Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
WRITERS: CHRIS TERRIO and DAVID S. GOYER
DIRECTOR: ZACH SNYDER
RELEASE DATE: March 25 2016
After much hype and production time, the follow up to Man of Steel has arrived in theatres. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice pits two of the biggest members of DC’s Trinity against each other, while bringing in the third member as a wild card. The Dark Knight and the Man of Steel go head to head in a grudge match with a whole lot of destruction, a villain pulling the strings, and hints of the impending Justice League yet to come. Director Zack Snyder returns to helm this sprawling tale which deals with the issues of power and responsibility, while feeling like it’s trying to catch up to what Marvel Studios has done over the last few years.
Picking up months after the events of Man of Steel, Superman (Henry Cavill) has become a source of controversy. Some see the Kryptonian as a threat, others see him as a hero. Given the mass casualties in Metropolis after his battle with Zod, that’s understandable. One of those viewing him as a threat is Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who has spent twenty years in Gotham City as the vigilante Batman. He blames the Man of Steel for the casualties and carnage, while his faithful butler Alfred (Jeremy Irons) sees things differently. As for Superman, in his civilian identity as reporter Clark Kent, he’s involved with Lois Lane (Amy Adams, reprising her role from the first film).
Tycoon Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) also sees the Man of Steel as a foe, and has been busy manipulating a senator (Holly Hunter) and making dark plans against Superman. Another player, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) enters the mix with her own secrets, and Bruce’s investigations lead him into Luthor’s secrets. A terrible incident ensues, and the two heroes find themselves drawn into a confrontation with each other.
The screenplay is credited to two writers, Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer. The latter had a big hand in Man of Steel and Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. While the story’s an original one, there are big influences from the comics, specifically Frank Miller’s alternate future miniseries The Dark Knight Returns and the Death of Superman story arc. This is also a fresh start for the Batman - this is clearly not the same character from Nolan’s film trilogy. The story effectively brings the Batman into an already established world where Superman’s been active - though the Dark Knight has been active for longer. While it reflects the events of Man of Steel, it’s not so much a sequel as its own story, expanding the DC cinematic universe - and perhaps packing too much in all at once, what with Wonder Woman turning up, as well as appearances by those who will one day be part of the League. There’s not a lot of humour to the story, though - everything seems to feel a little too grim and dark. Perhaps that comes from having The Dark Knight Returns as inspirational material. Personally, while I get why that limited series was so acclaimed, I have a whole lot of issues with it - Frank Miller really needs intensive psychological therapy.
The Dark Knight
Snyder already has had experience with the superhero world after his experience with Man of Steel, so it’s suitable to have him helm this again. The visual style of the director is in keeping again with this film, which has a lot of emphasis on the epic feel of the story, but at the same time his style does at times make it all feel like two guys yelling at each other and then trying to kill each other. In terms of lighting, it’s darker, fitting the fact that Batman is present and accounted for.
The design of things like the new Batmobile work well - while it takes inspiration from classic Batmobiles, there’s a lot of the tank sensibility to it that we might have expected from the Nolan trilogy. The design of an end of the film character, Doomsday, is interesting; the character looks like a gigantic orc having a bad face day. While Superman is still pretty much in the same outfit we’ve seen in the earlier film, the two big new arrivals have had new designs. Wonder Woman has a uniform that looks more like Greek armour than the star spangled costume of the comics.
Batman’s costume hearkens to the comics, while a second look is much more armoured. While it’s obviously influenced by the character’s armour in The Dark Knight Returns, I was also reminded of an armour Batman wore in another limited series, Batman vs Predator. The film also brings back Hans Zimmer, who composed the music for Man of Steel and the Nolan Batman trilogy, to compose the score this time with a collaborator, Junkie XL. The challenge for Zimmer was to not take any of his previous themes for the Dark Knight, and working with another composer this time out ends up working well in that regard.
