Stephen Romei

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

Bat­man v Su­per­man: Dawn of Jus­tice Na­tional re­lease

As a boy I loved the now old-fash­ioned Su­per­man and Bat­man tele­vi­sion shows, star­ring Ge­orge Reeves and Adam West re­spec­tively. The cos­tumed crime fight­ers’ high-jinks, vo­cally pun­gent ad­ven­tures en­ter­tained and amused my young self. One of the great aspects of art, though, is its evo­lu­tion with that of its prac­ti­tion­ers and fol­low­ers, and so as an adult I far pre­fer the harder, tougher, meaner, self-doubt­ing su­per­hero in­car­na­tions, such as Chris­tian Bale’s re­mark­able Bat­man in Christo­pher Nolan’s 2005-12 The Dark Knight Tril­ogy. Zack Sny­der’s Bat­man v Su­per­man: Dawn of Jus­tice, which owes a bit to The Dark Knight of 2008, is a su­pe­rior su­per­hero film that puts for­ward com­plex, flawed char­ac­ters, ab­sorb­ing lo­ca­tions and in­tel­li­gent ideas, and par­al­lels the ter­ri­ble wrongs of our world.

In­deed, as I left the Syd­ney pre­view screen­ing of the film this week, my phone buzzed with news of the ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Brus­sels. It was a pow­er­ful re­minder — one that the en­gaged Sny­der seems aware of — that the daily evils we face have less to do with ac­tive gods and ex­trater­res­tri­als seek­ing spots on Earth than with the con­stant abuses of mere earth­lings. As off­sider Al­fred (an ex­cel­lent, re­strained Jeremy Irons) tells Bat­man (Ben Af­fleck) at one point: “What turns good men cruel?” Later, a bat­tered Su­per­man (Henry Cav­ill) laments: “Su­per­man was never real … just the dream of a farmer from Kansas.’’ The ti­tle sug­gests this is a bat­tle be­tween Bat­man and Su­per­man — and it is at times, spec­tac­u­larly so — but they are not the most dan­ger­ous in­hab­i­tants of the planet.

The ac­tion opens with a bril­liant reimag­in­ing of the con­clud­ing scenes in Sny­der’s Man of Steel (2013), in which the Kryp­to­nian forces as­sault Earth. We see it all from ground level, mainly though the pan­icked eyes of Bruce Wayne aka Bat­man. It’s thrilling, edge-of-the­seat stuff. We then move for­ward 18 months and drop in on chal­leng­ing places, in­clud­ing a ter­ror­ist camp in Africa that fea­tures reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and, soon af­ter, Su­per­man.

We learn that the hu­man pop­u­la­tion, as­sisted by a US govern­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion, has started to ques­tion the place and role of Su­per­man. “The world has been so caught up with what Su­per­man can do,’’ we are told, “no one has asked what he should do.” Out­side the US Capi­tol, pro­test­ers wave ban­ners that warn the caped cru­sader: “This is our world, not yours.” It’s a sen­ti­ment that may sound fa­mil­iar all over the world to­day.

Mean­while, in Gotham City, Bat­man has be­come a crime-fight­ing vig­i­lante, a role that earns him the dis­plea­sure of Lane’s news­pa­per The Daily Planet, edited by Perry White (Lau­rence Fish­burne). For those of us still left in print jour­nal­ism, there are some neat jokes here.

So we have two dam­aged su­per­heroes who have fallen a bit out of favour with the pub­lic. They are grown men yet in­ter­est­ingly in­ter­ro­gate their child­hoods. Then Bat­man — a twisted, pumped up Af­fleck — de­cides to take out Su­per­man, a de­ci­sion that takes us ul­ti­mately to the fight sug­gested in the “v” of the ti­tle. I won’t give away what hap­pens — heed­ing Sny­der’s plea in a taped in­ter­view that ran be­fore this week’s screen­ing, be­cause he wants ev­ery­one to en­joy the film with­out prior knowl­edge — but let’s just say there are some se­ri­ous sur­prises.

In­vent­ing sev­eral of the sur­prises is, for my money, the star of the film: Jesse Eisen­berg as the Su­per­man-hat­ing Lex Luthor. Eisen­berg, an in­trigu­ing ac­tor, brings a manic, in­sane, in­tel­li­gent in­ten­sity to the role of this small-of-stature but big­ger-than-Earth bad guy. It’s an elec­tric per­for­mance that re­minds me of Heath Ledger’s post­hu­mous Os­car for his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight. (Though of course Ledger should have won an Os­car sev­eral years ear­lier, while he was still with us, for Ang Lee’s Broke­back Moun­tain.) When some­one ac­cuses Lex Luthor of be­ing psy­chotic, he replies, “That’s a three-syl­la­ble word used to de­fine an idea too big for lit­tle minds.’’

Sny­der also in­tro­duces a hand­ful of comic char­ac­ters who will star in films he plans to make in com­ing years, most no­tably Won­der Woman (Is­raeli ac­tress Gal Gadot). But this out­ing is for Bat­man and Su­per­man and Lex Luthor, and it’s damn good.

At 2½ hours it per­haps goes on a bit too long — that and the com­pli­cated ideas and re­la­tion­ships made me glad I didn’t take my 10-year-old to see it. This is a high-qual­ity su­per­hero movie for adults, which is a pleas­ant, al­most su­per­hu­man, de­vel­op­ment.

Ben Af­fleck and Henry Cav­ill as Bat­man and Su­per­man

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