A fun thing you could do during the two and a half hours you spend watching Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is count the number of times some rando blurts out something like “It’s uninhabited!” or “It’s after five, so downtown’s nearly empty right now!” whilst Batman and/or Superman throw various bad guys (and/or each other) through various walls. No civilians were harmed in the making of this loud, droning, incoherent, and bonkers deadly serious film, in sharp contrast to 2013's Man of Steel, wherein Superman spends the last half hour bonking giant buildings full of innocent people together until they explode. In that respect, as well as two or three others—the word Batman in the title, for example—this movie, despite being very bad, is nonetheless way better than the last one. You could do worse, but only because you already did.
An even less charitable way to put it is that a clearly excited 7- or 8-year-old kid sitting in front of me busted out crying and had to be whisked out of the theater by his father within the first five minutes. Perhaps he was unnerved by the harsh, operatic violence of Bruce Wayne’s parents getting murdered—the mom’s pearls get tangled around the gun, somehow, which allows for some very tight and poignant slow motion—or maybe he was offended by the notion that a 2016 Batman movie felt it necessary to depict Bruce Wayne’s parents getting murdered. Either way, this kid bounced. (As an unsubtle metaphor for the aging target audience for comic-book movies, this is nonetheless way subtler than anything in the film itself.) I felt really terrible for that kid immediately, and was mildly envious of him two hours and 25 minutes later.
1. Ben Affleck’s chin. Let it be known that Ben Affleck as Batman is the least-worst thing about this movie, if only due to his fearsome chin, which he juts fearsomely at the sky at various junctures to convey his unhappiness with Superman in re: all those exploded civilians. There’s a bizarre weightlifting/science-doing montage in which we learn that he has turned the Batcave into the world’s grittiest Equinox; he keeps the Gruff Batman Voice bullshit to a minimum. (Also kept to a minimum: Bruce Wayne, the character. Affleck does a lot of brooding in fancy street clothes—one downside to putting two superheroes in your movie title is that it doubles the amount of Superhero Brooding—but otherwise we largely dispense with the absurd fiction that no one can tell that he’s Batman, probably because of the whole chin thing.) Otherwise, he mostly punches people and glowers. The Batmobile’s dope this time. He’s fine. It’s fine. Honestly, he’s the least of your problems.
2. Clark Kent’s editor. One of your much larger problems is Henry Cavill’s Superman, who remains a total drip—a sulky, over-earnest Photoshop filter who makes moony faces at Amy Adams’ Lois Lane and punches people and glowers, basically—so when he’s onscreen, you take your joys where you can. As see Laurence Fishburne, who plays Daily Planet editor Perry White, whose job is to harrumph around the newsroom saying authentic-journalist-type things like, “You’re sports today!” and “I logged into your Dropbox to find copy!” This sort of nonsense nonetheless qualifies as an early highlight; the most suspenseful part of the first half of this movie was when I was trying to open my giant bag of Reese’s Pieces without detection. (No spoilers.) Anyway, Laurence does what he can with the second-dumbest set of lines overall.
3. Holly Hunter in world-historical IDGAF mode. You guessed it. Holly plays Senator Finch (a Democrat from Kentucky, which is the least believable thing in the film), doing the only thing Senators do in superhero movies, and honestly, her dialogue in Raising Arizona was less absurd. “I grew up on a farm—I know how to wrestle a pig,” is one thing she says; “Take a bucket of warm piss and call it Granny’s Peach Tea” is, incredibly, another. (That one gets a callback.) I would describe her demeanor as she says these things as serenely bemused. Likewise Jeremy Irons as Alfred, who mostly just drinks and sighs, which I suppose makes him the audience surrogate, content in the fact that at least he doesn’t have any scenes with Lex Luthor.
Particularly Negative Aspects
1. Lex Luthor. Oof, Lex Luthor is a drag. Jesse Eisenberg preens and over-enunciates and waxes crazily pedantic, like no one told him he’s not in a Sorkin movie anymore; his method of conveying Brilliant Insanity is to make as though he just ingested touring funk band quantities of cocaine. It is discomfiting and unpleasant. Eventually he stops terrorizing poor Holly Hunter and retires to Superman’s spaceship (at least, I think it’s Superman’s spaceship; don’t @ me), where he uses the Krypton Siri to create the invincible supervillain whom Batman and Superman will have to fight after they’re done throwing each other through various walls—which takes forever, for them to be done doing that. It takes forever for them to start doing that, also, due to the general bewildering loopiness of the plot.
2. The plot. Yo, this movie makes no sense. Dream sequences and non sequiturs and red herrings and where-the-hell-are-we-now mini-excursions and false starts out the ass. There’s a suicide bombing and multiple government hearings and a Fight Club and an innocent civilian who gets Lieutenant Dan’d and one of those posh, uncomfortable Batman-movie parties where Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne sass each other until Clark notices live news footage of a little girl stuck in a burning building in Mexico and then flies to Mexico to rescue her, whereupon the people of Mexico (it’s the Day of the Dead, also, which allows for very tight and spooky imagery) embrace him as they would a god.
There’s also a whole thing where Batman visits the set of Mad Max: Fury Road and fights amid a buncha Moth People. Lois Lane says stuff like, “I’m not a lady, I’m a journalist” and has stuff said to her like, “[In the men’s bathroom] You know, with balls like this, you belong in here.” There’s an Entourage movie-worthy avalanche of celebrity cameos, from Nancy Grace to Charlie Rose to Neil DeGrasse Tyson. I remembered just now that at one point Superman gets nuked in space. There is Wonder Woman, who is dressed in a “Sexy Wonder Woman” Halloween costume and has very little else to do (at one point we get footage of her using an ATM) and mostly is there to provide certain Reddit subforums with a few notably lascivious Blu-Ray screenshots, in addition to setting up future interminable sequels involving additional superheroes, including Aquaman, who is also, briefly, in this movie.
The dithering and misdirection is such that you honestly wonder if Superman and Batman are ever gonna get around to kicking each other’s asses. Eventually they do, and a great many innocent walls and floors and ceilings and bathroom sinks are harmed as composer Hans Zimmer more or less gives up and just sits on the Inception button, and I’ll say three things: a) Superman, unfortunately, does not punt Batman’s nuts into the roof of his mouth, b) there is a pretty definitive winner to this fight, and c) the emotional contrivance that ends this fight is ridiculous. I think we know who to blame, here.
3. The director. Yes, Zack Snyder, who is determined to “THIS! IS! SPARTA!” every significant historical event in human history, and louse up every beloved comic-book enterprise besides. As with Man of Steel and The Watchmen (no ludicrous sex scenes in this jam, at least), this movie is relentlessly grim and gritty and resolutely No Fun Whatsoever, every line intoned with Desdemonian gravitas, every falling bullet casing memorialized with its own slow-mo funereal aria. (At one point, the Army fires a big-ass cannon, and that shell also falls to the ground in super-slow motion.)
Whereas, in the end, his attempts at operatic solemnity are foiled by the same plague infecting the now far-superior Marvel movies, in that the unquenchable thirst for endless sequels ensures that nothing of true consequence is ever allowed to happen here, which I guess explains why eight billion daffy and inconsequential things happen instead. The very serious and solemn occurrence that ends Batman v Superman, whose seriousness and solemnity is harped upon for, like, 20 minutes, is truly incredible, in the sense that it is not remotely credible. Not one person in the theater believed it was real for one second, and that would’ve included the 8-year-old kid who fled in terror immediately, had he not done so, wisely. The spoiler alert re: Batman’s internet-famous “Do you bleed?” line is not the answer to that question; it’s who he’s asking. You do, and you will.