Film Review: ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ (spoiler-free)

Please Note:  this review is deemed ‘spoiler-free’ on the basis that readers have seen the previously released full length trailers for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

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Starring:  Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Jeremy Irons

Directed by:  Zack Snyder / Written by:  Chris Terrio & David S. Goyer / 151 minutes

What’s it about?

Believing that the consequences of Superman’s actions may present a threat to humanity, Bruce Wayne shifts the focus of his war on crime as the Batman to facing off against the Man of Steel…

In review

The “grudge match of the century” is finally here as Warner Brothers’ DC Comics superhero sequel Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice comes thundering onto cinema screens.  Both continuing the story which began in Zack Snyder’s 2013 Superman reboot, Man of Steel and setting the stage for the larger canvas of the big screen DC Comics Extended Universe, BvS happily succeeds more often than it might fail.

With Snyder returning to the director’s seat and a screenplay written by Chris Terrio (Argo) and David S. Goyer (Batman Begins, Man of Steel), BvS picks up during the cataclysmic events at the climax of Man of Steel, the decimation of the city of Metropolis wrought by General Zod and Superman’s desperate efforts to stop him resulting in personal tragedy for Wayne Enterprises CEO Bruce Wayne.  Flash forward eighteen months and Wayne still grieves for the loss of his employees and becomes increasingly angered by the presence of an incredibly powerful being given liberty to act freely with no check in place.  Most see Superman as a heroic figure or a messiah but Wayne feels it’s time to reassess the Kryptonian Man of Steel’s place in the world and can only present a challenge as the Dark Knight of Gotham City.

Drawing heavily from Frank Miller’s seminal graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, BvS carries a lot of narrative weight via it’s psychological examinations and philosophical debate and is arguably all the better for it.  Just as Frank Miller explored (and satirised) the political and social landscape of the 1980s, this film equally poses the questions that would present themselves in today’s climate of anti-terrorism and accountability.  There’s no doubt that Superman’s intentions are true but we see that there are consequences to his actions that affect others.  Likewise, Bruce Wayne’s methods as the dark vigilante known as Batman are also questionable as we’re left to ponder about how far is too far.

Ultimately, your enjoyment of BvS will equate to how you felt about Man of Steel, Zack Snyder as a filmmaker and dark, brooding – yet cerebral – superhero stories.  This is certainly a dark film, even in its few lighter moments and amongst the requisite and effects laden comic book action.  Similarly this is very much a Zack Snyder film in that BvS is not as intricately conceived and as masterfully executed as Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight but is non-the-less a well-constructed and visually impressive film.  There will be flaws should you look too deep yet with this in mind then in more instances than not it’s likely that your geek voice will prevail over any critical mumblings.  With some time taken to sow the seeds for next year’s DC heroes round-up in Justice League Part One there is a fair heft of mythology and a number of WTF?! moments (one sequence in particular) that, to a degree, become jumbled in the mix and might leave the more casual viewer (or at least those who are not as well versed in DC Comics lore) bewildered.  Similarly there are some narrative elements that feel they warrant further exploration or elaboration – hence the announcement that Warner’s home video release plans include an extended cut of the film.

Whilst there is some great depth to the story and themes of BvS, this is also a comic book film and Snyder bombards the senses with nerve jangling and explosive action sequences that some may find a little heavy and energetic, albeit not as overbearing as, say, Transformers: Age of Extinction.  The inevitable face-off between Batman and Superman is as exciting and cool as would be hoped for and although the climactic battle with the Doomsday creature might come off as a little ‘videogame-y’ it’s part and parcel of today’s blockbusters and facilitates sizeable stakes and a powerful threat to unite the central heroes.

