BATMAN V SUPERMAN has to be the most anticipated superhero film of recent years. While the team-up has happened numerous times in comic books and other media, it’s taken this long for the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel to meet on the big screen. Inevitably, this has brought with it a great pressure, and there are so many ways in which the film could have been done. The Avengers series demonstrates that a grit and light can sometimes work together, but BvS forges a new path.
Spoilers ahead: you have been warned…
Although BvS had been described in the advertising as “MAN OF STEEL 2”, you might be surprised at just how much of a sequel to Snyder’s 2013 Superman reboot it really is. Everything about it screams continuation of Snyder’s film: from the early sequence of Bruce Wayne racing to the site of the Metropolis disaster (an excellent scene, which has an undoubtedly deliberate 9/11 atmosphere about it), to the general production and feel of the movie. This is something of a gamble; because if you didn’t enjoy MAN OF STEEL, these elements will probably irritate you even further.
The main story arc concerns humanity’s struggle with the arrival of Superman. This is a serious, dark and brooding film: Superman is not hailed as the “all-American” hero, and characters consider deeply his arrival in our current, terror-filled world. There is an excellent scene in which Superman rescues Lois, where we can really feel the potential gains and dangers of this super-human: and the fact that by making him more human (by giving him connections to the human world, in the form of Lois and Martha Kent) he actually becomes more dangerous.
Where I maybe struggled with this is that Superman as a character begins to lose his identity. He becomes less and less the Man of Steel, and more like an alien superbeing. There are already plenty of those in fiction; elements of the Martian Manhunter drip into his character, and the entire conundrum of a superbeing and his potential to help or harm has already been done in 2009’s WATCHMEN. Indeed, many elements of the film have a very WATCHMEN feel to them. I’m a huge fan of Snyder’s earlier “superhero” film, but I felt that WATCHMEN just did this better than BvS.
The plot develops from there, with Bruce Wayne deciding that Batman is a threat to planetary security. Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor reaches a similar conclusion, albeit for less altruistic reasons: deciding to forge an anti-Superman weapon from the remains of Zod’s invasion craft. Wayne decides that such a weapon is not safe in Luthor’s hands, and so Batman plots to take it from him. Meanwhile, Gal Gadot’s mysterious Diana Prince conducts her own investigations. Things are further complicated by Luthor’s decision to “resurrect” General Zod, using the remains of the invasion ship…
That’s a lot of plot to take in, and this is probably where BvS falls down hardest. There’s simply too much going on at times. On paper, the same criticism could be levelled at AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON – with so many heroes on screen, and only limited plot arcs in which to handle them – but that movie expertly juggled them. BvS struggles with this. Do not believe the hype: despite the DAWN OF JUSTICE tag, this is not a superhero pantheon film. Aquaman, the Flash, and Cyborg appear to have been tacked on to the movie, and their treatment is extremely perfunctory. Diana Price discovers data on them at a high-tension plot point, basically sitting at a laptop and clicking on files. Whilst this potentially links them back to Luthor, and his interest in metahumans, it is not dealt with very well and was really unnecessary. The only other member of the Justice League who gets any screentime is Wonder Woman. She’s great, but again I felt unnecessary: had she been reduced to a few cameo-type background appearances, that would have suited me fine. Instead, her “shock” arrival at end of the film just felt superfluous.
Similarly, there are a few “dream sequences” in which Bruce Wayne has either visions of the future, or possibly contact with alternative futures. Just why? These could have been cut easily. One of them is really very cool – the scene shown on many TV spots (Batman in a trenchcoat, fighting bad guys in a desert-type setting) – but it does nothing to forward the plot. We already know by this stage that Batman doesn’t trust Superman, and these scenes tend to make the viewer believe that Batman is losing it: making his eventual decision to support Superman more difficult to accept.
All of this might sound negative, but there is a lot to enjoy in BvS too. When the casting of Ben Affleck was first revealed, my heart dropped. Affleck’s superhero pedigree isn’t good; it has taken Netflix’s DAREDEVIL series to finally purge the public consciousness of the 2003 movie of the same name. However my concerns were quickly resolved. Affleck makes an excellent Bruce Wayne and Batman. His Bruce is dark and conflicted, and his Batman jaded and frightening. The introductory Batman scene is excellent: genuinely scary, and managing to feel different enough to Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT series. The Batman fight sequences are also incredible – Batman fights with a tank-like stoicism, almost an extension of his Batmobile. These sequences are just so much better than the Man of Steel fights; and for me, Batman dominated the eventual showdown between him and Superman: donning the iconic armoured suit that evens the odds with the Kryptonian. The Batmobile scene – chasing a lorry through the docks – was very reminiscent of similar scenes in the DARK KNIGHT films, but also fantastic in its own right.
I did slightly struggle with which “version” of Batman we’re supposed to be seeing here. Elements of the film feel as though they are set after the DARK KNIGHT RISES, with a brutalised Wayne Manor and Bruce Wayne mentioning a predilection for beautiful women (which I guess exists in most versions of the character!). But equally, this Batman is much older and more brutal: and, if the situation suits, not particularly concerned about using guns either. There’s a nice touch with a desecrated Batsuit sprayed with Joker’s scrawl, but this is unexplained. Although this doesn’t really matter to the story, DARK KNIGHT RISES was only in 2012: I do think that many viewers (perhaps those not particularly knowledgeable about these characters) might ask similar questions.
All in all, there is a lot to like about BvS, but it isn’t quite as successful as it could’ve been. I enjoyed it a lot, and I think that many viewers will feel the same way, but equally many others will find the tone of the film difficult to appreciate.
Final thought: are Gotham and Metropolis really that close? Could’ve fooled me…