Grim, gritty and portentous comic fans have never quite seen a film like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
With even a title that sounds as if it was lifted from a Metallica lyrics sheet, the sequel to 2013's Man of Steel finds director Zack Snyder doubling down on the machismo with a film that's heavy on aggro and light on logic.
Filmed in growling Snydervision, BvS takes place in a sepia-tone-stained world where brown, grey and black are the primary colours. A place where every character talks in ALL CAPS and not even Superman's bulging biceps can lift the leaden dialogue.
This is Snyder's version of realism, as edgy as an Axe body spray commercial and equally odorous. It was Snyder who Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan passed the torch to at the end of his Batman trilogy. But while Nolan also tried to envision a more realistic world of do-gooders, his film balanced the darkness with flashes of light.
In the hands of the director who gave us the ab-tastic 300, we have Batman boiling with rage, but missing the moments of grandeur. Superman is literally darker, his costume straining to contain his Adonis-like physique. But what's lacking is a sense of inspiration, drawn from the original comic book icons who represented a bigger, bolder, better version of ourselves.
Instead, the focus shifts to strength, power and punching, so much punching.
Wit? Humour? Moments of self-awareness? Those qualities would only slow down Snyder's mission to explore what a world with superbeings really looks like and spoiler … it ain't pretty.
BvS begins in the climax of Man of Steel, as Superman battles Zod in the sky. Corporate titan and part-time vigilante Bruce Wayne arrives in Metropolis to witness buildings toppling like dominoes. Never a director to waste an opportunity, Snyder piles on the 9/11 imagery as we're thrust into the dust and chaos while a furious Wayne looks to the heavens with determination.
Flash forward 18 months and America is beginning to see the Kryptonian hero as a threat. Holly Hunter puts in a convincing turn as a senator who would like the Big Blue Boy Scout to bend to the rule of law. Soon Wayne becomes improbably convinced to pause his war on crime and instead focus on stopping the alien threat.
Hints for future films
In the meantime, the real puppet master pulling the strings is Lex Luthor, reinvented by Jesse Eisenberg. Less a supervillain and more like a spoiled angel investor left over from an Entourage episode, Lex skulks around in sneakers and printed T-shirts. If Eisenberg has a superpower, it's smugness, and he makes being bad great fun to watch.
Also arriving to save us from the macho monotony is Gal Gadot, with our first glimpse of Wonder Woman, who lives up to the billing in her very brief screen time. As the Amazonian Princess, she manages to do something the boys never could — she enjoys herself, relishing the battle with an almost carnivorous smile.
As for Ben Affleck as Batman, the real battle here is inheriting the cowl of a character whose emotional range runs from furious to fuming. Perhaps it's Affleck's personal trials reflecting on the screen, but he channels rage convincingly, certainly more than man mannequin Henry Cavill as Kent.
Surprisingly it's when another threat emerges and the heroes unite that the film noticeably improves. Angryman vs Superbro is also supposed to be the beginning of Warner Brothers' five-year plan, and accordingly, the film is bursting at the seams with cameos, hints for future films and one truly demented dream sequence that answers the question: What would happen if Batman met Mad Max?
In the end, director Zack Snyder and writers David S Goyer and Chris Terrio show just how far they're willing to go to move the audience. The results are shocking, at times borderline sadistic but effective. Like the musical score, which resembles a chorus of anvils, Batman v Superman pummels the audience into submission. A grim and gritty slog with much hero worship but far from super.
RATING: a begrudging 3 out of 5 stars