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Friday, March 25, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice



"Bruce Wayne meets Clark Kent! I love bringing people together!"

"Must there be a Superman?" asks Jim Lehrer, one of the many real life talking heads debating what's to be done about the presence of the Man of Steel on Earth. "Is it really surprising that the most powerful man in the world is a figure of controversy?" Controversy about Superman, his intentions, his actions, and how to stop him if he ever decides to "burn the whole place down" forms the crux of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, director Zack Snyder's grand operatic follow up to his controversial re-introduction of Superman, Man of Steel. Working from a robust, sly, bursting at the seams screenplay by Oscar winner Chris Terrio and David Goyer that ponders the history, fear and worship of gods and pulls key moments from Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns" and Dan Jurgens' "The Death of Superman," Batman v Superman works overtime to fulfill its aggressive agenda: establishing the greater DC Comics cinematic universe as a muscular powder keg of hard choices, numerous threats at home and from worlds beyond, and burgeoning hope -- but only after our heroes get slugging each other out of their systems. We find the Batman v Superman universe is one simply unprepared and at heart terrified of the aliens, gods and monsters suddenly thrust upon them, but really, no more than we would be in real life. Just like the Batman, if something like Superman came to our real world, rather than embrace him as a savior, we'd probably also be looking for a fight.

Two years have passed since the destruction of Metropolis at the conclusion of Man of Steel. The city has been rebuilt and has publicly embraced Superman as a hero, a sentiment spearheaded by the Daily Planet, which just happens to have Superman's girlfriend Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Superman himself, in his daily guise as Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), writing "puff pieces" about Superman. However, numerous people in Metropolis and around the world don't feel quite so cuddly about the Man of Steel. The primary voice of dissent is Senator Finch (Holly Hunter), a junior senator from Kentucky hell-bent on holding hearings on Superman and bringing him in front of their committee to account for his actions. Though Superman continues to perform heroic feats and rescues around the world, all of his acts come under fire, and then literally when Superman finally relents to appear at the Capitol in Washington, DC, only to be framed in a terrorist bombing that kills Finch and hundreds of innocents. Poor Superman. Not only is his reputation repeatedly called into question, but Terrio and Goyer's screenplay gives him no opportunity to publicly defend himself. This Superman isn't like Christopher Reeve's smiling, media friendly Man of Steel who gave a revealing interview to Lois that would bring the public onto his side. "Superman was never real. He's just a dream of a farmer from Kansas," Clark confides to Lois at his lowest point of self-pity. Trying to be an old fashioned do-gooder in a world that suspects his every action ("It's not 1938 anymore!"), Cavill's beleaguered Superman must resort to having to contort his handsome face into every frown and scowl he can muster.

Speaking of frowns and scowls, we learn that billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who secretly spends his dark nights terrorizing Gotham City's criminals as the Batman, was in Metropolis on "The Day The World Met The Superman." Wayne had a ground's eye view of Superman and General Zod (Michael Shannon) wrecking Metropolis in their epic encounter, feeling an unfamiliar and disquieting utter helplessness as two alien gods demolished Wayne Tower and left a trail of death and destruction in their wake. Meanwhile, the DC Universe's other most famous billionaire, Lex Luthor (a malevolently unhinged Jesse Eisenberg), has his own machinations, involving an elaborate, unwieldy scheme to frame Superman for an international incident, a mysterious green meteorite, Kryptonite, that can kill Kryptonians, and files in his hard drive that both Bruce Wayne and the mysterious Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), the Amazon princess the world will soon come to know as Wonder Woman, want to abscond with. But first and foremost, the Batman, depicted in this latest cinematic incarnation as older, more world-wearily cynical, and more brutally violent than ever ("Twenty years in Gotham, Alfred. How many good guys are left? How many stayed that way?"), wants to pick a fight with Superman.

