Warning: this is not a spoiler heavy review, but it does contain elements which are present in all the trailers, so if you haven't watched any of the trailers, please don't read this review if you think it may spoil the movie
Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Wow, I must have watched a different movie to the vast majority of critics, as I thought Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (from here on in may be referred to as Batman vs Superman, Bats vs Supes, Dawn of Justice, BVS or BVSDOJ) was.. erm... superb! Reading a few reviews, I was getting a little apprehensive (oh no, it's going to be awful!) about my impending trip to the cinema, but I won't apologise for going against the grain of opinion to declare that I absolutely loved it! Since comic book and superhero movies really took off, I've seen quite a few, but it's no exaggeration to say Bats vs Supes belongs at the top of the scale - the true test is whether this is pure hyperbole speaking, as I am buzzing from seeing it, and will it fair as well on a second or third watch, but I'd happily go back and watch it again tomorrow (although reality will put the brakes on that!). I can safely say that it already surpasses 2013's Man of Steel, a film I also have a fondness for. Any worries I had that the 2.5 hours running time would drag soon dissipated when my eyes didn't once avert from the screen to my watch, except towards the end when I was enjoying it so much that I actually hoped there might be another ten minutes!
Picking up from where the latter film left off - amidst the final face off between Kal El and General Zod - but from the perspective of Bruce Wayne arriving just in time to witness one of his buildings crumble as part of the collateral damage caused by the battle of the Kryptonians, Batman Vs Superman poses relevant questions concerning if a super being(s) lived among us. It's fair to say that for every person that views Superman as a messianic saviour figure, there are those that will question his place on earth, his true intentions and motivations. Obviously, from a political viewpoint, the government would debate the role of Superman and accountability. It's not something that's really given much thought in the other films (I.e. Donner and Singer's versions, where they just take to him like a duck to water, no questions asked), but here it's explored in some detail. From an embittered, world weary Bruce Wayne's perspective: what if Superman one day turned against the human race? Corrupted by power or driven by loss? He could annihilate and/or enslave us in an instant ().something terrifyingly imagined in Wayne's nightmare vision of the future
Ever wondered what an 18 rated, proper adult Superman or Batman movie would be like - and before anyone jumps on me with Nolan's trilogy, I know he obviously got in there first with a grounded, realistic take on the character, but this version of Batman has a different "grown up" gritty tone that plays a bit like Bale's version several years further down the line if that makes sense? - well, Bats Vs Supes is the closest thing to date that we will get to that. Taking a cue from his own Watchmen (2009) adaptation, Zack Snyder has again adopted a serious approach to the superhero genre, and it works more effectively than in his previous Man of Steel. I'm a huge admirer of the Watchmen movie, and with the inclusion of The Dark Knight, Dawn of Justice shares the same mature yet surreal vision of a world inhabited by superheroes of the human and omnipotent variety. As for a darker Superman, why not? Many cite the Donner/Reeve collaboration as the ultimate benchmark for what the character should be, but I don't see an issue with an alternative interpretation of Krypton's last son. Especially as he has been the subject of various "darker" narratives in the comics, so why not in the movies?
Snyder's adult vision, and the connection to Watchmen, is in no small part aided by his re-teaming with frequent cinematographer Larry Fong (who also worked on the latter, 300 and Sucker Punch - and whatever the flaws of that film, the breathtaking visuals are not among them). Fong's work on BVS must surely be an early 2016 contender for the most stunning imagery in a film - the Kal El vs Dark Knight duel alone is worth the price of admission to see it on the biggest IMAX screen possible. There are moments in Man of Steel which are visually arresting, but the return of Fong (no offence to Amir Mokri) takes it to the next level.
Cast-wise, Ben Affleck knocks it out of the park with his mean and moody portrayal of Bruce Wayne/Batman. I actually liked him in Daredevil, but Affleck is so awesome and badass in BVS that in an ideal world his very next film would be a solo Batman outing. As Superman, Henry Cavill does pale somewhat in comparison, but that's also due to his part being a little underwritten (he basically spends the film perplexed and disillusioned by the world's increasing negativity towards Superman, with the dastardly plotting of Lex Luthor unbeknownst to him) as well as Affleck's transformation from smug git to an actor with genuine presence in his later years. As the aforementioned Luthor, Jesse Eisenberg presents probably my biggest issue with the movie. As the yet to be follically challenged villain, Eisenberg is just pure irritating rather than menacing, and would not have been out of place in Joel Schumacher's Bat movies. Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman is more of an extended cameo, but she is impressive in the screen-time that she has (and I look forward to a solo film hopefully). Elsewhere, it seems like eons since I last saw Holly Hunter in anything, so that's a nice bit of casting, and Diane Lane has a slightly smaller role this time round but gets one of the best lines in the film (who said there was no humour?). The likes of Irons and Fishburne don't get an awful lot to do to be honest, but it's a nice touch for Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen's The Comedian) to do a cameo as Thomas Wayne.
The set pieces in BVS are viscerally impressive, and far more intricately crafted than those in Man of Steel. Snyder has done a great job at staging the points in the film in which the action occurs. We are teased early on with a few snippets here and there, moments which set the scene, and then for the third act, the action goes batsh*t crazy (pun intended). As well as the iconic titular smackdown, there is a crowd pleasing scrap as Batman goes to town on a group of goons. The choreography and camerawork are much improved as you can clearly see everything happening whereas it was all a bit of a blur in Man of Steel. With the setting of the action predominantly at nighttime, the visual effects are seamless - at no point did I start to think I was watching a video game, except maybe for the appearance of a certain big bad in the final act.
Every movie normally contains flaws of some form, but the issues I have with Batman Vs Superman are not the same as those levelled by critics. I really enjoyed it, so any gripes I have exist on a minor level. Jesse Eisenberg is one of them as already mentioned. You could also argue that the latter's back story is under developed, his character's story arc seemingly shoehorned into the narrative. Another minor gripe is that it does go a little Pacific Rim on the destruction porn scale by the time Wonder Woman joins the party. There is also the old chestnut plot device, and the two heroes eventually finding a common ground relies on a conveniently perfect coincidence. It also suffers from the "ID4 syndrome" of humans easily being able to access and control advanced alien technology (a charge that also applies to the first movie). One of the criticisms I'd heard is that BVS is sorely lacking in humour, but I didn't find that to be the case. Sure, it's not Avengers or Deadpool degrees of humour, but they do occur at the right moments, and in a relatively subtle manner similar to Man of Steel.of the use of Kryptonite as its seemingly the only viable physical weapon against Superman
Overall (and this is a nice surprise to me too) I consider Batman Vs. Superman to be a work of triumph. If it isn't quite ready to usurp Marvel from its heavyweight superhero crown, Dawn of Justice certainly exhibits credentials for a shot at the title. I actually had more issues with the plotting and overload of characters in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but those problems are not as apparent in BVS, and therefore I enjoyed the latter far more. I'm one of those who actually really rates Raimi's Spider-man 3, so maybe it's something to do with that? I can only hope that Suicide Squad is as good now that I'm psyched up for more DC mayhem. Hopefully, BVSDOJ will overcome the critically mauling it's received to do well enough at the box office, as I'm really up for more DC/Justice League movies after this.
On a final note, as the film is 12a, if any parents are considering taking a child under 12 to see BVS, I would advise you not to! My son (aged 7) has seen the trailer in the cinema, and obviously interested, but there's no way he's seeing it until the appropriate age. The mature themes and disturbing imagery (on more than one occasion) means it's definitely at the very top end of 12a and unsuitable for youngsters!