Disclaimer: This review's format will be a little different. First I will give a short spoiler free review. Then I'll give a spoiler warning in big bold letters. Then I'll give the spoiler filled review. Let's begin!
Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (Spoiler FREE Review)
If you weren't a fan of Man of Steel, and you go into this film with your hate meter running, you'll probably come out already nitpicking the film to death and liking it less than if you tried to watch it objectively.
That said, if you are like me and absolutely loved the Man of Steel film, this one will be a fun popcorn film, but you'll likely be feeling let down in the end.
That isn't to say the film isn't any good. Batman vs. Superman gets a lot right, but the film itself is all over the place in terms of pacing, continuity, and sloppy writing that makes character motivations vague and unclear -- annoyingly so.
Of course, I'm one of the many who didn't go to this film wanting to watch the orphan boys fight, I wanted to see Wonder Woman on the big screen. That's about it. That alone was worth the price of admission. And Gal Gadot knocks it out of the park in terms of being a kickass Wonder Woman. I loved the slow build up to her reveal too. Really nice.
As for my thoughts on BatFleck, well, I must say -- Ben Affleck pleasantly surprised me with a stellar performance of a graying, older, more worn down -- but still physically impressive -- Batman.
The cinematography was gorgeous, and every scene looks like a work of art -- whether or not it fits into the story (but more on that later). And the musical score is beautifully done. Wonder Woman's entrance music is so powerful that it makes you want to get up out of your seat and cheer.
And some people did. (Thumbs pointing at self).
That said, I feel let down by the fact that Superman was under developed character wise. He really has no conflict in this film although they could have given him a lot to chew on. The fact that he is grappling with the same issues as in Man of Steel, even though that all should have been resolved by this instalment, makes this film more like the Yawn of Justice. Stuck in the quagmire of no character motivation and the same old problems as before, Superman falls terribly flat in BvS.
And Batman's motivation changes halfway without any reason or explanation, which left me scratching my head. First he's rage hating on Superman for no clear reason, other than he feels he's a potential threat, to which he decides to resolve the issue with his fists. Seriously, that's as complex as this plot gets.
Meanwhile, Lex Luthor's motivations are never expressly stated, and I felt they should be -- especially for how much this Luthor likes to monologue. Since when does a bad guy who monologues ad nauseam not give away the entirety of his dastardly plan? This film, basically.
The fight scenes are epic, and I enjoyed the dark tone and gravitas to this film, but the story is an incoherent jumble of scenes and the first half is slow and the second half is all fighting, albeit really fun fights that don't ever feel gratuitous like the final Zod fight in MoS. And the end of the film sort of putters out and the set up for the Justice League movie felt awkward and rushed -- as if it was tacked on as an afterthought.
But, even with all of its flaws, I still enjoyed it for the mindless spectacle it was. I found it less boring than the dreadfully boring Avengers movie and less cringe worthy than the senseless Age of Ultron movie. But to each their own (but, seriously, those Avengers movies are crap-fests of big budget money flushed down the toilet -- luckily such mindless action spectacles make back their money and then some -- I don't see what BvS will be any different).
So if you don't mind senseless, over the top action sequences, and stories with little to no character motivation stuck in a plot that moves like molasses, then you'll have fun with Batman vs. Superman. But if you wanted a richer story that carries on the themes of Man of Steel, of Superman searching for his role and stepping into the shoes of the impossible icon of the Super-man, well, this isn't that film. This is just mindless fun.
This marks the end of the spoiler free review.
**WARNING** SPOILERS START NOW
**WARNING** SPOILERS START NOW
**WARNING** SPOILERS START NOW
Alright, so here's the deal, this film was almost great. But so many little things were off with it, well, it becomes less than great. It's almost if the weight of this film was too much it virtually implodes in on itself.
