Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I was legitimately looking this forward to a movie that I found this dull. About halfway through this over two-and-a-half hour movie, I had to stop my brain from thinking about other things, like what groceries I needed to pick up at some point. For a good portion of its running time, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is just a bunch of superheroes and supervillains talking about being superheroes and supervillains. I am gobsmacked by just how dull this movie turned out to be.
On a day like today, when, once again, the world is filled with real chaos and real tragedy, I was really looking forward to some escapism: Frankly, I was begging for anything to take my mind off world events. And is there anybody better than Superman to do such a thing? Yeah, there’s no real life Superman, but for a couple of hours, it would be fun to pretend. I would have given anything to watch Clark Kent open up his shirt, to reveal that big “S,” then go off to save the day as the music swells. But this Superman isn’t that Superman. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a movie that so desperately wants to be dark and gritty, it forgets to have any fun. There is no fun in this movie. Even in a legitimately “dark” superhero film like The Dark Knight, there’s still fun to be had. Watching Christian Bale schmooze and booze as Bruce Wayne was a delight. Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne attends gritty underground fights for fun.
New rule: Once a colony of bats literally lifts Bruce Wayne up in the air as a Christ-like figure, you’re probably watching a movie that takes itself pretty seriously. I like Man of Steel. (I have proof.) Remember that scene when Russell Crowe’s Jor-El led Amy Adams’ Lois Lane through a maze of doors? That was fun! For the life of me I can’t figure out why Zack Snyder decided to eschew any semblance of a good time. That, may still have worked if there was something going on during the first two-thirds of this movie.
Snyder is one of the interesting visual directors working today. I think he did legitimately great work in movies like 300 and Watchmen. And even a terrible movie like Sucker Punch was at least fun to look at. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is, visually, Snyder’s least-interesting film. It’s like all the “controversy” surrounding the plot of Man of Steel got to his head and he decided to play it safe. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the equivalent of aiming for the fairway instead of the green, then shanking the ball out of bounds anyway.
The film opens with the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne… again. (Honestly, have two fictional characters been killed on screen more often than these two poor souls?) After we live through that again, the movie flash-forwards to the events of Man of Steel, only from Bruce Wayne’s perspective. This is my favorite scene of the movie. Snyder does a compelling job of showing what these events would look like from the perspective of a citizen. For whatever reason, horrific events always seem more frightening when they are in the background. The World Engine, just floating up there, would be legitimately frightening if you could see it off in the distance. And here, Snyder captures that well and nicely sets up Bruce Wayne’s anger at Superman. This alien being shows up and next thing we know, cities are destroyed. Yeah, if I’m Bruce Wayne, I’m mad, too. We’re off to the races!
Well, no… because nothing really interesting happens for another, oh, 100 minutes or so. (Though, very confusing things happen: like a plot to frame Superman for the deaths of some terrorists in Africa … who were shot. How do you frame Superman by shooting people? Anyway, it works!) In that 100 minutes, there’s a dream sequence (this movie loves its dream sequences) of Batman fighting in some far-flung dystopian version of Gotham and Metropolis. This is the first time we really see Batman in action – in a dream sequence that we are well aware is a dream sequence. In a movie that’s already pretty long, this scene was infuriating. I get it: The movie needed some action, but I’d have much rather the plot be moved forward than spending even more time on nonsense.
I won’t give much away about the other heroes in this movie, other than to say if you’re buying your ticket to see anyone other than Superman and Batman, you are going to be disappointed. Only Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) gets any meaningful screen time, but even that is probably a little less than you think she’ll get. At least Amy Adams’ Lois Lane has more screen time than I expected, which was a nice surprise.
Yes, the action picks up in the final act (which I won’t reveal too much about), but this, too, was disappointing. As we saw in the trailer, Doomsday shows up and he’s basically a big pile of space goo with no real intent or plan or motivation. He’s just there and he’s mad. Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor can be intriguing, but some of his motivations and tactics (for plot points I won’t talk about yet) don’t make an awful lot of sense. (That’s another thing: A lot of this movie doesn’t make sense.) What I had hoped would be an gripping cinematic meeting between two of the most iconic characters of all time has them sharing the screen with angry space goo. There is something I like that happens near the end of the film (which I won’t spoil), but then it’s totally negated for reasons I just do not understand.
I do not have superhero fatigue. I like superhero movies. I like Man of Steel! (For crying out loud, I even like Batman Forever.) But Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice just lands with a big thud. Good grief, I wanted to like this movie. Especially on a day like today when escapism seems like the only reasonable option. It’s the kind of movie where you keep bargaining with yourself throughout watching it. Things like, “Well, that character was sure shoehorned in, but they have to set up his movie, too.” Or, “Well, I’m sure that will all be explained in another movie.” Or, “Okay, this seems like a lot of dream sequences, but it’s nice to see that character.”
I came for the escapism. I looked forward to the escapism. I wanted to embrace the escapism. But sometimes even Superman will let you down.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.