Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Back In 2007 audiences were given a sneaky ‘first look’ at a probable Batman-Superman mash-up in Francis Lawrence’s I Am Legend, as a tattered billboard for the (then) fictional film appeared on the streets of an abandoned New York City — this reportedly based on an early draft of a shelved Batman-Superman flick, penned by I Am Legend writer-producer Akiva Goldsman which Wolfgang Petersen was set to direct. Sure it was only a faux movie poster, but the (now) nine-year-old Easter egg sparked interest and excitement, teasing the potential of an epic team-up or face-off between the Bat of Gotham and the Last Son of Krypton. Fast forward to today (2016), and Warner Bros. have just unleashed Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice upon the world, a film that serves as a ‘sort of’ sequel to 2013’s Man of Steel while invariably paving way for a DC Cinematic Universe and the introduction of the Justice League (DC’s version of The Avengers).

'I'm sorry I'm not your beloved Christopher Reeve ...'
‘I’m sorry I’m not your beloved Christopher Reeve …’

Helmed by visionary filmmaker Zack Snyder, Watchmen (2009), Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice opens some two years after Man of Steel (2013), the citizens of Metropolis still shaken over the cataclysmic battle that climaxed with a chaotic showdown between Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod (Michael Shannon), an event that reduced their once-gleaming home to rubble. With the cosmopolitan city razed to the ground and many seeking retribution, the Man of Might (revered by some while feared by others) has been branded both a ‘danger’ and a ‘modern-day messiah’ by the people of Earth — the controversial question being: was he an emblem of hope (here to help) or a threat to mankind (and humanity’s safety)?

As the world grapples with ‘what sort of hero’ it really needs, over in Gotham, Bruce Wayne’s (Ben Affleck) growing concerns force the billionaire orphan to dust off his mask and cape — Wayne fearing that the alien’s reckless powers, if left unchecked, could bring about the destruction of the human race. Becoming the underground vigilante Batman, Wayne (fueled by rage and bitterness) takes it upon himself to stop the demigod (no matter the cost), waging a seismic war like no other as the Caped Crusader takes on the Man of Tomorrow. Meanwhile, from out of the ashes a new (more sinister) menace emerges, a pathological madman, industrialist Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) — owner of LexCorp and Metropolis’ major benefactor in the city’s rebuilding — whose illogical obsession with ‘Big S’ brings about an enemy that could obliterate not only Superman but the entire planet along with him.

Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na ... BATMAN!
Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na … BATMAN!

Loosely based on Frank Miller’s 1986 four-issue mini-series The Dark Knight Returns, in which a sour, aged Batman is forced out of retirement to fight a new surge of crime while being hunted by the Gotham City Police Department and a government lackey Superman, who have growing concerns about his brutal methods. Here Snyder, along with screenwriters David S. Goyer, Batman Begins (2005) and Chris Terrio, Argo (2012), have reworked the material in order to get these classic champions to lock horns — while Bats has grounds for vengeance it’s ultimately Luthor who (this time) gets the ball rolling. After discovering a large clump of green glowing Kryptonite in the Indian Ocean, the young tech tycoon devises a scheme to bring Supes down, this paving way for a barrage of mythmaking and everything that follows. With that in mind, the screenplay sometimes relies too heavily on audiences’ preconceived knowledge, more specifically the ins-and-outs of the DC multiverse, to join some of the dots.

Setting a new standard for mega-scale mayhem and explosive titan-on-titan punch-ups, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is an exhilarating action spectacle that culminates in not one, but two back-to-back expensive-looking clashes as gods and monsters duke it out against a foreboding CGI-backdrop of fire, lightning and rain. Amongst the blows, there are also some big ideas being thrown about, notions of whom we should entrust as major decision makers and a commentary on the effects of being powerless in the face of tragedy. Standout moments include Bruce Wayne’s vantage point on the Metropolis ‘Dark Zero’ attack, while an anarchic road chase, involving a convoy of cars, the Batmobile and a sea vessel, is a caffeinated eye-popper. Even the flick’s desperately operatic end-game is a sheer kinetic rush, a mélange of madness and mayhem that brings about some truly iconic comic-book/videogame imagery and inspired visuals — though an over-reliance on CGI does weaken the overall knock-out effect.

Three's company. Justice company.
Three’s company. Justice company.

