By Jon Gallagher
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (WB, 2016) – Director: Zack Snyder. Writers: Chris Terrio & David S. Goyer. Based on characters created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger (Batman) & Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster (Superman). Stars: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, Scoot McNairy, Callan Mulvey, Tao Okamoto, Brandon Spink, Lauren Cohan, & Alan D. Purwin. Color, Rated PG-13, 151 minutes.
It’s probably the most personally anticipated movie of the past several months, even more so than Star Wars. I’m not really sure why because I hated the preceding movie Man of Steel and Zack Snyder’s treatment of Superman, so I’m not sure what led me to believe that I’d like another dose of his Kryptonian lore combining it with the chance to destroy the Batman legend as well.
All the trailers leading up to it had the same premise: it was Superman versus Batman in a battle to end all battles. Taken on the face, this is pretty dumb because Superman is a strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men (Someone should write that down…. It’d make a great introduction for him someday). Batman is a millionaire playboy with lots of fancy toys that gives him a lot of advantages, but that does not make him indestructible. Given those facts, Batman had a snowball’s chance of surviving a battle between the two.
This basic premise made me leery. I didn’t want to have to choose between two superheroes who were, for some reason or another, at odds with one another. It reminded me of a situation way back in 1972 in the WWWF (the forerunner of the WWF, which was the forerunner of WWE) in which the two major babyfaces got into a misunderstanding which led to a series of matches. Bruno Sammartino and Pedro Morales were the company’s biggest babyface (good guy) stars and they worked as a tag team in a TV match against heels (bad guys) Professor Tanaka and Mr. Fuji (who had nothing to do with cameras or film). The evil Mr. Fuji threw salt in Bruno’s eyes, blinding him, and Tanaka threw salt in Pedro’s eyes. Bruno and Pedro, blinded, began punching each other in the confusion, thinking the other guy was one of the bad guys. Afterward, there were recriminations that led to match between the two at Shea Stadium, where they wrestled to a curfew time limit draw. Although I never witnessed the storyline myself, my friend, the wrestling historian The Phantom of the Ring, who lived in the Northeast, said that he was shocked when the promotion pitted the two good guys against each other.
Now even though Batman and Superman are billed in the trailers as doing battle, only the most dimwitted of all village idiots would think that they would remain foes all the way through the movie. They, of course, do work out their differences and join forces (along with Wonder Woman – where the heck did she come from?!?!). When the credits start to roll, almost every single person in the audience is grumbling about any number of things including a plot twist, the ending, the entire movie, the CGI scenes, the continuity, or the lack of anything remotely entertaining. I didn’t hear one single solitary positive remark coming out of the theater. Not one.
And you’re not going to get any from me either. This movie sucked.
Snyder subjected us to his version of Superman in the 2013 film Man of Steel. The Kal-El that Snyder presented to us was a darker, more violent Superman than we’d ever seen. This one even went so far as to break Superman’s sacred code of never killing when he broke the neck of General Zod at the end of that movie. Superman purists rose up in anger, but for some reason, Snyder still got the job directing this movie.
Dawn of Justice gives us a Superman who is even more dark than in Man of Steel. Not everyone is thrilled with Superman, pointing out that he is an alien and that with his super powers, he could rule us humanoids like a god if he wanted. Snyder recently did an interview where he said that he did this to give more of a realistic feel to the story because this is how people would really react if Superman did show up on Earth.
Wait a second. Just hold on. We’re talking about a guy who catches falling airplanes, has bullets bounce off of him, can see through things or start fires with his eyes, and who flies, and Mr. Snyder wants to make him more realistic? I hope that Mr. Snyder watched or listened to that interview, if for no other reason, so he could hear just how freaking stupid that sounds.
The movie opens with the 39th different retelling of how Bruce Wayne became an orphan and how he grows into an adult with the help of his trusty butler Alfred. There’s nothing new that we haven’t already seen, but for some unknown reason, we have to see it again.
When Superman shows up the first time to be a hero, one of Wayne’s buildings falls victim to the carnage caused by Superman’s battle with aliens in scenes reminiscent of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. I thought this was in extremely bad taste and could only shake my head in amazement that it so closely resembled those attacks.
Lois Lane is taken hostage by terrorists in an unnamed country, but Superman comes to her rescue, but not before some American Special Forces units are lost. Again, the anti-alien contingent blame Kal-El.
