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Zack Snyder paves the way for a DC Comics universe on the big screen with an exhilarating, scattered showdown between two most famous comicbook heroes – Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice.
It is Batman or Superman, who could be the winner? Could Superman be outrunned by the Flash? Could Superman craft a boulder so heavy even he couldn’t lift it?
While Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice seemingly seeks to tackle the first of those evergreen schoolyard hypotheticals, it’s the third that ends up proving the greatest test for Zack Snyder.
Coupled with colliding the two of the most iconic American superheroes while also answering critics of his last outing, “Man of Steel” and perhaps most importantly, clearing way for an extended DC Comics universe on films on which much of Warner Bros. future relies, Snyder has set a Sisyphean mission for himself. But among all the draining work of saving the world and shouldering a franchise toward the heights, it would be nice to see these heroes, and the series, take a few more breathers to enjoy the view.
Proving that the placement of names in the title isn’t simply in an alphabetical order, the first few reels of Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice are dominated by the Caped Crusader, with controversial star Ben Affleck stepping quite confidently into the role.
Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice starts with yet another unavoidable operatic depiction of the young Bruce Wayne’s most formative trauma – Thomas and Martha Wayne have been killed so many times in so many different media that their deaths may as well be one of the Stations of the Cross – but our first glance of the adult Wayne is hardly standard issue.
In a civilian-level point of view of the catastrophic destruction of Metropolis that ended “Man of Steel” on a contentious note, we saw Wayne attempts to remotely evacuate his own Metropolitan Wayne Enterprises skyscraper, crippled by a wayward Superman (Henry Cavill) as he faces with General Zod just outside the frame. Despite his mad drive through the battle-torn streets, Wayne arrives just in time to watch, and feels horrified, as a friendly security guard loses his legs and a young girl suddenly becomes an orphan.
One of Snyder’s most interesting gambles if setting Wayne up as the film’s initial, especially as his Batman quickly develops into the most morally ambiguous iteration of the character yet. More than willing to shoot, brutalize and kill if needed, this Batman is still a mystery figure in Gotham, and Snyder refrains from showing us the character in full cowl until surprisingly late in the game.
Luckily, Affleck’s Wayne is a winningly irritable, charismatic presence even without his costume. Diving headfirst into the sorts of detective work that Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy often short-shrifted, Wayne casts a skeptical eye on Superman while investigating a mysterious underworld figure named White Portuguese, his footsteps traced by a relatively mysterious woman played by Gal Gadot.
Meanwhile, Superman has hardly recovered from his chaotic battle with Zod when controversy strikes yet again. Despite having been welcomed as a savior by most of Metropolis, in the events of rescuing Lois Lane (Amy Adams) from a terrorist interview gone horribly wrong, he’s accused for the deaths of several African villagers. This catch attention of the scrutiny of the crusading southern Senator Finch (Holly Hunter), who heads up a Congressional Superman Committee, disturbed by the Krypton’s exercise of one-sided power.
She gains an unpleasing ally in a cheeky young industrialist named Alexander “Lex” Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), who hopes to trick her into allowing him to import a mysterious glowing green substance discovered in the Indian Ocean. Scarfing Jolly Ranchers, quoting Nabokov and showing up to formal events with a white blazer and sneakers, Eisenberg tackles Luthor as the programmer from hell, a chattily malicious character who provides the only real moments of levity in the film.
Juggling all of these strands while steadily preparing for the battle promised in the title, Snyder sometimes fails to keep track of his various allegories. Scripters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer provide kernels of philosophical and theological quandaries throughout, while their nods toward contemporary political debates are more complex than the scattered visual might seem to infer.
However, the clash between different ideologies promised by the central conflict – vigilante justice vs. self-sacrificing restraint, night vs. day, Dionysus vs. Apollo – never grows quite as forcefully as it should, and the life-or-death battle between the two iconic superheroes ultimately comes down to a series of misunderstandings.
While Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice, Dark Knight may seem more of a pure punisher than some fans would want, Snyder’s conception of the character at least feels fully made. Superman remains something of a work-in-progress. Daily Planet scenes are even more hurried this time around, and Adams’ Lois has lots to do but little to say.
As a pure visual spectacle, however, Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice ably blows the hinges off the multiplex doors, and the editor David Brenner performs excellent work to comprehensibly streamline the chaos, capably captured by d.p. Larry Fong. Composers Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL are once again the key assets here, with Gadot’s theme in particular proving quite infectious.
Snyder largely lessen his penchant for hyper-stylized combat imagery until the very end, when he stages a series of galactic battles that take style notes from sources as varied as classic WWE rumbles and Harryhausen creature features. As overblown as the lengthy clash might become, Snyder gets closer than ever before to the shade of classic comics, and even if his meticulous efforts to avoid reopening “Man of Steel’s” collateral damage debates are a bit on the nose, at least he’s clearly understood the message.
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