By Joseph Walter
Simply put, "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" is a borderline revolutionary movie in regards to comic book films, and is an example of what can truly be accomplished with the genre.
Unlike its Marvel brethren, which typically caters to casual and devoted fans alike, Zack Snyder's opus seems to actively aim for a hardcore demographic.
Its storytelling is fractured and non-conformist, with generous lapses in time and sequence, highly reminiscent of the panels in a graphic novel. Without giving anything away, the plot manages to be breathtakingly multi-layered. Those wanting nothing more than a meta-human battle royale will unquestionably be satisfied, but those wanting something with more weight will find eerily poignant and relevant allusions to the societal problems that plague our species in a deep abyss right under the "wham! pow!" surface.
What makes the layers work so well is the outstanding level of world-building. To put this into perspective, the "world-building" in the Marvel movies is very thin: A stand-alone plot involving a single hero will happen, and during the credits, Nick Fury will ask the hero to join the Avengers. Throughout following films, there will nary be a reference to the other, supposedly established heroes or incidents, and it all ends up seeming like a sterilized, corporate product. While "Civil War" seems to be addressing these grievances, "Dawn of Justice" immediately establishes a fictional world with real consequences, having almost its entire story based upon the aftermath of "Man of Steel's" finale, and how this affected the psyche of the planet.
Visually, "Batman v Superman" is nearly a living comic book. Zack Snyder's visual panache, largely absent from "Man of Steel," makes a triumphant return, if not in a more refined state. Although never quite reaching the heights of Snyder's best comic book adaptation, "Watchmen," the visuals combined with the world-building create a heightened reality married to comic book logic, which easily demolishes the faux-gritty efforts of the heralded "Dark Knight" trilogy and lackluster precursor, "Man of Steel."
Of particular note are two sequences of incredible cinematography: One is possibly the best Batman fight scene ever committed to film, and the second is a series of shots that track combatants as they are blasted through rubble for seemingly miles. Of course, I won't disclose the context of these sequences, but they're so jaw-dropping that you'll know exactly what I'm talking about when the time comes.
The acting and writing range from superb to mixed. Ben Affleck is, undoubtedly, the best live action Bruce/Bat since Michael Keaton's unhinged performance from Tim Burton's classic duology. Imagine the Keaton Batman, much older, and having never had a good thing happen to him in his entire life, and then combine that with a nearly incarnate hatred and you'll have an idea of exactly the kind of weight that Affleck brings to the table. This is a deeply disturbed, savage Batman, and we've never seen anything like him on film before.
Henry Cavill, on the other hand, is still the weakest cast member. He certainly has the look for Superman, but the majority of his line readings are forced. That said, he's improved admirably since his soulless performance in "Man of Steel."
The supporting cast is a major leap up from "Man of Steel," however, with Amy Adams' Lois Lane now far more believable, grounded, and even damaged. She brings an enlightening sincerity to each scene she is a part of. Relatedly, Laurence Fishburne's Perry White finally has material that doesn't sound like a first draft script. Also, Jeremy Irons as Alfred, while seemingly not as old as Aflred is traditionally played, has an exceptionally snappy, ironic sense of humor with mean-spirited, deadpan delivery that's new for the character's on-screen representation and I found it to be most pleasant.
Gal Gadot's unique performance as Wonder Woman was the most surprising element of the cast. While I wasn't consistently sold on her acting chops, her personality and spirit put a twist on the character that was intoxicating. Unlike previous incarnations, where the Amazonian was elegant yet stern, Gadot's Diana is a true warrior with a brutal lust for combat.
As for Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor, a performance which continually runs the risk of being thoroughly obnoxious, I admit I was pleasantly surprised by the scope of his motivations, and the many different layers of the performance. It's new type of Lex, but just as cunning as the character is known for.
Despite all of these positives, "Dawn of Justice" does have its problems.
A major weak point is that the plot is also almost entirely built upon a series of outlandish coincidences and excuses to push major events into motion. However, I found it hard to criticize this as much as I would in another film because it was just so very comic book-y, which is exactly what the movie tried to accomplish (and it did so, with flying colors). I wanted to be mad at it, but I legitimately found myself forgiving these moments because they just worked so damn well in the world and afore-mentioned heightened reality.
Alas, the greatest failing stemmed from moments of extreme pandering to the fanboy crowd, particularly with a series of gratuitous reveals that do nothing other than to stoke the fires of fandom hysteria, with little-to-no point in the immediate proceedings.
Another low-point was the music: Your eardrums are in for a repetitious, unfaltering series of thumps and choruses throughout. While basic theme work is in place for our main players, don't expect anything meaningful on the level of Tim Burton or Shirley Walker. It's typical threadbare Zimmer-isms that you've heard variations of for a decade. Admittedly, though, Batman's new theme, which is nothing more than a series of choral outbursts and thudding bass was guiltily satisfying. A minor positive note: Zimmer's Superman motif from "Man of Steel" makes a number of innovative and welcome variations throughout the picture, which caught me by surprise, especially considering his overstayed, "safe" composing.
In conclusion, while the film certainly has issues, it's an unabashed, hardcore take on a genre that's become run-of-the-mill. The story, while held together by weak coincidences, manages to craft a tale that is both satisfying to the intended audience and also provides enough depth to comment on the human condition, our collective fears, and the fact that we could all very much use a hero.