Although “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice” promised to show fans an epic smack-down between two of the greatest superheroes of all time, the initial reviews for this film were, unfortunately, not-so-super. “Batman vs. Superman” is currently sitting at 29 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and one critic called it “an onslaught of too much, too often, and for too long” (ouch). However, these reviews didn’t seem to dampen moviegoers’ enthusiasm too much — the film pulled in an impressive $170 million over the Easter weekend, and audiences rated it a far less painful 73 percent.
Despite the 29 percent critics’ rating, the film isn’t as bad as you might first believe. I walked into the theater with a good deal of skepticism but found I was actually entertained by the film. There are some good moments, and even flashes of greatness, though it’s also fair to say the film isn’t all that it could have been. Since there are some pretty stark contrasts between the good and the not-so-good, I’ve decided to skip my regular movie review format and instead do a list of what works and what doesn’t.
• Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Although Ben Affleck initially got quite a bit of flak for his casting, he actually turns out to be a pretty interesting Bruce Wayne/Batman. I like the choice to portray an older and more world-weary Batman; every time you see Bruce Wayne, there’s a sad, almost tired look in his eyes. His years of vigilantism — and his isolation — are starting to wear on him, and we get the feeling he’s keeping up this superhero business more out of a sense of duty than a burning desire to champion the cause of justice. He provides a thought-provoking contrast to Superman. Unlike Superman, he doesn’t have any supernatural powers; all his special abilities come from tech he’s developed. It was also nice to see him hold his own in the film’s inevitable fight between the two heroes (hey, you can’t call it “Batman vs. Superman” and not have a battle between these two).
• Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. While I worried that DC might be adding too many heroes to this film, essentially turning it into “Justice League Lite,” I’m really glad they included Wonder Woman. Marvel has Black Widow (and now the Scarlet Witch), and it’s great to see DC bring in a female superhero, especially one with powers as impressive as Wonder Woman’s. I loved watching her interact with the other superheroes in the big battle during the film’s third act. I’m also now pretty pumped for her solo film next year.
• The dark/gritty tone. This film is pretty dark, both literally and figuratively — the film itself is shot in a muted color palette, and the tone is somber. While some critics said the film is too serious and doesn’t take enough time for fun, I’m glad DC didn’t try to copy the Marvel template. I love the Marvel films, but DC’s Cinematic Universe needs to develop its own voice and its own style. Besides, I’d much rather have it be too serious than too silly (I’m looking at you, “Green Lantern”).
• Superhero accountability. While the case could be made that this film didn’t explore the theme of superhero accountability as deeply or effectively as it could have, I still liked the discussion about the benefits and dangers of relying on heroes with super powers. When humanity is in a bind, it’s great to have Superman intervene and save lives. However, what if Superman were to turn evil, and use those powers against us? Should there be someone, or something, keeping superheroes accountable? If so, who? And how do you keep a superhero in check who has seemingly unstoppable powers? Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War” will be dealing with many of these same themes later this year, and I’m curious to see their take on it as well.
• Lex Luthor. Although Lex Luthor is one of the most iconic DC villains, in this film he unfortunately comes across as too cartoonish. I don’t really blame actor Jesse Eisenberg for this; I think it has more to do with the director and the way the character was written. It’s almost like they’re trying to echo the Joker without echoing the Joker, and it doesn’t quite work. The mutant monster that Luthor creates at the end of the film is also a little too reminiscent of some other superhero film finales, but it was pretty cool to see Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman fighting this creature together.
• Some plot confusion. Some fans and critics have called out the plot for being confusing and not always tying all the various elements together. Although I enjoyed the movie while I was watching it, as I thought about it over the weekend I did think of more plot holes. There is a lot going on, and it doesn’t always connect. I also felt the film needed more interaction between Bruce Wayne/Batman and Clark Kent/Superman. Much of the time, they’re following separate storylines, and the film waits too long to bring them together.
• Rushing to the finish. I don’t think DC necessarily needs to be like Marvel, which introduced all of its main heroes in solo films before giving us the epic team-up “The Avengers.” Yet it still feels a little like DC is trying to fast-track the Justice League film, which is coming to theaters next year. By necessity, “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice” has to spend time setting up this team-up film. I wish DC would slow the pace a little, and earn their team-up film like Marvel earned theirs. Putting Batman and Superman in a film together was a good idea. The solo Wonder Woman film is also a good idea, and I’m now really excited about it after seeing Wonder Woman in “Batman vs. Superman.” I’d also like a solo Ben Affleck as Batman film too; maybe the Flash could have a role in this film so we get to know him a little better before seeing him in the Justice League film (I still wish they’d called Grant Gustin from the TV show “The Flash” up to the big leagues — no pun intended — but I’m happy to give Ezra Miller a shot). I just feel like a Justice League film next year is a bit too soon.
All in all, I paid $7 for a matinee ticket for “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” and I felt like I got $7 worth of entertainment out of it. While the DC Cinematic Universe has not yet produced an offering that I love as much as the best of the Marvel films, I think they have the elements — and the cast — they need to succeed. Maybe “Justice League” can be that film.
So, what did you think about “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice”? Did you love it? Hate it? Somewhere in between?