The superhero genre continued its dominance of the box office in 2016. The year saw the likes of Captain America: Civil War, Deadpool and Doctor Strange. But there was one film that I was really looking forward to; Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. And while the film became the talking point for many cinema-goers and comic book fans, I don’t think it was for the reasons Warner Bros. Pictures and DC were hoping for. I personally wasn’t too thrilled that they had chosen to skip a sincerely needed sequel to Man of Steel in favour of making their own version of The Avengers. Yet while I understand and share the common complaints and criticisms that many had, I still found a significant amount of enjoyment from watching it.
My early skepticism about the film’s narrative and the studio’s eagerness to please its audience came to fruition in a film with an unnecessarily contrived and cluttered plot. With the sole precursor to Snyder’s “DC Universe” being an origin story for Superman, the task of establishing an entire franchise in 151 minutes and with little setup was a disaster waiting to happen. I’d argue that a considerable amount of the narrative issues could have been alleviated by a Man of Steel 2. The iconic question “Does the world really need Superman?”, the notion of him being the last Kryptonian, the “complex” character and motivations of Lex Luthor, and the existence of other superheroes could have been addressed in a story told immediately after the destruction of Metropolis and General Zod’s death. This would have suitably set the framework for a future confrontation with Batman and the eventual formation of the Justice League.
I particularly hated Jesse Eisenberg’s turn as Lex Luthor which was a completely dreadful and unnecessary attempt to reinvent the quintessential villain. And it hurts even more knowing that he is now a permanent part of this franchise. Elsewhere, the previously strong approach to Louis Lane’s character in Man of Steel was squandered by her reduction to the damsel in distress role yet again. Put simply, Batman Vs Superman suffers from a monumentally shoddy approach to its writing.
So what did I actually like about the film? First, I love the look of the film. I’ve stated numerous times that while Zack Snyder’s filmography is a hodgepodge of quality, his understanding of the visual side of film is pretty good. From Superman standing in front the US Capitol building to Bruce Wayne’s apocalyptic nightmare, Batman Vs Superman feels and looks very much like the pages of a comic book. Meanwhile the titular fight, though brief and enhanced with digital effects, manages to capture the weight of these two titans being thrown around. It’s simply a joy to watch.
Second, Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/ Batman was undoubtably the best part of the entire film. I can even excuse Synder’s vision of the capped crusader as a cold-blooded murderer, unlike many. This version of Bruce Wayne is weathered, spent and bleak, which is perfectly shown in his tense exchanges with Alfred. The entire warehouse scene in particular, vigorously displayed a new approach to the iconic character that was brutish and terrifying. I’m really looking forward to seeing more of Batfleck, especially with in the eventual standalone film. I also thought Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman offered a pretty stellar performance in her limited screen time.
In the end, Warner Bros. Pictures’ haste to achieve the same dominance as Marvel backfired and the studio is reeling from it. I don’t think there’s a conspiracy against the studio or DC, but I feel that in the wake of Marvel’s success, comparisons are inevitably going to be drawn between the two. And on that basis, Warner and DC are going to struggle to compete. Wonder Woman is on the horizon and so too is the Justice League, and if those fail to turn heads, then I’m afraid that we'll likely see a revamping of the franchise yet again in the near future.