Yes, Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a mess — a spectacular mess, but not spectacular enough to make it fascinating. I was at least hoping for a grand, jaw-dropping folly (like Snyder’s 2011 Sucker Punch), but got something far more ordinary. It suffers from the general perils of the modern comic book movie — it’s too long, way too overstuffed and takes itself very seriously, indeed. Less generally, it bears the burden of having been made by Snyder, a man who seemingly possesses no sense of humor or absurdity. To say that he makes Christopher Nolan look like a firkin of simians is an overstatement, but not by much. But then I’ve never really understood how you can take a form that includes things like “Pow,” “Bam” and “Zoom” to indicate sound effects and uses “Arrgh!” for dialogue but not realize there’s a certain base absurdity to it all.
I will now climb down — well, sort of — from my usual Big-Men-in-Tights reservations about overly serious superhero movies and look at this latest Spandex Spectacular on its own merits. And, yes, Batman v Superman does have some merits. Let’s start with its Batman. I’ll get some flak for this, but Ben Affleck’s Batman is easily the best since Michael Keaton’s. But it has to be realized that this a middle-aged Batman of a decidedly world-weary variety. He’s also quite the nastiest Batman the movies have given us. Seriously, this business of branding his adversaries with a large bat symbol is more in line with something you might expect from his criminally insane inspiration, The Bat, from the 1920 play (and 1926 and 1930 film versions) by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood.
Regardless, this is a singularly unpleasant Batman, but one that fits the film. And it’s a characterization that no amount of flashbacks to his parents’ deaths justifies — despite the film’s overselling their deaths. Yeah, we’ve seen it all before, but did anyone seriously think Snyder, of all people, could resist a funeral scene? The man does dearly love funerals. (He ends up with three before the movie ends.) At the same time, this Batman is something of a Boobus Americanus. OK, so he’s already cheesed with Superman (Henry Cavill) for knocking over his building and killing off his co-workers by way of collateral damage in previously unseen footage from Man of Steel (2013). But why — when he knows full well that Lex Luthor (a spectacularly unhinged Jesse Eisenberg) is duplicitous and deranged — does he so readily buy into Luthor’s smear campaign against Superman? And, no, “because the film promises us a battle between Batman and Superman” isn’t a good enough answer.
Some sequences work, some sputter and flame out. Others simply don’t make sense — like why the Daily Planet hasn’t simply fired Clark Ken. The biggest sin, however, is the way the film seems compelled to take what is actually a fairly simple story, drag it out for two-and-a-half hours and still have to shoehorn all sorts of things in. (The fact that Snyder mistakes slowness for importance plays into this. If scenes didn’t drag on, this would be less of an issue.) I realize that we have to have something for every member of the admittedly impressive cast to do, but there’s a limit, especially when we get to a pointless scene with Pa Kent (Kevin Costner) — back from the dead — counseling the troubled Superman. Hell, it feels like the movie has been invaded by Dead Grandpa from a Family Circus comic.
In the end, the film falls into the smackdown doldrums which seems to be the fate of all superhero pictures. Of course, this was inevitable just because of the title, but dragging in Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and this hulking monster Lex Luthor has created is in the overkill range. This creature — who I guess is created from Zod’s (Michael Shannon) corpse (this is poorly developed) — is completely characterless. It’s like an oversized orc — only more irritable and allergic to kryptonite. As an adversary, he’s just not that interesting. As an effect, he is very, very CGI. Batman v Superman ultimately can’t help but feel like a very long buildup to a rote ending, followed by more false endings than Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), all in the service of a movie we’re supposed get in 2017, The Justice League Part One. As a stand-alone movie, it’s at best massively OK with sinking spells of stupidity and occasional outbursts of true worth. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality.