Screen Gems review: "Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice"
March 25, 2016
"Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice"
Studio: Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality
As we saw in 2013's "Man of Steel," Superman's battle against General Zod caused massive destruction and thousands of deaths.
That's the starting point for "Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice."
It turns out that Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), was in Metropolis on that fateful day, trying to save employees who were in his downtown office building. It was one of the structures destroyed in the clash. Because of the death and destruction, Wayne Carries a grudge against Superman, whom he holds responsible for the loss of his friends and workers.
But, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), is no fan of the Batman, either. He disapproves of the Caped Crusader's vigilante tactics and brutal assaults on suspected criminals.
It all comes to a head on a rainy night in Gotham City. Fueled by a manipulative Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), Batman and Superman square off in a long-awaited clash of titans.
While the two heroes slug it out, a bigger threat awaits. Can they settle their differences to work together, or divided will they fall?
Director Zack Snyder's film asks some big questions here about the nature of power and who wields it. A worried world sees what Superman can do, and many have the same concerns as Wayne. Who can stop the unstoppable? What happens if a god turns to evil?
"Batman v Superman" is the launching point for a bigger DC Comics movie universe.
Several heroes including the Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) make cameo appearances, but the real excitement is reserved for Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot).
She shows up a few times throughout the first half of the film as Diana Prince. She's a mysterious figure who brushed up against Wayne a couple of times, leaving him with plenty of questions about who she really is and what she wants. It becomes clear when she finally reveals her alter ego to help Batman and Superman in their ultimate battle against Doomsday.
She almost steals the show, and Gadot is a perfect fit for the part.
Cavill shows some growth from his first outing as Superman. He's concerned about how people perceive him, and why they can't understand he just wants to do the right thing. It's hard being a god among men, and Cavill gives a nuanced and quiet performance which communicates uncertainty and frustration. Some people love Superman, others fear and hate him. But whether he's Clark Kent of wearing the red cape, Superman truly desires to be a force for good.
However, as good as Cavill's portrayal of the Man of Steel is, it is Affleck's Batman which owns this movie.
This is the best onscreen version of the character I have ever seen. I loved Adam West, Michael Keaton and Christian Bale in the role, but Affleck's Batman and his Bruce Wayne put them all in the rear view mirror. He plays an older crime-fighter, weary of putting down bad guys only to see others take their place.
I don't want to overstate this, but in all honesty, this is the Batman I have been waiting to see on film my entire life. In his other incarnations, Batman was generally just a guy in a suit with some cool gadgets and decent fighting skills. As I said, I've enjoyed many of the actors who've put on the cape, but if you'd placed their version of Batman in this movie, it wouldn't have worked.
But this Dark Knight is up to the challenge. Through CGI, stunt work and a clear vision by director Zack Snyder, Affleck's Batman can finally do what he's always done in the comics. Yes, I know he's just man with no special powers. But, he's trained and worked all of his life to be the ultimate man with no special powers. And that's who you see in this movie. The way he moves and the way he fights has been likened to what we've previously only seen in video games. In fact, the "Arkham" series has always been the best fighting Batman ever created.
If Bale's Batman ever took on Superman, he'd be defeated in moments. The same is true for every other big screen version. It's not because they aren't great characters which worked in their own stories. It's because their heroes were never given all of the the abilities Batman possesses in the comics.
Superman himself has stated Batman is the only person in the universe who can sneak up on him. Does that sound like a normal guy to you? He's the World's Greatest Detective, master inventor, peak physical specimen, skilled in dozens of fighting styles and he's has the coolest car on the planet.
That's a good thing, because chicks dig the car.
Aided by his butler and friend Alfred, (Jeremy Irons), Wayne believes that defeating Superman may be the only thing he does in life which really matters. That's because he thinks it's a matter of planetary survival.
And what about Eisenberg's Luthor? He's twitchy and nervous. Think of a psychotic Mark Zuckerberg with a very dark side. It's a different take on familiar character and my least favorite aspect of the film.
But there is no denying Luthor's genius, bad intentions and hatred of Superman. Despite my reservations about how he is portrayed, Luthor is a worthy opponent for the Man of Steel.
Two other supporting performances worth mentioning are Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Perry White (Laurence Fishburne).
