MOVIE REVIEW: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

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"BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE"-- 4 STARS

Considering all of the variables floating in the atmosphere of buzz and hype surrounding "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice," one race can be handicapped right now.  It's only March, but meet your most polarizing film of 2016.  People are questioning the marketing, casting, tone, assumed story, effects, character choices, and everything else under the sun before seeing the film.  If you think you know what this movie is, where it is going, what it stands for, or why it is making the choices it is, you don't know the half of it.  Bring something to catch your jaw and get ready.

"Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice" is following the defiant new trail blazed by Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel" three years ago.  That film had the courage (oh hell, the balls) to reinvent an icon for a more modern age with a sternly serious and high science fiction take that dared to be different and important.  This very writer was one critic who loudly applauded the boldness of "Man of Steel."  It opened the door to a new trajectory and "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice" just kicked it down with authority.

This team-up/sequel is set 18 months after the cataclysmic events that concluded "Man of Steel."  The world is still reeling and more questions have arisen than answers.  Public opinion is sternly divided on the newly-arrived Superman (Henry Cavill), between labels of threatening outcast and worshiped savior.  Those divided sentiments stretch to people of power and influence, including two neighboring billionaires with secret double lives and agendas.  

One is someone who bore witness to the Metropolis carnage firsthand and considers the presence of Superman as a frightening and unchecked omen.  That individual is Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), the 20-year veteran crimefighter also known as the urban legend of Batman.  The other is Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), the young and ambitious head of LexCorp.  Illegally overstepping government oversight, Lex's raging anti-god complex targets Superman and he obsesses over uncovering scientific advantages from the leftover Kryptonian artifacts and technology from their fateful arrival.

"Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice" does not unfurl a predictable narrative and borrows ingredients from several (probably too many) unrelated canonical comic sources, which is sure to upset the army of nit-picking purists that too often resemble The Comic Book Guy from "The Simpsons" in look and attitude.  Many layered story threads, visions, subplots, secrets, and supporting characters (probably too many again) converge in the world-building of this full-bodied film.  Some of those tangents include mentoring from Alfred Pennyworth (Jeremy Irons) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane), the participation of Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) of The Daily Planet, and the government response led by Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) and General Swanwick (Harry Lennix).  The biggest wild card of all is a certain wonderfully stoic, godly, and captivating woman played by Gal Gadot.

Let's answer the easy questions of characters and casting.  Henry Cavill still looks every bit the part and remains fittingly central to this journey.  Ben Affleck can play a damn good Batman and Bruce Wayne.  He owns it from his first scene on with zero pussification.  Jesse Eisenberg is perfectly cast as a deviously chilling Luthor.  Jeremy Irons is a stellar balance of gravitas and frankness.  Lastly, Gal Gadot rightfully and deservedly steals all possible attention. 

There are many cooks in the kitchen for "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice."  Director Zack Snyder is supported by his regular cinematographer Larry Fong, producer Christopher Nolan, his go-to scribe David S. Goyer, and an assist from Affleck's Oscar-winning "Argo" screenwriter Chris Terrio.  Guiding the background ambiance is another bombastic musical collaboration from composer Hans Zimmer and electronic artist Junkie XL.  You can see each of their creative fingerprints on this film and all of them united to sear this continued, heady, and bold new interpretation of heroes and villains.  It is not cliche to say that you've never seen a superhero film like this.  Let the film prove it.

With an audacious brazenness that is unprecedented and decisive, it is plain to see now that Snyder and company were never trying to copy Disney/Marvel's blueprint of bright and sunny success or stoke our quaint Christopher Reeve-fueled memories of a bygone era.  Far from it, in fact (excellent sidebar on this from Screen Crush).  This sequel is unquestionably darker than "Man of Steel."  They may be selling this film's merchandise in the toy aisle at department stores, but this PG-13 film that was trimmed from a R-rated director's cut is not for young kids (buyer beware).

"Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice" is constantly intense, powerfully suspenseful, and operatically enthralling on an emotional and sensory level.  It is a remarkable, edge-of-your-seat experience on the big screen.  We are in a new era with a new tone.  There is room in the cinematic superhero landscape for important and formidable urgency like this.  Let Marvel stick to the shiny sparkles and corner their piece of the market.  This new franchise has chosen its mature path and they are showing the resolute fortitude to stick with it, haters be damned.

LESSON #1: PREPARING FOR ANY POSSIBLE THREAT-- This lesson illustrates Bruce's line of judgment.  He creates contingencies for any situation.  Batman is a creature of preparation and an industrious survivor without equal.  To him, Superman is an unknown aggregate that must have an equalizer.  Bruce takes it upon himself to face that challenge.

LESSON #2: THE BALANCE BETWEEN ALL-GOOD AND ALL-POWERFUL-- This next notion typifies Lex's biggest motivating fear.  He doesn't believe that something or someone as all-powerful as Superman can be all-good as well.  His lust and drive are exactly opposite to Superman.  He seeks to show superiority when he has none.

LESSON #3: RESPONSIBILITY AS PROOF OF HEROISM-- Lastly, this one is for Superman.  After so many innocent people were lost in his defeat of General Zod, Superman has to prove his intentions of justice and compassion are true.  His continue acts of rescue and aid are not enough.  He has to exhibit the responsibility to be accountable for his powers and the actions.  A true hero owns his or her triumphs and mistakes with the intention to learn from both.

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