Enter Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), who swoops in and steals the show as the true antagonist and the head of this film’s proverbial snake. I’ve always been a fan of Eisenberg, whose roles in Zombieland, The Social Network, and 30 Minutes or Less proved very satisfying for me. He has this ability to portray brilliant, yet broken characters, and in this case he does it again. Eisenberg delivers a maniacal Luther, laughing inappropriately and showing flashes of genius that are all too concerning. His whimsical insanity reminds me of the late Heath Ledger’s Joker, which is high praise. Luthor’s main objective in the film is to biologically weaponize a piece of kryptonite left behind from Zod’s failed terraforming attempt in Man of Steel. His disdain for Superman in particular is apparent, and this honestly became a more interesting rivalry for me than what I had originally showed up for. “The devils don’t come from beneath us,” Lex Luthor proclaims as he views a painting of devilish creatures emerging from the depths. “No. No. They come from the sky.” He argues that the painting is actually upside down, and that Superman is more devil than he is God. To me, this tension had much more promise than the Batman and Superman feud that I figured would be short-lived. The film also toys with themes of higher power, and explores the political response to Superman’s behavior on Earth and “above the law” attitude. I found these scenes to be some of the most engaging in the film.
Luthor eventually kidnaps Superman’s adoptive mother Martha Kent (Diane Lane) in an attempt to blackmail him into killing Batman. Superman attempts to reason before engaging in an all-out war, but the dark knight is hell-bent on eliminating Kent, seeing only red through his new hulkbuster-inspired exoskeleton suit. He’s even got some kryptonite of his own fashioned into the tip of a spear. Now, it was pretty obvious that the upgrades to the suit were made to give Batman a fighting chance against the invincible Kal-El, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that it’s also downright awesome. The new suit definitely gave him some added size and a heavier foot, ultimately packing some more mean into each punch. His eye slots even glowed bright white. The rattling clanks that vibrated through the theatre when he got knocked around added to the intensity. My favorite moment of the fight involved Batman wrapping a chain around the ankles of Superman before swinging him in circles through concrete pillars. A round of applause for that scene, please. Despite that, the clash was a tad underwhelming given the hype, but it did culminate with a half-shattered Batman mask and a cut across Clark Kent’s face. That’s right, Man did make God bleed.
Nearly two hours into the movie, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) shows up. We see her sporadically much earlier on as Diana Prince, but she doesn’t truly arrive until she’s needed to help our two protagonists fight off a kryptonian deformity bred by none other than Lex Luthor. Her introduction is abrupt, and she surprises Batman and Superman to the point where they both question who she’s with—a comedic attempt that missed its mark. In one memorable shot, the camera tilts upward from the ground to reveal Wonder Woman standing strong in front of both Batman and Superman. It was a good look. Her presence on screen made the film feel more whole, and I was disappointed to only get 25 minutes of her company.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice certainly had its faults, with a handful of intersecting plot lines that did nothing but fill time and cause confusion. The story seemed to lack substance, and I actually began to question what (if anything) actually happened in a movie that lasted more than two hours. But intertwined in all of this mess were some nice things, including the portrayal of Lex Luthor and hints at the on-screen formation of DC Comics‘ Justice League. Glimpses of the Flash (Ezra Miller), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and Aquaman (Jason Momoa) definitely got me excited for the future DC Universe. Aquaman in particular looked awesome.
Ben Affleck’s portrayal of Batman wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. He did manage to translate that dark, sullen attitude we have come to know from past Batman films, but this movie lacked any defining moments of triumph or despair for him. I have no complaints with his performance and contribute my lack of love to missed opportunity and not poor acting. That said, if you’re a fan of superhero flicks with outrageous production value, you might not want to skip out on this one. At the very least you’ll get some pretty great visuals and a satisfying look into the Justice League. Oh, and there’s a great cliffhanger before the credits roll that, along with a strong film score, gave me some serious chills. That’s really all the good I can say.
Overall Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice may have promised us the greatest gladiator match in the history of the world, but in the end it may have been the film itself that took the loss.