“Batman v Superman,” as heavy and humorless as a Supreme Court decision, is an 18-wheeler of a movie lumbering through a fallen world. It hurtles not with the kinetic momentum of “Mad Max: Fury Road” nor the comparatively spry skip of a Marvel movie, but with an operatic grandeur it sometimes earns and often doesn’t.
This is “Paradise Lost” for superheroes. It twists and grinds two of the most classic comic heroes, wringing new, less altruistic emotions out of them until their dashing smiles turn to angry grimaces.
After a handsome, impressionistic montage of Batman’s iconic childhood, the film picks up where Snyder’s Superman reboot “Man of Steel” left off but from a different perspective. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is driving through the falling debris of Metropolis while Superman (Henry Cavill) careens carelessly above.
Snyder has channeled the backlash over the high death-toll finale into Wayne, who bitterly watches Superman from the dust-filled air on the ground — a cheap evocation of Sept. 11 designed to add solemnity where there isn’t any.
Months later, the two are still distrustfully circling each other. Snyder, working from a script by Chris Terrio (”Argo”) and David Goyer (”Man of Steel”), delves into their opposite natures: one a godlike power from another planet who favors primary colors, the other a well-equipped human prone to a darker palette.
At a party thrown by Lex Luthor (the badly miscast Jesse Eisenberg), the billionaire-inventor who’s secretly weaponizing Kryptonite, their two alter-egos are surprisingly passive aggressive. Kent, the reporter, queries Wayne about “the bat vigilante problem,” while Wayne, citing the laudatory coverage of Superman in the Daily Planet, voices his distaste for “freaks who dress like clowns.”
Both are combating a new environment for superheroes best articulated by none other than astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who, on TV, describes supermen as altering man’s assumed supremacy in the universe like Copernicus’ discoveries did. “We’re criminals, Alfred,” Batman, fresh from torturing a foe, tells his butler (Jeremy Irons, adding an icy flare to the character). “We’ve always been criminals.”
Luthor’s plot gradually brings the heroes into the same orbit, along with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). But it’s the genuine rigor of Snyder’s engagement with the psychology of Superman and Batman that keeps the film grounded and the rivalry plausible. Seeing the two warp toward villainy may be a trick, like “Seinfeld’s” Jerry and Kramer switching apartments, but “Batman v Superman” is serious about contemplating the curious positions these all-powerful beings occupy in a world that has grown to resent their might.
It’s in some ways an ideal film for Snyder, an exceptionally un-subtle filmmaker with the sensibility of a car crash. But as the director of “300,” he knows his way around a ramming collision. And unlike Marvel films, DC Comic adaptations have, for better (Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy) and worse (”Man of Steel”), been works of distinct directors.
More InformationFilm review
‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’
WHAT: Fearing the actions of a super hero left unchecked, Gotham City’s own formidable vigilante takes on Metropolis’s most revered savior. With Batman and Superman at war with each other, a new threat arises, putting mankind in greater danger than it’s ever known before.
WHERE PLAYING: Carmike-Jefferson Pointe, Carmike-Dupont, Cinema Grill, Coldwater Crossing, Huntington 7-Huntington, NCG Cinemas-Auburn, Strand-Kendallville
RUNNING TIME: 2 hours, 33 minutes
RATING: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality.
21/2 stars out of 4