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Super, But Not So Human

Quiet moments aren’t enough to make us care about the fate of the world in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

It is a truth universally acknowledged that superhero movies must feature massive amounts of property damage. Rather hilariously, we are all spending a lot of time talking about this, not about cool fight scenes (harder and harder to come by) or daring ways our heroes have saved the day.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a movie that certainly didn’t need both titles, is no different: It starts back in the time of Man of Steel, but we see the destruction of Metropolis again — this time from Bruce Wayne’s perspective. (Ben Affleck and his cheekbones are pretty good in this role.) 

Bruce takes it personally, as there’s a Wayne building in Metropolis, which is within spitting distance of Gotham. This destruction, he concludes, is the work of aliens, and Superman (Henry Cavill) is an alien, and thus, fuck that guy.

This kind of logic drives BvS, a movie that I would like to say I enjoyed in the moment, even if it’s the kind of enjoyment you get from eating all the half-price Easter candy at once: Each piece is delicious for a hot second, but eventually you kind of want to throw up. 

While we might all know who Batman and Superman are by now, BvS assumes a built-in level of interest in and attachment to its characters and only rarely gives the audience anything to sustain that interest. Clark and Lois’s relationship is one of those things: Every time Superman rescues Lois (Amy Adams), it’s about trust, his utter dedication to her, her faith in him. They’re meant to symbolize the relationship between Superman and humanity. But the thing about humanity is that we have a wide range of opinions about people and aliens and whatnot, and not all of us need saving. 

The best parts of BvS are not the parts when shit blows up real good; excepting the delightful appearance of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), the action sequences are flat, forgettable and familiar. The highlights come in quieter moments, when people act more like people. Not Bruce Wayne’s incoherent, sequel-foreshadowing dreams, but the tiredness with which he continues his fight. Not Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg)’s quick takeover of alien technology, but the way he looks at Holly Hunter’s June Finch, a threatening leer that says more about power than any speech.

Diana Prince’s weary tone when she talks about men, Alfred (Jeremy Irons)’s muttered frustration about the life he wants for Bruce — these are the things that give superhero movies their hearts. (Also, it’s nice to see a man get nagged about settling down for once.)

Director Zach Snyder drowns out these moments in bombast and bludgeoning. BvS strains so hard for relevance that it forgets superheroes are to the adult world what Buffy was to high school: a series of choices and difficult events, elevated to a mythic level of high stakes. But those stakes, even when you make them the fate of the world, mean little unless they involve characters we can care about. 

It’s not the heightened stakes that make the story work. It’s the people — aliens, gods, geniuses, spies, reporters, parents — tangled in these outsized stories. (Regal Cinemas, Cinemark 17