Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Rating:

USA. 2016.

Crew

Director – Zack Snyder, Screenplay – David S. Goyer & Chris Terrio, Producers – Charles Roven & Deborah Snyder, Photography (3D) – Larry Fong, Music – Junkie XL & Hans Zimmer, Visual Effects Supervisor – John “DJ” DesJardin, Visual Effects – Double Negative, Method Studios, MPC (Supervisor – Guillaume Rocheron), Scaline (Supervisor – Bryan Hirota), Shade & Weta Digital Limited (Senior Supervisor – Joe Letteri, Supervisor – Keith Miller), Special Effects Supervisor – Joel Whist, Production Design – Patrick Tatopolous. Production Company – Warner Brothers/Ratpac Entertainment/Atlas Entertainment/Cruel and Unusual Films

Cast

Henry Cavill (Superman/Clark Kent), Ben Affleck (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman/Diana Prince), Jeremy Irons (Alfred Pennyworth), Holly Hunter (Senator June Finch), Laurence Fishburne (Perry White), Callan Mulvey (Anatoli Knyazev), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Scoot McNairy (Wallace Keefe), Harry Lennix (Secretary Calvin Swanwick), Tao Okamoto (Mercy Graves), Kevin Costner (Jonathan Kent), Michael Cassidy (Jimmy Olsen), Michael Shannon (General Zod)


Plot

Bruce Wayne is present in Metropolis during the massive battle between Superman and General Zod and tries to get his employees out as Wayne Building is destroyed. Eighteen months later and the world has come to accept Superman as benevolent. However, Bruce is adamant otherwise, certain that Superman has the potential to destroy the world. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor tries to persuade a congressional representatives that Superman is a threat and asks for a licence to import a chunk of kryptonite so as to build a weapon against him but this is blocked by Senator June Finch. Superman is called before the committee and demanded to explain his actions while rescuing Lois from a village in Africa – only for Luthor to detonate a bomb that blows up the building. Public sentiment turns against Superman. Clark Kent has meanwhile taken an interest in the vigilante activities of Batman in Gotham and intervenes as Superman, ordering him to stop. Bruce sees the only way to stop Superman is for him to hijack the kryptonite shipment that Luthor is attempting to illegally smuggle in and use it to build a weapon against Superman. Luthor then abducts Martha Kent and tells Superman she will be killed unless he brings back Batman’s head.


Finally! It has taken DC Comics the better part of a decade to catch up with the immense success that Marvel Comics has been having on cinema screens. Or at least to get organised to start trying to do similar things. For the two of three people who been living under a rock for the last few years, Marvel Comics adaptations have been massively successful at the box-office with numerous superhero titles coming out – at least 3-4 per year now. From Iron Man (2008) onwards, Marvel tried an experiment and started coordinating their continuity, bringing their superheroes together in a vast interwoven story that ran through multiple films and even tv series. This then merged together with the superhero team-up of The Avengers (2012), which rocketed to become the No 1 box-office hit of the year and the most successful of the Marvel adaptations at the time. Every other studio since then has been trying to do something similar – Universal started trying to bring together their Famous Monsters, Sony tried something with their Spider-Man films but went astray.

Despite DC Comics being owned by a movie studio, Warner Brothers, and being best positioned to compete with Marvel, it has taken them a long time to get started. You cannot help but wonder in the same time that Marvel have been building their empire (from 1998 to the present) and superheroes have gone through the roof on movie screens, what has been going on at DC/Warners that they have dithered around and failed to get their act into gear. It is not to say that we haven’t seen various DC adapted films. Christopher Nolan had enormous success with his Dark Knight trilogy – Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). On the other hand, the flops outweigh the successes – efforts like Catwoman (2004), Constantine (2005), Jonah Hex (2010) and Green Lantern (2011). The one exception I would mention is Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns (2006), which is not the critical and box-office flop that people keep calling it – it was even one of the Top 10 grossing films of its year. The one other success might by Zack Snyder’s Watchmen (2009), although this is a work that stands outside of regular DC superhero continuity. You suspect the reason is that DC/Warners lack a creative name like Avi Arad and Kevin Feige present – someone deeply steeped in the comic-books who can guide the vision.

