Warner Bros. is well and truly in the game now. After years of watching Marvel craft a hugely successful Cinematic Universe, WB lined up their rights to the DC Comics and began to develop a rival franchise. And now, with what was essentially to be Man of Steel 2, we have our first proper look at the beginnings of WB’s jaw-droppingly ambitious DCCU.
Comparisons between the companies are inevitable, but it’s important to try disconnecting the two when analysing their individual products. Sure, this reviewer didn’t find it ideal to learn that WB was going to play catch up by delivering a film – this early in their universe’s development – featuring not only Superman, but with Batman on board as an equally important protagonist and serving as a platform for which to introduce our first big-screen Wonder Woman. Ambitious? Hell yes. But if that’s the plan, this is how you do it.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice kicks off in suitably high gear, providing the connecting tissue to Man of Steel early and introducing us to our new Bruce Wayne, Ben Affleck. It’s a robust and dramatic sequence, showing us one of the key reasons The Dark Knight believes this alien needs to be taken down. After all, as the mayhem-heavy Man of Steel finale showed, beings with that much power are more than capable of bringing widespread destruction down on earth.
The thematic inclusion of accountability is wisely placed at the forefront for much of the narrative. Should Superman and his abilities go unchecked? Is his God-like presence needed or even wanted? Should he answer to our form of justice? The debate is nicely depicted, with Batman’s Gotham and Superman’s Metropolis housing crowds on both sides of the argument. Most importantly, earth – as a whole – is felt. More than a tale of two heroes and their cities, BvS places the rising titular conflict on a pedestal that everyone in this world can not only see, but also have an opinion on.
Screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer hit the ground running in Batman v Superman. The grand product has so, so many moving pieces that plot and character groundwork is often an allowance that needs to be skipped over for the sake of running time. While not all plot bases are given the appropriate length of time for development, our lead characters are thankfully juggled quite nicely.
Filling in the black boots worn by the likes of Michael Keaton and Christian Bale, Affleck feels right at home. This older Bruce Wayne is exhausted, tired from dragging his tragic history around on his shoulders and jaded by the relentless crime that has affected him and those around him. Affleck carries the necessary weariness and anger needed for the part, delivering a Wayne who may not be the most pleasant or charming of men, but whose determination to continuously oppose those in the way of what he considers justice is nicely driven home. It’s only appropriate that his Batman is one of the most ruthless we’ve seen.
This Dark Knight’s ass-kicking abilities are of course still here, but they’re depicted in grittier, crazier fashion. This Bat is and will always be a brooding and imposing figure – and Affleck’s impressively large build accentuates the textured costume nicely, yet it is Wayne’s internal anger and sadness that makes this iteration a more unhinged, more violent and arguably more vulnerable creation.
Henry Cavill continues to put in strong work as Kal-El, although his character seems to have less of an emotional arc compared to what he was given in Man of Steel. Clark Kent is often pushed aside here, relegated to the role of a frustrated reporter, but Superman is convincingly portrayed, a being unsure of his place in the grand scheme of things. His turmoil may be different to that held by Bruce Wayne, but the two have more in common than they realise, and Terrio and Goyer’s screenplay conveys their similarities and differences perfectly.
Thankfully, unlike certain other big-budget comic book adaptations, the array of supervillains is mostly kept down to a minimum. Lex Luthor is our primary antagonist, and Jesse Eisenberg helps make him quite the formidable opponent when placed against our larger-than-life heroes. He may not get a mammoth amount of screen time, but Eisenberg’s performance packs in the layers, providing an increasingly creepy antagonist that keeps you on your toes throughout.
As can be the case with a monumental endeavour such as this, supporting characters can often prove underwhelming. Alfred, for example, often a very important character in the Bruce Wayne narrative, seems to be lost among the various moving parts, although Jeremy Irons is almost always worth watching.
Worthy of a mention is the film’s treatment of Lois Lane. The character isn’t left by the wayside in the slightest, instead given quite a major role and proving her worth throughout the plot. Amy Adams makes the character her own; adding to the strength the character was given in Man of Steel.
Of course, there’s more at play than the aforementioned characters. Without giving away anything, Wonder Woman/Diana Prince is wonderfully handled. It’s important to note that WB has big plans for the heroine on the horizon, so suffice it to say that the character is given just the right amount to do to have us begging for more. Gal Gadot plays the part well, imbuing her with a sense of history and tangible resilience.
The team-up of Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL, the latter of which crafted the phenomenal score for George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, must also be cited. Their decidedly grandiose score works wonders in pushing the herculean visuals further, ensuring you feel just how momentous these events are.
Terrio and Goyer have done a great job working a narrative with this many moving pieces, but the screenplay and the overall handling by director Zack Snyder isn’t always perfect. It’s too risky to talk about what works and doesn’t work in detail, so let’s just say inconsistency rears its ugly head now and then in the pace and the development of the bulky plot. Certain advancements seem to be dragged out unnecessarily, while other considerable developments are glossed over all-too conveniently. Indeed, as the film kicks into a particular plot strand, a quick turnaround may have viewers unsatisfied. There are also a few big moments aren’t handled in a manner befitting their potential. Finally, sure, the dark tone is more than understandable, but the film may have benefitted from at least a couple of more lighter moments to break up the bleak proceedings.
Overall, Snyder has done an impressive job with Batman v Superman, which makes the smart decision of ridding the unfortunate episodic structure seen in Man of Steel for a more cohesive chapter of world building. Snyder’s eye is perfect here, giving us more than a few wondrous visuals that are bound to bring on goosebumps for many. The action is huge, there’s no other way to put it, yet thankfully it isn’t relentless enough to dwarf the focus on plot. And at two-and-half-hours in length, the film is certainly long, but it never feels like it. In fact, the longer director’s cut could help some of those aforementioned issues.
This is a huge blockbuster aimed at not only the masses, but at the countless fans these comic book heroes have accumulated over time. And not only does it work, it works very well. Snyder has taken the helm of a stupefyingly ambitious project, worked hard, and given us a lovingly crafted epic. Put simply, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice manages to deliver larger-than-life entertainment.