Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is indeed Warner Bros answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe – a realization that more is more when it comes to bringing their stable of DC’s most famous superheroes to the same screen. Where Disney’s Avengers are often considerably lighter in tone, these caped crusaders bring the bleakness to their proceedings. The template set forth by Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and Snyder’s Man of Steel is present here with the additional responsibility to begin the forthcoming Justice League series. At two and a half hours, BvS does feel overstuffed from time to time. There are elements that just don’t work, but I came away believing its merits outweighed its flaws. More is more, from the Nigel Tufnel approved decibel level of its score and sound effects to a variety of subplots fighting against one another for a cohesive whole. It shouldn’t work as well as it does and that’s a compliment to the director and the actors (most of them at least).
The film picks up 18 months after Man of Steel, when Henry Cavill’s Supes defeated General Zod (Michael Shannon), who appears in a lifeless performance and I don’t mean that negatively. That throwdown with Zod and the casualties that resulted has caused some in the public and some in the government to question Superman’s role in society. This includes a Kentucky senator (Holly Hunter) who’s opened hearings into it. She is not, however, his most important detractor. Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) is. Gotham City’s morose bachelor doesn’t believe Kal-El stands for Truth or Justice or the American Way. It leads to a royal rumble between them that marks the inaugural time we’ve seen these giants in tights together.
Due to the aforementioned Justice League features coming soon to a megaplex near you, we also are introduced to Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and briefly to some others. Gadot shines enough in her limited role to make us curious for her stand alone pic. Then there’s Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), who serves as our main antagonist. Eisenberg, who’s shined himself in certain roles, doesn’t here. His overacting and strange mannerisms (along with some doozies of dialogue) make him the weakest link here. Other supporting players from Man of Steel are back, including Laurence Fishburne as Perry White and Diane Lane as Clark’s beloved mama. Amy Adams’ Lois Lane is back as well and she’s grown better into her part the second time around. Jeremy Irons debuts as Batman butler Alfred. He doesn’t get much screen time and certainly won’t make you forget Michael Caine.
Henry Cavill continues his serviceable service as Superman. The best surprise is Affleck, who entered the unenviable position of following Christian Bale. He does a fine job as the beleaguered Wayne wrestling with his own demons (his parents murder is shown… again) and his distrust of the God like hero from Metropolis. I’m happy to report Affleck looks good in the Bat Suit and the screenplay even explains that lower register voice when he dons it.
BvS has a LOT of ground to cover between its action set pieces. The danger for this to feel fragmented and unfocused occasionally manifests itself, but it feels more united than it really has any right to. The main villain is a disappointment. Some of the special effects look suspect. Most look fantastic. Here we have a grim comic book tale that generally accomplishes its mission of being fairly decent dark entertainment. It also appears primed to achieve its studio’s mission statement: the birth of a franchise and keeping these icons flying on.
*** (out of four)