Forget about Kryptonite — movie critics are trying to kill Superman. The reviews for Zack Snyder’s DC Comics mash-up “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” are brutal, and much less forgiving than they were for Marvel’s “The Avengers” in 2012. Snyder’s movie, which introduces Ben Affleck as Batman and brings back Henry Cavill as the Man of Steel, doesn’t have the cinematic gravitas of, for example, Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy. But such a comparison isn’t really fair.
Unlike Nolan (who turned the comic book tentpole into a work of art), Snyder has crafted a popcorn blockbuster roller coaster ride. I mean that as a compliment — the movie is high on adrenaline; what it lacks in story, it makes up for through super-sized action. Often ridiculous and over-the-top, enamored by its own monstrous ambitions, “Batman v Superman” is frequently an entertaining jaunt through Metropolis and Gotham, anchored by strong performances and mesmerizing sweeps of cinematography. Despite what you may have read, here’s why it works:
1. Henry Cavill is a great Superman.
The role of Superman is thankless, as many actors with the part have suffered the curse of being typecast as the man in spandex. In taking over from Brandon Routh (from 2006’s unfortunate “Superman Returns”), Cavill has become a worthy successor to Christopher Reeve (or TV’s Dean Cain) with his modern-day portrait of Clark Kent. In 2013’s underrated “Man of Steel,” his chemistry with Amy Adams (as Lois Lane) and relationship with his parents (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner) kept the picture grounded, even when Snyder’s erratic camera angles threatened to give audiences motion sickness. In this sequel, Cavill once again soars as the heroic movie star masquerading as an everyman. He might be sharing the film’s title with another hero, but “Dawn of Justice” is still Superman’s story.
2. Ben Affleck makes Batman his own.
The fear among many fans was that it was “too soon” to see another Batman, just four years after Christian Bale hung up his mask in “The Dark Knight Rises.” Thankfully Affleck sidesteps any traps (and déjà vu from 2003’s “Daredevil”) by offering a different antihero: a grizzled Caped Crusader pushing 50 who is even more disillusioned with life (if that’s possible) than the previous incarnation. Affleck’s interpretation of the character isn’t among the best — it’s not in the same league as Bale and Michael Keaton from the Tim Burton films — but he’s not among the worst either. He gives us a conflicted Batman with room to grow, which is wise, considering the number of sequels Warner Bros. is planning.
3. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.
If “Superman v Batman” is the launching pad for multiple franchises, it’s already given birth to at least one star. That would be Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Like Angelina Jolie in “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” Gadot not only keeps up with the boys, she could devour them — if she wanted to. Her role in the movie is small, yet it’s an encouraging teaser of things to come with 2017’s “Wonder Woman,” directed by Patty Jenkins.
4. Give Snyder credit, too.
He’s become the Michael Bay of the aughts, dividing critics with hits like “300,” “Watchmen” and “Sucker Punch.” But despite a mixed track record on storytelling, Snyder is a gifted technical wizard; on his best days, he can compete with the likes of Peter Jackson or Sam Raimi when it comes to epic action. If “Batman v Superman” seems lost in a fog of angst during its first hour, don’t give up on the movie. As this epic picks up speed, it also delivers, especially during a spectacular fight between its two leads that will have fan boys (and girls) salivating.
5. And finally, one last twist.
“Batman v Superman” takes a brave plunge in its third act, a reminder that the best comic book movies contain deep human allegories. My guess is audiences will be leaving multiplex theaters stunned this weekend.