First off, I found Batman vs. Superman to be visually stunning, just as Man of Steel was. The director, Zack Snyder, really has a wonderful visual storytelling style that makes his films into pure eye candy. Batman v. Superman is no exception. It's gorgeous. Gorgeous cinematography. Gorgeous costuming. Gorgeous set dressing. Gorgeous production design. Gorgeous actors and actresses giving wonderful performances (given the restrains of their poorly written characters). And a gorgeous musical score to top it all off.
So, as much good as there is in terms of the aesthetic, everything goes downhill from here.
The movie opens with the Superman and Zod fight in Metropolis from the MoS film, and shows a distraught Bruce Wayne trying desperately to get to one of his building to evacuate his people. He gets them on the phone and has the people evacuate the building, but not everybody makes it out before the building is demolished in the super-powered no-holds-barred fight between the two Kryptonian super beings. This leaves Bruce Wayne, and his alter ego Batman, in a serious state of anxiety about the alien being Superman.
The rest of the first half of the film cuts between Gotham City scenes and flash backs, done in dream form this time of Bruce Wayne's parents murder, and Clark and Lois and the Daily Planet stuff. This inter-cutting seems to confuse many viewers, but I felt it simply was taking too long to get to the really important scene, Lex Luthor's dinner party.
Clark Kent is in attendance to cover the story and Bruce Wayne, an invited guest, shows up. They have an exchange before Lex gets up and rambles on. Bruce then sneaks away and breaks into Lex's computer room, as he's searching for something. Hacking the computer system he steals some classified information. But before he can reclaim it he is distracted, and when he gets there his equipment has been stolen -- and the data he stole is now in the possession of the gorgeous woman he's been sharing side-long glances with all night, Diane Prince. Ms. Prince makes a quick exit and Bruce followers her out, where she's already leaving the party with his stolen data.
I personally loved this interplay and the cat and mouse bit. It felt almost like a James Bond film for a while, and I wish it would have gone more in this direction.
I also wish the film would have started here. All the Gotham stuff was unnecessary. All the Daily Planet stuff could have been shuffled to the back end of the party scenes. But really, there's no plot until Lex Luthor's party, and that's about forty five minutes into the film.
Another strange aspect about this film, and something that threw me off, was it has a lot of dream sequences. I'll try and recollect some of them here. 1st there is Bruce having the nightmare of his parents death. Then Bruce having the nightmare of how he fell into the shaft and saw bats. Then the nightmare at his mother's tomb. Then there's a weird dream within a dream sequence where Cyborg talks to Bruce from a rift tearing open from a parallel dimension, then there is an overly long and needless dream sequence in the middle of the film regarding Apocalypse, although it's not mentions by name, it's definitely shown.
Meanwhile, Superman has a weird waking dream sequence where he talks to his father, Pa Kent, on top of a mountain. I didn't get that scene at all. I know what his father was trying to say, but why was it on top of a mountain? There was no continuity here. Why did Clark go to the mountain? To think? They never showed or explained that, and it felt out of place.
So yeah, a lot of dream sequences. And the two that really had nothing to do with the plot were the Cyborg and Apocalypse dreams. I know, I know it's all meant to be a bit of foreshadowing for the JLA movie. But it really throws off the pace of this film, and interrupts the narrative, confuses the audience as to what the plot is supposed to be about -- and in my opinion these two dream sequences would have worked better as end credits scenes.
The long Apocalypse dream sequence should have been designated to a mid-credits ending scene. The Cyborg dream should have been an after the credits scene, and it shouldn't have been a dream. Bruce should have woken up to see Cyborg trying to communicate to him.
This would have prevented these scenes from utterly destroying what little narrative the film had.
The second half of the film consists of two big action sequences.
Basically, Lex Luthor has manipulated both Batman and Superman into fighting one another.
At the same time, Lex is making a monster using the technology of the crashed Kryptonian cloning spaceship, although his motivations aren't quite clear here. At first it seems he just wants to kill off Superman and is making a backup in case Batman fails the test. But then why not just send the monster first? It's not until the end that you get a final scene between Batman and Lex where Lex Luthor says the bells have been rung and they can't be unrung. That he's coming. That the world will end.
