Richard and “Canada AM” host Beverly Thomson have a look at he weekend’s big releases, the bombastic “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2’s” souvlaki slapstick and the terrific tension of thriller “Eye in the Sky.”
Superhero geeks need not fear, this column will contain no spoilers.
In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the world’s two most famous caped crime fighters throw down, wrestling literally and figuratively to determine what kind of hero is best suited to serve the world’s needs.
The story picks up after the action in Man of Steel, which saw Superman (the square-jawed Henry Cavill) protect the planet by destroying half of Metropolis in an epic battle with the evil General Zod (Michael Shannon).
Batman (Ben Affleck), unimpressed with the collateral damage, joins the contingent of folks who see the Last Son of Krypton not as a champion but an alien threat. A battle ensues.
Who will win? Other than Kryptonite, Superman has no known weaknesses, so this would seem like a fairly one-sided fight, but Batman has skills as well, so who knows?
To get to the bottom of the matter I held a highly unscientific Facebook Batman v Superman poll to determine a winner. It drew mixed results.
“Brains over brawn,” wrote one FB friend, “Batman for the win!”
“Superman could basically fly down at super speed striking Batman before he could even sense he was coming and turn the Bat into vapour,” wrote a Superman fan.
Another wasn’t so sure. “Both seem to wear their underwear over their pants… it is a tough call.” Whatever the outcome, expect a wild showdown. But that’s on screen. It’s make-believe. What about Reel Life v Real Life?
The Caped Crusader and Supes have been duking it out for decades at the box office but Batman, specifically the Christian Bale era, comes out on top. The Dark Knight Rises and The Dark Knight KO the competition, with the 1978 Superman, the first Tim Burton Batman and the recent Man of Steel rounding out the top five.
Batman also brings in the lion’s share of the marketing money. According to comicbookmovie.com Batman sells almost two-to-one to Superman products.
That means more parents dress their kids as Batman than Superman at Halloween and that includes Ben Affleck and Christian Bale who met at a costume store last year as they shopped for Batman outfits for their kids.
What about prestige? Again Batman is victorious, with three Academy Award winners — Affleck, Bale and George Clooney — playing the Bat at one time or another.
As for the Metropolis Marvel, Oscar winners Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood both turned down the role as did best actor nominee James Caan who said, “There’s no way I’m wearing that silly suit.” Oscar winner Nic Cage wore the suit but his Superman story never made it before the cameras.
So far my Reel Life v Real Life look at Batman v Superman favours the Dark Knight, but Clark Kent’s alter ego is still a formidable foe.
Keep in mind, without Superman there may never have been a Batman.
Predating the Caped Crusader, the Man of Steel is a pioneer whose popularity helped create the superhero genre. Since then he’s been ubiquitous, inspiring an American Sign Language symbol, movie serials, TV shows, comic strips, pop songs — (Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman by The Kinks among many others — and even a Broadway musical called It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman.
Finally, as one of my Facebook friends pointed out, Superman has at least one insurmountable advantage over Batman: “If Superman loses the fight he can fly back in time to fight again.”
In 1984 raspy-throated singer Bonnie Tyler warbled, “I’m holding out for a hero.” At the time I didn’t get the song’s sexy undertones but was reminded of the tune as I watched “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Thirty odd years later it’s quite clear what kind of hero Bonnie Tyler was looking for—“It’s gonna take a superman to sweep me off my feet!”— but it’s less certain what kind of hero the city of Metropolis wants or needs.
Ben Affleck plays Bruce Wayne as a weathered crime fighter, someone his trusty butler Alfred (Jeremy Irons) says, “got too old to die young, and not for want of trying.” Banged up and grumpy, his fellow crime fighter Superman (Henry Cavill) is in his bad books after tearing up Metropolis and knocking over Wayne Tower, killing many of those inside, during an epic fight against villain General Zod. “Maybe it’s the Gotham City in me,” says Wayne. “We have a bad history was freaks dressed as clowns.”
He’s not the only one to have a bone to pick with The Last Son of Krypton. Distressed by the Man of Steel’s seemingly uncontrollable power Congressional Superman Committee head Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) finds a supporter for her Aliens Are Un-American campaign in a Machiavellian tech mogul named Alexander “Lex” Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). “The world has been so caught up by what Superman can do,” Finch says, “we haven’t thought about what he should do.”
All this leads to a superhero showdown, a battle of the behemoths, cowls v capes. It’s Batman, a billionaire vengeance seeker with a bursting bank account and cool toys, v Superman, an alien with good intentions but uncontrollable powers. “It’ll be the greatest gladiator battle in the history of the world,” giggles Luthor.
Who will win? Who should win? Will it be the hero Bonnie Tyler is holding out for?
Wrapped around the central storyline is the introduction of lasso-wielding Amazonian Diana Prince a.k.a. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Luthor’s crazy schemes and the appropriately named Doomsday, a Kryptonian killing machine.
These are jittery times and “Batman v Superman” is a jittery movie. Luthor’s xenophobic notion that Superman is a dangerous alien, an “other” who we don’t quite understand, is ripped right out of Donald Trump’s playbook. “People hate what they don’t understand,” says Martha Kent (Diane Lane).
Mix that with depictions of the death and destruction on city streets and all-too-familiar shots of buildings with smoke oozing out of them and you’re left with a movie that as feels timely and ripped-from-the-headlines as a movie about tights-wearing superheroes can be.
Other than that it is essentially a long trailer for the next DC superhero ensemble movie tagged on to a WrestleMania style smack down. Director Zack Snyder does have a flair for staging darkly dramatic scenes—Superman surrounded by Mexican Day of the Dead revellers is a stunner and the image of Supes casually kicking the indestructible Batmobile out of frame with a flick of his foot is very cool—but while he is entertaining your eye he does little to engage your brain. There is tons of psuedo-intellectual talk about gods and monsters but it’s all surface, chatter meant to make the film seem smarter than it actually is. Very little of what happens feels motivated by the characters. It mainly feels as though someone came up with a grabby title and crafted a set of circumstances to justify the name. Characters talk and interact with one another but it feels in service of the title, as if they are all simply brand ambassadors, rather than living breathing people.
The performances are, if not super, then fine. As the superheroes Affleck makes a better Bruce than Bat and Cavill is suitably steel-jawed. Eisenberg plays Lex as a twitchy Mark Zuckerberg in a performance that suits the wonky tone of the film. The women aren’t given much to do, but Adams finds Lane’s pluckiness and Gadot shows real promise as Wonder Woman. Nearly everyone gets overpowered by the CGI overkill of the final hour, but I suspect fans aren’t looking for nuance as much as they are mega action and that Snyder delivers.
“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is bombastic. The experience of watching it is like having a drunk at a bar tell you the story after five beers. It’s loud and in-your-face with the occasional maudlin moment.
There was a time when superhero movies were fun, escapist entertainment. Those days seem to have passed. There are a total of two laughs in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” although there are several other unintentionally laughable moments. Now our caped and cowled heroes are as dark and troubled as a reject from a Kafka novel which, in this case, makes for a rather loud but dreary night at the movies.