Some time ago, I wrote an article reviewing the Batman v. Superman trailer that leaked (find it here) -- and I made the prediction that in order to get Batman to fight Superman, it required that "either Superman or Superman has to do something wrong -- Or they both have to be tricked." In other words, either one of the heroes has to look bad, or both have to look stupid.
"Awesome! Ineffectual, non-heroes!"
With that prediction in mind, it seems like I slightly missed the mark. There was another option: that both heroes would look bad AND stupid. And that is exactly what Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice does. It makes its heroes look stupid, its world seem joyless and does little more than drone on and on about a point it's too incompetent to make while the audience is lulled to sleep until the last twenty minutes where the movie suddenly claps its hands together in front of its slumbering viewers and starts vomiting CG destruction sequences like Michael Bay on an overdose of Red Bull and meth but with less characterization and more difficult to follow action.
Still, I find myself being somewhat restrained in the opening of this review. Let me perfectly clear about this then: this movie is awful. It is a slow, plodding, meandering, joyless piece of garbage that gets just about everything wrong in regards to its core characters and can't even seem to follow basic movie-making guidelines. Despite featuring my favorite fictional hero (Superman) alongside one of my other favorites (Batman), this movie was an absolute chore to watch. If you are thinking of seeing it, I wouldn't even recommend waiting until it is in a Redbox because it is not worth your two and a half hours. If that isn't enough to dissuade you, stick around for the autopsy because this movie is dead on arrival.
Oh...and, though I'll try to keep them to a minimum (and honestly, if you've seen the trailer the movies already been 90% spoiled for you) there will be spoilers ahead.
Let's dig in!
We open up with Affleck's Batman and some of the most muted, mechanical opening credits I've ever seen. As "Batman v. Superman Dawn of Justice" appears on the screen you might think you were watching a documentary on the migrational habits of water fowl rather than a blockbuster featuring the most recognizable superheroes in the world. We're, of course, forced to sit through the execution of Martha and Thomas Wayne to establish that Batman is an orphan and never has the seen been as lifeless and "by the numbers" as in this movie. We also follow Ben Affleck-as-Bruce-Wayne through the events of the dour Man of Steel as Metropolis comes down around his ears and he races to try and save people in his building including Jack. Unfortunately, Jack dies! Oh no! Not...Jack! Who is Jack? Uh...well...I don't know...but he prayed before he died so he must be a good guy so you should feel really bad because now Bruce Wayne is sad. Also he saves a little girl. Aww her mom died. Feel bad. The music is telling you to feel bad.
In fact, that becomes a running theme throughout the movie with overbearing even intrusive music that demands you feel certain ways, often before those emotional events even take place, thereby robbing them of any impact they might have. Perhaps appropriately, they have little to no impact anyway, so it doesn't matter.
So now we have anger towards Superman established. It's flimsy and kind of dull, but it's at least there. That's more than we'll be able to say for other parts of the movie.
I wish I could say the movie picks up through the first act but, in reality, the first few scenes involving Ben Affleck's Bruce Wayne are the best part of the movie. They're not great or even particularly good, but Affleck plays the character with skill and a raw physicality that has never been shown on film before. In pretty much every way, Affleck is actually too good for this movie.
Soon we are taken through the, at this point, mind-numbing scene of Lois Lane being in trouble on a journalism assignment, requiring Superman to come save her which leads, fairly nonsensically, into a discussion about how Superman, with all his power, should act. This becomes the running theme of the movie, is never intelligently developed and then never resolved. Great job. Once again, Amy Adams is totally forgettable as an under-written Lois Lane that has nothing to offer the film beyond being a damsel in distress.
In short order we're also introduced to one of the most repeatedly annoying facets of the film with Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor. A spastic, non-sequitor spewing goober that makes Gene Hackman's rendition look refined & restrained, Eisenberg's Luthor comes off less like a brilliant businessman & scientist and more like a character from another movie, working from a different script, that wandered onto the set. With no clear motivation throughout the entire film, Lex Luthor's character is a perfect distillation of this movies flaws: The film expects everything from its audience while earning nothing. Dawn of Justice attempts to cash-in on name recognition and pop-culture relevance while establishing nothing properly. Why does Lex Luthor hate Superman? Because Lex Luthor hates Superman! Everyone knows that! Why are Lois & Clark in love? Because Lois Lane is Superman's girlfriend, of course! Haven't you seen the Christopher Reeve movies? Alfred? Who the hell is Alfred and why is he hanging out with Bruce Wayne? Why, he's the same character that was previously played by Michael Caine except now he's played by Jeremy Irons, duh!
