Batman v Superman: The super battle begins

By Michele Manelis

The comic book world’s two most popular characters face off in a movie set against contemporary fears. Michele Manelis talks to the stars, and to director Zack Snyder about the new adventure.

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice takes two classic good guy superheroes - both nearly 80 years old - to an ambiguous modern reality in a movie that is part of the third big-screen reboot for both characters.

Ben Affleck (Batman), Henry Cavill (Superman), Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor), and director Zack Snyder are assembled on the Warner Brothers lot in Los Angeles to promote the movie.

Jesse Eisenberg, left, and Amy Adams in a scene from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Jesse Eisenberg, left, and Amy Adams in a scene from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Affleck ruminates on the movie's relevance in today's society. "Batman begins not to believe in the possibility of the goodness of others. We're all informed by current events, consciously or subconsciously, and unfortunately the world is scarier now than it was 10 or 20, or 30 years ago.

"We've all seen terrorist acts and we live on some level of fear.

"This movie is not about that, per se, but it is about fear. It's about what happens to you when you're afraid and how it changes the way we act towards one another," he says.

"This movie is a result of the reality we all live in now.

The world has got more complicated and more dangerous and scary in many ways."

As this is Henry Cavill's second outing as Superman after Snyder's 2013 film Man of Steel, this time, all eyes are on the new Batman. Affleck last played a superhero in the ill-received 2003 Daredevil movie, so his casting had Hollywood and comic fanboys alike scratching their heads.

Snyder is a little defensive when asked why he cast Affleck. "Ben was my first choice," he says firmly. "When I was editing Man of Steel, I brought Ben over to show him some of the movie. I said, 'I want to put Batman in the next movie.

I want you to play Batman.' At first he was, of course, justifiably and rightly frightened by the concept. He went back and forth with me quite a bit about whether or not he should do it.

Ben Affleck in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Ben Affleck in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

"I wanted a 45-year-old Batman. I wanted a big Batman because I come from comic books and the idea of Batman being 6ft 4" - and in the boots 6ft 6" - made sense to me. I knew if I put a little grey in his hair, it would work."

It stands to reason that if Batman and Superman are to have a realistic battle, Batman must look as imposing as his superpowered rival - or, as Snyder planned it, more imposing. Affleck worked out intensively and transformed his body into a mass of muscle. Says Snyder, "I wanted Ben physically bigger than Henry, and Ben's taller, so that made it easier."

The "God versus man" theme dominates the movie, and though the characters endure an uneasy, complicated relationship, their values are sympatico.

Snyder continues: "What I liked about the construct is that it takes these mythological or theological ideas and superimposes them, in a really visceral way, over these two comic book icons who are also transcendent. There's more to them than a guy dressed like a bat and a guy with an S on his chest.

"We were reinventing the universe and so we had to stay clear of what Chris Nolan established in his movies, which was a very specific vision of Batman. While we had to figure out how to make every little piece different, there's enough mythological material in the comic books to easily accomplish that."

A scene from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
A scene from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Affleck's Batman takes a slightly cynical approach to the character, brooding with distrust throughout the film.

Superman, too, is more conflicted than we've seen in previous outings. He has lost favour with the masses after his intervention in a terrorist attack has gone awry.

Cavill: "He was certainly warned very early on in Man of Steel, when he was a boy, that the world would fear him. Sure enough, half the world does, maybe even more than half."

The two-and-a-half hour movie, budgeted at US$250 million, was written by Chris Terrio (Argo) and Man of Steel scribe, David S. Goyer. Snyder's Gotham is its sleekest and yet most ominous incarnation yet. The Batmobile, meanwhile, is equipped with anti-ballistics gadgets, weighs 3175kg, and has a cruising speed in excess of 200 miles per hour.

The newly designed Batcave is, of course, befitting of Bruce Wayne's billionaire lifestyle, while his accomplice - beleaguered butler Alfred - is played by Jeremy Irons, who has big shoes to fill following Michael Caine in The Dark Knight trilogy.

Ben Affleck as Batman and Henry Cavill as Superman in Zach Snyder's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Ben Affleck as Batman and Henry Cavill as Superman in Zach Snyder's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

The premise, though, remains grounded in the best superhero tradition, with these beloved heroes endeavouring to save the world from those intent on destroying it, in this case tech billionaire and maniacal villain Lex Luthor, played gleefully by Jesse Eisenberg.

"It's a cliche that these are the characters that are fun to play, and it's true," says Eisenberg. "You behave in ways that would get you arrested in public, and not only is it acceptable, but it's required because the character is doing such horrible things."

Luthor can't wreak havoc on the world on his own, so he summons Superman's nemesis and fellow Kryptonian, General Zod (Michael Shannon, reprising his Man of Steel role).

A scene from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
A scene from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Superman also requires some help, given Batman's abilities are restricted to mortal strength, cueing the arrival of Wonder Woman, Israeli actress Gal Gadot.

Says Cavill, with unabashed excitement, "When we were shooting that scene with the trinity of superheroes together, I looked at them on the set at the same time and forgot, 'I'm one of them, too!' I had to pinch myself through my moment of comic book nerdiness."

Now Snyder has to take a back seat and wait for the verdict. "Look, I am a fan, so I tend to believe - and maybe I'm wrong - that my point of view is probably the closest that they're going to get to the fans," he says. "I'm an inmate running the asylum, if you will. I don't want to f*** it up because I want it to be cool. I want to believe it."

What: Zack Snyder's Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
When: Opens at cinemas today
Also: See nzherald.co.nz/entertainment today for our review of the film and page 8 for our Batman v Superman form card

- TimeOut

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