Batman v Superman: Dawn of “Just Okay”-stice

Feel free to accuse me of hyper-dorkiness, but I love superheroes.  As a kid, I watched shows like Justice League, Powerpuff Girls, and X-Men with appropriately childlike glee, and though I’ve since become a jaded and cynical adult, I can’t deny the charm of the costumed weirdos that adorn the variety of comics and graphic novels in my still-growing collection.  And no hero captures my interest quite like Batman.  He may not have powers, but that rarely stops him from solving mysteries, beating baddies senseless, and being a general badass.

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So you can probably imagine that I was looking forward to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  The trailers promised a tumultuous confrontation between “Bats” and “Supes”, with Wonder Woman thrown into the mix.  Unfortunately, with regards to my expectations, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice delivered about as well as the world’s worst postman.

But with that said, I’m going to render a judgement that might seem crazy, especially in the face of that monsoon of negativity that Batman v Superman has been weathering: it’s not a bad movie.  It’s nothing special, and the “Batman v Superman” part of the title is pretty misleading as they don’t fight all that much, but it’s team-up tale of Batman and Superman was entertaining enough to keep me in my seat from start to finish.

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The opening act of Batman v Superman explores the consequences of the battle between Superman and Zod in Man of Steel.  Bruce Wayne (George Clooney) comes to Metropolis, witnesses the destruction firsthand, and holds Superman responsible.  Meanwhile, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) believes that Batman is a public menace and aims to expose him, generating mutual friction between the pair.  It’s a strong start, and though I’m not overly fond of Man of Steel, it was interesting to see that film’s climactic final conflict from a different angle.  Superman and Zod’s tussle is a background element to the human drama of trying to survive as the city is torn apart.

Sadly, the remainder of the film doesn’t display comparable levels of inventiveness.  Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is one of the film’s main failings.  Eisenberg’s Luthor differs greatly from the calculating and obsessive egomaniac seen in the comics.  Instead, Eisenberg plays him as a far crazier villain in the vein of Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight, and he has some great moments.  One scene in particular struck me, in which Luthor responds to being called psychotic with, “That’s a three-syllable word for any thought too big for little minds.”  Eisenberg’s delivery sounds sincere with a tinge of insanity, perfect for the feel that he’s aiming for.  But every moment of excellence comes paired with an instance of disappointment.  In one scene, Luthor is speaking at a party, rambling on and going off on tangents.  It’s meant to seem as though he’s too mentally unstable to adhere to a single line of thinking, but Jesse Eisenberg sounds less like a madman and more like a guy who forgot his lines.

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Compounding the disappointment over the mixed presentation of the film’s main villain, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), a.k.a. Wonder Woman, was woefully underutilized.  She appears as Diana Prince in a handful of scenes, but if you’re hoping to see her take a large role in Batman v Superman, now would be a good time to become pessimistic.  Outside of the film’s final battle, Diana Prince doesn’t find herself in the spotlight.

But with all that said, Batman v Superman has its strengths.  For starters, the production values are higher than even the most fanatical narcotic enthusiast.  Explosions, laser vision, and destroyed buildings get plenty of screentime, and the fight sequences don’t fail to impress.  There were also plenty of moments that drew inspiration from the comics.  Batman’s small-eared bat-symbol and robotic battlesuit were both drawn from The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller’s 1986 masterpiece.  The battle between Batman and Superman also unfolds similarly to events in The Dark Knight Returns.  I dug seeing one of my favorite comics homaged in this way, and I imagine other Batman fans could feel the same way.

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I also liked that Batman seems okay with killing people.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m generally not a huge fan of murder, but Batman knowingly and unambiguously killing foes makes him a far more believable character.  He’s normally portrayed as aggressively anti-killing in the recent comics and films, but Batman v Superman’s grounded setting demands grounded characters.  With his bevy of abilities, Superman can neutralize human enemies without killing them, but Batman?  He blows up cars with people inside, knocks a live grenade to the ground beside a pair of baddies, and even stabs a dude in one scene.  It’s not utterly traditional, but allowing Batman to dole out a bit of death is a contentious call that I respected.

Ultimately, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was neither awesome nor awful.  The highest praise I would give is that it’s above-average.  The film’s virtues are mainly degraded by comparable vices, leading to an ultimately watchable but wholly unimpressive experience  Don’t see it in theaters, and definitely don’t pay to get it on DVD, but if it comes up on TV sometime, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is entertaining enough to legitimize watching.

Score: 6/10


*images from collider.com, comicmix.com, hitfix.com, hypebeast.com, flickeringmyth.com, and moviepilot.com.  Video from Warner Bros. Pictures

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