The weekend has come and gone and the one movie everyone is talking about is, for better or worse, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. There have been few movies to open to such a divisive set of opinions. Those within my circle have more or less raved about it (I’ve heard several people throw around the term ‘best superhero movie ever’) but critical opinion has been less than kind to say the least. Clearly this is a movie that you need to see for yourself.
As for my opinion? I put out a spoiler free review here but to surmise, I thought it was flawed but brilliant. But now it’s time to talk spoilers. Anyone who hasn’t seen it yet and doesn’t want it ruined for them, leave now, because below all bets are off. For those who have already seen it (or don’t care) I’m going to dissect the movie below. Like with my previous Spoiler Talk piece (The Force Awakens) this isn’t going to be a review – my opinion doesn’t change from the spoiler free piece – instead this is a space for me to unpack and discuss certain events, character motivations and expand on some of what I could only vaguely mentioned before for risk of spoiling. It’s a little less structured, but that’s because it’s a random mash up of thoughts and theories. Enjoy!
To stat with, I wasn’t a fan of the nightmare desert scene for Batman. When considering just this movie it felt like it was only there for trailer-bait and to provide some action earlier in the movie. It didn’t do that much for Bruce’s character. BUT it’s hard to flat out cut them from the film when you consider the implications his vision has for the future of the cinematic universe. First of all is the not so subtle references to Darkseid, DC’s ultimate big bad, with the Omega sign and Para-demons (both of which we knew going in). More interestingly though, Batman is visited at the end of this vision by what looks to be a version of The Flash, bringing a warning of his own.
The costume’s pretty weird, but I suspect this isn’t the Flash costume we’ll see in Justice League but a Multiverse variant (I’d need to see it again, but it kind of reminded me of the Elseworlds costume at first glance, with the more enclosed headgear) which could hint at a very exciting future for DC. My one wish is they take a big punt and incorporate the television series like Arrow, Flash and Supergirl down the track – even if only really via cameo – and thereby building upon the Multiverse with something like The Flashpoint Paradox. This scene will probably end up being connected with the looming war with Darkseid, but it’d show great restraint and long term cohesion if they kept that gem for the third or fourth Justice League movie.
I’ve seen a few critics call the Justice League cameos lazy but I disagree. I get where they’re coming from, but it made sense within the movie. Diana had a valid reason to be after the photo of her Lex had, and by this stage Bruce has had enough time around her to get an idea if she’d use the additional information for good or bad. It’s a good early build towards those two specifically tracking down Justice League. It’s certainly a more logical introduction point than if Diana just happened to be at the grocery store when Flash had to take out the robber.
Of the three, this Flash introduction was the clear winner for me. And although the cameo is hardly enough to definitively tell me how he’ll work, I actually dug Ezra Miller here. I’ve been skeptical of the casting (more due to look than acting chops) but I can see myself buying into his Flash now. It was just enough of a cameo to hint to the future without overloading an already full movie. Cyborg’s story (and the Motherbox we see) is definitely going to need some fleshing out as I suspect a lot of the mainstream audience won’t know who he is or what was going on in his cameo. Aquaman’s was…fine? There wasn’t much to it, he just stared somewhat menacingly before blasting off. I thought we were going to see him on the beach as they pulled the kryptonite from the water, but being an Aquaman fan I was just keen to see him at all.
It also served as solid setup for the Wonder Woman solo film with her World War 1 era picture at the centre of it all. We even got a Chris Pine as Steve Trevor sighting. The banter between Bruce and Diana throughout was also quite enjoyable. It wasn’t too weighted and it helped portray both of their personalities quite nicely, as well as laying the foundation for the two main founders of the Justice League (since Superman will probably still be in a coffin while they’re forming the team – only to return in the final battle and help sway the odds in their favour). I’m glad we got to see how Gadot is handling the character out of costume too, and so far so good. She exudes the right kind of confidence and they also showed off her intellect when her detective work outshone Superman with his super hearing. Sure he got distracted by the Day of the Dead drama but still, it was Diana who found Bruce’s hidden gear and could have gotten away with it if she didn’t want to be seen – and even then it was on her terms that Bruce got it back.
Luthor’s clearly keeping track of all these meta-humans, but what’s interesting is that he’s fairly knowledgeable about Darkseid. At the very end of the movie we see him screaming at Batman so the question is, how much does he know? This information likely came from the info-dump given by the Kyrptonian ship he got his hands on. The fact he referenced that “he’s hungry” may allude to Braniac instead (being hungry for knowledge) but unless the nightmare scenes won’t come until play until even later, I’d assume it’s for Darkseid too. Speaking of the ship, that pool of liquid can’t be good for Luthor’s suits, you’d think he would have dressed better for his Doomsday development?
