Nostalgia Despite Disappointment: “Dawn of Justice”

I think it is only fair that I preface this review: I am now, have been and always will be in love with Superman. Ever since my grandfather handed me a massive anthology of ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s-era “Man of Steel” comics while bored in second grade, I was hooked. I would force my mother to drive me out to Captain Comic in New Hyde Park to pick up whatever old story arcs were cheapest. I prized my Superman HeroClix above all else, and I even had The Man of Tomorrow’s logo emblazoned on cufflinks during my bar mitzvah. While watching the titular comic book icons duke it out, a battle raged on in my own mind between my inner child and the objective, wannabe film critic.

Two years after the events of “Man of Steel,” Superman (Henry Cavill) faces criticism from the media due to collateral damage that seems to follow him wherever he goes. One of those critics, the upstart Gotham-based vigilante known as Batman (Ben Affleck), attempts to formulate a way to fight the otherworldly menace while combating his own inner demons. All the while, Metropolis magnate Alexander Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) hunts for kryptonite and tinkers with the remains of General Zod’s decaying spaceship.

In all candor, that summary scratches the plot’s surface as thoroughly as a raindrop scratches the surface of Mount Rushmore. The film is an unwieldy mess of converging and diverging story threads thrown together by David Goyer and Chris Terrio, oversaturated to the point of bursting, even at a healthy 2.5 hour run time. Too many characters are hurled at us, apropos of nothing, with minimal introduction or backstory. Where would we be without Zack Snyder’s famous use of unbearably heavy-handed Jesus imagery? The word “god” is used so much, I wasn’t sure if I had stumbled into ascreening of “Miracles from Heaven.”

But who among us can say they did not see any of that coming? I could have written the previous paragraph back in 2014, when the film was first announced. What I did not expect was how much I was able to smile throughout the heaps of stupidity the movie threw at me.

Moviegoers cough up $15 at the box office to see Batman fight Superman, and to see if Mr. Snyder’s special effects team can deliver the action. They do so in spades. The movie looks remarkably good, and the fight sequences feel fresh and imaginative in a way that startled me, especially after the recent slew of Marvel movies I’ve seen. One Batman dream sequence in the desert is especially awe-inspiring in its cinematography and choreography. Even when the movie is not presenting you with ass-kicking visuals, the story doesn’t drag. You may groan at the dialogue, and a cut might confuse you, but you’ll always find yourself engaged.

Despite the movie’s best attempts to make me hate it, I could not. The movie awoke in me a sense of childlike wonder and amazement that not even “The Force Awakens” could evoke. Wonder Woman made me laugh with excitement, and the cameo clips of various Justice League members brought me back to elementary school, when I would pit my various superhero figurines against one another. This film is the tangible embodiment of those mythical daydreams we had as kids, staring out the window as our teachers droned on about long division. As a critic, I can’t recommend “Dawn of Justice” in good conscience, but as an unabashed DC fanboy, I sure as hell can.