Comic book fans comprise a tribe that can’t be easily spoken to. Sure, some will assume you can throw any bunch of familiar superheroes onto the big screen and they’ll come running, but there have been enough failures to prove that isn’t true. They’re the kind of die-hard fanatics whose eyes will pop out of their heads at the grandiose spectacle of seeing Batman and Superman clash for the first time on the big screen. But they’re also just as likely to geek out over a minute detail those heroes share that suddenly is given unexpected importance. While it can be argued that Zack Snyder’s previous comic book movies; “Watchmen”, “300”, and “Man of Steel”, were wildly uneven when taken as a whole; the man knows how to make a movie that speaks the fanboy language, and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” speaks it well.
‘Batman v Superman’ isn’t without its problems, let’s be honest, but most will be overcome by the sheer spectacle of watching the two greatest gladiators in DC Comics history going toe-to-toe. And that war stretches well beyond the fisticuffs that come later, it’s a battle of two diverging ideologies; it’s a battle to see which one deserves to be humanity’s savior. Is it the grimmer than death Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck), who has been soured by decades of pointless crime-fighting? Or is it Superman (Henry Cavill), the godly alien being some see as a savior, others as a tyrant in waiting. Snyder, working from an occasionally ponderous script by Chris Terrio and David Goyer, relies heavily on symbols and metaphor to draw any distinctions without fully committing.
But this isn’t a film built to be full of nuance; most team-up movies aren’t. “The Avengers” films also lack significant character development. ‘Batman v Superman’ barrels straight ahead like the Batmobile slamming through a cement wall, quickly setting its players on the chess board in time to overturn the whole thing. “Man of Steel”‘s controversial, city-destroying finale is given greater context when seen through the eyes of Bruce Wayne, who is deeply impacted by the destruction. Some will see that as Snyder and Co. trying to cover their asses for the unpopularity of the prior film’s wanton violence, but clearly it was always meant to be a launching pad for where things stand now, with Superman both loved and feared for his past actions.
Seeing as how we’ve already seen Cavill’s Superman once, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he takes a backseat to introducing the “Dark Knight”. His oft-seen origin is breezed through quickly and elegantly, not totally unlike what Christopher Nolan did before. That’s all the backstory we need to know who this Batman is; he’s a guy who, along with the loyal Alfred (Jeremy Irons), has been battling costumed freaks all of his life. But it’s not quite right to label this Batman as old; he’s experienced, built like a Sherman tank, and more than a little bit paranoid. Affleck captures the dichotomy within Bruce Wayne effortlessly, establishing himself as one of the best to ever play the character, certainly an upgrade from Christian Bale’s marble-mouthed version. Affleck’s Batman comes across as the ultimate vision of Donald Trump’s America; build a giant wall to keep out the super-powered alien guy.
Much of the first hour is spent with Wayne and Clark Kent circling one another like lions prepared to strike, with the Daily Planet reporter querying him about the vigilante Bat of Gotham. Meanwhile, a U.S. Senator (Holly Hunter) begins hearings on whether Superman is actually good for the world, and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) finds herself in one spot of trouble after another. There’s also eccentric billionaire inventor Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), complete with an entire subscription of daddy issues, who concocts a plan that puts both heroes in one another’s crosshairs. Eisenberg’s Luthor is unlike any seen before; imagine Mark Zuckerberg by way of Arkham Asylum. He’s brilliant, driven, and totally psycho. Some will dig Eisenberg’s performance, others may find it grating.
Conversely, there should be nothing but hoots, hollers, and applause for the debut of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), who comes fully dressed for war in the film’s epic final battle. Before then she observes the brewing conflict in her civilian guise, occasionally stopping to kick it with Batman who has no idea of her Amazonian alter ego. The casting of Gadot caught a lot of people by surprise but her experience as an Israeli combat instructor (f’real, look it up) makes her perhaps the most convincing combatant of all, even when she’s fighting fictional Kryptonian space monsters.
All of this is only skimming the surface of the many characters and plotlines Snyder must juggle. There are, as expected, teases for the future Justice League, including one that arrives early on which is a real stunner. Laurence Fishburne is fantastic as Perry White, who just wants to sell more newspapers; Scoot McNairy has a small but pivotal role as a man who has lost everything due to costumed heroes; and there are flashes of a desolate future envisioned by Batman in his worst nightmares. Those flashes hold another tease for future films that eagle-eyed viewers will want to watch out for.
As for the titular showdown, it’s the gigantic special effects bonanza you’d expect it to be, encompassing nearly the film’s entire second half. While we don’t see much of Batman’s renowned investigative skills, his resourcefulness, intelligence, and sheer toughness are on display as he goes toe-to-toe with his powerful red & blue foe. Snyder’s explosive action scenes leap off the screen, but he’s still repetitive in his staging. It isn’t long before one crash into a random building looks like any other. Things blow up, cosmic waves envelope the battlefield, and none of it makes any kind of sense, but damn if it doesn’t look great and sound better thanks to Hans Zimmer’s booming score.
Ultimately, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is a movie for comic book fans made by comic book fans. Has Warner Bros. finally found their Marvel killer? Not yet, but Marvel better watch out for the DC Universe because it’s coming and nothing may be able to stop it.