Movie Review: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

I really liked this movie.

There, I said it.

And I’m not just trying to be contrarian here. Against the weight of most reviews I’ve read and seen, I honestly liked it.

I know I’m late to the party. But I did see Man of Steel when it came out, and Suicide Squad recently, so I had some free time and figured I might as well watch Batman v. Superman and fill in the gap. I’m glad I did.

I’d rate it similar to how I rated Suicide Squad: An entertaining mess. But this was better. And more interesting. Let me explain.

Yes, I’m a fan of both characters. Yes, I like Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, which this movie is largely based on. Yes, the Wonder Woman trailer got me interested in seeing the character’s cinematic debut. Yes, I was kind of bored, and $3.99 is a small price to pay for two hours of entertainment.

And yes, I am aware of this movie’s flaws. There are some gaping plot holes and really stupid things the characters do and it doesn’t really capture the essence of Superman and Lex Luthor’s heel turn was unconvincing and Wonder Woman’s entrance was forced and abrupt on and on and on.

So what did I like about this movie? For starters, while skeptical at the announcement of Ben Affleck as Batman, I thought his portrayal was great. He was a grizzled, older version, a hulking, cynic who used his mind like a detective but fought like an absolute brute. I will gladly line up to see a Batman movie with him as the lead.

Henry Cavill as Superman is alright. Everybody else is fine, doing their job despite some overly portentous and look at me, I’m deep dialogue.

But I’m not here to go over the plot or technical aspects or whatever. You can find thousands of reviews that already do that. I’ll tell you two big reasons I liked this movie:

  1. The set-up was interesting
  2. It dealt with big ideas

Look, I’m generally no fan of Zack Snyder, but I appreciate that he at least tries to incorporate big ideas into his movies. He doesnt always hit the mark, but with Dawn of Justice I think he came closer than with Man of Steel, if we’re sticking with the DC movies.

Tastes vary, and I enjoyed his movie, warts and all, but I found that the big themes in touched on made parts that shouldn’t have worked work. 

*     *     *

I love when sci-fi or fantasy or any pop-culture storytelling medium hits on big ideas. It’s what makes Star Trek so great, or The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter or the great comic books so timeless and so powerful. What’s a story if it doesn’t transmit some cultural value or universal lesson?

A waste of time.

I thought Dawn of Justice had a lot of interesting stuff that made me think. In no particular order:

  1. Superheroes and government. The political junkie in me appreciated this. Of course governments would get involved to try to sort things out. Of course homeland–or homeworld–security would be an issue. I appreciate that his was a central point, even though superhero movies are supposed to be an escape from reality. As a bonus, Dawn of Justice completely avoided any partisanship or political sucker-punches, something I wholeheartedly approve of.
  2. Deterrence. As mentioned above, I think the movie missed a chance to make Lex Luthor more interesting. Here’s why: His motives were good! He wants to find a way to protect the Earth from a huge potential threat. Why wouldn’t he try to weaponize kryptonite? (Okay, Doomsday was dumb)
  3. Parents. Both Superman and Batman are, deep down, frightened little boys bereft of parental love. Superman lost his entire world, and while his human parents love him, he lost his dad (stupidly!) all too soon. And Batman’s defining moment is witnessing his parents’ murder as a young boy. This makes the goofy “Martha” scene work–we never escape our childhoods and need our parents while growing up.
  4. Actions have consequences. The destruction in Metropolis wrought by Superman in his battle against General Zod in Man of Steel was wiser used as a plot point in Dawn of Justice. Even if this was a reaction to the justifiable outcry over that movie’s callous decimation of the city, it provided a powerful motivator favor for many characters in this film, including Batman. Actions have consequences, and even superheroes aren’t immune. Much of the world hates and fears Superman. Superman!
  5. What is justice? This is something you have to touch on in a movie involving these two characters. Should evil be brutally punished or shown mercy? An eye-for-an-eye or a fair trial? The movie could have done more with this, but it still raised this tension discussing the heroes’ different methods.

There are probably more, or maybe not. Maybe I’m reading too much into this. I don’t know. At the end of the day, it’s a superhero movie.

Sure. And it’s not a perfect one either. But I appreciate it for raising big questions. And SPOILER ALERT the fight between Batman and Superman was the best part of the movie.

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