Review: 'Batman vs Superman'

'Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice' is a smarter movie than previous Man of Steel, and there are incidents that prove how deeply Snyder feels about these caped characters.
CAPED CRUSADERS: 'Batman vs. Superman' isn't as bad as the critics say. But that doesn't mean it's great.

It's 18 months since a Kryptonean war party all but demolished Metropolis and killed thousands—"Man is introduced to the Superman" says a Nietzschean title in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Our blue-clad hero (Henry Cavill) is beleaguered by a senate investigation led by a firm yet sympathetic southern senator (Holly Hunter).

Behind the scenes, the wealthy Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is pestering the government to get his hands on a Kryptonian weapon that will protect the Earth from further attack. He has no faith in Superman's goodness: "We don't have to depend on the kindness of monsters," Luthor says. When Batman (Ben Affleck) interferes with Luthor's schemes, the plutocrat uses kidnapping and extortion to send Superman after Batman's head.

Let's play "Never Have I Ever." If never have you ever owned a toy Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman, maybe you should bypass Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and look in on the next Justice League movie, which might have wider appeal, some daylight and some humor to it. Certainly the sequel will have a lot more of the exotic and funny Gal Gadot—she has a small role here as the mysterious Diana Prince, better known as Wonder Woman. Cole Porter's "Night and Day" is on the soundtrack, in case we didn't get it—the Batman vs. Superman conflict is supposed to be as elemental as the difference between night and day, Lucifer v. God, or at least the death god Anubis versus a solar deity.

And we get honest hackles seeing Superman worshipped; even soldiers are seen kneeling to Superman, at least in Batman's nightmares. (It's established here that Batman has bad dreams, no surprise there.) Bruce Wayne, Batman's other self, was on the ground to witness to the devastation of the Kryptonian attack. It was like a month of September 11ths in one day. What seemed bludgeoning action cinema in Zack Snyder's Man of Steel now has a reason to exist.

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice is a smarter movie than Snyder's previous Man of Steel, and there are incidents that prove how deeply Snyder feels about these caped characters. A family perches atop their flooded house, with the Kryptonian rune on Superman's chest painted on their roof as an SOS. The silently-screaming rubber cowl of Batman is held up by a furious Superman. There are a hundred moments in this movie that would have made an indelible comic book cover. Snyder engineers a rousing battle between Batman and a small army of mercenaries that's as magic as the glory days of 1990s Hong Kong cinema.Zach De La Rosa, 17, sits down for a mock job interview on March 25 at Gilroy High School with Cpt. Pedro Espinoza from the Gilroy Police Department and Sam Bozo, an advisory board member of Pinnacle Bank.

He also gives us the less that is, ultimately, more. We see the aftermath of a Batman visit to LexCorp: broken glass, bullet shells, drifting smoke, a few dozen SWAT police armored and brandishing rifles. The center piece is a smashed and robbed vitrine with a batarang sticking out of it. Another fairytale moment at the end: Batman slamming his mark upon a wall. As Tyrone Power's Zorro said, "This is to remind you that I have been here once, and can return."

Over the titles, Snyder retells the story without dialogue of the Wayne family's last outing, which, as tradition holds, was to a revival of Rouben Mamoulian's 1940 Mark of Zorro. As sick of origin stories as they might be, serious fans feel about the death of Martha and Thomas Wayne as a Shiite feel about the death of the Prophet's nephew Ali: they can't get over it, and they tear up every time they hear about it.

The killing of the Waynes sums up every bit of misery guns have brought to our nation, in one well-known image. Fictional as it is, it's the one story anti-gun control fanatics can't wave away. Later in the film, when Laurence Fishburne's Perry White mentions the 1960s assassinations as causing the death of American idealism—and please speak for yourself, baby-boomer--that grief seems immaterial, fictional, smaller.

When Batman vs. Superman starts, Batman has been practicing his peculiar craft for 20 years—he's the same age as Ben Affleck who plays him. "Too old to die young" as Alfred (Jeremy Irons) puts it. (Irons is taking up the Alan Rickman slow-dialogue movement, displaying better acting through enunciation.)

Affleck has probably wanted to wear the cape on screen since he was a kid, and he's game, a bit of a bastard as Bruce Wayne. The voice of the Bat is disguised through some technical means in his suit. Great idea. A lesser idea is giving Wayne some deeper moments, where he wonders aloud about what his legacy to the future will be. As a rule for directing Affleck, it's best to keep him in the present tense, and don't give him too many deep thoughts to think.

Cavill is a bit of a stick, a handsome one; but the Lois/Superman romance—so rich with the possibility for pathos—has grown physical. Amy Adams' Lois shares her bathtub with Clark, so at least we know things have developed.

The combat, when it comes, is staged in Detroit's derelict Michigan Central Railway Station, posing as Gotham City. Batman is unaesthetically packed into a thick suit of armor outfitted with little bat ears. After going to lengths to make them fight, Lex decides not to watch the match, even by close circuit TV. It's that kind of a movie.

A Superman movie is only as good as its Lex, and Jesse Eisenberg plays Luthor as a gabbling, millennial caricature, the Silicon Valley millionaire as imagined by people who really hate their guts. This madman raves, fast. Lex's gab is sometimes literary—at one point, he calls the kidnapped Lois "Lo in slacks." That monster, even Vladimir Nabokov isn't holy to him!

One of the instances that makes this fist-fight all worthwhile is the look of scorn on Diana's face when Lex flaunts his classical knowledge—she was there in Ancient Greece, after all. The boorish zillionaire, with his irritating shag haircut, thinks he owns the very sword used by Alexander the Great to cut the Gordian Knot. Remember that a mural of this decisive scene was a mural in Ozymandius' lair in Snyder's The Watchmen. Bruce Wayne and Diana share a moment of pleased detection—they know a fake antique when they see one.

Still, the script BvS is guaranteed to make people stop complaining about the sloppiness of the third act of Spectre. There should have been a center to all this mayhem; there's never a clear vision of competing views of America that could give this story a higher wattage. Superman is how we love to see ourselves in this country. At night we brood in our caves, glare at our screens, and conjure up visions of the maniacs lurking outside.

Leading up to a seriously-folks finale, there's a very strange moment at the ending—a rally at a colossal statue of a kneeling Superman, in a pose of offering his hand to the world. Someone thanking the high-flying hero has scrawled in chalk, "If you seek his monument, look around you." These are the words Sir Christopher Wren's son wrote to honor his father, the noted architect. Our vision of shock and awe has changed from the grandeur of St. Paul's Cathedral to a city full of smashed buildings.

Find Movie Theaters & Showtimes

Zip Code or City:   Radius: Theaters: