The first seven minutes of Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice are the most stunning bits of film sequences so far in 2016. The giddy feeling they'll offer to Batman fans probably won't be topped. Zack Snyder and Ben Affleck tell the Spark Notes version of Batman's origin story in the most acceptable way possible while never diving all the way in, yet not feeling rushed, either. From then on, as far as story telling goes, it was as many fans assumed: congested.
Snyder and company did what is probably the best job possible at telling this many intertwined stories at the same time but for much of the first 90 minutes (when there's still another 60) Dawn of Justice feels like a merry-go-round of characters. We look at Clark (Henry Cavill) then Bruce (Ben Affleck) then Diana (Gal Gadot) then Lex (Jesse Eisenberg) and back to Clark for another round. It's not so much an exposition dump as it is necessary introductions and development but it's more than what should be fit into one film (which still tosses a couple of other Justice Leaguers into the mix).
Having witnessed first hand Superman and Zod's brawl in Metropolis, Bruce Wayne and most of the American government and media have it out for Superman. Much of the hate seems a bit unfounded but it exists, nonetheless. Unlike the general public, Batman's hate for the Kryptonian is made personal from the very beginning. Through a series of events largely orchestrated by Lex Luthor, Clark and Bruce come to know each other, and Diana Prince is tossed into the mix, as well.
Luckily for the development sequences, Affleck's Bruce Wayne is the best and most entertaining to date. His introduction as Batman is as epic as they come, with comic books and video games being plastered onto the big screen in a display of masterful, dark, and at times genuinely scary cinema. The actor brings the gritty, brutal, and cynical spirit of Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns to live-action life right in front of our faces and it is, hands down, the best part of the film. We need a standalone Batman movie with Ben Affleck in the cape, yesterday.
Affleck's Batman is so interesting that it is almost a bad idea to put him next to Cavill's Superman. Superman's story becomes boring and uninteresting at times in comparison to what we're getting from Batman. That said, the two characters split screen time pretty fairly and it is completely necessary to have it that way.
As many suspected early on, there isn't all that much actual Batman vs. Superman in the film's 151 minutes. There is, however, concretely justifiable reason for them to do battle. It's something you'll have to see the movie to find out because revealing the motivations of their showdown would be a huge spoiler - one which will send chills down audience's spines.
When the fights start, the action of Dawn of Justice is second to none. Be it a car chase, hand to hand combat, or a trio of super heroes taking on a spiked alien, Snyder crafts some of the most amazing comic book movie action of all time. The new Batmobile is everything we've ever wanted it to be and definitely not something you want chasing you.
The other newcomers to the franchise are Gal Gadot and Jesse Eisenberg. Gadot is only given a smaller role in the film but that didn't stop her from lassoing in a rousing applause upon Wonder Woman's introduction.
To say Eisenberg is not fantastic and wildly entertaining as Lex Luthor would be a bold faced lie. It's a very unique take on the character, portraying him as a young, ego-centric genius who thrives on the adrenaline rush coming from power and manipulation. There are moments in which he is comparable to Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight with his astoundingly evil, manipulative schemes and jestful delivery.
And move over, Michael Caine! Jeremy Irons is such a fantastic, hands on, not here to take anyone's crap Alfred Pennyworth (not that Irons and Caine should be compared considering how distant Snyder's DC movie universe is from Nolan's). Irons is another highlight of the many introductions in Dawn of Justice. His portrayal matches the dark and gritty feel while playing devil's advocate for Bruce Wayne's almost sacrificial ideologies.
At no point is Dawn of Justice a kids movie. From the opening moments where Bruce Wayne is orphaned to the 'Knightmare' sequence much later in the film, Batman v. Superman remains very, very dark. It is gritty and it is violent. There is never much blood spatter or gore but the idea of it is there as Batman mows down enemies one by one with machine guns and hired hit men bluntly kill several men execution style.
By its end, Dawn of Justice's heroes do finally look truly heroic. Batman and Superman are portrayed as deeply conflicted characters, willing to put it all on the line to protect their loved ones, cities, and the world.
Much of the movie feels like the start of something greater. It's clear that the team behind Dawn of Justice has a bigger picture in mind despite throwing so many chips into this pot. Don't get me wrong, Dawn of Justice is a super hero spectacle to be admired but the dropping of DC Universe Easter Eggs, however satisfying, are unnecessary in a movie which is already burdened with introducing so many heroes and villains.
I would be remiss to leave out a compliment for the best part of film as a whole: the score. Man of Steel's Hans Zimmer teams up with Mad Max: Fury Road's Junkie XL for one of the most compelling, emphatic scores in cinematic history. It is an absolute home run.
Despite having Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Lex Luthor sharing a screen, Dawn of Justice lacks the magic of feeling being incredibly new. Several major plot moments are comparable to a few featured in The Dark Knight trilogy with Zack Snyder's style crafted onto them. It is, in many ways, the planting of seeds for what promises to blossom into an astounding DC movie universe and, now that all of the establishing is out of the way, a huge step in the right direction for DC characters in film.
Bottom Line: While Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is congested in its first two acts, it compels through masterful action sequences and a brilliant new take on the Caped Crusader. 7.8/10
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