'Batman v Superman': No joking matter

It's not easy being Superman. One day you're a savior, a god, monuments are erected in your honor, a grateful world is all yours. The next, you're summoned before a Senate committee, accused of rogue actions and the death of innocents. It doesn't help that there's a guy in the next burg with a chip on his shoulder as big as a Gotham City skyscraper, a cowled crime-fighter who begrudges the Kryptonian with the "S" on his chest.

"He has the power to wipe out the entire human race," Bruce Wayne grumbles. "If we believe there's even a 1 percent chance that he's our enemy, we have to take it as an absolute certainty."

Paranoid? Sure. But it's easy to stir up fear and uncertainty in these troubled times, and who better than Lex Luthor, a nut-ball mogul with long hair and a penchant for quoting The Wizard of Oz, to do so?

That's the dynamic at play in Zack Snyder's booming, brooding Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, in which the DC Comics heroes - Ben Affleck in his first venture as the Dark Knight, Henry Cavill back for a second turn as the Man of Steel - are joined by Jesse Eisenberg as the jittery millennial Luthor who would like nothing better than to take Superman down. For good. For bad. For necessity. After all, what's a superhero supposed to do if there isn't a megalomaniacal villain around to pester him?

Clocking in at two hours and 33 minutes, with maybe two jokes in the whole shebang, Batman v Superman lacks the levity (forced or otherwise) of a typical Marvel Cinematic Universe entry. But Snyder's superpowered epic does have a sense of import and grandeur about it. This is, after all, the first time these icons of pop culture have squared off on the big screen (Affleck's got the squarer jaw), and there's a gravitas here that even the most stale of comic book tropes can't diminish.

Snyder, who directed Man of Steel and the failed comic book adaptation Watchmen, is nothing less than respectful. The effects aren't bad, either.

And one-liners or no one-liners, the Marvel brand certainly comes to mind: Warner Bros. has been busy playing catch-up, trying to do with its stable of DC Comics superheroes what Disney has already done in spades with the Marvel gang.

Batman v Superman is designed to serve as a launching pad for a whole Justice League franchise. If you blink, you might miss Aquaman and the Flash, but they're here, among the "metahumans" that Wayne discovers when he cracks some seriously encrypted database back at Bat HQ.

One of those metahumans - Diana Prince, a.k.a. Wonder Woman - does get a little more screen time. As played by Gal Gadot (Gisele of the Fast & Furious pics), Ms. Prince shows up at several fancy-pants society events, slinking about knowingly in drop-dead couture.

There has been a year or so of press about Gadot's casting as Wonder Woman, and she's teased in the Batman v Superman trailers, too. So, as the clock keeps ticking (and there is a clock that keeps ticking, by the way, warning of the dire fate that awaits someone close to Clark Kent), you start to wonder when Wonder Woman is going to appear.

She does, finally, slinging her magic lasso at a genetically engineered King Kong-like monster, and striking a few supermodel-y superheroic poses while she's at it. But for the longest time, as things go ka-boom, as dockside warehouses are sprayed with gunfire, as Amy Adams (Kent/Superman's newspaper reporter girlfriend) falls in and out of jeopardy, as Laurence Fishburne (Daily Planet editor Perry White) worries about newsroom cutbacks, as Jeremy Irons (Wayne's majordomo, Alfred) assists his boss in high-tech ways, Wonder Woman is nowhere to be found.

Which gives Affleck and Cavill and their "freaks dressed like clowns" characters something in common with another archetypal twosome: Vladimir and Estragon, those guys standing around yammering in that famous Samuel Beckett play.

Alternate title?: Batman v Superman: Waiting for Gadot.

srea@phillynews.com

215-854-5629@Steven_Rea

Continue Reading