‘Batman v Superman’ Review | Whoever Wins… We Lose
Fair Warning: This review may contain minor spoilers, depending on how you choose to define them. (So if you think knowing anything at all about a movie constitutes a spoiler, you’ll probably want to stay away.)
I waited in the theater for over two hours, wondering the whole time when this overblown trailer for the DC Cinematic Universe was going to end and a movie about Batman and Superman was finally going to get going. Not that Batman and Superman aren’t present and accounted for. They’re in practically every scene. But they spend most of those scenes pontificating about what their mighty existence means to us mortals, and the movie ultimately seems to agree that the world would have been better off without them. That’s hardly the attitude you want a film to have when its biggest selling point is that there are a lot of superheroes you like in it.
Like Man of Steel before it, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a serious movie that exerts more energy on the real world ramifications of its characters than it does on the characters themselves. Director Zack Snyder knows how to film these new gods with handsome grandeur but he doesn’t seem to be having any fun with them. Every action sequence is dour and every plot point is severe, even when that plot point makes no sense whatsoever.
Here’s that plot, in a nutshell: nearly two years have passed since the events of Man of Steel, which left Metropolis in ruins after an attack by Kryptonian invaders. Superman (Henry Cavill) is now perceived as a hero or a monster, depending on who you talk to. The billionaires are particularly worried. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) thinks Superman is too dangerous to live, and Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) seems to agree. They both spend half the movie concocting ways to rid the world of this infernal Superman once and for all, before finally getting around to it in the second half.
And if you thought that Superman didn’t act like Superman in Man of Steel, you will probably disapprove of Zack Snyder’s version of Batman. Affleck looks the part and the new costume is the best one ever, but this new Batman mutilates his criminals and kills without pause. Batman spends most of Batman v Superman acting like the film’s villain, and when you ultimately find out why – that is, the REAL reason why – it doesn’t speak very highly of Bruce Wayne. At all.
Meanwhile, Lex Luthor, played with aplomb by Eisenberg, has a dastardly plan but when he finally lays it all on the line like a corny James Bond villain, the scheme is so full of holes that it leaves the film practically pockmarked. And that right there may be the greatest tragedy of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. This film has turned all of its great characters into perfunctory plot points, in the service of a plot that doesn’t even work well.
Meanwhile, Snyder lets the film digress – often – in order to set up the DC Cinematic Universe that we are being promised in Batman v Superman‘s wake. And for every tease that works (there’s certainly one cameo that’s entertaining, if only in its daffiness) there are a half dozen others that land with a thud. Do you remember that scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron where Thor travels to a mystic spirit cave for no reason other than to pimp another sequel? You are about to meet that scene’s brother in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. But at least Wonder Woman, played with charismatically by Gal Gadot, seems pretty cool.
What Batman v Superman does offer – at the expense of almost everything else – is spectacle. Again, this film has been photographed with an eye for bigness. The action sequences are loud and crazy and even give Zack Snyder an opportunity to make multiple apologies for how his Man of Steel finale played out. If anything, Batman v Superman‘s action is so adolescent and over the top that you half expect the film to end with Emily Browning opening her eyes, having just finished another off-camera striptease in Sucker Punch.
So if all you want to see is a bunch of superheroes punching each other and blowing stuff up, you’ll probably enjoy what Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has to offer. But I don’t think you’ll be appreciating this film the way it was supposed to be appreciated. This screenplay is “meaningful” in capital air quotes, and the grim determination with which the actors growl their philosophical arguments as the oh-so serious story plays out around them clearly suggests that we were meant to leave our brains on during the movie, instead of turning them off. And since Zack Snyder is practically demanding that we take this film seriously, that’s exactly what I will do. I’ll say it’s seriously disappointing.
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.