Hundreds of millions of dollars, countless man hours and the hopes of fans worldwide have been poured into the creation of arguably the ultimate showdown: “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.” In a sense, it’s a movie too big to fail. No matter what the critics say, generations of DC Comics fans are guaranteed to pour into theaters, making this superhero drama a hit, as the critically maligned “Man of Steel” was before it. And I suspect that many of those who flood theaters this weekend will genuinely enjoy what they witness here, even if that’s more fueled by heady anticipation and a long-held love for its heroes than the actual film. But for me, I was bored. Often. Then infuriated that this massively budgeted movie guaranteed to be a blockbuster is so willfully a trainwreck.
“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is set 18 months after the Metropolis-razing events of “Man of Steel.” But that’s not where we begin. We begin with a stuttered start of four disjointed openings. First, director Zack Snyder kicks off with the back-alley murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents. Hey, Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan had their run at Batman’s origin, why should Snyder miss his chance? Then we leap to the climax of “Man of Steel,” this time around focusing on Bruce Wayne racing through collapsing skyscrapers to the aid of his endangered employees. Then we bound ahead with the helpful “18 months later” title card to a desert location where Superman will kick up a lot of dust while rescuing Lois Lane (Amy Adams), making a critical error. Then we leap to a remote island where a cryptic McGuffin is uncovered. Then back to the greater Metropolis/Gotham area, where the two iconic cities apparently sit across the bay from one another.
The whole movie clunks along like this. Scenes don’t flow into one another; they just collide one after another, refusing to cohere to a sensible storyline. Leaps from Gotham to Metropolis are as jarring as their looks are indistinguishable here. But worse are a series of long, creature-filled dream sequences, into which we’re hurled without warning or logic. By the third bad Batman dream, I had completely lost my grasp on what was going on in this movie. And the script does the audience no favors.
To call it ridden with plot holes would be a disservice to plot holes. These are plot caverns. Thinking too long on how Batman leapt to a conclusion or how Superman keeps finding an in-danger Lois Lane as if she’s got a personal 911 line to his brain will only cause frustration and lead to more and more plot “holes.”
The motivations of the characters are similarly sloppy. Sure, Batman’s grudge against Superman may be because of all the casualties he’s caused. But that won’t stop the Bat from taking a pivotal battle into the heart of Gotham. Alexander “Lex” Luthor super-hates Superman too, but the actual reason is all kinds of unclear, obscured by frenetic ranting about his cruel father, his distrust of goodness, and smatterings of quotes from Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita” and Lewis Carroll’s “Alice In Wonderland.”
But who cares, right? We’re here for the ride, not the reasoning. I’m with you. I’d forgive poor plot if the movie is fun enough. But this is not. “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is too gritty to be fun and too grim to be thrilling. Whether Batman or Bruce Wayne, Affleck offers two modes: brood and glower. Neither is terribly engaging, nor is Henry Cavill, who fills Superman’s suit beautifully, but brings no depth to the character’s countless stare-downs. Their combined lack of chemistry makes their eventual showdown a painful letdown. Sure, there’s tons of brawling going on. But without a connection to these heroes — derived from the film itself — there’s nothing to hang on to.
Snyder’s action sequences are also a major disappointment. Poorly established geography makes them hard to follow. Always being set at night makes them hard to see, but fails to save the not-so-seamless jumps from practical effects to obviously CGI constructions. Most frustrating of all is the choice to have many, many lightning strikes flash during the titular showdown. It creates a maddening strobe light effect so bright you will be forced to close your eyes every few seconds, missing precious Batman and Superman screen time. And precious it is, because the biggest shock of all might be how little actual Batman v Superman action is in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” About 40 minutes went by before any notable action sequences fired off. And the pair’s big showdown doesn’t come until the film’s overlong final act. Which means a thick chunk of screen time has no superheroes, and no action.
In these large swaths, you get Jesse Eisenberg hamming it up as Lex Luthor. Jeremy Irons raising rueful eyebrows as Alfred. Scoot McNairy seething as a bitter victim of Superman’s Metropolis melee and Holly Hunter as a stern senator hell-bent on curbing Superman’s vigilante antics. There’s an inordinate amount of time spent on senate hearings. To Snyder’s credi,t he does create an amusing tableau placing Superman in his full regalia against the awe-struck business-suited members of Congress.
But it’s not all grim, grit and tedious monologues about father-son drama. There’s also Wonder Woman. Gal Gadot appears, and it’s like someone switched a light on. Batman and Superman battle with faces that suggest someone is forcing them to eat their vegetables. But when Wonder Woman shows up on the scene, she wields a confident smile alongside her shield. She loves being a warrior, and this detail gives the final fight scene some desperately needed life. Likewise, certain cameos make promises of movies that might some day break from Snyder’s unrelentingly bleak atmosphere. But until then, we have this.
Overambitious and overlong, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” aims to tell a collection of stories instead of focusing on one. In doing so, it underserves its classic characters, undercuts its battle scenes, and disrespects the audience who has been waiting decades to see this epic showdown on the big screen.
“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” opens wide on Friday, with showings beginning on Thursday night.