So this sort of eludes to the fact that Luthor wasn't making a monster solely for the purpose of killing Superman, of whom Lex had Batman doing the dirty work for him. Really, why else would Luthor make a monster to kill Superman if he already sent (or rather set-up) the fully capable Batman to do the job for him? He wouldn't. So the only explanation is that he has ulterior motives. But this is completely glossed over.
As it turns out, it appears that Luthor's ulterior motive for creating the Doomsday monster was a science experiment to see if he could weaponize Kryptonian technology. This way, he could create super soldiers as powerful as Zod and Superman. But to what end? Well, his little prophecy at the end -- and all his talk about the One who is coming to destroy the world seems to suggest that Lex may have had the alternate goal of also building a super powered army to either stop the impending invasion or else help take over the world. With Luthor, you can never be certain. It might have helped to show how he knew this. Maybe he learned something from the Kryptonian technology that nobody else knew. Showing how Luthor knows this would have been better foreshadowing than an overly long dream sequence that doesn't relate to reality at all.
And so, getting back on track, something this film seems to have to do a lot, Batman decides to help Superman, and they go to fight the monster, and they are getting their asses handed to them when Doomsday fires his unstoppable heat vision blast at them, when out of the blue, the music swells and this amazing heavy metal piece is played over the top of everything and when the dust has settled we see that Wonder Woman has deflected the blast and has saved Batman and Superman just in time.
I loved the girl rescuing the boys. It was a nice touch.
Then they open a can of whoopass on Doomsday, with Lois Lanes help, who just seems to be idling about for way too long in the area.
And then the movie sort of ends. But only kind of. Because there's some weird dialog between Bruce Wayne and Wonder Woman about them having to find the others too fight. And she's like, why? Who are we going to fight? And then, at this point, we flash back to Batman visiting Lex in his prison cell, and Lex talking all crazy about the End Times.
And the movie sort of fizzles out, with no clear plot trajectory except for vague dream sequences that may or may not tie into the plot, and very bad dialog, and no actual resolution to this story -- which it desperately needed.
Which makes this film, overall, a huge let down.
I can't help but feel they really dropped the ball here. And it's really bad to fumble in just the second play of your whole game.
So here's how I would have fixed this film.
I would have dropped the inter-cutting of stories at the beginning. Star with the aftermath of MoS, then get to Luthor's party quicker. I would have had a little bit more cat and mouse with Diana and Bruce. Maybe have a car chase, because why not? It would have been fun, especially early on in the film. Go full James Bond, it couldn't have hurt a movie like this.
Then I would have it jump to the putting Superman on trial thing and him questioning his motivations for being Superman. I would have lingered a little longer on this turmoil so as to let the audience know he's really grappling with the morality of it all.
Then I would have Lex manipulate them into their climactic fight. After which, I would have it play out in basically the same way, with the added sequence of Batman deciding not to kill him *not because of Lois Lane's intervention but because he is smart enough to listen to Superman and consider what he's saying.
With the Doomsday thing, I would have played up the fact that Superman was the only one capable of stopping him. I would have made his sacrifice meaning something by actually having Doomsday go back into the city to kill innocents. Instead of a mountain top talk with his dead daddy, I would have had flashbacks of Superman's talks with both fathers from MoS -- re=cutting those scenes into this film. Then I would have had him flashback to the destruction of the Zod fight, as it obviously bothered him and left him traumatized.
At this point I would have Doomsday about to kill a entire bus of civilians (maybe a school bus for orphan boys -- just to send a wink to the audience), and we could then have Superman punch the monster into space to save the lives of children.
As he floats lifeless in space, I would have played Jor El's advise over the top of the music, of him telling his son he has the power to save them all, then have the sun come up over the horizon allowing him to rejuvenate, or resurrect, and then go save his people.
Meanwhile, down on the ground, Batman and Wonder Woman would be doing their best to take down Doomsday and get him away from the city.
