Directed by Zack Snyder

Written by Chris Terrio & David S. Goyer

Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Gal Gadot & Jeremy Irons

Film Review by Dean Pettipher

Not quite a week following the first day of spring, just in time for the lusciously sweet-scented, chocolate-filled holiday period, which year after year gushes with temptations aimed at provoking acts of kindness, known by all as ‘The Easter Weekend’, the cinema calendar slot into which DC launched its worthy answer to Marvel’s superhero assemblages could not have been better. Here and now is a time when divisions in societies across the world appear forever unbridgeable, in the midst of fundamental conflicts between liberty and security where both sides appear convinced that they are unequivocally “right”, while the opposition is at worst corrupted by the purest of evils, or, at best, tragically deluded by their desire to make a positive difference. Hence, the visionary director, Zack Snyder, a page-to-screen adaptation veteran, who was praised for his remarkable leadership by the actor presently and eloquently portraying Superman, Henry Cavill, with the utmost genuineness at a recent advanced screening of the picture in London, could not have given audiences a greater cinematic gift. While perhaps not quite possessing enough novelty to excite audiences whose minds have been numbed in the wake of a ceaseless onslaught of superhero movies, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice(2016) offers, with impressive and sincere conviction, enough freshness to re-ignite the passions of both avid and causal fans of the genre.
The most immediately striking quality of the feature, which shall undoubtedly separate it from the civil war currently underway on Netflix between Daredevil and The Punisher in Marvel’s Daredevil (2015-Present) and the battle between former allies prepped and ready for the month of May, led by principle Avengers in Captain America: Civil War (2016), is how it consistently effloresces with varied and vivid colours, courtesy of a surprising amount of globe-trotting that was mercifully one of the few story qualities not given away by the determined but often careless advertising campaign. Such beautiful, rich cinematography, however, has come to be expected as an absolute minimum bar from collaborations helmed by Snyder, most notably as a result of 300 (2006), Watchmen (2009) and, of course, Man of Steel (2013).

 Fortunately, Batman v Superman will be remembered as an ultimate illustration of redemption in Hollywood, which, while certainly far from Christ-like, definitely amounts to an inspiring scale of biblical proportions. Ben Affleck has ascended above the enormous levels of pressure and hatred against him, which have sporadically risen and fallen like the most turbulent tides of the ocean, ever since the announcement that he would portray ‘The Dark Knight’ way back in 2013, to craft a wiser, more noticeably war-hardened ‘Caped Crusader’ than audiences have heretofore witnessed on the silver screen. The most blatant accomplishment for which Affleck deserves at least a small degree of credit, which should justly be conceded by lovers and haters of the artist alike, is the payoff granted to his physical aesthetics as a result of admirably hard work at the gym. Affleck, now at 43 years of age, is the oldest actor ever to be cast as Batman/Bruce Wayne. He stated in an interview with ABC News, “I worked out for almost a year before this movie started, to get into becoming a superhero at my advanced age.” He added afterwards, “that was not easy but that’s what audiences have come to expect.” Both Affleck and Cavill clearly endured physical trials with success that consequently brought about fruits that audiences look upon with envy. Incidentally, when the latter artist, Cavill, came upon the stage to introduce the film at the aforementioned London performance, a woman shouted with glee, “Take your top off!” After a brief silence, Cavill replied, “Thank you but no,” warranting a pleasant eruption infectious laughter from the entire audience.

