by Tim Gordon
The epic tale of conflict between god vs. man historically plays out onscreen as two of the oldest and popular superheroes of all time face off in the highly-anticipated, yet satisfying gladiator match for the ages, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Over the past decade, Marvel Comics has created a cottage industry of stories showcasing their various characters, seemingly printing money as they build their cinematic universe. Meanwhile, despite boasting some of the most recognizable characters in all of the comics, DC Comics has largely sat on the sidelines trying to figure out how best to get into the game.
After a series of failed opportunities (Superman Returns, a successful standalone but unconnected Dark Knight Trilogy), Batman v Superman; Dawn of Justice signals that not only is DC finally in the game but is finally ready to serve as a true competitor to the money-making Marvel machine.
Picking up at the conclusion of 2013’s Man of Steel, the story focuses on billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) who is struggling with the effects, on the ground of the titanic battle between Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod (Michael Shannon). As the damage mounts on the ground and property and life are destroyed, one can see the genesis of Wayne’s anger toward the Last Son of Krypton beginning to burn. It is these actions that are the foundation of a telling observation from Wayne’s trusted butler, Alfred (Jeremy Irons), “That’s how it starts. The fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness that turns good men… cruel.”
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While Wayne is struggling with the after effects of the actions of the Man of Steel, Superman’s stature as a hero has risen to almost mythic-like state. Using his powers, liberally, to fight crime he is both revered by his admirers and much as he is reviled by his many critics. His eternal connection with colleague/girlfriend, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) places him in an awkward and negative position when an attempt to save her backfires resulting in the death of a militia henchmen.
As the use of his otherworldly powers come into focus, Superman attracts the attention of several others who share Wayne’s concern, Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) and the brilliant, yet erratic businessman, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). All of the parties are looking for ways to curb or control his behavior and protect the planet from the all-powerful God-like being.
In addition to the conflict between god and man, the screenplay by frequent superhero screenwriter, David S. Goyer (Blade trilogy, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy, Dark City and Man of Steel) also spotlights the hypocrisy between its cast of combatants. Wayne and Luthor chafe at Superman’s ability to possess power that can destroy them all while both of them also take actions that can achieve the same goal. In an effort to stop the Man of Steel both men assume responsibility for plans that also not just blur the line but also, can create more harm than good.
Just as the story takes on a decidedly testosterone-heavy perspective, a mysterious woman, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) emerges, monitoring the action between the troubled trio from the periphery. While Goyer’s screenplay delays Wonder Woman’s introduction and true intentions, her entry into the fray immediately energizes the proceedings. Both Gadot and Affleck acquit themselves well, as both of their castings had fans of the film concerned at the outset. Portraying a much darker Batman than any of the previous incarnations, Affleck shines in a rare opportunity for the Dark Knight to finally upstage someone else.
After three films in the past ten years, DC Comics still has not totally figured out how to showcase Superman. Without many faults, screenwriters have struggled with how to give his character the much-needed range it needs to sustain a franchise but long-term interest, as well. Goyer once again fails to adequately give Superman the platform he needs to soar and should give fans pause if the powers-that-be at DC will ever solve this seemingly impossible equation.
One of the challenges that director Zack Snyder is faced with is the fact that unlike Marvel’s head Kevin Feige’s plan, which released several standalone films prior to their event film The Avengers in 2012, DC is playing catch up. With a dual purpose to launch their cinematic universe and knowing that three of the four most popular superheroes of all time (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) are in this story, there was less of a need to reintroduce these characters to the public in THIS film (there standalone films for each of these characters all coming to the screen in the next several years).
Designed as not just a continuation from the Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice also serves the dual purpose as an origin story for the formation of the Justice League. While their stories are yet to be told, Snyder has the weight of the entire DC franchise on his hands as this film introduces everything that is to come. While the film is far from perfect and features some transitions that seem far-fetched, Snyder to his credit, has fashioned a story that while far from a grand slam is an upgrade over the previous film in this series and, more importantly, gives me hope that DC can finally get their heroes in the game!!!