To its credit, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” sets up a good scenario for the two legendary superheroes to clash capes. However, the movie is such a dark, brooding overblown and overwrought opus that you’ll wish the dawn came just a little bit sooner.
Given Marvel comics success with “The Avengers,” it’s easy to see why DC comics would want to capitalize on that success with their own arsenal of heroes- “B v S” is the gateway to that end, where the Justice League is established (bringing Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash et al into the fold). But as a stepping stone, “B v S” is a slippery stone at best. While there are genuine glimpses of catharsis within the characters of both Batman (Ben Affleck) and Superman (Henry Cavill), director Zach Snyder is primed solely for action, and not one to let action slip into the carefully-crafted choreography of a skilled fight scene- no, Snyder fills “B v S” with such an inordinate amount of callous cartoon violence and mayhem full of projectile exploding dust-filled debris that his aim may be only to please himself (if his films “Sucker Punch,” “Watchmen,” or “Man of Steel” are any indication). Despite its PG-13 rating, it’s an ultraviolent, dismal landscape and, as jaded as I am, I felt sorry for the kids in the audience wearing their Batman or Superman T-shirts as hero-worship solidarity who had to sit through the carnage of people being hacked down by machine guns in close quarters awaiting savior from their respective heroes.
“B v S” begins where Snyder’s “Man of Steel” ends: as Superman battles General Zod’s terra-forming plan to make Earth’s atmosphere more like Krypton’s, Bruce Wayne (Affleck) maneuvers his car through the ravaged streets of Metropolis to save people trapped inside his Wayne Financial office building. Of course, Wayne’s too late: the dust-filled streets give off that chilly 9/11 vibe of innocents massacred for no good reason. Who’s to blame? Why, Superman (Cavill) of course; Wayne sees him flying around. After Superman rescues Lois Lane (Amy Adams) from an African dictator’s army camp 18 months later and the surrounding village suffers collateral damage by being murdered en masse, it can’t be a coincidence- Superman’s the menace and he must be stopped.
In addition to Wayne, Alexander “Lex” Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) wants to stop Superman as well. Fearing Superman’s powers (and wanting some of that power himself), Lex appeals to Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) of Homeland Security for access to General Zod’s ship and Zod’s body after unearthing a piece of Krypton’s meteor from the Indian Ocean. This meteor piece of Kryptonite, as Lex smoothly puts it, is the ‘silver bullet’ to protect people should Superman decide to use his God-like abilities for ungodly purposes. Finch refuses, but Lex finds government help and also a survivor of the Wayne Financial building’s collapse who is willing to testify at a Congressional hearing of the harm Superman can cause. Thanks to Lex’s ingenuity, the Congress hearing is a calamity, making Superman public enemy #1- at least in the eyes of Bruce Wayne, a.k.a Batman.
With the stage set for the showdown, “B v S” treats its audience to what you’d imagine the smackdown between the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusader to look like: each batters the other around, hurling one another through plaster and concrete walls as Batman hurls Kryptonite gas bombs Superman’s way. But wait….they’re supposed to be the good guys. In a hackneyed “Citizen Kane” Rosebud moment, a word is uttered that would make even Orson Welles spit take the Paul Masson wine he had to shill on TV in the late-‘70s. The conflict between the capes ends, paving the way for a partnership.
Despite a decent though far-fetched set-up, “B v S” has a couple more tricks up its sleeve before its grand finale. However, it’s a finale that’s more grandiose than grand. Despite the long-awaited appearance of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and the creation of Superman-nemesis Doomsday, director Snyder tries to pack too much into an already-beleaguered 2 ½ hour slugfest- I personally felt like a slug leaving the theater after watching “B v S’s” chaotic conclusion.
While we’ll never be without Batman or Superman, I’ll patiently wait to cheer them on in another film. I’m sure the kids wearing those T-shirts in my theater would agree.