You have to feel sorry for Superman. Once the poster boy for DC Comics’ success, he has been pushed back in recent years by the juggernaut that is Batman. So much so, in fact, that his own movie sequel, to 2013's 'Man of Steel', has been taken over by his DC Comics stablemate. That wasn't always the case: created in 1938 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Superman's success was singlehandedly responsible for the industry domination and boom of superhero comics. Before Superman the comics industry was a very different place, flooded with war and western books, peppered with a bit of romance. Superman changed all that. Indeed it was his success which saw the very creation of Batman in 1939 by Bill Finger and Bob Kane, after being tasked to create more superheroes to cash in on Superman's success. Hundreds of stories have been written since, a few of which make up much of this new movie.
The movie really takes its cues from two particular classic DC Comic stories. The first two thirds are an adaptation of ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ by Frank Miller and the last third is made up of ‘The Death and Return of Superman’ by various authors. That's a lot of material to cover and if smashing two completely different stories together sounds messy then you'd be right, and the film does suffer for it. The basic story continues directly on from 2013's ‘Man of Steel’ after the death of Zod and the destruction of much of Metropolis. The opening scene shows Bruce Wayne (Batman, to those of us living under a rock) present in Metropolis to witness first-hand the destructive power of the men from Krypton. It's a good opening that both recaps the events from the previous movie and sets us up for what's to come, through a change in perspective of a familiar scene. Bruce feels that something needs to be done to keep such power in check which puts the pair at loggerheads for much of the film.
The performances are generally good. Anyone who was worried when Ben Affleck was announced as the new Batman can rest easy. Affleck gives a strong and brutal performance of an aged Batman with single-minded intent. Although somewhat one-note, to Affleck's credit, this is more to do with the script than his performance. Gal Gadot is also good as Wonder Woman, doing enough with her limited screen time to whet the appetite for her solo movie to follow next year. Although they are not given much to work with, Cavill and Adams offer solid performances as Clark and Lois. Sadly, the same cannot be said for Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. Played as a Mark Zuckerberg gone crazy, although a new approach, it really doesn't do the character of Luthor justice and is an annoyance throughout.
It's the direction and the script where the film really falls flat. A movie called ‘Batman v Superman’ really ought to be more playful than this. Regrettably, director Zack Snyder was so focused on making a gritty and realistic take on the characters he forgot the fun factor. There are similar problems with the pacing - it's a weird movie that feels both too long but also not long enough. Do we really need to see Batman's origin again? And yet other moments in the film aren't explained fully which leaves holes in the plot. These may be filled in with subsequent movies but you shouldn't need other films for things to make sense. In addition, there are huge question marks over how Superman's powers work. On one hand he can hear Lois in trouble halfway across the world, yet he can't detect when his mother is in trouble later in the movie. Finally, and frankly, the reason why Batman and Superman stop their hostilities is just ridiculous.
Overall the film has its moments but is a massive disappointment, considering the pedigree of the characters and all those involved.
VERDICT: 2.5 out of 5
Considered by many as being one of if not THE best graphic novels of all time. Frank Miller's classic is closest in tone to the Batman seen in the film. Returning out of retirement, a brutal Dark Knight clashes with old foes like the Joker and Superman, who believes his old friend has gone too far.
The Deathand Return of Superman omnibus by Various
Available in one massive tome, this mega event from the early 90s makes up the final third of the movie and is a must read for Superman fans. You don't need a run down, its all in the title.
JLA: Tower of Babel by Mark Waid
This classic Justice League story from the early 2000s revolves around Batman's paranoid countermeasures for taking out the rest of the league should any, or all, go rogue. His files get stolen and used by Ra’s al Ghul and has the team not only battling to survive but also questioning Batman's place on the team.
Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar
This fun elseworlds story takes place in an alternate reality where the last son of Krypton lands in Russia rather than the American heartland. Also starring Batman as a Bolshevik styled rebel who is fighting against the comrade of steels iron grip on society.