Regardless, no amount of eye candy can distract audiences from the quality of acting for too long and nor should such a treat hope to do so. To the great relief of those rooting for Affleck in particular to succeed, the artist has clearly learned from his mistakes, made evident through believable facial expressions and vocal control, with shouting especially that both go on to convey a far greater emotional depth to his character than many thought possible regarding Affleck’s ability with the acting craft. Affleck’s interpretation of Batman cannot be overstated, for while he successfully manages to come across as a powerful force to be taken seriously, he does not manage to breach the gates into Oscar-worthy territory. On the other hand, harsher critics will never forgive him for the apparent disaster that was Daredevil (2003), even after commendable efforts as both an actor and director in The Town (2010) and Argo (2012). The shock of his excellent presentation as Batman does not quite hit as swiftly as Heath Ledger’s did as Joker in The Dark Knight (2008), however, the tale of how Affleck rose above the nay-sayers to create a perfectly plausible DC icon, which accurately aligned with Snyder’s vision, will be forever recorded in memory as a beacon highlighting the importance of self-confidence and determination for all in the real world, regardless of the differences in their own personal struggles.

Additionally, a final consideration lingering after Batman v Superman, relating to Affleck’s part in the production, is a notion put forward by a former Batman, Christian Bale, who said:

“The talking doesn’t matter. It’s the actual doing. As someone who knows how films are made, you sometimes read reviews and you go, ‘Clearly that guy doesn’t actually get how films get made because he’s blaming the wrong person. They don’t actually understand about how films get made, about the decisions get made and why things end up and why things are not in there.”  

In spite of having not even a clue about the audition process that Affleck went through to get the part of Batman, the more polite critics asserted with authority that he was not their first choice for the role, while the more ballsy or perhaps simply crueller spectators condemned Affleck, without a second thought, as a joke, a weird rumour or, with an assortment of naughty words to support the belief, just not right for the role. On this occasion, they were wrong. There may be a better Batman candidate out there but Affleck does well enough to warrant optimism for DC’s future Batman movie endeavours.

 When exiting the movie theatre once the film has concluded, one will almost inevitably overhear criticism of the script at the forefront of discussion. While all characters have a decent part to play and a respectable level of screen-time, there are a number of occurrences that some will understandably find ridiculous. For instance, the cause of the epiphany that suddenly resolves a central confrontation in the movie comes across as a bizarre coincidence that would furthermore be unacceptable, were it not delivered with such high levels of emotional intensity and supported by a fairly swift story pacing that learns from Man of Steel’s gravest mistake: fight sequences with destruction that at times seemed to drag on towards no purpose whatsoever and consequently cause their more graceful sections to become overshadowed by repetition and excess, which only delayed a foregone albeit perfectly desirable conclusion.

Chris Terrio, the Academy Award-winning scribe of Argo and David S. Goyer, a highly experienced screenwriter of the superhero movie genre for both DC and Marvel, with credits including Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005-2012) and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance(2011), together have written a script that sets the stage for a superb multiplicity of action scenes. All of which are determined not to extend to unnecessary longer lengths and risk losing the focus of their initially enthralled audiences, even when the clash between the titanic protagonists around which the movie is based is set in motion.

An enjoyable amount of subtext, calling to mind Batman’s past in particular, is sprinkled throughout the picture, allowing for the story not to drown in the deep waters of backstory overload. Once or twice, the mood dulls in the midst of just a little too much exposition regarding scientific theory, which keen fans of the comic books will still appreciate and those who do not grasp its significance right away will be swiftly carried along regardless by the fantastic and ferocious musical score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL. The involvement of the former composer has never been the wrong decision for any film under his belt and Batman v Superman adds yet another piece of supporting evidence to such a claim, boasting an original score no less epic than Gladiator (2000) or Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003).

 While not detrimental to the script’s overall quality, the hints relating to the future of The Justice League are much less subtle than the equivalent methods witnessed in the Marvel films but they remain as thrilling as ever as indications of what lies ahead for the DC cinematic universe. Similarly, if the world was not already aware of the plans for Wonder Woman to have her own movie in 2017, fans of the character might be far less forgiving of her role in Batman v Superman, which, by direct comparison with the two titular heroes, is far less substantial but, in the grand scheme that considers the overall direction of the series, remains a worthwhile inclusion in the present chapter.

