[Be forewarned: this post is extremely lengthy, AND contains spoilers after the warnings, so if you don’t want stuff spoiled or don’t feel like reading much, you may not care for this post. I’m also not doing my usual formatting…this is just raw thoughts slightly organized, but not really a formal/objective "review"]
This post will contain explicit spoilers. I’m going to ramble a bit for a couple of brief paragraphs to add some "buffer space" for the spoilers, but consider this your warning.
I saw the film last Thursday evening after work. Left work, drove to the theater, and found that I had roughly forty minutes until the show was due to start. (Which meant including commercials and trailers, at least an HOUR). Show time was chosen as an "early" show while allowing some extra time for crummy traffic, as ridiculous traffic jams seem to crop up at least 2-3 times every week, forcing me to take alternative routes to avoid them.
(This post really does contain spoilers…this is your second warning!)
Though I’d tried to avoid trailers entirely for this film, I was exposed to a couple…I think at least one was in a theater, so not problematic the way I take issue with online trailers and so-called/supposedly "leaked" trailers. (Though that’s another post entirely) So I had some notion of what the film was going to entail, going in…plus observations from coworkers and others to whom I’m their "Superman guy."
So I was a bit annoyed by the time the film actually started, and felt a bit constrained: no one to see the film WITH, as well as the strong desire to see it ASAP in order to take it in myself, before taking in others’ opinions on it. I wanted to see and judge it for myself, separate from whatever influence others’ thoughts and analyses might have on my experience.
Final spoiler warning! If you read beyond this sentence, spoilers are on your own head!
Preamble and spoiler warnings out of the way…my initial thought as the end credits finished was simply "Really?" Like…"That’s how we’re gonna end?" And I felt a certain flat-out depression…the movie I’d just watched simply left me depressed. Both from the story itself, as well as my own thoughts on it…as it unfolded, and immediately following its conclusion.
Let’s start with Ben Affleck as Batman/Bruce Wayne. Knowing the character would be older, I had zero problem there. Perhaps to somewhat "spite" the immediate-negative-naysayers, I went in WANTING to like Affleck’s performance…and whether I convinced myself or it was natural, I enjoyed him as Batman. I especially liked his Bruce Wayne…he didn’t disappear into the role (the way Robert Downey Jr. disappears into Tony Stark. But he had an effective portrayal that depicted the older Wayne…and for me, that especially came forth in the character’s comment "I’m older now than my father ever was!" I was a bit more indifferent to his Batman…given the costume and cowl, and knowing costume effects and CGI and such, in a lot of ways, it doesn’t matter much to me who’s under it all…Batman’s gonna look like Batman, whether it’s Affleck, Bale, Clooney, Keaton, or West.
I liked the basic Batman costume best…I didn’t feel like we got enough from the armored version to care as much. It was simply armor, with little overt explanation that stuck out to me, even if it was there. Also, cycling through multiple get-ups just didn’t work for me…I can appreciate the utility of numerous outfits for different situations, but unlike Iron Man 3 where we knew Tony had had too much time on his hands and had built numerous versions of the Iron Man armor, Batman’s numerous outfits didn’t work for me here. I won’t even get into the likelihood that this Batman kills, and showed no problem with using guns.
Moving on to Henry Cavill as Superman. I like Cavill’s Superman…there’s something to it that reminds me a bit of Reeve’s Superman while being very much its own thing and more modern and such. I like the consistency of the costume, but continue to have the same problem that I did with it in Man of Steel: it’s too dark. I’d prefer a much bluer blue, and a much redder red for the cape and "S." That said, I’m glad for the long, flowy cape…I definitely prefer that to a shorter/flatter cape. Cavill’s Superman simply looks like "Superman" for me, and his Clark Kent has a great look as well. I don’t much care for this continuity’s Clark, though…with it played as more of a mask than the genuine character.
