Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was supposed to settle a fanboy debate older than Adam West. Instead it raises another:
Is being a superhero really this much of a drag?
Perhaps only in the DC Comics movie universe that director Zack Snyder is starting, although not yet with a big bang. Man of Steel kicked it off with a baldly theological take on Superman's origins -- Moses with a cape -- and a catastrophe quotient turning off as many viewers as on.
One collateral victim of that movie's climactic showdown over Metropolis was a building owned by Gotham City mogul/Caped Crusader Bruce Wayne, allowing Snyder to turn an Easter egg into a flat action omelette. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice buckles like that skyscraper under the weight of pretension, so serious.
If you're watching a superhero movie this weekend and smiling, it's a Marvel.
BvS, as fanboys abbreviate, is a 2 1/2 hour blockbuster nonetheless, somber as the funeral kicking it off. Again we get Batman's psychological origins, cribbed from Christopher Nolan and thankfully finished with the end credits. The movie also ends with a coffin, offering a spoilable hint of where Snyder's head is at.
But first, we get that Metropolis assault from Bruce's perspective, giving Ben Affleck plenty of time to set his square, stubbled jaw for a long haul. Bruce sees one employee lose his legs, a child her parents, and knows that flying dude in tights must pay.
For the record: The BvS screening was held the same day as the Brussels terrorist attacks, making this callously destructive movie one of those personal litmus tests of what entertainment is.
That much is coincidence but other narrative elements add to the movie's ponderous tone. Superman's triumphs also make him distrusted by a U.S. senator (Holly Hunter) and picketers labeling their savior as an "illegal alien," and "aliens are not Americans." A suicide bomber plays a key role. Snyder uses reality as a prop without concern.
Batman's nature is deadlier than ever, an object of horror, branding criminal prey with a bat emblem, or jamming a buck knife in someone's neck. This isn't a birthday party Batman, and Affleck offers no conflicting hints to make Bruce appealing. Even Clooney displayed more personality beneath the cowl.
Yet that is where Snyder focuses his attention too long, while Henry Cavill's Superman continues his nobly dull quest to help mankind, and a Kevin Costner cameo reminds him why. Cavill still has the look but not the feel of an action hunk, perhaps not entirely his fault.
"Are you going to love me, or be you?" Superman's girlfriend Lois Lane (Amy Adams) asks Cavill's Clark Kent from a bathtub. His response is the one time in BvS that Cavill starts to cut loose, and Snyder cuts away. A bit more Christopher Reeve in script or execution would go a long way.
When these comic book titans finally clash, the sound deafens and curiosity wanes; a Super shove here, a Bat blast there. Thankfully, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) shows up for the last 15 minutes to battle a lightning storm villain that Spider-Man 3 wouldn't touch. The cheers her entrance receives are purely relief that something exciting is finally happening.
With any luck, more will happen in the inevitable Justice League universe that DC hopes can compete with Marvel's Avengers head start. We get glimpses of the Flash and Aquaman here, neither resembling their classic comic book incarnations. Then again, Batman and Superman aren't yet measuring up to expectations, either.
Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.