Being sent to prison was a clever way of turning him bald. I’m still not sure how much of the comic Lex we’re meant to see in Eisenberg’s portrayal though. We know he’s not THE Lex but instead Alexander Luthor – though he does still go by Lex – but he comes across less like a business man and more like a self-entitled brat. It’s a neat way of trying to separate him from the prototypical Lex we might have wanted, and as I said in the spoiler free review he does a decent job overall. It does feel like this Lex was designed with Eisenberg in mind, rather than Eisenberg proving himself right for the role. I liked him more than I thought I would, but less than I had hoped.
So yeah, Batman seems to kill. A lot. I know there’s been debates on this over every Batman, from Keaton’s blatant explosive trick in ‘Returns’ to Bale’s dubious “I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you” line, but Batfleck flat out goes on a GTA kill streak at points. There’s no way his assault with the Batmobile and Batwing didn’t claim some serious lives. Generally other media try and make this less apparent. This is a veteran Batman, and maybe post-Robin he’s less morally ambiguous when it comes to death – but this needs to be explored in the movies down the track for me to be totally on board with it all. If he’s just a remorseless killer then he’s not a good Batman, but from what we saw in Affleck’s performance I think there’s reason to believe he’s become this way because of the psychological strain of being the Dark Knight. You really need the space of a solo film to cover this properly though, so I can wait until then. Outside of that though, this may be my favourite movie interpretation of Batman. Ben Affleck really is great in this role, and I find it very easy to buy him as both Bruce Wayne and his troubled alter ego.
On the notion of Batman solo films, having seen what we’re getting with Batfleck I’m really excited by the prospect. I was talking with 1Up contributor and fellow geek Dylan (as we do after almost every big movie nowadays – shout out to Dylan for those discussions, they definitely help me wrap my mind around it all) and we both agree that this take on Batman is primed for two new cinematic stories: ‘The Court of Owls’ and ‘The Red Hood’. His persona would mesh really well with the creepy conspiracy surrounding The Court and given Batfleck’s persona it’ll mesh really well. As for the Red Hood, we’ve already seen the Robin costume defiled by Joker, which could easily lead into the Red Hood story arc.
Not only does it seem like Leto’s Joker is perfect for the type to bash a Robin’s skull in with a crowbar, he’s also probably the type to cripple Barbara Gordon – who although we don’t see is rumoured to be in the extended cut (ok we don’t know if they’re going with Oracle style Barbara Gordon, but follow with me for a moment). A grizzled veteran who saw one sidekick murdered and another crippled – all with the past coming back to haunt him? That’s enthralling cinema with Batfleck. Not to mention the monologue potential for Red Hood to give Barbara/Oracle is great. To quote part of our conversation as to what Red Hood might be saying to her: “He let me die and he did nothing. And then you paid the price for his mercy. And then he still did nothing.” The fact it all ties back to Joker is just icing on the cake. Make it happen Warner Brothers and Ben Affleck!
I did wonder going in if they were going to emulate the Death of Superman arc. It was be a gutsy move from DC to kill off Superman (even if they told us he was coming back with the dirt on the coffin) but it was a good way to bring the public back onto his side and it made for some powerful moments at the end (particularly Batman and Wonder Woman looking over his prone body). It also wouldn’t have made a whole lot of sense to incorporate Doomsday if they weren’t going to do just that, otherwise he really would just be a monster for the Trinity to fight. But they followed through on him, giving him his adaptive powers that makes him so threatening in the comics. He suffers from a bit of last minute introduction syndrome that hurts a lot of villains like this (see Venom, Silver Samurai) but considering all that they actually do a really good job of him. They couldn’t have built a solo movie around just Doomsday as the antagonist, and the fact he nearly took out the entire Trinity I think they treated him well.
Speaking of fights, the Dark Knight versus the Man of Steel lived up to its billing. Batman set out plenty of traps to slow him down, and the kryptonite was the equaliser you’d expect it to be. The fight was also paced really well in order to build the dramatic tension – better paced than the movie itself actually. I was worried Batman getting the upper hand would seem a little narratively forced, but it worked well here and you bought in with him taking control until the kryptonite gun’s effects started to wear off. The scene where he was punching Superman, and they slowly became less effective as he regained his power got a solid laugh from me, and frankly just looked cool.
And wow, the finish to that fight! I was surprised to see they more or less gave Batman the definitive victory here. Yes Superman was holding back early and could have killed him (having him trying to get Bruce to listen to him was a nice touch of drama even if he probably could have been more insistent while he had the upper hand) but the only reason Batman didn’t impale Clark with that spear and end him was because of his cries for Martha. And embarrassingly (as a fanboy), it was only then that I realised both Bruce’s mother and Clark’s share the same name. Bloody lucky for Superman, because it was enough to trigger Bruce’s memories and create a intense moment as Batman’s demanding to know why Superman used that name while his boot was on Clark’s neck. Such a well shot and tense scene. Yeah I knew Batman wasn’t going to kill him, but I was on the edge of my seat nonetheless.
