If you’d told 5 year old me that there was going to be a Batman v Superman movie in 1993, I would have probably crapped my pants… in fact I almost did when I heard of the news in 2013, despite Marvel having accustomed me to seeing my comic book heroes band together on the silver screen. This was different though – It isn’t just two comic book heroes, it’s the two biggest comic book heroes of all time, together at last!
However, the more news that came out, the more concerned I became. It was going to be a direct sequel to what I found to be a lacklustre Superman film that thought it was far deeper than it ever was. All these extra heroes were seemingly being crammed in, and then for me, the most worrying nail in the coffin: “I thought she was with you?”. To say I entered the cinema with trepidations regarding what was about to unfold before me would be an understatement.
When I reviewed Avengers Assemble for Unleash The Fanboy way back in 2012 I said I thought “whilst a project such as this has the potential to be truly astounding, it also has the possibility of failing spectacularly,” and 4 years later that perfectly sums up my thought process as I walked through the doors to Odeon Leicester Square. So did the movie live up to my childhood dreams or was my cynical older-self proved right, I hear you ask? Batman v Superman is not a great movie, but it is an incredibly enjoyable one. Unfortunately, the movie suffers from the same issues as Man of Steel, an inert shallowness to the proceedings, and overly long bloated action sequences, but at the end of the day it was Batman v Superman and 5 year old me would have loved it!
The movie somewhat cleverly begins by taking fan’s complaints regarding Man of Steel, mainly half of Metropolis being destroyed and hundreds upon hundreds of civilian casualties without any repercussions, and turns it into the backbone of the conflict between Batman and Superman. The movie opens with a recap of the final battle between Superman and General Zod, however by interspersing Bruce Wayne’s visit to Metropolis that fateful day we not only get genuine motivation for Batman’s standpoint but also a view of how these big superhero battles affect the general public, something generally ignored in these movies. The opening scenes help to bring real palpable tension to the proceedings and serves to ground this fantastical world that we’re visiting, a pleasant surprise and one which effortlessly gives the depth Man of Steel thought it had.
However, the movie proceeds to drop the ball which the excellent beginning had given it; even at a 2 and a half hour runtime it feels like an incredible amount was left out. We chop and cut frequently to the vast array of characters the movie presents, yet never truly get delve deep into their motivations. The first half of the movie simply feels like a highlight reel of longer scenes occasionally interspersed with pointless dream sequences that add nothing to the plot other than to built Batman’s paranoia and alienate him from the audience. This alienation from Batman is only made worse by the hypocrisy of his actions throughout, as for all his issues with Superman’s power to do as he pleases Batman himself is no better, causing just as much destruction of Gotham and Metropolis in his quest to reign in the Man of Steel. Whilst the movie starts by asking the right questions and adding depth to this new universe of movies it just as quickly diverts course back into the shallow end.
The greatest part of the film is it’s action pieces. The battle between Batman and Superman, and later Doomsday, is a fantastical spectacle far exceeding anything I could have imagined, but without any meaningful build-up in the first half of the movie the payoff is left somewhat lacking. Clocking in at just over an hour the film would have been better served with cut down battles and a bigger focus on getting there in the first place.
The latter part of the grand finale lets the film down. Whilst the inevitability of Batman and Superman putting aside their differences to team up and take on a larger threat would have been a big enough pay off, the film makers felt the need to set up future movies. While Gal Gadot certainly did well with what little she was given, her inclusion here wasn’t necessary and only served to undermine and dilute the Batman and Superman team up we were all dying to see. With that said, seeing DC’s Trinity unite for the first time ever on the big screen was something worthy to behold, it just deserved to be in its own separate movie.
Lex Luthor is charismatically played with a brilliant camp, but also underlining sinister, energy by Jesse Eisenberg, which whilst portrayed well didn’t suit the tone the movie strived to achieve and will not sit well many a fan. Finally for the first time on the silver screen the audience is presented with a Lex Luthor who isn’t just talk, but also a man of, horrifying, action worthy of a villain of his notoriety.
The character of Batman deviates heavily from the source material, to the extent that the paranoid stop at nothing character presented is barely recognisable at times, making it even more frustrating when Affleck nails a the slightly older incarnation of the Dark Knight. After the great characterisation in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy this might be a bit of a bittersweet follow up for many comic book fans.
Henry Cavill, once again, is perfectly adequate as Superman, however his portrayal of the Man of Steel never comes close to super. This isn’t the same Superman who became a pop culture icon for almost a century. Superman was always presented as an ideal, an aspirational hero, yet in Man of Steel he was forced into even donning the cape in the first place and once again in Batman v Superman he mostly seems to continue to act heroically only to save those who he cares for. Perhaps this was intentional to make him more relatable, but it is no wonder there are many citizens in this universe who don’t trust him, yet alone worship him.
Batman v Superman is, without doubt, a solid movie, which makes it all the more frustrating, for all the great moments peppered throughout it only ever feels as though it scratches the surface of what could have been. Perhaps a movie of this nature was an almost impossible task, doomed to fail to live up to the hefty expectations of these two iconic heroes finally teaming up on the big screen. This movie is without doubt going to be very divisive, some will love its non-stop frenetic action and huge set pieces, whilst others, much like with Man of Steel, will walk out once again feeling a lack of depth, one thing is clear though, you will be entertained! Those who head in with lower expectations will get the most out of this, however those heading in mouths frothing at the prospect of the greatest superhero movie of all time will likely be left disappointed all the while thinking at what could have been. I, for one, am just glad that we finally got to experience it.