Bringing Superman and Batman together on the silver screen is not an easy task, although it was inevitable that Hollywood would try it. Each character is so steeped in his own mythology, origin stories, and rogue’s galley of super-villains that there isn’t much room to share the story with another protagonist.
Take Superman. Created in the Depression by two Jewish teenagers, Superman’s story is America’s story: He’s the ultimate immigrant, fleeing the old country (or in this case the old planet), settling in the heart of America, Kansas, to represent “Truth, justice, and the American way,” championing his adopted country.
If Zack Snyder’s new film, Batman V. Superman, were truer to our times, we might find such an immigrant superhero opposed by a Donald Trump figure, an angry billionaire with funny hair proclaiming that the immigrant threat is the source of all our problems.
Oh, wait a moment. There is a Donald Trump figure in this movie. Actually, there are two! First, there’s Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne / Batman, a billionaire not content to merely be rich; he must be society’s vengeful prince. He’s going to make America great again, or at least Gotham City. But Affleck, with an elegant touch of gray at the temples, actually has great hair, in contrast to Trump.
Then there’s the other billionaire, Lex Luthor, this time played by Jesse Eisenberg, an actor noticeably shorter than Trump. But he does have whacky hair. He also has an annoying habit of spouting whatever absurd nonsense comes to his mind.
Yet the opening sequences of Batman v Superman recall not 2016 but 2001. When last we saw Superman (Henry Cavill), he was doing battle with General Zod and in the process wiping out most of downtown Metropolis. Director Snyder gives us shot after shot recalling the billowing dust clouds and collapsing skyscrapers of 9-11. This time, we learn in flashback that Bruce Wayne was on the scene, aiding first responders and watching as employees of Wayne Corporation were killed and maimed.
Soon afterward, Bruce goes into Dick Cheney mode. “If there’s an even 1% chance that Superman is out to destroy the planet,” he proclaims to his loyal butler Alfred (a well cast Jeremy irons), “we have to do everything we can to destroy him!”
Superman, meanwhile, just wants everyone to get along, and like any good immigrant, he primarily wants to be accepted. His highest ambition is to live in human-alien bliss with Lois Lane (Amy Adams), rescuing her from terrorists and aliens as the need arises.
It’s a complex plot, taking almost two hours to get around to the Batman-Superman fight. But when we do, it’s spectacular. If you’re a follower of these characters, you might at first ask how Batman—an ordinary Earthling except for the money he has to buy crime-fighting toys—can possibly have a chance against Superman, a being who can lift millions of tons, fly faster than light, and shrug off nuclear blasts. But if you really follow the Superman myth, you already know the answer. There’s a certain element from space that Superman is more than mildly allergic to. Batman, with a little help from Lex Luthor, just does the obvious.
Does it all make for a good movie?
The fight scene promised in the title is worth the price of admission. And there some other good things. Affleck is surprisingly easy to take as Batman, a role that even such a stellar actor as George Clooney got spectacularly wrong. Irons, as mentioned, is well cast, even though Michael Caine was nearly irreplaceable in the role; Irons was probably the only actor who could come close. Henry Cavill is arguably the second-best Superman of all the Men of Steel we’ve ever seen, taking a back seat only to Christopher Reeve. And Amy Adams reprises her thoroughly satisfying portrayal of Lois Lane—a love object who is much more than a damsel in distress, capable to taking events into her own hands as the opportunity arises.
And there’s one big surprise. Former Miss Israel Gal Gadot (try saying that ten times fast) shows up in the last act to steal scenes and walk off with the movie. Because of the story details that Zack Snyder has to deal with in the first three-quarters of the film, we are teased with only brief glimpses of her character, Diana Prince, for most of the film. But when she suddenly emerges in full regalia as Wonder Woman, you want to say “About time!” Perhaps as appropriate for an Amazonian Princess, she sacrifices nothing in the way of youth, glamour, or feminine beauty while emerging as the film’s champion butt-kicker. Super-villains, be on notice.
Alas, Snyder ends the film in a bewildering whirl of CGI. The computer-generated monster who shows up for the last battle is an ugly conglomeration of orange hues, big explosions, and sparks of lightning. The stupid thing is created by Lex Luthor, who tries to justify it by an argument out of Philosophy 101: “I learned that if God is good, He is not all powerful. And if He is all powerful, He is not good.” Okay, Einstein, that’s arguably true. But what has that to do with comic books?
Luthor ends the movie the same way he began it: by warning of an alien invasion. Thank you, Donald.