Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice 

When superheroes fight, we all lose.

Henry Cavill (left) and Ben Affleck challenge each other to a duel of grimaces in Snyder’s Frank Miller-inspired superhero smash-up.

Henry Cavill (left) and Ben Affleck challenge each other to a duel of grimaces in Snyder’s Frank Miller-inspired superhero smash-up.

The problem with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is right there in the title.

Granted, there are a lot of problems with Zack Snyder's $250 million epic of super conflict, but the biggest one is that DC and Warner Bros. have tried to mash two films into one. The first film is Batman v Superman: Batman (Ben Affleck) and Superman (Henry Cavill) are set on a collision course by the machinations of Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). The second film is Dawn of Justice — Batman discovers the existence of hidden "metahumans," and gets the idea of uniting them into a super team — a "Justice League," if you will — to protect the world from extraterrestrial threats. Both plots have the potential of forming the spine of a good movie, but, in a cowardly move that is all too typical of contemporary corporate filmmaking, the producers have tried to make a movie that is all things to all people and delivered a soggy mess.

click to enlarge Henry Cavill
  • Henry Cavill

Batman and Superman are supposed to be two very different characters. Batman is a brooding, tortured soul haunted by the loss of his parents. Superman's disposition is sunny, optimistic, and virtuous, the result of some exceptional child rearing by Ma and Pa Kent in Smallville. Ben Affleck does a pretty good job as Batman/Bruce Wayne — at least he's no George Clooney. Henry Cavill, on the other hand, plays Superman as a brooding, tortured soul, haunted in his dreams by the loss of his father (Kevin Costner) and the deaths of innocents in the climatic battle of Man of Steel. This isn't Batman v Superman. It's Batman v Batman. But the biggest miscalculation is Jesse Eisenberg playing Lex Luthor as a cross between Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network and a twitchy, 12 Monkeys Brad Pitt, when he should have been portrayed as a megalomaniacal Elon Musk by someone other than Eisenberg. There's more than a whiff of Heath Ledger's Joker in this Luthor, another symptom of Batman Poisoning.

click to enlarge Ben Affleck
  • Ben Affleck

The women fare a little better. Amy Adams is inoffensive as Lois Lane, but she's wearing the same grim countenance as everyone in this dark nightmare. When she and Cavill share the screen, there's no hint of the explosive chemistry between Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve that propelled the Richard Donner Superman. Gal Gadot makes a big impression as Wonder Woman, but there's simply no reason for her to be introduced in this super mixture rather than in her own headlining picture. In the post-Katniss Everdeen era, there's no excuse for Wonder Woman to play third fiddle.

Snyder's direction is a cavalcade of bad decisions, beginning in the opening sequence with the baffling notion that we needed to see Bruce Wayne's parents die again, when the second sequence, where we see the battle between Superman and General Zod (Michael Shannon) from Bruce Wayne's point of view, is so much stronger. Multiple dream sequences and momentum-killing digressions, including one trip into a parallel universe, pad out the running time to a grueling 151 minutes. Snyder's good at composing an interesting image, and the top-billed Bats/Supes throwdown delivers the goods before its emotion is dispelled by the completely unnecessary team up with Wonder Woman to fight Kryptonian mutant Doomsday.

To be fair to Snyder, who has produced one of the greatest comic book movies in 2009's Watchmen adaptation, Batman films have been overstuffed messes since Tim Burton left the franchise. There hasn't been a decent Superman movie since the Carter administration, and the decision to glom the Justice League origin story onto the Batman v Superman story probably came from the corporate level. But none of that excuses the fact that this film is just no fun. DC vs. Marvel is the closest thing to a sports rivalry in the geek world, and while DC fans are still showing up in droves, they now know what it feels like when their team is in a rebuilding year.

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