I recommend “Batman v Superman” to anyone who thought director Zack Snyder showed too much restraint in “300,” who felt “Man of Steel” whisked by too briefly or who wondered how Ben Affleck could be made to seem one of America’s most animated actors while clenching his jaw as tight as a Christmas nutcracker. (The answer is to stand him next to Henry Cavill, or a cutout of Henry Cavill. Either will do.)
The rest of us may find it too much: Too loud, too long, too loosely constructed, too sadistic – the Dark Knight can’t have a fight without savagely beating dozens of opponents, even in his dreams – too preposterous, too self-contradictory and too ridiculous in its casting of Jesse Eisenberg as supervillain Lex Luthor, who comes off as a chihuahua with a billion-dollar bank account and a twitchiness that makes Heath Ledger’s Joker look placid.
Snyder, working from a script by Chris Terrio and David Goyer, begins well. The film sets up an anti-Superman backlash after the death of General Zod, which wiped out a big part of Metropolis.
A senator (Holly Hunter) suspects he’s a potential fascist leader who will bend people to his will. The media debates whether he’s a hero, which is pretty stupid: Everything he has done in the two years since Zod died has benefited mankind. Batman (Affleck) hates him because the epic battle in the underrated “Man of Steel” (to which this is a sequel) brought down a building run by Wayne Enterprises, which contained many of his friends. He decides that, if there’s even a 1 percent chance Superman could go rogue, he should be exterminated now.
So the film covers interesting metaphoric terrain: Americans’ fear of aliens, the ambiguity heroes feel at carrying so much social responsibility, the way we elevate people we don’t really know to messianic status and follow them blindly. (Hi, Donald!)
Then it becomes a “because” movie. Lex Luthor hates Superman because ... he just does. He’s evil because ... his daddy didn’t love him, I guess. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) shows up, although she has sworn off heroism for the last century, because ... she’s needed for the two “Justice League of America” movies now in the works.
Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), editor of the Daily Planet, assaults Superman in the press because ... no, there’s not even a because. (The movie’s clueless about how newspapers work: White suddenly assigns Clark Kent to sports coverage for one day, and reporters order printed clips from other papers instead of looking at them online.)
Aside from the usual tropes – is there anything more tired than a damsel in distress and a superhero too stupid to see that coming? – the script doesn’t explain enough, including the fact that Metropolis and Gotham are suddenly a few miles apart. But every time the plot holes open, Snyder ramps the noise and mayhem up two or three notches.
The score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL reaches the decibel level of a departing 767, the fireballs quadruple in size and frequency, Batman throws people through buildings and gets thrown through buildings himself – sustaining not a scratch, of course – and Superman takes a nuclear missile without mussing his superhair or changing his expression. And the story, like the testicles of a weightlifter on steroids, dwindles away to nothing.
‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg, Gia Gadot, Amy Adams.
Director: Zack Snyder.
Length: 151 minutes.
Rating: PG-13 (intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality).