When it came down to Man of Steel many critics were decisive in panning the film as reckless, heavy-handed, and drab with cold, muted colors and imagery. I, however, enjoyed the film quite much at the time; I still think the film is pretty good but nowhere near as bad as everyone says it is. When the early reviews came out for Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice it was evident that many critics were comparing the film to the first film in the DC Comic movie-verse. Many of the same gripes critics had about the first film carried over into BvS as well as some new problems that I can’t seem to disagree with. What I didn’t like about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Avengers: Age of Ultron, the excessive world building needed to appease fans of the comics as well as to plant the seeds for films to be laid out in the coming future, plagues BvS as if writers David Goyer and Chris Terrio didn’t learn anything from the vocal outcry of fans calling those decisions foul. The muted color palette, a signature of director Zach Snyder, doesn’t add much else except for being boring for a majority of its two and a half hour runtime, which I might add is boring. It isn’t all that bad as there are some terrific scenes that highlights what could have made for a great, dark comic book film that pits two of the greatest heroes against one other.
The film begins with another interpretation of the Thomas and Martha Wayne massacre to, again, show the audience the unnecessary origin of Batman. Fade right into said new Batman, or rather Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), doing his best to save civilians during the wreckage seen at the very end of Man of Steel. Very soon after that we shift 18 months after those events, we see the ironic, divisive opinion on Superman in the public eye of Metropolis and the rest of the world. Batman, whom has fought crime for the better part of 20 years, is viewed as a vigilante, but not in the same way as his alien counterpart; more on that later. Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), the eccentric CEO of LexCorp, uses his fortune and his intelligence(?) to forge a battle between both Batman and Superman prove a point that Superman may be a threat to society. However, Luthor’s plot is probably more completed than that of Loki’s from The Avenger’s, which was thought to be complicated, relying too much on sheer luck than cunning or intelligence. As the film draws closer to the end the less sense it begins to make.
This is one of the main problems of the film; Snyder sets up the persona that Superman has with the public, half of the world sees him as a threat and the rest see him as a god, one to look up to when there is a crisis. Superman is seen helping a young girl out of a burning building in Mexico where he is praised by locals at a Dia de los Muerto’s celebration, saving astronauts from a failed rocket attempt, and saving people from a massive flood reminiscent to the 2005 Hurricane Katrina incident. Those scenes are juxtaposed with audio of scientists and journalists expressing their approval of Superman’s interference in the world as well as their disapproval. When a bombing occurs the during court hearing, it seems like the film headed towards something much less like a macho, fisticuffs action flick and more like a political drama with Superman at the center. Here is where my disappointment lies and Snyder drops the ball. By the first hour of the film is over, the bombing is never mentioned again, despite the impact it should have made with the fears and concerns the world had about Superman. A film dealing the issues of immigration in a large popcorn flick like that would have an interesting narrative, especially with the circus act we call a Presidential election.
Like some of the lesser grade Marvel films like Age of Ultron, Snyder, instead of diving into the philosophy of immigration and what it means for the world, which was already set up, he builds worlds for movies that are five, six, seven years away from filming. There are two scenes in the film where the action stops just to show who are some of the next superheroes we’ll be seeing in the next couple years. While my nerd brain was flipping out, especially footage of Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg, I couldn’t have been more pulled out of the film wondering why the decision was made to add those scenes in there while Ma Kent is in serious need of saving. Breaking the action for comic relief is a great idea to ease tension, however, if the need to bring the flow of action to a screeching halt to set up films that are years away, I lose interest in the danger of the action.
I’m in the minority when I mention that Jesse Eisenberg’s performance of Lex Luthor was one of note just after Ben Affleck’s rousing take on the Caped Crusader. Eisenberg, while some note his performance here is quite similar to Mark Zuckerberg from The Social Network, I differ; he had just enough neuroses and a layer of psychosis to create a newer version of the character than what we’ve seen before with Gene Hackman in the 1970s and ‘80s and with Kevin Spacey in Superman Returns (not a bad film). With Christian Bale being most fans’ definitive Batman, Affleck brings a grit and gravitas that has been absent from Batman films of yesteryear, creating a brand new version that comic book fans have been asking for for a long time. Henry Cavill is as good a Superman you’re going to get since the passing of Christopher Reeve and within a film with a dark, morose backdrop. I’m not a huge fan of Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane so Amy Adams’ rendition of the journalist is miles better, despite being one of the weaker points of the film. Gal Godot as Wonder Woman, for some, is the stand-out of the film. I can attest to that to a certain degree, yet I’m withholding my judgement for the solo effort coming next year.
Having seen the film twice, I have to say BvS is much like a pie with an unfamiliar ingredient: that first bite takes the longest to chew and swallow but the second goes down a lot easier. While my second viewing was met with a lot more pleasure, the issues from my initial viewing became ever so present as I was watching from (an almost) third-person perspective. I poked and laughed at scenes that initially left me scratching my head and found bits of joy in the Meta-Humans scene towards the end of the film. Am I still excited for things to come in the DC Extended Universe? The sad answer is yes, mainly due to how unconventional Warner Brothers is tackling their competitor over at Disney and Marvel. Warner Brothers can’t continue to place their chips on Snyder and David Goyer as things begin to get more complicated. Like Disney, Warner Brothers should make room for more intelligent storylines and fresher takes on the classic superheroes. To say Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice dropped the ball in telling a great allegorical story of immigration in the US is an understatement but one that Warner doesn’t have to repeat for future films.