Review: Batman v Superman - Dawn of Justice

"Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" is a fantastically frustrating film. More filler than fun, "Dawn of Justice" is a two and a half hour slog stuffed with shallow storytelling; a muddled, muddy mess that wastes an interesting premise on an under-cooked, underwhelming and at times incoherent narrative.

Where to begin?

If you get only one thing right in a movie called "Batman v Superman," it had better be the conflict that brings the son of Krypton and the Caped Crusader to blows. That conflict is set up in the first five minutes, as Bruce Wayne watches one of his company's towers fall in the battle between Zod and Superman that concluded "Man of Steel." His anger at Superman, seemingly indifferent towards collateral damage and innocent casualties, is a great starting point for a distrust that will eventually come to blows.

Or rather, it would be a good starting point, but isn't; it's the only point. This is the extent of the development given to the central conflict of the film. When we pick things up two years later, Batman is obsessively searching for a tool to use against Superman, a quest that makes up the majority of the film's running time. Superman is relegated almost entirely to filler, privately brooding over a growing public debate about his superhero role while alter ego Clark Kent complains about Batman's vigilantism in unprinted Daily Planet pieces. It's a weak attempt to give an otherwise sidelined Superman beef with Batman that goes nowhere fast.

It's worth noting that, breaking with more recent tradition, this Batman has no qualms about killing. It may have a basis in the comics, but after nearly two decades of a more restrained, rule-bound Batman, it's certainly jarring.  By the time Batman and Superman duke it out, Batman's blood-lust is completely unjustified by the events of the film. He's a homicidal Captain Ahab chasing down his Kryptonian white whale.

Running parallel to this are the schemes of Lex Luther, an eccentric young tech mogul who is perhaps the worst part of "Dawn of Justice." From start to finish, this is a failed villain. Thanks to a sloppy screenplay that withholds basic information in an inartful attempt to create intrigue, Luther's motivation, goals, and plan are never clear. There are enormous plot-holes, major developments that occur off-screen, and outright laughable twists. When he reveals his incomprehensible master plan, you're intended to feel surprise. I felt annoyed. 

For all "Dawn of Justice" aspires to do, it is shocking how little actually happens or matters. You might think "Dawn of Justice" would be overstuffed; after all, it's asked to do the heavy lifting for a future nine-film franchise. It doesn't. The lead-ins to "Justice League" and stand-alone films are clumsy. Future superheroes are introduced in what amounts to a series of YouTube clips. Events of future films are foreshadowed in a series of dream sequences that may tease the comic-book initiated but will bewilder the casual viewer, a far cry from the much smoother integration seen the Marvel's Phase 1 and 2 films. Yes, Wonder Woman is here, but she might as well be a cardboard cutout for all the depth she's given.

That isn't a knock on Gal Gadot's performance. By and large, the performances in "Dawn of Justice" are doing the best they can with some bad material. Ben Affleck's turn as the Dark Knight was a pleasant surprise, despite the script's bizarre treatment of the character. Henry Cavill's Superman is more nuanced and less irritating than he was in "Man of Steel," while Amy Adams and Laurence Fishburne turn in reliably good reprisals of their characters. Jeremy Irons as Wayne's faithful butler Alfred is a real bright spot. Notably not a bright spot: poor Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, whose grating performance falls victim to the film's worst dialogue and some particularly baffling direction.

"Dawn of Justice" can be fairly summarized as follows: "Batman gets really mad and wants to fight Superman. A long two hours later, he does." If a well-crafted story is like a symphony, "Dawn of Justice" is the cacophonous noise of a middle school orchestra lurching amelodically from movement to movement. In their rush to play catch-up, Warner Brothers/DC have determinedly learned nothing from Marvel's wildly successful model. This is not the triumphant launch of a ten-film franchise, but a monumental misfire that should have been better.

Score: 2/5

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