Family Movie Review: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (PG-13)

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MPAA Rating: PG-13           Length: 151 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 14+. Like most superhero movies rated PG-13, this one has a fair amount of violence but not that much gore. Tons of characters die, from gunfire, city-wide destruction, or explosions; there are a number of fights, combat scenes, kidnappings, and people whose lives are threatened; also some frightening nightmare sequences, including one with a giant bat covered in blood; a few instances of cursing; implied sexual content, some male shirtlessness, and nudity (one woman in a bathtub, a few others in one-night-stand situations); some drinking; and some monsters.

‘Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice’ pits the two superhero titans against each other with beautiful visuals, far too many characters, and a meandering, borderline nonsensical plot.

By Roxana Hadadi

“Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” is a movie is stilted by its own exhaustingly overwrought seriousness. This is a darkly shot movie centered on dark themes, with big questions about good vs. evil, humanity vs. God, faith vs. fear, and it rarely breaks out of that dour, self-involved mode. There are beautiful images here and weighty concerns, but it’s all so irritatingly heavy-handed that “Batman v. Superman” is a nearly impossible movie to enjoy.

A follow-up to 2013’s “Man of Steel,” “Batman v. Superman” tries to do too much. Originally intended to be a Superman-centered sequel, the movie then morphed to include Batman and then Wonder Woman and finally (spoiler alert, but not really, if you know how these superhero movies go) other members of the Justice League. And that’s just the good guys!

There’s also Lex Luthor, a variety of paramilitary bad guys, a monster, the alien bad guy from “Man of Steel,” plus Batman’s loyal butler Alfred and Superman’s girlfriend Lois Lane and his mother Martha Kent. On and on and on, characters and subplots piling up, with very little clarity and too much forced interconnectedness. Keeping up feels like a chore.

“Batman v. Superman” introduces a different version of Batman (Ben Affleck, of “Runner Runner”) than in the Christopher Nolan films with Christian Bale. This version of Bruce Wayne is older now, worried about his legacy, and he saw firsthand how Superman’s fight with General Zod destroyed Metropolis in the first film, causing the deaths of numerous Wayne Financial employees. He sees Superman as a threat to the safety of the world, and is committed to eliminating that threat. “How many good guys are left?” he asks the wary Alfred (Jeremy Irons, of “Race”). “How many stayed that way?”

For his part, Superman (Henry Cavill, of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”) is still struggling with how much responsibility he wants to take upon for the world, as he did in “Man of Steel.” He wants a normal life with girlfriend Lois Lane (Amy Adams, of “Big Eyes”), but he can’t stop himself from flying off to Mexico to save people from a factory fire (Day of the Dead revelers reaching out to touch Superman is one of the film’s most striking images), and he can’t stop himself from investigating the “bat vigilante” in Gotham. Plus, he’s under pressure from Congress, who are asking what Superman “should” do, and who are illicitly teaming up with billionaire scientist Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg, of “Rio 2”) to work on “planetary security.”

Ultimately the film positions Batman and Superman against each other with Lex Luthor in the middle, but it takes too long getting there – over the first hour is spent setting up the obvious rivalry – and Luthor never comes together as a villain. Eisenberg plays him twitchy, anxious, and demented, but while he blabbers often about his motivations (“If God is all-powerful, he cannot be all-good”), his plan never really makes sense. It’s too pretentiously presented to resonate.

Too much of “Batman v. Superman” feels like treading water or setting up the eventual Justice League films, for better or for worse. There is the greatness of Gal Gadot (of “Furious 7”) as Wonder Woman, whose grin during her fight scene is endlessly charming, but then there’s an obviously fake-out ending, which undermines the emotional resonance of the film’s final 15 minutes. There is the gravitas Irons brings to his role as Alfred as he warns Bruce Wayne of “the fever, the rage, the powerlessness that turns men cruel,” but there’s also the underuse of Diane Lane as Superman’s mother, who tells him – supposedly the good guy – that he owes humanity nothing. For every great thing the film does, there’s a mediocre thing a scene later.

At least, among all of this, there are promising elements for future DC Universe films. Affleck is a surprisingly capable Batman, Gadot’s standalone Wonder Woman movie can’t come soon enough, and Snyder shows a deft hand at the nightmarish imagery that will probably pop up in the Justice League movies. But the goodness of the world that Batman and Superman are supposed to be fighting for, the joy, the light? None of that is in “Dawn of Justice,” a movie trying so desperately to be as dark and mature as possible that it never loosens up.

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