Maintaining a consistently heavy-handed tone, Dawn of Justice attempts to tackle weighty concepts of power & responsibility with all the care & skill of a toddler eating crayons. With no bright spots in its gray morasse, the film remains constantly bleak and oppressive, adding to the sensation of being trapped beneath a millstone as the film relentlessly grinds onward through scenes of Superman saving people along with audio from figures of science, politics and philosophy debating his existence and role. Conversations that are as muddy, bland and underdeveloped as the motivations of our characters.
Batman dislikes Superman because he's dangerous. Superman dislikes Batman because Batman, particularly in this film, treats criminals with violent extremism.
And... that's about all the movie has to offer. How could this really lead to these two heroes, men that are supposed to be moral and intelligent, trying to murder one another? Through contrivance and stupidity, of course!
Somewhere around what feels like the four hour mark, we're also introduced (but not really) to Wonder Woman, a character that goes entirely unnamed in the film save for a brief "Miss Prince" exclamation from a stewardess that probably shouldn't know her name anyway. Yes, that's right. Wonder Woman, touted as being one of the big three heroes of the film, isn't even properly named in the movie. She's little more than a cameo except she becomes absolutely integral to the climax in a manner that is so ham-fisted and thin that it reads like poor fan fiction.
Peppered throughout all this the movie treats us to strange and out of place dream sequences that are, perhaps, supposed to be artistic but that instead do little more than waste time or just confuse. Of particular note is an apocalyptic vision Batman has mid-way through the film featuring a destroyed Earth with an Omega-symbol burned in it that seems to strongly hint at the presence of the major comic book villain Darkseid but that, instead, merely serves to sequel-bait in the least effective or meaningful way possible. Oh and then Flash shows up for about twenty seconds, says confusing stuff to Batman and then disappears with no explanation and no follow-up. What? Naturally, it is a part of the movies attempts to catch up to the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe through some world-building. Unfortunately, since it acts as a total left-turn from everything else going on, no context is ever provided and, as such, it's entirely dismissed. It simply doesn't matter. It comes out of nowhere and then disappears, as if the movie had just farted in the audiences face and expected applause for the efforts.
Eventually, long after we're numb to the events on the screen and the characters taking part in them, we reach a climax featuring a monstrous CG Doomsday. At this point, the movie is long past having any surprises left and the battle procedes exactly as one would expect with the only potential shocking moment so telegraphed that it should have been the name of the movie instead. After the battle we have to suffer through what feels like another twenty minutes of introspective navel-gazing and blather between Affleck's Batman and Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman as they set-up upcoming Justice League sequel in a way that, honestly, doesn't make a lot of sense or feel particularly necessary given the events of the film. We also have Lex Luthor make some statements that, again, hint at Darkseid with, again, nothing about this established with Lex Luthor previously. In fact, it is flat-out nonsense in regards to the rest of the film
Of course, as a huge comic book fan, I could point out how awful the portrayals of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are. I could talk at length about how mopey, passive and dull Superman is. Or how Batman murders people, including with guns and how that's completely anti-ethical to the modern core of the character. I could discuss the absolute waste of Wonder Woman's incredible potential as a character in the film. I could discuss all these things in more through the lens of a geek that loves comics...but I don't even need to really discuss those things* to point out why this movie is bad simply because every part of it is bad. It is a fundamentally poorly constructed movie with shoddy editing, poor pacing, obnoxious music, uninspired dialogue, a by-the-numbers and uninteresting story, insipid characters and a confused, contradictory morality.
This movie earns a D and that is after it was brought up a full letter grade simply by the strength of Affleck's Batman whom I would gladly watch in a solo movie (one hopefully divorced from this dreck).
*For those that are interested in hearing the geeky review of this movie make sure to tune in to Geek Cred this Monday at 7pm for a full review and round-table discussion of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.