Film Review: “Dawn of Justice” Isn’t the Superhero Film We Deserve

Dawn of Justice Review

Mild Spoilers Ahead

This is it. Zack Snyder’s divisive foray into DC’s universe with Man of Steel is behind us, and the director seemingly shakes off the dust while making his next move. Honestly, there’s so much at stake here. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the film that ultimately determines how the rest of the universe will play out and what’s in store for its band of iconic superheroes. For all intents and purposes, this is the DC launching pad we’ve all been clamoring for.

Walking into it, I was brimming with unshakable enthusiasm, despite having glanced at the scathing reviews that inconveniently surfaced minutes prior to my screening. I didn’t dive into them – who in their right mind would? But at the time, a 29% rating on RT left me anxiously squirming in my seat.

Could it be that bad? There’s no way DC and Warner Bros. would’ve put so much on the line for a blockbuster dud, right? Think about it – an entire DC universe has already been mapped out until 2020 in the wake of Dawn of Justice. How could it be anything short of a home run? Taking a step back, I fall on the side of Man of Steel being an actually good Superman movie. I always found it odd that people were grabbing their torches and pitchforks over the climactic fight between Superman and General Zod as if The Avengers didn’t light up Manhattan in 2012 and level the entire city of Sokovia last year in Age of Ultron. Criticizing Man of Steel while ignoring similar outcomes in Marvel properties seemed a bit shortsighted and biased. And unfortunately for Zack Snyder (and the rest of us), it’s a criticism that Dawn of Justice would have to atone for.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice opens up with a flashback to Bruce Wayne’s devastating childhood memory. The infamous event that’s been replayed countless times in previous renditions – the death of his parents. Accompanied by a shot of young Bruce falling into a bat-infested well, the scene jumps into another introductory segment – the Battle of Metropolis between Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod (Michael Shannon) from the perspective of a much older Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck). Here, he valiantly drives into the madness with no other plan than to witness the destruction of Gotham’s neighboring city front and center. Bruce’s building, and more importantly, his employees, are casualties of war, planting the irrevocable seed that Superman must be brought to justice. Dawn of Justice takes another leap in time, 18 months later, where divers discover Kryptonite in the Indian Ocean.

What unfolds during the film’s lengthy runtime is a convoluted battle of ideologies. Bruce Wayne is wartorn, weary of costly battles against Gotham’s worst, and cynical of humanity. He’s a different Bruce/Batman than we’re accustomed to. He’s a gun-toting crime fighter, taking down foes with ruthless aggression – not above branding them – despite knowing that his symbol marks as a death sentence in prison. Bruce is paranoid, void of optimism, and hellbent on taking out Superman, while completely ignoring his own reckless behavior. His mansion has turned to ruin, and his relationship with Alfred (Jeremy Irons) seems more distant than previous depictions. It doesn’t get much brighter on Clark Kent’s side either. Clark battles with his own demons in the wake of his fight with Zod. Dawn of Justice spends most of its time gathering opinions on Superman’s abilities and position of power from everyone, including Senator Finch (Holly Hunter), except the titular star. He saves Lois Lane, who winds up in a war zone to interview a controversial figure, which subsequently results in the death of numerous people. And as a result, Superman faces more scrutiny for his heroic, yet decidedly unilateral actions. Despite Clark’s entanglement with public perception, he sees Batman’s vigilante justice as nothing more than a thug with nice toys taking the law into his own hands.

Then there’s Lex Luthor (Mark Zuckerberg Jesse Eisenberg), the unhinged, maniacal rich boy with an axe to grind. It’s never fully explained in this film, but Luthor despises Superman’s existence. He works tirelessly at gaining access to the Kryptonian wreckage and seizing a sizable amount of Krypton to keep Superman’s powers in check. It’s here when Dawn of Justice reveals its most puzzling narrative. Bruce and Lex have more in common than any fan would like to admit. They both share the same sentiment that Superman, absent of checks and balances, is a recipe for disaster. The problem lies in the fact that most of Lex’s presumed motives to take down Superman aligns with Bruce, leaving Lex looking like nothing more than a prick billionaire who just wants to bring harm to a guy trying to do some good.

