite the fact that I found a lot to like about it, it’s fairly obvious to see why it has proven to be very divisive. Snyder’s treatment of these superheroes is very controversial at times (here Batman kills people unlike in the comics for example) and there are some gaping plot holes and some questionable decisions in the plot. I think it does set a decent groundwork for future DC films but if Snyder is sticking as director for ‘Justice League’, he needs to have a co-director or a better crew to support him and be able to ensure that there is a better and more coherent plot line.
The cast here are one of the film’s main strength – Ben Affleck is fantastic as both Bruce Wayne and Batman and really makes for a dark, brooding and troubled interpretation of this iconic character. There was famously a lot of backlash when his casting was announced, but I’ve always been a fan of the decision. If Affleck goes on to direct and star in his own solo Batman film as some would suggest, it could very well prove worthy to Nolan’s trilogy. Henry Cavill is unfortunately sidelined as the ‘Man of Steel’ and Snyder seems to much prefer the Batman arc of the film. However, Cavill does seem to have settled in as the character which can only be a good thing. Jeremy Irons makes for a really worthy Alfred after Michael Caine played him in the Nolan trilogy and although not given much to do, there is plenty of potential for his character in future films. Unfortunately, Jesse Eisenberg as the villain, Lex Luthor, made for very controversial casting and his villain is a bit of a misfire. He is very hammy and practically gives his Mark Zuckerberg performance from ‘The Social Network’ here again only he can get very, very annoying. A real shame here as I was hoping for the best. Unfortunately, Snyder botches all the female characters into ‘damsel-in-distress’ mode which includes both Amy Adams and Diane Lane however Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is very well-realised and when she steps into the action at the end is a wonderful moment. Also, Holly Hunter plays a Senator called June Finch and she is very nuanced and tough here – a very good addition to the cast despite being in a relatively small role.
Snyder’s skill in crafting action sequences continues to show here and although the last third of ‘Man of Steel’ resorted to boring hitting and punching for 40 minutes, here they are much better and serve a purpose in the story apart from the final climax with descends into generic comic book territory. His aesthetic as a director is one of his strong points and there are a couple of shots and moments here when paired with Larry Fong’s cinematography which are simply outstanding. The film has a very very dark and bleak tone and Fong is able to bring Snyder’s aesthetic vision to life in stunning fashion.
Unfortunately, where ‘Batman v Superman’ fails is in its incoherent story. This is especially baffling as Christopher Nolan has had some creative impact and of course, Snyder manages to spark controversy with some of the narrative elements. However, the film is not completely devoid of a story and there are some interesting ideas posed. The film is overstuffed despite having a 150 minute run time – Snyder has to juggle a Batman story, which he clearly seems to prefer, a Superman character arc that he neglects and set the film up for Justice League. When the film is released on DVD, Snyder will be releasing a 3 hour cut that is R / 15-rated. This sounds promising and hopefully the extra half an hour can help to flesh out the incoherent story. Who knows? – it could even transform the film in its current 150 minute format. That said, the opening scenes are wonderful and are testament to what Snyder is capable of doing when he has good ideas.
Ever since it was announced that Hans Zimmer would be returning to score this film, it was clear we would be in for a treat but here he also teams up with Tom Holkenborg (Junkie XL) to find inspiration for the ‘Batman’ theme as Zimmer had previously composed all of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. The score is largely recycled from ‘Man of Steel’ but there are some excellent new themes that they have composed which in my book, ticks the boxes. Both Wonder Woman and Lex Luthor have particularly memorable themes and the score in the opening credits is simply stunning. Unfortunately, shortly after the release of this film, Hans Zimmer revealed that he would be ‘retiring’ from the superhero genre as he has lost inspiration which is a real shame but I’m sure Holkenborg could continue and a Steven Price score for this Summer’s ‘Suicide Squad’ sounds fantastic so it’s not all bad news.
It’s a real shame that the marketing for this film has been so poor with virtually most of the film shown in the trailers. They really didn’t need to reveal Doomsday so early on in the marketing campaign and it would have been nice if they’d have left out Wonder Woman’s involvement in the final fight and the fact that Batman and Superman team up. With any film, when you market a film and reveal so much about it for more than a year and a half in advance, of course the fans are going to have unrealistic expectations which Snyder was never going to be able to fulfil. This film really didn’t need it. Sadly, this won’t change future marketing for MCU / DCEU films as they’ve already revealed their line-up until 2020.
Overall, ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ is a solid foundation for the DCEU and successfully incorporates Batman and Wonder Woman into this cinematic universe. However, its incoherent, overstuffed narrative is by far and away its biggest downfall and is the main reason for its negative reviews. Although far from subtle, the film manages to introduce the prospect of the Justice League and it will be interesting to see how Snyder is able to handle this huge film. However, I’m not convinced that audiences will get anything much different from this. Snyder needs a better crew or even a co-director or I fear it will get a similar result. However, it will be interesting to see how the 180 minute R/15-rated cut fares compared to this. The next part of the DCEU, ‘Suicide Squad’ is released this Summer and so far, it looks like it might right the wrongs of this film. However, this film is far from a bad experience, there are many moments of brilliance here.