Rating in Stars: ***½ (out of ****)
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons
Director: Zack Snyder
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality)
Running Time: 2:33
Release Date: 03/25/16
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice finds two super-egos doing battle and a megalomaniac who wants to control the situation for his own perceived glory. It’s as simple as that, really, except that that’s also far from simplistic. This film, as written by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, is an act of reconstructive revisionism of every concept we have of the characters in the surtitle. By the end, we also have our perception challenged with regards to the assembly of the league hinted at in the subtitle. This is not a movie that panders to its target audience (many of which may be unsatisfied by some of its risks and downright nuttiness), nor does it seem tailor-made, despite the obvious fact that it is, to lead to further sequels.
This Bruce Wayne is a haunted orphan whose parents’ deaths have taught him a surprising lesson about the ways of the world, and this Batman is a vigilante driven by rage. Ben Affleck’s performance as the man outside of the suit is a genuinely good one because of a focus that is borderline-cruel in nature, and his relationship with Alfred (Jeremy Irons) is uneasy at best. Inside the suit (which is bulkier and more metallic here, with a voice modulator), the actor is mostly asked to call upon his physicality, but it’s a trick that works. The title fight is a brutish and brutal one because, to put it informally, the guy is just freaking huge.
This Kal-El is an angry god. He trudges on in both of his alternate identities–that of Clark Kent, intrepid reporter alongside his girlfriend Lois Lane (Amy Adams, who unfortunately exists to be the damsel in distress here) for the Daily Planet, and Superman, the man in the blue suit and red cape who is seen here from one angle as a savior (Cinematographer Larry Fong consistently frames his entrances as that of a Jesus Christ figure), from another as a threat (A senator played by Holly Hunter calls hearings that are meant to put him on trial both legally and in a public forum), and from an indecisive third as something in between (A certain astrophysicist expands his idea of humanity’s smallness to reckon the existence of life elsewhere)–and Cavill’s stoic performance is still quite good here. The carnage that ended Man of Steel and another sequence here set in Africa that ends in more lost lives are the catalysts, and that is where our story starts.
The film re-frames the attack on Metropolis to be viewed from the ground as Bruce drives frantically through the streets to evacuate one of his company’s campuses. Death and terror–the film’s own reckoning of a 9/11-type attack–rain down around him as Kal-El and Zod (Michael Shannon) face each other. Fast-forward 18 months, and we find the Batman’s rein of vengeful justice catching the eye of both Kal-El, who questions the Batman’s motivation and methods, and Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg in a strange performance–fittingly so), who has cottoned on pretty quickly to the real identity of both figures and wants to cause a rift. He also wants to unleash a kind of doomsday upon them, because, well, he’s insane.
The final confrontation between the Batman, Superman, and the mucous monster that Lex hath wrought (interrupted by a neat appearance from Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman) perhaps plays with the generic in a way that what proceeds it does not (The flashes of images of three other heroes certainly does, with their odd placement), but for a while, the climax keeps with the complex existential and philosophical battle going on here. Yes, the action sequences are well-conceived and executed (though the 3-D presentation doesn’t help what largely takes place in the dark) by director Zack Snyder, but they and, for that matter, the central question of who would win this fight are a secondary, even tertiary, concern. Instead, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice continues its immediate predecessor’s plan to pave a new path for these particular heroes in a way that feels starkly different to another group currently dominating the box office, and it’s a very intriguing step, indeed.