The resurgence of comic book superheroes in feature films over recent years has been an incredible phenomenon to witness. Trends like this are often more than a coincidence. Perhaps it is a reflection of society as a whole feeling incredibly unsafe in a seemingly unstable world. It may also represent a society with an unquenchable thirst for hope, heroes and fulfilling dreams. Whatever the reason, it is a trend that is not going away anytime soon. However, despite all this comic book movie momentum, a remarkable situation has occurred. In all the years that have gone by, the two most famous superheroes of all time have never appeared together on the same screen in a live action film.
Batman and Superman have been around in comic form since the late 1930's, keeping up morale in an era on the brink of world war. Since then, they have appeared on radio serials, television series and in animated form, whether it be on Saturday morning cartoons or in full length animated features. Throughout this time Superman has always led the way, first appearing in a live action feature length film in 1978 starring Christopher Reeve. Minus the campy version of the Dark Knight in the 1960's, Batman made his feature film debut in 1989 starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson. Since that time Warner Bros. has held the film production rights to DC Comics. However, the studio's reluctance to feature the two most famous superheroes of all time in the same movie has been astounding. This is especially amazing considering the Superman symbol is arguably the second most recognisable symbol in the world, second only to the Christian cross.
Batman played by Ben Affleck in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
This year that is all about to change with Warner Bros. reluctance to take risks being shattered by the enormous success and popularity of MARVEL movies. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice represents Warner Bros. attempt to create a cinematic universe for DC Comics, much in the same way that Marvel Studios and Disney have pioneered the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This allows Warner Bros. to create a world in which all the DC Comics characters can interact on film, in whichever movie genre the studio decides to develop and put into production. The possibilities are endless. The question is, does the grand vision succeed in the same way that Marvel Studios did? And more importantly, does the film do DC Comics justice?
Batman v Superman is officially the second film in the DC cinematic universe and sequel to 2012's Man of Steel directed by Zach Snyder. The film picks up where Man of Steel left off, with the city of Metropolis licking its wounds following the debut of Superman. The Man of Steel has just saved the world from the villainous Kryptonian Zod, but has also played his part in destroying half of Metropolis in the process. The audience is first introduced to the latest incarnation of Bruce Wayne, in a masterful sequence that has clearly taken inspiration from Zach Snyder's previous film Watchman. The tale of Batman's origins are very well known, however the incredibly creative montage is the epitome of cinematic brilliance. Bruce Wayne is an extremely troubled man, but his code of morality is not as well defined as his previous incarnations. The film accelerates at rapid pace to Metropolis, a city in turmoil during the battle between Superman and Zod. It is a flashback of sorts, but on this occasion it is told from the perspective of Bruce Wayne, as he frantically races to the Wayne Financial building to do his utmost to save his employees. Wayne finds himself to be utterly powerless, which fuels his remorse and resentment as the story progresses.
The film returns to the present, where the debate rages on about Superman's role in the world, with the consensus being that he should be held accountable for his actions. A highly contradictory concept especially considering the human race's perceived need to control the uncontrollable. The debate hits fever pitch when casualties occur abroad as a consequence of Lois Lane and Superman's involvement. The main instigator against Superman's perceived "god like" status is Alexander "Lex" Luthor, a young upstart and trust fund baby who has immense issues with authority figures and people in power, especially anyone more powerful than he is.
Lex Luthor played by Jesse Eisenberg is incredibly eccentric, and is unlike any rendition of the character we have seen before. Eisenberg's performance is unusually quirky and he is incredibly unlikable in the role. Although his performance can also be perceived as genius in disguise, especially considering his sole purpose in the film is to be the ultimate antagonist. If his goal was to be universally disliked, then he succeeds in spades. Lex Luthor's role in the film is to essentially provoke Batman and Superman into conflict. Luthor's excessive amounts of screen time during various sections of the film will also leave audiences feeling like the story is actually about Lex Luthor. This is incredibly noticeable towards the middle of the film. Unfortunately it is to the film's detriment. However due the way the film is set up, it is essential to the story's progression, especially since Lex is the driving force that brings Batman and Superman together for their ultimate showdown.
Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor's ideologies and tremendously different yet their quest is the same, as both men strive to find Superman's weakness. Wayne's desperation to end the Superman threat is only counteracted by a moral compass encapsulated in the form of his trusted confidant Alfred, played brilliantly by Jeremy Irons. Alfred is essentially a wartime consigliere to Wayne, and their interactions are incredibly stimulating and entertaining. Alfred also brings a necessary warmth to the Bruce Wayne character who is currently dark, vengeful and lacking hope, which ultimately make him unrelatable. Wayne's plight is clearly understandable to the audience, with his nightmares artfully defining his negative perception of Superman. However the comic symbology of Batman in essence aims to provide a beacon of hope, even though retribution is implied as one of his defining characteristics. This incarnation of Batman may leave audiences feeling neglected by the character's selfish motivations. Although, this is rectified by a brilliantly shot sequence during the film's final act.