"That's how it starts. The fever. The rage. The feeling of powerlessness that turns good men cruel," warns Alfred (Jeremy Irons), Wayne's acid-tongued faithful butler. But Wayne, driven by mysterious dreams of a dark future where Superman rules the world and brings winged alien demon armies from the skies, is set upon his course to take down the Kryptonian, training like Rocky Balboa for a big fight he desperately wants to win. Clark Kent himself is just as interested in the Batman, the fearsome vigilante across the bay in Gotham City who now brands criminals with the mark of the bat. Their super fight, manipulated by Luthor, who kidnapped Superman's adoptive human mother Martha Kent (Diane Lane) and threatens to have her killed if Superman doesn't sanction the Batman, is indeed epic and entertaining. The fight precisely follows the comic book tropes that the Batman, clad in his bulky battle armor, would set numerous traps and use Superman's overconfidence in his powers against him, including doses of Kryptonite gas to weaken Superman so that Batman, the superior fighter, can deliver the smackdown. #WhoWillWin? asked the social media marketing for weeks. Well, this fight is purely for the comic book fans and not the layman who would naturally assume Superman would wipe the floor with Batman. One of the most clever bits of Terrio and Goyer's screenplay is what ends the fight, the name "Martha," acknowledging and playing into one of the weird coincidences that Superman and Batman share -- both their mothers are named Martha.

Once Superman and Batman have made their peace, Batman v Superman goes for broke, turning giddily, unapologetically comic book and never looking back. Luthor unleashes his worst creation, the "Kryptonian deformity" called Doomsday, a giant, unstoppable monster genetically engineered from General Zod's corpse and Luthor's own DNA. In the same way the presence of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises signaled to comic book fans in the know that Batman's back would be broken, Doomsday means only one, inevitable thing to Superman fans. But first, Superman and a rather outmatched Batman must team up to fight Doomsday, and they're joined by Wonder Woman, who utterly steals the show in a long awaited, sensational cinematic debut for the most famous female superhero in the world. The few moments of Wonder Woman thrusting herself into battle against Doomday, blocking his heat vision with her bracelets, hacking his limbs off with her sword, and unleashing her magic lasso are worth the price of admission and ensured an eager opening weekend audience for her upcoming solo feature film in 2017. The battle sees Superman rocket Doomsday into outer space, only to be nuked by the US Military (a moment also borrowed from "The Dark Knight Returns"), while Batman and Lois Lane scramble to recover a Kryptonite spear, Batman's coup de grace weapon intended for Superman before cooler heads prevailed. By the time Superman makes the ultimate sacrifice to stop Doomsday, we're spent, the dreams of millions of comic book fans fulfilled.

"I failed him in life. I won't fail him in death," mourns Wayne, who finally comes to see he was wrong about the alien he's hated for the last couple of years. Both Wayne and Diana Prince attend Superman's funeral in Smallville, Kansas (actually Clark Kent's funeral, who was mysteriously killed during the super fight with Doomsday in what no one sees as a hilarious coincidence -- Superman's official funeral is a public military burial in Washington, DC.)  Setting up next year's superhero team up, Justice League, Batman v Superman literally stops the show by unleashing the files Batman stole from Luthor, giving the audience glimpses of Jason Momoa as Aquaman, Ray Fisher as Cyborg (his father, the scientist Silas Stone is played by a cleverly cast Joe Morton), and Ezra Miller as The Flash. As Batman, Affleck creates an ideal, grim, weary Dark Knight, arguably even the best cinematic Batman ever, silencing the millions who took umbrage over his casting on social media. (Incidentally, Batman reassuring Martha Kent "I'm a friend of your son's" is the best line in the whole movie. "I figured," she retorts. "The cape.") Gadot is a stunning revelation as Wonder Woman, regal, beautiful, and ferocious in battle. Both now own their superhero roles. Even without Cavill's Superman, the upcoming Justice League movie is in good hands with Affleck and Gadot leading the charge. But who are we kidding? Superman will return, of course, as subtly teased in the final shot of Batman v Superman. There is and will be no world without a Superman. Maybe when the Man of Steel does return, the world will be a lot nicer to him. But for now, let Superman rest in peace. He's earned it. After all, as quoted in Man of Steel, a good death is its own reward.