Barbican Comic Forum
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice [spoiler free review]
After watching the film three times in the cinema (IMAX 70mm, 3D, and 2D), reading/watching a lot of reviews (both positive and negative), getting perspectives from people I reached out to personally, and even breaking down the film scene by scene, I’ve finally felt comfortable writing a review of my own.
I enjoyed watching the film a lot and more than I expected to. The performances were great, it was visually stunning, and it presented a lot of elements I did not expect to see.
Yet as a hardcore Superman fan, while Henry Cavill seems to be perfectly cast in the role, these series of films are personally not a satisfying portray of what I feel the character of Superman truly represents. Ultimately resulting in the ‘protagonist’ being needlessly met with unfair adversity both physically and emotionally, which makes it somewhat difficult to watch.
But for what Snyder and his team wanted to explore, building the DC Comics universe as a larger than life epic tragedy, I feel as though they did it perfectly.
I enjoy the film for what it is and for what it does. My personal context for what the character of Superman is and for what the DC Comics universe is, isn’t so much relevant to my enjoyment and understanding of the film. It largely just acts as an extra layer of enjoyment and excitement over what I watch unfold on screen.
Judging a film and the filmmaker for their interpretation of something should not influence my enjoyment of the film, as I am merely here to critique how well they executed their vision to me. It’s not their job to match their vision with my own.
Man of Steel
My main issue with Man of Steel was that it was too much about Clark’s struggle to find a reason to live and exist among humans, rather than a film exploring why he chooses to be Superman and what that represents. He wasn’t a very active character in the film and wasn’t surrounded by a lot of positivity; be that positive response from the world around him, or his own positive outlook on his role as Superman.
Clark was presented to us a sympathetic and good natured guy, but he had to be told to become Superman by the people in his life. Superman did save the world, but it was so overbearingly difficult to do so and with such dire consequences that it was difficult to feel triumphant about his victory in the end. And finally, the aftermath of his first outing as Superman was punctuated with a brief discussion of distrust and forced acceptance of the Man of Steel as a superhero.
So all in all Man of Steel, got the job done. It established Superman as a hero. But the path it took to get to that point was needlessly dark.
Batman V Superman as a direct sequel, instead of rectifying this, instead carries over the same tone from Man of Steel. This time Clark is Superman, but now he must deal with the issue of how much responsibility should a man as powerful as him have.
What people seem to be misunderstanding is that this isn’t a discussion about blaming Superman for any destruction at all; it is a discussion asking the question: “If Superman wants to be a protector of the people, should he be acting under his own will and his own discretion, or should he be taking orders and acting within the parameters established by the people he has sworn to protect? Nobody should be above the law.”
Batman V Superman
Despite also being a direct sequel, this film also introduces us to Batman. My main issue with his character in the film, despite an otherwise excellent portrayal of the character, is that his main grievance with Superman does not actually match up with the rest of the worlds, other than with the villain the film. Making Batman an antagonist for most of the film.
Bruce Wayne is introduced to us by first showing us his origin as a child, before cutting to his perspective during the destruction of Metropolis during Man of Steel’s climatic finale with Superman vs. Zod.
During the aftermath of this battle, Bruce Wayne develops a deep seated hatred for Superman out of feeling fear and helplessness. Bruce believes that Superman is too powerful to exist on Earth, and that all human life is potentially in danger if he allows Superman to exist.
Ben Affleck showcased what I believe to be a true to form version of the character here. As an almost sociopathic, rage filled vigilante, alongside the equally believable suave and calculating sides to his character. He presented the most well rounded version of Batman I think we’ve had to date. And with Jeremy Irons’ expert delivery as Alfred, we end up with a great back on forth between the two characters about how this aged up version of Batman has almost fallen from grace.
Throughout the film we learn and understand why Bruce Wayne decides to dedicate the next two years of life, leading up to present day, figuring out a way to take down Superman for what he considers the greater good.
