'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice:' overwrought, bloated spectacle that yearns to breathe

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Batman (Ben Affleck) and Superman (Henry Cavill) face off in “Batman v Superman.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is one lousy cage match. Directed by Zack Snyder, this bloated picture single-mindedly breezes through its plot points and often forgets to breathe, rendering the showdown between two DC Comics titans uneven. The product is so overwhelming that it’s ultimately underwhelming. 

The bombastic sequel picks up 18 months after “Man of Steel,” and we catch up with Superman (Henry Cavill) operating around the world, stopping natural and man-made disasters. His alter ego, Clark Kent, now holds a steady job reporting for The Daily Planet and shares an apartment with Lois Lane (Amy Adams). 

Cavill doesn’t get much dialogue, but he carries himself with dignity and fills the red and blue suit well. Superman isn’t the embodiment of Truth, Justice and the American way quite yet — he’s still unsure of his place in the world, and much of it still fears him. On paper, this sounds gripping, but he has to share space with Batman (Ben Affleck), giving him less screen time to be developed. This leaves Superman disconnected from viewers as they head into the finale, which means his big moment of heroism rings hollow. 

Batman is more fleshed out. Nearly driven to madness by two decades of crime-fighting in Gotham and the loss of his closest allies, this version of Batman brands, and sometimes slaughters, his enemies. As Bruce Wayne, he was present during Superman’s destructive battle against General Zod in Metropolis, and now he conspires to destroy him in a misguided but understandable effort to save Earth. Affleck proves a worthy Batman: his performance is brooding, charismatic and phenomenal. If the material had been better, he would’ve surpassed Christian Bale.

Batman’s motivation to kill Superman is strongly portrayed, but the latter’s antagonism to the former is weakly dramatized. Clark preaches against Batman’s methods, but we aren’t shown his investigation of Batman beyond one scene. Eventually, Superman’s desire to fight Batman is entirely dropped midway through the story when he finds himself at odds with the United States government, rendering the heroes’ conflict less compelling. Both heroes don’t realize they are being manipulated by Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), a wealthy young industrialist who wants Superman dead as well. Eisenberg is an inspired choice for a lead villain, and he plays Luthor as a neurotic creep with an inferiority complex. 

The film’s narrative failure can be attributed to Snyder and writers Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer trying too hard to impress. They overstuff it with big themes, such as the theological implications of Superman’s existence and Batman’s anxieties reflecting those of post-9/11 America. Because there’s so much, Snyder struggles to cover all his bases, and we are haphazardly swept from scene to scene, given the bare minimum of character and thematic exploration in each one. The movie ends up saying a lot without saying much at all.

“Batman v Superman” strives to establish the larger DC Universe and advertises the “Justice League” movie. It spends about a total of ten minutes doing so, with most of the set up coming from a vision of a future Earth ruled by extraterrestrial baddies. This sequence is tastelessly shoved into the movie.

At least the film occasionally entertains on a primal level. It’s much easier to indulge in Snyder’s apocalyptic vision of super-powered warfare this time around. Superman has learned to take his battles away from populated areas, so buildings crumble and fires raze without too much consequence when he, Batman and Gal Gadot’s crowd-pleasing Wonder Woman face off against Luthor’s monster in the last battle. Snyder’s handle on the action is firm, his eye for visual punch sustained throughout, and he’s supported by Hans Zimmer’s perfect score.

“Batman v Superman” desperately wants to be a grand, emotionally-resonant tale of mythological heroes. It certainly gets the grand part, and you’d be hard-pressed to call it boring. But for all its efforts to humanize its characters and address a multitude of geopolitical and philosophical ideas, there’s too much plot for all the elements to properly come into focus. In the end, “Batman v Superman” only coalesces into a hodgepodge of well-acted moments that feels like a trailer for a better movie.

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”
Running Time: 153 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Score: 2/5 stars