"Bruce Wayne meets Clark Kent I love it!" Most of the world will agree with Lex Luthor in Warner Brothers' new monster tent-pole movie "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice." Wayne (a.k.a. Batman) and Kent (a.k.a. Superman) have met before, of course: on radio, in comic books and in animation. But the two have never before met in live-action -- until now.
And wait a minute ... isn't that Wonder Woman? This is not a drill, comic-book geeks.
"Batman v Superman" is, more or less, a direct sequel to "Man of Steel" and, as such, tips to Superman as the protagonist and Batman as the antagonist. Playing off of fan reactions to the devastation in "Man of Steel" and Superman's arguable corruption, Zack Snyder's sequel pits Superman (Henry Cavill) against Batman (Ben Affleck) as two sides of the vigilante coin, neither ceding accountability to any authority but his own, and both fielding nagging, if quickly sublimated, self-doubts about certain of their choices.
Egged on by murky external forces, each hero lays plans to contain the other until, inevitably, a more sinister threat forces them to join forces. (And wait a minute ... isn't that Wonder Woman?) If "Man of Steel" dragged Superman in tonal terms into Christopher Nolan's world, "Batman v Superman" drags Superman into Batman's world: a dark, dour, brooding space defined by shadows both literal and figurative. Chris Terrio's rewrite of David S. Goyer (both share credit) finds surprisingly smart dialogue that proffers competing philosophical approaches to life and death, psychoanalysis (Alfred warns Bruce of "the feeling of powerlessness that turns good men cruel"), and personal and social concepts about whom we put our faith in to make the big decisions: government, parents, God, ourselves? If those ambitions don't smoothly gel with clanging action, we can at least credit the D.C./WB brain trust for tickling the intellect at the risk of some box-office shekels.
By the same token, effectively putting heroism on hold for most of the film's 153 minutes, showing Superman burned in effigy, and hearing everyone's favorite red-caped Boy Scout lament, "No one stays good in this world" beg the question of what today's 8-year-old will think of this anti-adventure, this tamped-down escapism, this coloring book slathered with oil paint and handed over with no white space left to fill in. Move over kids, these seats are reserved for Peter Pans.
What else? Jesse Eisenberg as a Lex Luthor re-imagined as a diabolically insane Mark Zuckerberg (and a third "orphan boy" who thinks he's above the law). Rising star Gal Gadot as a suspiciously Amazonian gentlewoman thief. A convincing "Batfleck," grayer and brawnier than the previous model. Around 20 minutes of IMAX footage, mostly reserved for the showdown Luthor calls, "Black and blue. Fight night ... God versus man." And the inescapable shadows of twin towers and domestic terrorism.
Is "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" perfect? Nah, there's plenty for fanboys to scoff at and nitpick, and those who've never set foot in a comic-book shop may not feel very welcome. But this is the sort of marquee franchise movie ("Dawn of Justice" teases that this film ties in to next year's multi-hero "Justice League") at which the studios throw every available resource and every dollar stockholder-responsibility allows. And wait a minute ... isn't that Wonder Woman? Oh, let's just call it a night and meet back at "Justice League."
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality. Two hours, 33 minutes.