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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Movie Review: 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice'

After a rough start, BVSDOJ serves up a powerful emotional punch.

Review by Matt Cummings

For a film that has gained so much attention since its year-long delay, expectations for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice couldn't be greater and perhaps more unrealistic. That's perhaps Warner Bros' fault for concocting a tale near the end - rather than at the beginning - of a universe with so much promise. And while the emotional punch of Act 3 is profound, some of the build up is clunky and its mythology doesn't have time to properly develop.

It's been nearly two years since Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod (Michael Shannon) destroyed much of Metropolis, leaving many to ponder their role in a world where gods do exist. To some like Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) and even Batman (Ben Affleck), such forces represent a true evil that must be wiped out. But others aren't so sure, including a mysterious woman (Gal Gadot) and the reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Ready to battle the most powerful man on Earth, The Dark Knight sets in motion a plan for an epic showdown without considering that he might be a pawn in Luthor's greater scheme.

Let's put a couple of early concerns to rest: Affleck is terrific as Batman, Gadot is pure beast as Wonder Woman, and the Doomsday appearance is as epic as anything Marvel has conjured up. Affleck easily slips in to the role, mixing the billionaire playboy with the gritty realism of a brutal warrior who won and lost much in 20 years of crime fighting. And he is a pure badass here, perhaps the best Batman ever, not just because he delivers the most powerful punches but because of the emotional change he undergoes as the film progresses. Without giving anything away, it's clear that Wayne doesn't understand who his true enemy is and makes clear mistakes as he chooses to engage Superman. That's the mark of human error, something our heroes aren't supposed to embody, and yet it works so well here. I have zero worry about Affleck now, his presence is as evocative as anything we've seen this year.

Gadot is perhaps the most pleasant surprise, a thoroughly agreeable mix that should win over a lot of people who worried when Snyder cast her. And yet, Wonder Woman's arc is frustratingly inadequate: by the end we know nothing of her intentions, how she became apparently immortal, and why she remained on the sidelines until now. All of these promise to be revealed when her origin movie arrives in 2017, but it will weigh on you to see it played out here. But make no mistake: Gadot is a winner, ready to assume her position as the final member of DC's Trinity.

Other returning players like Adams and Lawrence Fishburne as Perry White are pitch perfect, while Jeremy Irons as the new snarky Alfred could give Michael Caine's version a run for his money. Then there's Eisenberg, who will either be viewed as a rip off of Jack Nicholson's Joker or another masterful bit of casting. Luthor is immediately unbalanced with Eisenberg reveling in such a meaty role, vacillating between brilliant scientist and mass murderer at the flip of a switch. He acts as the notorious chessmaster, ready to destroy the world in order to keep Superman and others like him from overtaking the planet. This doesn't happen because Luthor is an unbalanced hero, but a psychopath just waiting to become unglued. His will probably be the most debated aspect of BvS, which I'm sure its director might not have intended.

And yes, there are appearances by other metahumans, but they aren't around long enough for us to get a better idea about them. All we know is that Luthor has been studying them, but like Wonder Woman we have no idea why they're here or if their purpose is friendly or merely disinterested. Issues like these plague BVSDOJ, adding perhaps the final chapter to a debate that's been around awhile: should DC have made separate origin stories ala Marvel instead of cramming several heroes into a longer movie? There's bound to be valid reasons on both sides, but consider if The Empire Strikes Back - typically considered the best Star Wars movie and sequel ever - had been made first and not A New Hope. BVSDOJ feels like huge chunks of story are waiting for their own origins, which would make sense provided they had already been made. A movie like The Avengers would have suffered horribly under these conditions, and it's likely that curious moviegoers will be largely lost as these various permutations make their appearances, some in confusing dream moments like The Flash (Ezra Miller). Still, Director Zack Snyder's nearly insurmountable challenge here - to rapidly expand this universe in the opposite direction - is at one point bigger and more epic than any Marvel movie, certainly more poignant, and definitely heart-wrenching as well.

A decade from now, fans new to the League-verse will most likely watch BVSDOJ as the penultimate - rather than the first - tale leading up to the two-part Justice League, during which time Snyder's expansive, sometimes brilliant, but frustratingly exhaustive effort might be better appreciated. For now, it's likely to divide audiences familiar with the story and alienate those who took a chance based on the big fight sequences so prominently displayed in the trailers. Either way, it's certain to make an immediate and big splash as word of its stunning reveals spreads.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality and has a runtime of 153 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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