Right off the bat (heh), this film is a mess. I knew we were in trouble as soon as I saw that colon. DC has seen the success of The Avengers, and want some of what Marvel are having. The problem is that Marvel had spent years nurturing their cinematic universe before unleashing their big team up, whereas DC seem to be in a rush to get there, as if they think that superhero movies are going out of style soon. The idea of a Justice League movie is exciting, but if DC want the film to have weight they need to embrace a slower build. By tagging this film ‘Dawn of Justice’ they have taken away the stakes (we know Supes and the Bat are going to come out of this all pally) and, more importantly, the focus. DC have two of the most iconic heroes ever here, and seeing them go toe-to-toe should be more than enough to fill a film. However, the film is hamstrung from the off by also having the task of setting the stage for The Justice League.
There is good to be found in the film, especially in the form of Ben Affleck’s Batman, and Jeremy Irons’ surprisingly sassy Alfred (making me very excited at the prospect of an Affleck-directed Batman film). We’re given a quick run-through of his origin story, in case you missed it the last fifteen times – but we’re also given an older, world-wearier Dark Knight, who tortures and even brands criminals (something the media make a lot of, and yet they don’t seem fussed when he blows people up). We see Man of Steel’s city-levelling climax through Bruce Wayne’s point of view, giving us a valid insight into why Batman would want to take Superman down. We also have Batman doing some fun espionage, and having a great car chase. To be honest, the best bits in this film are all Batman. I also still think that Henry Cavill could be a very good Superman, if he wasn’t weighed down by the tonne of angst Zack Snyder seems determined to pile on him. And here is the film’s biggest problem: its director.
A film about a flying guy in blue spandex fighting someone dressed like a bat should be fun, and this really wasn’t. I appreciate the desire to create a darker comic book world than Marvel, but it can’t all be broody lighting and misery explosions. Irons provides some light relief with his quips, but I didn’t come out of this film wanting to watch it again. There isn’t really much story, just a collection of things that happen in order to try reboot the bat and set up about six subsequent films. The writers, David S Goyer and Chris Terrio have done a poor job, but Zack Snyder has to take the lion’s share of damnation here, and if DC want their cinematic universe to be a success they need to cut him loose. The film is too long and too lacking in the versus department, with the titular fight really a massive let down, and DC need a strong director at the helm who can give future installments some measure of personality and levity.
Gal Gadot is great as Wonder Woman (in her limited screentime) but the character is a superfluous distraction from what should have been the plot. Lex Luthor nearly works, with Jesse Eisenberg really channeling his Zuckerberg, but his schemes go one step too far and stray into the realms of nonsense. Using his power and influence to manipulate the heroes into conflict is a smart move. Having him create Doomsday (I’m not counting this as a spoiler since it’s in the trailer) is just stupid, further overcrowds the already shambling excuse for a story, and is a waste of a significant member of Superman’s rogue’s gallery. There is also a short and pointless parade of cameos for other Justice League members, which didn’t get me excited for the future, but instead made me frustrated about the rubbish I was watching.
The DC cinematic universe is far from ruined, and there are pearls of promise floating in the sea of piss that is this movie. However, there needs to be a serious reconsideration of the overall direction of the universe if future instalments are to avoid the pitfalls that this let-down haphazardly walked into.