Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice review – Ben Affleck earns his batwings

Gotham and Metropolis – not Affleck and Henry Cavill – are the true stars of Zack Snyder’s polished superhero showdown

The title gives you the first clue: originally intended as the sequel to the most recent Superman reboot, Man of Steel, this long-in-the-arriving superhero movie has been thoroughly invaded by DC Comics stablemate Batman (and, to a lesser extent, Wonder Woman). So much so that the caped crusader gets – and just about earns – top billing. The expansion of focus, of course, enables the film to serve another function: follow Marvel in setting up a stream of spin-offs and franchises – to which, again, the title nods, with its evocation of the Justice League, DC’s band of superheroes answer to Marvel’s Avengers. So there’s that to look forward to.

Quite how this film merges the stylistically and schematically distinct worlds of Superman’s Metropolis and Batman’s Gotham is arguably the most interesting aspect of Batman v Superman. Although each are differing takes on the same place – New York – they are presented as adjacent, divided by a river, Twin Cities style: the former dominated by the sleek skyscraper of LexCorp (the generically evil corporate entity run by Lex Luthor, played with Mark Zuckerberg-like puckishness by Jesse Eisenberg); the latter by the tumbledown noirish urban grime and the Bat searchlight that makes its appearance at key moments.

Watch the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer – video

The two superheroes are also brought close together – though don’t actually meet – in a cleverly conceived establishing sequence: picking up from the final showdown between Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod at the climax of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman shows Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) racing around the shattered city streets attempting to evacuate his office workers as the apocalyptic battle rages in the sky. As an opening, it’s got quite a bit of punch, and proves a good way to tackle one of this series’ favourite themes: the collateral damage sustained as a result of epic superhero confrontations and the price paid by the non-coms below.

But the way films like this tend to be constructed – racing from one thunderous set piece to another, with only a few seconds of downtime between them – ends up militating against it. Added to which, it has to shoehorn in the key accessories of both superheroes. For Batman this means Alfred the butler (a very world-weary Jeremy Irons), a stream of Bat gadgets and the occasional interruption of gruesome bat-related nightmares; for Superman, it’s Lois Lane, Luthor/Zod and mighty acts of individual rescue. It’s a lot of ground to cover, making the resulting film feel both overstuffed and abnormally extended.

Henry Cavill and Amy Adams in Batman v Superman.
Hardcore emoting … Henry Cavill and Amy Adams in Batman v Superman. Photograph: Clay Enos/LFI/Photoshot

Moreover, the influence of director Christopher Nolan’s furrowed-brow Batman films – which addressed their characters’ tortured backgrounds and unhappy responsibilities – looms large, even if Nolan has drifted to executive producer credit on this film. It’s tough to take all the hardcore emoting seriously, particularly as the emotional heavy lifting is designed to be done by the occasional maudlin line in brief pauses between the explosions. For a film so concerned with its characters’ inner lives, there’s a fundamental disconnect going on here – enough to make you yearn for the lighter touch of the Marvel films.

But Batman v Superman is likely set to be monstrously popular, at least in its opening weekend. Affleck, whose appointment to the Batman role was so controversial among the Comic Con crowd, acquits himself pretty well: more careworn than any previous Batman, but bulked up enough to cope with the combat scenes. He leads a principal cast of considerable pedigree, packed with past Oscar winners and nominees (including Irons, Holly Hunter and Amy Adams). Director Zack Snyder, returning from Man of Steel, applies the degree of visual polish that the contemporary superhero film demands, even if subtlety is not his strong point. And Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) gets the introduction she needs to trigger the required interest in the inevitable standalone feature. All in all, job done, just about.


Andrew Pulver

The GuardianTramp

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