Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (3 stars)

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill fight it out in a battle of the titans

With a title promising the movie matchup to end them all, Batman v Superman not only serves as a face-off between two giants of the superhero world, but as an introduction to a new incarnation of the former. Step forward Ben Affleck; so stocky he’s virtually square and sporting a single, bummed-out expression, Affleck makes an appositely middle-of-the-road foe for an, at-best, adequate Henry Cavill – back as Superman after Man of Steel.

Returning director Zack Snyder’s third shot at the DC universe (he also helmed Watchmen) cleverly recasts Man of Steel’s climatic Metropolis destruction as a 9/11 style traumatic event, which Bruce Wayne witnessed as a largely helpless observer. Although the suspicion and rivalry between the two men is credibly established, since these are no better than functional manifestations of their respective characters their scenes together don’t crackle as they should (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, thrown away at the film’s outset as the ill-fated Thomas Wayne, would have made a much more interesting Batman).

Most devastatingly for many, Gal Gadot’s flat delivery and tacked-on heroics mean that Wonder Woman is nothing more than a damp squib in a succession of fabulous outfits. Amy Adams on the other hand continues to add a touch of class as Lois Lane, despite her permanently imperilled status. And – in a twitchy performance that has shades of Heath Ledger’s seminal Joker, albeit never reaching those heinous heights – Jesse Einsenberg’s Lex Luthor is the new threat to the cities of Gotham and Metropolis, as well as the darkly mischievous force that pits the heroes against one another.

Batman v Superman smartly takes into account the societal fallout, pondering the unsettling impact of the presence of a God-like alien on a nation’s collective psyche; it’s a film that’s admirably curious but too abbreviated to be properly considered – its lofty ideas at odds with the necessary haste of its execution (it’s very long but then there’s a lot to unpack). Nevertheless, the screenplay from Chris Terrio (Argo) and superhero supremo David S Goyer is pretty strong, with a smattering of notable lines – Holly Hunter’s estimable Senator Finch has a good few of those – but the need for constant exposition proves restrictive.

As has been widely reported, there are appearances from other Justice League faves, as the pieces slot into place for an Avengers-style team-up. However, so far at least, the DC films lack the sense of fun that has increasingly characterised Marvel’s output (perhaps the promising Suicide Squad will put paid to that), while the gravitas that Christopher Nolan brought to his Batman trilogy has somewhat dissipated. But, to the film’s significant credit, even though the eponymous pair are knocking on (Superman first appeared in comics in 1938, Batman a year later) within this context they still feel entirely relevant. Overstuffed, fidgety and fearful, it’s a blockbuster for the less flattering features of our time.

General release from Fri 25 Mar.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

  • 3 stars
  • 2016
  • US
  • 2h 31min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Zack Snyder
  • Cast: Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg
  • UK release: 22 March 2016

Superman (Cavill) faces off against Batman (Affleck) in the aftermath of the near-destruction of Metropolis at the end of Man of Steel. Despite a pretty strong screenplay, the two leads are no more than functional and Wonder Woman (Gadot) is a damp squib. But if the film lacks Marvel's sense of fun, in its fidgety and…