Be advised that this review contains SPOILERS, as well as what will no doubt prove to be unerringly accurate predictions of future plot-lines.
As I write this Rotten Tomatoes has this movie at 33%, yet conversely IMDb lists it at 8.1/10. These numbers are very telling, as they fundamentally reflect what could be seen as a dissonance between movie fans and movie critics.
The expectations for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Zack Snyder’s second foray into the ever-expanding DC Universe, were always going to be impossibly high. This combined with a $410 million budget, a god-awful title, and the much-maligned Man of Steel, all added to a pervading sense that some people were just waiting to hate on this film.
And hate on it they have, as like a red headed stepchild this movie has proven easy to kick about. But does it really deserve the scorn that’s been heaped on it?
I’m going to buck the trend of my profession and say no.
Fundamentally, this is the only movie that’s done Batman right, with Snyder embracing the comic book in a way that no other director has ever dared to.
You see, whilst I enjoyed aspects of every Batman film that has proceeded this one, at the same time I took issue with all of them, because no one seems to really get what makes Batman great.
Take Christopher Nolan’s time on the franchise. His Batman was a whiney, emo-kid, one so wracked with self-doubt that he takes an eight-year break from crime fighting to brood, grow a hipster beard and apparently take up archery.
Bat-Fleck on the other hand is more Keaton then Bale, with just a splash of the legendary Kevin Conroy.
Unlike many of his predecessors Ben Affleck manages to capture Bruce Wayne both in and out of the costume, perfectly channeling the billionaire playboy’s mask of “joie de vivre”, a cleverly conceived faced created to conceal his nocturnal activities as Gotham’s Caped Crusader.
It’s the little moments that I like best. Bruce waking up next an unseen beauty, surrounded by empty wine bottles. Jeremy Irons’ Alfred Pennyworth lamenting the future of the family bloodline, only later to be seen kicking ass as he remotely pilots the Bat-Plane. And of course there’s the grim specter of past failure, taking form in the starkly displayed costume of a fallen sidekick.
All these of these touches indicate a new approach to the Batman franchise, one that isn’t afraid to introduce audiences to parts of the comic book history other filmmakers have shied away from.
As a director Snyder has shown himself willing to evolve his narratives, learning from past mistakes, and incorporating them into his work. Take the seemingly callous loss of life in Man of Steel, which is now used as the jumping off point for this film. Here Bruce is seemingly at his most heroic whilst not even wearing the cowl, desperately trying to save people from falling skyscrapers.
These scenes fundamentally establish what makes the inevitable show down between the Dark Knight and Man of Steel so compelling. The willingness of a mere mortal to take on a god.
When this showdown eventually does happen you won’t be disappointed, as Snyder directs action sequences that prove more exciting and visceral than any that appear in competing superhero franchises.
Of course man vs. god is a reoccurring theme in this film, the darker side of this dialectic embodied by Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor.
Supposedly loosely based on screenwriter Max Landis, funnily enough one of the most vocal critics of Man of Steel, Eisenberg has crafted a character that might be his most interesting to date. With shades of his previous role as Mark Zuckerberg he plays a villain who actually has something to say, something sadly missing from many antagonists in this ever-growing genre of cinema.
Henry Cavill has taken a lot of the hits when it comes to the criticism of this film, but Superman has always proven to be a problematic character to get right. A year with a personal trainer will get any actor ready to look good in the red and blue, but actually making Clark Kent interesting is another matter.
This film does feel very weighted in favour of Batman, but that’s not say that Cavill doesn’t get to take his character into new and interesting territory. The question of how or if he should even use his powers humanizes this god-like being, Superman’s biggest weaknesses proving to be self-doubt and slow erosion of his moral code.
And whilst many could cynically say Amy Adam’s Lois Lane is just a foil, a damsel in distress archetype used to give Superman something to do, their burgeoning relationship actually adds a more personal emotional beat to a film that paints its central themes so gaudily, and on a huge canvas.
This is a movie that never makes any pretensions at being a great work of art. It’s unashamedly big and brash, and in doing so stays true to the source material. Which is why many of the attacks on this film seem somewhat unfair, with people praising the sheer scope of its ambition, then complaining the it lacks nuance and subtly.
But when was the last time someone wanted to see a nuanced and subtle superhero movie?