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

Chike Coleman delivers a retro review of 2016's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, in anticipation of Zack Snyder's Justice League.

The first word I think of when I think of 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is promise.  Zack Snyder’s follow-up to the inspiring but flawed Superman origin story, Man of Steel, gave audiences a crash course on what can happen when two superheroes have similar goals to keep the world safe but clashing ideologies on how to achieve that goal.  The story for Batman v Superman is pretty straightforward. Superman (Henry Cavill) continues his literal apology tour to the world by doing as much good as he can.  In the neighboring city of Gotham, Batman (Ben Affleck) is on a quest to take down the Man of Tomorrow because of the destruction he caused during the climactic battle that took place at the end of the first film.

The problem with BvS is that it tries too hard to do something new. Snyder and his crew didn’t work hard enough to give each main character a definitive emotional balance.  What you see is a result is both characters continually being furious with the other. Superman has an issue with criminals being branded by the Batman, and Batman has an issue with Superman’s careless disregard of the aftershock of his conflicts with other villains. The movie makes these characters polar opposites but doesn’t give either Cavill or new Affleck much to work with as characters.

A character who bothers me more than the thinly shaded heroes is the off-kilter villain Lex Luthor played by Jesse Eisenberg. He has to be, without question, the most annoying villain I have ever come across because he just makes declarative statements and then alludes to his own annoyance that the citizens of Metropolis have forgiven Superman so easily for all the destruction he caused.  What is so terrible about this character is he has a valid point, but the way he goes about expressing his ideas doesn’t allow the audience to invest the way they should.

Still, Zack Snyder is an excellent visual director. The effects work and the costumes he produces for both heroes and villains paint a terrifically earnest picture of the massive contrast between darkness and light. This, in turn, details how no matter how good anyone attempts to be, there will always be a gray area somewhere. The script didn’t do enough to carefully illustrate this point or how there can be good among any of us, even those living in the gray.

Affleck was an inspired choice for Bruce Wayne/Batman. He has been in a superhero costume before but not given enough actual time to layer a character. Here, his bitterness is clear but not despicable because we know the somber nature of the boy hiding inside the successful man. With that in mind, it’s to my regret that Affleck didn’t get his own film to deepen the ideas and acting choices he cultivated for the character.

In addition to being a stunning beauty, Gal Gadot was impeccable as Wonder Woman, someone who was infinitely powerful but used her voice more than her strength.  Having seen Wonder Woman 1984, I know there’s much more to come with Diana Prince’s character, and I can’t wait to see what is next.

Snyder had great ideas about who these superheroes should be. His main flaw comes from a scripting perspective. It was all so poorly executed.  You don’t need to redeem these characters to make them strong. You just have to give us a way to watch them learn from their mistakes. That’s the one area where the director expected the ending to do that work for him rather than gradually over time.  I can only hope Snyder doesn’t repeat the same mistake in his new cut of Justice League because even though time has passed, this film still hasn’t given me much to remember or be fond of.

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Written by
Chike has been a film critic in Illinois for the last 10 years with Urbana Public Television. Most of his work can be found on their YouTube channel where his show Reel Reviews is posted. The films he enjoys most are the kind that surprise you with characters that are deeper than you could ever suspect. As much as he loves reviewing it’s the stories that are unexpected that bring him the most joy. He lives in Champaign with his parents surrounded by cornfields.

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