Directed by Zack Snyder
Warner Bros., in cinemas March 25
Star Wars sequels aside, did ever a film bring so much baggage with it? Promising the ultimate grudge match showdown between A-list superheroes, while also setting up the backbone of the future of the DC Cinematic Universe – The Justice League – Zack Snyder’s follow-up to his Man of Steel had a lot to live up to. Ultimately it’s a loud, exciting and fairly draining two-and-a-half hours that justifies its existence in narrative terms but you can’t help but wish you were watching a more straightforward movie.
It’s grim in Gotham, as anyone who watches Warner’s weekly show will know. But this Gotham is really grim; not surprisingly for a movie that clearly used Frank Miller’s nihilistic The Dark Knight Returns as its template. Anyone wanting Snyder to lighten-up after his po-faced Superman movie might be better served by Supergirl. Because the odd throwaway line aside, there’s little room for levity, with only Jesse Eisenberg’s unhinged Lex Luthor or Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White notching up any real chuckles.
But onto the important matters: is Ben Affleck a good Batman? Absolutely. It’s to his credit that in a film where he could easily be dwarfed by all the cool requisite bat gadgets that he still convinces as the angst-risen guardian of Gotham. We all knew he had the chin, the question was whether he had the chops for the dual Bruce Wayne/Batman role, and he actually makes more of an impact than Henry Cavill did in his Superman debut, or indeed Christian Bale in Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Cavill looks more comfortable in his blue and red get-up this time round, carrying the weight of the world (almost literally) on his shoulders and it’s good to see his Clark Kent alter ego get more screen time this time around.
As every film that includes a ‘v’ or ‘vs’ promises (Alien vs Predator, Freddy vs Jason, Monsters vs Aliens) there is an expectation of a significant fight night showdown between the protagonists, and thankfully this movie does deliver on that promise. Being the first comic book movie this year that focuses on an inner battle within the superhero ranks (Captain America: Civil War will see the Avengers disassemble as they take sides with Cap or Stark, and X-Men: Apocalypse will continue this trend) the big questions here were whether this was a fair fight – surely Superman would win? – and why would they be locking cowl and kiss curl in the first place?
When the slam down does arrive, with both heroes duking it out on the streets of Gotham, it’s not so much a case of who will win, it’s what will happen to get them both on the same side. At one point I considered that they’d thrown in everything but the kitchen sink… and then a basin was smashed over someone’s head!
On the technical side, the effects are excellent: try to see it on the biggest possible screen in 70mm or IMAX to appreciate the movie’s scale and ambition. Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s score is also of note, linking it neatly to Man of Steel and giving the high drama the necessary dramatic punch when needed
There’s much to enjoy here – Jeremy Irons’ snarky world-weary Alfred is a welcome new spin on the Wayne butler – and there’s loads of nods to established Batman lore, with possibly more to come in the upcoming three-hour home video release. Even my biggest gripe about the Man of Steel, the apparent lack of consequences from the Zod/Superman destruction, is addressed and used as a key plot point.
It’s a hefty running time and while you get great value for money, a little judicious trimming would have helped. Save yourself five minutes at the end by not waiting for a post-credits sting; there isn’t one. Instead of Samuel L Jackson turning up at the end, I waited for Dawn of Justice to turn up, but there was no sign of her. Oh, and Gal Gadot is great as Wonder Woman, her entrance getting one of the biggest cheers.
Verdict: Playing out just as you imagine it will, this movie ticks the boxes, isn’t the Batman and Robin car crash the naysayers predicted, but equally isn’t the ultimate DC comic book hero. It does exactly what it says on the poster, and while it’s unlikely to gain new converts to the Snyder-verse, this series is carving out its own path distinct from the Marvel version. 7/10