Sometimes, films are unjustly judged. Other times, popular opinion needs to be challenged. Either way, this content will likely be unpopular.
Batman v Supermance: Dawn of Justice, the follow up to 2013’s Man of Steel, does not have a good reputation. Not only did it continue the story of Henry Cavill’s Superman, but it marked the expansion of the DCEU – an underrated franchise – by introducing Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), and Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). It also directly set up Justice League by teasing the appearance of the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg. All of those many factors combine to make Batman v Superman a particularly ambitious film, although many believe that it wasn’t able to deliver on that ambition. (For reference, this review is of the Ultimate Edition and not of the critically panned theatrical version.)
From its first scenes, Batman v Superman addresses the events of Man of Steel. It uses them as the basis for its own story, exploring the societal fallout of Superman revealing himself and his power to the world. It also very quickly establishes Batman’s opposition to Superman, which it accomplishes by showing his own perspective of Man of Steel‘s battle between Superman and Zod, and detailing some of the collateral damage of their Kryptonian showdown.
These are all things that go very much in Batman v Superman‘s favor. From a narrative perspective, especially with regards to continuing and elaborating on the story of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman does everything right. Thematically and otherwise, Batman v Superman develops the DCEU’s story and acts as a narrative bridge between Man of Steel and the wider franchise.
The film’s biggest problem is that it’s overstuffed. There was clearly so much intended to be achieved by the film that it’s somewhat burdened by the weight of it all. However, Batman is thoroughly fleshed out, something which is perhaps only possible due to there being no need for an origin story (thanks to the character’s long and storied cinematic history). Ben Affleck’s take on the character is dark but not overly gritty, something which very much fits with Batman’s role within the Justice League. Had Batman been too grounded, his place among heroes such as Superman and Wonder Woman wouldn’t have felt organic, and therefore Batman v Superman actually gets the character exactly right for the DCEU.
Among the less pleasing aspects of the film was the shoehorning of Wonder Woman into its plot. The iconic character was barely introduced, but she proved so pivotal to Batman v Superman‘s final scenes that she clearly deserved more screen time. Though the express purpose of her role was clearly to set up Wonder Woman, her importance to the story made her treatment feel cheap.
The worst part of the film was where its creative liberties failed. Both Lex Luthor and Doomsday are iconic Superman villains, and Batman v Superman butchered them both. Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is less akin to a criminal mastermind than he is to a gibbering idiot, focusing on the character’s lack of self control as opposed to his calm, casual evil. Batman v Superman did away with the best aspects of Lex Luthor in favor of something that he shouldn’t ever have been, making its main villain feel weak and ineffectual. In addition to this, Doomsday, one of Superman’s most powerful enemies, was reduced to a giant genetic mutation (or a very large blob of CGI, depending on how you look at it), something which was like a knife in the heart of Superman fans everywhere.
There are certainly things that Batman v Superman gets wrong, but there’s a lot that it gets right. The visual presentation of its charcters (other than Doomsday) is generally good, and the ideas and deeper themes of the film are actually far more interesting than they get credit for. As the film is primarily a sequel designed to lead into a franchise team-up, it actually achieves most of what it sets out to do, even if it is a little overstuffed. It’s long but its generally enjoyable, even if there are one or two issues with the pacing. Ultimately, for every issue, there’s something that Batman v Superman does well, and overall, it’s a far better film than many would have you believe.
Summary: Despite issues with its pacing and the charactizations of its villains, Batman v Superman is an interesting narrative and thematic continuation of Man of Steel. Its central heroes are interesting figures with believable motivations, making Batman v Superman a decidedly underrated film.
Highlights: Ben Affleck’s Batman is such a different figure from previous incarnations, and his action sequences are brilliantly achieved in line with the character’s mythos.