Snyder and Warner Brothers assemble an enviable troupe of actors here.  Firstly, Henry Cavill slips comfortably back into the role of Clark Kent/Superman and together with Amy Adams’ Lois Lane pick up where they left off in Man of Steel, Jesse Eisenberg surprises as an enjoyably eccentric and psychotic Lex Luthor and Gal Gadot delights as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (her triumphant entrance as the latter leaving no doubt that next summer’s solo outing is going to be a treat).  Yet their biggest casting coup, greeted with such controversy and trepidation, is Ben Affleck.  Affleck quickly allays any fears or doubts and proves to be the perfect choice for this iteration of Bruce Wayne/Batman.  As Wayne, Affleck exudes the right measure of assuredness and arrogance of his Playboy bachelor persona whilst effectively conveying the torture and continuing trauma of his parents’ murders and a dynamic range of humanity as he unloads both his fears and determination to his one true confidant and sounding board, Alfred (a reliably well-mannered Jeremy Irons).  Weary, cynical and tired of twenty years of fighting crime in Gotham City, Affleck proves to be adept in cranking up the intensity to present us with a Batman torn straight from the panels of The Dark Knight Returns, a shadowy, almost demonic figure striking fear into the hearts of criminals, often pushing himself to the edge to deliver a more brutal solution to the failings of ‘true’ justice.

When all is said and done, BvS unites the DC Comics ‘Trinity’ (and founding Justice League members) of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman and provides a satisfying, epic and often thought provoking slice of comic book action that stands as a solid follow up to Man of Steel and a vital stepping stone in the burgeoning DC Comics film series.

The bottom line:  Dark and cerebral, epic and bombastic, please everyone it might not but for fans of comic book superheroes, Batman v Superman presents a solid next step in the DC Comics Extended Universe.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is in cinemas now.

The Dark Knight faces the Man of Steel in Warner Brothers'/DC Comics' 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice'.

The Dark Knight faces the Man of Steel in Warner Brothers’/DC Comics’ ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’.

Comic Review: ‘Justice League’ #43

Written by:  Geoff Johns / pencilled by:  Jason Fabok

What’s it about?

“Taken” – Chapter Three of “The Darkseid War” : as Batman utilises the Mobius Chair to formulate battle plans, Darkseid prepares to bring his impending war against the Anti-Monitor to Earth…

In review

Following the steady (but no less enjoyable) build-up of the opening chapters of “The Darkseid War”, the third instalment of writer Geoff Johns’ latest epic moves things up a notch in a tense and exciting issue of DC’s main Justice League title.

Justice League #43 kicks off where last issue’s tantalising cliff-hanger left off with Bruce Wayne’s Batman elevated to god-like status with the power and insight granted him by the ‘Mobius Chair’.  Not since Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns have we seen a Batman this formidable and imposing, establishing his newfound superiority over the rest of the League by literally hovering above them – the pleas of Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Cyborg et al falling on deaf ears.

Whilst there is tense interplay between Bat-god and his fellow heroes, the isolation of Lex Luthor and Superman on Apokolips allows for some sharp dialogue between the unlikely ‘allies’ as they fight to survive.  It’s all the more enjoyable given Superman’s vulnerability due to loss of powers (similar to what is being played out in the Superman and Action Comics titles) which Johns utilises to Luthor’s advantage, allowing him further opportunity to show his disdain for the Man of Steel.  Yet, Johns deftly infuses Luthor with some moral complexity by demonstrating his willingness to put his hatred aside for the sake of survival.

What’s most anticipated is seeing the conflict between Darkseid and the Anti-Monitor truly come to a head and by the close of this issue there’s no doubt that all will be coming to bear sooner rather than later and the potential and consequences of two of DC Comics biggest super antagonists hopefully played out fully in forthcoming chapters.

Johns has been DC’s key writer for many years and as always it’s clear that he knows these characters well, with a firm grip on DC Comics mythology and he has the perfect partner in penciller Jason Fabok whose richly detailed, solid blockbuster visuals (enhanced by Brad Anderson’s colours) rise to the call of whatever Johns brings to the table.  Long may the partnership continue and here’s hoping that the duo can continue to hit the mark with this ambitious, epic story and beyond.