Speaking of Batman’s parents, I thought his ‘origin’ was handled well here. Everybody knows the story so they just had to allude to it, but the crime alley shooting was rather artful since it assumes a certain level of knowledge. I didn’t really like the introductions of the bats though. That scene dragged a little too long and the bats ‘lifting him towards the light’ was a little unnecessary and overblown. It was trying too hard with the symbolism there, and it could have easily been cut at the point young Bruce was surrounded by Bats and still been effective, instead it reeked of try hard symbolism.
I’m on the fence with the major sub-plot surrounding the desert incident. It tied together rather well and reintroduced characters like General Swanick, but it also added a lot of extra time to the movie. I feel with a bit of writing the same basic story arc could have been told by connecting it to the Superman/Zod fight rather than introducing a separate conflict. The main advantage with the desert story is that it then ties Lex to the assassins with the bullet, but just about everything else could have still been connected together. It also creates a bit of time dissonance. The fact that everything takes place a year and a half after the Battle for Metropolis means there’s a massive gap where it’s not explained just what Bruce is doing to prepare for the alien threat in that time, which seemed a little odd. Again I get the narrative choice, but that sub-plot added a lot of extra baggage to the story. Also, it only took them 18 months to basically repair Metropolis after the Superman/Zod throwdown? What?
Going back to Bruce, I mentioned there was a narrative situation with him I didn’t like, and that was while he was hunting down ‘White Portugese’. He seems to be attending some sort of underground illegal fighting ring, and he does so with no kind of disguise. Bruce Wayne is recognisable enough to be known there, and it’s an incredibly reckless move. It’d be very easy for news to spread that Bruce was at an event like this, which ignoring any possible links that could make to Batman it would just get him in trouble with the media and law anyway. There should have been a safer way for Bruce to get that information.
The biggest issue I had with this movie was that the first half was simply too messy as it juggled so many plotlines at once. There was so much to cover, and really there is probably two to three movies worth of ideas and plot just in this movie if they separated it all and further developed the ideas. To give you an idea, here are the various sub-plots that the movie is jumping between over the course of about an hour and a half (before it all streamlines). I might be missing one or two, and some do interconnect but they all hit different points and require several scenes in this movie. Here they are:
– Wallace’s desire to get back at Superman for losing his legs
– Lex Luthor’s battle with the senator (ties in with Wallace)
– Lex Luthor and his work with the Kryptonian ship, Zod and lead-up to Doomsday
– The moral questions surrounding Superman and his involvement – and his relationship with Lois
– Lois Lane hunting down the truth about what happened in the desert and the desert scene itself
– Batman hunting down White Portuguese
– Bruce Wayne and his hatred of what Superman stands for
– Bruce Wayne’s nightmares
– Clark Kent’s push at the Daily Planet to expose The Gotham Bat
– Wonder Woman and her interactions with Bruce/trying to get a hold of her photo (and the meta-human situation)
That’s an awful lot to cover, especially when you consider that of all the people mentioned there, only two characters (Superman/Clark Kent and Lois Lane) had even been established in the first movie. Which means on top of the sub-plots we needed to be introduced to the characters and learn of their personality and motivations. Ideally you could have built a whole movie (Man of Steel 2) around Lex’s battle with the senator, Superman’s moral dilemma and Lois’s desert story. Introduce a secondary villain for Superman to actually get in a fist fight in, and you’ve got a solid movie. Then you could have told a separate movie (after some foreshadowing/build-up in MOS2) about Batman’s issues with Superman, and delved deeper into that specific issue along with Wonder Woman’s arc before delving into the Batman v Superman fight and the Trinity v Doomsday.
All things considered they actually did a good job and give adequate time to most of the sub-plots. The issue wasn’t so much the time devoted to the sub-plots, but instead how the movie had to constantly jump through various scenes that had no connection to one another in order to give each sub-plot the necessary time. It resulted in a messy first half. Once the second half streamlined you were dealing with at most four sub-plots that all more or less working towards a single point in the finale, so not only did we get the action we wanted in the second half, but we got a more cohesive narrative experience as well.
There’s more I could potentially cover, but this is a fairly long piece as it is. Most of what I wanted to say without spoilers is above. Between the two pieces I’ve put forth a few complaints with the movie, and looking at the movie technically it has its share of red flags. I think critics are getting caught up on this though and not taking in the movie as a whole. This is a rewarding film to sit through, with a great mix of thought experiments and top tier action. I’ve seen far less ambitious films get away with more in the critical eye than Dawn of Justice, and while it’s not right for me to say their opinion is wrong, it’s clear the critical opinion is not lining up with the fan response, and that dissonance is telling. I’m seeing a lot of people reconsider going to this because of the critical response, which would be a shame because this movie is meant to be seen in cinemas with the big screen and high end audio. This is a great movie even with its flaws, and one with a lot going for it.