Saying that comes from growing up on the 1990s’ comics Superman in which the character seemed very much Clark Kent first and foremost, with Superman worn as a mask to operate in public (just that without a facial mask, supposedly no one would really consider that he lived in anything but the Superman guise). My views on this Superman are honestly prejudiced by my love of the 1990s comics Superman and the animated series, so even Cavill’s character won’t live up to personal expectation.
I like Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White quite a bit. His is a far cry from Lane Smith’s character on Lois & Clark, but for this "cinematic universe," it works well, and I like his performance. I could do without some of the "language," and honestly cringed a bit a couple times, where I probably would’ve been more ok with an "F-bomb" or few. I suppose in the same bit where I talk about White, I should also mention "Jenny," (I believe the character was Jenny Olsen), replacing Jimmy Olsen. The character (such as it is) works here, but I haven’t felt there’s any great depth to the character, such that the similarity in names is almost pointless. Still, no great issue with the character in and of herself; there’s no problem of bad performance, just a lack of depth.
Continuing onward…Jeremy Irons as Alfred: I’d expected to love this Alfred–I like Irons’ other work (especially his voice work as Scar in The Lion King as well as his character in Die Hard With a Vengeance). Yet I got no real sense of the actual character. I had no sense of a relationship between Alfred and Bruce…Irons’ Alfred was basically a set piece, a tech-guy assisting Batman. A Lucius Fox or Harold or some other such figure. Since we’re just meeting this Batman, and Batman’s operated some 20ish years, even a new character could have filled the role for all the more explanation we got.
I like Amy Adams’ Lois for the most part…a youngish, pretty reporter but not some bumbling damsel in distress or someone trying to "prove" Clark and Superman are the same. Her character works very well for me as a modern take (if younger) on the 1990s Lois I grew up reading. The "other woman" in Clark’s life, Diane Lane also does well as Martha Kent, though she also comes off a bit young-ish to me. Maybe I’m just getting old.
I can’t really say much about Jesse Eisenberg’s Luthor except that for lack of phrasing, the character came off as some twerp that was just begging to be punched in the face. I’d hoped that maybe he was intended to be the son of "the" Lex Luthor (and that perhaps his machinations here or anything that happened to him would draw his father’s ire and thus "the real" Lex Luthor into Superman’s life). To say that I didn’t care for this take on the character is an understatement…and the less I say, the better.
Rounding out the acting that I’m touching on here…Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman (though not actually called that, that I caught) or Diana Prince (I caught a single "Ms. Prince!") wasn’t bad, but no real explanation given such that she could have been just anyone, and Wonder Woman didn’t really contribute anything to the film for me…she got a few blows in (and took a few) but the ultimate story would have been the same to me even without her.
All in all…outside of Eisenberg’s Luthor (and I blame the story more than the actor), I had no real problem with any of the performances or characters themselves. My problems like in the lack of depth I got…I didn’t feel like any character really got to shine, and no great character "moments" stood out for me, nothing truly authentic or poignant. This I blame on the story, feeling like the actors did the best they could with what they had.
Story-wise, I felt like things were all over the place. Amidst the setup of the fight between Batman and Superman, we were given a refresher on the end of Man of Steel, this time seeing that Bruce Wayne was in the city at the time. We later learn that here, the cities are sister-cities; you can see Gotham’s Bat-Signal from the heart of Metropolis. That creates a major plot-hole for me: if either character were truly so concerned with the other–Batman with figuring out what Superman’s all about, or Superman with a vigilante dressing up and fighting crime as a Bat–I can’t honestly buy into the fact that it took a year and a half for them to meet.
Batman/Bruce’s nightmares and visions were off-putting and didn’t really explain much. While Bruce is obviously scarred-for-life and haunted even 30 years later by his parents’ death, I don’t feel like the nightmare sequence with his mother’s grave added anything crucial to the story (though the fact that Bruce and Clark’s mothers both are named Martha becomes a factor late in the film). While I can appreciate the notion they were going for with the world-dictator Superman vision as supposed explanation for Batman’s extreme push to neutralize Superman, it had more of an Injustice: Gods Among Us vibe to me, whether intentional or not, and with no captioning for time-reference, one has to imagine it’s a possible future, but whether only a year or many, there’s not much telling except Bruce was still alive in that future. We also have a brief "vision" of a man in a red mask appearing to Bruce, warning him of something…but it didn’t really make sense exactly WHAT…not in-continuity within the movie, anyway.
