Superhero films have had a hard time growing up. For years they weren’t taken seriously in the industry or by the mainstream film audience since they were just silly little stories ‘just for kids’ or just a load of action with no substance.
Now, in 2016, it’s been 23 years since Batman first hit the big screen (34 years for Superman) – and six years since Marvel kicked the industry to new heights, and demanded attention, with Iron Man in 2008 – so you’d think that if any two superheroes could show how far we’d come, it would be Batman and Superman.
Unfortunately, this film does not complete that mission.
From the outset, there’s plenty to be excited about with this film, and really many of its elements work really well, it’s just the overall experience which doesn’t quite meet expectations.
Taking up the cape and cowl from Christian Bale as Batman is Ben Affleck, an actor (and accomplished director) who has had a difficult past with superhero films but restores faith quickly here by giving the audience a character they can genuinely sympathise with.
Batfleck isn’t rampaging the city as some sort of wish-fulfillment, but because he is adamant that Superman is a risk to humanity and must be stopped, following the destruction of much of Metropolis in Man of Steel.
Superman on the other hand (played by a permanently scowling Henry Cavill), is still trying to find his feet after taking up his cape, and is struggling to understand everyone’s resentment, fear and even worship of him.
In many ways, if the main cast had stopped there, the film might have felt more focused and effective, but since DC grows increasingly jealous of Marvel’s extended universe, it’s decided to kick-start it by throwing everything it has into this film.
Enter Wonder Woman, who is fantastically realised by Gal Gadot, and acts as an interesting element in Batman’s investigations before turning up for the film’s climax. As exciting a character as she is, and she leaves us wanting more, it’s difficult to say she is essential to telling this story.
The villain of the piece is Lex Luthor (Jr., which immediately feels like a bit of a cop out excuse to make the character more edgy and set him apart from his predecessors), played by Jesse Eisenberg. In many ways there are some interesting ideas being thrown around with Luthor, but in the end his manor doesn’t feel like it has enough darkness behind it, bringing up memories of Jim Carey’s The Riddler when it would have been more impactful to have the character turn in a heartbeat from slightly quirky to outright sinister and malicious.
Louis Lane seems to exist purely to flip between being a damsel in distress to an irritatingly stereotypical love interest, responsible for not only the film’s catalyst but a horribly underdeveloped love storyline with Clark Kent. Jeremy Irons’ Alfred is really the only member of the supporting cast who earns his place in the film, and feels tragically under-used.
The film’s strongest suit is the action and spectacle, which sees some expertly choreographed Batman fights in particular, and the titular battle between DC’s two mightiest heroes is worth waiting for – though its resolution is the somewhat anti-climactic and obvious realisation that both Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent’s mothers have the same first name…
The biggest indication of where the film goes off the rails, apart from struggling to make time to introduce new characters for The Justice League films, which ended up being more arbitrary than a huge distraction, is that the tone is all over the place.
Fundamentally, Batman and Superman don’t have vastly opposed philosophies as the film tries to make out, and jumping from Batman’s grit, to Superman’s inner turmoil, to Lex Luthor’s evil villain stereotyping just feels like it can’t decide what it wants to be.
What may have been stronger, is if the film had stuck with Batman’s perspective on events, which is set up extremely well at the beginning of the film, and followed that through, only revealing Superman’s side of the story when Batman learns about it, meaning the entire conflict had a grounded, specific set of eyes which the audience is supposed to see everything from.
While there is plenty this film didn’t quite get right, it is still definitely worth seeing, but if you are expecting a film to make you seriously rethink your love of The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy or Captain America: The Winter Soldier, then you needn’t worry.
Now the dawn of the justice league beckons, but not on the back of a film DC fans need, or deserve.