My favorite thing about Zach Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice—and hang onto this, because there’s not much else that I liked—is how quickly it dispatches with the whole, “Who would win in a fight between Batman and Superman?” question.
That is a very dumb question, as Superman is superhuman alien with infinite strength and Batman is, well, just a really angry man with a Bowflex machine. Snyder makes it clear that, on an equal playing field, Superman could crush Batman like a bug—repeatedly. “If I wanted you dead, you’d be dead!” Superman bellows at one point, with authority. On the other hand, equal playing field is the operative phrase—Superman does have that pesky kryptonite problem.
Anyway, the above is probably the closest I’m ever going to come to engaging in the kind of fevered debate that true comic book fans obsess over. And that’s the problem. I realize that superhero movies deal with themes of the corruption of power and man’s capacity for evil, but I just can’t take them seriously. We’re talking about one dude wearing bat’s ears and a black cape and another dude wearing tights and a red cape. Even if its themes are deadly serious, does that mean the film has to be?
I blame a lot of what goes wrong in Batman v Superman on the fact that Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, especially the first two, went right. Of course, Nolan’s films were pretentious and self-important, too. But they were also quite good. Nolan is such a skilled director he was able to engage me fully in his somber morality tale—and he was aided, of course, by some great actors, including Christian Bale, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman.
Which brings us to the Heath Ledger problem. What Ledger did as the Joker—playing him as this repulsive maniac punk-rock clown—shouldn’t have worked, but it did. Indeed, it remains one of the most indelible screen villains of all time. As Superman’s nemesis, Lex Luther, Jesse Eisenberg isn’t quite doing a Ledger impression, but he’s trying to do a similar thing: give us a character that is both funny and terrifyingly unhinged. There are lots of tics and intentionally bizarre line deliveries—and the whole thing comes across as unintentional camp. At least he’s…interesting?
I can’t say the same for Henry Cavill’s Superman, who is hunky and earnest and a little bit dull (but those cheekbones—yowsa!). Then again, Superman has never been a very compelling character—it’s Batman who flirts with his own dark side and is fueled by that righteous anger (yes, we get to see young Master Wayne’s parents murdered before his very eyes—Snyder wasn’t going to let the opportunity to show us Martha Wayne’s blood soaked pearls in a rainy gutter pass him by.) Affleck fares better playing a more sophisticated (read: older) version of the Caped Crusader. I couldn’t get past his bulked up physique, presumably the result of an unhealthy diet of steroids (it made him look bloated—a handy metaphor for the film, come to think of it). But he brought an interesting balance of dashing cool guy and miserable nihilist to the role. He won’t be replacing Christian Bale as the Batman of my heart, but he certainly doesn’t embarrass himself.
Gal Gadet shows up too, as Wonder Woman. She struts, stares, and poses like a boss—let’s face it, she’s one of the most beautiful women on the planet—but I’m still not convinced she’s got the acting chops to excel in the role. Time will tell.
Anyway, there’s a plot, I guess. The film starts out where Snyder’s Man of Steel left off, meaning that Superman is fighting General Zod through the streets of Metropolis, taking down one of Bruce Wayne’s skyscrapers along the way, leaving one little girl orphaned and another man without legs. As such, Batman thinks Superman might be evil—or at least, have the potential to be evil—and Superman thinks Batman might not be such a Boy Scout himself. But the real bad guy is Lex Luther, who’s stockpiling kryptonite and reanimating his very own alien monster. Amy Adams is back from Man of Steel as Superman’s love interest/crack reporter Lois Lane and if you’re super bummed that 51-year-old Diane Lane is playing Superman’s mom, take comfort in the fact that she’s 41 (Cavill is 32).
I wish I could tell you more, but honestly it’s all just a blur of pretentious speeches about what lurks in the hearts of men and noisy fight scenes and nonsensical dream sequences (that I’m sure make sense to the fully indoctrinated). Bless its heart, the thing lumbers on for 2 and a half hours. To get everyone super geeked up for future D.C. Comics products, I suppose, there are some fleeting glimpses of dark and grimy super heroes of upcoming films, like The Flash and Aquaman. (How can Aquaman be dark and grimy? He’s literally immersed in liquid). In this respect, D.C. Comics is taking a page out of Marvel’s books. If one superhero is good, several are better. But in this case, their motto seems to be: Anything you can do, we can do darker.