Tell me, do you bleed?... You will.
Although 2012's The Avengers was a milestone event, there’s something seminal about having DC’s two biggest hitters face off. But does it work?Whilst many might balk at the idea of a puny human taking on the mighty Man of Steel, we can’t forget that his greatest arch-enemy was a mere mortal: Lex Luthor. The precedent has already been set in the comic universe, with a number of big titles seeing Gotham’s Dark Knight forced to rein in the might of Superman. The most famous was Frank “Sin City” Miller’s outstanding The Dark Knight Returns, a graphic novel that saw an ageing Batman taking down a corrupt Superman. For years fans were hoping this would be brought to the Big Screen, with even Eastwood being once championed as a perfect fit for an ‘old’ Batman. But after Nolan rebooted the series so definitively, the idea of this coming to life soon dissipated, with the only saving grace being an excellent 2-part animated movie.Following the success of Marvel’s Avengers franchise, DC had serious catching up to do, but teaming their biggest heroes in a Justice League movie was quite a big ask given they couldn't even get Superman right, despite two attempts at a reboot, and given their biggest property – Batman – had been so conclusively covered. Bringing the two together, despite the imminent formation of the Justice League as alluded to in the subtitle “Dawn of Justice”, is a clever tactic. Man of Steel didn’t light up the Box Office, but has enough goodwill to allow Cavill another shot in the suit, and those hesitant will be drawn in by Batman. And neither character needs another reboot. No, this is literally the best of both worlds and it’s understandable why expectations would be high, but did they pull it off?
The short answer is: sort of. This certainly isn’t a blistering win for the DC camp, soaring up to rank alongside Marvel’s best. It doesn’t have the script of The Avengers, nor does it have the background of five movies setting it up beforehand. Indeed it works well using the momentum of Man of Steel to forge the foundation for the events in this, truly feeling like a sequel to that film, with the overlong title Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice serving three very blunt marketing purposes – to advertise Batman entering this universe; spotlight the epic dust-off between these two characters; and pave the way for the future two-part Justice League movies just around the corner.
Affleck makes for a strong older Batman, the war in Gotham having made him weary and cynical – and, as Alfred warns him, cruel – and the events in Metropolis having made a very personal lasting impression on him, leaving him resolute in his mission to stop the unstoppable alien invader from continuing his unchecked ‘heroics’ on Earth. Cavill does a commendable job at picking up where the last film left off, carrying the burden of his own heroics on his shoulders; confused by the animosity mankind has towards his exploits; and still lost on another world which he struggles to call home.
Despite the overlong wait, their battle is violent and epic, and – in terms of action – every bit as spectacular as fans would have hoped for.
Yet the set-up for their conflict is long and protracted, with not enough foundation despite the painful runtime. Tying in to Man of Steel establishes the premise for Batman’s rage, but then pushing forward years in time robs that much-needed momentum, so that by the time he’s pushed over the edge, it appears less justified. Conversely, Superman isn’t pushed into enough of a grey area – the film has one inspired flash-forward sequence that boasts some of the most audacious behaviour from either character, with a gun-toting Batman seriously kicking ass, and a violently homicidal Superman no longer holding back, but back in reality he’s still just a misunderstood hero. Nevertheless, despite the overlong wait, their battle is violent and epic, and - in terms of action - every bit as spectacular as fans could have hoped for.
Unfortunately the build-up before, and the CG-fuelled, city-bashing events after don’t do that face-off justice, with Eisenberg’s Luthor a painfully annoying variation of almost every other character Eisenberg has ever played, and Gal Gadot’s surprise heroine largely wasted on the way to a movie of her very own. There are still sparks of energy and superb, clever ideas, but there’s also a host of miscalculations, some terrible, frenetic editing (not shaky-cam, but jumping back and forth between scenes disjointedly) and an utterly discordant score which has a ‘theme’ for each of the characters – from Batman’s sombre bassline to Superman’s sorrowful soaring (both of which fare better than the others) clumsily spliced with Luthor’s ‘psychotic’ overtones and Gal Gadot’s warrior theme.
It's hard to avoid spoilers everywhere you turn, not least the final film trailer which gives away the entire movie, but there are two foundation graphic novels at play here - the aforementioned The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, and another seminal Superman comic run, arguably his most famous, defining story arc in the last couple of decades, whose very name will give away far too much. These provide a strong backbone, but to two very different movies, and fusing them together is arguably just another mistake made. Making a film about The Dark Knight Returns would have been enough, or even updating it to the current movie universe, and stripping it down to just a well-staged conflict between Batman and Superman, but here they go for broke and try and blend it with an similarly significant Superman story which also, by itself, could have made for a landmark event movie. Throwing the Justice League into the mix only further muddies the water.
They just tried to put too much into one movie, throwing everything at the audience and hoping that some of it works. And some of it does, but as a whole, it frequently falls apart.
It’s hard not to appreciate the significance of seeing Batman v Superman, nor rush to the cinema at a minute past midnight on opening night to pop your Batman (or Superman) styled 3D glasses on and watch it at the biggest screen you can find. And it’s hard, after all that, not to champion the high points of this movie more than the low ones. There’s a lot of spectacle here, and a lot of what fans wanted to see from these two iconic characters, but there are also a lot of flaws, and DC’s rush to cram a whole series of movie storylines into one big team-up appears to have handicapped the franchise before it even got started. Temper your expectations: it could have been worse, but fans were probably hoping for better.
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