Laying the groundwork for any franchise is a delicate and most often thankless job. Reboots and makeovers of origin stories wear thin on audiences and critics alike, especially when there is a glut of blockbusters with similar themes all clamouring for attention. The trick is, of course, to get the foundations and the fundamentals right, so that you have something solid to build on. In much the same way, all good teams are made.
Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, the mega-budget beginnings of a wider Justice League narrative, has built upon the framework put in place by director Zack Snyder in 2013’s Man Of Steel, and what you largely thought of that movie will colour your opinion of Snyder’s latest. Opening with the destruction of Metropolis as seen through the eyes of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), it’s an intelligent and boldly confident use of a sequence that fragmented audiences in Man of Steel. Serving to at once justify Bruce Wayne’s motivation to bring about the downfall of Superman (Henry Cavill), it sets in motion a chain of events that leads both men to cross paths with Lex Luther (Jesse Eisenberg).
Dotted with moments of greatness, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice is a frustrating beast. There is so much to pick apart and deride it would be easier to write it off as a colossal failure but to do so would be a disservice. For every rambling blunder and incoherent plot misfire there is a flicker of precocity, a semblance of an idea that keeps the movie from teetering completely toward disaster.
Where it fails to ignite is in the many subplots that seem shoehorned in so that some peripheral characters are given screen time. It is when the story gets bogged down and preoccupied with these that tedium starts to set in. Coupled with some disjointed, stuttering dream sequences, Snyder threatens to derail his movie with some needlessly complex direction for a threadbare script.
DC’s heavy hitters are where the film gains traction and Affleck is the undoubted star of the show. Imposing, menacing and brutally vicious, his world-weary Batman is a remorseless tour de force, at once a believable match for the godly power of Superman. Equally as formidable and enigmatic without the cowl, Affleck’s presence is the centre of all of the movie’s best set-pieces, including the sprawling, intense and thunderous climactic showdown. Cavill is given less to say and do, while a final act reveal of another vital member of the Justice League is as wondrous as one could hope for.
Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice has many faults and like Man Of Steel before it will likely divide audiences. For everything it gets wrong though it still manages to deliver spectacular action, cohesively draw together the characters for a Justice League team-up and introduce arguably the best on-screen Batman of all time. The groundwork has been laid.