Directed by Zack Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck Henry Cavill Amy Adams Jesse Eisenberg Gal Gadot Jeremy Irons
The two most famous superheroes in the world finally meet on the big screen. In 2013 Man of Steel established a new cinematic universe for characters from DC Comics. With plenty of plot threads left open director Zack Snyder saw the perfect opportunity for a sequel that would not only deal with the fallout caused by an aliens arrival on our planet but how men and women both good and bad would react to this.
The sequel picks up two years later, Superman is a figure of controversy throughout the world as lauded as he is for helping people he is viewed with suspicion by many others. Primary among these is Bruce Wayne aka Batman. After a beautifully shot slow motion introduction showing the murder of his parents (for anyone on Earth who didn’t know Batman’s origin, yes there are probably a few, still this gets it out of the way quickly and shows newcomers why Bruce does what he does) we are plunged straight into the action.
In a brilliant reversal director Zack Snyder takes us back to the climatic events of Man of Steel. In that movie we looked from on high at the destruction wrought by General Zod in his battle with Superman. Now we see it from the ground up as Bruce Wayne leaps from a helicopter and straight into a waiting car so he can zoom to his skyscraper in Metropolis (now located geographically not too far from Gotham). This sequence is terrifically shot as Bruce speeds through the city, buildings crumble around him, cars explode and the viewer can’t be sure what will happen next. Eventually he abandons his car and witnesses the collapse of his building and even though he rescues a man whose legs have been crushed and saves a little girl from falling debris in his mind the damage is deeper. Affleck’s performance throughout the movie is superb but special mention here for the look of intensity he shoots skyward. Played through his eyes you can see for Batman this is the moment, the decision is made. Superman is dangerous and has more power than anyone should have. He must be stopped.
As we skip back to present day we see that the city of Metropolis is recovering from the conflict. The beautiful Heroes Park has been built in the middle of the city which contains a monument to the victims and a statue of Superman at it’s center. It’s clear that for a large number of people he is the savior this world needs. Clark Kent and Lois Lane have settled into a domestic life together, sharing an apartment (and in a playful scene a lot more too) as they work alongside each other at the Daily Planet.
A superhero movie needs a villain and in this case it’s one of the most famous in the DC pantheon, Lex Luthor (played by Jesse Eisenberg) is here a long way from the middle aged bald man of the comics. He is now a young, technological philanthropist. With a public persona that is neurotic, squeaky voiced and a mind that is seemingly all over the place audiences maybe shocked. How can this wimpy little guy be any kind of threat but that’s the genius of the performance. Eisenberg plays Lex with two facets. He has a public image of being a little bit bonkers but behind closed doors he is all kinds of cool, cold and calculating. His scenes with Senator Finch (played by Holly Hunter) crackle with danger and menace. His neurotic personality meaning you are never quite sure if he is going to charm her or strike her. We can see he has a history of being afraid of powerful men (an off hand remark about being beaten by his late father), he has to be at the top of the world and Superman represents a threat to his position.
Superman is being called to answer for his actions after an incident in Africa where he rescues Lois from local militia but is blamed for the execution of several men. We all know he is innocent but he the Senate hearing wants answers and the calls continue for someone to keep his power in check. This is presented via a series of television interviews with politicians and in a canny piece of casting real world astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
If you are reading this and thinking it all sounds a bit serious you would be right. There are a few one liner’s scattered throughout the film but for the most part it is played absolutely straight. This is a blockbuster movies that wants to challenge you, to engage your brain and for you to ask questions. Who is right, what does power do to us and what would happen if we had to much power? In a world of movies especially big budget ones that require you to just sit back as they go from one explosive set piece to the next a film like this makes a refreshing change. Snyder and DC should be applauded for trying something different.
Does this mean they pull it off perfectly? Absolutely not, no film will ever be perfect and here the first half of the film has some pacing issues and the second throws in a few too many subplots. The latter point was always going to evident though as DC are taking a different route with introducing other heroes into their movies by ways of cameos here before they spin off into their own films. This perhaps could have used some tighter editing and more invention (as three of them are first glimpsed being watched on a laptop screen by another character) but we at least get a flavor of these other heroes and fans will be left wanting more.
Perhaps the most significant introduction of all though is the most famous female hero of all time. It may seem unbelievable that Wonder Woman (played here by Gal Gadot) has never been in a movie before but here she is at last. And what an introduction it is, we glimpse her civilian alter ego throughout the film where she has some fun scenes with Bruce Wayne before finally appearing in all her costumed glory. Instantly recognizable in her famous costume, she leaps into battle with a cry that will have fans punching the air in celebration. It’s cleverly explained why she takes so long to get involved and will leave you waiting with bated breath for her solo film which will be in cinemas in 2017. Special mention to the music here too as her theme is driving and powerful and will end up going round in your head long after you leave the cinema.
Hans Zimmer returns to score the movie, expanding upon his work in Man of Steel (he is joined by JunkieXL who has a co-writing credit for the music). Familiar motifs return and Zimmer continues his ability to make the hairs on your neck stand on end especially Superman’s music chimes in as he rescues a little girl from a burning building. This brief scene is a real highlight and really hammers home how much some people see the hero as a deity, a modern day Jesus who will save us all. This is not a crown that sits comfortably atop our heroes head and in his quite performance actor Henry Cavill keeps Superman relevant to everyday people by not being full of bravado. Some critics will moan and complain about him being dour but this reflects the time we live in, where millions of voices scream their opinions all clamoring louder than the other in their efforts to be heard. Superman just wants to help but he doesn’t know how to help everyone. His greatest weakness isn’t Kryptonite, it’s that he can’t save everyone all of the time. This grounds him and even though he is an alien makes him human.
If you can guarantee one thing when watching a movie directed by Zack Snyder it’s that the action will be big, spectacular and intense. You will not be disappointed when the two heroes finally square off. Batman as most of the world knows has no superpowers so how might you ask will he go to toe to toe with an alien with super strength? In this case by using an armored power suit and some very resourceful thinking to make the fight much more even. Their brawl through an abandoned building keeps upping the stakes and is concluded in a very clever and unique way (though you will have to see the movie as this review won’t be spoiling the outcome). There are several other scenes outside the big brawl which also merit mention including an adrenalin pumping car chase involving the Batmobile and a warehouse fight involving Batman and several heavily armed enemies. Snyder also throws in some dream sequences which contain some scary imagery so you may want to check the film before showing it to youngsters.
At the movies end there are enough plot threads left open that will let DC continue making movies and developing their characters. Wonder Woman is next and will show her origin (as it is only hinted at here) before the big team up film Justice League.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a densely plotted, brilliantly acted film full of incredible action and thought provoking characters. You should see it on the biggest screen possible so you can not only appreciate the spectacle but also enjoy a film that has been carefully crafted by a director and production team who obviously care deeply about the world they show us. It tips its hat to several famous comics, most notably the seminal story The Dark Knight Returns but also nods to fan favorites such as Crisis and Kingdom Come. An excellent film that will bear many a repeat viewing.