Three-years worth of extensive and excessive marketing for Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice – I seriously feel like I’ve been seeing trailers for this since forever – has this week culminated in a divide between critics and fans. Since the film was first announced, the response has been mixed to say the least, and it has been fascinating to watch that continue right up through to the film’s release.
At the beginning of this week, fans who were treated to advance previews took to social media in force to praise it, with some even claiming it to be the ‘best film ever made’. For a brief moment, there was a glimmer of hope for people, like myself, who weren’t so convinced. Then the critical reviews began to emerge, most of which panned the film for being every bit the disaster that many feared it would be. Suddenly, a civil war seemed to break out between film fans; comic book fans claimed critics weren’t the right demographic for the film, so therefore shouldn’t have their opinions taken seriously, whilst some critics began to question the integrity of those who are so devoted to the source material.
In truth, it’s a ridiculous argument that I only bring up here in the interest of clarity. Here are my credentials: I’ve read comics and, to a degree, know what to expect from certain filmic adaptations, but, I’ve never been obsessed with them to the point where I would allow my expectations or knowledge to cloud my judgement; I have no allegiances to either DC or Marvel; I loved Man of Steel when most critics hated it, and I’ve disliked many of the Marvel films that have been universally praised by critics and audiences alike. Put simply, I, like most critics, am unbiased and want every film I see to be good, regardless of whatever knowledge or personal preference I may have when it comes to the source material.
All of this said, I hope that you’ll trust me when I say that Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice isn’t very good. Things start off well, with an opening that sees Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne landing in Metropolis during the chaos and destruction that took place in the Man of Steel finale. As he speeds across the city to save employees working at one of his buildings, he bares witness to 9/11-type horrors that leave him concerned about Superman’s power. It’s an excellent sequence – which could have worked even better as a tacked on post-credits sequence to Man of Steel – that not only succeeds in introducing us to our new Bruce Wayne, but addresses some of the criticism that was targeted at Man of Steel’s senseless destruction – something which comes up time and time again during Dawn of Justice’s final battle, as we’re constantly reminded by characters that various locations are, fortunately, uninhabited.
Things quickly head south from there though, as the unnecessarily convoluted narrative begins to unravel in a very confusing, often baffling, way. There are multiple dream sequences, uninspired cameos and so many different characters all battling for screen time, that the plot can be a struggle to follow at times. The reasoning behind Batman’s fear of Superman is an interesting idea, but is lost amongst all of the padding it has to contend with; padding such as Lex Luthor – the main manipulator of the pair’s battle – and a Kyrptonian mutation named Doomsday, which looks like a cross somewhere in between a troll from The Lord of The Rings and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.
For the majority of the film’s length – an arse-numbing two-hours and thirty-minutes – Dawn of Justice feels like two separate films that could have worked individually, but ultimately fail when mashed together. In one way it could have been a fantastic sequel to Man of Steel, with Superman battling Lex Luthor and having to deal with his God-like abilities being questioned by the government; in another way, it could have made for an excellent Batman movie, re-introducing us to the Dark Knight as he fights crime in Gotham and discovers criminal links to Lex Luthor. The two narrative strands just don’t work together, which results in a film that never really settles down.
It isn’t until its final act that things begin to come together as the two superheroes finally come to blows, a whole two-hours into the movie. Whilst the story may be all over the place, Zack Snyder certainly knows how to do an action sequence and the battle between Batman and Superman at least manages to live up to expectations. When the focus becomes solely on the action, Dawn of Justice fires on cylinders. In its final half hour, it suddenly comes to life and there are a number of memorable moments that include, amongst other things, the introduction to an ass-kicking Wonder Woman.
However, despite ending on a high, all the good in Batman V Superman is overshadowed by the amount of bad. Ben Affleck makes for a fantastic Batman/Bruce Wayne (yes, I was surprised too) and the ensemble cast is great (Jeremy Irons’ Alfred is a particular highlight). There are undeniable flashes of brilliance throughout, but as a whole it is an overstuffed mess of a movie that leaves me concerned for the future of the DC cinematic universe. It does feel like a case of the film studios running with the franchise in an attempt to make the amount of money Marvel does, but failing to recognise what it is that makes the Marvel movies successful in the first place. It’s a crying shame because I belive that had some time been taken in introducing the various characters in solo movies before this, then the film would work a lot better than it does.
So who wins in the fight between Batman and Superman? The studio does, whilst we, the audience, lose out. It pains me to say it, but Batman V Superman is, for the most part, super-shit.