Past the Popcorn: Batman v Superman Promises Better Future Than Present

by Jeff Walls

Perhaps a more appropriate subtitle for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice would be “Dawn of a Cinematic Universe.”  Although it is technically preceded by 2013’s Man of Steel, this movie is designed to be the launching point for a DC Comics shared universe that Warner Bros. hopes can rival that of Disney’s Marvel franchise.  The subtitle, of course, refers to The Justice League, which is DC’s version of The Avengers.  The movie is a big risk for Warner Bros. as they try to run before they can walk, as opposed to the Marvel approach which started with 2008’s Iron Man and slowly learned to crawl and then walk before finally running full speed in 2012’s The Avengers.  Do they pull it off?  Yes and no.

After opening with the obligatory death-of-Bruce-Wayne’s-parents flashback, the movie returns us to the events at the end of Man of Steel.  Bruce is on the ground in Metropolis while Superman and General Zod are busy throwing each other through buildings in the sky.  One of the buildings that gets destroyed is the Wayne Enterprises building, killing hundreds, and immediately putting Superman in Batman’s cross-hairs.  Eighteen months later, we are re-introduced to Lois Lane and Clark Kent, whose romance has continued to grow since the first movie.  For the most part, Superman is treated as a hero in Metropolis following the events of the first movie, but there is growing concern about the possibility that he may someday turn and use his absolute power against the human race.

batman-v-superman-insetThe other major player in the story is Lex Luthor.  Luthor is the billionaire heir of LexCorp, the company created by his father that has its hands in everything.  Working behind the scenes, he is the puppet master controlling the strings that will eventually bring Batman and Superman together for the titular fight.  Luthor also makes a deal with the senators in control of the hearings on the Superman issue that grants him unlimited access to General Zod’s crashed ship as well as the body of Zod itself.  He then uses the alien technology that is suddenly at his fingertips to play Frankenstein and create the ultimate weapon.

There is so much going on in this movie—good and bad—that it is difficult to know where to start when discussing it.  Perhaps the most obvious starting point is the titular showdown between the two heroes.  Unfortunately, what really holds this movie back is that this fight scene is actually the movie’s least interesting action sequence.  It’s not so much the fight itself, but the fact that the entire encounter is based on little more than a misunderstanding and it seems that Superman could easily resolve things peacefully by just uttering a single sentence.  When the fight does come to an end, it is arguably the cheesiest moment in a movie that is intentionally avoiding cheese.  It was a serious moment, but I just wanted to laugh.

The other action scenes are quite entertaining.  There are two in which Ben Affleck is driving: one as Bruce Wayne and the other as Batman.  This movie’s version of the Batmobile is sort of a cross between The Dark Knight’s Tumbler and a Lamborghini, and it looks incredibly cool.  There is also a great fight scene in the middle that features one of the coolest looking Batmans ever put to film.  He’s Batman in the desert with a trench coat and it is such a fantastic look that hopefully it will come back in future films.  It will probably have to, because as it turned out, this scene had little to do with the rest of the movie and seems instead to be setting up events for future movies.

This scene also featured the first cameo from one of the characters who will be joining the cinematic universe in the future.  This character introduction goes by in a flash—get it?—but later the movie slows down to introduce us to a few more characters through video files taken off of Luthor’s computer.  It is a pretty ham-handed way to introduce these characters and it is too bad the movie didn’t find a way to introduce all of them the same way they did the first, but it should still delight fans looking for a glimpse of their favorite DC characters.

Besides Superman and Batman, the other hero who is featured in this movie is Wonder Woman.  She is not given much character backstory in this movie as that is probably being saved for her standalone film to be released next year, but it is nice to see her show up even if her presence is brief.  Brief as it is, though, it is a fantastic appearance.  She shows up in full costume during the final battle and immediately steals the show from her counterparts.

Gal Gadot looks terrific as Wonder Woman and no matter what people’s opinions of this movie end up being, the character’s standalone movie next year is going to be highly anticipated.  It will also be exciting to see Ben Affleck move forward with the character of Batman.  For all the negative feedback his casting received on the Internet, the actor makes for a terrific Batman.  It is set up that his Batman has already been serving vigilante justice for years and hints at previous encounters with some of the character’s most iconic villains.  Affleck plays it well and it is a shame that if this movie fails, he will likely be seen as the scapegoat—just as he was for Daredevil—when he really has nothing to do with the movie’s faults.

Those faults lie mostly with director Zack Snyder, who makes many of the same mistakes he made in Man of Steel.  Once again, a lot of the action scenes involved characters throwing other characters through buildings, which is going to happen on occasion with super-powered characters and it is not as extreme as the past film, but too much is still too much.  The final showdown also suffers from too many unexplained, giant, nuclear-sized explosions.  Are they generating from the villain?  At one point, a military officer says “he is getting stronger every time we hit him,” but aside from one missile, we never see the military attack him.  Big explosions are fine, but without a clear cause of the explosion, it just seems like excess for excess sake.

There are also some story points that could have been more tightly executed.  There is a big scene early in the movie that really kicks the story into gear.  It could have been a big surprise moment, but Snyder and his editors spend what feels like a good two minutes telegraphing what is about to happen until no one in the audience is surprised by it.  It really took what could have been a signature moment and made it something less.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is not a great movie.  It is not a movie that is going to shake up the landscape of cinema or even just the superhero genre, but it does not have to be.  It is an entertaining movie which has just about as many things to like about it as it does to dislike.  It is also difficult to fully judge it as a cinematic world builder at this time because we have not yet seen how that will play out.  Perhaps after we see how the next five years or so of DC movies, we will gain an all new appreciation for what this movie managed to do.  One thing is for sure, this movie did nothing to dissuade my interest in the upcoming slate of DC movies, which begins with Suicide Squad in August.  In fact, even though I left this movie somewhat disappointed, I found myself nevertheless even more excited about Suicide Squad than I was before.  After all, this is only the beginning.

Batman v Superman opens today at the AMC Southcenter 16, the AMC Century Federal Way, and AMC Kent Station 14. Won’t it be nice when Des Moines has its own theater again? Until then, eat local before you go!

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