RECAP: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman (2016): Zack Snyder

America’s, and perhaps the world’s, most famous superheroes have never been in a feature film together. They’ve fought their own fights, battled demons internal and external. But these two guys realized that the time came to unite against their greatest foe yet: Marvel. Oops. Doomsday and Lex Luthor. That’s it.

Did they succeed? Yeesh. They beat Doomsday, but did they overcome their actual greatest foe: sequel promotion? DC Comics, seeing what Marvel had done with second-tier characters, thought, wisely, “We can do that.” They tasked Zach Snyder to helm the project, to be the Joss Whedon of the Warner Brothers/DC partnership.

And for every bit whimsy and fun Whedon brought to The Avengers movies, Snyder stuffed (and probably will stuff) his movies with grim specter. The enterprise really makes you think of that line from Macbeth about a tale told by an idiot.


Hero (5/10)

Batman and Superman, together at last. But they are hardly friends in Batman v Superman. The two characters trade the spotlight.

The movie opens in one of many dreams. The first time it’s Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) recounting a dream from his childhood, in which he recalls the murder of his parents and their funeral. The two are interwoven, giving the impression that Wayne is running not from the funeral, but from his past.

Superman (Henry Cavill) deals with life as a domestic, mild-mannered Clark Kent, who we got oh but a taste of in Man of Steel. Kent and Lois Lane live together, dream together, bathe together.

Superman is the static figure in the movie. He saves a few people, including a young girl in Mexico, and is thus revered as a god. He doesn’t ask for the treatment, but how else would regular humans treat him? When he isn’t saving astronauts from exploding spacecraft, he’s appearing before Congress to defend his penchant for not being a human being.

Superman is less a character developing than he is a focal point for the development of other characters. Batman/Wayne is the guys who gets mad. We watch the end of Man of Steel through Wayne’s eyes, as he drives an SUV through Metropolis as it crumbles around him during Superman’s fight with Zod.

Wayne saves a security guard stuck under an steel beam. Then he saves a small girl from a falling piece of skyscraper debris. See, Superman, you aren’t the only one. But does anyone surround Wayne just to touch him?

None do, because more buildings are crashing. And Wayne is MAD. His desire to get Superman fuels him for the rest of the movie. He believes that if there is even a one percent chance that Superman could go rogue, he has to find a way to kill him, because the Man of Steel has the power to wipe out humanity.

Superman just does his thing. Floating above buildings, listening for Lois’s cries for help, mashing bad guys. The only problem Superman has with the world is vigilantism, and that’s just the kind of justice Wayne likes.

Batman, this time around, is a broken person. He’s not retreating from the world, but railing against it. In an early scene Gotham, police officers catch a criminal with a bat sign branded onto him. In prison, such a brand is a death sentence. Christian Bale’s Dark Knight would never do that. Even faced opposite The Joker, he only roughed up the guy. Affleck’s Batman has hit rock bottom. (A young Wayne, in that opening dream sequence, literally hit rock bottom.)

I can buy the enraged Batman/Wayne, because it fully clouds his judgement about Superman. He and a small but vocal minority of citizens mistrust Superman, not for what he’s done, but for what he can do. Batman has to be a little insane, because the Superman we know, and the world knows, is only working for good. Thanks to General Zod, there’s a lot of collateral damage, but has Batman watched any of his own movies recently?

Clark Kent seems more justified in his dislike of Batman’s tactics. He doesn’t like that the Bat operates outside the law. Setting aside that Superman, aka Clark Freaking Kent, does exactly what he rails against, he’s got a point. This is why they face off–mistrust and dislike.

Cavill exudes a kind persona from his mountainous body. (You better have chiseled abs, these days, to play the Man of Steel.) Cavill looks in every scene like a college professor intrigued by the argument of a student, as if he had heard these arguments before, but not in a while. Humans are emotional, but Cavill’s Superman is there to calm you down and keep you reasonable in the face of abject terror.

