“How best to describe it?” says Alfred when he sees… *something towards the end*.
The same words could apply to the whole movie. It could have been many, many different things. It tries to be some of them. So in the end, does it deliver?
In my opinion, yes – almost completely!
Directed by Zack Snyder, who is not new to bringing comic books to the silver screen (Watchmen, 300, Man of Steel), “Batman vs Superman” sets for itself a few challenging goals, to achieve all at once. A re-boot for Batman, to close the Nolan-Bale era; to ensure a following to “Man of Steel”, which was pretty much left open; to introduce new characters and a semi-coherent story, to create an Expanded DC Comics Universe to contrast what Marvel is doing with the “Avengers” franchise.
It goes witout saying that one of these goals would have been enough of a challenge for a movie. But all three?
So let’s see. The plot is so-and-so. Nothing memorable, provides not much more than an excuse for the iconic characters of the title to meet. The rest is frankly, forgettable. You can’t wait for that battle to happen and when it does, it’s a feast. And then it’s not over yet!
There are a few moments in which things happen too slow or too fast, without the necessary depth. Especially the conclusion of the epic duel between the two heroes (it ends just like that? really? and now best friends forever?) and the ultra-villain introduced at the end (can’t spoiler it, really can’t), that without real motivations seems to pop up literally from nowhere. And this is to say something, in a movie where people fall from the sky just as naturally as they have breakfast. These elements seem rushed and can leave disappointed.
Overall the effect is strange, because the story starts essentially as centred on Superman. But then, it turns out to become a Batman movie (and one of the best, come to it). And then again, it ends up being a bit of both. In this sense, I guess, mission accomplished. Fans of both heroes will leave the theatres with their mouths and eyes full. But the plate can be too full, and it doesn’t help that sometimes the plot proceeds jumping from one storyline to the other, leaving the audience to do the math.
The characters: Clark Kent / Superman (played again by Henry Cavill) does his job. That’s what he always does, no? Superman was never meant to be the most human, expressive of characters. This “Man of Steel” brings honour to his name. Yet his arc is developed well, the emotional connections are there, and the godlike character who tries to be human and have a “normal” life manages to connect and results convincing, in my opinion.
Batman (Ben Affleck): many fans were skeptical, and I was one of them. To forget Christian Bale is not easy, and the good news is… we don’t have to! This is not a re-boot, but a development. Affleck delivers a performance well in line with the changes asked to the character. The story is inspired, among the other sources, to The Dark Knight Returns (1986, Miller, Janson/Varley). And the Dark Knight here is older, gritty, tired – and therefore, more brutal.
And here is the big, first controversy. In “Batman Vs Superman”, Batman uses firearms, and kills (it’s not even a spoiler, since it’s in the trailers and people have been discussing it for ages now). Anyone who has any familiarity with the character will know that he is known for NOT doing that (a heritage of the trauma that the young Bruce Wayne had to suffer when he witnessed the murder of his parents in Crime Alley). And while the no-firearms rule has been exceptionally broken from time to time (like for example again with Superman, here),
the no-killing-taboo is really one of the most distinctive traits of the Caped Crusader. Although, it has to be said, it has already been broken several times in the movies, this is one of the features that hardcore fans could find disappointing here. This Batman shoots, and kills. End of the story.
The villain: Lex Luthor is played by Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), who delivers a “Mark Zuckerberg meets Joker” mix, neurotic and full of mannerisms. While the performance is intense, I didn’t find it terribly original or inspiring, and the character’s motives never seem to be deep, or realistic, enough. Like, why the hell did he do that? kind of thing. At the end of the day, he plays his part as the “crazy bad guy” quite well, but doesn’t manage to get the third dimension that would have made him a memorable character. Batman is defined by the villains he meets, while this is essentially that: a crazy, bad guy. The real Joker is light years away.
He completely loses it at the end of the movie, when he almost unleashes the end of the world for no apparent reason (can’t spoiler, no no no). I really struggled to guess his motives. He just snapped out of it.
A special mention of honour deserves Jeremy Irons (who plays Alfred). Perfect in the role of the british butler, mentor for Bruce Wayne and dispenser of wisdom and sarcasm, the Oscar-winning actor steals the scene in more than one occasion to his protagonist counterpart.
