Every once in a while, I like to chime in on a big film after heated opinion has waned (i.e., I couldn’t make the press screening). The big question is: is the clash of the cleft chins as bad as all the reviewers are saying it is? Though I had the same reaction to the battle between DC Comics’ two most iconic figures as I did to the final showdown between Neo and Agent Smith in “The Matrix: Revolutions” (Is that…. it?), the short answer is no.
But while I won’t outright pan “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”, I can’t say that I wasn’t disappointed. Despite its generally poor critical reception, I was certain that there would be something redeeming about it, something for fanboys and the occasional critic who’s turned a bit sour on the whole comic book adaptation thing. And there is–pretty much all in the second act.
BvS is a complete narrative mess, to be sure, but there are bits and pieces that evoke Frank Miller’s version of the Dark Knight even more than Christopher Nolan’s more realistic crime thrillers (oh, stop hissing, “The Dark Knight” is still a much better movie). Ben Affleck is not a bad Bruce Wayne/Batman by any means. And, in many ways, he reflects the calloused being that might have emerged from thankless years of crime fighting more than Christian Bale, Michael Keaton or any of those other guys. We just don’t know him quite as well, since, after all, we’re entering the Caped Crusader’s crime-fighting days mid/downstream.
Enter Superman (Henry Cavill), who Wayne sees as a threat to humanity, contrary to most of the population. And with good reason; one of the things that director Zack Snyder gets absolutely right is the opening sequence, which views the climax of “Man of Steel” from ground level, where collateral damage is in the thousands (just one of the many problems I had with the 2013 Superman reboot).
Among them are the employees in Wayne tower, which collapses after being swiss-cheesed by Superman and General Zod (Michael Shannon) as they zip around in a destructive frenzy. It turns out that Gotham, Wayne’s domain, and Metropolis, home to Superman/Clark Kent and the Daily Planet, are sister cities divided only by a bay. Okay, that’s fine. The movie is long enough as it is–over 2 1/2 hours–without needing any back story beyond the vague explanation given by the film’s villain Alexander “Lex” Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), the maniacal son of an abusive gazillionaire dad from whom he inherited enough money to gain access to a downed alien space craft and then manipulate Batman into using its kryptonite cargo to fight Superman.
Truthfully, most of the “v” in the title refers to about 10 minutes of the movie; Snyder doesn’t do an awful job gearing up for it, but there are several unnecessary sequences that feel slapped together with no real effect on the story (surprisingly a product of “Dark Knight” series writer David S. Goyer, who co-wrote with Chris Terrio of the Affleck-directed “Argo”).
Additionally, the appearance of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) feels completely shoehorned in, although she’s very well-suited for the part, so to speak (she’ll have her own movie coming out next year), and the introduction of so-called Meta Humans (DC’s version of mutants) tease for the upcoming “Justice League” films, as DC launches an intricate universe as Marvel has done with “The Avengers”, but to ill effect.
So ask me how I would defend “Batman v Superman” against naysayers, civilians and critics alike, and I’m not quite sure. But I can say that there’s a part of me that wants to see it again. CGI overkill pervades the final act, and there are more ridiculous plot turns than I’d anticipated, but parts of it are undeniably fun to watch, and it’s clear than Snyder is not trying to be Nolan (apples and oranges, really).
While dark, sometimes even unnecessarily grim, this incarnation is much more popcorn than thriller. Eisenberg eats up this new Lex Luthor, as often to the character’s detriment as his benefit. Amy Adams returns as Lois Lane, and Diane Lane as Martha Kent. Jeremy Irons is a delightfully cynical Alfred, more engaged in Wayne’s extracurricular activities than previous versions. (Both he and Wayne seem to be bordering on alcoholism). There are a few action sequences–one in particular in which Batman saves someone from a warehouse full of thugs–that are the best of Batman’s ever-shifting career arc. BvS might not have your typical audience clamoring for the first “Justice League” movie, but at least it’s a step up from “Man of Steel”. Area theaters.
— M. Parsons