Zach Snyder’s “Batman v. Superman” is the latest superhero extravaganza — this time courtesy of Warner Bros. and DC. It’s a follow-up to Snyder’s 2013 Superman reboot, “Man of Steel,” and Warner’s attempt to jumpstart a DC superhero universe (a la the Marvel Cinematic Universe) that will eventually lead to two “Justice League” movies.
Unfortunately, Warner Bros. is trying to establish this universe too quickly (the “Justice League” movies, as well as a few other standalone DC hero movies are in varying stages of production), and as a result, this latest picture suffers dearly.
Simply put: There’s too much going on in “Batman v. Superman.” The picture is a disorganized, unfocused, overstuffed and emotionally stagnant mess that turns into a nonstop barrage of mind-numbing action.
It’s a shame because the concept at the center of this mess is somewhat compelling.
As far as plot is concerned, there’s a lot of it. We’ve got Batman in Gotham City and Superman in Metropolis — both in the same universe! Batman, aka Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck, unshaven and grouchy) is older and more cynical this time around; his senses are dulled, he’s tired of fighting crime that never seems to end and he’s a cold-blooded killer. He’s also been directly affected by collateral damage due to Superman’s silly tendency to destroy buildings during his fights with baddies in Metropolis.
For what it’s worth, Affleck’s jaded, washed-up Batman is by far the best, most refreshing thing about the movie because it’s distinct from other onscreen incarnations.
As for the Kryptonian himself, Superman (Henry Cavill) is there, too. He’s still flying around in his red cape and blue tights, at times resembling a wax figurine and posing as a reporter for the city newspaper by day, doing a lot of intense staring and brooding either way.
Cavill was so charming and funny in last year’s spy comedy “The Man from UNCLE,” but here, he has about as much personality and charisma as a block of Kryptonite. The conversations about him (by various supporting characters and Batman) are far more interesting: Is Superman a god? Is he the savior we need? Or is he a false prophet? All thought-provoking questions, except the movie only grazes the surface.
We get Holly Hunter as a Metropolis senator giving heavy-handed speeches in front of committees and a media montage, where various commentators discuss the “Superman question.”
Then, there’s Superman’s main squeeze and fellow reporter, Lois Lane (the lovely Amy Adams, doing the best she can with thinly written character), runs around in a pantsuit doing some investigative journalism.
We have the mysterious Lex Luthor, who wants to get his hands on some powerful Kryptonian artifacts. He’s played by Jesse Eisenberg, essentially doing an exaggerated version of his standard fast-talking/wise-ass persona, with a smidge of The Joker thrown in. His performance feels forced most of the time, and the character never quite cuts deep enough.
There’s also Batman’s faithful confidant, Alfred (Jeremy Irons) and…Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), who is also shoved into the narrative, only because she’s got her own movie coming up soon. Otherwise, she doesn’t fit in with the central narrative.
“Batman v. Superman” is overkill in practically every way. There are too many characters and too many plotlines, which causes the first 25 minutes of the movie to be nothing but tedious exposition. It needs to tease plotlines for future movies. There are multiple glowing objects that are recovered and/or change hands throughout, a bizarre dream/simulation sequence that feels like it was left over from a first draft of the screenplay and powerful beams of energy that shoot out of various facilities.
The movie even manages to go overboard on symbolism and social commentary. We get some 9/11 imagery, lots of Christ symbolism (it is Superman, after all), allusions to bitter and disillusioned war veterans — all handled with the subtlety of Superman’s fist and shoddily inserted into the rest of the proceedings.
There’s even an homage to “King Kong” near the end.
What’s most frustrating is that, despite the convoluted plot and overabundance of material and characters, it adds up to virtually nothing. Like most other superhero movies, it all comes down to a dull, final clash between heroes and a power-hungry super-villain (again, apparently, Batman fighting Superman isn’t good enough), in a climax that goes on for what feels like an eternity. There are about four fight scenes crammed in to this single sequence, a surprise bad guy, ticking clocks, two damsels in distress and lots of city damage.
Even from a technical standpoint, the movie is a dud. The action sequences are horrendous — poorly shot using a mix of shaky hand held cam and disorienting crane/dolly work. The editing is muddled and nonsensical; we constantly lose track of what’s going on. And, of course, there’s too much action.
The cinematography by Larry Fong is simply atrocious, using dull, murky tones of gray and muddied, phony-looking CGI backgrounds.
Meanwhile, Han Zimmer’s thundering orchestral score is overbearing and obnoxious. It’s used much too frequently and occasionally drowns out the dialogue.
The bigger issue here is that “Batman v. Superman” wants to be big and epic in every scene, as if the filmmakers were worried they would bore the audience. Rarely does it settle down and let quiet, more intimate moments between characters play out. As is the case with most of Snyder’s movies, “Batman v. Superman” is ultimately more committed to style and spectacle, rather than character and narrative substance.