Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Warner Bros. would have been happy if Christopher Nolan kept making Batman films for decades to come. He, however, had different ideas. Those different ideas, ironically, have often been more critically, if not always commercially, successful than his Batman films, and so far he has stuck to his word. No more movies featuring Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne have appeared, nor is there any serious talk of producing another one.
The Dark Knight Rises came out in 2012 and, though it wasn't as well received as the first two films, still went out on a high note. Unlike Disney who, after acquiring most of Marvel's characters, has had to deal with Sony for Spider-Man and had to buy 20th Century Fox to get Deadpool and the X-Men, Warner Bros. has had a lock on DC characters for decades. So, with Batman done, it was time to see what they could do with Superman after the disappointment of Bryan Singer's Superman Returns. By a stroke of luck they had another hot-shot young director in Zack Snyder, and so in 2013 that entire series was rebooted with Man of Steel.
That is where things get a bit muddled. All the Batman movies that Nolan did followed a story after the entire series had been rebooted. Other than Scarecrow as a villain nothing carried over from any plans from the Tim Burton / Joel Schumacher era. Man of Steel was pretty much a remake of Superman II, the best of the original run of movies directed by Richard Donner and starring Christopher Reeve, while Superman Returns was itself a direct sequel to Superman II, ignoring the third and fourth movies for good reason. Rather than go the typical superhero route Snyder opted to make Man of Steel a more straightforward science fiction film while hitting all the beats of Clark Kent's origin, early life in Smallville and eventual role as a hero. It also featured him causing almost as much destruction as General Zod, a fellow Kryptonian who arrived to take over the Earth. This criticism did not fall on deaf ears and was a major part of the motivation for Bruce Wayne in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
After witnessing his regional offices destroyed in Metropolis during the battle between Superman (Henry Cavill) and Zod (Michael Shannon), Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) returns to Gotham City to continue his fight against crime. His methods have become a bit more violent, this time branding the criminals he captures with the bat symbol. Meanwhile, when Superman rescues Lois Lane (Amy Adams) from a terrorist compound in Africa he is subsequently blamed for a number of civilian deaths, leading to a Congressional investigation into his activities by Senator June Finch (Holly Hunter). She is offered the opportunity of funding research by tech billionaire Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) into a substance known to weaken and damage Kryptonians.
While Wayne begins to question Superman's motives, Clark Kent starts to have his own concerns about the way things are being handled in Gotham. To further complicate things a woman known as Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) begins looking into Lexcorp's gathering of information on her and several other people known to have superpowers, sharing the information with Wayne. With access to General Zod's ship and the world's superheroes targeting each other, Luthor seeks to use the alien technology to create something of his own that will help him in his ultimate goals to control the world.
Nominally a sequel to Man of Steel this was a way of introducing Batman to the series without doing a solo film. Although the idea was floated afterward of such it really was too early to start the whole cycle again. Instead, the origin story is handled during the credits, dialog with Alfred (Jeremy Irons) establishes that at this point Wayne has been Batman for 20 years and more time is spent setting up this particular story. There are several hints of things that happened in the past, often taken from the comic books themselves, which may confuse people who don't religiously read Batman's adventures. Because a lot of this film is from Wayne's point of view Henry Cavill has more of a supporting role, with Amy Adams having an expanded role as Lois Lane.
Zack Snyder himself has come up with an ambitious story, basing much of it on different comics and beginning a cycle in which Superman at some point becomes corrupted after the death of Lois Lane and Batman leads a number of heroes and others against him. This is further fleshed out in Zack Snyder's Justice League, which directly follows on the heels of this movie. The problem is Warner Bros., despite having full control of the IP and to the point of just needing to point other directors in the right direction to keep up with Snyder, managed to mess things up.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, beyond having a horrible title, was released in the theaters as a two-and-a-half-hour incomprehensible mess. It had a huge opening weekend which quickly fell off once people realized it was what they had seen in the trailers: a hollow, effects-filled film, still taking advantage of the 3-D fad at the time. It cost so much to make that there was almost no way it could break even. Snyder had always been ambitious beyond his means or the studios' satisfaction, and in due time the Ultimate Edition - which is the one that I watched - was released. It made the movie make sense. It also makes Zack Snyder's Justice League work better as the design for Steppenwolf in what was originally a deleted scene from this movie was the one used in Snyder's cut, rather than Joss Whedon's The Justice League.
The Justice League was severely revamped despite the fact that Snyder had finished a good portion of it before personal matters forced him to leave. Pretty much nothing that is established here, from tone to the stakes at hand, would be carried over into the next movie. After another series of maligned movies none of what Snyder established in this film or in his version of Justice League would ever be realized, with the remaining movies in production either being canceled or just completed and unceremoniously dumped into theaters until James Gunn can get around to starting everything again.
Looking back this is, at least in its full, intended form, a well-done and unique superhero film. I like it much more than I liked Man of Steel, which I felt became a slog after Zod showed up. There are some sequences that are what I feared, including what appear to be unfinished (or at least unconvincing) effects when Batman drives the Batmobile through some ships. Alfred is put too much to the side, the Flash (Ezra Miller) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa) barely make cameos and I cannot at any point accept Superman and Lois Lane being involved in a relationship as the actors have no chemistry. I also hate how Jesse Eisenberg is pretty much just doing his Mark Zuckerberg impersonation from The Social Network with a bit of Joker veneer in his portrayal of Lex Luthor.
What I do like, and what I have liked despite everyone's initial reaction, is Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne. He got himself physically fit enough to be believable as Batman, but he is the first (and, at this point, the last) to be as convincing a character outside the suit as in. The job he does here, and the way the movie handles introducing Batman, makes me wish that Snyder had gone on to introduce the others of the Justice League with intros briefly going over the back story before delving in to how they figure into the action and following them as a main character in a story that pushed the whole plot forward. It would have saved a whole lot of time wasted on mediocre side films.
This is a good movie in its revised form, but it should have been from the start. It should not have had to be rescued from studio tinkering or efforts to knock it down to PG-13 and, even though Snyder couldn't finish it himself, his vision should have been respected even if it was nowhere near perfect. Wonder Woman and The Suicide Squad are good movies on their own, especially when divorced from the rest of the DCEU, but unfortunately even this early on the series was being set up for failure.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Time: 182 minutes
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg
Director: Zack Snyder