In almost every measurable sense, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is big.
The level of anticipation is through the roof, the amount of money invested (an estimated budget of $250 million) is staggering, and the plot, largely under wraps to this point, is a gargantuan tangle of people, places and things.
But, given the spoiler-phobic culture in which we exist — so much so that the screening I attended was prefaced with a taped plea from director Zack Snyder to divulge none of the twists and turns so that other viewers may approach the film with its surprises intact — writing about why it is such a colossal misfire becomes a delicate and difficult business.
In that sense, it is monumentally tricky to articulate precisely why this eagerly awaited superhero flick is the cinematic equivalent of lighting many millions of dollars ablaze, with no regard for anything other than ensuring that the next decade’s worth of sequels, prequels and other ancillary products is properly launched.
So, without giving anything away — after all, I would hate to disappoint Snyder, someone for whom the wanton destruction of large metropolitan areas remains a clear and disturbing fetish — I will say that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice delivers nothing beyond CGI-enhanced spectacle.
For some, that will be more than enough, watching Superman (Henry Cavill, reprising the role) and Batman (Ben Affleck, new to the cape and cowl) trade blows and snarled one-liners amid rain-soaked ruins of office buildings and abandoned mansions.
Jeremy Irons turns up every now and again as the weary Alfred, fretting and fixing things around the Batcave; Amy Adams returns as Lois Lane, who toggles between damsel in distress and no-nonsense journalist; and Diane Lane reprises the thankless role of Martha Kent.
For those who go to the movies to see coherent narratives, Dawn of Justice is Hollywood’s latest exercise in fan service above all else, taking the usual screenplay ingredients of logic, reason and character motivation, tossing it all in a blender and filming the scraps.
Again, in dancing around the story without revealing too much, suffice to say that Snyder and screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer manage to desecrate not only Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy (not that their oblivious dismantling stopped Nolan from taking a producing credit here), but also Frank Miller’s 1980s revisionism of Batman and one of the classic Superman story arcs involving Doomsday.
Snyder and his collaborators are so busy establishing the DC Comics universe on screen, with all the attendant bits of Easter-egg business that entails, that they forget to make any of it worth sitting through. This is a film where the punishment isn’t just shared among the stars: Every second of its 153-minute run time is keenly felt.
It should tell you everything about Dawn of Justice that Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) arrives in the film more or less as she does in the trailer — hey, all of a sudden, there she is!
It doesn’t help that the film’s nominal villain, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), is played like some kind of half-crazed Mark Zuckerberg, all grand vision and irritating tics, and whose most menacing characteristic is that he might start speaking again.
There is much, much more, including several false endings, but all of it — so much sound and fury, signifying nothing — feels like little more than a forced march through the burnishing of Warner Bros.’ intellectual property.
There is no sense of urgency, no dramatic stakes. So much of the film feels like marking time until Batman and Superman go at it, but once they do, even that confrontation is anticlimactic.
Technically, Dawn of Justice is proficient, but after about an hour, viewers might feel as if they have been clobbered into submission, between cinematographer Larry Fong’s frenzied images and Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s thudding, ham-handed score.
All of it, from opening credits to the final, shamelessly sequel-stoking image before the cut to black, is aggressively big, loud, intense filmmaking, with all the subtlety of an elbow to the nose.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is not, however, too big to fail — that it manages to do all too well.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot
Rating: PG-13 (intense sequences of violence and action throughout, sensuality)
Run time: 153 min.