They should have left well enough alone.
It’s only been four years since Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale wrapped up what now seems likely to be long remembered as the definitive Batman movie trilogy of “Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises.”
But the desire of Warner Bros. to counter the massive and growing dominance of Marvel in the realm of superhero moviemaking has brought forth “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” a picture specifically engineered to launch a profusion of DC-comics-derived costumed crime-fighter franchises.
Well, good luck with that.
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The powers that be at Warner gave director Zack Snyder (“Man of Steel,” “300”) a reported budget of $250 million, according to published reports, and what he has given in return is a movie that treats the audience as an enemy, a victim.
For starters, Snyder wields the bombastic drum-heavy orchestral score like a sledgehammer, as though trying to batter the audience into submission with sonic overkill.
It’s a murky-looking picture filled with scenes of high-decibel violence that climaxes in a protracted slugfest between the two superheroes that then segues into a seemingly longer and even more brutal special effects-filled battle with one of the ugliest monsters ever seen on the big screen. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) puts in a brief appearance during this fight, setting the stage for her own movie, due out next year.
The motivation for the titular conflict arises from the desire of Batman to punish Superman for the terrible destruction wrought on Metropolis by Supe’s battle with Gen. Zod at the end of 2013’s “Man of Steel,” which was Snyder’s first foray into the world of Superman. Thousands died in that epic battle, and the level of carnage enrages Batman to the point of vengeance and psychosis.
The citizens of Metropolis are none too pleased with that outcome either, and “Batman v Superman” expands on the theme central to “Man of Steel” that Superman, the alien from another planet, is a creature to be distrusted and eventually loathed. The resonance with today’s overheated real-life political climate where demonization of the “other” is a powerful campaign issue is unmistakable.
Goading the two into a fighting frame of mind is scheming business mogul/evil genius Lex Luthor, played by Jesse Eisenberg with a peculiar jitteriness and a full head of hair, a strange departure for a character whose most defining feature in the comics is baldness.
As Batman, Ben Affleck glowers and rasps and looks downright doleful all the time. Though Batman has never been a load of laughs, Affleck seems to have decided to try to out-angst Bale in his portrayal. Missing in action is any sense of the character’s humanity.
Henry Cavill returns to the role of Superman, which he first played in ”Man of Steel,” the box office hit that opened the way for Snyder to get the keys to “Batman v Superman.” He’s another pained stone face, but at least his character isn’t a psycho. Neither is he particularly sympathetic.
The miscasting of Affleck and Eisenberg, such misguided rejiggerings of classic story elements as making Alfred (Jeremy Irons) less of a butler and more of a stubbly electronics expert who keeps the Bat gizmos running right, and the decision to de-emphasize those cool gizmos (sparingly seen are the Batmobile and the Batwing), along with an unrelieved atmosphere of oppressiveness, make “Batman v Superman” a joyless slog.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
☆ 1/2 out of 5
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Gal Gadot.
Director: Zack Snyder.
Running time: 2:31
Rated: PG-13, for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality.