Within the last decade, audiences have been subjected to an onslaught of superhero movies. Some have been good and some have been bad, but they’ve become so numerous that what was once an event now feels like common practice. Marvel has shown that they know how to build a universe and incorporate different characters into the same movie, but DC has yet to prove themselves. That all changes with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. By incorporating the two most famous superheroes of all-time into the same film, we’ve officially hit peak comic book movie. If this film had been released ten years ago, it would have been unbelievably exciting. But after two Avengers films, this simply feels par for the course.

But regardless of the hype, the actual content of the movie is what really matters. Producer Christopher Nolan clearly was a big influence on director Zack Snyder, but Snyder’s first Batman adaptation comes nowhere near the heights set by Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Batman v Superman is a total mess, a film that places far too much emphasis on plot, while throwing character development and thematic material by the wayside. Overly serious, bloated and way too long, it’s hard to imagine anyone getting any real sense of enjoyment out of this thing.

This may be a terrible project, but it starts off on a particularly high note. We’re introduced to a young Bruce Wayne at his parents’ funeral with images from their murder edited into the scene. Snyder has always been a very visual filmmaker and this opening sequence has him doing what he does best. It’s one of the most visually arresting moments in the entire film and it helps that this sequence isn’t bogged down by plot or expository dialogue. In fact, hardly anything is said during this opening, but Snyder’s visuals tell us everything that we need to know.

From here, we’re thrown into the most exciting action sequence in the film: Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) dealing with the climactic showdown from Man of Steel. That film was criticized for the amount of destruction that Superman caused in his fight with Zod, but in Batman v Superman, writers Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer smartly use this destruction to motivate Batman’s vengeance against Superman. We get to watch as Bruce Wayne hurtles his vehicle right into the midst of the destruction. In one of the film’s most memorable images, Wayne is the lone individual sprinting into a dust cloud caused by a collapsing building. The visual effects are convincing and the stakes actually feel real, something that the rest of the film fails at.

But once this sequence has concluded, the film takes a spectacular nosedive in terms of quality. Superman (Henry Cavill) has become seen as a dangerous individual by a large percentage of America. This movement to have him turn himself over to the authorities is led by Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) and supported by Lex Luther (Jesse Eisenberg). Superman also has a bone to pick with Batman, a vigilante whom Superman believes is going too far in his treatment of criminals. But when Luther begins importing kryptonite and creating a new supervillain, these two heroes will have to put aside their differences to save Gotham and Metropolis.

I don’t want to generalize, but for the most part, superhero films don’t have fantastic plots. Batman v Superman is no exception to this rule. So it’s strange that there is such an emphasis on the story, when most fans really just want to see some great action sequences. The first two-thirds of this film feel like nothing more than an extended and convoluted setup for the finale. The editing here is pretty terrible, cutting between individual storylines from Batman, Superman, Lex Luther and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) that lack cohesion from the big picture of the movie. At times it feels like you’re watching loosely connected solo films from these four characters that are edited together into a final product. It all kind of makes sense in the moment, but looking back on the film, it’s difficult to say what exactly everybody was doing.

So the plot, structure and pacing isn’t great, but Snyder should be able to deliver some satisfying action, right? Sadly, other than the opening sequence, the action is pretty underwhelming. Until the final 30 minutes, there’s not a lot of action to get excited about, mostly because the action takes a backseat to the endless plot. But when we get to Batman and Superman’s big battle, it’s decent but it’s over in about five minutes. For a film titled Batman v Superman, there’s really not a lot of fighting between the two. I’m not the kind of person that craves nonstop action, but the lack of a good story and character development would have been more tolerable if there had been some more excitement in the film. And the film’s climactic moments with Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) are tolerable, but it looks overly digital and doesn’t feel like it’s grounded in the real world.

It might sound like I’m being harsh on this film – and I am – but there are still some things that I thought were handled well. We’d already been introduced to Henry Cavill’s Superman in Man of Steel, but his performance in this film is even better. Not only does he look like the perfect Superman, but he’s able to ground his character in reality and make the problems of an alien feel incredibly personal. The internet groaned when Ben Affleck was cast as the Dark Knight, but Affleck is actually a pretty great fit for the part. He’s an older Batman compared to what we’re used to, but bulkier too. His character is incredibly underdeveloped, but there’s hope that they’ll actually explore this potential in future films. In the first ever big-screen portrayal of Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot makes the character her own. This Wonder Woman is strong, but also sexy and the prospect of a Wonder Woman solo film is exciting.

It’s been said that a superhero movie is only as strong as its villain, so it’s no surprise that Jesse Eisenberg is terrible as Lex Luther. His performance is campy and way too over-the-top, resulting in a character that simply doesn’t jive with the dark tone of the movie. It’s unclear if his goofiness was intended as comic relief, but an awkward monologue that he gives at a party gets absolutely no laughs. But the worst thing about him is that his motivations are unclear. The best villains are the ones who can remain relatable, even when they’re causing chaos around them. We don’t have to believe that what they’re doing is right, but we have to believe that they do. Perhaps I missed something, but Luther’s plan is so poorly concocted that it’s impossible to say what his end game was. Did he simply hate Superman and Batman, hoping to take them both down? Or did he just want to take over the world? It’s never really made clear, which makes for a completely uninteresting villain.

Intended as the precursor to the Justice League movie, Batman v Superman does a laughably bad job at building up the DC universe. Whereas Marvel took its time, giving each character their own movie before throwing them together in The Avengers, DC lazily introduces several famous characters through a file on a computer. It’s hard to get excited about Batman and Superman’s next big screen appearance when this one lacks any truly interesting action or quiet character moments. Despite a strong opening and a nice final five minutes, this is way too much plodding setup and hardly any of the excitement that should have been delivered. The best way to sum up Batman v Superman is that it’s like the time I tried to eat my two favorite foods (cheeseburgers and sushi) in the same meal and ended up with food poisoning.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice receives 1.5/4

 

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