Batman v Superman Brings Big Characters, Bigger Action

Batman v Superman logo

After a three-year wait, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice finally hit theaters this week. The highly-anticipated follow up to 2013’s Man of Steel has had lots of hype and vitriol thrown its way, nearly from the time it was announced.

But there’s nothing like actually seeing the finished product to know just how it all turned out.

Luckily, the answer is: Incredible! If you liked Man of Steel, that is. If not, then this movie won’t likely float your boat, either.

There will be no spoilers here, so fear not as you read along.

It’s important to get to the biggest highlights of the film first, as there are several, but one deserves to go first: Ben Affleck is now THE definitive Bruce Wayne/Batman!

That’s right all you worried fanboys, Ben Affleck takes all that haterade you guys have been swilling for the last three years and throws a huge, cold glass of it right back in your face. Hope you enjoy the taste.

Affleck’s turn as the Dark Knight is different from any you’ve seen on screen up to now. Frank Miller’s influence weighs heavy throughout and you can see the Affleck is channeling some of his own personal demons, too. Even his charming and often quietly funny Bruce Wayne has moments that seem suggest a heavy heart and heavier soul. One might also see this Batman sharing a kinship with another former film version: Michael Keaton’s from 1989. Not so much in the Bruce Wayne department, but certainly in the cape and cowl.

When you see this Batman in action you will wonder how you ever thought anyone else was even worthy of the Mantle of The Bat. But there are also a few issues with it. The biggest being that this Batman is also incredibly brutal.

While some reviews have said Batman is outright killing people, the movie itself actually leaves it more ambiguous. As with all Zack Snyder films, the violence is cartoonish and over-the-top, leaving you with the sense that if that happened to someone in real life, they’d be dead. If you’ve played the Arkham video game series, it’s much the same way. There are things that happen in those games that would most definitely be murder, not incapacitation. So, like those games, this is more open to interpretation in the vast majority of cases. And not so much in a few others, but again, very much like Keaton’s Batman.

As to his opponent, Superman…if you liked Henry Cavill’s portrayal of Kal-El/Clark Kent in Man of Steel, you’ll be getting a bit more of the same here, but with a little bit more depth. Cavill gets to slip into the glasses this time around and experience life as a reporter as well as a superhero. He’s a crusader for social justice within the Daily Planet and then he’s the savior from the sky for people desperately clinging to their rooftops after a devastating flood. And all at the same time he’s still questioning his place in the world and if Superman is more vanity than messiah. It can come off as a little heavy on the naval-gazing at times, but the character has at least grown from one movie to the next. And given all he goes through and witnesses on his journey, it’s hard to blame the guy for feeling a bit down about how things are going.

The tone of the film is, as many have said, much “darker” than what you’d find in other superhero movies, such as Guardians of the Galaxy or Ant-Man. But it’s not exactly Schindler’s List, folks (thanks Nick!). There are lots of reviews out there making much ado about nothing.

That said, it’s not exactly for most kids under the age of 12, either. There are some particularly violent moments that younger viewers will have a hard time with. But, you know, PG-13 does mean it might not be suitable for children under 13. However, the publicity around the violence by some has oversold it more than a little.

Jesse Eisnberg was the other controversial casting decision, aside from Affleck, that sent fanboys on the internet into a frenzy. The final product, though, is not likely to make much of that go away. This take on a traditionally calm, cool and collected character is going to rub some folks the wrong way.

His Lex is, like the titular heroes, a study of three personality types. All are played very well by Eisenberg, but it’s far from the traditional Lex. He’s manipulative, self-important and even sleazy throughout. He’s not Gene Hackman or Clancy Brown, that’s for sure. And he really will be the part of the film you either love or hate. He’s far more energetic at times than most will be used to and even seems to channel a bit of the chaos that made Heath Ledger’s Joker standout so well in The Dark Knight.

He’s also likely the film’s biggest weakness, despite being one of its most interesting parts. His motivations are never made quite clear enough, though if you’re familiar with DC Comics, you don’t really need that much backstory as to why Lex hates Superman. As the film progresses it becomes clear that this Lex has a major inferiority complex that manifests itself in the form of extreme social anxiety at times, likely brought on by an abusive father. Eisenberg captures that aspect of Lex in a way that is equally odd and hauntingly disturbing.

Now for the scene-stealers: Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and Jeremy Irons’ Alfred. These two are probably the biggest hits of the film, next to Affleck’s Batman. Gadot had a different type of criticism thrown at her upon her casting announcement in the form of body shaming from those claiming she’s “too skinny” to be Wonder Woman. Hope the haters are in the mood to eat even more of their words, because she’s the most charming, charismatic ass-kicker in the whole movie! In short: THIS! IS! WONDER WOMAN! The only downside is it needed more of her.

Alfred acts as a great foil/conscience for Bruce Wayne. When Affleck starts quoting off the One Percent doctrine, made infamous by former Vice President Dick Cheney, it’s Alfred who reminds Bruce that justice doesn’t work that way. Irons has played a wide variety of characters in his long career, but this could easily be another defining moment for him. His surrogate-father worries are clear and his attempts to keep Bruce in the light often become a heavy burden. His attempts to cover his feelings with sarcasm are as delightful as they are heartbreaking. He’s a man watching his son go off to war every night and trying his best to keep him safe…and sane. In that, he becomes much more of a partner to Batman than we’ve ever seen Alfred be on the big screen.

As for the story, things are much deeper than they appear in the trailers. The payoff from the previous movie takes up a good bit of the first half, but there’s a ton of new story coming into play, too. Some speculated the film would be overstuffed with characters, but once again this is a baseless fear. While there are cameos aplenty, this is a movie about Superman and Batman first. Wonder Woman factors into the story in an important way, but the focus is squarely on the two titans we came to see and their alter egos. The parallels between the two are pulled almost right out of some popular Superman/Batman team-up comics. (These, in fact)

Zack Snyder is a divisive director, and some of his choices here are going to make people who hate him feel as they always have, but this is still likely his best movie thus far. There are some bold choices made with the editing and structure, which make the film more operatic than traditional superhero. It’s like watching a battle of Greek Gods more so than a pair of men in tights. And for those who harped on and on about there being no humor in these films, it comes down to whether or not you have the ability to pick up on subtly and dark humor, which are peppered throughout the movie. Not to mention some undeniable moments of bright, uplifting light. A montage of Superman doing good around the world while journalists, scientists and world leaders contemplate whether he’s doing more harm than good is punctuated by a key phrase “maybe he’s just a guy trying to do the right thing.” In those moments you can see Superman’s true burden and the weight is heavy, even on his shoulders.

The runtime is long, but it never drags. There are some scenes and subplots that don’t get fleshed out as much as they should have been and even a few scenes that probably should have been cut altogether. But those moments are few in this otherwise breathtaking movie, which honestly wouldn’t have been hurt by a three-hour runtime. When the movie ends it’s hard not to be excited about the possibilities of what’s to come, especially the Wonder Woman solo film.

Four Stars