Adams' role has been criticized as one of a mere damsel in distress. It's true that Lois gets into trouble on several occasions. But that's also what she's done over the past 75 years in the comic books.
Adams is a good actress and does much more than just scream for help. She conducts an investigation which leads to an important revelation about a main character and Lois has a pivotal role in the battle between heroes. Without her, this movies goes in a much different direction.
Fishburne is more than a little grumpy throughout the proceedings. He barks and he yells and yeah, he's kind of a jerk. But faced with shrinking newspaper sales he does what he has to do to help the Daily Planet survive. And in crunch time, he steps forward to show his true colors of compassion and love for his employees. I like this version a lot.
This movie is dark, serious, thoughtful and has some amazing battle scenes. Batman looks like he's literally jumped from a comic book page straight onto the screen.
I enjoyed it, but this is not a perfect film. There are some pacing issues, non-comic book fans may be confused by a couple of dream sequences and they really are trying to cram a lot of material into a single film.
But overall, Snyder succeeds in giving fans of these characters an adventure worthy of their rich heritage.
Additionally, there is a stunning conclusion which sets up the next chapter in the story.
Much of the criticism I have read about this film centers on the main characters not being like their comic book counterparts or previous movie incarnations.
My response is that a single defining Batman or Superman simply doesn't exist. Over the decades the characters have been portrayed in dozens of ways, many of them radically different than what could be considered their preferred forms.
As much as I enjoyed Christopher Reeve in the costume, I recently talked to classes of 6th, 7th and 8th graders at Poca Middle School for a career day. During the course of my visit "Batman V Superman" came up. I asked each class about Reeve and his work, and it turns out that none of the more than 40 student have ever seen the classic 1978 "Superman" film.
That's the version most people who have trouble with Cavill's darker hero crave and cherish. But the truth is, the current generation of young movie-goers knows nothing about how the character was previously handled. Cavill is their Superman, and they appear to be satisfied with his efforts.
Even the most ardent fans of the characters need to come to the realization that they don't own them. None of us do. Giving Superman or Batman or any fictional hero a beloved and honored place in your heart doesn't grant you exclusive rights to how that character wil be forever portrayed.
Just because you have a favorite version doesn't mean it's the definitive version, because that simply does not exist and it never will. Everyone defines who their Superman is in very different ways. There is no right and wrong because it's all subjective.
When he was originally created Superman couldn't fly, wasn't truly invulnerable and hadn't developed many of his familiar powers. In Batman's first stories, he carried a gun and shot bad guys. His supporting cast had not yet been formed and many of his best qualities weren't yet a part of his character.
Should those versions have never changed? Of course not. They had to evolve over time, or they would have eventually faded away.
You can always enjoy whichever version is your favorite, they're always just a comic book or movie away.
But Snyder's vistion for Superman and Batman happen to be different than what we've seen before. Superman a little more firmly grounded in our world in the most realistic and honest ways possible. The same holds true for Batman.
As we see how Wayne's distrust of an alien evolves from the film's first moments it is all handled logically and makes perfect sense. That's because unlike us, Batman never had a chance to watch "Man of Steel" movie. He doesn't know Superman is a force for good who wants to save as many people as he can.
All Wayne knows is on that day in Metropolis, he looked up into the sky and didn't see a bird or a plane. He watched two titans clash and bring the world crashing down around him.
Without the benefit of knowing his origin story, it's easy to see how Wayne would view Superman as the ultimate threat and take steps to deal with him.
That's what this movie does. It portrays impossible characters in impossible situations in a way that you can relate to. Although you will never be Batman or Superman, you can use this fim to understand their motivations and the story's direction.
Affleck's presence elevates this movie in a way Cavill could not on his own. As strong as Superman is, he still needs the Caped Crusader to help him reach his full potential.
On my rating scale, "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" earns FOUR DIAMONDS.
FOUR DIAMONDS=A fantastic movie! A must see!
THREE DIAMONDS=A good movie with minor flaws.
TWO DIAMONDS=An average movie with some entertaining scenes or performances.
ONE DIAMOND=A very poor movie with few entertaining scenes or performances.
LUMP OF COAL=Skip it, it's just plain awful.