Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice review: “Ben Affleck is the class act in this spectacular if overstuffed epic”

This clash of the icons is worth the wait, it's just a long time coming in this plot-heavy launchpad for DC superheroes

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★★★

And off we go. The big-screen clash between the superhero titans of the DC Universe is here at last.

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Three years after directing Man of Steel, Zack Snyder gets the dream job of pitting these comic-book icons against each other (and throws in Wonder Woman for good measure, too). Unlike the rest of the movie, Snyder wastes little time setting things up, as the well-known orphaning of Bruce Wayne is played out over the opening credits, followed by a jump-cut to the wearisome climax of Man of Steel when Metropolis is devastated by the battle between Superman (Henry Cavill) and his Kryptonian nemesis Zod.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1VSWPU9qr4

Only here we get that wanton destruction from the human perspective of a frantic Bruce Wayne (a greying Ben Affleck), as he strives to save Metropolis’s citizens from ground zero, a scene spookily reminiscent of 9/11. The climax of Man of Steel was a mite tedious but Snyder cleverly uses the catastrophe in this movie to put the fire back in Wayne’s belly, persuading him to come out of retirement, suit up and be Gotham’s guardian once again. However, this Batman is more like the one in Frank Miller’s graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns – gone to seed, grizzled, worn down by years of battle and psychologically shattered by a mysterious past tragedy.

And with Superman’s reputation taking a nosedive after he flexes his muscles to rescue reporter lover Lois Lane (Amy Adams), it’s none too soon. An overly manic and smart-aleck Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg, riffing broadly on his role in The Social Network) exacerbates the debate over an unaccountable alien with godlike powers living among humanity and Affleck’s now revitalized Dark Knight avenger is in no mood to disagree.

What follows is part of the problem with the film as nearly an hour of plot unfolds, as Luthor’s Machiavellian plans are put into motion, Wayne investigates someone called the White Portuguese while enigmatic, beautiful Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) crosses his path and piques his curiosity.

Snyder can’t be faulted for respecting his source material (as with Watchmen in 2009) but the creation of the Justice League, the DC equivalent to Marvel’s Avengers, is seemingly always lurking in the background. But whereas Marvel took five films to launch their superteam, it’s almost as though Snyder has just the 152 minutes of this spectacular if overstuffed epic to keep pace with the Marvel juggernaut.

It’s only when Fight Knight becomes a reality and Son of Krypton squares up to Bat of Gotham that the pulse begins to quicken. When Affleck charges up the Bat Signal, challenges Supes in his armored bat suit and throws the kitchen sink at him (literally, as it happens, in one scene), sitting through the exposition seems worthwhile. And with Gadot making a showstopping debut as the Amazonian Wonder Woman (her first appearance on the big screen), it really is a wow moment – the holy trinity of the DC Universe suited up and ready to take on Luthor’s ultimate weapon.

Despite the avalanche of set pieces and nods to upcoming Justice League movies, it must be said that Affleck is the class act – he fits his bat suit well and also nails Bruce Wayne, whether as ageing roué or haunted hero. The Affleck haters (or Affleckaters if you wish) should just let it go that he’s taken over from Christian Bale. This is an older, wiser Batman for a new post-Nolan world.

If anything, Cavill is slightly overshadowed by all that’s going on around him. Indeed, at one point, he goes walkabout until he gets a pep talk from an unexpected figure from his past. Along with Adams’s Lois Lane, Laurence Fishburne (Perry White) and Diane Lane (Ma Kent) reprise their roles from Man of Steel, while Jeremy Irons takes a bow as Wayne’s ever-loyal if acerbic butler, Alfred.

Next up for the DC Universe are the eagerly anticipated Suicide Squad (opening in August), in which the Joker, Harley Quinn and Batman are all set to appear, and a Wonder Woman film in 2017. But for now, the Dark Knight has returned. Now give him his own movie!

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is released in cinemas on Friday 25th March