Arguably the greatest quality of the writing is its commendable attempt to a genuine imbroglio for which no clear distinction between right and wrong can be made. Thus, a great evil, in the form of Lex Luther, excellently presented in a furtive manner by Jesse Eisenberg, is allowed to take full advantage of the chaos and therefore provide a decent level of suspense that, while not quite reaching the heights of Heath Ledger’s Joker or Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin, is still able to be taken very seriously, chiefly when a major denouement in the story takes place and when he repeatedly forces both Batman and Superman into tense displays of forbearance. However, events continue to play out in a manner that feels too familiar to previous superhero gatherings. The principal challenge for the writers and all with whom they work in the future for the next chapters, hopefully aiming for a panoply of DC heroes if circumstances permit, will be to ensure that plot twists are much less predictable while remaining true to the source material behind the comic book icons. At present, though, considering the momentous challenge of the task at hand, the writers and other artists who brought their words to life can be proud of the present installment.

The exact financial cost is unclear; the total budget for Batman v Superman, from production to promotion and beyond, has, without a doubt, run into the hundreds of millions. Accordingly, there are ambitious hopes for the film’s potential at the box office. That is to say, at least one important figure supporting the project would see the film comfortably exceed one billion dollars as a minimum for there to be any hopeful indication that the DC cinematic experience could rival Marvel’s more comfortably established one. Will Batman v Superman achieve that target? No sane individual could honestly claim to know the answer with total certainty. On the other hand, does the movie deserve to reach and surpass that target, bearing in mind that only twenty-four films, according to the website, www.boxofficemjo.com, have done so? Yes. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice would be a worthy recipient of a spot on the list as the twenty-fifth movie to make a worldwide gross of at least one billion dollars. Concerning the aforesaid, rather bold claim, while sitting in the movie theatre as the credits roll briskly downwards, the final, more sombre scenes of the feature prompt the digestion of a thought that is not unfamiliar. What if one could like Marvel and DC heroes in equal measure and remain at peace about it? The two universes are much like red and white wine, for preposterous superstitions are entrenched within so-called respectable circles, such as the idea that the two wines drank in combination, as opposed to red wine alone, will result in a hangover. Adam Teeter on www.vinepair.com, however, insists that such a belief is not true, since what causes a hangover is, frankly, a lot of wine, whether it be white, or red. Similarly, there is nothing wrong with some friendly competition between two comic book factions but there is also nothing at all wrong with enjoying both of them without fear of refute from fellow film fans.

 Batman v Superman is essentially about uniting over dividing people, which at present in the real world appears to be a fantasy. Yet, the hopeful optimism instilled within audiences will be appreciated regardless. Both DC and Marvel have experienced critical movie disasters, with Green Lantern(2011) and Fantastic Four (2015) respectively as just a couple of many examples. More crucially, both universes have been supporting, intentionally or otherwise, the fight to ensure that movies and television shows of the superhero genre are one day taken just as seriously as those of any other genre. It may yet be a long time before superheroes are no longer snubbed at prestigious awards ceremonies and dismissed as the sexual fantasies of the socially inept. Still, Batman v Superman is a reminder to all pondering over debate around whether or not superhero films will go, as Steven Spielberg put it, “the way of the Western,” implying that there will come a time when nobody wants them anymore, according to David Crowe of www.denofgeek.us. That reminder, put simply, is that for the foreseeable future at least, superhero movies are not going anywhere since, as Chris Evansstated, “as long as the filmmakers keep on reinventing the flavour and the approach and the tone, audiences are going to still go.” Snyder and the team have crafted a painting in motion that evidently builds upon successes and failures of the past, instilling within viewers a sentiment of delirious enthusiasm, most notably in the aftermath of the furious fighting. In the end, therefore, there are far worse ways to spend the invaluable time for restoration of all guises granted by the Easter holiday, or even the many spring and possibly summer weekends that will follow, than watching Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

This article first appeared on UK Film Review.