With that said, Dawn of Justice does occasionally falter, and this can be attributed to its chaos-driven narrative which sometimes feels disjointed, filmmakers cramming too much into the feature’s 153-minute run time — the flick frantically jumping from one sub-plot to the next without giving viewers a chance to breath or take it all in. We’re thrust into Bruce Wayne’s childhood trauma — his parents being shot outside of a theater showing Excalibur (1981) — followed by his subsequent tumble into the Batcave, we’re also presented with a couple of terrorist incidents (one where Superman is set-up as a catalyst), and witness the beginnings of the Justice League (with nods to a wider tapestry of meta-humans living in secret amongst the masses). Let’s not forget about the third-act arrival of another thunderous foe (who was unnecessarily unveiled in the picture’s advertising campaign). Perhaps the biggest hint at a wider universe, however, is a sequence in which Batman sees himself in a doomed future of desolate landscapes, where Superman and his extraterrestrial allies have conquered the globe. Presented like a snippet taken from an alternative timeline, this ‘knightmare’ is both surreal and startling, Snyder giving us a glimpse of a bolder, more original vision, one he’s clearly capable of crafting — the 50-year-old producer-director still obviously hesitant about taking risks after the box-office disappointment of his excellent Watchman adaptation.

With so much riding on the success of this ‘tentpole’ popcorn muncher, Warner Bros. have clearly spared no expense as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice looks spectacular. Production designer Patrick Tatopoulos, 300: Rise of an Empire (2013), captures Gotham’s ominous spirit with grungy architecture and postmodern neo-Gothic spires, a vast contrast from its lustrous sister city Metropolis (here, detached from Gotham by a minor body of water), its skyline filled with high-rises that reach for the heavens. Cinematographer Larry Fong, Watchmen (2009), keeps the vistas grim and raw, the pallid, overexposed photography mirroring the tone of Man of Steel (2013) while reinforcing the grittiness of a used reality. Juicing up the film’s grand scale is the high-sounding score by Hans Zimmer, The Dark Knight Rises (2012), and Junkie XL, Deadpool (2016), mixing cues from the prior Superman outing while refining and housing the composition; Batman’s given a subdued, brooding theme while the Amazonian princess pounces into the gladiator arena with a surge of roaring electro drums and cellos.

'Are you looking at my butt, Zuckerberg?'
‘Are you looking at my butt, Zuckerberg?’

Over on the casting front Batman v Superman is almost impeccable. Henry Cavill, Man of Steel (2013), once again dons the red cape and slippers as Kal-El or (to us common folk) Superman/Clark Kent, Cavill capturing the hero’s psyche as he wrestles with the political and moral concerns of his earthbound presence, all whilst nailing his square-jawed valor. Ben Affleck, Gone Girl (2014), proves the ‘Batfleck’ naysayers wrong with a convincing and complex portrayal of Batman/Bruce Wayne, the bulked up Affleck delivering the darkest rendering of the character to date (and yes, he does kill in this one) — dang it, he even looks awesome in his armored getup. Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network (2010), goes for broke with a twisted take on the legendary villain Lex Luthor, Eisenberg fashioning a loathsome portrait of a spoilt brat who thinks he’s a savior, infusing the character with a number of eccentric ticks and idiosyncrasies (you’re either going to love Eisenberg’s take or hate it). Any which way, his diabolical motivations are sketchy at best.

Gal Gadot, Triple 9 (2016), is ‘wowzers’ as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, my only complaint being the Amazing Amazon’s lack of screen time; the way I see it, Gadot is a real wonder. Elsewhere Amy Adams, American Hustle (2013), is reduced to a damsel in distress who’s in constant need of rescuing, journalist Lois Lane being the number one woman in Superman’s life — well, number two if you count his mother, Martha (Diane Lane). Laurence Fishburne, The Matrix (1999), supplies the flick with a couple of laughs as Perry White, editor-in-chief of the Metropolis newspaper the Daily Planet, while Jeremy Irons, Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995), makes for a fine Alfred, Wayne’s butler, techno-gadgetry guru and closest friend, showcasing some genuine chemistry between co-star Affleck. Finally, Holly Hunter, Copycat (1995), does a decent job as Senator Finch, a steely politician prepared to oppose Luthor and his cohorts, who are slowly but surely turning the city into a research lab.

What a Gal!
What a Gal!

‘Nobody cares about Clack Kent taking on the Batman,’ says a wound up Perry White, but for Warner Bros. the aforementioned couldn’t be further from the truth with this toe-to-toe standing as a launchpad for DC’s entire proposed upcoming slate, laying the foundations for what’s to come, director Snyder (just like these heroes) carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. While there’s a multitude of exposition in the picture’s first half, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice delivers the blockbuster goods, albeit with a heavy, dour tone, following in the footsteps of producer Christopher Nolan’s earlier Batman trilogy (2005-2012). With the film wrapping up on a sombre note, the story left hanging, almost begging to be continued, I can safely affirm that DC’s got my attention.

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by S-Littner

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia