Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the most compelling piece of comic book cinema made to date.
Zack Snyder is known for making films with style. Long-form, grandiose epics on the scale of The Wizard of Oz or Gone With the Wind. You may feel exhausted by the time the credits roll, but you’ll have absolutely gotten your money’s worth. Batman v Superman plays out like a classic gladiatorial battle, framed within a modern, paranoid society familiar to fans of The Watchmen, with cinematography and editing choices so vivd and beautiful, you realize most modern films play it pretty safe in comparison. Every scene looks like something that was lovingly lifted off the pages of various comic books, each frame doing its damnedest to have the pop of the panels these characters originate from.
The haunting visuals are further enhanced by extensive use of surreal dream sequences, many of which materialise out of nowhere. Fans of the ethereal breaths in between the meatier passages of Man of Steel will be delighted by evocative moments that blur the line between ultra-gritty realistic drama and unearthly fantasy of the golden years of printed fiction. Despite the film’s considerable length, the placement of these wild card sequences keeps viewers on their toes.
These very choices combined with the rather subjective nature of fandom give me some ideas as to what a lot of traditional film critics are crucifying this picture for employing: the first act has some unconventional pacing, and there’s a lot about this movie that breaks the rules of traditional storytelling. With the disclaimer that rules often exist for a reason, I’m inclined to strongly disagree with those who would argue that these rules are necessary here. For one very high-profile exception, this film’s greatest asset is the unique, lucid approach to presenting the story to its viewers. Rather than taking certain tropes and mechanics of typical act structure for granted, this film artfully subverts them, and I would further argue that it does so to great effect – in a world where audiences can predict lines of dialogue before they’re delivered and plot resolution before any tension develops, we need more filmmakers willing to take risks and shake things up.
Fans of Batman or DC comics at large will certainly see a massive Frank Miller influence at play, many scenes are all but recreating famous moments from The Dark Knight Returns, and Miller’s candid portrayal of borderline dystopian society as the backdrop to his grand stories is as ever-present as the visual influence of things like Batman’s mechanical armour and the stubby, more square Bat logo. A lot about Batman’s actions on-screen also feels highly Miller-esque, and I can say without a doubt that this is the truest and most brutal Batman we’ve ever seen on screen.
Wonder Woman, while her time on-screen is short, is given a fantastic introduction, intriguing backstory, and one of the coolest musical themes in a film loaded end-to-end with absolutely inspired composition. Going along with the film’s almost operatic, classical feel to the storytelling and the framing of scenes, the score is no mere backdrop: the score is a character in and of itself. Each iconic personality matched with a comparably distinct musical theme, and each moment, whether brutal or majestic, is stitched together with the fabric of masterful sonic creativity. Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL have absolutely raised the bar for comic book scores, and given us a work that rivals that of composers like John Williams and Ennio Morricone, a comparison I do not make lightly.
A big part of whether or not this movie will sit well with you, the viewer, is probably going to boil down to a few things: The direction that Snyder and company are going with this movie and with the franchise is very distinct, and if you’re not a fan of that direction, it’ll be difficult to get on board with the rest of what’s to come. That said, if you treat Batman v Superman like you would Injustice: Gods Among Us, and view it as a distinct imagining of a universe, rather than the definitive telling, you may find some of the changes easier to swallow.
There’s so much more to say that I can’t possibly cover here, so please, go see this movie. I simply can’t recommend it enough. We get some fantastically tantalizing glimpses of what’s in store for the Justice League, and I have to say - Marvel now certainly has some distinguished competition when it comes to telling and presenting a comic book story in the movie world.