The bottom line:  With an incredibly talented creative team delivering a visually and narratively epic story, Justice League is currently DC’s finest comic book and not to be missed.

Justice League #43 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Cover artwork for DC Comics' 'Justice League' #43 by Jason Fabok.

Cover artwork for DC Comics’ ‘Justice League’ #43 by Jason Fabok.

Comic book review: ‘Superman Unchained’ #3

This review contains SPOILERS

What’s this issue about?

In “Prayers”, Superman comes face to face with the creature known as Wraith who is as powerful as Krypton’s Last Son – will he be friend or foe?

In review

Writer Scott Snyder and penciller Jim Lee continue to carve out their area of the Superman comic book universe with the slightly delayed (just as this review is a little late – sorry folks!) third issue of Superman Unchained.

Not quite as spectacular as the first two issues, this month’s edition is still an enjoyable read that’s quite heavy on exposition as we’re formally introduced to the mysterious super-being known as ‘Wraith’ who we learn had arrived on Earth in 1938 (an apt tip of the hat to Superman’s 75th Anniversary) and has been utilised as the U.S. government’s secret weapon since.

As I mention there’s a lot of exposition (there is a story to be told after all but it’s a shame that Superman’s inner monologues are largely absent this issue) and General Lane takes centre stage as he explains his reasons for disliking our Man of Steel, through which Snyder nails his understanding of Superman – a beacon who serves to guide humanity, leading by example via his positive actions whereas Lane believes that a ‘hero’ more like Wraith is needed, solving Earth’s problems by forceful intervention.

All that being said this is a Superman title and there’s still a smattering of action with this issue opening with the tense and weighty standoff with Wraith who proves a REAL physical challenge to Kal-El and there’s trouble for Lois as she finds that Ascension have sabotaged her plane.

With the shipping delay of this issue Jim Lee’s pencils, although still generally great, seem a little more rough and hurried (maybe it’s just me but there seems to be a lot more hatching than usual) – hopefully the book can get settled back into schedule with subsequent issues.  I quite like the design of Wraith, a sort of cross between Darkseid and Doomsday with the fiery Phoenix-esque symbol blazoned across his chest.  We also get to see Wraith’s very own Fortress of Solitude(?), decorated with warplanes, missiles and tanks – all displayed like trophies.

“Prayers” reaches its dénouement with Wraith and Superman teaming up to save Tokyo from drones hijacked by Ascension, and Wraith’s regret that he will soon have to kill his new ally.

This issues draws to a close with the (very short) continuation of the Jimmy Olsen focused back-up strip (with art from Dustin Nguyen) with an unexpected entrance from Lex Luthor…

The bottom line:  Superman Unchained continues on with a dialogue heavy issue that non–the-less lays more of the foundations for the currently unfolding storyline.

Superman Unchained #3 is out now in print and digital formats from DC Comics.

Hopes for the ‘Man of Steel’ sequel

Now that Man of Steel has passed the $500 million mark in worldwide box office gross, Warner Bros. Pictures are naturally looking toward Superman’s next behemoth big screen adventure.  The film has sparked some intense fan debate (not unusual, just look at last summer’s The Dark Knight Rises and every franchise blockbuster in general) and everyone will have their own ideas of what course they would like a Man of Steel sequel to take.

Here are some of the elements I would like to see tackled…

Lex Luthor

It’s nigh on essential that Lex Luthor is brought to the fore in the sequel, not solely on the basis of his existence being acknowledged in Man of Steel (via those LexCorp easter eggs) and not only as he is a key part of Superman mythology but the timing would also be right.  Luthor perceives Superman as a threat to humanity as opposed to being its guardian and given the destruction wrought during Man of Steel it would be the perfect opportunity for Luthor to emerge from the shadows and plot to take action against the Last Son of Krypton.

