Review: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)


The Dark Knight takes on the Man of Steel in what may be one of the best comic book translations to come to the big screen with even larger world building connotations taking the center stage in the first step towards a DC Cinematic Universe.


When Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel hit theaters in 2013, modern comic book fans were already living in an age where the idea of the greatest titans from the comic book page hitting the big screen in a shared cinematic universe and having adventures together against common foes was a reality that was drawing fans to theaters in record-breaking numbers. Aside from some criticism in regards to tone and violence, Man of Steel successfully relaunched a new version of Superman to the silver screen that audiences could get behind and were excited to see in future film installments. It was here that the nods to a shared DC Comics Universe that were planted in Man of Steel gave rise to the idea of actually introducing Batman and the Justice League into this new world of the Last Son of Krypton. At the 2014 San Diego Comic Con, Warner Brothers officially announced that the next film in the Man of Steel saga would be Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice would pit Batman against Superman in a direct follow-up to Man of Steel and subsequently also serve to introduce Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, Cyborg, as well as Lex Luthor to this brand new DC Cinematic Universe leading to to an eventual Justice League film. Moreover, this film would also tonally follow the classic 1986 Frank Miller series The Dark Knight Returns as inspiration, a series which featured a much older Batman taking on Superman in a climactic final battle. It seemed on paper to be quite a heavy burden for a sophomore film in a new franchise to have to carry and still succeed at delivering a solid story behind it. Despite the odds, >i>Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice manages to satisfy the world building required to carry a shared cinematic universe forward; all the while still delivering on its titular battle and giving the audience a reason to want to see these characters in the future.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice begins by introducing Bruce Wayne (played to perfection by Ben Affleck) into the world of Superman by presenting him at ground zero of the epic fight between Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod (Michael Shannon) that takes place in Metropolis at the conclusion of 2013’s Man of Steel. We see that Zod’s laser beams bring down the Wayne Financial Tower in Metropolis, which Wayne is trying to clear as the world builder from the previous film is activated. Despite his best efforts, hundreds of Wayne employees are killed when the tower collapses, which turns Wayne against the Last Son of Krypton. Wayne sees Superman as an unchecked alien menace no different than General Zod and the other Kryptonians who nearly destroyed Earth, one whose actions cannot be predicted or controlled. The Bruce Wayne of this world has been Batman for over 20 years, and, as Alfred (a great turn by Jeremy Irons) notes, it is the weariness that his long fight against crime has wrought on him that has turned a good man cruel. Batman takes to branding the worst of Gotham’s criminals, child molesters and sex traffickers, with a bat logo. This sigil, the Gotham media notes, guarantees those men death once they get behind bars, turning Batman into a virtual judge, jury and executioner.

Meanwhile, in the 18 months since the Metropolis invasion, Superman’s reputation is a mixed one. Many see him as a savior and an angel, while others view him as a potential international incident waiting to happen. Such an incident happens when Lois Lane (Amy Adams) travels to the Middle East for an interview with a foreign terrorist. Lois is captured and nearly killed when the KGBeast, Anatoly Knyazev (played by Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s Callan Mulvey), and his paramilitary agents overthrow his organization. Superman saves Lois, but, in doing so, destabilizes the region under his control, leading to hearings in Washington D.C. led by ambitious junior Senator Finch (Holly Hunter), who asks if there “must be a superman” if it means the consequences of his unilateral actions go unchecked.

This is a smart narrative device by Snyder and screenwriter David S. Goyer, since it allows them to directly address the critical reaction to the depiction of Superman in Man of Steel as a Superman who didn’t take the possibility of civilian deaths and collateral damage as a serious issue. By doing so, it allows the narrative to present the character of Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) as the radicalized embodiment of that critique, a young eccentic billionaire dedicating his resources to finding a means to balance the equation against the godlike Superman in the favor of mankind. His resources and worldview allow Luthor unprecedented access to the remains of Zod’s ship and its genesis chamber and to the remains of Zod (Michael Shannon) himself, especially once he reveals to the government that the remains of the ship, a green radioactive rock called Kryptonite, could be potentially weaponized against Kal-El to deliver a final doomsday solution to Superman.

This Kryptonite discovery is what begins to tie the narrative together. As Wayne learns of the potential Kryptonite has as a weapon to use against Superman through his interactions with the KGBeast, he attends a philantrophic event at Lexcorp to try to hack Luthor’s servers and learn of its location. It is here we are introduced to antiques dealer Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), a mysterious woman who seeks access to Luthor’s servers as well for her own purposes, It is also where Bruce Wayne meets Clark Kent, who is trying to expose Gotham City’s Batman in the Daily Planet as an out of control vigilante who must be put in check. Kent’s articles encounter pushback from Perry White, who doesn’t see Batman’s action as very different from Superman as they both operate outside the law for the greater good. Superman thinks Batman’s methods go to far and is determined to retire the Bat. Meanwhile, as both Batman and Superman are determined to stop the others’ activities, Luthor secretly is collecting data on a variety of what he calls “meta-humans” to a potentially unknown purpose. Thus, the stage is set for the DC Superhero showdown of the decade.

Snyder expertly directs this film and keeps the pace moving and engaging; a difficult task given the many storyline elements and foundation blocks the film has to set in order to establish this new shared DC film universe, as well introduce several characters who are heading directly into stand alone films. Given his experience with comic book films like Watchmen, 300, Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice establishes key elements early and deftly. Batman’s origin is done during the opening credits, succintly yet powerfully, utilizing the full IMAX ratio to lend gravitas and weight to the now familiar scene of the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents, and gives us the details in the frame to let us piece whats going on without giving into heavy exposition. This is also how Snyder handles the world building scenario that leads to the realization that there must be a league to fend off the dangers and a possible nightmare scenario that could be facing the world in the future. By taking advantage of the full IMAX ratio and filling the screen, the future of the DC Universe is full of immediate and potentially terrifying detail. Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s soundtrack drives the film and keeps it moving forward, genuinely haunting in parts, and primal and militaristic in others when it needs to be. The actual Batman vs. Superman battle is presented in full IMAX ratio and every bit the war you would expect the two to have, based on their comic book characterization. The ultimate battle joining Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman against a common foe, glimpsed in the trailers, is also a modern spectacle – rivaling and at times surpassing any on-screen battle seen in a Marvel Studios film. Batman, finally in his trademark black and grey comic book costume, is choreographed much like his video game incarnation in the Arkham series of games and Wonder Woman’s appearance in the film is one that draws cheers, down to the use of her trademark golden lasso in battle.

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Screenwriter David S. Goyer has cut his teeth working on comic films through his career, having written all 3 Blade films, The Crow: City of Angels, and story credit for Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy as well as Man of Steel. He crafts a story here that could have been bungled quite easily and addresses criticism of the past film in a way that moves the narrative of this film forward. Ben Affleck makes the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman defiantly his own and Snyder’s unorthodox ending for this film opens up the DC Universe in many interesting directions moving forward. I’m excited for the next installment Suicide Squad and where these films move in the future. For now, it’s easy to say that Batman v. Superman is a knockout.