Re­view: ‘Bat­man v Su­per­man’ takes charm­ing tra­di­tion to the gut­ter

Sun.Star Cebu Weekend - - Contents - By Jake Coyle AP Film Writer

ZAC Sny­der’s thun­der­ing and grim “Bat­man v Su­per­man: Dawn of Jus­tice” of­fers the kind of blunt, mano-a-mano face­off usu­ally re­served for Preda­tors, Godzil­las and pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates.

And just as has of­ten been said of this elec­tion year, “Bat­man v Su­per­man” takes a once al­most charm­ing tra­di­tion and plunges it into the gut­ter. Long gone are the tele­phone booths, corn fields or any other such to­kens of in­no­cence. And given the pre­vail­ing cli­mate, Sny­der may have judged the rock ’em­sock’ em mo­ment wisely. Gen­tle­men, keep your fists up and your capes neatly tucked.

“Bat­man v Su­per­man,” as heavy and hu­mor­less as a Supreme Court de­ci­sion, is an 18-wheeler of a movie lum­ber­ing through a fallen world. It hur­tles not with the ki­netic mo­men­tum of “Mad Max: Fury Road” nor the com­par­a­tively spry skip of a Mar­vel movie, but with an op­er­atic grandeur it some­times earns and of­ten doesn’t.

This is “Par­adise Lost” for su­per­heroes. It twists and grinds two of the most clas­sic comic heroes, wring­ing new, less al­tru­is­tic emo­tions out of them un­til their dash­ing smiles turn to an­gry gri­maces.

Af­ter a hand­some, im­pres­sion­is­tic mon­tage of Bat­man’s iconic child­hood, the film picks up where Sny­der’s Su­per­man re­boot “Man of Steel” left off but from a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive. Bruce Wayne (Ben Af­fleck) is driv­ing through the fall­ing de­bris of Me­trop­o­lis while Su­per­man (Henry Cav­ill) ca­reens care­lessly above.

Sny­der has chan­neled the back­lash over the high death-toll fi­nale into Wayne, who bit­terly watches Su­per­man from the dust-filled air on the ground — a cheap evo­ca­tion of Sept. 11 de­signed to add solem­nity where there isn’t any.

Months later, the two are still dis­trust­fully cir­cling each other. Sny­der, work­ing from a script by Chris Ter­rio (“Argo”) and David Goyer (“Man of Steel”), delves

into their op­po­site na­tures: one a god­like power from an­other planet who fa­vors pri­mary col­ors, the other a well-equipped hu­man prone to a darker pal­ette.

At a party thrown by Lex Luthor (the badly mis­cast Jesse Eisen­berg), the bil­lion­aire-in­ven­tor who’s se­cretly weaponiz­ing Kryp­tonite, their two al­ter-egos are sur­pris­ingly pas­sive ag­gres­sive. Kent, the re­porter, queries Wayne about “the bat vig­i­lante prob­lem,” while Wayne, cit­ing the lauda­tory cov­er­age of Su­per­man in the Daily Planet, voices his dis­taste for “freaks who dress like clowns.”

Both are com­bat­ing a new en­vi­ron­ment for su­per­heroes best ar­tic­u­lated by none other than astro­physi­cist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who, on TV, de­scribes su­per­men as al­ter­ing man’s as­sumed supremacy in the uni­verse like Coper­ni­cus’ dis­cov­er­ies did. “We’re crim­i­nals, Al­fred,” Bat­man, fresh from tor­tur­ing a foe, tells his but­ler (Jeremy Irons, adding an icy flare to the char­ac­ter). “We’ve al­ways been crim­i­nals.”

Luthor’s plot grad­u­ally brings the heroes into the same or­bit, along with Won­der Woman (Gal Gadot). But it’s the gen­uine rigor of Sny­der’s en­gage­ment with the psy­chol­ogy of Su­per­man and Bat­man that keeps the film grounded and the ri­valry plau­si­ble. See­ing the two warp to­ward vil­lainy may be a trick, like “Se­in­feld’s” Jerry and Kramer switch­ing apart­ments, but “Bat­man v Su­per­man” is se­ri­ous about con­tem­plat­ing the cu­ri­ous po­si­tions these all-pow­er­ful be­ings oc­cupy in a world that has grown to re­sent their might.

It’s in some ways an ideal film for Sny­der, an ex­cep­tion­ally un-sub­tle film­maker with the sen­si­bil­ity of a car crash. But as the di­rec­tor of “300,” he knows his way around a ram­ming col­li­sion. And un­like Mar­vel films, DC Comic adap­ta­tions have, for bet­ter (Christo­pher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” tril­ogy) and worse (“Man of Steel”), been works of dis­tinct direc­tors.

Sny­der’s com­mand is less sure when it comes to, well, nor­mal life. “Bat­man v Su­per­man” would rather spend its lengthy run­ning time in the throes of myth than some­where like the of­fices of the Daily Planet, where the em­i­nently pert Amy Adams (Lois Lane) breezes in and out.

As for the much dis­cussed cast­ing of Af­fleck, Keaton and Bale have lit­tle to worry about. But Af­fleck is a wor­thy heir to the part, al­beit with a chin that’s a dead give­away in the suit. If any­thing, there’s only so much room for in­di­vid­ual per­for­mance here; when ar­mored, Af­fleck’s al­ready beefed-up Bat­man looks like a tank.

There’s an el­e­men­tal fun in positing the win­ners of su­per­hero square offs. Is the Flash faster than Su­per­man? Is Aqua­man or Won­der Woman the bet­ter tip­per? Is ev­ery­body just kind of weirded out by the Sil­ver Surfer?

Such de­bates are pred­i­cated on their in­her­ent silli­ness, some­thing the self-se­ri­ous “Bat­man v Su­per­man” ig­nores. Sny­der’s task is con­sid­er­able in that he’s mar­ry­ing the re­al­is­tic crime world of Bat­man and the more fan­tas­ti­cal realm of Su­per­man, plus pro­vid­ing the req­ui­site cameos (in­clud­ing Ja­son Mo­moa’s Aqua­man and Ezra Miller’s Flash) to tease movies to come.

But what’s there to fight about any­way? The most im­por­tant bat­tle was al­ready de­cided: Bat­man, long our fa­vorite, al­ready has top billing. Two and a half stars out of four.

(AP PHOTO)

This im­age re­leased by Warner Bros. Pic­tures shows Ben Af­fleck ( left) and Henry Cav­ill in a scene from, “Bat­man v Su­per­man: Dawn of Jus­tice.”

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