There are however some exceptions to this in other places – one of these is the series of DC animated films that have been steadily released to dvd since the mid-1990s and contain some of the best and most faithful adaptations of their characters in any medium – indeed, these had previously offered up an animated version of the same title match we have here with The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest (1998), which also had a not dissimilar plot of the two coming together to stop Lex Luthor obtaining kryptonite. The other might be the success of various tv series based on their superheroes with the likes of Arrow (2012– ), Gotham (2014– ), The Flash (2014– ), Supergirl (2015– ) and Krypton (2018– ), which enjoy a good deal of ongoing popularity as I write. These too have started to interweave their own continuity (even if it is one that contradicts the Snyder universe ie. two different versions of The Flash and a take on the Batman mythos that is strongly divergent with the backstory we get in Gotham).

Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013) received a mixed audience and critical response with many switching off due to an entire second half that was taken up by copious quantities of mass destruction as Superman levelled most of Metropolis. The film was nevertheless a major box-office success. Within days of its opening, Snyder and Warner Brothers announced their follow-up would be Batman V Superman. This is perhaps THE biggest headline act that any film attempting to do the superhero continuity crossover thing could come up with. A few months later, the subtitle Dawn of Justice was tacked on where Warners were clearly letting it be known that they were entering into the superhero shared universe stakes and doing an Avengers of their own, which would meet up in Justice League (2017). Batman V Superman was followed by Suicide Squad (2016) that features an appearance from Ben Affleck as Batman, Wonder Woman (2017), while Aquaman (2018), Cyborg and The Flash films and two solo Ben Affleck Batman films are being shot/planned as Dawn of Justice goes into release.

Of course, this is an immensely risky strategy for DC. Marvel started with what was no more than a post-credits cameo in Iron Man and spread it out over five other films, each based around individual characters, before merging them in The Avengers. It was a risk that worked. DC on the other hand are attempting to leapfrog the process and begin with the equivalent of The Avengers after only a single preceding film in this shared universe. The risk is that if the gambit fails and Dawn of Justice flops miserably, then the rest of DC’s cinematic universe is standing on shaky ground. The expectation heaped upon Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is massive. So how does it measure up?

More the Same of We Had in Man of Steel

Zack Snyder seems to want to be the Michael Bay of superhero movies. Man of Steel was taken over by mass destruction on an epic scale, the same sort that Bay gives us in his Transformers films. It was impressive but seeing building after building collapsing eventually became numbing. I get the theme that Snyder is wanting to explore – that someone with Superman’s powers would be unimagineably godlike in power – and find it interesting but the point seemed to be made with overkill. We get more of the same here. The film is frequently punctuated by scenes of Superman exploding through buildings, Batman engaged in massive car chases through the streets and the like. There is not the numbing half-hour long destruction of Metropolis but we do get Batman and Superman fighting and demolishing an empty building and extended climax with the two of them and Wonder Woman fighting Doomsday in another massively powerful battle.

The problem with much of Snyder’s aiming for epic scope is that any sense of what is relatable on a human level gets lost. In the climactic battle, there is so much energy and destruction going on that you are unable to even see the human figures. The car chase that Batman engages in is so murkily shot and fast-paced edited that there is never the exhilaration you had with the comparable sequence in The Dark Knight. We see both Batman and Superman in their secret identities but the crucial failing of Dawn of Justice is that these are largely irrelevant to the film – Snyder has no interest in exploring their everyday alter egos and complications these cause, the films are almost entirely focused on superheroic exploits.

Snyder also seems to want to cast Superman into a Dark Knight milieu, somewhere you increasingly feel that Superman doesn’t belong. It started in Man of Steel and continues here – the lighting scheme has been colour desaturated until the film takes place in a low-lit monochrome grey, punctuated only by the murky reds and blues of Superman’s suit and the green of kryptonite. It makes for an incredibly dour film.

DC Continuity

David S. Goyer is the Go To man in Hollywood when it comes to writing comic-book movies and without any question knows his stuff. That said, there were many aspects of Man of Steel that were irritating. One of these was the elimination of Clark Kent bespectacled reporter until the very end. We certainly get more of the traditional Clark here but there is nothing of the central conflict that goes through Superman comic-books – of his life divided between the massively powerful alien and the klutzy human. And with he and Lois Lane shacked up, there is none of what runs through the comic-book of he constantly having to devise ways to avoid her attempts to unmask him and the eternal triangle between she wanting the superhero while he pines for her ignored as the reporter.

Another large liberty taken with established continuity is having a Lex Luthor with a full head of hair. The one distinctive element of every portrayal of Luthor throughout the comic-books is that he is bald. Just like Gene Hackman in Superman (1978), Luthor remains hirsute throughout the film and only gets it removed once he is jailed at the end. If the films keep casting actors that don’t want to shave their heads, then why not cast somebody who does? It is not exactly as though Dawn of Justice could not have found almost anybody to improve on Jesse Eisenberg’s lunatically random performance.

