I don't know if I've ever gone into a movie wanting it to work so much. After all, this is Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, the film that really kicks off the DC Cinematic Universe. I already had concerns about it, even before the critics began to have their say and savaged the film relentlessly. In spite of that, I strove to remain open-minded, hoping against hope that this film would not disappoint.
The experience of watching this film was unlike any other I've seen. Zack Snyder has produced a movie with a dense plot - at times over-dense, with plot holes so big you could drive a Batmobile through them. Every scene has been crafted with a tremendous amount of love and attention to detail, and ironically this sometimes acts against it - this is the kind of film where a character can't even walk down a corridor without the scene being rendered in slow-motion with dramatic music. With choppy scene transitions, particularly at the beginning, this leads to a very disjointed, over-worked feel.
Let me give you an example: the initial opening scene is Snyder's take on Batman's backstory. Although some critics have slammed this as being unnecessary, the reality is that Snyder wanted to ensure the death of Martha Wayne (as opposed to Thomas Wayne) was pre-eminent in our minds. It's all done with such a beautiful, artistic style - as is true of every scene in the film. The scattered pearls are an image of Martha Wayne's shed blood, and are much more evocative as imagery than any in-your-face gore would have been. To me, this scene was a reminder that good films can show powerful, violent scenes without needing an R-rating.
The problem is, the importance of Martha - as opposed to Thomas - Wayne is only signposted in one other scene in the film, before becoming crucial to the movie's plot as we approach the third act. Because the film is over-stuffed with powerful, dramatic moments, you can be forgiven for not being able to differentiate between this important theme and the less important ones; which damages the effectiveness of the critical scene, making it feel (incorrectly) as though it came out of the blue.
Everything in the film is symbolic, with each character travelling their own symbolic journey. For Superman, this is a traditional Messianic take - and believe me, if you thought Superman Returns overdosed on Messianic imagery with a 'crown of thorns', it pales into comparison with this film. Unfortunately, there's a sense in which Snyder doesn't seem to trust his audience to 'get' this symbolism - Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor has an annoying habit of making the subtext overt with his dialogue. What's more, it's no coincidence that this film was released on Good Friday!
Eisenberg is excellent as Lex Luthor, although there are a couple of scenes - such as a faltering speech - that just feel weird. His motivation is striking; like Elie Wiesel in the face of the Holocaust, he has concluded that God can be either all-good or all-powerful, not both. Conflating Superman with God, he is taking his anger at God out on Superman, trying to expose either the deficiency of Superman's character or the limits of his power. The postmodern idea that man creates God in his own image is neatly inverted, with man instead creating the devil. Incidentally, those who were appalled at Doomsday's design in the trailer can indeed relax - that's the first design, and he evolves into far more dangerous forms as the film develops.
Batman's journey, I think, is the most fascinating - helped somewhat by the fact that Ben Affleck is superb as Batman, easily outshining Henry Cavill. His plot is weakened a little by the timing of the release; fans who are watching Daredevil Season 2 may well feel jolted out of the film by some scenes. This Batman is more evocative of the Punisher than of Daredevil, showing a casual disregard for human life, and willingly embracing the role of judge, jury, and executioner. That said, this is actually as part of his character journey; Alfred has dialogue that indicates this brutality is 'new', a result of the sense of powerlessness that Superman's presence has created in him. By the end of the film, he has a moment with Lex where he chooses not to brand him, showing that his character journey is complete. Again, though, the fact that this important character journey is only signposted through one piece of dialogue shows something about the film's lack of focus.
Gal Gadot, too, shines as Wonder Woman - no mere background character, but, incredibly, vitally important to the plot. She's tremendous, and within seconds of meeting her we're confident that DC cast Wonder Woman well.
The third act is remarkable, with DC showing more guts than I'd have ever expected. Unfortunately, the general heavy-handedness damages the third act's effectiveness; there's a moment with Doomsday about a minute before the climax that fairly telegraphs what's about to happen.
All in all, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice isn't as bad a film as the critics have made out. It's one of those movies that will pay to rewatch, because you'll start to spot the symbolism and understand what's going on a bit better. As I walked back to the train station, I looked up at the moon and watched the clouds gather over it. I could only laugh in amusement as, for a matter of minutes, the clouds seemed to take the shape of the bat. It felt nothing if not appropriate.
I'd score this: