After years of anticipation, one of the biggest movie events of all time has finally come to the big screen, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Taking place 18 months after the events of “Man of Steel” (2013), Superman (again played by Henry Cavill) has become a controversial figure in the nation’s eye, with some seeing him as a protector or God and others seeing him as a ticking time bomb waiting to destroy the world. One of the people who sees Superman in the latter light is none other than Bruce Wayne (played by Ben Affleck), who holds a vengeance toward the man of steel after he accidentally kills several important people in Wayne’s life during his battle with Zod. Superman also finds reasons to dislike Batman, as he sees him as a dangerous vigilante, and begins to seek out the dark knight to bring him to justice. At the end, things accumulate to a big final battle with Lex Luthor (played by Jesse Eisenberg) trying to persuade both heroes to destroy one another.
“Dawn of Justice” is a rather hard-to-face reality within the world of anticipated and overly-hyped movies. While the film is not the worst, not even being completely deserving of the title of “awful” or “bad,” there is no denying that Dawn still is a heavily flawed movie on many levels. However, there are still many positive elements within the picture to help keep it afloat. For one, the action sequences are all well-handled and creatively executed. Director Zack Snyder brings in a beautiful level of stylization never quite achieved in many comic book films of today, that make the film look as if it leapt straight off the pages of the popular graphic novels of the 80s and 90s, which the film, in general, pays great homage to. Comic book fans will easily spot many references and homages to these storylines, most notably those of “The Dark Knight Returns” and Snyder allows this look to completely absorb the action scenes in order to create visuals that truly stand out from most other modern-day comic book films. The level of brutality and grittiness during many of the fight sequences is truly gripping and the film does a good job at making our characters seem vulnerable during these moments. Other than the action, the film also contains some rather good performances, most notably Ben Affleck’s gritty portrayal as Bruce Wayne and Batman, Jeremy Irons strong performance as Alfred, and Gal Gadot’s well-executed portrayal as Wonder Woman. Some of the soundtrack composed by Hans Zimmer is also rather memorable, particularly the theme used for Lex Luthor and Wonder Woman.
The sad news, however, is that while “Dawn of Justice” has some good factors, it is also a huge mess of movie. The film contains a potentially compelling narrative, one that could allow for interesting mental conflict and engaging themes about what superheroes really stand for in the modern world, a theme that was also somewhat explored in the previous film, “Man of Steel,” but not fully realized (it is interesting to note that both films were directed by Zack Snyder). Instead, we are treated to a film that contains quite a bit of confusing direction, lazy screenwriting (multiple unlikely storytelling “conveniences” pop up, for example), and there’s some frustrating execution. The first half of the film is extremely choppy and unfocused, jumping from scene to scene very rigidly. Smooth transitions are almost non-existent. The second half, on the other hand, moves somewhat smoother, but contains pointless detours that are simply there to set up the upcoming “Justice League” film, and in rather lazy ways. The last half also makes one rather ambitious decision that at first appears to be going in the right direction, making a move that most superhero movies don’t have the guts to even try, but quickly drops the idea for a more predictable finale that proves rather disappointing.
Another major issue throughout the film is that, while most of the performances are alright, Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal as Superman’s archenemy, Lex Luthor, is so ridiculously over-the-top in so many scenes that taking his character seriously is practically impossible and completely clashes with the movie’s dark tone. Another character not given enough justice (no pun intended), is Wonder Woman, who is performed very nicely by the stunning Gal Gadot, but her inclusion feels forced into the story and not given enough time to completely flesh out her character. As previously mentioned, the movie contains several fan-pleasing comic book references. While these moments may be fun for many comic book geeks, for average moviegoers, they may not only be confusing, but rather boring. In multiple instances, entire scenes are dedicated to showing these references and significantly slow down the story. Other issues include some unconvincing CGI here and there (particularly in the battle with Doomsday), some confusing character motivations, and several moments of the Lois Lane character slowing the story. Possibly the biggest disappointment, however, is that the trailers generally contained the meatiest parts of this film and anyone who’s seen them can get a pretty good idea of the movie’s tone, its characters, and even its plot structure to the point that the few surprises thrown here and there within the film become almost irrelevant.
At two-and-a-half hours, the overly long “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is still worth a watch. For comic book fans, the references and homages will make the price of admission truly worth it and the well-executed action sequences, clever stylization, and good performances will still be impressive for moviegoers of all kinds. But even at 150 minutes, the film feels like crucial things are still missing. While Zack Snyder’s movie is decent, there is a constant sense of a much stronger, more developed, and better executed story hiding underneath, begging to be released — a story that could have remained in the heads of moviegoers long after they’ve seen it. While it would’ve been nice to see that more creative vision, for what we’ve got, “Dawn of Justice” is worth seeing at least once.
Mikael Trench, 17, is a senior at Wheeler High School and an aspiring independent filmmaker specializing in stop motion animation. Check out his latest stop motion short, “The Tree That Refused to Fall,” on his YouTube channel, Cyclops Studios. Click here to watch the film.