'Batman V Superman' Spoiler-Free Review: A Messy Spectacle

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice hits theaters this Friday, an event film that my 10-year-old self wanted but could never have imagined would actually happen. So what did I think of the movie? What did I like? What did I have problems with? After the jump you can read my spoiler-free reaction to the film. So if you've seen the trailers, feel free to proceed without any worry of plot points, twists, or reveals being spoiled.

Superman in Suicide Squad

I Loved Much of Man of Steel

I want to set some expectations. Yes, I like the Marvel Studios films, but I also loved the first two Christopher Nolan DC films Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. I'm a big Superman fan from way back, and I even loved much of Zack Snyder's Man of Steel. I enjoyed David Goyer's take on Superman as an alien, seeing a bit of Krypton's very foreign world, the emotional conflict of wanting to help but being afraid to let the world in on the secret, and the clever use of Krypton atmosphere as a reimplementation of Kryptonite. Sure, that ending fight sequence could have been more exciting, but I was never bothered by the usual complaints about this film.

To me, Man of Steel was a beginning. Superman wasn't Superman overnight. I like the idea of a Superman who is learning what's right and what's wrong, and who has yet to create a universal code to define his actions and responsibilities. He's a young man, doing his best, in the face of a world which might totally reject him. So complaints about Superman killing Zod or how many people in Metropolis surely died in this climactic battle, didn't bother me as much as they did some long-time fans of the character.

And I know that Jonathan Kent telling Clark not to help people goes against every version of that character, who is typically the moral influence for our hero. But rewatching that scene the night before seeing BvS, I can't help but feel the subtext under the dialogue . It seems obvious to me that Pa Kent doesn't buy his own advice either, but he's doing his best to try to keep his kid safe.

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

Why Isn't Warner Bros Screening This Movie to As Many People As Possible?

Warner Bros. has notably been very selective in inviting press to early screenings of this film. At the early junket screening, critics were forced to sign NDAs (non-disclosure agreements), which was very unusual. None of the attending press were allowed guests, which again, was unusual. And it's not because the theater was packed — the IMAX theater we saw the film in appeared to be more than half empty as the lights went down. Why is Warner Bros. being so selective in screening this movie early for journalists?

Before the movie began, a video from Snyder appeared on screen. He asked that the journalists seeing this movie early not spoil any of the surprises in the film in their reviews. This caught me by surprise as I had assumed, like many others, that the marketing for this film had spoiled many of this film's plot points and reveals. And to be honest, I was right — for the most part. If you've seen all the trailers, there isn't much in the way of surprises in this film...

....until the third act. And don't worry, that's all I'm going to say.

But it is now obvious to me that Warner Bros was being so selective in screening this film early because the filmmakers want to protect some of the third-act plot points. So this is my way of warning to you to stay away from spoiler-filled reviews and idiots on social media. There are some biggish spoilers that haven't been widely reported (or hinted at in the trailers) and you will want to avoid sites and people you don't trust to remain tactful of such.

But does this mean the movie is good? Let's get to the good before we get to the bad.

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

The First Hour of Batman v Superman Is Pretty Awesome

The first hour of Batman v Superman is pretty awesome. Zack Snyder knows how to start a movie with a bang, often doing so with a kick-ass montage. Batman v Superman is no different from Snyder's previous films in offering us a visual feast up front.

Cleverly, he chose to open Batman v Superman by telling the story from Batman's perspective. And yes, we see the climactic battle from the end of Man of Steel from this point of view. This sequence will satisfy people who were bothered by the destruction and carnage in that film's ending – the opening of Batman v Superman truly makes Man of Steel a better film. Through Wayne's eyes, we see the more human side of the destruction that many fans and critics only imagined during the first go-around.

I wonder if keeping this movie set from Batman/Bruce Wayne's point of view may have been a better way to tell this story.

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice soundtrack

The Score Rocks

One of the things I loved in Batman v Superman is the score by Junkie XL and Hans Zimmer. The music gets you pumped up in all the right moments, and unlike Marvel's Avengers, gives all the heroes their own unique themes. At some points the score is rocking, while at other times it's operatic, or big and loud and base-y. Sometimes it's more sci-fi sounding, reminiscent of Bear McCreary's Battlestar Galactica score. I particularly love Wonder Woman's theme.