Affleck is the perfect Bruce Wayne. Well, not all Bruce Waynes. Playing Batman is really playing three characters. You have Batman, in all his fury and physical prowess. That part is more physical than emotional or mental. You also have Bruce Wayne the tortured orphan who loathes criminals of all types. Finally, there’s Party Wayne, the fake Wayne Bruce puts on for Gotham so no one will suspect him.

Affleck is the perfect Party Wayne. His jaw is permanently jutted. He’s handsome (in 2002 he was scientifically proven to be the Sexiest Man Alive). He’s charming (at least to Jennifers). That’s the Wayne Affleck SHOULD play, but DOESN’T play at all in Batman v Superman.

Villain (5/10)

Much of the world gagged on their coffee when they read that Jesse Eisenberg would assume the not-yet-bald mantle of Alexander Luthor, but you can call him Lex.

Luthor is not a fan of Superman. He’s not a fan of Batman either, but Superman represents the more pressing and proximate opposition. He craves a method to stop the alien from doing whatever it is he’s accused of doing.

We first meet Luthor at his headquarters in Metropolis. He’s gotten his hands on a sliver of Kryptonite, and he’s learned how it degrades Kryptonian cells. He’s also learned of a huge piece some kids plucked from the Indian Ocean surrounding the ruined world engine from Man of Steel.

That’s a lot to take in, for us, and for Luthor, as his every line of dialogue tweaks with manic energy. Luthor needs the US government to give him license to import the “Kryptonian deterrent.” He talks a big game, but the government, in the person of Kentucky Senator Finch, sees through him, and denies the request.

No matter, Luthor just sets up a nice little wheelchair bomb to detonate inside the Capitol, at a special session called to interrogate Superman. It wasn’t until this scene that we learned how sinister Batman v Superman‘s Luthor is. He allowed his secretary to die in the explosion.

What were Luthor’s motives? Did he kill Finch as revenge, or to discredit Superman, or both? We are left to guess. We are not left to guess what he does in the General Zod’s wrecked ship. Luthor descends into the waters to meld his blood with General Zod’s corpse to create something real bad.

Snyder unleashes Jesse in full Eisenberg mode, letting the man shake and quiver and squeak with every line. Watching Eisenberg act makes you picture an obsessive concertist directing his or her own symphony.

All that manic energy manifests in Doomsday, the unholy spawn of Luthor and Zod’s bod. Luthor believes, or he believes that humans believe, that Superman is a god, and “if God is all-powerful, He cannot be all good. And if He is all good, then He cannot be all-powerful.” He fears that Superman is a demon sent from above.

Or does he just want Superman out of the way, because Luthor craves power? We get hints, but nothing definitive. As much as Eisenberg personally annoys me, I can’t dock his score for that. He played Luthor differently than most, more tortured soul or deviant teenager than world-conquering megalomaniac. He was the lone main character fighting against the film’s dread.

Action/Effects (3/10)

The movie’s biggest effects pieces came from Doomsday. To me, he/it/whatever was a dead ringer for the troll that stabbed Frodo in Fellowship of the Ring. The monster was an upgrade in mayhem on the Zod/Superman fight in Man of Steel.

Doomsday absorbs energy, which makes him grow in strength and size with each attack, whether from human weapons or from Superman laser eyes or wherever Wonder Woman bought her swords and bracelets.

Doomsday’s best weapon is a rage blast of red fire. He first sets it off atop Lexcorp, in his moment of teenage rebellion against Dad (Luthor). The camera zooms far out from a fire attack as its radius spreads.

The rest of this fight is detailed later. The opening scene recounts the Zod-Superman fight that ended Man of Steel. We see shots from Bruce Wayne’s perspective. He arrives in Metropolis by helicopter. Not Bat-copter, just regular copter.

Wayne has a gorgeous car to drive through the city. It even has those yellow flashing lights that people use when they want to pretend they have some authority to drive like maniacs but really don’t. You get out of the way of the oncoming lights, only to find it’s been mall security hassling you the whole time.

