I have jus returned home after watching ‘Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice’ (will be referred to as DoJ from this point on) and I am smiling far bigger than I had expected to going into the screening today. The road to the release of DoJ has been a rather troubled one, with spoiler filled trailers and a multitude of clips released in the last two weeks alone along with certain cast choices and a question over the director Zack Snyder being able to handle what DoJ had to deliver. Whilst avoiding any reviews from advanced viewings this week it was obvious that the general feeling was of disappointment, one which I do not share having seen it for myself.
*This will be a spoiler free Review, with no story discussion outside what has been revealed already in trailers*
Essentially DoJ is really three films in one. It serves as a sequel to Man of Steel in that it deals with the aftermath and consequences of the closing momenta to that story. Secondly it also serves as a Batman introduction film, where we see Bruce Wayne impacted personally by those events and his reaction to them and Superman. Finally it has to serve as the prologue of sorts for the upcoming Justice League film, something DC is determined to fast track and unlike the methodical setup to the Avenger by MARVEL having individual character films leading into the big team up. So there is quite a lot that DoJ had to accomplish and for the most part it succeeds, but I do have some niggles.
There was a huge reaction to how Man of Steel ended with a huge amount of collateral damage and deaths not to mention Superman killing Zod. DoJ does not shy away from it and even uses that reaction to great effect. Set two years after those events, we see a world still in shock over the reveal of Superman and one which is undecided about his place in it. Some see Superman as a hero sent to save and protect them whilst others are afraid of him and his powers , not to mention the fact he is an alien who indirectly was responsible for destruction and death. DoJ does a great job of showing the internal struggle Clark is having in both the reaction to him both good and bad, he simply wants to do good but is clearly struggling with being Clark and his life with Lois and as Superman and what he sees as his duty to the people of the world.
It is delicately handled and Henry Cavill and Amy Adams tell this story well during the film. It is important to remember that we are still seeing Superman as someone still getting to grasp with his powers, his place in the spotlight after spending most of his adult life hiding from the world. What I liked about his character development in DoJ is how he is still learning, still afraid but trying to do the right thing but is aware of the personal cost it could take on him and those he loves.
The biggest doubt for many about this story was the casting of Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne and ultimately, Batman. When the news broke, myself and a good friend were really the only two even remotely positive about it. The reason why? Because this was going to be a very different Bruce Wayne and Dark Knight than previous incarnations on the big screen. In DoJ we see a Bruce Wayne who has already been Batman for over 20 years, until a dramatic moment forced him to hang up the cowl. So already this is a Batman who is experienced and seasoned when it comes to being a hero. DoJ does give us yet another ‘Death of the parents’ scene to show his parents gunned down. What Affleck brings to the role is a real sense of a life lived as Batman, a Bruce Wayne reacting to the possible threat of Superman in the only way he knows how, to study, prepare and ultimately take action. I really liked this genuinely fresh take on the Bruce Wayne character and the relationship with Alfred, played superbly by Jeremy Irons who adds the dry humour that brings Alfred to life as a true ally to Bruce Wayne. I think there are going to be many waiting their words after seeing DoJ.
As expected, the true puppet master in the story is the real arch nemesis to Superman, Lex Luthor. This is the youngest portrayal of the character on the big screen and Jesse Eisenberg delivers a version of Luthor that is modern and fresh. A real character of an internet billionaire, his performance has Lex come across as a bit of an oddball but deceptively so. He has used the aftermath to raise his profile as a humanitarian, helping to rebuild Metropolis but as we know, Lex is not a nice man and he schemes to take down Superman by setting up a confrontation with the Bat of Gotham. It is a real moment when Eisenberg flips the personality switch and shows the sinister real Lex Luthor and there is no doubt that he is a real danger to not just Superman but Batman and the world as well.
I did have concerns about the introduction of the other Justice League members would feel forced and shoe horned into the mix but happily it is a natural process that is fluid in terms of the story. The main vehicle for this thread is Wonder Woman, played with a real elegance and strength by Gal Gadot. Like Bruce Wayne, Diana Prince has walked the road of the hero for many years and at some point chose to walk away, no doubt to be explained in her solo film. Gadot brings a great sense of mystery in the middle of the story as the build up to the big fight between Bats and Supes grows. Diana has her own reasons for having an interest in Lex’s activities and Gadot is so strong in here performance that her presence on screen is not overshadowed by either Superman or Batman. The grace with which Diana is introduced to the story is just so delicate that when Wonder Woman joins the action it was a real Goosebumps kind of moment, more so than the big match up itself.
The tone of the film keeps in line with the Chris Nolan influence from Man of Steel and has a pace that is slow but purposeful. Those used to the vibrant and colourful MARVEL style will get a rude awakening in DoJ, one that judging by the reaction of the adults who brought young kids to watch it clearly did not expect. The themes are at times very dark in terms of dealing with loss, fear and consequences. There are some laughs, mostly from humour delivered from Lex but joyfully from Bruce Wayne and his interactions with Alfred. The action sequences are big and bold with some nice blending of real life stunts and CGI. The fight between Superman and Batman has a nice twist to it but the inspiration taken from Frank Miller’s ‘Dark Knight Returns’ is evident throughout but is executed well enough to live up to what I expected from it.
The only niggles I have are with some rather standard Zack Snyder shortcuts taken to elaborate the Justice League element in DoJ, which at times felt out of place with some feeling a tad random and misplaced with no real explanation as to what happened or why which was annoying as the flow of the film being so meticulous and well planned. Knowing that the home release version will be an extended R rated edition of the film may allow for these scenes to have a better sense in their context. The style of story telling is very different to MARVEL which I appreciated, it had a sense of being more written for an older audience with the story themes but really DoJ is setting the pieces and the world up for the Justice League film, and can at times near the end lose its pace because of it. I really like Ben Affleck’s performance and there is no doubt in my mind that going forward he will do great things with the Dark Knight. The original Man of Steel cast were solid once again, and enough the and thought was dedicated to dealing with how Man of Steel left them.
Dawn of Justice has succeeded in spinning many plates and driving the focused DC cinematic universe forward, I really enjoyed it but will say it’s pace and deliberate timing could require getting used to for man. How DC follow up with DoJ will be vital in how the remaining Justice League members are introduced, Suicide Squad will be intriguing to watch after seeing Affleck’s performance as Bruce Wayne with the promise of learning more about his past as Joker and Harley Quinn are introduced. Dawn of Justice was always going to be the real start of the build up towards Justice League which may be off putting to those expecting to see a full team hero pose at the end. I had my expectations met with Dawn of Justice’, it delivered whatnot had to and gives me faith going forward to see what happens next.
Hoping the time table will have a frequent release for the next films as the wait for the big team up will be strained if it takes too long.
*Standard 2D version of the film was watched and ticket purchased by the reviewer. THERE IS NO POST CREDIT SCENE*