With the recent (long-awaited) release of Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” (2021) now on HBO Max and 4K Blu Ray, we now have the fully realized vision that first started in 2013’s “Man of Steel”, and continued with 2016’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”! Considering this is essentially the third chapter of a trilogy, it only feels right to revisit the first two acts of this epic superhero saga before diving into this new (and very different) version of 2017’s “Justice League”…
Part Two: BATMAN v SUPERMAN (2016)
Perhaps one of the most divisive comic book movies of all time, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is without a doubt a flawed film, but that doesn’t mean it’s not completely without merit. There’s certainly some great concepts at play here. Unfortunately, the execution of those ideas leave A LOT to be desired at times. Considering it was billed as a ‘versus’ movie, the fact that we only get one actual fight between the two heroes really felt like a huge missed opportunity. It was also far darker than it should have been, it’s tonally all over the place, spends too much time with heavy handed set up for future movies, and tries to combine waaay too many stories into one. Oh boy, this is going to be a long one…
“Dawn of Justice” stars: Henry Cavill, returning as ‘Superman’ (aka Clark Kent / Kal-El), introducing Ben Affleck as ‘The Batman’ (Bruce Wayne), Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman (Diana Prince), Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth, Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Thomas Wayne, and Diane Lane as MARTHA!!!
I’ve gone through a lot of stages with this movie. As a huge DC fan, this was a movie I’d been looking forward to since *before* it was even announced. Growing up, I always thought about how cool a live action Batman vs Superman movie could be, especially considering how many times they faced off in the comics and animated shows. So when I first saw this in theaters back in 2016, I got so swept up in the hype that I actually thought it was decent (I even wrote a mostly positive review of it back then), but looking back at it with a more critical eye, it’s flaws are hard to ignore. And then when Joss Whedon’s “Justice League” hit theaters in 2017, it really felt like such a let down and made it seem even worse in retrospect, because none of the set up was ever properly paid off.
After having experienced the Snyder Cut however, BvS is still a very flawed movie, but it’s no longer a painful memory. In a lot of ways, Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” manages to actually make “Dawn of Justice” mean something. Sure it has plenty of problems, which I’ll get into, but if you can get past all of that, there are some brief, fleeting moments of genius, hidden in the madness. Batman v Superman certainly does some interesting things in terms of building off of the events of “Man of Steel”, but it makes a whole lot of odd choices that don’t quite work as a cohesive whole. While the extended (Rated R) ‘Ultimate Cut’ is definitely a step up from the theatrical version, filling in several key plot holes, it doesn’t quite fix all the problems with it. It might not be a masterpiece by any means, but it does has some gorgeous shots and some moments of great dialogue.
The movie starts with an opening montage where we (once again) get to re-experience the death of the Waynes, but this time in slow motion and with Negan from ‘The Walking Dead’ as Thomas Wayne (I’m still hoping that pays off in the ‘Flashpoint’ movie). Again, we get some truly great visuals in this opening sequence. If you’re going to re-do Batman’s origin, than go for it. The problem is what comes immediately after…
We get our first of several completely out-of-place dream sequences, with a young Bruce floating amidst a swarm of bats in a cave. Bat-fleck monologues for a bit about something metaphorical and then we fade in to the ending of ‘Man of Steel’ where we now get to re-experience Metropolis being leveled by Zod from the POV of the people on the street, but this time with even more 9-11 vibes…?
Wait, who asked for this?!
Bruce Wayne (not Batman) races to save civilians from the wreckage of Wayne tower before staring up into the sky and blaming Superman without any actual evidence that he was actually to blame for the chaos, because he’s you know, a detective? Unfortunately, that bleak opening really sets the tone for the rest of the movie and it doesn’t really lighten up much from there.
I feel like it would have been far more effective to first introduce Bruce Wayne AS Batman doing his Batman thing, prior to his whole world being turned upside down by the arrival of aliens. (Also, weird that Bruce’s business partner who’s killed during Zod’s rampage isn’t Lucius Fox?) While it’s neat to see the battle of Metropolis play out from a different perspective, I don’t think this is a great way to open the movie.