Wayne finds his skyscraper in pieces. Half of it still stands, the other half is on the ground. There’s a small girl in the rubble, trapped and about to be smashed. Wayne and friends help her out. “Where’s your mother?” Wayne asks. She is, was, in the ruined half. Cue the Affleck Anger Jaw.

Batman v Superman suffers from misguided action scenes. The titular fight ended too abruptly after building too slowly. Wonder Woman might have appeared near the end. It’s hard to say. Doomsday wrecked enough of Metropolis and Gotham to render them both unrecognizable.

That’s the main problem with Snyder’s comic movies. The action could take place anywhere. Doomsday turns the twin DC cities into fiery hellscapes that probably haunted Dante’s dreams. They could be fighting anywhere on this planet, or even off it.

Sidekicks (6/8)

Superman and Batman can’t do it all. I mean, they think they can, but they can’t. By far, the supporting cast proved to be the strongest link in Batman v Superman.

In the Bat’s corner we have Alfred. Jeremy Irons dons the snippy manservant. He’s thrown a few more spots into his clothing, and his vest is almost, almost plaid.

But blink and you might miss Alfred. He spends most of his time lamenting the life choices of his ward, Bruce Wayne. Wayne ain’t settling down any time soon, and Alfred is a little peeved by it.

He’s also capable in the field. Well, sorta. He drone-pilots the Bat Jet. He’s the eyes and ear for Wayne inside Luthor’s house. Irons is a long way from the lip-quiver Alfred portrayed by Michael Caine. He’s feisty, and you get the feeling that if Batman asked him to fight in the field, he would.

In Supes’s corner we have Lois Lane. Amy Adams reprises her role as the world’s best reporter. We first see her deep in the deserts of Nairomi, Africa. You know, that country surrounded by Nigeristan, Begypt and Zantania. Lane’s there to interview a warlord/terrorist. All this is unrelated to the caped gladiators ramping up to duel, until she gets in trouble.

When she gets in trouble, Superman hears her. He seems to have a channel just for her. He arrives in Africa and saves his beloved. Lane still does her thing, seemingly not more or less because she thinks Superman will bail her out. He does so again and again (which is part of why we find Superman so charming), critically when Luthor shoves her from his helipad.

In her own corner we have Gal Gadot dons the golden sandals of immortal Diana Prince, known to most as Wonder Woman. She’s stuck down here in the list because she’s woefully underused (perhaps excusable because she’ll have her own movie in 2017 and appearance in the Justice League), especially in fighting mode.

We know she can wear the hell out of some gowns. She shows up at the Luthor party in a backless, uh, burgundy? (I’m awful with colors) number that never hinders he ability to steal a device Wayne was using to steal information from Luthor. She claims that Bruce Wayne has never known a woman like her before.

Wonder Woman arrives in the nick of time as her new buddies wage war against Doomsday. Again, she’s barely used. Again, in an overstuffed movie like this one, perhaps that’s a good thing. But we’ve seen Superman and Batman fight countless times. Give us a little more!

Henchmen (2/8)

Doomsday is a hulking brute capable of growing to enormous size and knocking opponents into the stratosphere. In short, he’s Barry Bonds. Barry Bonds the day before BALCO shipments.

Apparently this guy is the combinant DNA of General Zod and Lex Luthor. That’s a damn scary idea. Both guys frighten. But Doomsday is little more than oozing globule that gets stronger all the time. We don’t fear him much except for his size and strength.

Snyder’s movie is so loud and furious that we get lost in its sonic folds. Doomsday seems like the worst thing in the world, until Superman realizes that he must use Kryptonite on it. That’s all it takes to bring him down, because Doomsday isn’t smart enough to avoid it.

There’s just no room for anyone else in Batman v Superman, and thank Kal-El for that.

Stunts (5/6)

Batman movies must have good stunts and great fights. Batman v Superman has a doozy, and I don’t mean its titular clash.

It starts when Batman flies to save Martha Kent from the clutches of the Russian guy and his penchant for burning so-called witches. Alfred, watching on CCTV, identifies two dozen bogeys on the third floor of–where else–an abandoned building. Alfred takes command of the Bat Jet and drops Batman off on the second floor. All the guys are waiting, guns drawn, for Batman to come through an iron door on the third floor.

