John's Take: 'Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice'

“The greatest gladiator match the world has ever seen, Son of Krypton versus Bat of Gotham” that was the promise delivered by Lex Luthor in pretty much every trailer you may have caught. A fight that even casual fans have been salivating over for God knows how long. Certainly any thought that we’d never see a theatrical version of this was warranted, especially during the grounded in reality Gotham made so popular by Chris Nolan, but that didn’t stop fans from hoping with that hope easily set ablaze by any sign of hope, most famously by an easter egg in 2007’s ‘I Am Legend’ when the logo that would become the films was spied on a billboard in a post-apocalyptic Times Square. Why am I droning on about back story and not getting right to the synopsis? Dude….it’s Batman V Superman!?! I have to fill a paragraph and the title tells you all you need to know. In all seriousness the movie plays out like this in it’s most simple form; Batman wants to take out Superman because of the Metropolis devastation that took out a Wayne Financial building and with it many of his employees. Seeing that level of power coupled with his anger and paranoia is all Bruce needs to go on a one-man alien hunt. Superman on the other hand wants to take down the Batman on account of his vigilante justice which is significantly more brutal then we’ve seen previously complete with the ‘Batman Brand of Justice’ as it’s dubbed by the papers, imagine a batarang superheated and pressed to your chest and you can see what Bruce has turned into. The third player in the game is of course, Lex Luthor, who wants to take Superman down because; A) He’s Lex Luthor, and B) He’s batshit crazy and fears the Kryptonian’s power…though to me it played more as jealousy.

Let’s just start off by admitting this movie was never going to be what we all wanted it to be. We’re coming off the high of Nolan’s Batman which is a high mark to hit. I’ll never quite understand why people disliked Man of Steel, their arguments were all rubbish. “He destroyed Metropolis with no regard for human life” He was trying to save the WORLD from three other Supermen/women and a giant machine meant to make global warming look like no more danger then a single piece of litter cast out a car window. That’s not even to mention the glaring omission from all the detractors that it was the guy’s first day on the job. “He killed Zod! Superman doesn’t kill” Have you seen the other Superman movies? He kills Zod in Superman II when there’s was no immediate danger to a helpless family. More importantly is the symbolism here, this is the moment when the Man of Steel chooses humanity over Krypton by killing the only other Kryptonian in existence to save a random family. Crap…I told myself I wasn’t going to go off on a tangent but there it is. Anyway, the movie isn’t without its flaws and yes, to the picky there are many. Most are forgivable but there are a few I want to directly address. We all know from the trailers that the title fight is, in actuality, only the mid-card with the main event being the trinity vs. Doomsday so it’s not a spoiler to talk about how the two squash their beef. The entire first act of the movie leads up to the big fight, once the two lock horns there are about 10 minutes of an amazing fight which I will get to in the next segment but my issue comes at the end. The film spends a good deal of time establishing Wayne’s vitriolic hate for the last son of Krypton, the kind of hate reserved for religious extremists and white supremacists (I’m sure there’s some xenophobic metaphor there but that’s past my expertise), so it must be something extremely compelling that makes them come together, something like a common enemy in Doomsday, right? Nope, they come together prior seeing Doomsday. It happens so easily at the end it can only be compared to that scene in Stepbrothers “Did we just become best friends?” “Yup!”. Another major issue comes just after this in the form of the real big bad, Doomsday. It’s 2016 and $250 million was reportedly spent on the film, so why does he end up looking like something out of a Syfy channel movie? No I’m not exaggerating, I’m pretty forgiving but even I have to say that it really took me out of what could have been an amazing fight scene. Pile on the fact that they felt the need to have him emit a shockwave that looks like a special effect from the mid-90’s and you have a big case of “Where the hell was this money spent?”. Lastly, and perhaps hypocritically given the start of this paragraph was Batman’s apparent total lack of respect for human life. The reason this is different from Superman is that Batman is defined by one rule, no killing (with an emphasis on no guns). I can forgive a few “they probably died after that” scenarios, but this was on another level. Past the gunning down of bad guys from both the Batmobile and Batwing is a car chase where no less than 5 people were run down, some of whom were apparent innocent bystanders that just happen to be driving by at the wrong time. There’s a big difference between what happened in Man of Steel and a seasoned veteran who could avoid casualty with just a little care.  There were, no doubt, some other issues but nothing that you would remember after being awed by the spectacle of the two major fights…even the final fight with the poorly done Doomsday there is plenty to keep your jaw down low.

