Movie Review: ‘Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice’ Is Dark, Divisive, And Devilishly Entertaining

As I sit here next to my father (at what will likely be his final bed), I can’t stop thinking of all the things he passed to me and introduced me to. I can’t stop thinking about how much he put into me and what those things are. When we found out he was dying of cancer, a few years ago, it almost directly coincided with the announcement that we would get a new Superman movie. I remember all of the frustration, sadness, and confusion very well. It was a very tough time. I also remember being so upset that I wouldn’t get to see that movie with him. 

My dad was a big fan of Batman and Superman growing up. We had many discussions about the Dick Donner version of Superman and my father is one of those guys who owns the Donner version of ‘Superman ll’ because it is far superior. I also, very distinctly, remember seeing the Tim Burton version of Batman in a theater as a 6 year old. My dad and mom didn’t let me watch any other PG-13 movies, but he wanted to take his son to Batman (I spent some of the time covering my eyes). It didn’t matter what version of these heroes it was (we watched a lot of the Adam West TV series), my dad loved these heroes. In turn, these heroes became very important to me.

I have honestly never hated a Batman or Superman movie. ‘Superman lll’ and lV were super cheesy films, but I loved them when I was a kid and think of them fondly now. I loved ‘Batman Forever’ and ‘Superman Returns’. Don’t really care what anyone else thinks about that. And I even enjoyed ‘Batman & Robin’ as an easily entertained teenager. I know that was a very poorly made film and it’s super cheesy. I get that, but I’ve watched it many times with my young son (because he loved it) and I still enjoy things about that movie (Uma Thurman will always be my Poison Ivy). Bottom line: myself, my son, and my father are huge fans of these characters.

Well, I can’t tell you how happy I was to see my dad was not about to go anywhere without a fight. He made it to the premiere of that movie with me and if you read my review for ‘Man of Steel’ then you know how much I loved it. My father also loved it and the experience of watching it with him is one I will never forget. He will likely never see this new one because he has fallen gravely ill in the past few days, but I think he would have enjoyed it. We listened to the soundtrack together just a few days ago and I was genuinely excited about taking him to the story of his two favorite superheroes. Yet, sometimes life throws us curveballs that we cannot prepare ourselves for and it changes everything. 

After the screening last night, my son found out about his grandfather, to the extent that I could tell him, and his response was to blame God. The kids not even sure that he believes in a god, but confronted with great tragedy he turns to the blame of an all powerful being. That is largely what ‘Batman V Superman’ is about, the blaming of a god. Many have written about how this is more a Batman movie than a Superman movie, and it is true that Bruce Wayne certainly spends more time on screen, but I would argue the total opposite. This is about Superman more than any other Superman movie that has ever been made. 

This movie (much like Snyder’s ‘Watchmen’ adaptation) is largely about a superheroes place in the world and how the world would view them. The superhero most in question here is Superman. That’s not to say that we don’t get an examination of Batman, but even his examination is largely by way of how he would be affected by the presence of Superman. We truly begin our story with the Bruce Wayne prologue. We see an opening credit sequence that takes Bruce’s origins and shapes them into a short film. Snyder seems to be trying to show us in one sequence what tragedy can shape a man to become a hero. He follows it up by showing us what can make a hero dark, cruel, and unforgiving. Powerlessness. 

The sequence after the opening puts Bruce back in the place he was as a young boy. He is a hopeless bystander to the greater events that surround him. While Superman is flying through the sky to take down General Zod, Bruce is on the ground trying to talk his people out of Wayne Financial. Which is a hopeless endeavor and even the one man he is able to save is paralyzed from the waist down. It is in this horrible situation that the seed for hate is planted within Bruce and his powerlessness to prevent the situation leads to rage. That rage is firmly planted at the feet of the one God that he knows exists and that is Superman. 

However, Bruce is far from the only person who has a problem with Superman and is questioning his place in the world. The entire world is at odds with the idea of a god on earth. Many see him as the embodiment of the religious figure they have put their faith in. Others see him as a threat to the planet and the unilateral way that we believe law enforcement should be handled. Many just see that his methods seem to result in collateral damage and believe he should be held accountable to someone. Then there is Lex Luther and his belief that Superman represents the beginning of a permanent threat to mankind. 

Lex is really the wildcard of this film and his manipulation of everyone’s fears into doing what he wants is utterly frightening. He is a snotty and bumbling brat, but he knows how to exploit the fear and anger of others to do his bidding. He is literally a perfect embodiment of billionaire Donald Trump and the horrible way many of us believe he has fed on Americans fear of illegal aliens and terrorists to further his personal agenda. That is exactly what young Luther does in this film and it’s frightening to see what is possible when a man like that is given great power. I’m not saying that the horrors of this film directly mirror our current situation, but it’s worrisome how eerily reminiscent this all is.

