If there is one word to describe Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, “exciting” would not be it. Sure, the action sequences soar with the kind of kinetic energy chaos that only millions and millions of CG dollars can create. It’s not “intriguing,” because everything about Zack Snyder’s reaction to the fanboy hate generated by Man of Steel is spelled out in sledgehammer heavy exactitudes.
It’s not “inventive” or “unusual” because this is just the regular old good vs. evil, psychologically scared heroes vs. daffy demagogue (and last minute additional villain) routine. And it’s certainly not “fun.” Snyder and company wouldn’t understand the possible joy within the genre if it jumped up and bit them in the ambitions. No, the one word to describe this misguided follow-up is turgid. It’s like watching the visualization of a dirge — sad, somber, and way too serious for its own good.
After once again explaining to us why Bruce Wayne is so crazy (we get it, we get it — his parents died at the hands of street thug — enough!), we watch as the much older version of the character (a blank Ben Affleck) witnesses the destruction of Gotham at the hands of Supes (an equally empty Henry Cavill), and when one of his own buildings is destroyed, stuff suddenly gets personal. Before you know it, the Batman is looking to limit the man-god-alien’s influence on the populace and it’s all about the vendetta.
Add in a desire to takedown delusional industrialist Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg, one of the few rays of psycho sunshine here), a Senator (Holly Hunter) who wants Superman held responsible for the lives he’s destroyed, and a mystery woman named Diana Prince (a kick-ass Gal Gadot) with an agenda all her own and you’ve got the makings of a combination superhero action epic and sly social commentary. But Zack Snyder can’t see the finesse for the bombast. Only Michael Bay has less subtlety in his handheld rapid fire shaky cam editing style than this former fine filmmaker (see: 300 and Dawn of the Dead).
Indeed, the real culprits here are squarely behind the lens. While we’ve been told that there will be an Unrated Director’s Cut with a half hour more material hitting home video once the movie makes it there, it’s clear that whatever they cut out for theatrical release must have been miserable. After all, does Batman need three separate dream sequences, none adding up to a clarity of his problem personality? Does Superman need one as well? Why invest so much in Luthor and his manic megalomania only to reduce him to a narrative afterthought? Why is Wonder Woman, who shows up way too late in the storyline to save things, the only interesting female character here, and why are Gadot and Amy Adams (as Lois Lane) mere eye candy for most of the movie?
Clearly, the script was passed through a shredder and reassembled on the fly. There are scenes that don’t make sense, cameos that aren’t explained, and at least one stunt that suggests Snyder et. al. didn’t “get” the blowback they experienced from Steel‘s city killing conceits. And what about Batman himself? Christopher Nolan understood how to balance pomposity with believability and audacity. Snyder doesn’t. He also doesn’t get the vigilante aspect of Wayne. Instead, the Bat is just Kal-El without the extraterrestrial heritage. He’s just as unstoppable, strong, and un-sympathetic as his Kryptonian counterpart.
While it may not be fair to compare Marvel to DC, one thing is for sure. Instead of building one cohesive world a la the former, the studio here is going to struggle to get people to care beyond this dull entry. Sure, fans are going to love seeing their comic book fave blown up on the screen, bigger than life. That goes without saying. But if you are unfamiliar with this material, you’ll find Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice a real chore. Can we just go ahead and release the Wonder Woman stand-alone already?