If there is one thing you’re likely to hear people say when walking out of the theater it’s “Wonder Woman!”, and they aren’t wrong. I’m a man who will happily admit when I’m wrong, there’s a reason I’m not a Hollywood casting director, when Gal Gadot was cast I simply didn’t see it. I would have opted instead for Gina Carano. Not only was Gadot perfect in the role but after seeing Deadpool I can see that Carano would have been out of place in the lineup. Ben Affleck’s Batman is better than people are giving him credit for. He plays a perfect older Bruce Wayne who, in his anger, is blurring the line between the playboy and the bat, if there is any problem there it’s the material he was given to work with. Cavil is, to me, a perfect Superman. I will side with those that think his Clark Kent is simply Kal-El with glasses displaying none of the nuance of Chris Reeves or even Brandon Routh, but oddly I’m ok with that. As Superman he has a look that can be equal parts intimidating and compassionate, commanding yet caring, that’s not something that the other two did not. One need look no further then the subtle sadness Cavil displays in the scene at the capitol building, or the parental amusement he displays when speaking to people. Regardless of their physicality both prior Supermen looked no more intimidating then a couple of 12 year old boys. The supporting cast was just as good, I can see how some would say they were underused but this isn’t a movie with a ton of room for supporting casts. The newcomer, Jeremy Irons as Alfred, brings a presence unlike we’ve seen before in the loyal butler and brings a waterfall of anticipation for the solo Batman film where we will see him fleshed out. While we’re talking about Batman I can’t forget to bring up our first look at the Dark Knight in action, where Snyder explores new ground and it pays off big. As the cops respond to a call at what looks like a condemned tenement, they find what appears to be victims of human traffickers in the basement before following a scream upstairs where they come across a man restrained to a heater with a Batman logo burned into his chest. The camera bans around in the darkness for a good 20 seconds before you realize that Batman is still in the room…this display of stealth is not only an unexpected scare but also a really good touch that is oft overlooked, yes even in Nolan’s ninja trained Batman trilogy the stealth factor was all but left out.

Without spoiling anything I will say that Lex Luthor plays a pivotal role that, though glossed over in a quick explanation scene, was both surprising and ingenious befitting the evil mastermind known to fans. Jesse Eisenberg’s Luthor wasn’t great but it had a spark, a mix of overcompensation and slight psychosis, his portrayal is much more complex than the surface presents and given the chance I think he can make the character the most memorable we’ve seen. Let’s be honest, he doesn’t have much competition…that is unless you’re going to tell me that Gene Hackman or Kevin Spacey were any better. Eisenberg’s closest rival was the co-star of a CW version in Michael Rosenbaum’s Smallville bald baddy. Without spoiling anything I will say that the ending had me conflicted, even unhappy at first. On further review I really can’t see how else it would have ended with their chosen path not just being the most sensical but also, ultimately, the most satisfying and best catalyst for assembling the league.

I could go on for much longer on the ups and down, it was a 2hr 39minute film after all, but seeing as how I’m nearing 2000 words and none of you signed up to read a review as long as the movie I think this is probably a good place to wrap up. The final word? People are going to come away from the movie feeling somewhat unsatisfied, and I don’t think that’s all the fault of BvS…I chalk it up partly to our inflated expectations and think most will be more than happy with what they get. Contrary to some things I’m hearing I DO think this is a great jumping off point for the extended DCU and a great learning experience for future films. If nothing else, maybe the brass at DC can hire whoever does Marvel’s CGI for the next movie. I know they are comic book movies, but that doesn’t mean it needs to look like half comic book.

3.5 out of 5 Guttenbergs