Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Jeremy Irons and Holly Hunter
Running Time: 151 minutes
Release Date: March 25th
How you feel about Man of Steel is going to heavily influence how you feel about Dawn of Justice. Did you dig the heavy sci-fi leanings, unsubtle xenophobic subtext and over-the-top comic-book style over substance? Or did you think the neck-snapping U-turn away from Nolan’s realist Dark Knight trilogy was a misstep? Either way, Snyder has doubled down on those pros and/or cons here, kicking off with that city flattening finale, used here as something of a prologue.
Affleck’s semi-retired Batman spends the eighteen months since Zod’s attack putting together a plan that will protect the Earth should Cavill’s Superman decide to go dark. Meanwhile, Supes is in the middle of his own mess, having been framed for the murder of several Middle Eastern gun-runners, which gets the attention of the U.S. government, fronted by Holly Hunter. On top of that, Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg-ian Lex Luthor seems somehow related to all these threads, waiting for just the right moment to pull them tightly together to form a noose around Superman’s neck.
For the first hour or so, the action is pretty sparse, as Snyder and his writers set up a myriad of reactions to Superman’s arrival, from those who view him as a religious figure, to a free-floating terrorist outside of any means of control. This is also a different slant on Bruce Wayne, a hero to a Gotham that no longer seems to need him, but one who has seen so much good go rotten to the core, that he can’t help but view Superman as being just one bad day away from ending humanity.
Had the film decided to keep its attention on just those two, things might’ve stayed pretty good, but instead… Well, it’s right there in the title. Justice League is on the way, and anytime Snyder tries to shoe-horn in the future of the franchise, things get very messy. Gal Gadot does pretty well as Wonder Woman, but doesn’t have much more to do than we’ve already seen in the trailer, while other foreshadowing nods just confuse proceedings in an already overstuffed story.
Snyder still has no idea what to do with Amy Adams’ Lois Lane, who here not only puts herself in harm’s way (again), but annoyingly keeps throwing wrenches into the works. The leftover cast from Man of Steel barely get a look in, while the newbies either ham it way too much – Jeremy Irons as Alfred is FAR too invested in Bruce’s love-life, while Eisenberg goes too heavy on the physical and verbal tics and ends up calling to mind Jim Carrey’s The Riddler – or else just aren’t around often enough to leave an impression.
Affleck does a great job as the dual Wayne/Batman character, which is something just about no other actor could claim to. From Keaton to Bale, they usually nailed one but not the other (or in Clooney’s case, neither), but Affleck is both believable as the swarmy, luxurious billionaire and the shit-brickhouse superhero, plus Snyder pulls some influences from the Arkham Asylum video games, as this Batman is a fluid, satisfyingly violent ass-kicker, his action scenes with other mere humans being the best in the movie.
Once the CGI gets involved though, we’re back to those complains about the ending of Man of Steel. It’s just another CGI slugfest, with the (already spoiled in the trailer) arrival of Doomsday – which looks like the lovechild of Abomination from The Incredible Hulk and the human/alien hybrid from Alien: Resurrection – resulting in yet another city-flattening scrap. Although if anyone can think of an alternative method for a third-act action-sequence in a superhero movie, please do pass the word on to DC and Marvel.
Looking back at the most criticized part of Man of Steel, that climactic Metropolis fight, from the perspective of Dawn of Justice it actually improved upon it. By putting Wayne on the ground, the entire heartless affair suddenly conjours up massive 9/11 similarities. Perhaps the same will happen when we look back at some of the more confusing parts of Dawn of Justice from the perspective of the upcoming Justice League movie.
Even running at over two-and-a-half-hours, it feels both too long and savagely edited, the breathing room for tone changes completely missing, while other all-too-obvious set-ups are left dangling interminably. At once very entertaining and painfully messy, taken on its own merits, Dawn of Justice just bit off way more than it could chew.