Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ***
Directed by Zack Snyder; screenplay by David S. Goyer and Chris Terrio
Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Holly Hunter, Kevin Costner
151 mins

Bruce Wayne, bitter after years of fighting against Gotham’s criminals beneath the mask of Batman, is wary towards the “absolute power” shown by Superman during the battle of Metropolis, where Bruce witnessed the death of may innocents. Lex Luthor, the sick genius who discovered the real identities of both superheroes, works behind the scenes to pit them against one another, while preparing a monstrous enemy for both of them, one capable of destroying the whole world. Luckily, another heroine is ready to join the fight…

An anomalous sequel to the quite unconvincing Man of Steel, Zack Snyder’s latest movie has the simultaneous strengths and flaws of biting off more than it can chew. Its themes, characters and action each try to get their time on the screen between brawls (impressive even without 3D), with a display of urban destruction unseen before, although it contributes to the main point of the movie.

Starting where the last one ended, but presenting the battle of Metropolis from the side of those on the ground, Batman v Superman favors the point of view of “Bruce Wayne the man”, thanks to Affleck’s ability to believably embody a dark knight tormented by nightmares and regrets. This is in stark contrast with Clark Kent’s “God” in disguise.

The legitimacy of Wayne’s omnipotence (a moot point by all standards since, as Holly Hunter’s senator points out in one scene, he just exists), the necessity of confronting other authorities, his undeniable dangerousness — themes that writers dissect all too frequently — burden the first half of the movie. Together with the many flashbacks (in which the director employs slow motion excessively and, after a while, also annoyingly), these preoccupations add up to a very long set-up for an epic clash of bodies and visions.

One undeniably interesting issue is the “need for the divine” that Superman’s arrival has sparked throughout all humankind. Positive references to the characters’ faith are not accidental, especially in the case of Superman’s human mother, wearing a clearly visible cross around her neck. Batman responds to these at first with a sort of cynical disillusionment and then, as even the “saviour” starts to experience some doubts, with a sort of “conversion” after the sacrifice of his former enemy.

Superman’s Christ-like depiction is not new, and Snyder doesn’t hold back in showing it, but the continuous insertion of themes, and the not always coherent interaction between the paths of the various characters, makes the big show not fully convincing – even tiresome in parts — to the ordinary viewer. Comic book aficionados on the other hand may be content to argue over the appropriateness of some solutions.

Certainly there’s no shortage of positive elements, starting with Affleck’s performance and especially with the introduction of Wonder Woman’s character (soon to star in her own movie), seeded through the course of the movie and crucial in its final stage. More than Adam’s Lois Lane, she’s the one who enlivens and gives unpredictability to the clash between the two male heroes, besides being the protagonist of some of the few lighter moments of the movie. The remaining ones are to be credited to Irons’ Alfred, who is, indeed, a little underemployed.

The overall balance, even if weighted down by elements that could seem unnecessary but are in fact instrumental to the imminent introduction of DC’s Justice League, is nonetheless positive in terms of entertainment. However, the film’s gloomy vision of life and the extreme violence of some passages make the movie unsuitable to a very young audience.

Problematic elements: some scenes of tension and exasperated violence