Batman and Superman being in the same film should be amazing, it’s Batman and Superman in the same film. As much as I could say that really isn’t everyone sick of seeing these characters on the big screen, or how both of them are basically testaments to how corporations fuck over creators of the things that make them money, it’s something I never actually expected to see. Ever. A bit like imagining there would be a big budget Hollywood blockbuster featuring The Avengers when you were a kid in the 80’s reading your older brothers comics.
Whilst it should be amazing , I can’t emphasise enough how much it really isn’t.
Dawn of Justice is an overwrought, narratively scattered, over long and turgid affair with occasional impressive scenes. One of the few good things about this film is it’s not quite as abysmal as Man of Steel but that’s not really great praise.
Whilst anyone with internet access has probably gathered that Dawn of Justice hasn’t been that well received critically, I seriously doubt it’s the result of hive mind thinking which Alex Proyas ,director of the widely maligned Box Office bomb Gods of Egypt, ranted about in a Facebook post that rapidly went viral. Anyone with any interest in film will already know that critics have very little impact on box office, if they did Transformers wouldn’t be such a lucrative franchise, so regardless you can rest assured Dawn of Justice will likely be setting Box Office records.
One of the things that becomes rapidly apparent is Zack Snyder might be good at visual storytelling, but when it comes to storytelling with any actual depth or emotional weight he’s evidently pretty clueless. Poor Henry Cavil is lumbered with another script (by writers David Goyer and Chris Terrio) which hamstrings him with awful dialogue as Clark Kent/Superman whilst demonstrating the emotional range of a block of granite. Cavil definitely looks the part and I’m sure he’s a good actor but there’s no charisma here or emotion or development to anything he does. This is especially true of his relationship with Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams). A character who exists to be a plot device on legs, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter who is so lacking in perception that she doesn’t even realise how her relationship to Superman could be used to his disadvantage.
Cavil’s Superman is so seemingly detached from everything he’s reminiscent of the omnipotent Doctor Manhattan in Watchmen, another film by Snyder which despite its flaws is distinctly better than this one. Anyone expecting Dawn of Justice to explore ideas like people worshipping Superman like a god or people’s xenophobia because he’s an alien will be disappointed, these are potential narrative streams that are merely hinted at and soon forgotten.
Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne/Batman meanwhile is scarred by being caught in the destruction of Metropolis in a scene which goes back to the events of Man of Steel. Witnessing a Wayne Tech building, full of people, being destroyed and various other carnage has a profound effect on him. Flash forward and this has made him become angry and festering with contempt for Superman and the damage he is capable of wreaking on the innocent. Another reason for Wayne’s brooding state is the death of his sidekick at the hands of The Joker, but it’s only referenced in a single line of dialogue and the odd shot of the former sidekick’s suit in the Batcave, so I won’t be that surprised if people don’t pick up on this. Whilst Cavil’s Superman is emotionally blank Affleck’s Batman is sullen and angry for the whole affair, it’s just his default state.
Affleck’s Wayne isn’t the wealthy playboy often associated with Batman he’s just as sullen out of the cowl as he is in it, occasionally turning up to parties so he can hold a drink and look world weary like a Vietnam vet in a dive bar but in an expensive suit, that’s when he’s not falling asleep at the Batcomputer having nightmares.
This is a gloomy and dark affair, an omnipresent fog seems to hang over the proceedings with no respite. Brevity and humour is in distinct short supply here aside from a line from Superman’s Mum which brilliantly sums up how being a parent of a superhero must be like (seriously this is one of the best lines in the whole film) and a scene shown in the trailer where Batman and Superman assume the other knows who Wonder Woman is. These stand out like a lighthouse in a fog bank in this grim dark world of pain and anguish. Having a grim or dark tone isn’t necessarily bad if you have the writing and development to actually make it engrossing (like Children of Men or How I Live Now) but this is distinctly lacking in both so it just becomes another reason to not really be that invested in what’s happening.
Which is one of the confusing things about Dawn of Justice, it’s meant to be an intro to the DC wider cinematic universe but if this is the introduction to a shared world then does that mean that the upcoming Wonder Woman, Aqua Man and Justice League films are going to be equally dark and grim in tone?
Whilst cramming a lot into its overstuffed 150 minutes, including a CIA coverup, a chunk of Kryptonite being discovered, an alien spaceship, the body of Michael Shannon’s General Zod, a few nods to the post 9/11 world, a senate committee questioning whether Superman is above the law, some espionage and the introduction of several members of the Justice League amongst other things, very little of this is interesting. Things just kind of happen in a haphazard manner before moving onto something else. This scattershot approach to editing means there’s very little actual forward momentum to anything.