But the really bad news start with the female characters. Lois Lane is played by the two-times Golden Globe winner and five times Oscar nominee Amy Adams. One would have expected that the character would finally get a deeper psychology, or a more relevant role in the story. Nope. Lois sticks to the tradition of, well, screaming and putting herself in danger, sometimes to the point of being irritating. She is functional to the story in that she allows Superman to come and rescue her, over and over again. The whole thing gets old really soon, is not even good storytelling, and doesn’t do a great service to the idea of women empowerment. Seriously, enough.
The same can be said for Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). It’s true, she appears towards the end and kind of saves the day, joining the two superheroes in the final battle against the super-super villain. And her background, of which we just get some glimpses, seems interesting. But she is really there only to introduce the already announced Justice League spin-offs (to be released between 2017 and 2019), and the thing that irritated me mostly is how out of place and obsolete the character manages to be, in a 2016 movie. More precisely, what the hell does a woman do in her underwear, in the middle of a laser beams and fire-and-explosions-everywhere battle? In 2016, after we have recently seen perfectly credible female characters like Furiosa in Mad Max and Rey in The Force Awakens, this is not an homage to tradition anymore. It’s just silly.
And so, in conclusion?
This movie entertains. Visually, there are many moments of superb impact. Scene after scene, the attention to aesthetic details is strong, and Snyder pays abundand homages to the original comic book stories
or to other forms of visual art.
The soundtrack is performed by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL and
doesn’t disappoint (after a second, and a third hearing) it’s damn GREAT. Some of the best music I have heard not only in an action movie, but in cinema full stop. Put two musical talents like Zimmer (a specialist, having scored Man of Steel and the three latest Dark Knight movies, plus masterpieces like The Gladiator, Inception and many many others) and Junkie XL (Mad Max: Fury Road) together, and the result transcends. Like, really. Try the surprising Wonder Woman theme (Is she with you?) and see what I mean.
In conclusion, it’s a good super hero movie, and a very good if one focuses on Batman (he REALLY kicks ass, his aging version is convincing, and looks more badass than ever in his newest costume), while Superman… well, is Superman. I have never been a huge fan of his, anyways.
“Batman vs Superman” poses many spiritual, political and philosophical questions, without giving the answers. It investigates the ever-complicated relationship between parents and children, humans and Gods, and the necessity to leave a legacy that will survive one’s life. Even a hero’s. Watching it twice only makes its meaning deeper, and more complex.
The Dark Knight is human, too human in his quest to fight divine powers so greater than him, and in his concern to have an impact on the world before he gets too old; while the Man of Steel results convincing in his vain search for humanity and the struggle to be “normal”. Both carry very visible the scars of their “holy wounds”, which are also the sources of their powers.
Notable as well is the stark contrast between Metropolis (a city of lights, America as the Americans would wish it to be) and Gotham City (made of shadows, probably the America Americans don’t want to admit).
The continuous references to terrorism, especially in times like ours, also made me reflect: in the end all “terrors” come from power crazy humans, or from heroes who think they are fighting a battle for the greater good.
It is a dark, demanding, epic movie, very far from the camp humour and camaraderie of the Marvel comic book movies, which will please the fans of Snyder, Superman and Batman (with the possible exceptions described above), better if combined; and will make a lot of people salivate with anticipation, thinking of an upcoming Justice League franchise. Not me, personally, but that’s beside the point.
Could result confusing, long and heavy for a more occasional movie-goer, if you are the don’t-touch-my-Batman kind of fan, or for people who are not familiar at all with the characters of the DC comics universe. I liked it (some parts, a lot) – but buyers beware.
My personal score: 4 (of 5).
Edit: after watching it again (and in IMAX): a full 4.5. The script is much more solid on a second watch. It needs to be followed carefully, a task not easy since the movie is demanding, and visually very engaging. Not many critics have done it, from what I read around.
In short, I think “Batman vs Superman” really is up to the standard for contemporary superheroes movies, and provides a more than valid alternative for people who seek a more mature treatment of the “heroic” genre, especially in alternative to the (sometimes campy) Marvel stories. Go and watch it. Maybe twice.