Some of the supporting characters are new to the DC Universe, while others have returned from Man of Steel. Laurence Fishburne returns as Perry White, the editor in chief at the Planet, Lois and Clark’s boss, still as grouchy but principled as ever. Diane Lane reprises her role as Martha Kent, the wise mother of Clark (still looking older than the actress actually is), very much a source of personal strength for her son. Holly Hunter is a new presence as Senator Finch, playing the character with authority while being played at times by Luthor. Jeremy Irons makes an interesting casting choice as Alfred, Bruce’s faithful butler and voice of reason.
Jesse Eisenberg might be an unlikely choice for Lex Luthor - for one thing, the actor has a full head of hair, and is a good deal younger than you might expect for the character. He plays the role in a bit of an obnoxious and devious way, pulling strings and acting like a puppet master, playing a game to his own ends through the film. Luthor’s not at all a likeable person - which is required in a villain. The hint of the comics version is there though - the arrogant man who ultimately feels insecure in the presence of his enemy.
The Man of Steel
Amy Adams returns as Lois, which is a good thing. She played the character in a spirited way in Man of Steel, and in a way that showed her own resourcefulness. That continues here. I did like in the earlier film that Lois was presented as smart, figuring out things like who Superman really was on her own - it was a stark contrast to the comics version who always seemed oblivious to that fact. Adams brings an outspoken, bold quality to the character.
Gal Gadot is a newcomer to me; the actress has done a few movie roles in things I haven’t seen before, and was a model before that. Yet she comes into the role of Diana Prince, otherwise known as Wonder Woman, with a sense of authority. We don’t see a lot of her as the film goes along; she first appears undercover in civilian attire, and perhaps that’s for the best - the character’s unknown background actually makes her more interesting. When we see her as the hero she is, the actress brings the character’s strength and sense of resolve right into things. I’m looking forward to seeing what she does in an upcoming solo film.
Henry Cavill returns as Clark Kent/ Superman after Man of Steel. The character has held onto his principles, struggling with his place in the world. While he works to save lives and help others, the question as to if he could ever become a threat is a real one. It’s a question that should be brought up more often - just what would be enough to push Superman into becoming a threat to the world at large? Clark has at least some domestic happiness this time out, the stability of love and someone to come home to. Clark is dogged as a reporter; Cavill plays the character’s two alter egos in ways that show a clear difference between the two (this was a huge problem with the series Lois & Clark, in which there was no sense of Clark being a different person than Superman, thanks for nothing, Dean Cain).
Ben Affleck was a controversial choice as Bruce Wayne/ Batman. He had played a hero before, in the film version of Daredevil, and he has had hits and misses as an actor before. But the story calls for the character not to be a younger Dark Knight just starting out, but a seasoned, veteran crime fighter with years of experience. Affleck plays the character as grim and humourless, a bit single minded in terms of his animosity toward the Man of Steel. He’s bullheaded and relentless, embittered by years of urban warfare against crime. It’s a curious thing - Bruce refuses to listen to other opinions about the matter when perhaps he should. He plays Bruce as charming and a playboy, which should be the way it’s done, and Batman as ruthlessly determined and a bit paranoid. It’s not as good a performance in the role as Christian Bale’s take on the character, but that’s impossible to match.
The film’s a big punch up blockbuster (even if it’s been released long before the traditional blockbuster season). The grimness and excessive damage can be a bit overwhelming, and to be honest, the film seems to be trying to pack way too much in at once. It seems to be desperately trying to catch up with the Marvel cinematic universe, which shows in the way the story comes across. Rather than carefully go about establishing that universe, as Marvel Studios did, this film tries to go all out in trying to make a match. It’s perhaps a vain effort; the film does come across as lacking the heart of the Marvel films, as well as the sense of humour. Still, it does establish a wider DC cinematic universe, and sets the stage for things to come. DC has put a lot of hopes into their own film world; they just need to seriously invest in warmth and the odd punchline as they go ahead.