There are few more recongisable names than Batman and Superman. We’ve seen a multitude of different versions of these two characters over the years across every medium imaginable, but we’ve never seen the two of them fight head to head on the big screen. So when the announcement was made, complete with the iconic words from one of the seminal interpretations of the two found in The Dark Knight Returns, the fanboy collective lost their mind. The movie is a follow up to Man of Steel however, which received incredibly mixed reviews. The big question is whether this movie can live up to the tremendous hype. Below is my SPOILER FREE review of the movie. A spoiler filled review/thoughts will be posted later, but unless you’ve avoided all trailers nothing below will be spoiling the movie.
As you would expect the movie builds off of the events of Man of Steel. We see early on that Bruce Wayne was in Metropolis during the fight between Superman and Zod, and the destruction caused by the two aliens fuels his fear that Superman shouldn’t be trusted. As Superman’s true motives are called into question his arch nemesis in the comics Lex Luthor is shown to be trying to forge his own way of keeping the Man of Steel at bay. The collective motives and aims of these three, as well as members of parliament and of course Lois Lane all come to a head throughout the movie, leading to political intrigue and symbol on symbol warfare.
Dawn of Justice is a story of two halves. There is a lot that the movie needs to establish across quite a few different narrative lines, and as it jumps across these various platforms the result is a very disjointed and at times awkward movie. It’s very messy and it feels like it’s trying to bite off more than it can chew even though the story it’s telling is interesting enough to keep you on board. They’re not hard to follow, but it has to juggle so many different subplots and character motivations that it is a rather hard movie to settle in to as the story gets established.
These problems all dissipate in the second half. The different arcs start to come together and interlap, allowing for the narrative to flow properly. The politics of the first half become less pronounced as the pacing picks up and the main event begins. It feels like two different stories really. It’s not that the first half is slow that’s a problem, it’s just too all over the place. An argument could be made that this needed to be two separate movies. But all the different threads that aren’t there as universe establishing material get tied together by the end. The need to build towards the cinematic universe does bog down the movie with extra weight, but what it potentially sets up towards will be a payoff well worth some narrative sacrifice here.
A special shout out has to go to the very start and the end of this movie. It contains some of the most powerful imagery in any superhero film we’ve had so far, and riding with Bruce Wayne in Metropolis as we see the absolute carnage as Superman and Zod fight overhead is incredible (I can only imagine what it’s like on Imax). I noticed my jaw dropping once or twice during this early scene. The ending too was fantastically done, drawing influence from some of the source material and providing a healthy dose of action and emotion. Zach Snyder is known as a visual director and this is on full display throughout the movie, though his love of slow motion is a little overdone at times.
We already knew what we were getting with Henry Cavill as Superman, and he keeps doing a great job in the role, though with less room to grow here than in the first movie. Ben Affleck as Batman is simply fantastic. This isn’t like any of the previous cinematic Batmen, and while it’ll come down to what you want from your Dark Knight as to how good he is, personally I think he’s fantastic. There was one or two questionable moments as Bruce Wayne, which is more on the story and less on the acting itself, but there’s at lot to like about the new Bat. He’s far more brutal than the others, and my one real complaint about the character is that it doesn’t seem like he has any qualms about killing. Sometimes you can handwave scenes in previous movies, but there’s no way there weren’t at least a few deaths by his hands in this movie. It takes away a big moral aspect away from the character which may be explored more in a solo movie, but it’s the one glaring issue I have from an otherwise brilliant rendition of my favourite comic book character. He’s supported by a wonderful rendition of Alfred brought to us by Jeremy Irons too. He’s a little more hands on than what we’ve seen and he has just the right amount of sarcasm and genuine care to nail the character.
The trailers had turned most people into Batfleck believers, but there was a lot of concern over Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. She gets enough time here as both Diana and as Wonder Woman to give us a taste of what to expect, and the good news is that she is wonderful (ha) in the role. She carries a certain on screen charisma both in and out of costume that I wasn’t even expecting (and I say that as someone who was confident she’d do well). Obviously her solo film will really put her to the test, but right now there’s a lot to be excited about. The other big question mark was Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. He’s arguably the weak link here, though he did exceed my expectations. There are times when it’s clearly Eisenberg playing Luthor rather just just seeing Lex, which is disappointing, but he was fine in the role. You do need to accept that this isn’t typical portrayal of Luthor (which is acceptable given that he’s Lex’s son and not the original Lex so to speak) but it does take a little getting used to.
The throwdown between Batman and Superman is intense. We see the sheer power of Superman and the genius level strategy of Batman, doing both characters justice and making you believe that a man could take down a God (which is what the fight is essentially billed as) but never being quite sure it’ll actually happen. And on top of that we get the Batman combat of the Arkham games fully realised on the big screen. I nearly jumped out of my seat in excitement several times as Batman cleared house with skill, gadgets and intelligence. And once the Trinity team up in the finale it is a joy to behold. The way they work together translates surprisingly well on screen, and although Doomsday’s only real role in this movie is to serve as the final boss he’s actually treated better than expected. He was never a villain designed as the sole antagonist for a cinematic film, so all things considered he’s utilised well. The cameos of the future Justice League members are actually handled really well. It’s a logical step forward in how they present these characters both in universe and to the audience without feeling too out of place.
I’ve read a lot of negative reviews for this movie, and I can see some (even many) of the problems they’re pointing out. If you didn’t like Man of Steel, you won’t like Dawn of Justice. It hasn’t tried to fix any of the problems people had with that film. This also isn’t a Marvel film and it’s not an Avengers film. If you come in expecting either you’ll be disappointed but there’s a reason DC aren’t going that route. There are narrative flaws in this movie that stop me from saying it’s a cinematic masterpiece. But as an experience, this arguably blows any and every other superhero film away. I’m not saying this because I’m blinded by the symbols on their chests, but because you feel the ebbs and flow of the story, and the gravity surrounding these characters. It reaches for the stars and while it makes some missteps it still ends up being a fantastic movie. Halfway through this movie I was genuinely worried. I didn’t think it was going to be able to find its footing and it was going to kill any hope of the DC Cinematic Universe meaning anything. But this movie delivers when it counts, in the end being flawed but brilliant. Just like Man of Steel, you’re either going to love it or you’re going to hate it, and I loved it.