A review of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

I’m a bit late to the show with this review, what with the annoyance of real world responsibilities constantly throwing obstacles in the way of me actually being able to get to the laptop, but such is life. It’s been a few weeks since I parked my bum down the local fleapit for the latest spandex extravaganza, but I’m glad to say that the memories remain fresh enough for me to review the movie for your reading pleasure. Onwards! –

I love comics, and I think it’s fair to say that if you’re reading this blog then you’ve got more than a passing affinity with the medium. But here’s a confession: I’m not the biggest fan of superheroes. Maybe this is because being a Brit, the spandex clad dominant in the US market wasn’t the stuff I grew up with, and as I remember it, neither Marvel nor DC imports were that widely available in the UK during my formative years.

As a kid growing up in t’Grimm North in the early 80’s, comic books were mostly bog paper anthologies concerning WWII era derring do from the likes of Hurricane pilot Johnny Red and German Tiger ace Hellman of Hammer Force. The sort of schlocky pulp action beloved of small boys, whom it makes disappointed that they missed out on the fight against Adolf. But then along came the discovery of 2000AD, and the rest was, well, that’s for another blog…

My first real exposure to the American stuff was Richard Donner’s Superman (1978), starring the late, great Christopher Reeve as the Last Son of Krypton, and for my money still one of the most successful attempts to transfer the spirit and exuberance of the comic book form on the silver screen. At around the same time the Wonder Woman tv show starring Lynda Carter was still enjoying reruns on UK TV. Before the likes of The A-Team and Airwolf drew my attention, and in the pre-VHS era, this was pretty cool stuff. In contrast the Spider Man tv show was short –lived, and in my eyes suffered from the lack of the Green Goblin, whose lurid visage adorned my lunch box locked in mortal battle with Spidey. In the battle for my affections, DC inched it. They’d been first to market cinema and tv wise, and for the time their parent company Warner Bros certainly weren’t parsimonious with the budgets. In contrast, with the exception of The Incredible Hulk tv show, Marvel were the poor cousin on screen, and seemed confined to Saturday morning animated shorts.

Fast forward to now, and how times have changed. After a few faltering steps, Marvel Studios’ IP juggernaut has steamrollered through the box office with a series of competent, if increasingly generic superhero actioners that have at least done visual justice to Marvel’s universe. For a while, DC seemed to have been left in the dust, forever playing catch up (Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy aside). Crucially, Marvel replicated its joined up universe on the silver screen with each film either directly joining up with the next or at the very least referencing events in other films in the same stable. Even Netflix’s excellent Daredevil tv show ties in through oblique references to the climactic battle at the end of the first Avengers movie.

DC finally got its act together with 2013’s Man of Steel, I film I liked if not quite loved. Zack Snyder’s reboot of the Superman mythos certainly divided opinion, but also heralded the beginning of DC’s cinematic universe. Now, instead of a stand alone sequel for Supes, DC have kept faith with Snyder and served up a face-off movie bringing in not only Batman but also a certain Amazon warrior too. And the results are…interesting.

This is a huge, sprawling, incoherent, glorious, flawed over rich pudding of a movie. Visually it’s vintage Snyder: dark, desaturated and rich in the director’s trademark visual texture. Plot and structure wise, Dawn of Justice is all over the place, leaving the suspicious and distinctive whiff of heavy handed interference by the studio brass, leaving me me with the impression that a a awful lot of the movie ended up on the cutting room floor ( Snyder has already promised his own cut for the DVD release.) As ever with such farragos it’s the audience that suffers. The plot kicks off on a simple but flimsy pretext: Bruce Wayne, blaming Superman for the destruction and loss of life visited on Metropolis during the climactic battle in Man of Steel decides that Superman is a loose cannon who needs to be brought down a peg or two (other than dressing up in an armoured batsuit, we’re not quite sure how the Dark Knight is going to defeat Supes and what the consequences for Superman will be if he does). Then a supremely hammy Jesse Eisenberg turns up as Lex Luthor (somehow seeming to have lots of advance knowledge about Kal-El?) with a plan to bring Superman low using that pesky old green kryptonite. And then mixes his blood with the corpse of General Zod, which creates Doomsday, for no other reason that the plot demands a big gribbly for our heroes to have a big scrap with (he’s on screen for about ten minutes at the climax and completely wasted). Wonder Woman gets thrown into the increasingly opaque proceedings followed by several sledgehamer allusions to terrorism and 911 in particular. By this point I’d completely lost my admittedly tenuous grip on what little attempt at narrative there was, but still kept in my seat gazing at Snyder’s visual swirl and wondering how it was possible to make such a dog’s breakfast of such a paper thin plot.

Along the way there are lots of cameos and easter eggs for DC fanboys to get excited over, with sneek peeks at Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg. Henry Cavill cruises on through, and Ben Affleck makes an intriguing Batman, on the edge of being burnt out and walking along a moral tightrope that he looks unsure of staying balanced upon. The breakout star of this overcooked celluloid soup has to be Wonder Woman herself, played with enigmatic relish by Gal Gadot. To be honest she was the only thing that was keeping me watching towards the end, and I await next year’s stand alone movie with cautious anticipation.

Compared with Marvel Studio’s more consistent, but formulaic output, DC seem to be much open to taking creative risks with their properties, an approach which has the potential to produce perhaps some memorable movies in the future, but whose down side is a greater risk of producing an expensive misfire. Such is the result with Dawn of Justice. An interesting mess.

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