Critics aren’t loving Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Since Warner Brothers lifted their review embargo, this heavily hyped film, a two-and-a-half hour sequel to Man of Steel and simultaneous Batman reboot, has earned a decidedly negative reaction from critics — but does it deserve that?
On the ubiquitous review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, it sits at a rotten 29% as of this writing; of 283 reviewers, who range from those published in print to those self-published on Youtube, only 81 were at least okay with it. Even among those 81 reviews, there is not widespread praise.
I knew all of this when I went to see the movie myself. Even if the reviews had been worse, I would have seen it, because it’s Batman v Superman. Even the tacky subtitle, no doubt slapped on by Warner executives, couldn’t keep me out. So I went with the bad reviews in mind, hoping that I would at least be able to laugh a little or see some neat action set pieces.
What I got was a movie that is, put simply, much less than the sum of its parts, and yet nowhere near deserving of the impalement it’s received.
I’ll be real: superhero movies are, by and large, manufactured shlock used to sell plastic merchandise and sneakers. There are few exceptions, usually those aimed expressly at adults, and there are a few shining examples, such as the near entirety of Marvel Studios’ productions, which, following Marvel’s acquisition by Disney, have become increasingly watered down, formulaic, and childproof. Compare this to Watchmen, a comic book adaptation which was made for an older audience, directly translating Alan Moore’s work to the screen with little censorship.
Batman v Superman is somewhere in between. It’s high concept material for the superhero genre, showing us a glimpse of what might really happen if people like this lived among us. It wants to be art, and it often succeeds. However, it is bogged down by decisions that seem to have been made by committee, and, last time I checked, art is not generated by eight people with a to-do list.
Each individual scene is quite well done. There is tension, intrigue, and mystery, and strangely there are so few action sequences that this may as well be superhero drama, but when something loud does happen, it’s a spectacle. This is all decorated by some truly beautiful cinematography, credit owed to director of photography Larry Fong, who worked with Zach Snyder on Watchmen. Finally, Hanz Zimmer (and Junkie XL, I guess) puts the star on the Christmas tree with an original score that ranges between tear-jerking, heroic, violent, and terrifyingly frantic, as is the case in one final eerie scene featuring a cacophony of schizo violins which left me feeling itchy.
The various actors do well in their parts, with Henry Cavill seriously effective as a depressed, conflicted Superman, and Ben Affleck delivering the most watchable movie Batman yet. Ben as Bruce Wayne owns every bit of screen time he gets, whether in costume or not, and when he kicks ass, you can feel it. This is easily the most kinetic and physical representation of the character on film.
Sadly, once all of the pieces are put together into a whole, it’s something of a mess. The pacing is off, many scenes drag for too long, there is a bloated wealth of dream sequences and micro plots, and the entire thing craves an intermission, or at least I did. Time is often completely wasted on ideas that are not fully explored or totally forced, like Wonder Woman viewing a “coming soon” slideshow of the future Justice League members in a scene that manages to entirely neutralize the film’s climax while vomiting some inexcusably bad CGI. (Sadly, she skips over the video of the Warner brothers pissing their pants trying to catch up with Marvel’s cinematic universe.)
Yes, this film is in dire need of a new editor, and if you’ve seen it, you might not be surprised that Zach Snyder plans to release a director’s cut which includes 30 minutes of material he was forced to remove. Could it be that an additional half hour of content might remedy the unwieldy montage that is Batman v Superman? I’ll be first in line to find out.
Aside from the complaints I’ve listed, critics have also lamented the loss of cheer and humor in this movie, citing its lack of fun and morose atmosphere, but I find this all refreshing after the nth episode of Robert Downey Jr. cracking jokes while laserbeaming aliens. Maybe things would be gloomy in a world that has to deal with Superman.
Finally, I’d recommend Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to anyone who digs comics, because it ends up moving and progressing much like a graphic novel does. Like many entries in that medium, it comes off as more adventurous in its themes than a typical superhero flick. While I can’t say this is a good movie, I truly loved watching it.
Images and trailer are property of Warner Bros.