Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ★★★★

Batman v Superman is a brutal film, but not in its attitudes towards the narrative, the characters, or the viewer. Instead, it is astounding in the frank, unrestrained, yet almost impressionistic approach towards the subject matter and the weighty themes at hand. Snyder and his collaborators are unblinking in their depiction of the violence and lack of heroics that take place in a changed, darker world that in many, many ways reflects our own, but, incredibly, make them palatable in a way that feels neither too overstuffed or dark. Batman v Superman is a film of monumental proportions, on the level of opera in its grand scale and ambitions, yet it is astonishingly intimate and penetrating in its insight into the motivations and fears of the men who masquerade as gods. It speaks to the fundamental humanism that is at the heart of the best films, balancing the cynical and nihilistic elements that form many of the most striking scenes with a hopeful belief in the persistence and goodness of humanity that connects people of the most divergent backgrounds.

The grand tragedy of the film is centered around the overpowering effect of misdirection, misunderstandings, and anger, blinding them to the truth and showing just how far someone will go to achieve what they believe to be the good and right thing to do. It feels perfectly matched with both of the heroes' personalities, as Batman works out of a sense of desperation and Superman works out of his sense of the common good, and thus the movie forces the viewer (perhaps in vain) to pick a side between what is framed, in both in the narrative and the technical elements, as the light of Superman and the darkness of Batman.

Yet they, and we, do not live in a world of absolutes, in a world of black and white. It is a world of many shades of grey, where everything is uncertain, both in the dealings of the government and of business and technology. Motivations of every character are shrouded behind a fog of misdirection and miscommunication, as an impending sense of doom builds as the climactic fight comes closer and closer to fruition and both characters seem less and less heroic. It is in this startlingly realistic world that acts of terror can have this much power, that webs of technology be this tangled, and violence can have such an impact.

This is made no clearer than in the central dream sequence that spurs Bruce further upon his eventual clash with Superman. It is shot with the intensity of a lightning bolt, set identifiably in a large, destroyed city that has been consumed by sand, perfectly encapsulating Batman's worst fears: the destruction of everything he loves, the betrayal of his friends, and the loss of his own identity. Indeed, every major player in this film is afraid of losing their identity: Batman wants to keep his real name a secret, Superman doesn't want to give up his status as savior of the world, Wonder Woman doesn't want to return to being a hero for the world, and Luthor doesn't want to lose his power to an alien savior.

Batman v Superman is admittedly a film whose secondary goal is to set up an entire universe, and it does so with ease, building upon preconceptions about Superman and Batman that even the most ardent non-comic-book reader possesses and connecting them to another brand of hero embodied in Wonder Woman and tantalizingly teased in the "metahuman" email. Crucially, however, it does not rely upon these elements at all, grounding the film in the present day struggles and making them seem of great, great importance, which makes the final battle all the more surprising in its intimacy and its focus upon the characters, rather than the inevitable outcome.

This overflowing wealth of material, miraculously, is conveyed perfectly through each and every one of the main actors. Affleck is the clear lead of the film, a quiet and simmering pot of anger, determination, and dissatisfaction that has a compulsion to inflict justice, no matter the methods, while still retaining more than a small amount of charisma and genuine charm that keeps the viewer's sympathies strongly with him. Cavill, though perhaps the weakest of the main cast, is similarly wonderful, infusing the American ideal with more than a little regret and self-doubt and remaining an engaging screen presence. Eisenberg is perhaps the standout, as he is eccentric and humorous without feeling out of place or obnoxious in any way, and as the film progresses, an air of menace appears; he is utterly confident and steadfast as his plans become more and more villainous. Adams elevates what could have been a standard damsel-in-distress character to a truly independent character, with a caring and tender personality that proves vital to Superman's humanity over the course of the film. Gadot, in her relatively small part, hints at a large and deep past while remaining enigmatic yet powerful. Irons is reliably and beautifully irascible, providing a good counterweight and check on Bruce's less controlled tendencies.

Snyder's direction and handling of all of the elements is nothing short of striking. His handling of the events, combined with the remarkably well-structured screenplay, keeps the film moving at a steady and pleasurable pace that remains engaging and light, never dwelling too long in darkness. The cinematography and staging is immaculate, with quite a few absolutely extraordinary shots that push the film into expressionism in their representation of reality. The use of camera movement, in particular, is key, made no clearer than in the two solo Batman action sequences: in the dream sequence, everything is as clear as day, but in real life, as in much of the movie, a good portion is obscured by the handheld camerawork, blurring reality and making the smallest details seem huge. Similarly crucial are the visual effects and sets (especially the building in which the titular fight takes place), creating spectacular visions of an interesting environment that gets torn apart with each body blow, and the loud score and sound effects which make the film feel almost overwhelming, but ultimately feel suited in a way to the operatic scale of the movie.

Batman v Superman is a truly, truly remarkable film that, most astonishingly, has an aching, beating heart at its center, mournful yet hopeful in its belief in the value of a life. It urges the viewer to believe in the connections that bind us all, and reminds us of our own humanity. A film of raw emotion and raw power.

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