I mumble about my enjoyment of Superman: Man of Steel. For all the visual spectacle, I felt the film lacked emotion. My excitement watching it felt as muted as the color palate used to depict the doomed dystopia of Krypton.
I will loudly proclaim my love for Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. My worry and the sick feeling I had in my stomach have been replaced by a wide smile and a handful of chocolate covered almonds from the concession stand.
Director Zach Snyder and cinematographer Larry Fong craft each shot with care to produce a sense of wonder. The pictures on the screen tug at the emotions and provide a series of stunning visuals. The images draw strongly from Frank Miller’s seminal work Batman: The Dark Night Returns, plucking art directly from the page up to screen.
BvS does not offer a very smart or mature Superman. Instead, it serves up a very flawed and human one.
Henry Cavill plays a subdued Superman. He is that quiet kid on the block, trying so hard to do the right thing and so evidently not understanding the gap between his actions and the perceptions of them. Confusion plays out across his face as the public tries to wrap their heads around the significance of the appearance of a powerful alien among them. A fire breaks out, he goes to save a child. During a flood, he rescues families. When called by his government to present himself, he goes. He plays the victim to the bully of Batman, pleading with the Dark Knight as a naïve boy scout in a desperate attempt to forestall a fight.
An established love affair between Clark Kent and Lois Lane has not been presented on the screen before. Scenes between Cavill and Amy Adam as Lane, finally develop some chemistry between the two. Seeing these characters together, with their mix of playfulness and seriousness, feels real and honest. I believe it’s part of the reason behind the success of the current Superman: Lois and Clark comic and it works beautifully here.
For all the previews of the armor and incredible toys, Ben Affleck reestablishes Batman as a detective and Bruce Wayne as a martini guzzling womanizer. The movie offers a vision of a slightly older Batman, a grognard deeply affected by his years of conflict. Again, Snyder pulls the best parts from the Batman: The Dark Night Returns, leaving Affleck’s surprisingly compassionate Batman war weary and tired, at the brink of true, authoritarian madness.
This is a Batman from the Golden Age. He is well armed and, using the words from 1940’s Batman #1, willing to “spit death.”
Jeremy Irons as Bruce Wayne’s faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth deserves more than a mention. His version of Alfred offers a more compassionate foil to an increasingly pressed Batman in an effort to pull his boss back from the edge. The movie Alfred serves to remind Bruce that his efforts and time spent outside of the costume matter as least as much as those within.
A few choice lines reused from Batman: The Dark Knight Returns spice up the portrayal with sardonic humor.
Without a doubt, Gal Gadot steals every scene where she appears. Diana Price never came off as so cool and collected, so poised and classic. Wonder Woman has never felt more right, a warrior princess from an island of Amazons. Gadot projects incredible insight into her character with a single, fleeting smirk during the climactic fight scene. Just thinking about that moment gets me counting the days until June 23, 2017 and the release of Wonder Woman.
It took a while for me to warm to Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. The comic book Luthor always feels unflappable; not one step ahead of the heroes, but five or six. Eisenberg’s character struck me as too flighty and disheveled to ever rise to the Presidency as did his comic book counterpart. Only in remembering Gene Hackman’s portrayal in 1978’s Superman, did I make peace with this interpretation. This is not the first time I’ve seen a more manic version of the villain. To Snyder’s and writers’ Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s credit, this version of Lex Luthor works very well on film.
The story spills out like a comic book and can’t bear much scrutiny or careful consideration. The audience figuring out Lex Luthor’s convoluted scheme well before either Batman or Superman suits the movie, however.
This is an epic film, filled with epic characters. Like the gods of mythology, these are characters laid low by fatal flaws. A beacon of hope, Superman cannot conceive of the machinations of evil that surround and entrap him. A creature of darkness, Batman lies trapped by his inability to see anything but dark intrigues and collusions. This brings them into natural conflict with each other. I am thankful for the screenwriters who decided to use some pretty obscure bit of comic trivia to unite the two together. The conflict allows the friendship and respect of the two to begin.
I believe Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice marks director Zack Synder’s conquest of style with substance. I enjoyed both Superman: Man of Steel and Watchmen. For all their carefully crafted composition, they did little for me emotionally. BvS left me breathless and stunned, unsure where the movie was taking me, and not wanting the experience to end.
Fortunately, with the hints of the struggles to come sprinkled throughout the film, I know Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice is just the beginning.