WARNING! MINOR SPOILERS TO FOLLOW. Relax, I’m withholding 90 percent of the surprises, I promise.
About a half-hour into “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” I was starting to feel this could be one of the best superhero movies of the last 20 years. Alas, we go from spectacular to solid, from great to good.
That said, Zack Snyder’s showdown of two great DC Comics icons is hardly a disappointment .
“Dawn of Justice” is a dark-palette feast for the eyes, with some memorable set pieces, just the right amount of dark humor and strong performances.
In an opening flashback to 1982, young master Wayne and his parents are exiting a movie theater when tragedy strikes. The scene is filled with some haunting images, e.g., Bruce’s mother’s pearls getting snagged over the barrel of a gun in her last breathing moments.
Cut to now and a title card reading:
“MANKIND IS INTRODUCED TO THE SUPERMAN”
I love that. We’re plunged into a breathtaking sequence in which we see the final battle between Superman (Henry Cavill) and Gen. Zod in which half of Metropolis was leveled – but it’s from the viewpoint of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who now has headquarters in Metropolis.
Snyder films the scene with gritty realism. Even though we know Superman was on the side of good and Zod was evil on that fateful day, Bruce Wayne and nearly all of the residents of Metropolis had no idea what was transpiring.
Now here’s where “Dawn of Justice” gets a little murky. It seems as if Metropolis is practically a twin city with Gotham. In a scene where Bruce Wayne shows up at a party hosted by young Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), Lex says, “You should hop over the harbor more often.”
About 18 months later, Superman is established as a good guy. Others are concerned about Superman’s limitless powers. Look at all the collateral damage that occurs whenever he swoops in and saves the day. Holly Hunter delivers strong, sharp-edged work as a Kentucky senator who wants to hold hearings to see if Superman should be held accountable for deaths that have occurred when he’s swooping in to save the day.
Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne/Batman is angry, frustrated and exhausted after 20 years of battling criminals in Gotham (and presumably Metropolis). At this point, Batman is in full vigilante mode, literally branding criminals with the Batman logo before serving them up to authorities.
Here’s what rocks. We all know Batman would be no match one-on-one against Superman. “Dawn of Justice” figures out a way to level the playing field and then some.
All the Internet resistance to Affleck being cast as Batman seems silly when you see him sharing the screen with Cavill, as Affleck is easily the superior actor. There’s not a moment when we don’t believe Affleck as Bruce Wayne or as Batman.
When it sings, “Dawn of Justice” is a wonder. When it drags, it still looks good and offers hints of a better scene just around the corner.