When it comes to the moment we’ve all be waiting for – God versus man, day versus night, Son of Krypton versus Bat of Gotham – the fight is a product of nothing more than a string of misunderstandings and a paper-thin scheme ushered in by Lex. It’s the culmination of both heroes taking out their failures on each other until cooler heads prevail in order to take down a bigger foe. And this is where Dawn of Justice continues its atonement for “mistakes” made in Man of Steel. When Doomsday is unleashed, Superman’s immediate response is to fly him into space, avoiding any human casualties. When the fight is taken back down to Earth, it relocates to an abandoned port in Gotham, once again forcing Dawn of Justice to blatantly make amends for past grievances. The film goes as far as having reporters exclaim that any bystanders are far from the destruction. Almost comical, right?

Listen, Batman v Superman isn’t a bad movie. It has its merits. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is a spectacular highlight of the film. Throughout Dawn of Justice, we see her through the perspective of Bruce as a mysterious, well-dressed woman with her own agenda concerning Lex Luthor. She makes her proper introduction mid-fight against Doomsday when she saves Batman’s life. This is the moment Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s brilliantly ominous score picks up a beat to showcase the impact Wonder Woman has on this otherwise bleak story. It’s superbly done, and a moment I guarantee you and everyone else in your theater will cheer for. Then there’s the critical moment at Capitol Hill, when Finch calls on Superman to speak to Congress and the public at large. I won’t spoil its outcome, but that scene is truly satisfying and pushes the narrative forward.

It’s important to acknowledge that Snyder’s strength lies in visual sequences – not storytelling. Despite the plot holes and erratic scene jumps, there’s no denying the chills that ran down my spine when Batman and Superman went to blows. But unfortunately, the compelling moments deflate once it’s over. There’s no long-lasting impact because there isn’t a proper story to bolster these individual moments. Much of Dawn of Justice‘s pitfalls land on the laps of Snyder and scribes Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, an unpleasant surprise seeing how the latter wrote for all three installments of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, played their part well. Even Eisenberg, whose Lex Luthor was a potent blend of The Joker and a corporate brat. Ben Affleck’s performance should quell all doubt that he’s unfit for such heroic responsibilities, but sadly, what’s on the script doesn’t give him the proper wings to soar. There are many dream sequences – so many fucking dream sequences – that attempt to give us insight to Bruce’s psyche, but ultimately fall flat.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a good movie, and that’s the problem. It needed to be great. Zack Snyder’s second step into DC’s Extended Universe is a half measure. There are enough moments to keep Dawn of Justice elevated from being a catastrophe, but there isn’t much below the surface. No one wanted Dawn of Justice to win more than me. As someone pointed out to me on Twitter, I sound like Obi-Wan yelling at Anakin, “YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE!” I’m starting to think that Zack Snyder isn’t the man for this job, which is unfortunate, because his fingerprints are all over this universe. He likes his movies dark, and that’s not inherently wrong. But Dawn of Justice lacks levity in all forms. And that’s not to say I, or any rational person, expect the sort of humor we’d see in Marvel. I actually prefer gritty realism, but if you look back at Nolan’s run, all his villains brought dark humor to the story.

Another reboot would cripple DC’s chances at ever reigning supreme in the superhero genre (save Nolan’s trilogy, which will forever reside at the top). So now we turn our attention towards Suicide Squad, a film that should’ve been the cherry on top, but now will have to pull a Hail Mary just to keep DC in the game.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice hits theaters tonight.

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

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Ben Lester

Ben likes movies.

  • StanislausBabalistic

    “I’m starting to think that Zack Snyder isn’t the man for this job”

    lololol I can’t believe anyone ever took him seriously as a director after Sucker Punch