Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

by Kevin Taft

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday March 23, 2016

Still of Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill star in 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice'
Still of Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill star in 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice'  (Source:Warner Bros. Pictures)

Truth be told, I was not looking forward to this latest sequel/spin-off/set-up to Zach Snyder's Superman reboot "Man of Steel." To me "Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice" seemed like a way for the filmmakers to beef up the grit-less story by adding in the bad-boy Bat and then have the two battle it out, even though they are both good guys. Yes, yes, it's happened in the comic books, but even still, it seemed sort of desperate.

Then it was announced that Wonder Woman would randomly be added into the mix, and the whole affair seemed like it would be a glorious mess of CGI action, bombastic music, and impossible to follow fight scenes; and for the most part, that's exactly what you get.

The surprise is, I didn't hate it. Sure, there is a lot to gripe about purely on a storytelling level, and Snyder is almost starting to spoof himself with his overwrought style of directing. But there is, weirdly, something about the film that works, even though it's actually not working. And that thing is simply the fact that even at two and a half hours long, it's consistently entertaining. Where "Man of Steel" lost audiences halfway through in a battle that was continually redundant, here there is so much going on you don't always know where it's going. Which is a good thing.

Warner Bros. has asked press not to leak any of the surprises and twists of the film, and while many of them wouldn't actually be considered downright surprising, there are a few that weren't predictable. So I'll briefly explain the setup.

After yet another flashback to the killing of Bruce Wayne's family, the film opens during the final fight from "Man of Steel," where Superman (Henry Cavill) is throttling General Zod (Michael Shannon). This time we witness the destruction of Metropolis through the eyes of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who doesn't take too kindly to this do-gooder alien who is causing a lot of destruction. Cut to eighteen months later, and Superman is both a savior and a terrorist in the eyes of the government and no one is quite sure what to make of him. While Superman himself isn't given that much to do, we do feel his struggle as a man trying to do right by people and feeling betrayed for doing just that. He's in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation, and that struggle is real. Thankfully, he has trusty Lois Lane (Amy Adams) by his side, but his love for her is one of the things that gets him into trouble.

Meanwhile, billionaire mastermind Lex Luthor is trying to get his hands on some Kryptonite, as he thinks that if he has the juice that is toxic to Superman, he can control him, which is something the government doesn't seem to be able to do. But when he is blocked by a Kentucky Senator (Holly Hunter), his unhinged roots start to take hold and he starts to do things on his own.

In between all this is Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), who seems to always be at the same events Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne are at, but no one is quite sure who she is or what she's doing. She is a welcome bit of female empowerment, however, in a film that keeps putting the females into danger for the boys to rescue. While her positioning in the film is clearly a way to get audiences excited for her solo project, it was nice to see the beginnings of her story come into focus.

For most of the film, there are endless discussions on whether Superman is bad or good for the world. Everyone pontificates endlessly about him, and Bruce Wayne just seems pissed off at him. (Maybe he's jealous, I don't know.) But what we do know is at some point the two will fight, and despite it being typical Snyder action, it's kinda fun. It's only in the final act that things get too much, too unclear, and too hard to follow.

But here are the main problems with the movie. One is that there are too many characters and too many subplots vying for our attention. There are bizarre (and unnecessary) dreams from Bruce Wayne, and Lois Lane's investigations seem to lead to things that could have been wrapped up in a more straightforward way. Frequently, you are watching scenes that you don't understand and, during one sequence, you literally go, "What the hell am I watching right now?"

But that said, everything in this movie could be solved by having an actual heart to heart discussion. Whether it's the government talking to Superman or Superman talking to Batman, there are a lot of puffed up chests and people spouting their beliefs, but no one is actually talking to each other. Superman needs only explain his intentions, not to mention he can have good ole' mom come out and say, "Hey, this is how we raised him. He's a good boy." Alas, that would be too easy and there wouldn't be any cool fight scenes.

I guess the other thing I noticed during the film was that it was very cynical and lacked any sort of comic relief. What the folks over at the Marvel Comics-based films do well is add some lightness so you actually feel - despite the danger and fighting - that you are having a good time. Here, everything is dark and sad and everyone seems miserable. Perhaps Snyder is taking too many plays from the Christopher Nolan handbook of DC Comics-based movies, but he really needs to remember that comic books are fun. They can broach heavy issues, yes, and they should. But it's when those issues are touched on in an otherwise light-hearted medium that they feel profound. And have impact.

Disney's "Zootopia" made a number of points about racism, sexism, and the state of today's society, but it never forgot it was a cartoon. Snyder and company should take notes.

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Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to 'Star Wars' and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg.