“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” the second entry in the DC Universe film saga that started with 2013’s “Man of Steel,” is more engaging than its rather boring predecessor, due largely to the novelty factor of seeing these two icons – plus Wonder Woman – in the same movie. As with “Man of Steel” — like this film, directed by Zack Snyder — there’s a jarring disconnect between the computer-generated fight scenes and scenes of characters talking to each other, and it feels like the former category dominates the film. (Spoilers follow.)
Along those lines, the biggest problem with “BvS” is that the titular conflict could’ve been solved if Batman (Ben Affleck) and Superman (Henry Cavill) had talked to each other. Batman/Bruce Wayne is extremely disappointing in this film, and I’m not referring to the performance of Affleck, which is perfectly fine. Bruce starts off in impressively heroic fashion. This sequel begins concurrently with the climax of “Man of Steel”; as people run from collapsing buildings in Metropolis, Bruce runs into the dust and rubble and rescues as many people as he can. (In this universe, Metropolis and Gotham are as close as Philadelphia and New York.)
Then, in frustratingly out-of-character turn, Batman decides he must kill Superman. In a monumental WTF moment that trumps even the ridiculous CGI fights to come, Bruce tells Alfred (Jeremy Irons) he’s been fighting crime in Gotham for two decades and he’s learned that if there’s even a 1 percent chance Superman will use his powers for evil, he must kill him.
Don’t get me wrong: The fact that humanity in general hates and fears Superman is very much in the wheelhouse of plausibility. While it would’ve been nice if humanity understood that Supes is not the enemy (and is not responsible for the destruction in Metropolis), but rather was a target of General Zod, I can buy that the narrative got jumbled in the short time the media has been grappling with the battle and, for that matter, the existence of aliens. In scenes that would make Donald Trump smirk with pride, “BvS” features people holding “Illegal Alien” signs to protest Superman, and top U.S. officials debate whether Superman is an enemy of the state.
But Batman should be above politics and fearmongering; he should judge beings on their actions, not their race. Or, at the very least, he should give his fellow superhero a fair hearing. Before they square off for a fight orchestrated by a particularly out-of-his-gourd Lux Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), Superman requests that they talk it out. Even though Luthor has told him he must kill the Bat in order to save his adoptive mom, Martha Kent (Diane Lane), Superman is smart enough to realize they’re both being played. But nope, Batman just wants to fight; that montage of pull-ups and preparation of Kryponite-based weapons isn’t going to go to waste.
Admittedly, screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer provide sketchy explanations for Batman’s behavior. Bruce is having bizarre nightmares like you’d get from eating Taco Bell before bedtime: In one, a group of soldiers wearing Superman’s symbol swarms him. If we had learned that Luthor was somehow orchestrating these visions, that would’ve been hoary, but at least the dots would connect. As it stands, there is no explanation for the dreams.
Some fairly tired stuff comes at the beginning of the movie, too, when the filmmakers feel obliged to show us the traditional scene of Bruce’s parents getting murdered in an alley. I guess it’s understandable that Batman would need at least a bit of backstory since this is his introduction to this particular DC saga. But if the filmmakers are really concerned about the theoretical viewer who got Supes’ origin story in “Man of Steel” but is unfamiliar with Batman lore, “BvS” will do that person no favors overall: They’ll just know that Bruce’s parents were murdered, he was swarmed by bats as a child, he’s fought crime for two decades and now he has somehow lost all ability to judge whether people are good or bad.
(What’s weird is that Affleck’s Batman could comfortably be considered a continuation from Christian Bale’s Dark Knight. The main reason that doesn’t work is that the Joker was killed off in “The Dark Knight” and he’ll appear again in August’s “Suicide Squad,” the third entry in this new DC film saga.)
Anyway, if you’re interested in “Batman v Superman” for the shallowest of reasons, the titular characters do indeed fight in Gotham, albeit a Gotham that appears deserted. It seems everyone has moved to Metropolis, which – the recent Superman vs. Zod destruction notwithstanding – seems like a smart move, from what I know of the two cities. I can’t say if the fight scene is good or not, as I don’t think I’ve enjoyed an action-movie fight scene since the CGI era began.
The good news is that getting thrown through a few buildings knocks some sense into the Caped Crusader, and he finally realizes Supes is not his enemy; learning that their moms are both named Martha is, for some reason, the clincher.
As in “Man of Steel,” Cavill is an absolutely perfect Superman/Clark Kent – looking exactly like Christopher Reeve and having great chemistry with Lois Lane (Amy Adams). I love the decision – seen at the end of the first film – to skip over the traditional part of the lore where Lois knows both Clark and Superman but doesn’t realize they are the same person. It makes Lois more of an active part of the plot, rather than an oblivious flake that the audience looks down upon because she’s faked out by a pair of glasses. For example, it allows for scenes of Lois covering for Clark in front of their Daily Planet editor, Perry White (Laurence Fishburne). If only Batman could’ve avoided being a dupe for so much of “BvS.”
Meanwhile, Wonder Woman (Gal Godot) is also in this movie. She doesn’t need to be, but her occasional appearances add some intrigue. It’s fun to see Bruce flirt with her at a high-class gathering, as he is wont to do, not realizing she is a century-old alien with superpowers. Composers Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL create a great out-of-the-box theme for Wonder Woman with heavy drum beats, and when she joins Batman and Superman in a proto-Justice League for the final battle, it’s no doubt cathartic for fans who have waited since the 1970s to see another live-action WW. In an additional teaser to the future “Justice League” movies, we also see Batman and WW scroll through LexCorp’s files about other superheroes – specifically the Cyborg, the Flash and Aquaman.
The ending of “BvS” is awful, as the trio of united superheroes fight Luther’s Kryptonian mad-science creation, Doomsday – an iconic comic-book villain to fans, but basically a CGI poop-creature to the casual viewer. Conveniently, Doomsday can be killed with Kryptonite, whereas nuclear weapons only make it stronger. For some reason, Superman is merely (albeit severely) weakened by Kryptonite, but a nuclear blast knocks him unconscious until the sun revives him. There’s no consistency to various Kryptonian powers or weaknesses, but at any rate, if you haven’t taken a bathroom break by this point, this is very much the “Just get it over with” portion of the film.
This being a Snyder film, there are another 15 minutes after that showing two separate Superman funerals, leading up to the inevitable hint that he’s probably not actually dead. It’s a poorly crafted denouement that causes problems for the saga: Future DC movies will have a hard time convincing audiences that Superman is ever in any real peril. Also, I loathe the way the U.S. government suddenly decides Superman is a full-fledged hero, when mere days earlier, he was Public Enemy No. 1. What changed their minds? If he was “responsible” for the Metropolis destruction in the first movie, why is this battle any different? And even Michael Bay would roll his eyes at the montage of flag-folding and bagpipes.
At the end of the day, while there are a lot of good things in this big blockbuster (namely the cast), I’d rather watch flawed shows like “Gotham” and “Supergirl” (neither of which is related to the DC movie universe, although “Supergirl” comes tantalizingly close to fitting with this Superman incarnation). To me, a decent scene of two people talking to each other packs more punch than Batman and Superman punching through walls in a pointless fight.