This review contains minor plot details, so if you want to head into this film blind, continue with caution.
Batman v Superman is a movie. Upon leaving the theater and driving home, that was more or less the only real thought that I had after seeing it. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect; while the reviews were hacking it to pieces with a swarm of meat cleavers, I was still trying to keep an open mind.
It’s no secret that 2013’s Superman reboot film Man of Steel is perhaps one of the most divisive superhero movies of all time, right up there with Avengers: Age of Ultron and The Dark Knight Rises. The quality of that movie is still debated to this day, debates how David Goyer and Zack Snyder ruined Superman with a muted color palette, joyless tone, and death count that makes the titular hero seem like he was wrecking Metropolis just for fun. DC and WB weren’t exactly in the best of positions after that movie released, and since then, they’ve already announced their plans for an interconnected film universe of their own with various heroes and villains getting their own solo and team films. The challenge for BvS is to show that they’re serious about those claims to match up to Marvel’s obnoxiously impressive track record, while also effectively apologizing for Man of Steel existing.
When I say that they’re more or less “apologizing,” I mean that the movie spends a majority of its time making sure viewers know that the world is as divisive on Superman as we were about that movie two years ago. The American government just wants him to answer for his crimes, going on and on about whether he should be allowed to save lives willingly and holding a congressional hearing that goes on seemingly for weeks. To drive home the tragedy of his battle even further, the film opens as Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne drives frantically to save his employees during the punch up with Zod, only managing to find one employee and a little girl among the wreckage of the building. As he cradles the crying girl, he looks up into the sky and watches as Superman and Zod fall from space, still fighting and not giving a damn about raining down hell on everyone else.
It’s a really well done scene that provides some context as to why the Dark Knight would consider Superman a threat. Into this mix comes Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, a businessman with a grudge against Superman, goading both men into fighting each other through several means, including a stash of Kryptonite, and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, a thief with an agenda of her own.
From that point on, things get crazy convoluted, to the point where I’m still trying to figure out if the faults are because of bad editing, or if certain scenes were randomly hacked off to justify the 3-hour Blu-Ray version that’ll be hitting stores later this year. Despite being 2 1/2 hours long, it feels like the movie is rushing to get to its big title fight, providing scenes that theoretically should transition one from the other very smoothly, but don’t. Most scenes feel like they were cut halfway through, in fact.
Snyder once again returns to the director’s chair here, and if you were hoping for this movie to cut back on the Jesus allegories that Man of Steel was overstuffed with, it’d be best for you to take your money elsewhere. Here, both the titular characters are presented as these towering figures that ooze masculinity and muscle that’s supposed to be evocative of some of the best comic book covers featuring them, but neither sticks the landing. The influence of two DC comics from the 80s and 90s runs through everything, from the somber and joyless tone to the visual design of Batman’s power armor. The solo Batman action is more than fun, and Snyder seems to be letting himself loose there in particular, along with the eventual battle against Doomsday. But when it comes to the actual fight we’ve been promised, aka the “greatest gladiator match in the history of the world,” it feels phoned in.