The most eagerly awaited movies of the past five years, with the exception of one, have been based on comic books. The Avengers, Iron Man and Thor have garnered a great anticipation among fans and were received with great fanfare and box office returns. This year’s first comic foray is also one of the most anticipated films: Batman V. Superman. The film was introduced more than two years ago at Comic Con with a CGI teaser that garnered a standing ovation and the excitement built from there until it hit a fevered pitch with websites devoted to nothing more than speculation about how the story would be set up in the film. With so much source material available, comic fans all but wrote many different possible scripts and held them up as the only way the producers could possibly do the story justice. The film dropped Thursday to those who couldn’t wait for the big debut on Friday and was met with immediate…meh by the critics.
One of the biggest early issues for fans was the casting of Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Many fans were afraid that Affleck would turn in no better a performance than he did in his turn as Dare Devil or in the career killer Gili. The good news is that his performance as both Bruce Wayne and Batman is dead on, one of the best I have seen; better than Keaton, Kilmer, Clooney and Bale.
Henry Cavill established his bonafides as Superman with 2014’s Man of Steel and his portrayal is consistent in this movie. He has the physicality to pull off the role of the last son of Krypton and he brings a humanity to the role that is especially needed in this film.
The problem with Batman V Superman is not the actors. No, it is the same problem that has plagued every DC-based comic adaptation since time began: The producers/directors do not appreciate the source material. For some reason, the producers think that the heroes should be darker. Superman’s costume is dark blue with blood red trim instead of the brighter colors seen in the comic books or even in Christopher Reeve’s Superman. While darkening the theme works for Batman, it still fails to do justice to Superman.
There are many issues with this film. Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, for example, while a vile villain to be sure, is played more like a maniac than a cold calculating genius. His motivations are never fully articulated and that he would create the monster that he does without establishing any controls is perplexing. Also, in order to explain Bruce Wayne’s motivation, we are led to believe that someone close to him was killed during Superman’s cataclysmic fight with Zod in Man of Steel. To my ears, it sounded like he was calling “Dad” when he screamed into the phone. If it was his dad, this is sacrilege to the Batman’s legend. The main reason Bruce Wayne became Batman was to avenge is PARENT’s deaths; not just his mother’s.
Another problem is the same one that plagued Sam Raimi’s final Spiderman film: trying to cram too much into one movie. Superman and Batman have teamed up in many comic books and graphic novels since their characters were first introduced, not even including the Justice League comics and Super Friends series. With all of that, a simple movie adaptation of even one of them would have been sufficient. But with the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Avengers, Warner Brothers has felt the pressure to try to match their success. To do so requires more than simply Batman or Superman. The producers would need to introduce more superheroes to do the job of beating the Avengers. With that in mind, Wonder Woman was introduced to the mix as was Aquaman, Flash and Cyborg, even though the last three heroes were only seen in cameo video footage. Of course, all these heroes will eventually make up the bulk of the Justice League.
This is where the Dawn of Justice wheels come off the bus. You cannot have that many stories introduced in one film with no prior set up. Marvel started off with one hero per film, but gave a hint at what was to come in the credits scene. The first three movies of the MCU all told a single story to introduce the hero before the Avengers brought them all together. Warner Brothers, who owns DC comics, should have followed that example more closely. To present Batman directly interacting with Superman without establishing his back story in this universe forces the movie to run three different major plotlines simultaneously. No movie can do that in two hours and Dawn of Justice couldn’t do it in 2 hours and 45 minutes. The writers tried to pull together material from comic titles like The Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke, The Death of Superman and Batman/Superman and with that many subplots, it became difficult to follow on screen.
This movie could have been the best of the comic book movies, but falls far short of the target. Even so, as disappointing as it is, it was still an entertaining film and Ben Affleck actually makes the film worth watching. Let us hope that if they make the Justice League, they do a better job of it. In the mean time, we have Captain America: Civil War to look forward to.