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Except when it’s laughable.
C’mon, fanboys and -girls. We’ve all been giddy with anticipation over Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The biggest of DC’s worlds collide! It’s Batman’s belt and brooding versus Superman’s do-gooder godliness!
However: This is also Zack Snyder we’re talking about. The director may have delivered a promising debut in 2004 with his remake of Dawn of the Dead. But then ossification set in with 2006’s 300 and continued onward, only slightly loosening up for 2011’s Sucker Punch.
Admittedly, Snyder’s own Man of Steel in 2013 got three things right: replacing Kate Bosworth (!) from Bryan Singer’s otherwise superior Superman Returns with Amy Adams as Lois Lane, casting Michael Shannon as General Zod, and swapping Brandon “Who?” Routh with Henry Cavill, among the manlier of young Hollywood’s boy-men who also often bears a striking resemblance to Christopher Reeve while wearing the suit. But Snyder’s rigid self-seriousness set in, presenting action scenes devoid of life and characters devoid of, well, character. Suddenly Routh didn’t seem so bad.
Batman v Superman, too, feels wrong from the start. First of all, does anyone really need to another replay of the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents? Then Superman’s so-called “introduction” to the world is not quite the heroic and graceful bow I remember, but one filled with fireballs and wild electrical currents and destruction. (These elements will repeat, ad nauseam, for 153 minutes.) Similarly, Wayne (Ben Affleck) and his alter ego are significantly darker than Christopher Nolan had ever portrayed them, passing time at underground fight clubs and, for some reason, branding people and leaving them with Bat-shaped burns. “We’re criminals now,” Wayne says to a too-youthful-looking Alfred (Jeremy Irons). “We’ve always been criminals. Nothing’s changed.”
Hmm. Are you sure about that?
Indie fans will remember that this is not the first time Affleck has played Batman; he offered a much more successful turn as George Reeves in 2006’s Hollywoodland. Ironically, he’s more of a cartoon here, with his voice modulated absurdly low while wearing the Batsuit and continuously grimacing harder as Wayne than Christian Bale did in Nolan’s entire trilogy. Wayne only manages a slight smile while pretending to chat up Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), whose reappearance as Wonder Woman near the end of the slog lends it a bright burst of energy.
In terms of plot, there isn’t much. The focus is actually on Superman, whose status as a savior/destroyer has become fodder for Senate meetings. Kentucky Sen. Finch (Holly Hunter) in particular is concerned about the international phenom: “The world has been so consumed about what Superman can do,” she says, “that nobody asked what he should do.” Picketers deem him an illegal alien. (This isn’t Snyder’s only nod to politics; there’s also 9/11 imagery near the start of the film.)
Now let’s talk about Lex Luthor. From the beginning, Jesse Eisenberg’s casting as Superman’s nemesis has been criticized, and for good reason (see my “boy-men” comment above). To be fair, Eisenberg’s Luthor is lively and appropriately eccentric, but no amount of psychotic hamming can make the actor feel like a real threat. Luthor’s goal here is… not exactly clear, though he’s eventually tossed in jail for his clownish misbehavior.
And when Batman v Superman finally pits Batman vs. Superman, the fight is absolutely silly, buoyed only by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s score and cinematography by Larry Fong that recalls Sin City. It’s not exactly a spoiler to say that the mano a mano doesn’t go on for very long, but there’s plenty of mind-numbing destruction as it proceeds. Gadot’s had her detractors, too, but when Wonder Woman appears, the actress’ super-slender frame is boosted by some T&A padding in all the right Lynda Carter places. It’s a small positive, but the lady is the best hope this franchise has got.
Batman and Superman’s traditional roles as heroes of, respectively, Gotham and Metropolis/the world have largely donned a positive sheen akin to a good boy making his father proud. And usually when a dad praises his son—particularly when the kid is a champion rugby player—it’s for something that both of them can boast about. But in The Clan, when 20-something Alejandro’s father tells him, “You did well. Congratulations,” it’s not because he won a big game. It’s because he stealthily and successfully picked up a bag of ransom money for a hostage pops had already killed.
The Clan, like so many movies these days, is based on a true story, this one of Argentina’s Puccio family, who met their lucrative professional end in the 1980s. Running the joint was Arquímedes (Guillermo Francella, known as a comic actor), a beer-bellied man with a receding gray hairline and an otherworldly Christopher Walken stare.
Along with Arquímedes’ cohorts, he’s helped by Alejandro, or Alex (Peter Lanzani). Alex initially seems game to steer people, even a friend, into Arquímedes’ hands. But when that friend turns up dead, Alex can’t keep looking the other way. His conscience eats at him, though he still accepts the pile of cash his father rewards him with. His plan is to marry his relatively new girlfriend, Mónica (Stefanía Koessl), and escape the kidnapping business.
Meanwhile, the rest of the family largely looks the other way, at least until a hostage ends up in the basement of their home and can be heard screaming. Alex’s younger sister, Adriana (Antonia Bengoechea), cries to him, begging to know what’s going on and insisting that he can’t not hear the woman’s struggles. Like his dad, Alex plays innocent.
Director Pablo Trapero’s film, scripted by a trio of writers, is— somewhat unfathomably—’90s mob-movie fun. A big contribution to that is the soundtrack, which leans heavily on decades-old pop but also includes a standard or two. (Or a mix: Has anyone ever thought to use David Lee Roth’s “Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody” in a film, especially for a kidnapping scene?) A particularly brilliant segment is accompanied by Creedence Clearwater Revival’s bluesy “Tombstone Shadow”: It’s a hostage taking gone very wrong in broad daylight, an endeavor that Alex refused to participate in. Dad wasn’t exactly forgiving.
Francella, along with that stare, lends a calm to Arquímedes that’s mesmerizingly magnetic, convincing viewers to take his side regardless of the character’s horrific acts. His loving devotion to Adriana helps, too. Lanzani’s Alex is simpler to sympathize with; a friendly, shaggy-haired dog of a dude who’s regularly celebrated as a hero of the national rugby team and a person who clearly knows right from wrong despite his behavior. Alex’s romancing of Monica is sweet—though her “Oy! Oy!”s during their first hookup inspire some giggles—and you hope that they can truly cut ties from the family’s dark side and start anew. The reappearance of Alex’s estranged but willing brother (Franco Masini) suggests that the couple may actually have a future.
Of course, there wouldn’t be a film if the outcome were sunny. The final scene is shocking, and Trapero rolls the credits at the perfect time, taking advantage of the last act’s stun factor instead of tacking on more drama. Which, considering the way in which the Puccios operated, is appropriate in addition to feeling just right.
Batman v Superman opens Friday in theaters everywhere.
The Clan opens Friday at Landmark E Street Cinema.