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Dustin Putman

Batman v Superman:
Dawn of Justice
2½ Stars
Directed by Zack Snyder.
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Gal Gadot, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Scoot McNairy, Callan Mulvey, Tao Okamoto, Brandon Spink, Lauren Cohan, Michael Cassidy, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, Kevin Costner.
2016 – 153 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence and some sensuality).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, March 23, 2016.
Special Note: Running a half-hour longer than the theatrical version, Zack Snyder's preferred 182-minute cut, entitled "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - Ultimate Edition," has been released to Blu-ray and Digital, turning a fine but narratively muddled film into one very nearly close to greatness. The overall storyline and new full subplots add depth and clarification without harming the momentum of the pacing. While certain relationships and characters remain underserved (e.g., Alfred, Martha Kent, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, and even co-lead Bruce Wayne, who should have received his own standalone movie before this one), this Ultimate Edition is like watching a different, superior film, one that is complex, ballsy and mature, densely plotted yet given extra time to breathe. It is a shame Warner Bros. didn't have the faith in audiences to release this version; had they allowed Snyder final cut, many of the criticisms leveled at the picture would no longer be valid. Suffice it to say, there is no reason to ever revisit the theatrical cut of "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" ever again.

Original 2.5 Star Review:

When director Zack Snyder mounted 2013's "Man of Steel," he opted for dour grittiness over daring fun and the ultimate hopefulness which had accompanied past cinematic interpretations of Superman. If 1978's much-loved "Superman" and 2006's vastly underappreciated "Superman Returns" specialized in dazzling wonder, this newest incarnation sapped away nearly all remnants of levity and joy. Most troubling was its third act of mass citywide destruction as the title superhero battled Michael Shannon's psychotic General Zod with no detectable concern for the thousands of innocent casualties left in their wake. There was something dishonest, even irresponsible, about Snyder's neglect for the value of humanity this DC Comics character had heretofore been conscientious to revere. If "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" retains the morose tone of "Man of Steel" while overloading the frame with an eventual CGI fatigue, credit returning filmmaker Snyder and screenwriters Chris Terrio (2012's "Argo") and David S. Goyer (2012's "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance") for focusing on the plausibly discordant consequences of its predecessor's flippant disregard for life. The proceedings continue to be oppressively self-serious—without, it should be said, the nuance of character, complexity of writing, and command of mise en scene found in Christopher Nolan's practically perfect 2008 crime drama "The Dark Knight"—but this sequel nevertheless leaves the viewer with appreciably more to think about and consider than "Man of Steel" ever did.

At first glance, it may not have seemed as if Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) was all that torn up about the catastrophic damage and tragic death toll he played a part in causing eighteen months earlier; at previous picture's end, he cheerily became a reporter at the Daily Planet newspaper, the building nonsensically still standing tall and undamaged. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), however, watched as the havoc unfolded, not only losing his Wayne Financial skyscraper in Metropolis, but also many employees and friends. For a progressively cynical Gotham City native who has moonlighted as Batman for twenty years—his thirst for justice a result of witnessing his parents' murders when he was a child—he sees Superman as more threat than hero. When Superman is again blamed for killings, this time in an African village where journalist girlfriend Lois Lane (Amy Adams) was being held captive, senate hearings are scheduled to determine his culpability. In this instance, Clark and Lois know he was somehow set up, but proving it may be difficult when disaster strikes once more and unhinged LexCorp owner Alexander Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) moves closer to weaponizing the one radioactive element from Clark's home planet powerful enough to kill him: Kryptonite.