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice imax

The IMAX Footage Is Striking

This is probably the first IMAX movie since Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol that I think you must see on an original IMAX screen. Remember how amazed everyone was when we saw Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight in IMAX and were sucked in with the expanded aspect ratio and 65mm vividness? A handful of films have tried to do that over the last eight years, but even Nolan's own follow-ups The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar didn't pack the same punch, although I do think Interstellar was still a must-see in 70mm projection.

Batman v Superman is a film that you must see in IMAX, and if possible on an original ratio IMAX screen (not one of the small ones in your local multiplex). I saw the film at the Universal Citywalk AMC theater, which is one of the early IMAX theaters. Like most of the original IMAXes, the screen has been converted from 70mm to digital, a fact that has prevented me from seeing a movie at this theater for some time. But I was amazed at how vivid the IMAX-shot footage looked on this huge screen, even if it was digitally projected.

There are four full action sequences in Batman v Superman that were shot natively using IMAX 65mm film cameras, and they all look great. I'm not sure about the final runtime of the IMAX footage, but I've heard it is almost 30 minutes of the film's two-and-a-half-hour running time — equating to one-fifth of the film.

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

I Want to See More of Ben Affleck's Batman

As much as I loved and still love The Dark Knight, I was never a huge fan of Christian Bale's Batman (he worked better as the Bruce Wayne side of the character's duality for me). Despite some of the contrivances that were invented to push this story to its end, I really enjoyed Ben Affleck as Batman and am excited to see what his standalone film will be like. It's definitely an older Batman, later into his crime fighting career, so they could either go with a prequel (maybe explaining what happened to Robin, which is hinted at in this film) or a full standalone sequel.

Either way, I'd like to see what Affleck's Batman can do solo, without any of his super friends. I guess this is one place where DC loses to Marvel, whose formula involves introducing us to their characters as individuals before squeezing them into crossover stories. It could also be interesting to someday develop this story towards a film adaptation of Batman Beyond, as Affleck's Bat will someday need a successor.

Some fans might not be happy with Snyder's Batman. One of my friends was outraged at the more sadistic portrayal of the Dark Knight. Batman does things in this movie that he would not do in the comics. While I personally wasn't too bothered with Superman killing Zod in Man of Steel, I wonder if fans will be bothered by Batman's actions in Batman v Superman.

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice doomsday

The Rest of the Film Is a Bit of a Mess

The last hour and a half of Batman v Superman is a bit of a mess. It's overstuffed, a mash-up of comic book source material with Justice League set-up crammed in – so much so that Batman's actual fight with Superman takes up very little of this story. The film seems too reactionary, trying to address fans' and critics' complaints about past films. Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor is over the top, and he and other characters take actions that seemingly make no sense other than as a way to further the plot. And it lacks the moments of wonder that made past Superman films uplifting and fun. Let's break it down.

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

The Film Is Too Concerned With Fixing and Addressing Problems of Past Movies

Batman v Superman seems far too concerned about responding to criticism of past films, from the introduction of technology to explain Batman's voice, to the incredible opening that I talked about earlier. The biggest battle of the whole movie takes place in secluded closed quarters, seemingly only to show there are no civilian casualties or massive damage this time.

Later in the film, newscasters on television proclaim, "Thankfully, workday is over in the downtown area" as a battle rages into a city. It's seriously a laugh-out-loud moment (there was more laughter at this moment in my screening than at any joke in the rest of the movie). And it doesn't even stop there. At a later point a battle moves to an island outside of the city and a newscaster informs the audience that the island is uninhabited — again, seemingly for no other reason but to preempt criticism.

While Bruce Wayne's perspective gives us insight into why he believes Superman might be bad for mankind, it's strange that the film doesn't present us a world that believes the same. Instead, they invent a ridiculous scenario, a military situation in Africa, to offer insight into the government debate over regulation of the superhuman hero and to enrage the people of Metropolis. This storyline has very little payoff, but I guess it gives Lois Lane a mystery to chase for much of the story?

