Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice review

We live in a world that is vastly different to the one in which the characters of Superman and Batman were created, almost 80 years ago. The world has also moved on from the era that saw the best-loved screen incarnations of those characters realised – the wonderful Adam West TV show in the 1960s, and the magical Christopher Reeve films of the late 70s/early 80s. We live in a world that is no longer so black and white, in which we not only question the motives of villains, but also of the heroes who are meant to protect us. What exactly do we want our heroes to be? Just how far do we allow our heroes to go to protect us? Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice poses that very question, but never quite gets around to answering it.

The biggest problem with BvS is that so much of it feels "been there, done that". The film opens with a flashback to the death of Bruce Wayne's parents, followed by a young Bruce falling into the cave full of bats on the grounds of Wayne Manor. It then moves onto the climactic battle between Superman and Zod from Man of Steel – but this time seen from the point of view of Bruce Wayne (Affleck) as he drives through Metropolis to reach his company's HQ to help get his staff to safety. Which seems a bit odd – with the battle raging throught the city and nearby buildings coming down, why would the staff wait for the boss's permission to evacuate? But the point is to set up Batman's anger towards andd hatred of Superman – he sees the alien Kal-El as a danger to humanity and sets out to take him down.

Batman v Superman is very big, very flashy, very loud and way too long

Affleck is probably the best thing about BvS. His Batman is older than we have seen on screen before – he's been fighting evil for nigh on 20 years, and is grizzled and battle-weary, disillusioned and disheartened. He dominates every scene he is in, whether as Wayne or the Gotham Bat (strangely, he is rarely called Batman in the film) and makes all those fanboys who carried on like imbeciles when his casting was announced look like the childish morons they are. He certainly out-acts Cavill, who does not seem to have worked out how to play Clark Kent and Superman as two different people – one of the outstanding elements of Christopher Reeves' performances all those years ago. Cavill is certainly no Reeve, that's for sure, but it's great to see Affleck cast off that Daredevil shadow. But what to make of Eisenberg's Lex Luthor? his performance is about as far away from Gene Hackman, Kevin Spacey or even Michael Rosenbaum as it's possible to get. His Luthor is actually more reminiscent of The Joker – Eisenberg plays him as a twitchy, jitterry, cackling maniac – almost as if he is channeling Heath Ledger. And isn't it about time Lex Luthor is given a rest? Why does he have to crop up in every Superman film? Surely Superman has other enemies – after all, the character has been around for almost 80 years now. Lex has been done to death, let's leave him be and give someone else a go.

So that's the men ... what about the women? It's safe to say that they are not well served in Snyder's DC universe. On the plus side, Adams gets loads of screen time as Lois Lane, but she doesn't get much more to do than be rescued by Superman, call Superman "Clark" a lot and tell him that she loves him. Diane Lane's Martha Kent is also poorly served by the script – it's as though the screenwriters don't know how to write for women. Luckily, Gadot's Diana Prince / Wonder Woman is ... wonderful. It's little more than a glorified cameo, but she shows so much potential that it will leave you in high anticipation for the coming standalone Wonder Woman movie. Such a shame, then, that one of the funniest jokes in the film (one of about only half a dozen) – the "Is she with you? I thought she was with you" line between Superman and Batman – was given away in the trailer, as was the fact that the heroic trio square off against Doomsday in the film's final showdown (by which stage Supes and Bats have kissed and made up).

BvS is very big, very flashy, very loud and way too long. As mentioned earlier, it asks some big philosophical (and religious) questions about gods and man and our place in the universe, but it never gets around to dealing with them properly. Much of the plot is incoherent and uneven, and many of the character beats seem wrong – Batman actually tortures and kills people. The action set-pieces are mostly well done – exciting and thrilling to watch – but there are some long, dull sequences in between. It's a dark, dour film that really could have done with some more humorous moments – Fishburne's Perry White is a joy to behold, but barely seen; we could also have done with more of Alfred, perfecty played here by Irons. Snyder seems to be trying to work within the universe established by Christopher Nolan, but he simply doesn't have Nolan's skill with narrative. Nor does it have the sense off adventure and pure joie de vivre that we see on a weekly basis in the DC televisions shows such as Supergirl and The Flash. Batman v Superman serves reasonably well as a gateway to the Justice League movies, but let's hope that the screenwriters of those films inject a little more lightness and good-natured fun into them than there is here.

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Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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