Film Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (PG) (USA, 2016)

At first glance, it seems a little odd to see Batman headlining the follow up to 2013’s Man of Steel. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is an undeniably clunky title but, having seen it, it feels surprisingly fitting. It’s far more of a Batman film than it is a Superman one.

There’s a lot going on here and while it’s at-times inconsistent, Dawn of Justice feels like a film that most DC fans will be pretty happy with. It isn’t the paradigm shift that some might be hoping for but, at its best, it feels like the start of something both very big and very tonally different to existing superhero offerings.

A lot of the credit for this should be laid at the feet of Ben Affleck‘s Bruce Wayne. Affleck’s take is an older, grizzlier and more bitter beast than his predecessors and makes for some of the film’s best beats. He’s got a great chemistry with Jeremy Irons‘ Alfred and his character’s trajectory through the film is dripping with details for comic book fans to catch.

It helps that director Zack Snyder is markedly better at telling stories about Batman than he is Superman. His penchant for visual-driven storytelling is put to great use here, with the film’s opening running through all the necessary notes of Wayne’s origins in record time. He’s not subtle but he gets the job done. In fact, a lot of the editing and pacing in the first half feels right out of a comic book – though some less familiar with the material may be irked at the the film’s expectation that they keep up.

In a sharp contrast to these strengths, it’s the scenes with Superman (Henry Cavill) himself and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) that feel like dead weight. The forgettable, predictable and borderline-unimaginative dialogue of Man of Steel makes an unwelcome return here and it only gets worse as the film progresses. In addition, the difference between the acting ability of Cavill and Affleck is less of a gap and more a chasm. Cavill often comes off unconvincing and one-note compared to Affleck’s growling vigilante.

Aside from the loss of Laurence Fishburne‘s Perry White, it feels like the film would almost have been better focusing solely on Bruce Wayne’s story. The script’s attempts at deconstructing or critiquing the problematic nature of Superman’s existence through the eyes of Bruce Wayne fall a little flat when we are constantly being shown Clark’s own good-natured intentions.

That said, it’s this Kryptonian side of the story that brings Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) into the mix. Eisenberg’s take on the character is a little unconventional but brilliant. As an actor, he pours himself into the role, chewing up scenery and bringing an energy to his scenes that nobody else on the cast can really match. While he’s a little exaggerated and cartoonish, he never loses your attention once he gets going. He’s ridiculous but a kind of ridiculous that’s a sharp contrast against the rest of the film’s self-seriousness.

As the first proper movie in DC’s cinematic universe, Dawn of Justice is responsible for setting up DC’s whole roster. The worldbuilding here concerning The Flash(Ezra Miller), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and  Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) all works pretty well but it does sometimes feel a little too ancillary to main plot. There’s a bit more happening with Gal Godot‘s Wonder Woman but ultimately her backstory feels as more-or-less as implied as Batman’s.

Like I said before, there’s a lot going on in this film – and Dawn of Justice‘s inconsistency sometimes feels like its biggest detractor. Though never formally established, the speed with which characters travel back and forth between Gotham and Metropolis feels too convenient and a lot of the plot following the titular showdown feels a little iffy and predictable.

In fact, if you’ve paid attention to the marketing around this film you there are only a few turns that you might not see coming. The directions that the film takes in order to set up its titular confrontation are pretty predictable but the film does build enough tension and misunderstandings between the two characters that a clash between them feels rational – even if the fight itself could stand to go for a little longer.

If Dawn of Justice is going to prompt a comparison to any specific Marvel movie, Age of Ultron or Thor will probably what’ll come to mind. It’s a solid, if uneven, offering that promises bigger things to come and one that fans will *probably* like. There are definite moments where the film soars but taken as a whole, it’s closer to good than great.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice comes out on the 24th of March 2016.