I’m enthused by screenwriter David S. Goyer’s thoughts on approaching Luthor as more of a Bill Gates-esque character which lends itself to the (relatively) realistic and relatable tone that’s been established.  Gene Hackman’s portrayal in the Christopher Reeve films is of course iconic and memorable but ultimately dated and Kevin Spacey’s turn in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns was certainly a step in the right direction but the Man of Steel sequel, given the right actor with a healthy measure of gravitas, could present us with the strongest screen version of Superman’s greatest foe and one worthy of his finest hours in the comic books.

However, whilst Luthor can stand toe to toe with our hero on an intellectual level there also needs to be a significant physical threat.  Luthor’s exo-suit from the comics notwithstanding, perhaps there could be a second villain to increase the overall threat – although Fanboy passions would have me bellow out “Brainiac” and “Doomsday” they really deserve the spotlight in future films and galactic overlord Darkseid would most likely be reserved for Justice League.  This taken into consideration, maybe the meta-human ‘Parasite’ could provide that physical threat without overshadowing the main antagonist (it worked reasonably well in the Secret Origin graphic novel after all)?

Batman

The path to Justice League must (and no doubt will) continue, although not rushed.  Given the overwhelming success of Marvel Studios’ Avengers Assemble, Warner Bros. are obviously keen to team up the DC Comics ‘super friends’ (there’s one for you 70’s cartoon fans!) as soon as possible but some restraint needs to be applied.  One of the reasons Avengers worked so well was that Marvel spent five films (released over a four year period) establishing the individual characters and their universe, thus clicking everything neatly into place instead of prematurely jumbling everything into the mix.

To this end there should of course be some JL set-up in MoS2 but with care taken not to weigh down the story with it (one of Iron Man 2’s perceived flaws).  Given the appearance of a Wayne Enterprise’s satellite in Man of Steel, perhaps the corporation could feature more prominently in the sequel…or could Bruce Wayne himself make an appearance?

As well as clearing the way for the eventual Batman reboot this could also trigger a Superman/Batman cinematic team up that would provide a significant stepping stone to Justice League.

Go deeper

Much as Joss Whedon is to take a deeper and not ‘bigger’ approach with Avengers 2 so should MoS2.  We’ve already had a lot of introspection amongst all the action in the current Man of Steel which is key to making Superman relatable to modern audiences and draws on the strongest aspects of the character via the ‘humanisation’ of Krypton’s Last Son.

Repeating the level of destruction in Man of Steel would just be silly, sure we still want to see Superman using his powers and plenty of physical conflict but it should be dialled back a little in the sequel without sacrificing the excitement of the first film, balancing it all out with more of what puts the “man” in Superman.  It will be interesting to see how the Smallville Clark Kent/Daily Planet Clark Kent/Superman dynamics (together with his relationship with Lois Lane) play out further in the unfolding Man of Steel universe.

Jonathan and Martha Kent

Another essential element, provided it fits the story, should be the inclusion of further flashbacks from Clark’s formative years as the adoptive son of Jonathan and Martha Kent.  Those scenes peppered throughout Man of Steel made you care about Clark’s troubled journey to donning the red cape and gave an insight into the events that instilled his sense of morality.

Mythology

Now that Superman has arrived, the sequel should seek to broaden the mythology of the character and widen his universe including more revelations about Kryptonian culture, history and their connection to Earth, which surely could be brought forth via visits to the Fortress of Solitude?  Perhaps establish the existence of Kara-El – Supergirl and cousin of Kal-El – and might there even be some of the deadly emerald green Kryptonite?

Whatever happens I have faith that the next Man of Steel will deliver the goods, given that the evolution of the DC cinematic universe rests on its shoulders there’s no reason for it not to succeed.

Read the GBUK spoiler free review of Man of Steel here.

Warner Bros' Man of Steel continues its reign at the box office, will the sequel be just as successful?

Warner Bros’ Man of Steel continues its reign at the box office, will the sequel be just as successful?

What would you like to see in the next Man of Steel?  Leave your thoughts below!