The examination of the ramification of Superman on the world and the metaphorical way he is used as an allegory to expose our own fears is the thing I like most about this movie. The fact that the movie asks big questions with no answers and turns into a big action flick will turn many off. However, many will simply be turned off by the fact that the movie tries at all. Lots of people believe that superhero films need to have some level of lightness to them and when they are this morbid that the enjoyment is ruined. I’m not one of those people. I found it very ballsy to watch a movie that a studio spent $250 million dollars on and see it be an examination of religion, politics, terrorism, and the danger of trusting a vigilante to protect us. We often forget that these heroes are criminals and this movie reminds us. 

The flip side of this Superman coin is Batman and the way that Clark Kent views the methods that he has been using to take on criminals. Bruce has been Batman for 20 years now and he has gotten much more brutal since Superman showed up. Clark sees this as an important news story that the Daily Planet should cover, but the world is so preoccupied with Superman and sports that his editor wants him to just drop it. Little is played into this angle of the film and Superman’s reasoning for fighting Batman in the end has nothing to do with his philosophical crime fighting difference. It comes down to something much more human and honestly the kind of thing that just about anyone on earth would fight for.

Now, while the movie does largely succeed for me, there are going to be a lot of detractors. I personally think most audiences will enjoy and respect it, but critics are already pouncing and many general audiences will join in the chorus. Most of the complaints have been aimed at the darkness of the film and it’s self serious nature, but I’ve already addressed that I had no problem with that. I also don’t think you will. The other complaints before and after have boiled down to a few big points across the board. So, I will address those quickly.

One of those problems was the casting of Jesse Eisenberg and Ben Affleck as Lex Luthor and Bruce Wayne. Most seem to agree that Ben Affleck is a good Batman, and I’m on board with that. He pulls off the light and the dark side of Bruce quite well. What more people seem mixed on is Luthor. I can understand how Eisenberg’s ticks could be annoying to some, but I personally thought he was my favorite villain since Silva in ‘Skyfall’. Every time he is on screen it is entertaining and catches your attention. I’m totally on team Eisenberg. As a matter of fact, I am happy about all the casting. I love Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman here (she steals the show when she finally shows up in uniform). Jeremy Irons is a wonderful Alfred and I really can’t wait to see more of him in the future. I also particularly love Amy Adams as Lois Lane. No matter what anyone says, she provides much of the emotional gravitas.

The last big problem pointed out is the same as every other Zack Snyder movie. There is too much CGI action. Well, I’m pretty sure you all know my feelings on that. Going to see something on the big screen is really all about how big the experience is and the bigger the better. A movie like ‘Spotlight’ is great, but doesn’t have to be seen in the theater. ‘Batman V Superman demands to be seen in the theater. Still, there are good points being made about the style of this movie. I openly pointed out that ‘Man of Steel’ was a Christopher Nolan movie that just wasn’t quite good enough for him to direct. It flowed exactly like his movies and Zimmer’s score was the heart beat. This movie is more like a Zack Snyder movie and it feels that way. Zimmer’s score provides the operatic gravitas, but not the heart beat and the style is entirely different.

So, are there problems with this movie that are being brought up that aren’t just people’s nitpicking about their own personal pet peeves (dark tone, acting choices, too much action, OMG Batman straight up killed someone)? Yes. There are some narrative problems, like all Zack Snyder movies. He is not great at placing scenes in the greatest order. So, occasionally you feel like it’s just bouncing back and forth between characters. There are some sequences involving future Justice League members that are kind of confusing. How the information on the Justice Leaguers was gathered is non existent and why Lex is so obsessed with killing Superman is also cryptic. I totally understood it myself because he does paint a picture, but he shrouds much in secret. A trait I personally enjoyed, but may make other viewers scratch their heads. I also think that the very end of the film could have been handled with a bit better construction. I liked a lot of it, but it does get a bit jumbled. 

All of these complaints are petty to me though. This is a movie that has a lot of guts in the way it tackles important subjects and still manages to deliver the type of spectacle audiences are looking for. It also is a movie that will always strike me personally. It is ironic that a few days before my fathers favorite heroes went into action he fell into his current state. I hope that somehow he lives to see this film, but the likely hood is slim. It’s more likely I will think of this movie every time I remember my father for the rest of my life. I will remember the day I saw it first and how much I wish my dad could have seen it with me. If it had to be any movie then I’m glade it’s this divisive and exciting one about his favorite characters. He is a bold and political man who has always loved great stories and characters. This movie is a very fitting connection in my mind to the father who shaped my life and pointed me in the right direction.


Nathan Ligon
  1. March 25, 2016
    • March 26, 2016
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