In a time much like our own, superheroes have lost their luster.
The good they do has been marred by destruction. The public has lost its faith, the mood is grim, and one twisted human – resentful of the powers he doesn’t possess – devises a plan to bring the caped crusaders down.
If that sounds like the plot of The Incredibles (2004), it certainly is.
“But it’s probably a trope in all superhero stories,” says actor Jesse Eisenberg, who plays maniacal archvillain Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, slated to be the biggest movie of 2016 since Deadpool. “The public adores superheroes because they have power, and there’s a person who feels slighted because he lacks a lot of power. Which would be me.”
BvS, which will materialize on March 25 from under a cloak of enforced secrecy among cast, crew and press, is the first movie to bring together the twin monuments of superhero-dom: Superman (Henry Cavill), the emigre from Krypton whose powers have virtually no limitations; and Batman, aka Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), the dark knight of vengeance, the heir of not-sostately Wayne Manor, the crusader for justice who decides that Superman needs a spanking, and he’s just the one to deliver it.
Meanwhile, Lex is lurking.
“I’m not sure what I can say without being sued,” says Eisenberg, who begins the movie not bald, as per the traditional Lex Luthor, “but I can say generally that my character goes through a visual transformation.”
“It’s killing me not to be able to talk about stuff,” says Cavill, who is reprising his role from 2013’s Man of Steel, and says that Batman v Superman is largely about “Superman growing up.”
“It’s an imagining of what the world would be like if a Superman really existed,” says the actor. “I think it would be fair to say that some people would be really enthusiastic about it, some a little less so, and a large portion would fear him, who would be positive he was the bad guy. That reality is apparent in the movie from Superman’s perspective — people will react to you with fear. He’s been expecting that — Pa Kent warned him about it — but he wasn’t expecting people to accuse him of being the bad guy.”
The film picks up at the end of Superman’s epic clash with his fellow Kryptonian, General Zod, with Metropolis in virtual ruins and Batman convinced that Superman’s actions have wrought as much bad as good. He prepares for battle.
Superman, meanwhile, in rescuing his intrepid reporter girlfriend, Lois Lane (Amy Adams), from the middle of an aborted CIA action against a Boko Haram-style terrorist group, is accused again of creating havoc.
Should beings with almost unlimited powers be able to exercise them when and where they want? The public is on the fence. Not so Batman. Or Luthor, who is given a different kind of portrayal by Eisenberg than he was given back in the day by, say, Gene Hackman.
“The tone is just different,” Eisenberg says. “It’s a fun, exciting movie, but it’s darker and has deeper philosophical themes, characters dealing with existential crises, which to my mind are very modern — and unusual for this genre of movie. And that’s what makes it, for me, as an actor, more relatable and more interesting because it’s not just the theatrics, it’s a real person.”
As is usual with fan-boy-oriented action movies based on comic books, the online agitation has been close to virulent: Affleck came under attack for his casting as Batman, and Eiseneberg, too, at least to a certain degree. (“But they don’t have the script,” he says, “so they don’t know how the characters are being tailored.”) Director Zack Snyder says that on this movie in particular, the feedback — which isn’t really feedback, since the commentators haven’t seen the movie – has been “exhausting.”
“There’s this very tense amount of interest, a level that’s so passionate and so deep,” he says. “By the way, it’s an uptown problem to have people care that much. But like I say, it is exhausting.”
He says the toughest part of making the film wasn’t the enormous number of special effects or the elaborate set pieces that punctuate the drama but the relationship between the two principal characters.
“It’s such a tricky world, a tricky relationship these two have,” says Snyder.
“And people have a lot of expectations about their relationship. I’m looking forward to the discussions that happen after people see the movie that you will understand the power that these characters can shoulder.”
What Batman v Superman generates – to its credit – is a conversation about the philosophical and even theological questions that are raised by the existence of supermen.
“Lesser heroes can’t shoulder the same amount of mythical conversation,” Snyder says.
For Cavill, all the anxious chatter surrounding the release of the movie comes under the umbrella of “entertainment” — that the virtual enthusiasm/outrage over the story and casting and outcomes is all part of the same experience.
“I encourage it,” he says. “It’s exciting.
Everyone will argue till they’re blue in the face, attacking this hero or this villain — it’s all part of it.”
Some people, he says, don’t like the way he plays Superman.
“That’s fine; it’s all part of it. I encourage creative thought. If it’s not creative, if it’s just destructive, it’s kind of pointless. But if they’re being constructive with their criticism, then that’s great,” he says.