"It's okay, I'm a friend of your son."
Don't let the title fool you. BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE is more moral struggle than physical altercation. Very quickly we learn that Lex Luthor is the antagonist in BVS. He's also demented. His story lets on that he's a boy genius, the CEO of Lexcorp, a conglomerate of multiple successful operations. His father, Lionel, started his company, but it appears it's Lex who has built it to this pinnacle. Lex speaks highly of his father, but later contradicts himself, hinting at a history of abuse. It's possible that these past transgressions have fueled Lex's lunacy, but like most happenings in BVS, it's merely glossed over and left up to the audience to make up their minds.
Lex's twitchy movements and staccato delivery illustrate a man that shouldn't be in charge of a puppy, let along a world-leading corporation. He should be incarcerated, both for the good of the people and for his own sanity and well-being. Lex is an asshole. He's a megalomanic whose motives carry as much weight as a helium balloon. He inches the two titans towards their titular battle, but for what reason? His choices put the cities of Metropolis and Gotham (and probably the entire world) at maximum risk. But he could care less; he just hops into his helicopter and hovers away, probably eating a Lunchable, or something like that. It's hinted that someone/thing larger and more sinster is perhaps behind Lex's actions. He continually speaks of Gods and higher powers and warns of future doom, but (once again) we're kept in the dark of any single thread of evidence that could theoretically fuel his hysteria. Instead we're left with a kid that didn't get what he wanted for Christmas, and the tantrums that come along with it. Jesse Eisenberg plays Lex, and it's a bad character, and worse casting. Eisenberg thrives in roles where his neurotic mannerisms feel suitable. That's not here. Eisenberg originally came in to audition for the role of Jimmy Olsen, the Daily Planet's lead photographer. Snyder saw something that would lead him to believe he could play a hyper-intelligent alpha male. BVS is a loaded pistol, and Eisenberg's casting is the biggest blank.
Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Superman undoubtedly has the most difficult job. Superman is clearly affected by the demolition of Metropolis from MAN OF STEEL. He is still a beacon of hope to some, but to most, he is seen as a threat (and it's difficult to blame them). There are news reports and public backlash showing this fact. He eventually is summoned to a congressional hearing to discuss his intentions. It's been 18-months since the Metropolis disaster, and in that time, the city has been rebuilt and a monument to Superman has been erected (for some strange reason, it's encircled by a memorial of people whose deaths he indirectly led to). It's not easy being Superman, and that's a real bummer. In MOS, there was fun and excitement abound. The moment when he first learned to fly in the Arctic is thrilling! Superman has a super-sized smile on his face and that moment perfectly captures what that feeling would be like to soar through the air. In BVS, it's hard to recall a time when his face isn't painted with a frown or a scowl. Cavill's job consists of moping around one scene after another, either as Clark or Superman. A real shame is that every shot of him flying is seen from the ground, perhaps as a way to put him on a pedestal. The excitement of joining him in the sky is stolen from us. The only enthusiasm involves protestors against the need for aliens in Metropolis. I still believe Cavill is the right man for the job. He certainly has the look, but he's completely neutered. This is the most powerful being in the universe and he's treated like someone who is so unpopular he has to take his sister to prom.
Most disappointing is Lois Lane (Amy Adams). In MOS, Lane is perhaps the most well-hashed out character. She is the plucky reporter that deduces Superman's identity through investigative work. She tracks down the Kryptonian ship that landed in the arctic, and finds a way in. She's a Pulitzer winning journalist and it's easily believable, through her decision making; her reputation is well-earned. In BVS, any goodwill she obtained is flushed down the toilet, and quickly. Her story begins somewhere in Africa. She's there assumedly to follow a story, but is soon thereafter captured by militants and held at gunpoint, forced to watch an unnamed (yet well-known character in comic lore) man get executed. Superman arrives in the nick of time. He always does. He and Lois share a smile just before Superman flies at breakneck speed, grabs Lois's assailant and crashes through a concrete wall. Her narrative consists of her frantically running from one place to another, somehow connecting the dots of things that are humanly impossible to comprehend. She's a living, breathing plot device, a throwaway whose only purpose is to be saved by Superman.
