Comic book movies can be a tough nut to crack, especially when doing team-based stories or heated rivalries. Marvel Studios managed to find a balance in The Avengers films by introducing characters in solo movies before bringing them together. However, there are some comic adaptations that attempt too much with the story.
Such is the case for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the first film to feature both heroes on screen. Directed by Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen), the film is both a follow-up to 2013’s Man of Steel and a foundation for the upcoming Justice League movies. Clocking in at two and a half hours, Warner Brothers’ latest adaptation is intended to begin a new era for DC Comics characters.
Eighteen months after the previous film’s climatic battle, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) is making his way in the world as Superman while dating fellow journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams). While they are in love, both have to deal with Clark’s dual life being a difficult part of their relationship.
Despite Clark’s best efforts, he is the focus of criticism and fear from several people who question his place on Earth. One such person is billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who witnessed several of his employees perish during the Battle of Metropolis. Having spent many years fighting crime as Batman, he is paranoid of Superman’s possible status as a threat to the planet.
Clark’s pursuit of a Russian terrorist leads him to investigate eccentric tech genius Alexander “Lex” Luthor Junior (Jesse Eisenberg), who is attempting to convince US Senator June Finch (Holly Hunter) to import kryptonite as to create a line of defense against meta-humans. The young prodigy is also intent on gaining access to the body of General Zod and acquiring Kryptonian DNA.
During a party at LexCorp, Bruce meets Clark for the first time and also encounters Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), a young antiques dealer who also has an interest in Lex’s activities. He discovers Lex is experimenting with kryptonite, that he is hunting meta-humans, and that Diana herself is an Amazonian warrior. After trying to steal the kryptonite, Batman encounters Superman, who warns him to give up his crusade.
Lex manipulates Senator Finch into holding televised Congressional hearings about Superman, only to bomb the session for the world to see. While Clark decides to give up being a hero, the bombing motivates Bruce to confront the Man of Steel once and for all. As Bruce prepares to take down Superman using an armored Bat-suit and a kryptonite spear, Lex takes Clark’s adoptive mother Martha (Diane Lane) hostage as leverage against Superman.
As the two heroes are forced to stop their conflict when Lois intervenes with information on Lex’s master plan confronting the new threat that could spell doom for humanity.
Ben Affleck steals the show in the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman. Although weary and greying at the temples, this interpretation of the character is tough and still driven in his quest to fight criminals. At 43, Affleck is physically impressive and credible during the action sequences.
While the film doesn’t focus on Bruce’s war in Gotham City, the plot reveals he has been Batman for nearly two decades and brands criminals before handing them over to police. His grim nature stems from his parents’ murder and the death of his sidekick Robin. Although the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne are well-known, the latter hints at the possibility for a future Batman solo film.
As Superman, Henry Cavill continues to do well, and he appears more firmly established in the part. He is capable of portraying the Man of Steel as a troubled hero who tries to do the right thing while finding time for a normal life.
It is during his scenes as Clark Kent where his humanity is fully explored, especially when considering whether or not to stop being Superman. Clark’s relationship with Lois is pleasant to watch, and his moral struggle in giving of himself is intriguing to watch.
Amy Adams gives a solid performance as Lois. Her tough-as-nails demeanor and strong will motivates her to seek out the truth, but it also causes her to get caught in difficult situations. Adams provides a calming influence on Superman, and their moments together are both light and meaningful. However, the film’s various plotlines and character arcs overshadow her role.
Gal Gadot brings a welcome presence as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. Having shot to fame in The Fast and the Furious series, she is capable of doing stunts and holding her own against Affleck and Cavill.
While her story arc is partially to set up her own spin-off, Gadot provides an assertive, driven take on the character. Feminists will be pleased to know that Diana is not held hostage at any time, nor does she shrink away from a confrontation.
The rest of the cast does well with the material they are given. Jeremy Irons is in fine form as butler/security expert Alfred Pennyworth, who provides a link to Bruce’s humanity. His sarcastic quips and no-nonsense demeanor is a far cry from Michael Caine’s grandfatherly sage-type in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.
Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch is not technically an enemy of Superman, but she provides a voice of reason and concern for the safety of American society. Scoot McNairy is effectively tragic in his role as Wallace Keefe, a troubled man who resents Superman and is unwittingly used against the government.
Perhaps the most disappointing portrayal is Jesse Eisenberg’s take on Lex Luthor. Unlike traditional versions of the villain, this Lex is significantly younger and closer in age to Superman, complete with stringy red hair and a set of awkward mannerisms.
Eisenberg’s frustrating performance comes off as similar to his Mark Zuckerberg role in The Social Network. The actor does not feel intimidating or threatening as a credible antagonist to Superman or Batman. Instead, we are treated to Lex philosophizing on demons or making sarcastic one-liners (“The red capes are coming”).
Snyder’s direction improves in the action and storytelling departments. Perhaps in response to fan outcry over Man of Steel’s destructive climax, he focuses on the themes of responsibility and government regulation.
In terms of action, Snyder does not disappoint in giving audiences what they want to see. The opening sequence of Bruce trying to save his workers is breathtaking and unsettling to watch, evoking images of the 9/11 attacks.
When it comes to fight sequences, Snyder gives equal focus to Batman and Superman by showcasing each one’s abilities. Fans will be pleased to see certain sequences lifted from the comic books, such as Frank Miller’s groundbreaking miniseries The Dark Knight Returns.
The film’s other major flaw lies in the editing. While the Batman and Superman plot lines work fine, Lex’s diabolical scheme, Lois’ adventures in journalism, and the Daily Planet sequences feel thrown together in the plot. Furthermore, the film tries to set up other DC characters for their solo outings by featuring well-known heroes in brief cameo appearances.
These examples result in giving the story a disjointed, overwrought effect, and the various arcs and subplots almost bring the problems of Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron to mind.
Despite these flaws, Dawn of Justice is a fine addition to the DC Cinematic Universe. Bold and operatic, the movie is long and ambitious but an enjoyable film to watch.
Affleck and Cavill deliver stellar performances. Snyder continues to grow as a director in delivering impressive visuals and action scenes. Warner Brothers has a hot property on their hands, and it is interesting to see where the studio will go from here.