Following Marvel’s most recent dominance over the pop culture psyche (I’m looking at you, Deadpool), anticipation has been building for rival DC Comics’ return punch: Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. In BvS, the respective heroes of Gotham and Metropolis, played by Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill, go head-to-head, thanks to a carefully constructed plan set in motion by the billionaire man baby Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). But for all the fanfare about its two super leads, the real stars of this film were its overshadowed and lesser-explored female counterparts—and not just the one with superpowers.
We’ve known for some time about the cameo from Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) in Dawn of Justice, a plug to keep buzz for her own 2017 cinematic feature building. But Gadot’s brief albeit mesmerizing portrayal of the Amazonian princess did more than just give us a glimpse of what’s to come. Gadot won us over within moments of her first fierce exchange with Batman. “I don’t think you’ve ever known a woman like me,” she tells him as she straightens his bowtie, a wry smile playing at the corners of her lips. She carries herself like the kween that she is—every movement calculated, and every exchange measured. She makes us immediately aware that she’s on equal standing with this larger-than-life superhero, and that Diana Prince has no interest in taking any shit from a demanding sadboy. Her own last minute decision to aid Superman and Batman in their fight against a lab-harvested alien proved she was ready to take the lead in both her own upcoming film as well as in the eventual two-part Justice League installment.
Dawn of Justice, at its most elemental level, is essentially a film about the clash of two male egos and the women who are forced to clean up their mess. There’s no real reason for Batman and Superman to be at odds beyond their own self-ascribed hero complexes, and perhaps in that way the film relied too heavily on superfans of this particular Batman storyline to explain exactly what’s happening with these two. While Superman spends a fair amount of time rescuing Lois Lane (Amy Adams) from harm’s way, she certainly plays an integral role in the outcome of the film’s final fight scene. We could run circles around the question of whether it was really Lois and Wonder Woman who truly saved the day, but there’s no denying that their performances offered more range and far more intrigue. (Stunt-grunting is cool or whatever, but who lassoed that ugly motherfucker with panache? Who ultimately located the Kryptonite weapon that helped destroy it?)
But it wasn’t just our heroes who were out-acted by their female co-stars. For her part, Holly Hunter gave an outstanding performance as Senator June Finch, a figure in DC’s extended universe who advocates neither for nor against Superman amid heated debates from Washington’s elite. Instead, Finch proposes a meeting with Superman, remaining pragmatic about his intentions even after Luthor attempts to sway her into believing he’s a threat to humanity. Holly Hunter succeeded in being a foil to Lex Luthor, and acted circles around the character who’s supposed to be this huge movie's enigmatic, charismatic, delightfully evil villain. While Eisenberg’s portrayal of Luthor felt like watching a balloon lose air very slowly right up until his final scene (during which he admittedly gave a pretty dope performance), Finch’s measured exchanges with Luthor shrunk him even further. Who else could have taken on one of DC’s most notorious super villains, and for that matter, the superheroes as well? “I grew up on a farm,” she says, remarking on her meeting with the latter. “I know how to wrestle a pig.”
Lord knows Batmam v Superman certainly had a tough act to follow with the massive imprint that the legacy of the Christopher Nolan's trilogy left in our collective conscience. In contrast to Affleck’s unbelievable Batman, Cavill was able to navigate both his Clark and Superman roles with conviction. (Affleck at the very least gets a pass for his portrayal of Bruce Wayne, if we’re being fair.) As Frazier Tharpe writes in his review for Complex, “This movie is a C-, a 6/10, 3 Ben Affleck bachelor back tats out of 5. It's. It's not horrible. But it's not good.” And it’s impossible to watch this film and feel as though it’s really sold on the performances of its two male leads when the mere presence of its less prominent female co-stars so heavily dominated the screen.
Dawn of Justice sort of feels like one massive plug for Wonder Woman and The Justice League—which, I’m not mad at it. We have a whole year until we meet Gadot, Robin Wright, and Connie Nielsen in their native Themyscira—and holy shit, does that ever look amazing—ahead of The Justice League parts one and two. In the meantime, I’ll take every minute of Dawn of Justice if for no other reason than its compelling, kick-ass leading ladies.