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There’s a lot to appreciate about Zack Snyder’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” And a lot to not appreciate.
Let’s start with the good stuff.
First and foremost, I appreciate Warner Brothers’ all-out effort at creating an alternative superhero universe to Disney’s full-blown Marvel Comics world. Marvel has dominated Hollywood of late with a string of popular and critical hits like “Ironman,” “Captain America,” “Thor,” and “The Avengers.”
Marvel’s comic book rival, D.C. Comics, has been casting about for a strong response, following the completion of Christopher Nolan’s Batman (Dark Knight) Trilogy a few years ago. “Batman v. Superman,” hopes to launch the entire Justice League roster, not just the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel, but also Wonder Woman, Flash, and Aquaman.
And to Warner Brothers’ and Snyder’s credit, this new film looks and feels very different from the Marvel brand. If Marvel’s world is splashy and flashy and its heroes colorful and quippy, this new D.C. world is dark and threatening, its heroes serious and brooding. As good as the Marvel films are, we don’t need another comic book franchise that simply repeats the Marvel template, so kudos for this distinctive take.
As for this particular film, it has at its core the kernel of a great idea. Take two very iconic do-gooders, Batman and Superman, and have them critique each others’ notions of good and evil, of justice and morality. For all their heroic status, they represent clashing moral philosophies, two very different ideas of the social good.
Superman, for instance, sees Batman as a petty vigilante, at one point calling him a one-man reign of terror. As reporter Clark Kent, Superman queries Bruce Wayne about the dangers of an unchecked Batman.
“Mr. Wayne. Clark Kent, Daily Planet. What’s your position on the bat vigilante in Gothem? … Civil liberties are being trampled on in your city, people living in fear. The bat vigilante thinks he’s above the law.”
“Don’t believe everything you hear, son,” Bruce Wayne responds.
Wayne/Batman is even less enthralled with Superman who he considers a dangerous alien who could turn his superpowers against mankind at any time.
“He has the power to wipe out the entire human race. And if we believe there’s even a one-percent chance that he is our enemy we have to take it as an absolute certainty … and we have to destroy him,” Batman says.
Rather than being a run-of-the-mill good-versus-evil battle, the titanic grudge match between, as villain Lex Luthor puts it, the Son of Krypton and the Bat of Gotham raises intriguing issues of competing world views. That’s something not often attempted in comic book movies.
Unfortunately, much of what is compelling in “Batman v. Superman” is overwhelmed by the movie’s unrelenting bombast and an overly complicated storyline – make that storylines. There are so many plot strands in this two-and-a-half-hour film that most viewers will just give up trying to keep them all straight.
And compounding the difficulty of figuring out exactly what is going on is the periodic eruption of cacophonous special-effects action scenes. The movie, in fact, begins immediately with an unnecessarily lengthy sequence involving an alien destruction of Metropolis (it actually recreates the finale of the earlier film, “Man of Steel”) and ends with an even longer stretch of special effects mayhem.
Amazingly, neither of those two sequences involves Batman fighting Superman. Those two have a couple of good confrontations too, but for a movie with a title literally pitting Batman against Superman, it’s curious the climactic battle isn’t between the two of them. These superheroes almost become secondary figures in their own movie. Which maybe they are, what with the launch of the entire Justice League.
Buried in a movie that cost way too much (reportedly $250 million) and goes on for far too long is a promising idea that goes to waste. “Batman v Superman” might have worked better at half the cost and half the length.