Dawn of Justice does have some good stuff , it’s just scattered throughout like shiny jewels in landfill.
Affleck’s Batman might be unengaging but the action scenes he features in are really well executed, whether it’s a nightmarish dream sequence which is one of the highlights, a high speed chase in the Batmobile or storming a warehouse full of criminal scum in what plays out like a live action scene from Rocksteady’s Arkham games. There’s no denying that Snyder can do a kinetic action scene really well it’s just that there’s a lot to slog through to actually get to them. Another point being this more brutal and dangerous Batman is at least a change from previous incarnations of the character, even if Batman non chalantly killing bad guys with high calibre weaponry seems a little weird. Batman being more aggressive isn’t in itself a problem, although they could’ve established why Batman is so intense a little better instead of making him seem Frank Castle without the motivation .
One of the most grating things about Dawn of Justice though is Jesse Eisenberg’s Alexander Luthor or Lex Jr who really does seem to be channelling a jittering cokehead mixed with The Joker or maybe The Riddler, I say The Joker because one scene around the third act is so reminiscent of The Joker in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke it stood out like a signal flare to me. There seems to be very little actual reasoning behind Luthor’s actions other than bored rich kid doing things because he can, oh and having one of your major plot points revolve around a jar of piss is a classy touch it has to be said.
More than that though the plot ,such as it is, is riddled with things which make very little sense, here’s just two of them. The Wayne Tech building manager who waits for Bruce Wayne to call him to evacuate ,despite the fact that a good chunk of Metropolis has already been reduced to burning rubble right outside the buildings open plan windows right in front of him and all the Wayne Tech staff, another big problem is if Batman had succeeded in killing Superman (as Luthor intended) then Doomsday would’ve likely destroyed most of Metropolis due to only a battle weary Batman and Wonder Woman left to take on the Kryptonian beast, so Luthor actually wants to destroy Metropolis?
Despite Dawn of Justice seeming like a Batman film that just happens to feature Superman, Gotham is never established as a place here. This lack of geography is bad to the point that it’s easy to forget that The Daily Planet ,where Lawrence Fishburne’s Perry White keeps wondering where Clark Kent is and getting annoyed with Adams’ Lois Lane, isn’t in the same city as Batman who is taking out his issues on criminals. This lack of world geography is problematic since they’re trying to create a cinematic universe here, but everything seems to be happening in the same non descript city with conveniently uninhabited parts.
As for the actual fight between the two iconic characters, fans of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns will probably appreciate the various nods to bits cherry picked from that story but one of the main problems is the reason for the fight. Batman has pretty well established reasons for wanting to take out Superman and he has a distinctly different idealogy when it comes to dealing with criminals but Superman isn’t invested in the fight at all and there’s no clash of ideologies here, there’s no “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us” going on, even though they are apparently in different cities. Because Cavil is so blank throughout and there’s so little time or thought invested in his character or his relationship with Lois (or anyone else for that matter) when they do start fighting there’s very little sense of stakes, it seems more like going through the motions, a clunky excercise in getting to the third act. This leads into another problem. The fight stops due to a rather ridiculous plot development, one that in context seems to be at odds with the reason why Batman is wanting to fight Superman in the first place – the death of hundreds if not thousands of innocents and preventing more of those deaths. This then leads into the films final act and one of the films best assets.
Without doubt the major highlight of Dawn of Justice is Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. Her casting resulted in widespread disbelief, mocking, scorn and outright hatred across the internet, even more than Ben Affleck’s casting got so it’s great to see how good she is.
First introduced like a mysterious love interest for Bruce Wayne fairly early her appearance in the film’s final act, striking an iconic pose with her bracelets complete with screeching electric guitar soundtrack, suddenly brings a jolt of life into the previously gloomy proceedings. Gadot’s Wonder Woman despite being a glorified cameo features more life and warmth than Affleck and Cavil’s characters manage throughout.
The fight with Doomsday, which everyone knows about because it was in the trailer, is pretty much the CG overload you might expect but at least it isn’t as unengaging as Man of Steel’s God when will it end fight sequence with Superman and Zod. This fight scene features one of the best scenes in the whole film, Wonder Woman scrambling off the floor with a wild passionate grin before charging back into the fray. This scene utterly sells the character and Gadot’s performance makes you want the Wonder Woman film to get here already.
Whilst Cavil and Affleck might bear the brunt for the negative responses to Dawn of Justice really they’re the wrong targets, they both suffer under the effect of the real targets – Zack Snyder for his cack handed direction and writers David Goyer and Chris Terrio for squandering the massive potential here.