Goyer seems to have drawn much of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice from two of the top-selling DC titles of all time – The Dark Knight Returns (1986) by Frank Miller and The Death of Superman (1992-3). From The Dark Knight Returns, we get the central image of Batman going into battle against Superman in an armoured suit that evens the mismatched vulnerability between them. Plus also you could argue that Goyer is following on from what Miller was interested in in questioning the morality of the superhero and the public perception of this. From The Death of Superman, which also formed the basis of Tim Burton’s aborted Superman Lives, we get the climactic battle with Doomsday and the apparent death of Superman, which is left unresolved as the film fades to black.

Plus there are all manner of continuity easter eggs littered throughout the film as there was in Man of Steel – references to the bottle city of Kandor; the appearance of Anatoli Knyazev who becomes the Batman villain known as KGBeast; cameos from Lana Lang and Jimmy Olsen (who would now appear to be a CIA spy and is seemingly shot in another abrupt jolt to universe continuity); to tiny details like Snyder visually recreating the exact panels that depict the murder of the Waynes from The Dark Knight Returns, right down to their attending a screening of The Mask of Zorro (1940). Many on the internet interpreted the cryptic images in the dream sequences as setting the groundwork for the introduction of Darkseid and aspects of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World saga.

In an interesting side note, this is the first Batman film to credit Bill Finger as the co-creator of Batman, along with Bob Kane who stole credit from Finger for many years.

Characters and Cast

It is hard to say how well either Henry Cavill or Ben Afflect play in the film as either of them are reduced to little more than buffed and muscled figures standing among the explosions. The film requires little actual acting of either. Cavill radiates an expression throughout where he seems to carry the sorrow of the world on his shoulders. I don’t particularly feel one way or the other about Ben Affleck’s Batman. There was a lot of internet hate about him because of his previous superhero outing in Marvel’s Daredevil (2003) – where everyone seems to have forgotten he did a fine job of playing the real-life Superman George Reeves in Hollywoodland (2006). Here he is okay, nothing great. The film’s delving into the issues of his childhood is standard Batman material. What irritated me, I guess, was the constant need to give him nightmare flashbacks. What purpose these serve I can’t really say, except perhaps that they seem scenes that play well in the trailer. Amy Adams, the most talented actor present (excepting Jeremy Irons), gets far more opportunity to play the feisty Lois we all know and does so well.

If the characters are mixed, David Goyer at least writes epic arcs. Superman is explored in terms of the godlike status he has attained. Classically, it is Superman who is the boyscout and disapproves of Batman’s vigilante nature but here that is reversed and Batman develops a pathological hatred of Superman because of his potential to destroy the world. The way both aspects play off each other, even if it is somewhat abruptly resolved and forgotten, is rather interesting.

Dawn of Justice

This feels the least satisfying aspect of the film. A huge amount of the publicity was focused around the introduction of Wonder Woman and teasing that we would be meeting Aquaman, Cyborg and other DC superheroes. All of which one can say is that the results feel underwhelming. Gal Gadot makes an enticing Wonder Woman. Snyder plays up her allure and mystery throughout and there is a cheer as she turns up and goes into action at the end. On the other hand, if one were to approach Dawn of Justice knowing nothing about the comic-book or tv Wonder Woman, you would be left baffled as to what is going on. The film explains nothing at all about who she is, where she comes from or why she joins in the action.

Even less can be said about Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg. We get video clips a few seconds long of each – one in which Jason Momoa can be seen swimming out of a shipwreck, a slightly longer one with Cyborg being created. At the very least, I had expected them to turn up and join in the climactic battle – especially given that the publicity machine had released a poster featuring all of them in silhouette – but that never occurs.

In the End

I liked Dawn of Justice more than Man of Steel. I wasn’t bored by the endless mass destruction. It was there but the title showdown and the climactic battle here are sufficiently engaging and not allowed to continue to the point that it becomes tedious. The film had a strong story and character arc, even if the characters felt buried inside the epic posturing. All of which would have been helped by someone turning the light scale up a few notches. And the introduction of the other superheroes served as a major disappointment.

Zack Snyder has made two comic-book adaptations that are unqualified successes – 300 (2007) and Watchmen – but his results on the Superman franchise so far feels as though the central vision has strayed far from what made the comic-book a success. A superhero franchise that slides over into the Transformers series we don’t need, a piece contemplating epic mythology is interesting up to a point but sometime it would be nice to have more of the Superman we know.

