Day and night. These words describe more than just the differences between the Bat of Gotham and the Son of Krypton. Day and night exemplifies the triumphs and shortcomings of Zack Snyder’s somewhat-epic heavyweight Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. By day, the film shows viewers all that it could be, while by night, it regresses to the point of complete collapse. The word “dawn” is aptly present in the title. Day does break in this film, giving rays of hope and excitement through its cast, but Batman v. Superman remains enveloped by the darkness of a cluttered narrative that challenges viewers’ resolve.
Following the destructions of Metropolis at the hands of General Zod (Michael Shannon) and Superman (Henry Cavill), Batman (Ben Affleck), from the neighboring city of Gotham, vows to put an end to the threat of humanity’s destruction at the hands of Kryptonians. Using his skills and intelligence amassed over 20 years of fighting crime around the city, Batman intends to challenge Superman’s unbridled authority. All the while, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) devises his own plans to bring an end to the unrestrained powers of the Man of Steel through more nefarious means.
The most compelling elements of the film lie in its first half. Throughout this half, the narrative progresses through a thoughtful lens, regarding morality and responsibility as the world grapples with the notion of a “super-man.” What kinds of power does he possess? Who can hold him responsible? These concepts and struggles are examined most clearly through Cavill’s performance, which sees Superman dealing with his position of power and what he should do with it. Throughout this first half, Cavill makes viewers question where Superman sees himself in relation to the masses. Does he feel more god than man? As the world looks on, we see Clark Kent evolve as a man who sees his responsibility to friends and family clash with his perceived duty to the world.
“Be their hero, Clark,” Martha Kent says. “Be their angel, be their monument, be anything they need you to be. Or be none of it. You don’t owe this world a thing. You never did.”
In direct contrast, Bruce Wayne (Batman), holds a more cynical view of Superman, as a threat and unknown. Affleck does a marvelous job exuding a kind of grizzled pessimism that could certainly take root in the aged crimefighter, with a hell of a performance as both Bruce Wayne and Batman. In every scene in the first half, viewers might wonder whether Batman is playing Bruce Wayne or Bruce Wayne is playing Batman. Their respective aspects are fused into a dark and brooding man, who has seen honor and respect fall to the wayside all too often. This is much to the credit of Affleck, as he embodies the haggard look of the Dark Knight, while still maintaining an air of conviction and strength. However grim the future may look, Bruce Wayne still believes in something.
This notion is best exemplified by the Bat himself, who says, “Twenty years in Gotham. How many good guys are left? How many stayed that way?”
This incarnation of Batman is one of the most striking, as he has to maintain an air of myth and legend. Those he saves still fear him and cops remain in awe of his presence. He is not a hero. He is a vigilante. In this world no one looks to the Batman with admiration, only with fear. His punches are brutal and his eyes concede no notion of mercy. This Batman was certainly born in darkness and viewers are able to understand this point, despite being placed in the latter half of his crime-fighting career. His mythos is given a foundation in the world, exuded by Affleck’s demeanor and interaction with other characters. Batman is characterized by a lot of showing and a lot less telling. His deadened eyes say resolutely that he fears no god or man. In many ways, this may be the best on-screen Batman to date.
As the film breaks into its second half, the true intentions behind the film begin to reveal themselves. The film chiefly serves to set up the upcoming Justice League film. It makes references to the future blockbuster shamelessly, as characters are introduced for nothing more than hype. These shoehorned inclusions are distracting and add to the disorder seen in the latter half of the film. As the plot struggles to maintain a sense of direction and as characters fall in and out of relevance, the Justice League nods represent wasted time that could have been better spent bringing clarity to the film’s narrative. Even Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), whose inclusion has been lauded by critics, serves no other purpose in the plot than to be present in the final fight and place the future Justice League in full view.
Much like the plight of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 as it eyed The Sinister Six, these references leave the film feeling cluttered with inconsequential characters who serve to garner hype in place of elevating the story at hand. In Batman v. Superman, one can get the sense that the heart of the film lies elsewhere. Being two hours and 31 minutes long, all of these needless inclusions bog down the latter half of the film and diminish the effect of the thought-provoking aspects present in its first half.
Despite this issue, the title fight in Batman v. Superman is far from disappointing. Superman taking hard falls and punches to the chin will have viewers all but cheering for Batman. Seeing these comic book titans square off is a sensational experience, but one may wonder if it could have been even more so, with more time invested in the battle the audience came to see. But as this fight comes to a close, the heroes must face a common foe, in one of the most overdone climactic fights ever seen on screen.
The final Doomsday fight brings Snyder-level destruction to an abandoned wharf, with little in the line of true consequences. Though one of the main criticisms of Man of Steel was its disregard for life in Metropolis, the final fight with Doomsday was done with no repercussions to most of the destruction. This contrast makes for its use of nukes, energy pulses, and explosions rather lackluster. The flip from immense death and destruction in Man of Steel to relatively little is a noticeable difference. Doomsday himself serves as little more than a precursor foe against whom Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman can develop some team-building skills. Again, this aspect is seen plainly and employed with little to no tact.
Within the final act, the heroes themselves act believably. Superman takes full advantage of his powers and takes serious thrashings with poise. Batman looks impressive as he remains the only mortal in the fight. As he grapples away from Doomsday, the imperative of his evasion is felt a little more strongly.
Batman v. Superman is rife with promise that is ultimately squandered in pursuit of another film. These failures do not rest on the shoulders of the actors, rather on those of executives that are intent on creating a franchise in place of individual films. The promise of future films headed by Affleck’s Batman and Gadot’s Wonder Woman may make for a hopeful future founded in a desire to explore characters rather than the wallets of movie goers.
But, maybe it’s just the Gotham City in me. We just have a bad history with suits dressed as filmmakers.
Featured Image By Warner Bros. Pictures