Ben Affleck nicely fills out the Batsuit against Henry Cavill s conflicted Superman

By Alynda Wheat
Updated October 05, 2016 06:19 PM
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Clay Enos/Warner Bros.

There is a land where harmony reigns; a world in which the alien in the red cape and the rich vigilante in the black cape can come together, establish an equitable division of crusader duties, and maybe have a beer after saving the world. The DC Comics universe is not that place. For here, Superman (Henry Cavill) and Batman (Ben Affleck) nurse such deep distrust of the other that there is naught else to do but this: FIGHT!!!

The reality is that most of us will show up to this chapter of the Super Frenemies for two reasons: to watch Superman and Batman come to mighty blows, and to see what Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) will make of these two stunted man-children, as she finally gets her big-screen moment. The good news is that Dawn of Justice, directed by Zack Snyder, establishes the new character arcs and conflicts well enough to gin up viewer interest for the upcoming Justice League movies. The less terrific news is that the film doesn’t have much more ambition than that.

But let’s back up for a second to establish where we are now. You’ll recall that at the end of 2013’s Man of Steel (I’ll pause for you to groan), Superman battled General Zod (Michael Shannon) to save Metropolis, only to end up leveling much of downtown while accidentally killing many, many people. As it happens, we weren t the only ones watching and feeling deeply conflicted about that. Bruce Wayne/Batman saw the destruction visited by the aliens, and in this update, vows to bring down the Man of Steel. Affleck’s steely demeanor actually comes in handy in his first spin behind the wheel of the Batmobile, as the Caped Crusader spirals into obsession and extreme calisthenics.

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Meanwhile, as intrepid reporter Clark Kent weighs the costs of being Superman, he also becomes increasingly fixated on Gotham City’s Batman, who’s taken to literally branding criminals caught in his snare with a red-hot bat. It’s grisly, and offends the sensibilities of a Kansas man like Clark, who isn’t at all jealous that Batman has a cool car and gadgets that Kent can’t afford on a journalist’s salary. In short, Batman thinks Superman is reckless and Superman thinks Batman is fascist. They are not wrong.

They are also not alone. Welcome, at long last, Diana Prince, a.k.a. Wonder Woman, to the big-screen festivities. Gadot, who was so effective in the Fast & Furious franchise and the dirty-cop thriller Triple 9, is even more intriguing as the Amazon warrior. She tangles with Bruce Wayne as he investigates someone known as the White Portuguese, giving the moody billionaire some much needed levity; then shows up in a huge way for the big battle. (Superman finds his lighter moments in flirting with Amy Adams as Lois Lane.) If it feels like we don’t get enough of Diana in this outing, worry not. Dawn of Justice lays enough groundwork to raise expectations that next year’s Wonder Woman will be a thrilling spectacle.

If Justice, with its sluggish script, isn’t quite the jaw-dropping eye-popper it should be, that’s okay. The cast is unimpeachable, including Jesse Eisenberg as a mentally unstable Lex Luthor, Holly Hunter as a crusading senator, and Jeremy Irons as the new Alfred, replacing Michael Caine in the role of Bruce Wayne’s father figure/valet. The story is on solid footing, and the teases to the next films are the juiciest bits. So settle in for the two-and-a-half-hour journey, but don’t feel compelled to stick around for any Easter eggs. This is DC, not Marvel – all the good stuff hits the screen before the end credits.