Of course, he doesn’t. Batman busts through the wood floor and somehow finds a way to attach some blinking metal devices onto many of the guns. Batman flies to a perch on an exposed I-beam, using his other gadgets to destroy the guns. I had a little trouble seeing what they were doing, but the effect was noted.

Then Batman starts actually trying. Remember, 24 guys or so are coming at him. The camera often encircles or half encircles Batman as four guys surround him and trade blows. Batman is hardly dodging attacks, he just has the right armor.

One guy stands in a doorway and plucks a grenade pin. Batman uses a body he strung up earlier to knock the grenade holder into the next room. They explode.

Batman resumes fighting. Some of the guys brought knives. They stab at him and slash at him, sometimes on the head, until Batman dispatches one with a blade to the shoulder, pinning him to a wall, and another falls down the hole he created to break in.

Many Bat Toys (trademark Adam & Eve) are on display in the fight. Batman shoots a crate with a grappling hook and slings it into some baddies. That was neat trick no other superhero would pull. Good punching, good gadgetry–it is the film’s best scene.

Contrast that to the “greatest gladiator match in the history of the world,” Batman vee-ing Superman. Their duel was the slow jam of the century, a tussle built to like a Zeppelin song crashing in its eighth minute.

Superman, charged with killing Batman to save his mother, pleads with the Bat for aid. Batman has no time to listen to Superman. He comes at Superman guns blazing, but not the Kryptonite guns. He seems to have set up a few Kryptonite booby traps for caped alien, but Superman dispatches them with ease.

Until they fight in–you guessed it–an abandoned building. Batman, armed with Kryptonite gas canisters, gives Superman a taste of the green gas, the emerald effluvium, outer space space out. That hurts Superman. What follows are two or three punches, kicks, and throws, followed by a combatant slowly walking to deliver the next blow. It’s less a fight than two people tossing heavy potato sacks.

We are treated to some bleak imagery. Batman throws Superman down from ten stories. Superman, supine on a stone ruin, has his cape spread behind him. Batman with his metallic foot on Superman’s throat. But that’s about it. Lois Lane saves the day when she reveals that Clark Kent’s mother is also named Martha. Like there can’t be two Marthas? The name connection repels Batman from killing Superman, and now he’s ready to join the fight against Doomsday.

Batman fighting the common criminals is more his cup o’ tea, as Alfred might say, and it was the movie’s best scene, and probably its only good one. The less said about the Batman dream sequence, where he fights an army of Superman worshippers, the better.

Climax (2/6)

Thanks to Lois, Batman, who was prepared to kill Superman, is now totally on his side. Guy’s got mommy issues. Superman confronts Luthor in the downed spaceship, which is presently zapping all the electronics in Metropolis.

Luthor unveils Doomsday, a growling gray glob comprised of General Zod’s DNA and some Eisenblood. The monster punches at Luthor, its creator, but Superman, recovered from his bout with the Kryptonian Kough, intercepts the blow and throws him away.

Cue the Snyder action zoom. I really like this technique in Superman moments, because when superman punches you, you don’t slide a few feet, within frame, you fly a thousand yards, as Doomsday does.

Doomsday has some fun smashing the Superman hero monument, but does it harm the Man of Steel? Perhaps the uppercuts that land him in the next zip code do. Anyway, after some blows are traded, Superman flies Doomsday into space, to test his oxygen intake.

The US president, calling through Nortel, orders General Swanwick (remember him?) to nuke the aliens. Like a good solider, he follows orders. A nuke speeds toward the pair as they grapple in space. Only Superman realizes what it is, but he can’t prevent the explosion.

The blast sends Doomsday back to Earth, and it has only made him more powerful. He feeds on energy, apparently. Superman, in a grim scene in a movie stuffed with grim scenes, is shown irradiated as he floats in orbit like an outdated satellite. Only when the sun shines on him can his skin repair itself.