Right away, there’s a lot about this one that feels weird to me. While I still genuinely like ‘Man of Steel’ and I still think Henry Cavill is fantastic as Kal-El, it felt like that first movie was setting up a more hopeful sequel as Superman really comes into his own as a hero, instead we’re given a much darker entry where Superman is having an existential crisis and questioning whether or not he should even use his powers to help people. While I don’t completely hate that concept, in a movie where he’s facing off against the Dark Knight, it really feels like there should be more contrast between these two characters. Instead, they *both* spend a majority of the movie brooding!
I actually really liked Superman’s entrance in this movie, smashing through the ceiling of the warlord’s compound to save Lois and that moment where he puts the gunman through several walls, but everything else around it felt out of place, almost like they had strayed into a different movie. Lois and Clark’s relationship continues to be one of the stronger points of this trilogy though and I’m immediately reminded that this is the first Rated-R Superman movie when Clark jumps into the bathtub with her…
As for the Superman side of things we do get a really cool montage of Superman saving various people, you know doing his Superman thing: saving people from a flood, lifting a rocket, and hauling a ship through ice, all while Neil DeGrasse Tyson tells us: “We’re talking about a being whose very existence challenges our own sense of priority in the universe. And you go back to Copernicus where he restored the sun in the center of the known universe, displacing Earth. And you get to Darwinian evolution and you find out we’re not special on this earth.” And that Day of the Dead scene is a really cool shot that works great as a visual nod to Superman’s vision in the previous movie. But for most of the runtime, we instead get Clark Kent moping about at the Daily Planet while Perry White monologues, “Nobody cares about Clark Kent taking on The Batman.” You got that right.
And then there’s The Batman…
Now I think Ben Affleck is a great actor and I actually really like him as both Bruce Wayne AND Batman, but the writers made some very odd choices right out the gate. For one, they decided to *introduce* Batman as an older, grizzled, and disillusioned vigilante. It’s also a little odd to me that this Batman has no qualms with killing and / or branding street level criminals, but then again he also didn’t have any hang-ups about killing in the Tim Burton movies, or the original Bob Kane and Bill Finger comics, so it’s not a total deal breaker.
I also get what they were going for with all the inspiration taken from Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns”, but if you’re trying to build up a whole cinematic universe, wouldn’t it make more sense to introduce either a younger Batman, or at the very least in his own movie first? Regardless, I do think that Ben Affleck’s portrayal of Batman in this movie is probably one of the best aspects of it. The way that cops and crooks are scared of ‘The Bat’ and most people assume that he’s an urban legend is great. I also really appreciate the black and gray comics accurate costume, with the short ears, and I definitely prefer Bat-fleck’s voice modulator over Christian Bale losing his voice. Jeremy Irons kicks ass as Alfred, the Bat-cave totally works for me, and the Batmobile is a beast. Every fight scene with Bat-fleck is brutal and feels like something ripped right out of the Arkham games – especially that warehouse fight towards the end!
We even get some interesting nods to this Batman’s past, like the Robin suit covered in Joker graffiti and Bruce’s line about “How many good guys are left? How many stayed that way?” could be alluding to Two-Face and / or Robin himself (I’m still convinced that Jared Leto’s ‘Joker’ from “Suicide Squad” was in fact Robin, which would explain why a Batman who has no problems killing common thugs would keep the Joker alive, but I digress). Wayne Manor being a crumbling ruin was an interesting choice too. And although we don’t see a lot of him,
J. Jonah Jameson J. K. Simmons does a good job as Commissioner Gordon, even if Gordon doesn’t really do anything in the movie.
Then there’s Jessie Eisenberg’s much maligned portrayal of Lex Luthor. He’s not completely egregious in my opinion (I still prefer Michael Rosenbaum from ‘Smallville’ personally), the hair doesn’t bother me either especially since he’s been known to have hair in the comics from time to time, and the evil Mark Zuckerberg on cocaine angle kinda works for a modern take. They definitely lean more into the mad scientist than the calm collected business man version with the way he gets his hands on the Kryptonite sample and plans to weaponize it against Superman. He also gets one of the best music tracks in the series (which is a clever reversal of the ‘Man of Steel’ theme from the first movie).