Superman really is the barometer for hope in the movie, however this vital aspect becomes transient during certain sequences in the film. At times Superman is stuck between a rock and a hard place due to the political and media pressures placed upon him. Audiences will really feel sympathetic to his plight as he attempts to define his role in the world as one tragedy occurs after another. However his optimistic nature is diverted repeatedly with his obsession to rectify the horrific and vengeful attacks occurring across the harbour in the neighbouring city of Gotham. He perceives the attacks by Batman as unethical and feels compelled to stop them, inadvertently placing more overwhelming responsibility on his shoulders.
Superman's place in the world makes his resentful focus on Batman a confusing concept, especially with Lex Luthor at large. His quandary with the Dark Knight is understandable to the audience, however the conflict between Superman and Batman can be difficult to watch. This is especially true for those who rightfully respect and idolise both heroes. In addition to this, there are many times when the conflict seems incredibly irrational from both sides of the argument. This fact is emphasized even more so when the two superpowers eventually come to physical blows, reflecting a lack of intelligence from both parties with an overemphasis of brawn over brain. Superman and Batman both take turns at displaying incredibly irrational moments, which can make it extremely difficult for an audience to support one heroes ideology over the other. Regardless of these minor issues, Superman's true symbology is clearly represented by the end of the film in all its glory. It has to be said that the character arc is incredibly true to DC comic history.
While Superman and his alter-ego Clark Kent stubbornly stand for a unique sense idealism and morality, the intellectual elements are left to Lois Lane. It has be said that Amy Adams owns the role, which is helped by having many heroic moments of her own. The story allows Lane to play the ultimate detective, which is facilitated by another brilliant performance in the form of Perry White, played Laurence Fishburne. Both are immensely vital characters to the plot and without them the story would be relegated to a one note heavyweight title fight. Much like how Alfred provides a moral compass for Batman, so does Lois Lane for Superman in addition to a wonderful performance by Diane Lane as Martha Kent. Martha's vital role allows for the whole film to come together, leading to the most entertaining sequence of the film.
Henry Cavill plays the role of Superman and Clark Kent brilliantly in the movie to the point that it is hard to imagine anyone else in the role. There isn't much more to be said, he is the perfect Superman. Any issues with his character are purely story based, but regardless of these plot holes Henry Cavill's performance still holds up. Gal Gadot's performance as Wonder Woman is also incredibly entertaining. While her screen time is minimal, her introduction is a most welcome addition to the movie. While her casting was debatable, she definitely looks the part and she steals the screen from Batman and Superman at times. Her character however is underdeveloped which will hopefully be rectified once the Wonder Woman movie is release next year.
Ben Affleck also plays Batman and Bruce Wayne incredibly well. His interpretation of Batman is one to respect as opposed to being all that likable. This is mainly due to the character's vengeful nature on the page as opposed to Affleck's actual performance. Batman in this movie is a brooding and wary individual, which is unfortunately at the sacrifice of his stellar intellectual ability, which was something he was famous for throughout comic history. Fans of a rough and tumble version of the Dark Knight will be immensely pleased. In essence Batman in this movie is utterly brutal. However, audiences who are seeking more depth of character in their ideal vision of Batman will have to wait for the Justice League movie. This is due to the fundamental character change Bruce Wayne experiences by the end of the film.
Batman v Superman will undoubtedly leave audiences wanting to see more Batman in the future. Unfortunately this is not a representation of how good the Batman character is, but more a reflection of the film not including enough Batman. The movie spends way too much time on discussion and political rhetoric as opposed to what made Batman popular in the first place, with his origins defining him as the greatest detective of all time. The detective element is severely neglected in this film, which is an absolute shame considering the vital role this element played in how successful The Dark Knight was.
Zach Snyder's cinematic vision really is a worthy effort to progress the DC Comics franchise. While his previous film Man of Steel does seem to have the overarching influence of Christopher Nolan, Batman v Superman is undeniably Snyder's film. The action sequences are poetic, however they are unevenly paced with the vast majority being left for the final act as well as the films ultimate conclusion. Visually the dark and gloomy tone suits a Batman movie, although the film lacks the levity expected when watching a Superman story. Thankfully this is rectified by the repetitious use of sections from the fabulous Hans Zimmer Man of Steel score. The rest of Hans Zimmer's score for Batman v Superman is slightly underwhelming, especially considering the same man masterfully composed the soundtracks for films such as The Dark Knight and Inception. Batman's musical theme lacks the gravitas of previous interpretations, while Wonder Woman's theme doesn't remain in the consciousness for long.
Overall, Batman v Superman is an incredibly complicated film. The beginning of the first act occurs at a most enjoyable frantic pace, however then middle lacks narrative drive with a severe obsession on developing exposition. Warner Bros. has attempted to but so much in this movie that at times it can be difficult to comprehend in one sitting. Much of the film feels like an ultimate setup for future films with a specific focus on the Justice League. It is understandable why Warner Bros. have taken this approach. Although while serviceable to the many DC Comics fans, some cameo's feel forced and perhaps could have been executed in a better way. The film's final act rectifies many of the pacing issues evidenced in the middle of the film, with the conclusion being immensely entertaining and setting up a world of possibilities. In summary, it is a must watch.