In the battle between Batman and Superman, I pick Wonder Woman for the win. It’s not that the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel don’t get in their licks in Zack Snyder’s Freudian free-for-all between two mama’s boys — it’s just that Gal Gadot’s wowza of a Wonder Woman is the kick-ass revelation at this party.
Wait. Have I said too much? The spoiler-sensitive Digiverse is ready to rain down hell on any critic who dares reveal a single plot twist in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, a film that’s filled to bursting with them. It’s a risk just to point out that Ben Affleck steps in for Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman and that Henry Cavill is back as Clark Kent/Superman. So I’ll keep this review aimed at what works and what doesn’t and steer clear of the surprises in the script by David S. Goyer and Chris Terrio.
Let’s begin with Snyder who starts at over-the-top and then rockets to the stratosphere. Too much? Always. But when you’re setting up the greatest gladiator match in the history of DC Comics, subtlety is not your weapon of choice. Snyder (300, Watchman) can’t touch Christopher Nolan’s artistry in the Dark Knight trilogy, but he’s still a hell of a showman. Snyder tear-asses through two hours and 31 minutes of head-spinning, PG-13 mayhem (an expanded R-rated Ultimate Edition will be available later on home video). Snyder, the director of the reboot of Dawn of the Dead, uses Dawn of Justice to set up is a new era of Justice League epics, which means you’ll be seeing cameos from Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher).
But the focus here is on the two big kahunas. Cavill still has the square-jawed heroism of the son of Krypton down pat, maybe too pat. So the advantage goes to Affleck, who plays the disillusioned son of Gotham with a welcome streak of snarky humor. (I wish he hadn’t adopted Bale’s Tom Waits growl whenever Batman wears the cowl, but Affleck otherwise makes the role his own.) Playboy Bruce Wayne has butler Alfred (Jeremy Irons) in his corner. And Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent has his intrepid colleague and love interest Lois Lane (Amy Adams) on his side. Bruce and Clark meet at a reception hosted by Lex Luthor, a junior Joker manically played by Jesse Eisenberg as a spoiled brat with billions to fuel his deity complex. It’s Lex who wants to set the two heroes at each others’ throats — God v mortal.
I will cautiously point out that both Batman and Superman have mother issues. And that a U.S. senator (Holly Hunter) is the catalyst for a declaration of war. It’s the Doomsday monster, partly made of Kryptonite, who brings Superman down to human level for the big fight with the Bat. It’s a thrill to see these two freaks go at it. (The Batmobile is involved, but I won’t say how.) Just know that they lock horns in a dizzying display of showstopping special effects. An explosive highlight is the entrance of Wonder Woman (if you don’t applaud when she appears, the comic-book-loving child in you is dead). And Gadot, a combat instructor in the Israeli army, is a wonder indeed, a true warrior. “Is she with you?” asks Superman. “I thought she was with you,” counters Batman.
That kind of quippy repartee bumps against the grain of a script that takes things very seriously, especially the notion of illegal aliens like Superman taking over the world and the Trump-like wall Batman would like to build around them. No matter. Snyder, juiced up by Hans Zimmer’s caffeinated score, throws everything at the screen until resistance is futile. Better than Man of Steel but below the high bar set by Nolan’s Dark Knight, Dawn of Justice is still a colossus, the stuff that DC Comics dreams are made of for that kid in all of us who yearns to see Batman and Superman suit up and go in for the kill. Suck on that, Marvel. After this, can Justice League v The Avengers be far behind?