BATMAN v. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016)
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The much anticipated match-up between the two greatest comic book characters of all-time is a mess, no doubt about it, but there is a lot to like here, too. The story picks up 18 months after the battle in Metropolis between Superman and Zod and the world is starting to sour over the notion of a man with god-like powers running around of his own volition. Two men particularly being unhappy about it are billionaire Lex Luthor (a completely miscast Jesse Eisenberg) and billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck). I guess rich people hate Superman. The Dark Knight saw many Wayne Enterprises employees die in Metropolis and starts to wonder if Superman (Henry Cavill) can be trusted and Lex Luthor is more than happy to give both men a push in the confrontational direction. Will The Bat of Gotham and The Man Of Steel go head to head…and will the world survive it?
The script by Chris Terrio and David Goyer is simply all over the place and a lot of it doesn’t gel. The reasons for Superman’s alter ego Clark Kent to suddenly become so concerned with the activities of The Batman in Gotham is never really clear, as it also doesn’t really completely work that Wayne would develop such an intense hatred for Superman, since he has done a lot of good. The first hour of the film bounces back and forth between a bunch of story-lines, including one about a possible conspiracy to frame Superman for death’s he’s not responsible for and a mysterious woman (Gal Gadot) that keeps popping up in Bruce Wayne’s life. It’s very fractured and takes over an hour to settle into a grove. Zack Snyder is a brilliant visual director, but I never felt he was a strong storyteller and with a very weak and fractured story, it is all the more obvious. The film wanders back and forth without much purpose in the first act when Snyder has little going on that he can turn into spectacle. There is some solid action within the film, though and some nice personal moments, too, but it all comes crashing down when Snyder delivers an even more overblown finale than with Man Of Steel. At that point the overlong film is already getting tiresome, we get an apocalyptic battle with Doomsday and then the film goes on for another 15 minutes, or so, for a very morose conclusion. The battle between Bats and Supes was starting to turn the film around somewhat, then Snyder throws in Doomsday and the film collapses under the weight of more bombastic destruction with a generic CGI monster that generates no menace, whatsoever. Throw in a somber and mopey Superman, some pointless dream sequences and the totally miscalculated portrayal of a creepy Lex Luthor by Eisenberg and it basically is a mess with a few shining moments.
So, what was there to like about it…and surprisingly there is a lot to like. First off, Ben Affleck makes an awesome Bruce Wayne and Batman. While story-wise I wasn’t really sold on his intense hatred for Superman, the character itself was different than we have seen previously, yet really nailed the darkness and the whole Bat persona. His action scenes also really rock and capture the ferocity of a man working out his own inner turmoil. Another very pleasant surprise is Wonder Woman. Gal Gadot isn’t the strongest actress, but when she wades into battle during the climax, she steals the show. Another character the film nails and she was a lot of fun to watch and really lays into Doomsday like a badass. As for the battle between Superman and Batman, it was the highlight of the film and here Snyder showed some surprising restraint. Also we get to really see Batman’s ingenuity and preparedness come to bare as he battles someone who could squash him easily. It’s a shame they had to sully the moment by going into extra innings with Doomsday…though they did need a reason for the World’s Finest to unite. It’s just too bad it’s back to over-the-top and out of control. Obviously the FX are top notch, the film looks great and there is another solid score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL.
The cast are a solid except for you-know-who. Cavill is good as Superman, but the script has him pouting and grimacing in anger most of the time and it’s disappointing that we see so little of the hope Superman is supposed to bring. Affleck is great as both Bruce Wayne and Batman. He portrays a man starting to show the effects of aging, who has his own demons and bitterness to deal with and which also motivates him. As Batman, he is truly intimidating and his fight scenes are really nasty and intense like they should be. As his loyal butler Alfred, Jeremy Irons is impeccable and gives us a man who we believe can actually take care of and assist both Bruce Wayne and The Dark Knight. He has a subtle smart-ass quality that really worked. Gal Gadot is a little wooden in her dialog sequences as Diana Prince, but when Wonder Woman joins the fun, she gives her the fire and spirit of a true amazon warrior. She really does steal the scenes she’s in, once she is in battle. Now the big question…Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, what were they thinking? Not everything he does is bad and his part is badly written, but he was more Renfield or Gollum than super villain and his Luthor seems too unhinged to be in control of a multi-billion dollar empire. He comes across as that weird uncle that makes everyone uncomfortable, not a formidable opponent for our heroes. Amy Adams is good again as Lois Lane, but isn’t given much to do but be a damsel in distress. The same goes for Diane Lane. A waste of both their talents as is the same for the barely seen Lawrence Fishburn as Perry White.
So, the eagerly awaited meeting and mash-up of the World’s Finest is a bit of a mess and a mixed bag. On one hand, it delivers a great new Batman, a scene stealing Wonder Woman and a well-done battle between The Dark Knight and The Last Son Of Krypton. On the other hand it’s way too long, gives us a creepy and far too eccentric Lex Luthor, has a really muddled first act and follows up the Bats/Supes battle royal with a ridiculously overblown orgy of destruction featuring a generic CGI monster. There is a lot to like here, but, overall, this dream match is more of a dream mess.
2 and 1/2 World’s Finest.