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Listen Up...'Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice' is better than you remember

Before Zack Snyder tied the disparate entries together with his excellent cut of Justice League, the common wisdom was that Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, although thrilling in design and spectacle, was ultimately lacking as a film. Stars Jeremy Irons and Henry Cavill were quick off the mark, claiming that the film had deviated from the core fanbase, subverting the expectations into something that was fundamentally less rewarding in its outlook.

Of course, if you asked Snyder himself, he would have pointed to the narrative he was spinning over five films, giving Cavill a character arc that was infinitely more nuanced and complex than the cheery posturings of the Christopher Reeve originals. And he would also have held up his copy of The Dark Knight Returns that gave his work a visual grandeur that was infinitely richer than the plainer looking Christopher Nolan trilogy. And then he might have highlighted the tête-à-tête between the two caped heroes, all muscles and cutaways, the two demi-gods using a hybrid of brawn and brain in their quest to bring the other to his senses.

No, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is not a perfect movie, but it was certainly a step in the right direction for the series, which was quickly derailed by a writer turned director who abandoned Snyder’s work to create a cheaper, more throwaway copy of Avengers Assemble in 2017. Deeply aware of the mythology that cemented the comic books, Snyder wisely decided to bring in the one character who is the child of a God: Wonder Woman. In a world full of burling men, it takes the shrewd intellect of a woman – played tactfully by Gal Gadot – to bring the film to an exhilarating close. The film made a superstar out of Gadot, who has since gone on to star in two solo entries since that time.

But the importance of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice doesn’t lie in the leading cast, but in the supporting players, not least Jesse Eisenberg, who plays Lex Luthor with a nefarious ability, keenly aware that his position as a man of intellect over a hotshot hero serves him in a quest to pit the two titular heroes against one another. Irons plays Alfred with pitiful angst, yearning for the day Bruce Wayne will give up this crusade, and settle down with a partner. Between these characters stands Ben Affleck, the tallest actor to play Batman, and certainly the hardest, muscles parading around his body, every punch delivered is one that can seep through the skin of an assailant and into the bone.

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And unlike the more affable Michael Keaton, Affleck’s iteration is a man of great psychological horror, masking his childhood trauma with a cowl that serves as his true face. Walking out into the darkness, Wayne senses the bravura from the city’s lack of light, culminating in a vigilante who is every bit as menacing as the prisoners he locks away. “Well, there is something about Batman,” the director recalled, “Even for me growing up… I’ve always felt like he’s really troubled, you know? He’s working out a pretty massive trauma that happened to him, and I think that by keeping that alive in the story – through a nightmare or imagery like that, you feel like it’s still boiling. To me, it keeps him on point as a character. Like, if you let that fade too far into the background, you start to go, ‘No wait – why is he doing this again? What’s he upset about? Like, there’s police. He knows that, right?’ [Laughs] You know, we have a little thing called the justice system, and it works OK.”

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice gave Matt Reeves the opportunity to plunge viewers headfirst into the darkness of the character’s psyche, picturing the murder of his parents as a senseless atrocity that grows more painful every time he reflects upon the killing. Affleck is excellent, offering the flavours of a Batman he could have played in a solo outing. But the film didn’t take off, and with Warner Bro= growing weary of their director’s penchant for experimentalism, the actor was robbed of a film he was set to direct, write and star.

What we’re left with is something that is rich in texture and possibility, keenly understanding that at any point a movement could send either Batman or Superman over the edge, and spiralling into a vortex from which there was no climbing up. Darkness suited the characters, and the film boasts a palette that is grimy in reach, tangible in a cloak and vast in its spectacle. What Snyder presented was incomplete, but it was a strong indication as to what he and his cast were capable of producing if the public wished it to happen.

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