Long-Awaited "Batman V Superman" Is A Monument To Failure

Most films should be so lucky as “Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice,” a production that enjoyed the benefits of the world’s finest creative, financial, and technical resources, in addition to having an extraordinarily gifted filmmaker on set every day. But since “Argo” director Ben Affleck was busy playing Bruce Wayne, helming duties fell to Zack Snyder.

Whoops.

Whatever thing has made it to multiplexes under the title “Batman V Superman” – movie is too strong a word – is an end-to-end fiasco, bringing with it a murderous Batman, a mopey Superman, a Jolly Rancher-sucking Lex Luthor, and a minefield of concurrently dull and tasteless narrative beats that don’t so much comprise a story as stand in for one.

Credit where credit is due: the 150-minute film is boldly, inventively worthless.

After a title sequence that needlessly rehashes the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents, the picture opens on the climactic brawl between Superman and General Zod that concluded Snyder’s insipid “Man Of Steel.” Only this time, we see it from the Dark Knight’s point of view.

As a bristling Bruce watches Kal-El fling himself through skyscraper after skyscraper – inevitably maiming thousands – the film peaks.

Not only is Bruce watching the scene with the correct amount of disdain (it’s a bad sequence from a bad movie with no regard for its source material), Affleck looks like Bruce Wayne, bringing with him, however briefly, the hope of a worthy successor to Christian Bale’s take on the Caped Crusader.

But just as quickly, reality seeps down like a freshly cracked egg to the forehead.

We’re in the hands of a director who’s made a career of annexing and diluting beloved properties, and a writer, David Goyer, who shouldn’t be penning grocery lists much less screenplays to $250 million movies. From “Blade: Trinity” to “Man Of Steel” his filmography reads like an obituary, his contributions to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy unmistakably smoothed over by co-writer Jonathan Nolan.

For most of its opening 90 minutes, “Batman V Superman” is an abyss of primitive political commentary, meandering subplots that hastily set up Warner Bros.’ forthcoming “Justice League” movie, and a notable lack of action sequences. Many viewers will find themselves stunned by the interminable chattiness of it all – at least until the mean-spirited bombast of the final hour kicks in and the tedium of acts I and II becomes a fond memory.

Henry Cavill’s second go-round as Clark Kent / Superman once again establishes that the actor is not cut from leading man cloth. While he’s not to blame for the inexplicable one-dimensionality of his character, he doesn’t bring so much as a speck of charisma, reducing Supes to sad man in a spandex suit. Alternatively, Affleck might make for a terrific Caped Crusader and Jeremy Irons a fine Alfred, but who would know amidst such uninviting nonsense?

Conversely, Amy Adams’ Lois Lane is easy to pin down. She’s limited to imparting would-be exposition that neither characters nor the audience require. It’s a nothing role that’s sets the stage for the movie’s other female character whose presence boils down to name recognition.

See Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot. Armed with a costume, sword, hilariously overwrought musical theme, and dubious acting skills, she’s in the movie for no other reason than to let us know that she has her own movie coming out in 2017. Goyer and star-crossed co-writer Chris Terrio (“Argo”) tell us absolutely nothing about her or the other impending Justice League members, most of whom briefly appear via security cam footage. (Points for Aquaman’s stone-faced cameo though, which is nearly devastating in its hilarity.)

Mysteriously, it’s Lex Luthor (played by a tragically miscast Jesse Eisenberg) who’s the film’s lone connective string – and a shining symbol of all its failings.

As Luthor pits the Bat-vigilante against the all-powerful alien from Krypton, Eisenberg’s weaselly, gestural performance is at once out of step with everything around him and entirely in tune with his director’s disdain for the material.

Luthor’s motivations here are born purely of hate, which isn’t just untrue to the character’s history but offers the worst possible foundation for a movie that ultimately looks to be about team building. Nearly every character here dislikes one another, in turn making us dislike them tenfold.

The vitriol is an issue as deep-seated as a movie can have, resulting in something more than tone deafness: tonelessness. Nothing means anything in “Batman V Superman,” with multiple dream sequences existing merely to mix up the color palette and provide some money shots for the ad campaign. As the story ping pongs between scenes that are both internally and externally disconnected, Snyder gradually unmasks his magnum opus: a sizzle reel with no sizzle.

When the title fight finally goes down, it’s less fireworks display, more cannonball to the testicles. Never mind that Bats and Supes don’t have any good reason to be fighting, or that Gotham and Metropolis are conveniently located next door to each other, or that the scuffle’s resolution is something out of a soon-to-be-canceled soap opera, it’s little more than loud noises and flying fists – a predictably angsty scuffle that’s sure to end in a draw.

The monotony of the first hour and change is nothing compared to the white noise machine that begins with a suicide bombing (doing a huge disservice to actress Holly Hunter) and ends with a wildly derivative battle between our “heroes” and a giant monster who’s not even hinted at until he shows up on screen.

Snyder and company then spend twenty endless minutes trying to convince us that one of their main characters is dead when of course he or she isn’t.

Moviegoers looking for Batman, the detective-vigilante with no superpowers, or Superman, embodiment of “Truth, justice, and the American way,” should look somewhere else. Anywhere else these character have appeared. “Batman V Superman” is the un-event movie of the year, a momentum-less ode to uncreative people everywhere that torches two of pop culture’s greatest characters and uses their ashes as its own personal urinal cake.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ out of ★★★★★ (Very Bad)

Release Date: March 25, 2016
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Zack Snyder
Screenwriter: David S. Goyer, Chris Terrio
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Laurence Fishburne, Gal Gadot, Diane Lane, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality)