Following on from the disaster that was Man of Steel, I was expecting the worst going into the 3-hour extended cut of Snyder’s follow-up film: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (and yes I had to go for the extended version because I want the full experience of these films), but honestly, while it’s far from a masterpiece, the film was good (well more like that kind of the average/good border).
The film utilises some clever ideas to begin the formulations of the extended universe, even from the start I liked the idea of seeing the climax of the end of Man of Steel from Bruce Wayne’s perspective on the ground and seeing firsthand the destruction caused by General Zod and Superman. This idea extends further into the themes of Superman being held accountable for the destruction that he causes in the process of saving lives, and while the attempt at philosophical depth often falls flat, this sequence of showing us the carnage is, for me, a successful way of bringing that idea of accountability into the film, something which is typically absent in superhero films. Interestingly this idea of superheroes being held accountable wasn’t something featured as a theme in DC’s counterpart, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, until Captain America: Civil War which didn’t come out till a few months after this. And personally, I would argue that way Snyder explores this idea in Batman v Superman, even despite its shortcomings, was significantly better than the way it was explored in the MCU. This serves as the catalyst for the conflict of the film, Batman and a portion of the American populus see Superman as a threat, a renegade who acts purely in self-service for his own view of morality. There is a bit of a gap in logic here though, as between Superman’s destruction of the city and Bruce Wayne’s childhood trauma of his parents getting murdered in front of him (which is shown in such a Snyder-esque sequence that is way too over-the-top), he decides to become the masked vigilante that we know and love. But in doing so, he becomes exactly what he dislikes about Superman, a self-serving “hero” that just as easily poses a threat to society if he turns against societal morals. One could argue that this is what ultimately brings the two together at the end of their fight, but unfortunately if this is the case, the execution of this idea is god awful, because as well all know the fight actually ends with the now infamously laughable “Martha” line. I do think on some level this human connection they both share is supposed to link back to their own conception of moral virtues that spur them into action, but the way the film handles this idea ends becoming a joke as this fight that the whole film is centered around (or at least marketed to be) ends when the two clashing forces realise their mothers share the same name. I’d heard about this for years, but never believed it was as stupid as it turned out to be, I audibly laughed when it happened because of how dumb I found it. But in fairness to the film, up until this part I really liked the whole fight between the two titular heroes, the whole sequence is drenched in Snyder-isms; the special effects, the slow-motion, the frenetic action, are all staples of Snyder’s directorial style. It tows the line between egregious and stylistic, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for falling either side of the line in their opinion, but for me the style worked.
Similarly, the actual climactic battle with the now-teamed up superheroes, alongside Wonder Woman, against Doomsday was surprisingly enjoyable. Doomsday’s appearance does clash with his surroundings due to his CGI-nature, it never quite fits in with the rest of the film. It’s not the worst part, or even effect, of the film, but it’s still a factor that you can’t help but notice as you watch.
In terms of the cast, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I actually enjoyed Henry Cavil in this film, his performance was significantly improved from Man of Steel. It’s still nothing to drive home about, but I felt I should give credit where it’s due. I wasn’t sure how I was going to find Ben Affleck playing Batman, I remember the wild discourse that happened online when it was first announced that Affleck would play the role. But honestly I quite liked his portrayal of the caped crusader, it fit with the tone that Snyder was aiming for with this adaptation. Gal Gadot is decidedly average as Wonder Woman, she fits the royal nature of the character but I can’t say I felt any depth or even characterisation in her performance (but maybe that will change when I tackle her stand alone film). Jesse Eisenberg was…..bad. It felt like he was still playing Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network but with the dial turned up to 11. I mean just look at the scene where he pushes a Jolly Rancher sweet into a guys mouth, it’s weird and out there but doesn’t really fit in with the film properly.
I think the main thing about this film for me, is if you’re watching it expecting Zack Snyder to blow you away with some incredible philosophical musings on the idea of Superman as a God, and the morality and corruption of superheroes, then you’ll be in for a bad time. The film fails miserably in trying to present itself as deep. But if you take it for what it actually is, a surface level, gritty adaptation of two cornerstones of comic book culture trading blows before teaming up to fight one of Superman’s best villains, then, like me, you’ll find some enjoyment in it. I said near the start of this review that the film rests on the good-to-average border in terms of quality, I initially landed on the good side, but realistically with some time to consider the film I probably land more in the middle to average persuasion. I don’t see myself putting on this 3-hour behemoth anytime soon, but it’s not a film I would be actively against watching again.