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Gritty 'Batman v Superman' swaps the Marvel fun factor for DC darkness
Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman and Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice." - photo by Josh Terry
BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE 3 stars Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Gal Gadot; PG-13 (intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality); in general release

"Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" has come to claim DC Comics piece of the comic book movie pie. The dark, brute force of director Zack Snyders film throws down the big screen gauntlet, but in spite of some entertaining moments, Dawn of Justice still pales next to the polish of its Marvel competition.

Technically, "Batman v Superman" is a sequel to 2013's "Man of Steel," also directed by Snyder. And in that sense, the directors new effort is a rare example of a sequel that betters its original. But in a more real sense, Snyder's Batman-Superman showdown is a reaction to his previous film, which applied a dark, 21st-century aesthetic to a traditionally colorful character, then spent the last 45 minutes of its running time watching said character level Metropolis.

"Batman v Superman" picks up in the middle of that mayhem as billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) watches helplessly on the ground as Superman (Henry Cavill) battles General Zod (Michael Shannon). It's an exciting and powerful sequence that offers a unique perspective on the carnage we often take for granted in films like this.

Eighteen months later, the fallout has led many to question Superman's heroic image, including no-nonsense Senator Finch (Holly Hunter). Wayne embodies this sentiment, gradually building his resolve to take down the Kryptonian at the same time Superman's alter ego Clark Kent becomes increasingly critical of Wayne's clandestine exploits as Batman.

While Superman and Batman press towards their inevitable conflict, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) greases the skids, working toward his own devious megalomaniacal ends. As he works on one level as a very public and ambitious industrialist, behind the scenes he uses Senator Finch to get access to Zod's body (and his old ship).

The plot also mixes in threads involving Superman's relationship with Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and a thread involving a mysterious woman (Gal Gadot) who always seems to be lingering in the background of every big event. If you've watched any of the "Dawn of Justice" trailers, it's pretty obvious where all of this is going, but luckily Snyder has kept a few twists and turns under wraps.

"Batman v Superman" maintains the distinctive dark, heavy and humorless tone of "Man of Steel," which itself felt like a carryover from Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy (Nolan is also listed as an executive producer here). It's so melodramatic, in fact making frequent use of a dominating Hans Zimmer score that the rare attempts at humor feel out of place.

Fair or not, "Batman v Superman" is going to be judged against its competition, and while it takes great pains to create its own identity, it lacks the fun of Marvel's Avengers-centered universe. For an origin film about DC's own team of superheroes The Justice League it does well to avoid defaulting to too much background and history. But like most superhero movies, it still defaults to a CGI-heavy climax that depends on chaos and lightning bolts to entertain.

Cavill and Adams have already been through their reps with their characters, so "Batman v Superman" acting critics will focus on the newcomers, specifically Affleck. Unlike previous incarnations of the character, Affleck plays Batman with more righteous indignation and more blunt force than Christian Bales martial arts-savvy version. He probably won't be anyone's favorite Dark Knight, but he gets the job done.

Eisenberg is a little harder to peg as Luthor. Though a talented actor, the "Social Network" star almost feels a bit too young next to his more experienced adversaries, coming across more as a sneaker-wearing Silicon Valley prodigy than a super villain in embryo, and he's lacking the maturity and gravitas of past Luthors such as Kevin Spacey and Gene Hackman.

The bottom line on "Batman v Superman," then, is that it is an entertaining but flawed step up from "Man of Steel," and is a dark, action-packed setup for future Justice League films. It's also a compelling foil for the Marvel Universe, even if it is a long way from hitting the stride of its competition.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality; running time: 151 minutes.
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