There's an insane amount of death in BVS, given the characters involved. In MOS, one of the major derisive currents was the climactic between Superman and Zod. They slam and knock down seemingly every building in Metropolis, killing untold thousands if not millions. In BVS, Superman and Batman, and later Doomsday (an alien creature from Superman's home world) battle, and structures explode and collapse. It's laughable when it's reported that those enormous, neighborhood sized areas are uninhabited, so no civilian damage done. No, most of the dying happens with guns and fists, and the majority of it is done by Ben Affleck's Batman. Whether it's him mowing down criminals with the gatling guns mounted on his flying Batwing, or ruthlessly ramming cars with his Batmobile, or him branding those he catches with a bat symbol which leads to certain death in prison (we're told as such), or just the brutal, effective takedowns that Batman inflicts on foes (though, I have to admit, when Batman is in action it is thrilling to watch. These scenes are the most fluid in the film, and we get a real sense of how gifted Batman is as a fighter.), it's obvious that Snyder has made a concerted effort to make these iconic personas in his own vision.
Though he's now a killing machine, Batman is the most interesting character. I can do without yet another version of the death of Bruce Wayne's parents, but when Bruce and Batman are on screen, BVS is the most engaging. This Batman is still damaged, but he's much more ferocious than previous editions. There's a flashback that features the attack in Metropolis from Bruce's point of view. He rushes into the city, toward the Wayne Enterprises building, helping civilians along the way. With rubble around, and him covered in dust, there are obvious 9/11 allegories. He is unrelenting in his convictions. He sees the power that Superman possesses, and this fear is a motivating factor to wage the personal war against the Kryptonian. His relationship with Alfred (Jeremy Irons) is strong and meaningful. As well as being the the father figure Bruce so desperately needs, it was neat to see Alfred tinkering around with Bruce's armor and gadgets. Affleck as Bruce/Batman is someone I look forward to seeing more as future films unfold. (I can do without the macho montage of him working out, however.)
The film inevitably builds to the battle we're promised, and...it's okay. Snyder does well to briefly mix up the moves, but it ultimately ends with bludgeoning. Does it really matter who wins? We're here for haymakers and money-shots! Be warned that the fight itself is but a fraction of the 150-minute running time. Wonder Woman shows up for the final conflict, as well as being scattered throughout the film in brief snippets. She does look terrific on screen (in truth, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman's costumes are all outstanding), but her undertaking, as mentioned, is limited, and her dialogue even more so. Strangely, she has no conversations with Clark or Superman throughout.
For men and women that are so enriched with intelligence, power, courage and valor, the decisions made are dumb, and just plain weird. That's the most frustrating thing about BVS: most of the story is predicated on situations that could have been easily avoided. I realize things need to happen and when dealing with aliens, and meta-humans, a certain degree of believability must be casually tossed out the window. But when Superman just leaves the World Engine from MOS laying in the Indian Ocean, open freely for Lex Luthor to excavate, as well as (and more devastatingly) leaking who knows what into the Earth's seas, your credibility is going to be questioned. The inaction these heroes take is perplexing.
Even more so is the pacing, which is a nightmare. Scenes cut from Lex, to Clark, to Bruce, to Lois, and back again. Nothing takes time enough to establish flow and consistency. The film is also flooded with dream sequences. Too often we're fooled by events that turn out to be a fantasy (or so we're led to believe). It's an irritating way to tell a story. There is one extended section that sees Batman in a dystopian future. He is surrounded by disciples of Superman: soldiers dressed in all black, holding automatic weapons, the familiar "S" logo adorn their shoulders. Batman fights valiantly, punching some, shooting others. He later awakens from this vision to another (I think?), this time visited by a future member of the Justice League. It's a confusing approach to tell a story. Later on a computer screen, there is archival footage gathered of all the expected members of the ultra-powerful team. BVS reeks of a partially connected stream of future film trailers.
BVS is a collection of glossy, not-well-thought-out moments. "This is about the future of the world. It's my legacy." This is a Bruce Wayne quote, but you wonder if he's channeling his inner Zack Snyder. Snyder is the brainchild behind the entire DC lineup. He will have his fingers on every film in the docket (WONDER WOMAN, FLASH, AQUAMAN, CYBORG, JUSTICE LEAGUE), but it's prudent now to ask if he is the right man for this commanding position. Seemingly Snyder and his production team took their favorite shots from comics splash pages and brought those to life. As usual, a Snyder work is easy to look at it (300, WATCHMEN), but too often the scenes are hollow. In BVS's case, they are criminally nonsensical. Superman fails to save a building from a bombing and his face looks like he couldn't come up with the answer to "Final Jeopardy"; Wonder Woman's motivation is to reclaim a photo from 1918; a quick glimpse of Aquaman shows him holding his breath underwater. Its biggest failing is that there are zero uplifting moments in the film. None. This is a supposed introductory film to some of the most colorful and interesting personalities in comic book history: people that lift mountains, and speak to marine life, and run through the time barrier, and fly fast enough to shift the Earth's axis. They're reduced to emotionless, mundane fodder. BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE can be summed up by the fact that the world is saved because both Batman and Superman's mothers are named Martha.