There’s times though where Lex feels just a little too “real world evil” if that makes sense. Don’t get me wrong, I like his evil scheme to make Batman and Superman kill each other and I’m ok with him manipulating the government and the media to hate Superman and all that, those are all very Lex Luthor things to do, *but* I could really do without the whole subplot involving Senator Finch and “Granny’s Peach Tea”, organizing a mass shooting in Africa, radicalizing a disaster victim, and bombing a whole courthouse just to psychologically torture Superman. That’s all just a step too far in my book.
At least he didn’t have another crazy real estate scheme this time around?
It’s almost an hour into the movie when Bruce and Clark first cross paths, but at least we get this clever moment where Lex gets to introduce the two to one another, while presumably already knowing both of their secret identities while the two of them are oblivious to one another’s. Bruce tells Clark: “The Daily Planet criticizing those who think they’re above the law is a little hypocritical, wouldn’t you say? Considering every time your hero saves a cat out of a tree, you write a puff piece editorial about an alien who, if he wanted to, could burn the whole place down. There wouldn’t be a damn thing we can do to stop it.” Clark responds, “Most of the world doesn’t share your opinion, Mr. Wayne.” Bruce shrugs and says, “Maybe it’s that Gotham City and me… we just have a bad history with freaks dressed like clowns.” This is without a doubt one of the strongest moments of the movie and really shows that they *almost* had it.
Perhaps the most notorious scene in the entire movie feels so out of place and random. I’m of course referring to the “Knightmare” sequence as it’s been dubbed, where we see a glimpse of a post-apocalyptic world where Batman has a trench coat and a machine gun, fighting Parademons, while fascist soldiers wear Superman’s ‘S’ shield. It ends with this weird fake out where Superman burns several prisoners alive before ripping off Batman’s mask and punching through him?!
Now as a comic book fan, I’m able to roll with it and explain it away as either a premonition of a possible future, or a glimpse into another reality, but it gets weirder: it’s framed as a dream that Bruce wakes up from before being confronted by a spectral image of Ezra Miller’s The Flash trying to warn him that “Lois is the key!” So are we lead to believe that one of the residual effects of Barry Allen time traveling is that random people get a glimpse at the future or parallel universes? If not, then why Bruce Wayne of all people? It also feels like all of this could have been a trippy mid-credits scene.
On it’s own, without context, the ‘Knightmare’ scene is super weird, especially since this is only the second scene where we actually get to see Batman in action and he’s using guns to kill people left and right! But thanks to clues in the next movie, we see that this is a result of an alternate future where Bruce failed to save Lois, which gave Darkseid the opening to manipulate Kal-El as his emissary to conquer the planet! Which is why the Flash was trying to go back in time to warn Bruce, but he arrived too early which may have inadvertently caused a worse timeline where Batman tried to straight up kill Superman before that future could come to pass. All of this sounds great on paper, especially if you’re a nerd like me who treats the comics as the ‘sacred texts’, but for a casual movie goer, none of this makes any sense, because of the way it’s delivered.
Then there’s this moment about halfway through the film where Batman and Superman *finally* stare each other down face to face, after Superman easily trashes the Batmobile after an extended car chase, and it’s the most anticlimactic moment possible, because nothing happens! It feels like two wrestlers talking shit before a rigged match. After the blast at the capitol, Batman takes the bait and steals Lex’s kryptonite, while Lex gains access to the kryptonian ship that crash-landed in Metropolis in the last one. Next thing we know, we get yet *another* montage, this time with Bat-fleck training and prepping to kick Superman’s ass with his fancy new mech suit, Kryptonite spear, and some K-laced Scarecrow Fear Toxin!
