MOST OF MY friends – many of whom are die-hard comic book and superhero movie fans – decided not to see Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, and I can’t blame them. While I’m always a fan of going to see every film you can, because even a bad film can still be worth watching, Batman vs Superman opened to such negative reviews and word of mouth among fans of the comics that deciding not to go see it is entirely understandable. Not only can I understand my friends perspective, but, having seen the film, I don’t feel that I can tell them they’re wrong.
That said, I’m not prepared to say Batman vs Superman is a bad film, and that may be the frustrating thing about it. If it were simply horrible and unpleasant and unimaginative on every level it would be, in a way, less disappointing. If it were simply bad I could, without reserve, tell people that it’s not worth seeing. The frustrating thing is that Batman vs Superman comes within a hair’s breadth of being absolutely amazing multiple times, but every time misses the mark.
Superhero films can be particularly frustrating due to their position as adaptations. I am always for re-imagining characters, and I don’t think a film can be said to be bad because it doesn’t follow the story it was adapted from. That said, a fan will make a thousand comparisons. For every creative decision taken in producing the film there will – especially for a character like Superman – be a number of adaptations that have already tried something similar, perhaps more successfully. This is very much the case here. The film draws inspiration from a number of comic storylines, including two of my favourites; Lex Luthor, Man of Steel and Earth 2. While I appreciate the references to things I enjoy, and I think looking on the events of the film through the lens of what happens in Earth 2 is interesting, its hard not to see every choice which causes Batman vs Superman to fall short of what made these stories compelling.
I have never been the biggest fan of Batman or Superman. They both have their good stories, but I’ve never been an avid fan; I am, however, a fan of Lex Luthor, who I regard as one of the best comic book villains of all time. As such, it was somewhat odd to see Jesse Eisenberg delivering a performance with a nervous energy and unhinged quality that seems like he would be happier playing the Joker rather than Mr Luthor. I didn’t hate the films interpretation of Lex; the idea of Lex as more of a relaxed, Silicon Valley-type entrepreneur is interesting, but the odd mannerisms, pauses and manner of speaing feel less like the cold, calculating Lex Luthor and more like someone who is simply unhinged, which makes for a far less interesting character. In fact, his motivation throughout the film seems to be little more than simply being convinced that Superman has to be evil, regardless of his actions. While the film does drawn inspiration from Lex Luthor, Man of Steel, they seem to have missed the best thing about that story; the exploration of Luthor’s motivations.
Overall, it feels that Dawn of Justice is simply trying to do too much. It isn’t a short film, but it still feels as though they had too many things they wanted to do and not enough time to do it in. Because of the inclusion of so many elements, many of them feel as though they didn’t quite have enough time or exploration to pay off or feel complete. Of particular note is the central premise; that Batman and Superman fight.
The film knows that it has to put a lot of work into setting up this situation, making it feel believable and setting up everyone’s motivations, and it gets so close to getting it right. It actually does a fairly good job of exploring Batman’s character and giving him motivation to fight Superman, but it still feels as though some of the themes would have benefited from reinforcement as they are really only mentioned once. Superman, on the other hand, feels like like an emotionless cardboard cut-out. Although he is given a little motivation to fight Batman, it is almost totally stripped away in a scene before the fight in a move by Luthor which seems to make no sense.
Wonder Woman also makes an appearance, although brief. The moment when she arrives is great – one of the best moments in the film – but it feels as though she was meant to play a larger part and most of her scenes got cut.
That is the overwhelming feeling I had through the entire film; that it comes so close, but seems as though scenes were cut which would have cemented themes and made motivations more believable, giving us more insight into the world and the plot. When the extended edition is released, I am convinced all of the cut scenes would make the film truly great.
I would certainly recommend seeing Dawn of Justice, because it’s not an awful film; it comes so close to being amazing, but just keeps missing the mark.