Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a cluttered, gloomy spectacle that does not live up to the three year wait. There are thrilling moments and a couple of genuine surprises, but the overall film doesn't remotely compare to the best of the genre. Director Zack Snyder paints the DC universe in a dark palette, with nothing of the wonder or intrigue that we expect from superheroes. The script from David S. Goyer and Chris Terrio channels Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, but fails to capture the vital fantasy element. Batman v Superman spends a lot of time laying groundwork in its two hour and thirty-minute runtime. That time would have been better spent on character development worthy of comic titans. This review is entirely spoiler free.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice opens during the climactic battle scene from Man of Steel. Metropolis and Gotham are sister cities. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) watches in horror as Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod (Michael Shannon) destroy Metropolis with their Kryptonian duel. As Wayne Tower comes crashing to the ground, Wayne remembers his feelings of helplessness as he watched his parents die before him as a child. Eighteen months later, buildings are rebuilt, but the world is still coping with the revelation of a god-like alien.
The U.S. government launches a public hearing to determine what blame Superman shares for the thousands of casualties in Metropolis. While most worship him for his incredible good deeds, others deem him as the most dangerous creature on Earth. Wayne uncovers that a ruthless billionaire, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), has been plundering Kryptonian technology. Luthor has found an element that destroys Kryptonian cells. As Wayne makes his move against Luthor and Superman, he encounters a mysterious woman (Gal Gadot) at every turn.
Batman v Superman portrays the titular heroes as hardened and bitter. Affleck's Batman is a haunted, older warrior that worries that a life fighting crime has accomplished nothing. Cavill's Superman, who has much less screen time, loves Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and his mother (Diane Lane), but is clearly mystified by his place with humanity. Our primary characters are deeply conflicted, but not nuanced or intelligent. They are singular in focus, like a wind-up car smashing repeatedly into a wall. Bruce Wayne, for all of his gadgetry and fighting prowess, is supposed to be an abstract thinker, beyond intelligent. The idea that he can be so easily manipulated or lack foresight is out of character. The same goes for Superman. Clark Kent is a part of his personality as much as the strength and heat vision. Where is the goofy, nerdish, beautifully awkward character? Snyder's take on Clark Kent feels wrong. This is not purely a Superman story, but what we expect from him doesn't jibe here.
A few aspects of Batman v Superman bothered me tremendously. The score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL is god awful. It does not flow with the film and contributes to the awkward pacing. Some of the money-shot action scenes had bizarre orchestral accompaniments. That's really hard to digest, especially since the original Superman theme was so damn good. Jesse Eisenberg, who is the villain of this story, plays Lex Luthor like a psychopathic Mark Zuckerberg. His twitchy mannerisms and nasally high-voice were annoying as hell. This is an odd interpretation of Luthor by Eisenberg that I can only assume was coaxed by Snyder's direction.
Batman v Superman has epic in scale action scenes. That's expected, a film of this magnitude is brimming with hundred million dollar effects. The big showdown has teeth and brings boots to behinds with gusto. Snyder, very much like the Michael Bay school of filmmaking, has the technical skill to make the explosions pretty. The last hour is a maelstrom of CGI violence. A fair critique is the lack of originality. It's certainly a big climax, but nothing we haven't seen before. In fact, the trailers give away a lot that happens in the finale.
As a diehard fan of Batman and Superman, this take on the origin of the Justice League did not sit well with me. The characters were too brief, lacking substance, or just lame, in Luthor's case. Snyder's view of this universe is too adult. There are no scenes of joy, merriment, or humor. It's all doom and gloom unfortunately. Batman v Superman doesn't hold a candle to the Avengers or the last two X-Men films. That's not a horrible indictment, just an honest appraisal. Batman v Superman isn't a disaster, but the choices made and direction taken have resulted in a shaky foundation for the Justice League.