Regardless of your thoughts on it, Man of Steel made a big splash when it was released almost three years ago. While a lot of the reception was rather chilly, it was enough for Warner Bros to move ahead with the next part of their DC Movie Universe, much in the way that Marvel Studios has done with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Man of Steel was its Iron Man, for better or worse, and WB desperately needed to get the ball rolling towards an eventual Justice League. In that regard, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will likely get the job done, although this is an exceedingly uneasy foundation. In every other capacity, i.e. in being an actual movie, it could and should be viewed as nothing other than utterly disappointing.
The film picks up two years after the events of Man of Steel. The world has been introduced to this alien named Superman and unease has settled throughout. Can you trust a being that can melt you to a cinder with little to no effort and what are the consequences if you do? These are questions that Gotham’s Bruce Wayne asks himself. Believing that mistrust in the Kryptonian is warranted and having been in Metropolis during the attack in Man of Steel, he takes it upon himself to take Superman down with everything he’s got. And hijinx ensue. Oh wait, that’s not right. Sorry, not that kind of movie.
Dawn of Justice isn’t necessarily what one would define as bad. The problem, though, is that it’s not in any way, shape, or form good. It’s this completely nebulous thing. This isn’t like Ant-Man where it’s just aggressively mediocre. That’s not it, either. It seems to be none of these things and, yet, all of them at once.
Let’s start off with things that worked. That’ll probably be a shorter conversation to have.
Firstly, the reason for the distrust towards Superman seems valid and analogous to our reality. Whenever a disaster or attack occurs, it seems that someone gets blamed other than those that perpetrated the act. Similar to an attack like 9/11 or the recent attacks in Paris or Brussels where muslims as a group get the remaining brunt of the blame that’s left over from what society has given to the terrorists involved, Superman is left holding the bag in the eyes of discerning individuals, like Batman. The cultural relevance of that is intensely wired in and important to this day and age.
Ben Affleck as Batman is pretty great, also. It’s really the performance of Bruce Wayne that does it. It plays believably as a guy that’s been punching bad guys in the face for twenty years and even considers himself a criminal at this point. The character of Batman is more problematic, which we’ll get to later, but the performance really grounds Batman’s conflict with Superman. You get that he would have seen so many supposedly good guys gone bad over the years that an all-powerful “good guy” would give him serious pause. It’s not hard to imagine that he’s lost one or two Robin’s over the years and Harvey Dent has likely hit his Two-Face days by now. Affleck really makes you understand his paranoia and apprehension and why he’d want to act.
Batman, however, pales in comparison to Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. While we only see in her in full Amazonian armor for a few minutes in the last act, that is enough to make the entire two-and-a-half hour run-time completely worth it. Her presence brings so much energy and raw, warrior spirit that anyone not interested in a stand-alone Wonder Woman after seeing this film is a deranged crazy person that has no idea what he wants (c’mon. If anyone doesn’t want this, it’s a dude and an MRA one at that).
That was the good; now for the bad.
The biggest offender of Dawn of Justice is just how unbelievably, atrociously boring it is. It’s okay to be boring. It’s okay to be long. But if you are both boring and long, that is where we have a problem. Virtually every scene with Superman is boring. Somehow, they even managed to make his fight scene with Batman at the end dull. I honestly didn’t think that was possible, but Snyder and Co. did it. When it’s not being boring, however, it’s weirdly cruel. The biggest, most prominent example of this (although it comes and goes without you realizing exactly what happened) was its use of longtime Superman ally Jimmy Olsen. Sans spoilers, what the film does with his character is so brusquely antagonistic and almost mean spirited that it seems like Snyder is trolling his audience.
But mostly it’s boring.
What works perhaps the least in Dawn of Justice is, other from Wonder Woman’s appearance, everything that follows Batman and Superman’s big fight. What stops the fight ultimately is so mind-numbingly stupid that it boggles the mind that it actually happened. And then they have to go fight the actual villain of the film that I won’t spoil here, but if you’ve seen the trailers, you already know who or what it is. This is where the film goes from boring to simply being a mess. It’s a CG hodgepodge of insanity that nothing can really be followed and any sense of geography is practically nonexistent. The villain has been referenced in other reviews as resembling a literal giant piece of poop and I can’t do better than that. That’s what it looks like. It looks like actual crap. It has no personality or anything of substance to it and it just carries over the characteristic of being exhaustingly boring.
God, is this movie dull and lifeless.
And then somewhere in this movie there’s Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor. He’s easily the weirdest, out-of-place part of this film. It’s not clear if it’s Eisenberg’s performance or the writing, but this does not feel like Lex Luthor in any way. Honestly, it feels like a more purposed Joker. Everything from the characterization to the performance to the mannerisms scream The Joker. He does not fit in with this movie and he’s clearly trying to do something different with the character, but it just does not work at all.
When you get down to it, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is not a terrible, irredeemable film. It is a mess and it does severely suffer from being two-and-a-half hours long, but there are many good parts to it, also. Gadot’s Wonder Woman and Batfleck really make it work, which is enough for any film. The movie probably would have benefited from a different and probably a more fastidious editor, but what we’re given isn’t bad, either. Cut a couple dream sequences, because there are about three in its runtime, and especially don’t make us watch The Waynes die again. Honestly, how many do we have to see Batman’s parents die before it’s enough? I think we’ve seen every possible way that they could conceivably die at this point. Ultimately, the film is just disappointing and that might be the worst thing of all.