The weekend was really busy for me, but I finally got around to seeing Dawn of Justice today. I’ve heard incredibly mixed reviews, so I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Like, everything from “wow, Ben Affleck is the best Batman ever! Finally, a movie that does justice to the comics!” to “that was beyond horrible, almost bad enough to make me give up on superheroes forever.” (That last one was from a friend of mine, a die-hard comics fan. I replied, “watch The Flash. It’ll restore your faith in the genre.”)
So I went into it not knowing what it would be like. I really wanted to like it. I wanted to end up having a second really awesome cinematic universe to enjoy alongside Marvel’s. But it didn’t happen.
First and foremost, it seemed like everyone was way out of character. Batman using guns. Alfred as a tech genius. Superman deciding the world sucks too much and he just feels like he wants to give up. An incompetent Lois Lane who knows who Clark Kent really is. Lex Luthor as a twitching, inappropriately-giggling psychotic who’s way too young for the role. (He’s played by Jesse Eisenberg, who I suppose has previous experience doing the origin story of a sociopathic billionaire CEO, but even so, he just doesn’t feel right.)
Ben Affleck’s version of Batman is just all wrong, and he, more than anyone else, is the main character of this movie, so that really causes trouble right from the get-go. But this isn’t any Batman any fan would recognize. Batman has been called the Dark Knight, but this guy isn’t any sort of knight at all; he’s a brutal thug, plain and simple, and Superman was absolutely right to call him on his tactics.
I’ve heard it said that there are a lot of fans from an older generation, to whom there will only ever be one true James Bond: Sean Connery. Me, I’ve never quite understood that–Sean Connery is Indiana Jones’s dad; how could he have ever been Bond?–but on another level I do get it, because to me the only true Batman is Adam West. I just don’t like grimdark interpretations of Batman, and AffMan (BatFleck?) is the worst one yet. Your first clue that something is very wrong comes at the start of the movie, when we see in a flashback the newly-orphaned child Bruce Wayne stumbling into a cave filled with hundreds of bats. They swarm over him, but instead of being terrified, he looks almost enraptured by it, standing tall with his head back and his arms raised out to his sides at shoulder height, an enthralled expression on his face. There’s something just fundamentally, viscerally wrong with that scene, even before the weird camera angles come into play that make it look like he’s somehow ascending with the swarm of bats. And yeah… guns. He has no compunction against using them, in either the handheld variety or as massive miniguns mounted on various bat-vehicles. That’s simply not any version of Batman that I’m familiar with! This is approaching Fant4stic levels of “that’s just not what this character is supposed to be like.”
And then there’s Lois. I enjoyed Amy Adams as Lois Lane in Man of Steel. I’ve liked her ever since her fantastic performance in Enchanted, but she just didn’t seem to get it right in this one, though a lot of that was the writers’ fault. It’s hard to portray an awesome investigative reporter when you’re a serial damsel in distress who has to be saved by Superman 3 different times in the same movie! (At least one of them, and arguably two, were her own fault for doing something incredibly dumb that put her in danger. If I were Superman I would have dumped her by that point!)
Eventually, of course–and it’s not much of a spoiler because the trailers showed it–Wonder Woman shows up. And she is awesome, and doesn’t get nearly enough screen time. We even get to see her use her iconic bracers and her lasso, but the costume just isn’t right. I’m not the only one who’s noticed that it looks more like a Xena costume than genuine Wonder Woman:
(Just as a side note: I know women’s armor with two big cups on the chest does a good job of accentuating the heroine’s figure, but if you were a warrior woman, would you really want to wear something into combat that is going to catch any blow that lands over a pretty significant portion of your torso, and channel it directly into your sternum?)
Aside from all the characters being out of character, the plot is just really incoherent and doesn’t make sense. A bunch of things keep happening to Batman that are (apparently?) just dreams, including one really bizarre scene that may or may not have been someone (a time-traveling Flash, maybe?) sending him a warning from the future. How is Lex able to <redacted to prevent spoilers> in his big project in the first place? How does that truckload of guards for what’s supposed to be a more-or-less legitimate shipment of goods have automatic weapons and a rocket launcher? Why does Superman manage to say the one exact thing that he says during the fight with Batman, even though saying it the way he said it feels incredibly awkward and contrived? And so on.
I really wanted to like this film, but no. It just doesn’t work, on too many different levels, mostly because it’s just too dark and pessimistic!
“Dark” can be done well, when it gives the light something to really shine in. It’s one of the reasons I like The Flash. Without giving any spoilers, when Barry and the team finally find out what’s really been going on that was driving the plot of the first season, it could easily have crushed any of them, particularly Barry and Cisco, but they chose to be better than that and overcome it, and it helped make the show awesome.
It’s one of the reasons I like the work of Brandon Sanderson. The goal of the villain of Elantris is to literally commit genocide. The villain from Warbreaker is trying to incite a world war. Ruin, from Mistborn, is an evil god who’s trying to destroy the world because he is literally a divine personification of the concept of ruin, and Odium is even worse, if you can believe it. But you never come out of his books feeling like you’ve been reading a dark and depressing story, because all the adversity they face gives them a chance to grow stronger, to become better. Watching the protagonists triumph at the end makes it all worth it, particularly Kaladin, who had to wade through a tremendous amount of brutally soul-crushing crap in The Way of Kings, which just makes his scene at the Tower that much sweeter.
But a movie like this, it starts bleak and remains bleak throughout. Batman is a vicious thug, Superman is too depressed to do much superhero-ing (aside from repeatedly saving Lois, of course,) and Wonder Woman is not even around until the final battle, except as an enigmatic woman with no name until someone finally calls her “Ms. Prince” more than 2 hours in. (I don’t think the name “Diana” was ever used anywhere.) I think the difference is that in a story like this, the darkness grinds the characters down instead of giving them something to stand up to and overcome.
And that’s really not a story I’m interested in. I wish I could be, but no.