If you follow me on social media you are no doubt aware that last night, at ten past midnight, I was sat in the cinema eagerly watching the opening titles of Dawn of Justice. Possibly the most eagerly anticipated movie released so far this year, it's gotten mixed reviews so far. So here is my take, Spoiler free of course as I'm not a monster.
Last night was a double bill, and I was reminded of how much I adored Man of Steel, as a Superman fan as just a great piece of storytelling. In contrast I found I was more aware flaws in BvS than I might have been.
The casting works. I have nothing bad to say about the man I am now calling Batfleck almost constantly. Gal Gadot as wonder woman was everything expected and more. She seemed so at ease with the action you can believe her totally as the amazonian princess. As Diana Prince she was lacking, but I feel that was more about character writing than her performance. The flaw with her was the same as my problem with pretty much everyone but Bruce Wayne. The characters were a little two dimensional. Diana Prince was in espionage mode, and bumping into Batman's own investigations. There is contact there but there is very little that gives you any idea of her motivation at all. I know she has her own movie but there is always room for a teaser into a person. I shouldn't have to shell out for a ticket to another film for an inkling into a central character if you ask me. The Flash for this Universe, Ezra Miller's cheeky smile in a scene has me very interested to see more of him. The shame was I got a much better idea of him from those moments than from Diana Prince, like I said.
Lex, always a complex personality, is just too much of the Joker. When I heard the casting I was imagining Lex as the young genius so smart that he sees a way he must fix the world, like in Watchmen. In this he just comes off unhinged. I'm not kidding when I say I was watching expecting someone to utter the line "some men just want to watch the world burn" because that is really how totally out of his tree he seemed to be. I did read that Zach Synder wanted Joker in the movie but was told no - I honestly think he just gave Lex those lines because I felt like he was playing more insane on screen than the entire cast of the Suicide Squad trailer.
The story line works. There are some cool ideas and there are a few really nice moments. The idea of giving each main character their own musical theme is a good one - but Lex's has these mad strings that felt like I was listening to nails on chalkboard. Also, parts of the crescendo on Wonder Womans' were overused too - I don't need the drums EVERYTIME she raised her shield. We witness the revelation of metahuman existance in a way that feels secret, like something hidden and dark, which works for this universe.
All that into consideration and my complaints aside. I enjoyed it a a lot. There was a definite point that I felt (and on talking to Oliver he agreed) that it could have, and should have, been split into two. I do think if they had done that they could have focused in and it would have been a better story. It seems torn between being a stand alone like recent releases Antman or Deadpool, or an ensemble piece that is the centre of the spiders web of movies an expanded universe becomes. It works as both, and yet it also doesn't. There is a feel of too much jammed in, like they are trying to catch up with the competition too quickly. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is now entering what they call stage three. Stage one was finished before Man of Steel even debuted, and there where 5 stand alone movies to introduce the characters and the wider universe before they started connecting the web with the ensemble movies.
As a result, DC have missed some of the charm of the stage one MCU movies. MCU planned links, where as DC you have to really look for them a LEXCORPS truck is the only one I really noticed in MoS, I'm sure you can think of at least a few funny nods to the wider universe in any MCU movie you've seen. A two part BvS with all the nods to the wider universe this one has would have worked better as an introduction to a multi movie universe than what we got here. With BvS it feels like we are being introduced to this universe' Batman in a new way, and one that isn't boring in the same was Spiderman is close to getting, so it essentially feels like a Batman movie with the Justice League pegged on the end. The first half of it could have worked as a Batman movie with minimal Superman cameo, and his growth moved to a part two. That would also deal with the depth that is missing from Wonder Woman, as a two parter could have given her more screen time. Honestly from the tiny clue (yes there was only one) given to her background, I think it could have done it and still left room for a story I would LOVE to see as a Wonder Woman movie.
In trying to catch up with the MCU, they've stuffed it, there is only so much you can fit into two and a half hours. I would be very interested to see what it looks like as an extended cut (there are apparently 30 extra minutes) and also if they learn from their mistakes when it comes to overly liberal use of the celluloid crowbar. Too much in too little screen time for everyone but Batman comes very close to making this a bad movie, but in truth it really isn't. The franchise is far from doomed in my opinion. The introduction of Wonder Woman aside, all others' intros were done really well - small sneak peaks that leave you wanting more. The universe is darker than that on the Arrow or Flash, and it works. Flash itself has set up the idea of multiple dimensions/worlds and using that is an excellent way to set the DC Cinema Universe apart from Marvel, so they are smart to use it. The darkness works, but it could be darker in my opinion as the writing of Bruce Wayne lent itself to bringing in the comic book story line of his drug addiction but they didn't use it.
In the final moments you see how the world is changed by the events of the movie. This was something missing before and would have missed if it weren't for seeing a small section of it via Bruce Waynes' eyes in this movie. This time we see the pain, and clues as to what is going to come. The final minute I was smiling from ear to ear - as a fan of the books I recognized the scenes as an interpretation of the panels of one book, and they chose the perfect place to cut for a film that is a complete thing on its own. There is no end credit scene - again setting them apart from the MCU in that way, but you still have the feeling there are more stories to come.
Would I see it again, sure, but I think that this is a film that possibly needed what was left on the cutting room floor. I hope that with Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman between this and Justice League that DC will slow the hell up and take time over plot and character, let the story flow at its own pace instead of trying to force it. I think its a solid watch, but that it's going to need to context of the other films to work fully - too much of the background has been removed. Its something that happened with Age of Ultron, but that was saved thanks to the other dozen MCU movies backing it up. This expanded universe doesn't have the foundations that the MCU does that allow it to get away with a movie that doesn't live up to the hype and promise that people build up over heroes they love as passionately as people love golden age heroes. Marvel are doing this so well right now simply because they have taken time, they've been doing this for years. Look at the original Hulk movie and you can see they didn't always get it right - but they have the numbers now that such problem children blend into the crowd.
It's not the acting that lets this down like people feared when they cast Ben Affleck, but a plot that lacks focus and is only trying to rush forward at super speed to catch up with the herd. Thanks to this, instead of a masterpiece like we hoped, we have a passable entertaining action flick that gives a few hints that greater things are yet to come