Bruce is among the anti-alien group because he lost friends and colleagues in the battle over the city when Superman first appeared. Clark, on the other hand, sees Batman as a vigilante who marks his captures with a Batman brand (yeah, like cattle) which proves to be a death sentence for them among other convicts once they’re sent to prison.
Among those who are not impressed with Superman’s heroics is a rich businessman/scientist named Alexander Luthor who manages to trick both Batman and Superman into battling each other. Luthor has obtained kryptonite and lures Superman into doing battle with Batman who has a kryptonite-infused weapon.
Let’s take a look at performances before getting into a major plot development that Superman fans may have seen coming (I’ll give you a spoiler alert warning).
First, there’s Ben Affleck who does an okay job. His acting has to be contained to his portrayal of Bruce Wayne since in the alter ego, it’s the cowl that does all the acting work. He’s a little old for the role, but shows off some of his acting skills with some emotional scenes. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to save things, and I’ll blame that on Snyder’s direction rather than Affleck’s skills.
By the way, you may not recall, but Affleck once wore the Superman outfit in a movie. In the 2006 film Hollywoodland, he plays George Reeves, TV’s Superman of the 1950s. He’s shown in the role of Superman, wearing the suit, and being suspended by wires for one of the scenes.
Jesse Eisenberg plays Lex Luthor, and although I don’t like the character and the reboot that Snyder has given it, Eisenberg does a great job with the role, making Luthor appear just a little psychotic, if not a little young (he and Superman are supposed to be about the same age).
Amy Adams handles the role of Lois Lane again. There’s no challenge here. She shows up, does her lines, and goes home. I’m still have a hard time seeing Lois with red hair though (even though I’ll never have a hard time watching Adams).
Henry Cavil does nothing to set himself apart from others who have played the Superman role. The thing that really sets actors apart is the way the handle the dual role of Superman/Clark Kent. Christopher Reeve was a master at this while George Reeves looked like Superman wearing a hat and glasses when he was in his secret identity. Cavil doesn’t even do that good; he’s missing a hat. That’s pretty sad.
I cannot recommend this movie to kids under 14. There are some very intense scenes and the ending may come as a bit much for many of them to handle.
Part of the problem is Snyder’s decision to make both of the heroes with a dark side. I don’t want my heroes to have a dark side! And if they do, I want it to be so inconsequential that it’s easy to overlook in favor of his heroics. Neither Batman nor Superman’s dark side is something that can be easily discounted.
Of course, there’s a sequel already in the works with the entire Justice League (Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Batman, Superman, and possibly more) taking part. I’ve been told that it will be filmed in two parts, with Snyder directing both movies. That may be enough to make me stay home and wait for it to come on free TV.
As for a grade, this one slips into the F category. The acting, the directing, the storyline, and even the special effects keep it low on my scale, but when you subject me to all that for two and a half hours, a movie that could easily have cut a half hour from the finished product (if not more), you get the famous F- bomb.
Luthor creates a Kryptonian using something from the deceased General Zod and calls it Doomsday. For fans of the Superman comics, this foreshadows the end of the movie. Back in 1992, DC comics came out with a series of comics spread over several months in which Superman takes on an opponent named Doomsday. The title of the series is “The Death of Superman.”
The end of Dawn of Justice has Superman taking a spear with a kryptonite blade, and stabbing Doomsday. Unfortunately, since Doomsday is Kryptonian, one of the spikes on his hands stabs Superman through the chest...and kills him.
A funeral is held in Metropolis for Superman with military honors while the Kent homestead in Smallville buries Clark in a family plot.
In the comics, Superman returns, but with somewhat reduced powers. Cavil is already slated for the Justice League movies, so I’m not sure if Superman will make a comeback or if he’ll be available through flashbacks. He may even appear as a ghost.
I’m just hoping, after all the allusions made towards Superman being a savior of the planet that they don’t have him rise from the grave in three days. Maybe they’ll explain it as just a way to reduce Superman’s workload in the rescuing department. I don’t know, but out of all this, that’s really the only thing I’m interested in finding out when it comes to the new movie.
In the meantime, if you’re a long-time Superman fan, stay home from Batman v Superman or you’ll just end up getting really pissed off.