The DC Cinematic Universe is now officially on the move, beginning Warner Bros' attempt to catch up with their rivals at Marvel and leverage their vast catalogue of comic-book heroes into a multimillion-dollar multimedia empire. Batman v Superman brings together the two most iconic superheroes on the planet in a battle for supremacy... and falls flat on its face as soon as it leaves the gate. It is not a promising start for this brave new world.
This isn't going to be a conventional review, as much as it is an examination of all the areas that this film went wrong - at least in my opinion. Your mileage, of course, may vary.
But before we start digging around in this movie's guts, a few words on what I did like. Ben Affleck is a good Batman, and Wonder Woman steals pretty much every scene she's in; it's a pity she only has about 15 minutes of screen time. The action is mostly very good, and the final battle is actually quite spectacular - there's no denying that it's extremely cool to see the Trinity team up to fight Doomsday, as rubbish a character as he is. Sadly, the finale is also where the film's fatal flaws become most obviously apparent.
Not unlike Iron Man 2, the main problem here is that far too much time is spent laying the groundwork for the inevitable Justice League film instead of focusing on the story they're trying to tell here. The clue's in the title: it's trying to be a story about Batman fighting Superman as well as a prelude to the Justice League, and as a result it's cluttered, overly busy and a bit directionless. There are a bunch of cameos from the Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman that serve no purpose in this narrative, and an utterly baffling nightmare / vision of a dark future that serves only to confound and confuse.
The final battle, as great as it is, has the effect of making the preceding two hours of film seem almost completely irrelevant. The conflict between Batman and Superman gets wrapped up quickly and perfunctorily, and then they're off to beat up Doomsday. It takes no time at all for them to become friends, which makes almost the whole film seem like one giant act of misdirection. Which may have been deliberate, but all it does is make you wish they'd skipped this instalment and just jumped straight into Justice League, because it's much more entertaining watching these characters work together than fight each other. Honestly, the Trinity united is awesome, and it's such a shame that it takes so long to get to that point. It's not helped by the big Batman v Superman fight being curiously dull and unengaging.
There are two reasons why I haven't really discussed the first two thirds of the film. The first is because, as I've said, they basically don't matter in light of the ending. The second is that they're so cluttered and convoluted as to make Age of Ultron look like the Platonic ideal of narrative efficiency by comparison. It doesn't help the titular fight's sense of irrelevance that it's founded on misunderstanding and manipulation instead of any real ideological conflict, and the ways they're manipulated into fighting are far too Byzantine and labyrinthine to be worth getting into here. Suffice to say, it's Lex's fault. Spoiler warning!
This is actually the part where we do get into serious spoiler territory, so if you want to see what few surprises this film has in store without knowing them in advance, look away now. Come back soon, because this stuff's pretty juicy.
Sticking with the Batman v Superman conflict and how pointless it is: the way it gets resolved truly has to be seen to be believed. It is laughable, pathetically poorly written, and makes it all the more obvious that the two halves of the film's title don't gel together at all. In brief: Superman is down for the count from Kryptonite poisoning, and Batman is on the brink of murdering him in the face with a Kryptonite spear.
(Batman kills a lot of people in this film. Loads of them. He's practically a serial killer.)
Before he's stabbed, Superman blurts out his mother's name, Martha, because she's been kidnapped by Lex and is being used as leverage to make him fight Batman. At which point, Batman loses his fucking mind and starts screaming "WHY DID YOU SAY THAT NAME?! WHO'S MARTHA?!" in his patented growly voice, because his mother was called Martha too. He then puts down the spear and they become friends. Let that sink in: he went to war against an indestructible alien who obliterated a city and was partially responsible for the deaths of thousands, and he called a truce because their mums have the same name. It beggars belief.
Even more hilariously, Batman then goes on to rescue Martha Kent and introduces himself as "a friend of your son's". To reiterate: not ten minutes ago he was about to stab Superman in the face with a Kryptonite spear. Friendship is cheap when you're the Batman, apparently!
There are any number of other problems as well. The villains are extremely weak: Jesse Eisenberg as Lex actually isn't as bad as I feared, but his motivation is practically nonexistent; and Doomsday is crap, has always been crap and will always be crap. The film goes to great lengths to make it clear that they're fighting in uninhabited areas, but the heroes decide to bring Doomsday back to the city anyway, presumably because it's not a proper fight without at least some civilian casualties. Most of the film involves very little happening at great length, and some of the dialogue is truly atrocious, like Lex declaring that it's "Fight night!" He might as well have gone all the way and yelled "Llllllllllet's get ready to ruuuuuumblllllllllle!"
Narrative illogic abounds: Batman, the World's Greatest Detective, has seemingly done shockingly little research into Superman's motives, and apparently doesn't watch the news, blaming Superman for a bomb blast which he clearly wasn't responsible for. And to return to that dream sequence: it can't be a dream because Bruce has no way of knowing that Darkseid Is; but if it's a vision of the future, why has Superman apparently teamed up with Darkseid? Or did they just not think this through? Also, why is Future Flash's costume so awful?
I feel like I've dwelt on the final act too much, but honestly, vast swathes of this film have just blurred together in my memory. It's only in the final third that anything interesting happens, while paradoxically undoing everything that happened up to that point. It really does feel like two films awkwardly smushed together, and it made me yearn for the World's Finest film that could have been if Zack Snyder weren't fixated on recreating the iconic fight from The Dark Knight Returns, which even there only happened because Frank Miller couldn't figure out how else to end the story.
I'll wrap this up as I'm going on at some length here. It's really quite depressing. Superman is my favourite superhero, and I wanted this movie to be good. I liked Man of Steel and I thought Watchmen was genuinely brilliant, so I was prepared to give Batman v Superman the benefit of the doubt. But sadly, cool fight scenes cannot rescue a botched screenplay that can't make up its mind which of two distinct stories it's trying to tell. Here's hoping that Wonder Woman's movie is an improvement - she's the best thing about this one, even if she's only really here to promote her solo outing. But that just sums up Batman v Superman, really: everything here only exists to set up potentially much more interesting films in the future. It's a pity we couldn't cut to the chase.
Images: Warner Bros.