There are a bevy of what-ifs and could-haves when it comes to "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," a grandiose 153-minute smashup that threatens eventual exhaustion while nevertheless feeling developmentally undernourished. What one cannot deny is its clear ambition. Thematically, there is a lot going on and plenty to ponder in between the epic, effects-laden battles, which prove to be the least interesting parts of Zack Snyder's film. Bruce Wayne's backstory has been told via flashback so many times it has nearly lost its potency, and the script doesn't do a whole lot to fully explore him as a man or iconic dark knight (although Gotham City is supposedly one city over from Metropolis, it is left undecipherable and weakly explored). He is a little older and even more brooding, but not exactly wiser, falling right onto Lex's marionette strings as the maniacal philanthropist schemes to turn Batman and Superman into sworn enemies. As Bruce/Batman, Ben Affleck (2014's "Gone Girl") more than fills out the black suit and cowl, but he is given little to do beyond mope around. His relationship with his steadfast butler Alfred (a wasted Jeremy Irons), which in the past has brought much-needed warmth to the character, is a non-starter without a single memorable moment between them.

The societal backlash Clark/Superman faces on the heels of Metropolis' devastation and the deadly setup in Africa is where the film grows in provocative intrigue. It would certainly be beneficial if Henry Cavill (2015's "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.") was more ingratiating in the role, yet the doom and gloom is appropriate here. Labeled half-man, half-god in the media, Superman is, in actuality, an alien whom government officials and the public at large have grown increasingly mistrustful. Clark has only ever wanted to use his powers for the betterment of the world, but he is also fiercely protective of his loved ones and finds himself having to make tough sacrifices. The loaded dichotomy of this conflict—the internal pressure he places on himself to be everything to everyone, and the external forces who doubt, even fear, his intentions—is enticingly delved into, and Cavill comes into his own in the third act when everything he holds dear is put on the line. As Lois Lane, Amy Adams (2013's "American Hustle") does wonders with a part that is equal parts headstrong and cunning, yet requiring that she eventually must become endangered and wait as a man swoops in to save her. If you have to be saved by someone, though, it might as well be Superman.

It takes all of about one scene to fully buy Jesse Eisenberg (2015's "American Ultra") as a reimagined, altogether more cuckoo Lex Luthor, and then he proves himself to be so fantastically uninhibited as this deliciously vicious mad hatter one all but forgets the actor on the screen. Eisenberg goes big and isn't afraid to chew scenery, but said scenery is better for him being amongst it. In supporting turns, Diane Lane (2010's "Secretariat") continues to be a beacon of comfort as Clark's widowed mother Martha, while Holly Hunter (2012's "Won't Back Down") is terrific as confident, straight-talking Senator June Finch, a potential ally of Lex. Fevered anticipation has surrounded the first-ever big-screen appearance of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, but any substantial exploration into her character will have to wait for her solo movie in 2017. Gal Gadot (2013's "Furious 6") shows she is wholly capable of picking up the legacy of this beloved female superhero, but her participation here is not much more than a glorified cameo.

"Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" has the pomp and circumstance one expects from a mega-budgeted blockbuster, if not quite the scope to do this superhero conglomeration its full justice. Bruce Wayne remains close to a cipher, one whose 20-year career as the caped crusader is hardly touched upon. Indeed, if Batman must be rebooted again, he probably deserved his own respective standalone film before this match-up occurred. Without one, he simply isn't established well enough to get a feel for who he is, where he's coming from, and what he's been through beyond that one catalytic trauma from his youth. What the picture—and the overall DC Comics universe—has on its side is an edge and dangerousness the pre-"Deadpool" Marvel landscape has frequently lacked. Anything goes here—and does—leading toward a final few scenes that, with the exception of one awkward editorial choice, is stupendous not only in what happens, but how it is so classily pulled off. A running visual motif involving autumn leaves connects the opening to the conclusion, with everything in between pulled intrinsically together. Also of note: composers Hans Zimmer (2014's "Interstellar") and Junkie XL's (2015's "Mad Max: Fury Road") oft-unsettling score, going against the grain of convention with numerous big, chance-taking payoffs. "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" is at once lumbering and enthralling, overstuffed and auspicious. By understanding the massively damaging events in "Man of Steel" should be tackled head-on rather than swept under the rug, director Zack Snyder has made a suggestive, blemished, but ultimately superior follow-up, a work worth deconstructing and pondering.
© 2016 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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