April 17, 2016

The thematically ambitious Batman v. Superman is big improvement over Man Of Steel.


Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice *** ½

Dir:  Zack Snyder

Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Laurence Fishburne

Superman is probably my favourite comic-book superhero so it pained me as to how much I disliked Man Of Steel, the Superman cinematic reboot and the first movie in the DC Extended Universe Warner Bros. franchise. The film made money but it was such a fundamental misread of the character and what he stands for (or should stand for) and was presented in such dark and dreary tones that it turned out to be a depressing experience. It certainly didn’t elicit the sense of joy and fun that should be associated with Superman. Grim and gritty does not go with the Kryptonian super-hero. Scripting and plotting issues also didn’t help matters.

Given that, director Zack Snyder’s (Man Of Steel, 300, Watchmen) insistence on sticking with his darker take on the DC superhero universe, and early reviews which were generally scathing, I certainly didn’t walk into Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice with any sense of optimism. But, surprisingly, I walked out reasonably satisfied.

Yes, the movie remains unremittingly grey in both tone and palette almost throughout, but this time around that doesn’t detract as much as it did with its predecessor. This is partly due to the tale that Snyder and his writers Chris Terrio and David Goyer want to tell. It’s an exploration of the idea of superheroes as modern-day gods and their exploits as modern myths. How would the world react if these gods were to suddenly descend on us? What are the consequences of their actions? Snyder/Terrio/Goyer tackle these themes fairly successfully and the plotting/scripting (certain weaknesses on both fronts notwithstanding) is much better this time around as well.

The movie picks up almost directly from where Man Of Steel ended (after yet another retelling of Batman’s origin), though this time showing us the earlier film’s climactic battle between Superman and Zod from the vantage point of Bruce Wayne (Batman’s secret identity, in case you didn’t know). The death and destruction that the battle causes leaves Bruce/Batman seething and questioning whether an entity as powerful as Superman should be left unsupervised. It is the same question that the American and other world governments ask and it is the same suspicions that billionaire xenophobe Lex Luthor exploits in setting our heroes against each other. The titular battle between the two is done rather well though the subsequent battle with Doomsday - the deadly monster unleashed by Lex Luthor works slightly less better, enlivened though it is by the entrance of Wonder Woman.

I liked the performances in the movie as well. Henry Cavill does even better here as Superman/Clark Kent than he did in Man Of Steel - he’s grown into the role(s). Ben Affleck makes for a very effective older Batman, grown weary and cynical by the scars of his battles and, yes, perhaps even more cruel. Gal Gadot makes for a spectacular Wonder Woman and leaves you looking forward to her first solo adventure as the Amazon warrior (and that’s what she is as she so effectively demonstrates in the fleeting grin that crosses her face as she leaps into battle against Doomsday) scheduled to be released next year. Superman/Clark and Lois Lane’s (Amy Adams) relationship feels real. Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is fidgety and creepy and no less effective for it. Jeremy Irons’ Alfred plays well off Affleck’s Batman/Bruce.

Not everything works in the movie, however. The cameos by the other superheroes of the DC pantheon which are intended to carry their own future franchises as well as star in the intended sequel to BvS, The Justice League are rather underwhelming. A number of plot points are rather confusing (why does Batman get these flashes of the future?) and others just silly. Superman and Batman’s near disregard for ordinary human lives still galls as does the use of firearms by the latter (though I do understand it to be part of his journey on the road to redemption). The duo also prove to be rather too gullible and susceptible to Luthor’s machinations. And despite the movie’s darker intended tone it did need some lightening up - both figuratively and literally. After all, the sun does shine once in a while and even the gods do smile occasionally.

Cut to chase: Grim and dark but much better than Man Of Steel.

[email protected]; Twitter: @KhusroMumtaz

* Not on your life ** Hardly worth the bother **  ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only *** Good enough for a look see  ***½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection