But superhero movies directed by Zack Snyder are not about this feeling. His gritty, edgy style translated well in 2009’s Watchmen, a beloved graphic novel brought to the screen with a stunningly pure translation. His 2013 Man of Steel definitely turned some heads because his edgy style didn’t sync up with everyone’s untainted, goody-two-shoes version of Superman, and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is kind of an apology to that. Dawn of Justice is infinitely better than Man of Steel, but it’s still… not much better.
What really brings down Dawn of Justice is how concerned it is with being the first in a DC mashup series. Like Marvel and their Avengers, DC is getting amped to have Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman all hash it out against the rest of the world, and Dawn of Justice does not stop reminding you of this. So much of the talk and “plot” is about what’s going to happen, what’s coming up, what evil lurks even further in the shadows that the movie feels overwhelmingly dull. Why should I care about what’s going on now if there’s going to be cooler things in the future? There’s no thought put into any of the characters here, especially the villain, Doomsday.
Man, fuck Doomsday. He’s a muddy, CGI mess who bears a striking resemblance to the actual poop-like final boss in Teen Titans: Battle Blitz. He does nothing but stomp around and yell garbage, and his defeat feels more like a “thank god this visually unappealing, moving piece of trash is dead” than a victory. There’s no real sense of “victory” in Dawn of Justice, thanks to Snyder’s pessimistic world view, but it’s unique to this genre that’s gotten overly cheesy in recent years. Sure, Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice are darker than they should be, with Superman making out with Lois Lane while people die around him, or Batman now branding villains with his signature bat-symbol that guarantees death in prison, but it’s strangely realistic and fresh. It’s interesting to think of our favorite superheroes morally: Superman could destroy the world at any instant, and we’re… okay with this? If Snyder could have explored this topic without all the bro-ness and testosterone of two men in tights fighting each other over a Hans Zimmer score, Dawn of Justice could have been a game-changing superhero movie.
But it’s not. Everything I’ve come to expect from movies of this ilk is further solidified by Dawn of Justice. Lois Lane first appears as a damsel in distress, then she’s naked in the next scene, and continues being helpless throughout the rest of the movie. Gal Gadot is a pretty cool Wonder Woman, introducing more life than her super-serious male counterparts, but her arrival comes pretty late and feels inconsequential, and after we’ve already seen her decked out in multiple, showy evening gowns. Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill are surprisingly great with how little they’re given, and Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is his usual weasel-self, often being the talking head for Snyder’s obsession with Good v. Evil, Man v. God. Dawn of Justice is observedly angsty and grimy, but it’s definitely not fun. I’m not sure if it’s really meant to be, but it’s griminess is dull and more egotistical than movies like Watchmen or Sin City that perfected their alternativeness. For once, it’s actually reassuring to know there’s a bright and sunny Avengers movie coming up.