Holy bloated muddled mess! The first 45 minutes of director Zack Snyder’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is such a confusing menagerie of worn-out and worthless story points that only a well-staged battle and the appearance of a female savior keep this latest comic-book inspired film from being the biggest failure in the genre.
It would have been enough to focus on the battle between the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusader, sparked by the climatic battle in “Man of Steel.” Superman and General Zod’s destruction of Metropolis also took out the home to one of Bruce Wayne’s many enterprises.
Wayne (played with deep boredom by Ben Affleck) sets his mind to stopping Superman because he fears Superman could one day turn bad and wipe out all mankind. This feeling is compounded by a series of Senate hearings that put Superman on trial.
Superman has his own concerns: He thinks Batman is nothing but a thug vigilante who must be stopped.
The showdown of DC’s top heroes is interesting. The problem is that the movie takes an eternity to get going. Snyder even resorts to showing yet another killing of Bruce Wayne’s parents. It’s a scene that has been done so many times there’s nothing new that comes out of the sequence. It just slows down a movie mired deep in mismatched plot points.
Snyder further complicates the film by tossing in dream sequences and hallucinations. The film is already jumbled enough without making the audience guess whether a sequence is supposed to be real or not.
It also doesn’t help that this is the most sulking film in the genre. The movie wraps itself in self loathing, sprinkles on self hatred and adds a dash of debilitating guilt. At least that’s what it is supposed to be, though it’s hard to tell with Affleck’s performance as Batman. He seems to have confused brooding with boredom.
Jeremy Irons adds a few light moments as Alfred, but even he ends up looking like a man who’s been on a drinking jag for months and pulled himself together for one last mission.
The film does pick up once all of the worthless preamble is out of the way. The fight between Batman and Superman is choreographed beautifully and uses enough mythology from the comics to make the fight less one-sided than you would think.
Most of the credit for the sequence goes to Henry Cavill. He owns the red-and-blue suit with such authority that he keeps Superman from becoming cartoonish.
Although Cavill is great, he doesn’t come close to the performance turned in by Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. The fans who have been so desperate to get the Amazon on the big screen won’t be disappointed with Gadot’s work, either as Diana Prince or Wonder Woman. She’s captivating to watch in scenes with Bruce Wayne and powerful once she goes to battle. Gadot understands exactly how to play the character and that creates great hope for when she stars in her own feature film.
On the other end, the casting of Jesse Eisenberg is the worst decision in a superhero movie since Affleck was cast as Daredevil. Instead of a menacing foe to Superman, Eisenberg comes across more like the star of a middle school production of “Smallville.” It’s embarrassing to watch him try to channel Heath Ledger’s work as the Joker and fail so miserably.
Snyder is the master of overkill, and so the movie continues with the addition of material from the Doomsday series of the Superman comics. It’s not a bad sequence, but it is a bit of a letdown after the movie’s central showdown between superheroes.
Also disappointing is the introduction of other superheroes as the bedrock for a Justice League movie. Aquaman, Flash and Cyborg do make an appearance, but they are so meaningless to the story that they could have been left out without changing anything.
Leaving out big chunks of this movie would have been a blessing. At its heart, the promised battled between the DC titans has some punch. The blow is just softened considerably by worthless plot points that take the super out of superhero.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Cast: Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons
Director: Zack Snyder
Rated PG-13 (violence, language)
Opens: Friday, March 25