Saturday, March 26, 2016

Movie Review #400: "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice" (2016)

Movie"Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice"
Ticket Price: $7.00
Director: Zack Snyder
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hours, 31 minutes
Image Source
While Superman (Henry Cavill) was battling General Zod (Michael Shannon), Bruce Wayne, also known as Batman (Ben Affleck), witnessed Metropolis crumble around him, killing many innocent people in the process. This planted a seed of mistrust for the all powerful Kryptonian in Wayne's mind. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) has done his best to fan these flames of mistrust by creating more and more controversy around the Man of Steel. Now, Batman decides Superman's power cannot go unchecked and is ready to test his limits. He discovers Luthor may have unearthed just the thing to accomplish his goal. 

"Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice" is a film that has been many years in the making. It was originally set to be released in summer 2015, but was pushed back nearly an entire year to allow for script rewrites. Needless to say, the hype has been building for quite some time. Small plot morsels and other details have been making their way onto the internet for the better part of two years, slowly but surely setting the expectation bar ever so high. After watching all of the Superman and Batman movies in preparation, we too had high hopes for what some have been calling "the greatest gladiator match in history." Seriously, what could go wrong in a movie featuring both Batman and Superman?

Apparently a lot could go wrong.

We sat in our car after watching "Dawn of Justice" unsure of how to feel. Underwhelmed is the first word that came to mind. Overall, this movie is an absolute mess. In an attempt to tell two stories simultaneously, director Zack Snyder, along with writers Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, have created a jumbled, non-flowing story with too many moving parts. The story itself is inane. The stage is initially set for strife between Batman and Superman, which is an undertaking of its own, but in addition, Snyder et al. also used this platform to set up the impending "Justice League" movie, which comes out in late 2017. The narrative, if you can call it that at all, is completely disjointed because of it. Scenes jump from one place to the next in no clear sequential order as we are left to follow the muddled pieces of this puzzle. Also, the pacing is atrocious. This is a two and a half hour movie, and given the lack of a clear, cohesive story, it really shouldn't be over two hours. To compensate, there is a lot of filler, mostly in the form of dream sequences and visions, which do double duty as Justice League character introductions. If these were in a different, better movie, they might have been pulled off more seamlessly, but in a film already so overstuffed with content, these dreams/visions stick out like sore thumbs.

Jesse Eisenberg is easily one of the worst parts of the film. The decision to cast Eisenberg as Lex Luthor baffled us, and he confirmed our fears the first minute he came on screen. He was not a great choice for this character. We have liked Eisenberg elsewhere, and it's not like his performance is dreadfully bad, he's simply not suitable for this part. His performance fluctuates from enigmatic and pointed, like the part he played in "The Social Network," to nervous, fast-talking, spastic, and quirky, like the parts he played in "Zombieland" and "Adventureland." The point is we have seen Eisenberg be this character before, and frankly, we're tired of it. He could have been a menacing, calculated, ominous antagonist, but instead, it drained us to watch his character. Unlike past Batman films, the villains here do not dazzle.

There are a lot of mighty action sequences and beautiful visuals that run throughout "Batman v. Superman," as well there should with an initial budget of $250 million. Of course, this is Zack Snyder's specialty, but what he has actually given audiences is a film full of style and flash with little to no substance. It has a dark and grim tone, which is fine with us, but we know Snyder is attempting to recreate what his mentor Christopher Nolan did very successfully with his own Batman series. "The Dark Knight" is one of our all-time favorite comic book flicks, so "BvS" should be right up our alley. Unfortunately, what Zack Snyder winds up putting on screen comes off more Michael Bay than Christopher Nolan. Explosions come in abundance, but the entire thing lacks the gravitas and emotional oomph we received from a more capable director like Christopher Nolan. Snyder took everything wrong with "Man of Steel" and doubled down on it, from his overuse of CGI effects to placing characters in scenes where they become unnecessary distractions. So many elements could have been removed entirely and it wouldn't have hurt the story or its directional flow one bit.

Not everything about "Dawn of Justice" is bad. In fact, there are a lot of excellent elements sprinkled within its 151 minute run time. Despite the internet's collective freak-out upon hearing the casting news in 2013, Ben Affleck does a really great job as Batman/Bruce Wayne. Batman is a great character. He is very relatable, but is also extremely conflicted. Affleck, with graying hair and a much more buff and gruff exterior, fits into this role perfectly. We gave the casting department the benefit of the doubt about this choice and we're sure glad we did. Maybe the DC Cinematic Universe can find a place for a standalone Bat-fleck movie after all. You'd expect Batman to be the best thing about a movie with his moniker attached to the title. Unfortunately for Affleck, Gal Gadot stole the show for us as Wonder Woman/Diana Prince. Gadot's on-screen presence is mesmerizing, and when she shows up as Wonder Woman in the thick of battle, it was one of the two times in 151 minutes where we actually felt invested in what was happening on screen. We cannot wait to see her standalone film next year. We have warmed to the idea of Henry Cavill playing Superman. Cavill certainly has a look that fits the character, but we find the Man of Steel uninteresting because he's unstoppable, has too many powers, and is essentially invincible.

There has been a stark contrast brewing ever since this movie was screened for the press. The majority of critics have disliked "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice," many for the same reasons listed above. Hardcore comic book fans have been quick to come to the movie's defense with some even calling it a "flaw-free film." Is this the benchmark we want DC use when it has a host of other movies coming out over the next decade? We certainly hope not. Critics don't always get it right, ourselves included, but the bottom line for us is, for a movie called "Batman v. Superman," there's not a whole lot of "v." about it. It's too chaotic, messy, and uneven, too CGI-heavy, and too stuffed with extraneous, unnecessary details that frankly hindered our enjoyment of the movie as a whole. The parts we liked are not enough to make this a timelessly classic comic book film we will revisit multiple times in the future.

My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: ~7.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~30%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?
One year ago, we were watching: "The Town That Dreaded Sundown"

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