COMIC GE­NIUS

Bat­man, Su­per­man and Won­der Woman join forces in a high-stakes movie gam­ble that could take the su­per­hero genre to new heights or crash and burn, writes Ben Fritz

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

Bat­man v Su­per­man is an­other su­per­hero se­quel. It’s a clash of cul­tural icons. It’s about the pol­i­tics of mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion and ter­ror­ism. It’s in­spired by WH Au­den and Um­berto Eco. It’s the high­est-stakes movie pro­duced by a Hol­ly­wood stu­dio since James Cameron’s Avatar.

Bat­man v Su­per­man: Dawn of Jus­tice, open­ing on Thurs­day, is all th­ese things and more: a 2½-hour, $250 mil­lion col­lec­tion of Hol­ly­wood con­tra­dic­tions that could rise above the din of comic book adap­ta­tions or sink un­der its own bloated weight.

On its face, the movie seems like the most cyn­i­cal of ex­er­cises: how to fol­low up 2013’s Man of Steel, which re­ceived mixed crit­i­cal re­views, mixed re­ac­tions from fans and mixed re­sults at the box of­fice? (With $668 mil­lion be­ing, by big-bud­get su­per­hero stan­dards, not all that im­pres­sive th­ese days.)

The an­swer: make the fol­low-up even big­ger. Bring back Bat­man, last seen in Christo­pher Nolan’s 2012, tril­ogy-end­ing The Dark Knight Rises. Cast Ben Af­fleck as the caped cru­sader. Make them fight. But why just two su­per­heroes? Let’s in­tro­duce Won­der Woman. And give brief glimpses of char­ac­ters like Aqua­man, Cy­borg and Flash, who will soon get their own movies.

It’s not just a se­quel and not just a su­per­hero bat­tle royal. It’s the launch of a new “cin­e­matic uni­verse”, Hol­ly­wood-speak for a se­ries of in­ter­con­nected movies in which char­ac­ters co­ex­ist and sto­ries in­ter­weave. Dis­ney’s Marvel pi­o­neered the con­cept to great suc­cess and now Warner Bros has boldly an­nounced 10 DC movies to be re­leased over the next five years.

All of those films flow out of the plot and char­ac­ters es­tab­lished in Bat­man v Su­per­man. If any of them are go­ing to work, and Warner’s multi­bil­lion-dol­lar plan is to suc­ceed, this one has to be a hit.

“While each movie stands alone, they’re all part of one long arc of sto­ry­telling,” says pro­ducer Charles Roven. No pres­sure, in other words. Bat­man v Su­per­man comes amid hints that au­di­ences are tir­ing of tra­di­tional su­per­hero films. The last two re­leases were Au­gust’s megaflop Fan­tas­tic Four and last month’s sur­prise block­buster Dead­pool, which suc­ceeded by send­ing up ev­ery con­ven­tion of the genre.

In con­trast to Dead­pool, Bat­man v Su­per­man is deadly se­ri­ous, con­tin­u­ing a pat­tern set in Bat­man Be­gins of try­ing to ground DC movies in what Warner pro­duc­tion chief Greg Sil­ver­man calls “the big emo­tions of the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence.”

“Fun” and “fam­ily-friendly” won’t be the first words most peo­ple use af­ter see­ing a film that’s more re­venge tragedy than brain­less slugfest.

Still, au­di­ence in­ter­est is strong two weeks ahead of the pic­ture’s de­but, with re­search in­di­cat­ing it will open in the US to about $140 mil­lion — per­haps slightly above the min­i­mum Warner needs to de­clare it a bona fide block­buster.

When kick­ing off the equiv­a­lent of a fiveyear plan, one might ex­pect the stu­dio to keep a dic­ta­to­rial grip on the cre­ative process. But though it’s the in­dus­try’s big­gest stu­dio, Warner has also earned a rep­u­ta­tion as the most ac­com­mo­dat­ing to film­mak­ers.

It’s the stu­dio that last year al­lowed Ge­orge Miller to soar with Mad Max: Fury Road and the Wa­chowskis to crash and burn with Jupiter As­cend­ing. It has been the home of Man of Steel di­rec­tor Zack Sny­der for a decade, through hits like 300 and flops like Sucker Punch.

On Bat­man v Su­per­man, Warner paired Sny­der with Chris Ter­rio, the “bril­liant, bril­liant, com­pli­cated” — in the words of Roven — Os­car-win­ning writer of Argo, who did a ma­jor re­write of the script (he shares credit with Man of Steel writer David Goyer).

Ter­rio is a for­mer stu­dent of Bri­tish lit­er­a­ture and phe­nomenol­ogy who dropped out of a masters pro­gram at Cam­bridge Univer­sity to study film. On his first big-bud­get movie, he cites as in- flu­ences not just Frank Miller’s sem­i­nal comic­book minis­eries The Dark Knight Re­turns (which fea­tures its own Bat­man-Su­per­man bat­tle) and Nolan’s tril­ogy of Bat­man films. He also in­vokes Ital­ian semi­oti­cian Um­berto Eco’s 1972 es­say The Myth of Su­per­man and the WH Au­den poem Musee des Beaux Arts, which con­trasts the quo­tid­ian de­tails of nor­mal peo­ple’s lives with the epic strug­gles of mytho­log­i­cal fig­ures.

“Given the scale, you would think the whole thing has a cor­po­rate stench, but the way we worked there was this qual­ity of ‘I can’t be­lieve they’re let­ting us do this’,” Ter­rio says.

The screen­writer went to great lengths to es­tab­lish the movie’s tit­u­lar con­flict as more than the tra­di­tional comic-book gim­mick of two su­per­heroes tricked by a vil­lain.

Bat­man v Su­per­man’s open­ing se­quence re­plays the fi­nal mo­ments of Man of Steel, a sky­high brawl be­tween Su­per­man and Kryp­to­nian vil­lain Gen­eral Zod, from the per­spec­tive of a civil­ian on the ground: Bruce Wayne.

In the 2012 movie, the scene was widely panned for por­tray­ing Su­per­man as too vi­o­lent and un­con­cerned about col­lat­eral dam­age. Af­fleck’s char­ac­ter agrees, draw­ing im­plicit com­par­isons to mil­i­tary drones and even 9/11 as he im­po­tently watches the de­struc­tion of a Wayne En­ter­prises build­ing in which his em­ploy­ees are maimed and killed.

The liken­ing of Henry Cav­ill’s Su­per­man to a self-right­eous mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion­ist con­tin­ues when he res­cues Amy Adams’s Lois Lane from a re­port­ing trip gone wrong in Africa. He is blamed for more col­lat­eral dam­age there.

Af­fleck’s Bat­man, on the other hand, makes Chris­tian Bale’s ver­sion of the char­ac­ter in Nolan’s movies look like a pushover. A griz­zled 40-some­thing who seems on the verge of re­tire­ment, death or a men­tal break­down, he lit­er­ally brands en­e­mies with the sym­bol of a bat and

Ben Af­fleck, di­rec­tor Zack Sny­der and Henry Cav­ill; Gal Gadot as Won­der Woman, above

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