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice – Ultimate Edition

Zack Snyder released Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice in March of 2016, which was met with great box-office but a good deal of fan and critical dislike. Four months later, Snyder released Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice – Ultimate Edition to dvd, restoring material that had been cut from the initial release in order to bring the film in to a more commercial length. Ultimate Edition contains 30 minutes more footage than the theatrical version, now running to around three hours in length. Ultimate Edition was received with far more positive acclaim than the original theatrical release of Batman V Superman was.

I enjoyed Batman V Superman first time around but Ultimate Edition adds more to it. It feels more leisurely in the telling, adds smaller scenes that embellish the story and allow it to make more sense, while giving characters more background. I am not sure that there is enough new material that it substantially changes the story in the way that the restored versions of notoriously cut films like Metropolis (1927), Superman II (1980) and The Abyss (1989) make completely different works out of the original. And I doubt there is enough here that will convert the haters but it does make a far richer story overall. On the downside, the restored material mostly consists of background and character scenes as opposed to big special effects scenes and any of the battles between the major characters. Given that the superheroic and action scenes are the film’s big money shots, it makes sense for the film to put all of its budget up on the screen.

There is more clear embellishment of many smaller scenes. In particular, Lois’s pursuit of the bullet found in Nairomi, replete with Jena Malone’s cameo as a forensics expert, now feels more like a detective story in which she is piecing together clues as opposed to making random leaps of intuition. The scenes in the Middle East are expanded and Michael Cassidy is now identified as Jimmy Olsen before being killed. A reasonable degree of the new material concerns Clark Kent’s investigation of Gotham City’s Bat – indeed, Clark’s scenes were largely trimmed out of the theatrical cut. There is also a minor scene with Lex Luthor communicating with an alien entity in the Kryptonian ship that Snyder has identified as Steppenwolf, which sets up the Apokolips storyline for what is to come.

The Ultimate Edition was given an R rating by the MPAA, although it is hard to see why – except perhaps that Warner Brothers were cognisant of the success enjoyed by the more adult-oriented Deadpool (2016) earlier in the year and were seeking to tap the same audience. This does make a good deal of hoopla about not much at all. Scott McNairy gets to say “fuck” once. We do get a full-length butt shot of Ben Affleck in the shower and another minor cut is restored where Affleck is seen popping pills from a bottle beside his bed. And that remains about it. Certainly, you can see that we now have a film that is far more oriented towards adult sensibilities rather than PG audiences – there are quite a number of new shots of Henry Cavill in a shirtless state and a longer cut of the scene where he joins Amy Adams in the bathtub.

In watching the film a second time, I found Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor far less annoying – I am not quite sure why as he does not get that many more scenes than he had in the theatrical cut. That said, the restoration of cut material does elaborate in far more clarity his long game involving pitting Batman and Superman against one another, how he has set-up and exploited the situation in Nairomi and the winding of Scott McNairy in to his purposes. Luthor now comes across as less random madman and more the evil genius he traditionally is.

There is an excellent article that details the changes at Screen Rant.

Snyder followed this up with Justice League (2017). Zack Snyder’s other films include:- the remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004); 300 (2007) based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel about the Greek wars; the adaptation of Alan Moore’s classic superhero graphic novel Watchmen (2009); the animated owl fantasy Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010) and Sucker Punch (2011) about a young girl’s imagined alternate reality. Snyder also wrote/produced 300: Rise of an Empire (2014) and produced Suicide Squad (2016) and Wonder Woman (2017).