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

Don't See This Movie Expecting a Huge Batman vs. Superman Fight

If you're going to see Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to see Batman fight Superman, you might end up being disappointed. The film only features a few minutes of the two DC superheroes battling it out, and you won't see that until a long way into the film. There's a lot of set-up, foreplay, confrontations, and even a very cool one-shot fight in a dream sequence. But if you want to see the main event, you're paying for a Pay Per View event with a lot of build-up and a one-round match. And I won't spoil who wins or how it ends, although anyone who has ever read a superhero comic which pits two heroes again each other will have some idea of where it goes.

lex corp

Lex Luthor Is Borderline Over-the-Top

The lead-up to this film seemed to pitch Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor as a dot-com billionaire, but that's not the case in this film. Maybe it doesn't help that Eisenberg played Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network or that his LexCorp offices look like a start-up, but the character clearly doesn't fit this mold. Eisenberg's performance approaches over-the-top, calling back to superhero movies from yesteryear. He almost feels like a character from a different movie, and not the dark, serious and brooding universe produced by Christopher Nolan. And I'm not just talking about the performance, but also the character. More on that in a second.

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

The Story Is Convoluted and Character Actions Seem Unmotivated

Too much of Batman v Superman's story is convoluted, and too many of the actions taken by characters seem to serve the plot but make no sense for the characters themselves.

It is never made clear what Luthor's motives are other than that he wants Superman gone from this world. His convoluted plan seems to exist only to get Batman to fight Superman and nothing else. And I get it, we need a reason for these two heroes to punch each other. And we also need a way for Batman to have a chance against the Man of Steel. Luther facilitates both of these things, but with logic that would barely pass muster in a comic book.

Lois Lane also makes some choices later in the story that seem to make very little sense at all. It almost seems like the filmmakers needed a certain object and a certain person in a certain location and could not come up with a believable explanation of how to get them there. The actions of the character serve only to lead them to where they are needed for the plot's purposes, and nothing more.

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

Justice League Set-Up Seems Crammed Into This Story

As much as this film gets me excited about a Wonder Woman movie, it still feels like the Justice League set-up was crammed into a story which should have just been focused on Batman and Superman. I won't spoil how the other Justice League members play into this story, but their appearances feel tacked on in the cheesiest way possible. I'm really not sure why they are being introduced in this film and not in a standalone Justice League story. Their appearances feel more like fan service than anything else.

And not only is a Justice League set-up crammed into this Dark Knight Returns-inspired story, but as you can see in the marketing, the movie also incorporates elements from other stories like Doomsday and more. The whole thing just feels overstuffed.

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

Too Many Religious Allegories

If you thought the Jesus imagery in Man of Steel was too much, you haven't seen anything yet. Batman v Superman is filled with religious allegories. This might seem like a nitpick but it's really something that annoyed me while watching the film as it not subtle at all. If you miss a couple of the mentions, don't worry, they included a dozen more so that you'll get the point.

I don't mind religious subtext when it comes to Superman, as it's obviously a way mankind might relate to the character were he real. The problem with the religious subtext in this story is there is just too much of it. You will be annoyed by mentions of God, gods, angels and demons and the devil himself. I don't believe Jesus himself is referred to in this movie, which is shocking.

A statue of the Man of Steel is vandalized with the words "False God," and Lex Luthor relays stories of mythical gods and compares Superman to a devil that comes from the skies. At one point Batman informs Superman that he was "never a God," and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice wonder woman

Conclusion

I personally liked Man of Steel better, but I'm guessing I will be in the minority on this one. I can see why people might enjoy Batman v Superman more, and as I said before, it improves Man of Steel in some ways.

At the end of the day, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is one of the biggest event films of the year and if you want to be part of the conversation you must see it. The film sets the course for Justice League and the future of the DC movie universe, and if any of that interests you, you should probably buy a ticket. Sure, you might walk away from the film disappointed, like I was, but maybe still entertained by moments of spectacle. And if you see it, I urge you to see it on the largest screen possible (i.e., big-screen IMAX).

But if you're looking for a great movie, there are much better films to see this weekend on the big screen. You can see Zootopia or 10 Cloverfield Lane or catch up on some of the award winners and nominees still playing in theaters – or you can even see the competition's Deadpool. All of those will likely leave you more satisfied.

/Film Rating: 6 out of 10