On Earth, Batman is luring Doomsday to Gotham, toward the Kryptonite spear he nearly used to kill Superman. He barely dodges the laser eyes on his way, and the Bat Jet makes it to Gotham just before it crashes. Doomsday stares down Batman and prepares to deliver the Death Laser Eye.

But then–neow neow neow!–it’s Wonder Woman and her bracelets to save Batman! F’ing FINALLY Wonder Woman. Also, Superman’s re-entered the atmosphere. Now we get the movie’s signature image, a shot that I, a non-comic book reader, still found really awesome: Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman, standing as one, ready to fight.

Wonder Woman came ready to slice some out-of-this-world monster leg, which she does early and often in her part of the fight. Her sword appears indestructible, and it even slices off Doomsday’s right arm (though it grows back quickly).

Doomsday gathers more energy and does more energy blasts to grow in strength. How do you stop energy when it’s coming right at you?

One answer could be a golden lasso, which Wonder Woman uses to keep Doomsday in one place long enough for Batman to shoot his last Killer Kryptonite round into him.

Enter Superman. Where’s he been this time? Saving Lois. He’s always saving Lois. She got stuck in the watery grave where she tossed the Kryptonite spear. Superman drags her out of the water, retrieves the spear, and must in turn be dragged from the water. It’s a whole cycle with these two.

He recovers and tells Lois that he loves her. She knows what he’s going to do. He grips the spear and flies it right into Doomsday’s chest. Doomsday doesn’t take it lying down. He stabs Superman in his chest with part of his regrowing arm-like protrusion.

Both characters use their utmost strength to resist the Kryptonite, but both characters die.

Yes, Superman dies.

Jokes (0/4)

When your comic relief is Laurence Fishburne, you might have solemnity problems. Perry White, the Daily Planet’s editor, has few scenes, but he’s the one telling Lois not to fly economy plus. He’s the guy berating Clark that he no longer lives in the world of apples that cost a nickel. He’s the only person connecting viewers to the regular world we know about.

Setting (0/4)

Metropolis and Gotham, two towns just a harbor away from each other. Who knew? In each place, it always seems to be night, often raining, unless one of the characters is dreaming.

Wayne Manor is a rusting ruin more vine-covered than even the empty Skyfall in the Bond origin story of that name. The Bat Cave is more of a Defense Department contractor’s wet dream of a weapons depot, as it’s literally under a lake.

Maybe these cities appear so dreary because the characters are constantly inside abandoned buildings, and sometimes abandoned spaceships. Don’t people live in these towns? No wonder they’re so mad at Superman–he can fly away whenever, to wherever.

Some bright places and moments would have done Batman v Superman a lot of good.

Commentary (0/2)

Neither Batman nor Superman stop for a moment, in their opposition, to realize that both are what they fight against. (Fill in the blank) is a vigilante operating outside the law to stop the bad guys. Fellas, that’s what all you heroes do. How could they be so dense?

Superman’s role in the world takes center stage in Batman v Superman. He’s called before Congress. He’s called before Batman. To neither does he defend himself. Nothing seems to change about Superman, merely how people perceive him.

One news crawl moment calls the desecration of the Superman statue a “hate crime.” A hate crime against space aliens? Excuse me, against a statue depicting a space alien?

This movie really is a tale “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Offensiveness (0/-2)

How do you feel about Superman dying? That’s where the film ended, at Clark Kent’s funeral. How do you feel about a scene blatantly setting up future characters and sequels? That’s what happened for a few minutes, when Wayne watched videos of some special people like Aquaman and the Flash.


  • (-2) Getting Incepted is the only explanation for Snyder allowing a dream-within-a-dream into this movie. There were far too many dreams.

Summary (26/68): 38%

I didn’t hate Batman v Superman. I can’t say much better for the movie. Too bleak, too dark, too long–the movie needed more joy to it. I get that Warner Brothers is going for the anti-Marvel, and they’ve achieved it in aesthetics and plot. But couldn’t they go a different route?