Review: 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" is grand but forced

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Batman (Ben Affleck) versus Superman (Henry Cavill) in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” (Warner Bros Pictures)

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. He Tweets/Instagrams at Optimarcus and writes at marcusgohmarcusgoh.com. The views expressed are his own.

Secret ending? No.

Running time: 152 minutes (~2.5 hours)

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is a superhero movie where Superman and Batman have their first encounter, and is the second film set in the DC Extended Universe that began with “Man of Steel.” It sees an epic confrontation between Batman and Superman that has dire consequences when Lex Luthor gets involved. It stars Ben Affleck (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Henry Cavill (Superman/Clark Kent), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Laurence Fishburne (Perry White), Jeremy Irons (Alfred Pennyworth), Holly Hunter (Senator Finch), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman/Diana Prince), Tao Okamoto (Mercy Graces), with cameos by Ray Fisher (Cyborg), Jason Momoa (Aquaman), and Ezra Miller (Flash). It is rated PG-13.

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is even darker than the trailers will have you believe, both in terms of tone and story. As a Superman fan, I like my superheroes bright and colourful. But this interpretation of the two classic icons and the (admittedly) overused trope of superheroes clashing during their first meeting is a hugely satisfying adventure, and manages to bring in the heroic fantasy elements while still maintaining its darkness and angst.

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Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) meets Bruce Wayne in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” (Warner Bros Pictures)

Highlights

Lex Luthor’s characterisation

Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor gets under your skin because your reaction to him is constantly being subverted. He seems meek and harmless, but psychopathic and perverse. He’s a master manipulator of human emotions, yet almost autistic at times. And that makes him a disturbing villain, a perfect foil for the two straightforward villains.

Epic and intense

The title characters, Superman and Batman, are so focused and serious that they seem like unstoppable forces of nature. Their opposing ideologies are powered by majestic determination, and it all builds to a devastating crescendo in the finale. The film hammers home every point with a single-mindedness that can be almost suffocating, but it elevates the conflict to a truly legendary status. At the end, you know that you’re watching gods, not men, battling each other.

Leitmotifs and evocative music

Lex Luthor’s own leitmotif is amazing, which like his characterisation is complementarily grandiose but also jarringly cartoonish. It adds to the sense of unease that he brings to his scenes. The rest of the score is equally apropos and powerful, lending weight to scenes that are already full of intense emotion. And it should - Hans Zimmer is the composer for “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”

Batman as the antagonist

For a good part of the film, Batman serves as the antagonist that Superman has to face. Were it not for your foreknowledge that Batman is a hero, his motivations and methods would have made him a villainous threat to Superman. His behaviour towards Superman is borders on the irrational, and the lengths that he would go to for victory are a touch too Machiavellian. It’s a unique take on Batman that still makes sense, given that grim determination is one of the hallmarks of his character.

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Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) taunts Lois Lane (Amy Adams) in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” (Warner Bros Pictures)

Letdowns

Plot-induced stupidity

Superman, Batman, and the general public are particularly guilty of this. Either they are colossally stupid, or groan-inducingly naive, because they’re terribly easy to manipulate when the plot calls for it. The actual physical conflict between Superman and Batman and the resolution of that conflict is awkwardly artificial, and is given only the mildest justification so we can move on to the next beat. Superman forgets his powers and Batman forgets his motivations whenever convenient, only to recall it once the script allows it.

Too many imaginary sequences

Once is fine. Twice is still passable. But there are so many imaginary sequences that have no consequences that it loses the element of surprise after the fourth or fifth time. You can only cheat the audience that many times before they become numb to yet another imaginary sequence that’s full of imagery or homages or fan service or what have you. When that happens, the imaginary sequences lose their wonder and become contrived action sequences instead.

Wonder Woman is a plot device, not a character

Wonder Woman seems like an unnecessary addition to the story until you realise that she’s really there to serve a plot function. It’s like she was dropped in to service a plot point, then backwards engineered to fit into the rest of the script. There’s some hint of a deeper relationship with other key characters, but that’s as far as it ever goes — a hint.

Too many plot lines that lead out of the movie

It’s no secret that the film will lead to the eventual formation of the Justice League. I mean, it’s even in there in the title, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” But too many elements are left unexplained that would be unacceptable in a standalone film. There are so many teases that are obviously lead-ins to the next few movies in the DC Extended Universe that it feels like an extended commercial for all the other DC superheroes at times.

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The Man of Steel in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” (Warner Bros Pictures)

While “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” has more than its fair share of artificially scripted moments, it’s still a superhero epic of mythic proportions.

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? Yes.

Should you buy the DVD? No.

Score: 4.0/5

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” opens in cinemas 24 March, 2016 (Thursday).

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