While DC Comics has done well for themselves in their direct-to-video animated features and TV shows like Arrow and The Flash (I gave up on Supergirl after four episodes), they have been gazing with envy at the Marvel Cinematic Universe's seemingly unstoppable success. (A common dig was that while Batman and Superman were constantly rebooting and treading water, Marvel was making movies with a machine gun-toting talking racoon.)
With The Avengers series raking in record-breaking bank, DC's desire to catch up and get their own all-star team-up Justice League series up and running has been a priority and the plan is for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS) - more of a sequel to 2013's Man of Steel (MoS) than Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy - to get them into the game and also launch a series of stand-alone movie series introducing Aquaman, The Flash, Wonder Woman (whose movie is coming in 2017) and eventually taking another crack at Green Lantern.
While that may've been the plan, they've run into a little problem: BvS is a grim, dark, miserable, noisy, unfun, depressing and simultaneously overstuffed and underdeveloped slog that makes MoS feel like Ant-Man in comparison for entertainment.
The movie opens with the 79,000th retelling of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck, disproving the haters) becoming an orphan in case no one knew it (oddly, we don't see Krypton blowing up, so you'd better know Supe's backstory) and then Bruce's experience of the finale of MoS as Metropolis is leveled by the Planetary Engine and Superman's battle with General Zod, killing and maiming many.
It then jumps ahead 18 months and we find Lois Lane (Amy Adams) in Africa getting herself into a scrape which Superman (Henry Cavill); Batman brutally dealing with crime in Gotham City, actually branding criminals, marking them for death; and Lex Luthor Jr. (Jesse Eisenberg) up to something shenanigansy. A Senator played by Holly Hunter is questioning whether Superman can be trusted and Supes is trying to balance playing house with Lois with his guilt for all the carnage that occurred.
It's difficult to explain what goes so wrong with the thin plot without spoilers which is odd because there is actually little not alluded to in the trailers. Before the screening a video message from director Zach Snyder was played welcoming the audience and begging for social media not to be awash in spoilers, but other than a couple of cameos and perhaps the ending, there wasn't much surprising, which was deeply surprising. I was expecting a shocker like, oh, discovering S.H.I.E.L.D. was infiltrated by Hydra in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but nothing really happens that anyone with a passing familiarity with the comics and broad happenings. The movie is pretty much a 60 times longer version of the trailer.
The problems, as so often they do, begin with the script which is surprising since it was co-written by Oscar-winner Chris Terrio (Affleck's Argo) and David S. Goyer, who co-wrote the Nolan movies and MoS. Disjointed, sketchy, shockingly devoid of substance despite the meaty potential of the subject of what responsibilities do heroes have in their conduct. (It doesn't help that the second season of Netflix's Daredevil series dropped a few days ago and features a riveting debate about vigilantism between the Punisher and Daredevil in the first few hours that's better then the entirety of BvS.) The first hour lurches around as subplots and McGuffins seem to have no connection to one another and then the back half is noisy punching and CGI mayhem, this time obscured by rain and smoke and darkness without even a touch of Pacific Rim's neon lights.
There is a heavy reliance on dreams, visions and nightmares which make for crazy moments, but mean little. There is also some of the most painfully telegraphed dialogue like Lex's trailer moment with Bruce and Clark saying you wouldn't want to fight him. Har-har. (Ahem.) And the teases of The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg are just lame - the appearance of Spider-Man at the end of the final Captain America: Civil War trailer is so much better.
Affleck's casting was roundly sneered at three years ago, but he does well as an older, jaded, over it Batman. We're shown a defaced (presumably by the Joker) Robin costume, but know nothing of what happened there, but Affleck carries all that off-camera history well. He's mad and fed-up and you get why he wants to whup Superman's butt. Jeremy Irons makes Alfred possess more gravitas than the script provides and he's sort of a mashup of Alfred and Lucius Fox this time. Gal Gadot is intriguing as Wonder Woman, but the script does a terrible job explaining why she's even there, but it's no worse than all the other poorly-drawn details. The big fight itself could've been prevented if one guy simply stopped and listened to the other for 5 seconds.
Everyone else in the cast is pretty much wasted starting with Cavill and Adams. Laurence Fishburne returns as Perry White but seems to be channeling J.K. Simmons' sublime J. Jonah Jameson from Sam Raimi's Spider-Man series as he grouches yellow headline copy. Eisenberg's Luthor is really up a creek as we never really get what his deal is or what his goals are. He does stuff, but there is no rationale or motivation. At least previous movie Luthor had some far-fetched real estate scheme in mind.
After 2-1/2 hours of loud, thudding grimdark and bummer - there's no post-credits scene - I drove home feeling beaten up and not entertained. A fine fellow whom I struck up a conversation with in line and sat a couple seats over from responded to my negative take with, "I don't know how to feel about this." There was literally ONE laugh, ONE applause moment, ONE collective "Ooooh!" at something that had happened. That is a terrible entertainment ratio.
Not to sound like a Marvel fanboy, but it sounds like Captain America: Civil War is going to do battling heroes with philosophical differences a hundred times better than Batdude vs Superdude: Grit Gritty Dark Darker Night of Just Us did. Snyder and the gang are tackling Justice League next and frankly, I'm not interested. I don't need Joel Schumacher schlocky colored foolishness, just some well-written storytelling that rise to a higher plane than what a kid with action figures and the desire to bash them together could provide. A huge disappointment.
Score: 4/10. Rent the Blu-ray.