Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is one of the most visually beautiful comic book movies you have ever seen. The picture is filled with moments of visual poetry and pure cinema in a way that resembles one glorious splash page after another. If you have any interest in seeing it, I beg of you to see it on the biggest IMAX screen you can find. It is every bit as big and spectacular as you might hope.
It’s not until the first reel when we are introduced to our villain that things lighten up a little. In fact, Jessie Eisenberg’s daffy Lex Luthor is probably the lightest, least relentlessly depressing character in the film. Laurence Fishburne’s snarky (but wise) Perry White also falls into the “won’t make you want to chug Neuro Bliss” category.
Amy Adams’s Lois Lane gets plenty of screen time, even if it’s one of those “parallel investigations that lead to the obvious conclusion just a little too late” situations. The rest of the enormous cast is confined to mostly cameos. Holly Hunter gets a couple of strong moments with Luthor that will potentially inspire “shipper” fiction. Jeremy Irons’s weary Alfred provides the only note of interest in the Bruce Wayne-centric scenes.
Affleck’s best moment is a blink-and-you-miss-it beat where he offers his butler a morning cup of coffee. Gal Gadot does as much as she can with her brief Wonder Woman action beats, but frankly most of her in-costume moments are more about striking a pose. Her theme music is awesome (as is Lex Luthor’s), and I’d be lying if I said her introductory beat didn’t quicken the pulse accordingly.
The periodic reappearance of Hans Zimmer’s rousing and hopeful Man of Steel theme will make you mourn for what could have been had the Dark Knight not butted in. As narratively flawed as they are, I enjoyed most of the Superman-centric material in the first half of the film. Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is a quirky delight. He gets some interesting speeches about how Superman plays into myths about religion and godly powers. But he gets less interesting as the story becomes more conventional.
I will say that there is an extended dream sequence that A) looks jaw-dropping in IMAX and B) is precisely the kind of whacked-out fantasy nuttiness that I want from a Zack Snyder Justice League movie. And this is the part where I stop complaining for a minute even as I admit that the film as a whole was a deeply disappointing experience.
I wish the screenplay weren't hijacked by Batman and the once-and-future Justice League, but regarding sheer spectacle and cinematic oomph, I’m inclined to recommend this movie purely on visual beauty. Be it action beat or character moment, the film feels grand and huge, and cinematically glorious. Larry Fong knocked this one out of the park, plain and simple. Even though this is technically a negative review, I would have zero problems with Mr. Fong winning a Best Cinematography Oscar next year.
But my word is it BIG in all the best ways. Maybe I’m deluding myself, but I still have an interest in this crazy DCEU scheme, especially if the rest are going to be as visually dazzling as this one. Maybe Suicide Squad or Wonder Woman will be the one that nails it. Maybe Zack Snyder directing a lighter and more disciplined Justice League screenplay will be the one we’ve been waiting for. But I’m still willing to take a few more leaps of faith, especially with Bill Finger finally getting his moment in the sun.
After all, I didn’t love an MCU movie until Captain America: The First Avenger, but that film (and most of Phase 2) was so good that I am forever glad that I stuck around even before it was my job. I grew up on the DC Comics characters. I played with Super Powers action figures, I worshiped Batman, I adored Batman: The Animated Series, and I now love the current crop of DC television shows. I’m not giving up on this franchise just yet. I’m with it until the end of the line.