Other versions of the Superman legend are:- seventeen Superman animated shorts produced by Fleischer Studios between 1941 and 1943; two serials made during the 1940s, Superman (1948) and Atom-Man vs Superman (1950) both starring Kirk Alyn; the low-budget feature film Superman and the Mole-Men (1951), which became the basis of the long-running tv series Adventures of Superman (1952-8) starring George Reeves; the film Superman (1978) starring Christopher Reeve, which led to three sequels with Superman II (1980), Superman III (1983), Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), as well as spinoffs like Supergirl (1984) and tv’s Superboy (1988-91); Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-7), a popular tv series that focused more on the love triangle relationship between Clark/Superman (Dean Cain) and Lois Lane (Teri Hatcher); the excellent animated series Superman (1996-2000) where the superheroic exploits were rendered in a beautifully stylised Art Deco milieu; several spinoff films from the animated series with Superman: The Last Son of Krypton (1996), The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest (1998), Superman: Brainiac Attacks (2006), Superman: Doomsday (2007), Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009), Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010), All-Star Superman (2011), Superman vs. The Elite (2012) and Superman Unbound (2013), while Superman also appears in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part II (2013) and as one of line-up of DC superheroes in the same creative team’s Justice League/Justice League Unlimited (2001-6) and its film spinoffs Justice League: The New Frontier (2008), Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010), Justice League: Doom (2012), Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013), Justice League: War (2014), Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (2015), Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015), Justice League vs Teen Titans (2016) and Justice League Dark (2017), as well as in Legion of Superheroes (2006-8) from a different creative team, while Young Justice (2010-3) features Superboy, a clone of Superman, as a regular character; the tv series Smallville (2001-11) played by Tom Welling, which concerns Superman’s teen years; Bryan Singer’s follow-up to the Christopher Reeve films Superman Returns (2006) starring Brandon Routh; and Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006), Richard Donner’s edit of his original intended vision of Superman II, which had been subject to much in-fighting with the producers. Superman also turns up as an animated character in The Lego Movie (2014), while Supergirl (2015– ) starring Melissa Benoist is a tv series concerning his cousin Kara and features appearances from Tyler Hoechlin as Superman.

The other Batman films and tv series are:- Batman (1943) and Batman and Robin (1949), two 15-chapter serials from Columbia; the campy tv series Batman (1966-8) starring Adam West and Burt Ward, which produced one film spin-off with Batman (1966); the animated tv series The New Adventures of Batman (1977-8); Tim Burton’s superb duo of films Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992) starring Michael Keaton, and Joel Schumacher’s dismal campy follow-ups Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997), featuring respectively Val Kilmer and George Clooney, followed by Christopher Nolan’s fine revival of the franchise with Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) starring Christian Bale; the excellent animated series Batman (1992-4) inspired by the Tim Burton films and its follow-up The New Batman Adventures (1997-9), which spawned several film spin-offs with Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), Batman and Mr Freeze: SubZero (1998), The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest (1998) and Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003), as well as the later DC Universe Original Animated Movies Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009), Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010), Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010), Batman: Year One (2011), Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part I (2012), Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part II (2013), Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014), Son of Batman (2014), Batman vs. Robin (2015), Batman: Bad Blood (2016), Batman: The Killing Joke (2016), Batman and Harley Quinn (2017) and Batman: Gotham By Gaslight (2018), as well as Batman: Gotham Knight (2008), a compilation of anime Batman shorts; Batman Beyond/Batman of the Future (1999-2001), the futuristic follow-up series from the same creative team featuring an aging Bruce Wayne and his young apprentice, which also spun off one animated film Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000); the animated series The Batman (2004-8), which badly revised the basics of the series and was also spun off into a film with The Batman vs. Dracula (2005); two further animated series Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008-11), which placed Batman alongside other DC superheroes, and Beware the Batman (2013-4); the live-action tv series Gotham (2014– ), which tells the origin stories of the familiar characters and villains as Bruce Wayne grows up; Batman turns up as an animated character in The Lego Movie (2014) and gets a whole film to himself in The Lego Batman Movie (2017); the animated films Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts (2015) and Batman Unlimited: Monster Mayhem (2015) spun off from a line of action figures; the animated Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016) and Batman vs. Two-Face (2017) featuring a return of Adam West and Burt Ward; and the anime film Batman Ninja (2018). Batman also makes appearances in the line-up of superheroes in various other DC-related animated series such as SuperFriends (1973-7), The All New SuperFriends Hour (1977-9) and Justice League/Justice League Unlimited (2001-5), as well as the films Justice League: The New Frontier (2008), Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010), Justice League: Doom (2012), Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013), Justice League: War (2014), Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (2015), Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015), Justice League vs Teen Titans (2016) and Justice League Dark (2017). Other spin-offs include the short-lived live-action tv series Birds of Prey (2002), featuring the women of Batman – a paraplegic Batgirl, Cat Woman’s daughter and Harley Quinn – and the Halle Berry starring Catwoman (2004), while Robin appears as a member of Young Justice (2010-3) and Suicide Squad (2016) features a team-up of DC villains including The Joker and Harley Quinn. The Batman-Robin relationship is also excrutiatingly spoofed in the Superhero Speed Dating segment of Movie 43 (2013). Also of interest is Batman & Bill (2017), a documentary about the unacknowledged co-creator of Batman, Bill Finger.



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