As a long-time DC Comics reader, I recognized what that was SUPPOSED TO be: early in Crisis on Infinite Earths, Flash (Barry Allen) travels through time and tries to warn Batman of the approaching Crisis. Whether this was intended as an "Easter egg" or foreshadowing or what, I’m not sure…but since we haven’t met the Flash, we don’t actually SEE a Flash in-costume in this film, there’s no context, no significance, no particular MEANING to the vision in terms of what Man of Steel and this film have presented us with.
For having 18 months between the events of Man of Steel and this film, it seems overly "convenient" to me that so MUCH came together so quickly in the relatively short span of time this film seemed to cover. I got the sense that mere days passed from the start to conclusion of this film; certainly not months or longer. The film certainly could have benefited with a bit more specificity of time, especially if it was intended to span more than a handful of days.
Having a distrustful Bruce ready to fight Superman anyway, I’m not entirely opposed to him punching first, though by the time blows are thrown, Superman’s under duress with his mother’s life at stake. But I don’t completely buy the way Kryptonite was used here, or that this Superman would have stayed put long enough for much effect rather than rushing away for a moment. We may not have had any particularly deep "moments" for characters…but I have to admit we had some definite "cool moments" at least attempted between the characters. A clearly overmatched Batman rising from the battered Batmobile to stand tall and defiant before Superman was quite good, for one.
I don’t really buy Superman’s seeming absolute inaction in the capitol explosion, though…that seemed ripe for him to hear the bomb BEING detonated, and at least shielding ONE person rather than standing while everyone around him is killed.
Trailers had already spoiled the presence of the creature generated from Zod’s body…I don’t recall if I picked up the term from somewhere else or simply had the same thought, but I had dreaded "Doomzod" as being some crass attempt to cross Zod with Doomsday, and figured we were simply getting some creature that would be LIKE Doomsday but not actually BE Doomsday, since we’d seen that Zod’s body had something to do with it. The creature’s initial appearance did not work for me, and I wasn’t thrilled with the energy/EMP bursts from the creature…it seemed too much like Godzilla or some other generic thing…but seeing each such "outburst" coincide with a bit of "evolution" in the physical appearance had me convinced that perhaps we’d get a Doomsday closely resembling the comics version from 1992-1994, so I was ultimately rather disappointed. We had some "bony protrusions" but the appearance never got close enough to what I’d consider appealing.
As that particular battle unfolded…even Superman’s "I love you, Lois!" and her reaction when he took the Kryptonite spear to face the creature again didn’t prepare me for what we got. I do recall noticing myself thinking of those pages from 1992’s Superman #75; of Superman and Lois’s last moments…Superman flying off "But now–Doomsday gets his!" Even when Superman got stabbed in the chest by Doomsday, I figured we’d get some "moment" and perhaps he’d be exposed to sunlight, or something. After all, we had that "Superman gets nuked" bit from Dark Knight Returns, with no real focus or explanation (I only caught detail of a shriveled, corpse-like Superman because I was specifically looking for it). So I was expecting that since that was glossed over, perhaps we’d get it here.
That we ended with Superman DEAD shocked me. That that element had been kept secret baffled me…it seems like the sort of thing that would have been given away long before this hit theaters. But it happening as it did at the end of this film, and the quick rush through the dual-funeral: of Superman, and of Clark Kent seemed almost tacked-on to me. Though these were relatively true to the comics–Superman dying to stop Doomsday before it destroys the world; Superman being buried in a public funeral while those who knew Clark had to hold their own separate memorial–I don’t feel like this continuity has EARNED any significance for this. Maybe it’s an inciting incident for the formation of a "Justice League," but if his death inspires that, then to me it should be "DC’s Avengers" moreso.
