Film Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

BvS poster

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Plot Summary:

Nearly two years after the arrival of Superman (Henry Cavill), billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) dons the cape and cowl once more as the violent vigilante, Batman. Believing that Superman is the ultimate threat to humanity, Batman will stop at nothing to defeat him, while Superman struggles to bring hope to a world that doesn’t fully trust him.

It’s well known that a DC superhero film is very different from Marvel. I can’t stress this enough with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. If you’re expecting a jolly good time with Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman eating shawarma at the end, you will be very disappointed. Instead, you’ll get an emotional, powerful, gripping and awe-inspiring movie experience that will stick with you long after the credits roll. I admire the hell out of this motion picture. Does it have issues? Yes, and we’ll get to those. But when the film works, it works on a level that makes superhero filmmaking worthwhile. Is Ant-Man a fun time at the movies? Sure. But that’s all it is. Whether you love or detest this film, there’s no denying the effort that went into this. You can say a lot of things about director Zack Snyder, but not being ambitious isn’t one of them. I don’t give brownie points though just for trying. Snyder’s ambition nearly matches the final product.

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We all know Snyder is a marvelous visionary director, but he went to another level for this one. The first few scenes, which highlight Bruce’s back story, are immersive as hell. While a tad melodramatic, they are gorgeously sad to look at. It’s very Watchmen. After the initial sequence, we jump right back into the battle of Metropolis from Man of Steel, but we see it from a completely different perspective. This was brilliant, and the perfect way to introduce us to Bruce’s way of thinking, which sets up the entire movie.

One warning I will heed is you really need to focus when watching this film. Don’t go in tired. The first twenty minutes are moving at 100 MPH. At times the editing is frantic without any chance to catch your breath, but as long as you stay focused, you’ll be fine. The first half is definitely harder to follow. This is where the Justice League-isms get in the way of story. This was a big concern for many going in. Yes, they pepper in a larger world in addition to the main story going on. There are a few strange Bruce Wayne dream sequences that feel forced, but are definitely intriguing. These scenes are so well done, I can let it slide. Once the last half hour kicks in though, it’s all character focused and great drama. Speaking of characters, we have a lot to get too. There’s no bigger Batman fan than me, but I’m going to shock all of you – my favorite character in this film was Superman.

For all the talk about how Batman was going to hijack the movie, and this is really just a Justice League set-up, not a Man of Steel sequel, blah, blah, blah. Wrong. This is Superman’s movie. They built off Man of Steel beautifully. While so much of the story is about people not trusting or believing in Superman, we see the affect it has on him. Henry Cavill carries this weight with sadness and disappointment. But let me be clear – he never goes emo, or “woe is me.” They play it perfectly. Cavill is phenomenal. Superman wants to be the hope that Jor-El told him he could be, but he keeps getting rejected, and his presence brings nothing but chaos. I truly believe this is how today’s world would respond to something like Superman, and watching him deal with it is compelling as hell.

This also creates powerful scenes between him and Amy Adams’ Lois Lane. I loved their relationship in the first film, but they go even deeper here. Lois Lane will go down as a criminally underrated character in this film. One of the elements I loved from Man of Steel that many hated was Jonathan Kent’s advice to Clark. We see a similar scene with him and Martha (Diane Lane), which I admit wasn’t handled as well here. The scene was flat out rushed. Aside from that, if you’re a Superman fan, you’re going to be satisfied.

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Let’s cut the crap though. You all want to hear about Ben Affleck, right? I really don’t have much to say other than he nailed it. Affleck was a great Batman, just as I knew he would be from the day he was casted. To be honest, there isn’t a ton of Batman in the film, but there certainly is A LOT of Bruce Wayne. This is a very different Batman than what we’re used to seeing. This is a bitter, battle-damaged Batman who has no patience for criminals. He’s a violent son of a gun. The first scene with Batman is terrifying as hell. This characterization worked beautifully for the story they were telling.

One of the challenges in introducing this older Batman is we needed to feel like we’ve been with him for years. They achieved that hook, line and sinker. When Bruce and Alfred (Jeremy Irons) are on screen together for the first time, you feel like you’ve already seen ten movies between them. I love their dynamic. It’s all business. They sprinkle in moments that are akin to Christian Bale/Michael Caine, but it’s much harsher, like they’re war veterans. Jeremy Irons. What is there to say? The dude killed it.

While Cavill and Affleck are the stars, my MVP might go to Jesse Eisenberg. I’m not kidding. Incredible. Absolutely INCREDIBLE as Lex Luthor. Only Jesse Eisenberg could have played this role. It could have easily gone to hell, but Eisenberg is so careful and calculated in his performance, they achieve exactly what they were striving for. He’s socially awkward and charismatic, but every scene he’s in you just feel uncomfortable. I can’t stress enough how much I loved Lex Luthor in this film, especially his first scene with Superman. It’s the best Superman/Lex Luthor scene we’ve ever seen. By far.

There’s plenty of great minor characters as well. Laurence Fishburne is fantastic as Perry White, and everything at the Daily Planet in general was great. Holly Hunter and Scoot McNairy play very sympathetic figures who add a lot to the story. Harry Lennix was a welcome return as General Swanwick, as were other bit players from Man of Steel who pop in and out. Oh, there was also that whole Wonder Woman character. All in all, I was satisfied. As Diana Prince, we didn’t see a lot from Gal Gadot for me to evaluate the performance. When she becomes the full fledged Wonder Woman though, Gadot was pretty damn good. She’ll no doubt get the biggest cheers in the film. Her introduction and music cue is very crowd pleasing.

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The movie is called Batman v Superman, so I’ll touch briefly on their actual fight. In short, it’s amazing. It also works in a way I didn’t expect. How the fight begins is also brilliant. My only real complaint is the movie could have used one more scene between Batman and Superman before the fight takes place. The dialogue during the fight is jaw-dropping emotional, and there’s a moment towards the end that will go down as one of my favorite superhero moments of all time. It moved the shit out of me.

The action in general is awe-inspiring, which goes without saying for a Snyder film. Even the element I was most concerned about (Doomsday) blew away my expectations. While jarring at first, they were able to take a monstrous creature, but still keep a level of seriousness and high stakes in place. That’s impressive.

The editing could have been stronger. There’s a couple lines solely to appease Man of Steel haters, which takes you out of the film. The first half needed to slow down at times, but the film kept getting better and better. The last half hour is emotionally draining in the best way possible. This is what I always dreamed a Batman/Superman movie could be. I’m not an idiot though. I know this film will be polarizing as hell, and I can already hear the “it’s too dark and serious” complaints, but I really don’t care. This movie left an impression on me. I pray it makes a lot of money. I want the DC Movie universe to continue on this gripping, serious path. This movie absolutely works on its own, but they’ve laid the groundwork for something truly special. I just hope we get to see it.

Rating: 9 out of 10 (OMG)

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Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.

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