DESPITE THE FACT Zack Snyder gave us one of the worst films of some time (300) and a dull as dishwater Superman (Man of Steel), his new DC Comics blockbuster (it’s that time of year), Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is, if over-long and over-stuffed, a thrilling, operatic re- engagement with the Batman and Superman franchises.
DC Comics must have been suffering from Marvel envy. Marvel’s Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Avengers, Spiderman, multiple TV shows and, of late, Deadpool franchises have been raking in the money. For DC Comics, what with the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale Batman trilogy long past, only a tepid Superman (nobody remembers Brandon Routh as Superman in Superman Returns) to count on, and with JJ Abrams tied up with Star Wars, it must have been a desperate board that turned to Zac once again.
This time, the producers paired Zack and his group of regulars (Larry Fong, the cinematographer and Patrick Tatopoulis, the production designer… 300 was rubbish, but it was lovely to look at) with a strong writing team (David Goyer who wrote the story of The Dark Knight Rises and Chris Terrio from Argo) and a tremendous ensemble cast. The result is that a potential gimmick (a la Alien v Predator) has been transformed into a delight.
The story centers around what Bruce Wayne (himself an unregulated vigilante) considers to be an existential threat to humanity: the rise in popularity of an equally unregulated vigilante who is also an immortal alien with a strong God complex: Superman.
To Bruce, this is a man who could, at a whim, destroy us all. We are ushered into the story via the concluding scenes of from the previous Superman movie (his battle against Zog): scenes of massive destruction and untold loss of human life. Zac makes a clear visual link to the fall of the twin towers, as an anguished, pissed off Bruce rushes into the engulfing cloud of debris. In his despair, a mission coalesces: rid the world of Superman. Man must kill off the God.
Into this drama of egos, enters the twitchy, crazy Lex Luthor, a man in possession of enough Kryptonite to destroy the man of steel, and bent on unleashing the forces of hell. Just to round things up, an avenging angel (Wonder Woman) joins this mythic battle of man v God v The devil.
Good Easter fare.
Zack plays the story without a trace of irony (though the writing is often laugh out loud witty) and his cast is uniformly excellent.
Ben Affleck, much criticized when this casting was announced is a tremendous Batman. He’s sullen, driven and haunted by nightmares. He’s also the most ruthless Batman ever. Henry Cavil, whose performances as Superman and the man from U.N.C.L.E have been more wooden than a lumberyard full of ply-wood, actually exudes what passes for real emotion. His Superman is a man more of anguish than of steel. His powers weigh him down, and he’s burdened by responsibility. His love interest, Lois Lane is a feisty, fearless Amy Adams…a damsel in distress who refuses to be a damsel in distress.
Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is a treat. His Luthor (usually played as a comic buffoon) is part Mark Zukerman (charming, young man of the people) and part Keith Ledger’s Joker (wide-eyed, demented). It’s a frightening mix.
And absolutely holding her own in this class of talent is a (relative) newcomer: the Israeli born Amazonian beauty, Gal Gadot (From The fast and Furious movies) as the fierce, badass Wonder Woman (who fortunately has shed her naff Stars and Stripes one piece bath suit for something more befitting a warrior princess). Even Jeremy Irons, in the smaller supporting role as Alfred adds gravitas to the ensemble.
So all is well in the blockbuster world. DC Comics is back in business (after all the name…Dawn of Justice is a nod to the, no doubt, soon to be released Justice League ensemble) to ensure Marvel isn’t the sole super-power around.
At least I think all is well…except for (spoiler alert) Clark Kent, who is dead.
And what of Superman?