But first we take a break from that montage to do a quick promo for the next movie as we see Bruce (and later on Diana) scrolling through Luthor’s secret files where we find sizzle reels for Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman movie, Ezra Miller as Barry Allen (aka ‘The Flash’), Cyborg’s origin story, and Jason Mamoa posing underwater with a trident, I mean Aquaman – all clearly marked, each with their own glyphs, graphic design courtesy of Lex Corp, presumably. While these moments were really cool to see as a fan, it felt like it may have been more effective as a post-credits scene and kinda hinders the pacing, just as things are starting to ramp up!
Then we have a few more needlessly slow scenes to really drive forward each character’s motivations, but at this point it feels redundant. The movie crawls to a stop so that Clark can get a pep talk from the ghost of Pa Kent, while Bruce contemplates murder to Alfred like he’s not even there, while Lois is doing both their jobs for them by figuring out Lex Luthor is behind the bombing of the Capitol building! We see Bat-fleck all armored up, prepping a trap for Supes (and a quick glimpse at a cool Riddler Easter Egg with a question mark on a stone column) before jump cutting to Lex Luthor atop a skyscraper, staring across the harbor at the bat signal above Gotham. Once again, Zack Snyder does some next level visuals like nobody’s business.
This next scene though between Lex and Superman is definitely another one of the standout moments in the movie and I honestly think is one of the stronger Superman / Lex interactions in all of the Superman movies, it’s just unfortunate that it happens close to the 2 hour mark when the movie should have been wrapping up by now. I really do think that this should have happened almost immediately after the bombing – Lex is clearly the villain, the audience knows it, Superman knows it, don’t waste our time.
Anywho, Luthor lures Clark to the top of Lex Corp tower by pushing Lois Lane off the building! Clark swoops in to save her in the nick of time, before confronting Lex only to find out that he’s got an ace up his sleeve, revealing that he’s kidnapped his mom! And to me that’s one of the best things this movie does, Lex exploits Superman’s greatest weakness: it’s not Kryptonite, it’s the people he loves. Lex uses this leverage to force the Man of Steel to fight the Dark Knight: “The greatest gladiator match in the history of the world: God vs man, day vs knight, Son of Krypton vs Bat of Gotham!”
Cue the punching?
Finally, at long last, we get to the climax of the movie. It was a slog and a half to get here, but the third act of BvS is actually pretty good overall. We finally get what we’ve all been waiting for as Batman and Superman have their long awaited brawl and I have to say the actual fight is great, *but* it’s a little too short considering this is a 3 hour long movie called “Batman v Superman”, you’d expect more than 5 minutes of that would be them fighting one another! You know, what the entire movie was marketed on?
And this is really the root of the problem for me with this film: it’s too pretentious and complicated for what should have been a straight-forward, cheesy “Versus” movie. I get that they were worried about not being taken seriously enough, with movies like ‘Superman III’ and ‘Batman & Robin‘ on their track record, but they forgot to have fun and they never really delivered on the premise.
To be fair, the actual fight between Superman and Batman IS really good, even if it feels a little too one sided at times with Bruce giving Clark a pretty severe beat down. (Batman should really feel like the underdog here, instead he’s got layers of plot armor.) Superman hovers above, his eyes glowing an ominous red, while Batman stands his ground in a bulky suit of armor as it starts to rain…
The two trade some one liners, Superman tries to talk some reason into Batman, Batman throws a whole arsenal of weapons at Superman, Superman loses his cool and uppercuts Batman through an abandoned building, etc. But then Bat-fleck turns the tables, using his K-laced Fear Toxin against Supes, incapacitating him and de-powering him long enough to give him a smack down in a rundown bathroom! By the end of the fight, they both look rough. Superman is on the ropes and Batman’s armor looks like shredded paper mâché. The fight ends with Batman triumphant, standing above a beaten Superman with the Kryptonite spear, ready to strike the final blow…
That’s when we get the most meme-able moment in the whole movie, where Clark blurts out “Save… Martha!” which completely throws off Bruce, because his own mother’s name was Martha and as we all know, Batman’s greatest weakness is bringing up his dead parents. It’s kind of an odd moment, but I get what they were going for. When Lois shows up at Clark’s side, it really reinforces to Bruce what Alfred’s been trying to tell him this whole movie, that he’s not the real enemy, even though he’s an alien, they’re not so different after all. It’s a trope as old as time, but I think it’s the least of this movie’s problems.
