That’s how it starts. The fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness that turns good men… cruel.
Over the years, there were many attempts to bring superheroes to the big screen; those that graced the pages of the comic books that my dad might have read, in between Saturday serials, those that challenged the intellect and the imagination. In 1978, Ilya Salkind and Richard Donner set out to make the world believe that a man could fly, a super-man. It turns out they were right. They had found an actor which would grace the modern day silver screen with a story that challenged my intellect and stirred my imagination. In 1989, Peter Gruber, Jon Peters and Tim Burton turned Gotham loose on the silver screen, and it worked too. Since then, there have been other attempts to bring these characters to the screen, but, never together.
Here enters the dynamic, but flawed Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. More of an attempt to combat Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe, Snyder’s Justice does indeed work on so many levels. It combines the sensibilities of Donner and Christopher Reeves’ Superman with Burton and Michael Keaton’s Batman while the story, written by David S. Goyer and Chris Terrio (Argo), takes a few pages from every prior effort. It manages to combine some of what Bryan Singer was trying to say along with Nolan’s gift to weave threads of a story into something that actually delivers. But, it unfortunately tries to deliver too much.
Set two years after the events in Snyder’s Man of Steel, we catch up with Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who is trying to rebuild after the encounter between Superman (Henry Cavill) and Zod (Michael Shannon). Metropolis and Gotham lay in ruins and the public distrust of Superman is high. In the aftermath, Wayne has become a vigilante, trying to demonstrate that good can come from one man and that no man is God. The government, in the meantime, wants to bring Superman to justice, but he will not stand before the public and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) has a major break on a story, but cannot convince anyone it is the truth. In the background, stands Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) trying to ground everything to a halt. Jeremy Irons, Gal Gadot, Laurence Fishburne, Holly Hunter, Diane Lane, Scoot McNairy all provide a solid supporting cast.
Interestingly, the story works, even if the pacing feels a bit off. Affleck and Cavill were effective when they are onscreen as Batman and Superman. And, that is why the story works – the strong characters and the actors behind them. Affleck and Irons’ rapport was amazing, helping to strengthen Bruce Wayne’s resolve, allowing Affleck to develop an authenticity as Batman, a credit to both actors. Cavill, whose character development was under-served in Man of Steel, had to opportunity to develop the character further here, by being “framed” by the Batman character, rather than being in the spotlight. Cavill got Reeves’ nuances correct. He felt vividly real. Eisenberg, who is much more of a visual actor, played Luthor far too over the top.
The creative team behind the camera delivered an effective punch. From the visual effects by John ‘D. J.’ Des Jardin, to Patrick Tatopoulos’s production design, to Jussi Tegelman’s sound design, they all worked together to get Snyder’s vision on the screen. Larry Fong’s cinematography, most of which was shot at night, makes effective use of the natural lighting, but his attention to detail with shadows is just as effective, while David Brenner’s editing kept the story flowing.
The combined efforts of Junkie XL and Hans Zimmer were truly awe inspiring. Each character is given their theme, and it works. John Williams and Danny Elfman were a bit more effective in their own respects. However, with as many characters as are on the screen here, Zimmer and Junkie XL are effective in their own rights.
While Justice is recommended, it is hard to fully endorse the movie. Snyder’s vision is on the screen. Despite being well-paced, that vision is over-stuffed and Snyder’s predecessors managed their entries much more effectively. Admittedly, it felt as if there were too many Nolan-esque touches, which serve the story, but detract from the feel, while several plot elements just seemed to get in the way of each other. In the end, the actors support the story, and that story effectively lays the foundation for future “Justice League” entries.