Superman having shown up, his first major appearance to the world was the invasion and so much destruction from Zod’s attack, and then 18 months of "peace" and smaller things…his second "major outing" resulting in his death, I just don’t buy the military funeral. That it was Batman, Wonder Woman, and Lois on-scene for his death, surely they would’ve worked a cover story that would have allowed Clark’s burial and the world would only know that Superman wasn’t seen after the fight. He’d had no shown involvement with other heroes outside Batman and Wonder Woman, and his being an alien has been played up enough that I don’t buy into the death of some super-alien being much of an "inspiration" for anyone who hadn’t met him.
Finally, largely for Aquaman’s presence in the Batman v Superman toy line, I truly expected some relatively significant presence of him in this film, rather than basically being an "Easter egg" (not even truly a "cameo" to me). So I felt fairly cheated there. And the bits we got to "introduce" Cyborg and Flash were basically the same, and did not add anything for me to this film…perhaps they play in with Batman’s notion that there are others that will fight, but for the purposes of the story in this film, they’re inconsequential and have no true bearing.
Ending unexpectedly with the supposedly actual DEATH of Superman, the end was rather sour for me, and overly dark. As said above, this continuity has not earned that, and it feels forced. Had this been the conclusion to some "trilogy" of Superman films, or coming at the end of a Justice League film after several characters’ solo films, it might’ve worked. For something called "Dawn of Justice," this didn’t feel like a "dawn" of any sort (perhaps the falling of night) nor anything resembling "justice."
Nitpickiness aside…all things considered, I walked out of the theater feeling extremely negative about this. Despite bits here and there, solid CGI, and generally appreciating what modern technology can do for putting a LIVE ACTION Batman and Superman on the big screen believably TOGETHER along with a great-looking Wonder Woman…this just felt too dark, and too forced…putting the cart way before the horse. If we’d already had a couple of "solo" Superman films (perhaps with Bruce and Diana showing up in the story) as well as solo Batman, Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Cyborg films (or heck, tie Flash and Cyborg together if it must be rushed), and had the several characters banded together, seeing them band together to fight a Doomsday monster and of all people Superman taking the fall, it would seem to lend itself to leading into another round of films, where the heroes separate and deal with seeing that even someone like Superman can fall, and how they deal with that in their own lives. But as the very start…it reeks of "studio interference" to me.
All in all–and I’m certain there are plenty of details I neglected to touch on, or stuff I forgot or didn’t consider in this writing (I only saw the film once, and allowed a couple days before even attempting a quasi-structured write-up)–I can honestly say that I didn’t like this movie. I think Batman fans will get more out of it. I went in as a nearly lifelong Superman fan, and while I should be thrilled at getting a live-action big-screen version of the Death of Superman, I feel like it’s too soon for a story like that, as so far a "World Without a Superman" would actually appear better off than one WITH a Superman, in this cinematic universe. I felt like this film rushed from point to point to point, marking off checkboxes along the way, in order to "world build" for an expanded cinematic universe…rather than having things come together with a teamup movie as payoff.
My first reaction to someone at work asking me if they should go see this, I joked "Redbox it." But on a moment’s further thought, I amended it to "see it on a Matinee if you’re going to." Given that this is Superman AND Batman (and a touch of Wonder Woman) and full of larger-than-life action and such…this is worth seeing on the big screen. I just wouldn’t recommend paying "evening price," and nothing struck me as likely being better in 3D (I saw a 2D show), so catching this as a bargain matinee would be best. If the notion of Superman and Batman in a film together doesn’t make you geek out…you might be just as happy to pass on this, and go see something likely to be more cheerful and colorful…like Marvel’s Civil War or this summer’s Suicide Squad.
I reserve the right to have my mind changed and opinion shifted on further analysis and thought, as well as taking in others’ reactions and thoughts–but for now, as of this typing, on my own–I would give this a C-minus at best, more likely a D (a 5-6 out of 10).