With the imminent release of the next instalment in the DC Comics expanded movie universe, Suicide Squad, I thought it was time I catch up with the previous one, the clumsily titled Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice.
For clarity I watched the extended ‘Ultimate Edition’ of the film, a kind of director’s cut that includes an extra half hour not included in the theatrical release and, judging by other feedback, I’m glad for it, despite the needlessly lengthy three-hour running time.
Zack Snyder’s first foray into the DC universe, Man Of Steel, was an uneven beast. Somewhat unusually this film starts out with the climactic scene from that, shown from another angle and instantly gives Man Of Steel’s overblown conclusion a bit more weight and meaning.
We see Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne racing through Metropolis apparently to try to save the staff in his Wayne Enterprises building there. Ok, so it doesn’t make total sense but it works well for what it is and, by and large, the same could be applied Dawn Of Justice as a whole.
The story is a mishmash of what feels like three movies worth of ideas loosely tied together, so we get the world’s (i.e. America’s) reaction to Superman’s (Henry Cavill) arrival, we get Lex Luthor’s (Jesse Eisenberg) machinations around ‘meta-humans’ (i.e. Superman and others), and we get the introduction of Batman as an older vigilante now pushed beyond any measure of restraint we’ve come to expect.
On top of this is the introduction of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and other future members of the Justice League and we see Lois Lane (Amy Adams) investigating an apparent conspiracy against Superman within the US military. As I said there’s a lot going on.
So the story is an undeniable mess, even with the extra 30 minutes to try to tie it up, but it hangs together just enough to be a decent ride as long as you don’t ask too many questions, hanging on the actions of Luthor and the titular face-off between the two figureheads of DC’s set of superheroes, which we get in three different scenarios.
What helps save it, beyond the promise of those two characters going head-to-head are a couple of the performances, most notably Affleck’s.
His Bruce Wayne/Batman is one we’ve not seen before, strongly modelled on the version created by Frank Miller for The Dark Knight Returns; older, angrier and apparently having given up many of the moral qualms that existed in all the other screen versions so far.
With this Affleck is clearly relishing getting to be both sides of the character and as such steals pretty much every scene he’s in with a performance far more convincing than any other in the movie. Added to this his back and forth with slightly a reworked Alfred (Jeremy Irons) is pitch perfect.
The other performance that really worked for me was that of Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. Every bit the stereotypical mad scientist, in many ways he feels like a throwback to the kind of characters seen in 1950s b-movies or 1930s horrors, right down to creating an uncontrollable monster.
On top of this the Luthor of the comics also comes through as his scheming and hyper-intelligence drive the most coherent aspect of the plot forward – although even that becomes slightly too convoluted by the end.
This convolution centres around the monster Luthor creates that isn’t introduced until the movie’s third act giving the totally CG character a sense of being simply tacked on to provide the apparently obligatory big explosions and fight scene climax.
While this serves to bring the heroes back together in an even more obvious way than a preceding event, I couldn’t help but feel it was some kind of contractual obligation to include yet another city destroying superhero fight scene, the like of which we’ve already seen countless times thanks to Marvel and, even if this is well delivered, can’t help but be repetitive.
As always Snyder makes the film look great with moments feeling very akin to his still great version of Watchmen and making the CG characters have weight even as they throw laser blasts from their eyes at each other, something other films still often struggle with.
As a whole though the film doesn’t do what I think it needed to or was hoped it would do, in cementing the DC cinematic universe in the way Marvel did with a much slower build approach in their ongoing series that started way back with Iron Man (even if that has become somewhat repetitive of late). While it’s not the disaster some had proclaimed, it remains far from the film many thought and hoped it could have been.
I never give star ratings but this is one to which I could easily apply such as it feels very much like a three-star film, far from essential but watchable and distracting enough to not feel like a waste of three hours.