Considering the mixed critical and commercial reception – and endless pro/con fanboy soapboxing – garnered by 2013’s Man of Steel, a sequel was never really a sure thing. But Zack Snyder, returning director and main architect of this new DC Comics Cinematic Universe, got crafty. By not just including Batman in the follow-up film, but actually having the Dark Knight throw down against Superman in a titanic slobber knocker that draws its inspiration from Frank Miller’s seminal graphic novel “The Dark Knight Returns”, Snyder and the folks at Warner Bros ensured that rabidly excited fans would turn out in hordes for this comic book clash years in the making.
But then Batman v Superman suddenly morphed from just a Man of Steel sequel to the de facto launchpad of an entire movie universe, and people – myself included – started worrying. Just looking at the newly christened title alone, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was over-stuffed, ungainly and embarrassingly clumsy; could the actual movie, with its butt-numbing 150 minute running time and gallery of rumoured cameos, be following suit as just as over-stuffed, ungainly and clumsy?
The short answer: Not quite. The slightly longer and more descriptive answer: Batman v Superman delivers like a superpowered Kryptonian punch to the face, with all the subtlety that entails, although Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne/Batman and Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent/Superman both get a bit more narrative depth to work with than previous iterations. This is mainly due to the script by screenwriter Chris Terrio (fresh off an Oscar win with Affleck for Argo), which cleverly takes all the Man of Steel criticisms about collateral damage and transforms it into the core dramatic force underpinning this conflict in a believable fashion. That and also dropping a third act bombshell into the mix that left me slack-jawed not just for how brilliantly it ties together these two iconic characters, but also in how damn obvious it was, and yet which, in my nearly three decades of comic book reading, I had never seen anybody do before.
The self-referential adjustments don’t stop there though, as there are several one-liners tossed out by characters directly addressing several of the negatives thrown Man of Steel‘s way – the minimization of destruction, Superman behaving more heroic, etc. They’re just sly enough to not be fully-on-the-nose, but there’s no denying Snyder and co are indeed speaking directly to the audience in this case. They’re also speaking directly to that lizard part of the brain that gets all excited when things collide in spectacular pyrotechnic fashion as Snyder orchestrates some of the most utterly gobsmacking superhero action beats I’ve ever seen, ranging from epic widescreen godly slugfests to brutal close-quarters fights courtesy of the Dark Knight’s vicious limbs.
And as the Caped Crusader, Affleck comfortably silences the naysayers with a performance that is both physical and psychological, giving us a believably troubled Bruce Wayne and one of the best Batmen ever both in terms of straight-off-the-comic-book-page looks and and bone-breaking badassery. And finally doing proper detective work! Much like his much derided disguise, Cavill’s Clark Kent is almost non-existent, while his Superman is still not exactly the most exciting or inspiring – compounded by Snyder’s unerringly and insipidly morose messiah approach to the character – but he does get a few key moments and sells them well enough, even if he does almost end up a bit player in his own sequel.