That's when Supers would swoop down and punch the monster to the deserted island, or whatever.
And I would have let the film end in a similar way. Except after Doomsday kills Superman, and Superman skewers Doomsday, I would have changed just one little thing. Instead of them both dying, I would have had Doomsday get back up. Yes! Then, enraged, and unstoppable, I would have Doomsday, who's wounded, jump away from Batman and the badass Wonder Woman. Then I'd end the film with the funeral scene, and I'd inter-cut that with scenes of Doomsday wreaking havoc on the planet, destroying everything in his wake, and people asking what can be done without Superman.
This then would supply incentive for Batman and Wonder Woman to find the other super-humans, which they learned about through deciphering the encrypted data on Lex Luthor's computers.
Now they have a real reason to find other meta-humans -- to stop Doomsday.
In the next movie I would have had them find the heroes in the first part. Come together to stop Doomsday, and then set up the whole Apocalypse thing in the second act. Maybe have a boom tube open up and have the invasion begin. And have them all realize that even though they just completed an impossible feat, and even bigger, more impossible situation just arose. I would give these heroes a run for all they are worth. And then I'd bring it to the point where the world prays for Superman again.
Then, in the last scene, I'd bring him back to stand up to the bad guy, and once again, here is where it would be left on a cliffhanger. The third act would just be defeating Darksied.
But did they ask me before writing this convoluted film? Nope. Instead, what you get, is an insane Lex Luthor telling us the bells have been rung. A confused big of dialog between Bruce Wayne and Wonder Woman. And no real reason for why they must find the other heroes, which they just now learned about.
When people say this film is a mess, it really is -- at least in terms of story.
And with a $250 million dollar budget, there's simply no excuse for this.
My Final Two Cents
Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, could have been a great superhero film. I gave my own version of how to trim out all the fat and make it about something and have a coherent trajectory. It would have been easy to do -- with just a bit of editing and a couple of reshoots. But instead we are given something that seems to be deliberately vague and confusing as if that is a good substitute for foreshadowing (it's not). And then it ceases to be about the characters and just cares about the action spectacle. Then it leaves you there, confused, burnt out, and wondering what anything had to do with the price of tea in China.
So, all in all, my final verdict is -- this film is watchable. It's great action and a silly convoluted storyline that has no real substance when, with a few minor tweaks, it could have been really something wonderful. Sure, it will make it's money back and then some. It's give it a solid 6.5 out of 10. Or three and a half starts out of five stars.
BvS is an entertaining action spectacle with little plot and no substance. But at least it's not a bore fest. Still, I think everyone whose seen it will likely agree, it could have been way better. And not in the -- I think I can do Hollywood better than Hollywood fan-boy kind of way -- but, as in, this film has so many shameless flaws that a six year old could point them out kind of way.
I guess we just might be expecting too much from Zack Snyder, who is a visual storyteller but a rather poor story writer. The same could be said of David S. Goyer, who excels at making convoluted, contrived, and convenient superhero fanfare but never has anything interesting to say or novel to add to the superhero universe of ideas. And, sadly, he seems to understand character development even less than Zack Snyder does!
And that's the bottom line folks.
When it comes to BvS, the technical skill is certainly there. But nobody has any actual storytelling chops.
And I think when it comes to iconic characters like Batman and Superman -- they simply deserve better.
Here's my personal message to Zack Snyder: If you're a weak character writer, as clearly you seem to be (this coming from a professional writer mind you), don't higher another weak character writer. Higher a strong character writer who knows how to write motivations and individual goals into the characters that fit with the overall trajectory of your narrative. Hell, with a budget as hefty as the one BvS had, why not hire a whole fleet of top notch writers, and get it right the first time? I mean... It really is that simply. Do better. Because your best simply doesn't cut it.
By day I am an educator and a cultural ambassador. By night I entertain notions of being a literary master. In reality I am just a family man and ordinary guy who works hard and loves writing just about as much as I love my family. Just about.