Late in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Jonathan Kent tells Superman about a time when he was a child and the river at the farm was flooding its banks. He says he and his father spent hours filling sandbags to keep the river from flooding their fields and ruining everything. Eventually they succeeded, and returned home as heroes. Except while they celebrated, the diverted river flooded the neighbors’ farm, and the scream of the drowning horses haunted him for years afterward.
That’s the theme of Dawn of Justice—the idea that saving the day has consequences. Superman’s city-destroying battle with General Zod killed hundreds, including many of Bruce Wayne’s employees. Because of that, Batman declares war on Superman, deciding that the alien needs to be taken down before he turns on mankind. Meanwhile, Alfred questions why Batman has been (bizarrely) branding the people he catches with the bat symbol before handing them over to the police. “We’re criminals, Alfred,” Batman replies. And that’s why Superman decides Batman needs to be stopped.
Going in to this movie, I was expecting it to be bad in the usual way that superhero movies go wrong—the trite moral dilemma of saving the love interest vs. keeping innocents from dying, or the hero trying to salvage his wrongfully tarnished reputation, only to end with a public vanquishing of the enemy and a newly adoring populace. Dawn of Justice did not fall into either trap. Instead, the point it strove to make was that saving everyone is impossible. Save the lover or the innocents or both, but there will always be people who die and people who resent you for it. No matter your intentions, there will always be consequences.
Mark Zuckerberg Lex Luthor is the main villain of the story. He’s played by Jesse Eisenberg and I found him to be delightfully quirky and crazy-haired. He honestly believes Superman is evil, and is willing to do anything to stop him. At one point, he tells someone that he’s kept his dead father’s study just the way the man left it, but he’s thinking of making a change—the painting on the wall, which depicts angels coming down from heaven to fight the winged demons rising up. He would turn it upside down, he says. It wasn’t an angel that came down from the sky. It was a monster.
But is Superman the monster? Or Batman? In the opening scene of the movie, when young Bruce Wayne flees his parents’ funeral on the grounds of his estate, he falls into a covered well into a cavern filled with bats. As the bats swirl around him, flying toward the opening in the ceiling, Bruce is slowly lifted off his feet, rising into the light in a visually similar scene. It is (luckily) a dream sequence. Batman is just a man, and he’s painfully outmatched by Superman, who sinks down from the sky like space Jesus, his arms beatifically outstretched. Batman in this movie has a body count, uses a gun, and is built like a brick shithouse, but his fists can’t make a mark on Superman’s adorably dimpled chin without ample help from kryptonite and a training montage. He is dark and gritty to Superman’s light and idealistic, but he’s not in the wrong. They’re both doing the best they can with the abilities they have.
There’s a lot more to this movie—probably more than there should be. It’s a lengthy 2.5 hours, which is surprising, given the zippy editing. There were a number of deft scene changes that cut off early rather than belabor the point, which was refreshing. (For an example, just look at the closing shot.) Then again, there are other parts that go on long—mainly flashy, explosive parts—and a few more of Bruce’s dream sequences that are completely unnecessary. Dream sequences are always unnecessary. Why does anyone ever think they’re a good idea?
Wonder Woman was criminally underused, but absolutely stunning when she was on camera. I nearly clapped when she showed up in the scene in the picture above. Lois Lane was competent and was far more than eye candy, although she did her fair share of damsel-in-distressing. Martha Kent was charmingly loyal to her son and had a great one-liner with Batman. The soundtrack was pretty great.
Long story short, I think Dawn of Justice has been seriously underrated. I’ll admit, I was skeptical of Batfleck too when he was announced, but was very pleasantly surprised. He makes a pretty good Bruce Wayne; not urbane like Christian Bale’s Bruce, but dark and intense. Did I like the movie more because I such low expectations? Maybe. But I do think it’s worth a watch.