Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Review: A Battle That Never Takes Flight

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There’s a moment in the gargantuan climax of Batman v Superman where Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is punched across a pile of rubble. Before getting up, she smirks, excited at the challenge, and leaps back into battle. It’s a small moment of levity in a two and a half hour beat down of grim superhero philosophies. Sure, when explored well, this part of superhero mythology can be fascinating and rewarding. But that’s not why these characters were created almost a century ago. Wonder Woman’s smirk is. That sense of joy, heroism, and pure popcorn fun makes just this one appearance in Batman v Superman, bringing me to two conclusions. First, bring one next summer’s Wonder Woman movie! Second, Warner Bros. needs to fire Zach Snyder.

Following a beautifully shot opening credits recounting the night of Thomas and Martha Wayne’s murder, we’re thrown right back into the climax of Man of Steel. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) stares at the sky in disbelief as a man seemingly acting as a god battles another, creating endless death and destruction around them. We flash forward again and Superman (Henry Cavill) is the subject of controversy around the world. Some see him as a god, others as a threat to human existence. Batman falls into the latter category, starting a war neither man may be able to finish. That is, unless you change the rules.

Batman is a straight-up murderer in this incarnation, robbing the character of his central moral conflict. Meanwhile, for Superman, there seems to be a missing Man of Steel sequel we never got, as his conflicts are so thinly developed yet the world understands him so clearly. Snyder steers clear of the common tropes of these classic characters that have assimilated into popular culture, which proves to be a good and a bad thing. The only reason we would ever need to see stage-setting on Batman’s end is if one were to change the fundamental rules. Unfortunately, Snyder does, leaving questions of what his role is in Gotham. He made the same mistake in Man of Steel, where he failed to connect the dots between an alien boy crash-landed on our planet to the superhero protecting it. For a film so focused on the ideology of the superhero, it’s two biggest ones are shamefully underdeveloped.

That doesn’t stop Affleck from nailing Bruce Wayne though. He’s intense but never fails to charm. Gadot brings out the best in him, mostly because she herself is the only performer having a ball within the confines of this world. Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor also appears to be having the time of his life, but it comes across as a feeble attempt to recapture the magic of a Heath Ledger Joker performance. It doesn’t, not by a long shot. This version of Lex lacks motives or, uh, any real human qualities. He hates Superman because, well, he’s Lex Luthor and the comics say he has to. By the time he’s replaced as the main villain by a giant CGI monster, you’ll just be happy to have him off screen.

There are a few chill-inducing moments when DC’s mighty trinity takes on Doomsday, most of which involve Wonder Woman of course. The final battle is one of the few things that works, far better than the short-lived titular conflict. The fight you came for is a disappointment, with Batman and Superman trading blows for only a few minutes. But the fight you leave with is a full meal.

But that doesn’t save Batman v Superman from itself. This rushed cash cow finally brings the two original superheroes together on the big screen in about as disappointing a fashion as it could. It all comes down to Snyder trying to change what we know about these icons but still assuming we know everything. There’s no development and no humanity. With a different director, direction, script, what have you, this could have been a triumph. There are great things about this movie that have me excited for the future (those Ben Affleck directed Batman movies sound awesome right about now and if you can’t tell, I love Wonder Woman here). But Warner Bros. and DC need to take a step back and rethink things. Zach Snyder is supposed to start shooting Justice League Part 1 in April. Take this once promising director out of the picture. Release Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman and change the whole direction. Go lighter. You don’t have to go all Joss Whedon on these characters, but superheroes still need to be entertaining. As we learned here, two hours of moral ambiguities and grayed out characters isn’t entertaining in this context. The Dawn of Justice points to a dark day indeed so long as Snyder is left at the helm. Grade: C

By Matt Dougherty

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