My main issue here is that if you’re doing a ‘Versus’ movie, we need to see at least 3 matches – them the rules. Round 1: Superman wins, Round 2: Batman wins, Round 3: They tie before realizing who the real villain is and then team up after punching each other all movie, and instantly become best buds. Instead, we’re given a convoluted meandering plot that could have been 3 different movies, with one short fight before they realize their mom’s have the same last name and then decide to team up with Wonder Woman to stop Doomsday who was created by Lex Luthor from General Zod’s corpse, and it all ends with Superman sacrificing himself to save the world, which leads Batman to want to form the Justice League. That’s like six too many things!
After the fight with Superman, Batman flies off in his bat-jet to save Martha, which is another one of the best scenes in the movie, but this really feels like this whole warehouse fight between Batman and several of Luthor’s goons should have come earlier in the movie, you know, before he fought Superman, which itself should have been the central climax of the movie. Instead, it turns out that the entire last third of this movie is one action scene after another, and because there wasn’t enough going on already, Doomsday has to show up to wreck the city!
While the Doomsday fight definitely has some cool moments, especially when we finally get to see Superman and Batman teaming up alongside Wonder Woman, it’s A LOT to throw in at the last second. I’m also not too keen on Doomsday’s design here, it’s not offensive, but why reinvent the wheel? That said, I don’t think it’s a controversial opinion to say that Wonder Woman absolutely steals this movie!
Gal Gadot proves that she was born to play this role, balancing beauty, brains, and brawn, she’s an all around Amazonian badass. I really half expected her to show up during the Batman / Superman fight and talk some sense into them. Her costume is incredible, the choreography is amazing, and that Wonder Woman theme with the cello really slaps!
Unfortunately, this whole fight goes on far too long and starts to feel a little too much like the Zod fight from the first movie. To make matters worse, it ends with Superman sacrificing himself, being impaled by Doomsday, while stabbing him with a kryptonite spear (the same one that Batman tried killing him with moments earlier).
I’m sorry, but you can’t properly adapt “The Dark Knight Returns”, “Trinity”, AND “The Death of Superman” all in a “Batman vs Superman” movie that’s both a sequel to “Man of Steel” and a prequel to the “Justice League” and have it all work as a cohesive whole! Sigh…
While the whole death and funeral of Superman was handled fairly well, I also think it was a little drawn out. I did like how Superman and Clark Kent were given different funerals, one symbolic, the other for his loved ones. And then, after Clark’s funeral, Bruce and Diana wink to the audience about starting up a team, or something.
Is it the worst superhero movie ever made? Not even close, but it’s not great either. I will say, this movie is ambitious, and could have maybe worked as a mini-series, or paired down to it’s core elements. I actually think if you took elements of the theatrical cut and extended cut and edited them down, you could probably edit together a fairly good 90 minute cut that would have been much more satisfying. I get that they were anxious to catch up to the MCU, but Marvel laid the groundwork and it paid off. WB/DC really should’ve been more focused on taking their time to build up to their own team-up movie rather than trying to rush it out in movie #2!
It’s unfortunate, because of the early missteps of BvS and the first ‘Suicide Squad’, some people have been quick to disregard all the subsequent DC films, regardless of quality. “Wonder Woman”, “Aquaman”, “Birds of Prey”, James Gunn’s “The Suicide Squad”, and (as we’ll get to next time) Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” are all a big step up.
A lot of times with trilogies, Part 2 is often the best one, and Part 3’s are notoriously a let down. You’ve got The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, Spider-man 2 and Spider-man 3, and arguably even Superman II and Superman III (although that’s less of a trilogy and more of a train wreck in slow motion). In this case however, we got the opposite…
To be concluded in Part 3 with “Zack Snyder’s Justice League”!