What would you do if you had to deal with a man powerful enough to destroy the world? A man who just laid waste to one of the largest cities on Earth while “defending” it from an alien; a man who claims to have our best interests at heart but—like so many of us—would do anything to protect the people he loves, regardless of the consequences? This is the central question posed by Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Unfortunately, the movie completely fails to really explore it, let alone deal with its ramifications. Snyder’s sequel to the controversial Man of Steel reaches for profundity but settles for melodrama. That said, it’s not terrible entertainment. Seeing Batman (Ben Affleck), Superman (Henry Cavill), and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) together on screen for the first time is exciting enough, and Affleck in particular delivers a laudable performance as Gotham’s Caped Crusader. While this installment is mediocre, it sets up for future promising DC films.
The crux of the conflict that drives the film is immediately apparent in the opening scenes: Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) witnesses Superman burning skyscrapers to the ground with his laser vision, supposedly in order to “save” Metropolis from General Zod. The level of destruction is comparable to 9/11. Bruce saves those he can from Superman’s devastation, lifting a large piece of rubble off of a man in shock. As he sets down the colossal concrete slab, Bruce sees a young girl paralyzed with fear. She stares at a skyscraper full of Wayne’s employees as it crashes down around her. He saves her just in time. He comforts the crying girl, “Everything’s going to be okay. Let’s find your mom. Do you know where she is?” The girl points to what is left of the skyscraper. Wayne of course is all too familiar with losing one’s parents, and as he holds the girl in his arms and stares upwards the anger and fear in his face are palpable.
Affleck’s portrayal of Batman (or Batfleck), really is one of the best parts of the film. The deep, gravelly voice alone immediately convinced me that he was Batman, despite my initial doubts that it would be difficult to accept a new actor in the iconic role less than four years after Bale’s famous performance. The immense physical training the already imposing Affleck went through for this role is immediately apparent. While Superman would probably beat Batman in a purely physical brawl, Cavill’s chances against Affleck would be far slimmer. But Batfleck brings more than a formidable physique to the part. He portrays the older, jaded, and somewhat broken Batman with the gravitas needed for this film. All of this is enhanced by what is, in my opinion, the best Batman suit to ever grace the screen.
Unfortunately, Affleck’s performance isn’t enough to save the film from mediocrity. Going into this movie, one of my main worries was that the conflict between Batman and Superman wouldn’t feel sufficiently motivated. Though comic fans know these heroes have clashed several times, the lay moviegoer views them as fighting on the same side of justice. However, Batman v Superman does a surprisingly good job at providing motivations for the conflict; in fact, it does too good of a job. Ultimately, of course, Batman and Superman have to resolve their dispute and join forces. However, when this is done in about a minute (after hours of essentially building a case against Superman) and based on a complete coincidence (specifically that their mothers have the same first name), it feels contrived and inauthentic.
The film is also very serious, in that it has only slightly more humor than a root canal. While superhero movies can certainly be both serious and successful (exemplified by Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy), Batman v Superman lacks the philosophical weight, not to mention the directorial skill, to pull it off. It tries to seem deep, mostly by having Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor say a lot of profound-sounding stuff about Good, Evil, God, Man, Heaven, and Hell. Sadly, this dialogue and symbolism feels like it was just thrown in to create the appearance of thematic weight without actually saying anything. Other parts of the dialogue have the opposite problem: the lines sound too cliché for a supposedly serious movie, though they might have worked in some Batman and Superman cartoons. In short, if Heath Ledger’s Joker were watching this film, he would undoubtedly ask “Why so serious?”
The soundtrack is equally disappointing. Admittedly, I had high expectations given that it was composed by Hans Zimmer, my second favorite film composer. Like much of the film, the soundtrack is far from awful. Parts of it are actually pretty good. It fits with the action on screen, but lacks any new memorable themes. In short, it is largely forgettable.
By the end of the film, I must confess I found myself somewhat excited about the potential of future DC movies, especially a solo Batman film starring (and directed by) Affleck. Nevertheless, I was even more excited to see how similar weighty questions (the role of superpowers in society, etc.) are dealt with in Marvel’s upcoming Civil War. Hopefully, then I will leave the theater thinking about the questions posed by the movie rather than whether or not it was worth 12 bucks.
If the rest of the DC cinematic universe movies are this mediocre, Marvel has nothing to worry about.