On April 1, 1990, I sat in the nosebleed section of Toronto’s massive Skydome (now the Rogers Centre, but it will always remain the Skydome to me), waiting with bated breath to witness the contest of contests, the immovable force vs. the unstoppable object, Hulk Hogan vs. The Ultimate Warrior as the main event of Wrestlemania VI. The undercard was messy, the main event was hardly a five-star squared circle classic, but damn if it wasn’t one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. As the match concluded, and the Hulkster, now beaten, offered his hand in friendship to his conqueror, you couldn’t scrub the smile off my face with a Brillo pad.
Thoughts of Wrestlemanias past flooded my mind as I excited a sold-out theatre, almost 25 years to the day after witnessing my last Wrestlemania as a full-fledged professional wrestling fan (that is until the Attitude Era briefly rekindled my interest), having just seen Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Currently getting eviscerated by critics (30% on Rotten Tomatoes), Batman V Superman reminded me much of my Wrestlemania VI experience. Yes, it was messy. Yes, technical finesse and nuanced storytelling were eschewed in favor of loud, speaker-rattling, eyeball-engorging action scenes. But damn if I wasn’t thoroughly entertained throughout the whole goddamn thing.
The plot is paradoxically convoluted yet wafer thin, and the logistics don’t make a whole lot of sense, but really, who the fuck cares? It’s Batman fighting Superman! And that isn’t even the main event (more on that later). The whole thing is overstuffed and almost comically overblown. Watching it is akin to gorging yourself at a Chinese All-You-Can-Eat buffet. You know you’re not doing your body any good as you hoover your umpteenth plate of sweet and sour ribs. And when you pay the check and get up to leave, you feel a trifle bloated and a little sick. But once the MSG and the food coma wears off (typically in half an hour), you wish you had gone back for just one more plate.
Batman V. Superman is not high art. Those looking for a nuanced take on the Caped Crusader should look elsewhere. Zack Snyder is a director that wouldn’t know nuance if it rear-ended him on the freeway. It’s multiplex, popcorn munching-fodder filled with lots of things that blow up real good. Each bombastic punch rendered operatically for maximum oomph. The work rate is low on this one, and you won’t need to exercise many brain cells to enjoy it, but the entertainment factor is off the charts. This is one film that begs to be seen on the biggest screen you can find, hopefully alongside a loud cheering audience. Somehow, I don’t think that Wrestlemania main event would have worked as well in an empty stadium rather than in front of nearly 70,000 rabid fans.
Time to address some of the elephants in the room, namely the participants and the first, of course, being Casey Affleck’s big brother who was cast as the new Batman among much “controversy” (but then again, when is a casting decision for a comic book property ever not met with controversy?) Technically, Ben Affleck is the ninth actor to portray the Dark Knight on the Silver Screen. And he’s good. His Batman is indebted to the Frank Miller version as presented in the seminal comic series “The Dark Knight Returns”. This is a Batman that has been active in Gotham for 20 years, a stark contrast to the neophyte Batman we’re introduced to in Nolan’s Batman Begins. His Batman has seen too much and has suffered both physically and mentally for it. The Jason Todd/Robin death from “A Death in the Family” is alluded to, in a brief glimpse that will make comic readers go “a-ha!” while confusing the rest unfamiliar with their four-color Batman lore. This Batman works out of a dilapidated Wayne Manor along with his trusty butler/sidekick Alfred (Jeremy Irons). Baffleck is paranoid, brutal and none-too-bright. (Batman is meant to be the World’s Greatest Detective, but did we ever really see Micheal Keaton or Christian Bale ever do much detecting?) Ben Affleck manages to portray the gravitas of a world-weary, broken down Bat with aplomb, and he looks damn good in the suit too.
The British born Henry Cavill ironically has the look that the American-as-Apple-Pie Superman requires. He’s no Christopher Reeve, but as much as fandom lauds the late actor’s portrayal of Superman/Clark Kent, the “Big Blue Boy Scout” version of Supes would be laughed off the screen in 2016. Cavill is somewhat of a cipher, and he has a peccadillo of continually making a face resembling someone who just surreptitiously emitted a fart each time he does something heroic, but he’s counterbalanced nicely by a game Amy Adams as Lois Lane. The Oscar-nominated actress is given much more to do here than she was in this film’s predecessor, 2013’s Man of Steel.
Now on to Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. This is the performance that is going to divide most. This Luthor is a orphaned tech wunderkind of sorts. He has the knowledge, but he lacks the power (kind of the opposite of Kanye West), and it renders him insane. Eisenberg’s performance is all sorts of Looney Tunes, but it’s far from the worst portrayal of Lex on the big screen (that dishonor goes to Kevin Spacey’s shockingly inert turn in 2006’s woefully undercooked Superman Returns).
BATMAN V SUPERMAN
The titular big battle is suitably grandiose, but it’s really the calm before the storm that is the film’s real main event: Batman and Superman putting aside their differences (both philosophical and regional; there’s gotta be a Metropolis/Gotham sports team rivalry in this film’s world) and teaming with Wonder Woman to throw down with Doomsday – the Kryptonian superbeast that managed to kill Superman in the comics in the early 90’s before his eventual “rebirth”. The erstwhile enemies putting aside their differences to combat an even greater enemy is an overused trope, but I appreciate whatever it takes to finally bring Wondy to the multiplex. And Gal Gadot is a revelation. She radiates every time she’s on screen, both as Diana Prince and her more super alter ego. This Wonder Woman is a badass through and through. The final battle is all her, and Gadot is everything Wonder Woman should be: strong, sexy, formidable and feisty. Frankly, in her brief bit of screen time, Gadot makes Cavill and Affleck both her bitch. And to that I say good…it’s high time for a well-made, female-driven superhero movie, and this bodes very well for the solo Wonder Woman film, due out in 2017 and thankfully not directed by Sir Snyder.
Batman V Superman is just what it should be: a fun bit of escapism that, like flipping through the pages of your favorite stack of floppies as a child while lazing on the grass on a sunny Sunday afternoon, will allow two-and-a-half hours of your life to float on by effortlessly. If you don’t think too much while watching and just allow yourself to get swept away in the extravaganza of it all, it will work for you too. I didn’t think too much when the Hulkster had an already-winded-from-running-to-the-ring Ultimate Warrior in yet another resthold during their legendary encounter. I was too busy enjoying the spectacle. Perhaps we should save our thinking for life’s real issues* and enjoy every bit of escapism we can get. Heaven knows we need it nowadays.
*** (out of five)
*And if you’re one of those people who thinks that a film based on a comic book warrants the same amount of mental exertion as say, our planet’s rising temperature or global wealth disparity, just repeat to yourself this mantra….”It’s only a movie…It’s only a movie…It’s only a movie.”