This is also where Lex Luthor comes in as the villain. It is revealed during the film that Lex has a similar outlook on Superman, and the potential threat he poses, that he shares with the Dark knight.
However Lex being the maniacal psychopath that he is, portrayed boldly and expertly by Jesse Eisenberg. He similarly dedicates the next two years of his own life figuring out a way to use the Batman to take down Superman, for what he considers his own warped sense of the greater good. He sets his plans in motion long before the start of film, having knowledge of both of the hero’s secret identities and using that to his advantage in order to sow the seeds of hate between them. Motivated by a family history of living under the iron will of a darker higher power, he cannot stand by and allow the world to accept Superman as any sort of saviour.
At this point, you understand that the film is once again about Clark struggling with an identity crisis of sorts and how much this weights heavily on his mind. That coupled with the growing rift between himself and Batman. We learn that Clark is not a fan of Batman’s brutal vigilante justice, and wants to actively take a stand against him.
Since the last film we are told that Superman is ‘a symbol of hope’. To the film’s credit, Superman does actively continue to take on the role of Superman even after everything that is put up against him, which I must admit, does present him as a symbol of hope of sorts.
However between these two films, there has not been enough time for us to view Superman within a positive super-heroic context without any of the lofty tragic storytelling surrounding him.
Although, with characters such as Lois Lane and Martha Kent, and even one of his two late fathers, Jonathan Kent. All portrayed earnestly by Amy Adams, Diane Lane, and Kevin Costner respectively, we do get a satisfying understanding of who the people are in Superman’s life who ground him, highlight his to humanity, and give reason to continue on the path set up for him. So even if things don’t appear too positive on the surface, we at least get at least some insight into the why and how of Superman’s character.
In terms of the titular matchup, I feel like the build-up to it was earned just about enough, but honestly it wasn’t presented as I initially assumed it would be. Within this crowded small season alongside other works such as “Daredevil, season 2” and “Captain America: Civil War”, the whole ‘rival superhero matchup’ thing may in fact be executed more satisfyingly elsewhere.
It would have been good to directly explore the tension between both Superman and Batman a little more before they came to blows.
Yet at the same time, in terms of the action itself, it was damn near perfect and if anything, I wanted more of it just for the spectacle of it.
Dawn of Justice
In addition to the film being a sequel to Man of Steel, it is also tasked with setting up an extended DC Comics universe on the big screen. Which I believe it does well.
Honestly, the only things I can say about this are that they happened. I am excited about it due to my familiarity with the DC Comics, but any negative opinions from me on how it was set up would only be nitpicking it in comparison with how my vision of how it should be done.
I think things were set up to be believable and intriguing enough that it left me wanting more, so it did it’s job well.
A standout in this area was Wonder Woman for me personally, and her portrayal by Gal Gadot. She seemed to ‘ripped straight out of the comics’ in enough ways that it was extremely exciting to watch.
I enjoyed the storyline, the performances, the characters, the visual spectacle, and both the differences and similarities to the comics they are based on.
It seemed to work as a sequel to Man of Steel and a prequel for the DC Comics universe, so I have no complaints in that regard.
Does the film answer the questions explored earlier on in the film from characters such as Batman, Lex Luthor, Senator Finch, and even Superman himself? “Does the world need a Superman?” “Can he be trusted?” “Who should he answer to?” Yes and no. Or at least, not as you would want them to. Instead, the answers we get appear to be more along the lines of “Yes, the world would like a Superman”, but again it doesn’t explore what form he should take and within what context he should act. The closest we get to an answer is that a Justice League is the best possible alternative to any one super man.
Again, I am still disappointed that the portrayal and execution of the character of Superman himself. He is set up as the main protagonist of these films, but he still doesn’t seem to have had the opportunity to be showcased as an unabashedly, unapologetically, superheroic figure yet.
But I’m still holding out hope to see this in a future instalment, even if it maybe two to three years, and up to seven films away at the latest.