Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is dull and clunky, just like its title. Let’s be clear Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, does deliver on its promise; the titular superheroes do engage in fisticuffs. The fight happens. Though, really, the use of “v.” in the title rather than “vs.” suggests that Batman (Ben Affleck) is bringing a lawsuit against Superman (Henry Cavill). It is, in fact, a trial by combat that takes place. Though the lawsuit might have been more fun to watch.
The title’s “V” is meant to suggest a clash of opposing moral/ethical codes, but director Zack Snyder’s film doesn’t follow up on that notion. Both The Dark Knight and The Man of Steel here are vigilantes operating without regulation, enforcing their own brand of justice (Batman literally brands people) with near impunity and a disconcerting comfort with the use of lethal force (Batman may have taken a decade off from killing bad guys but that’s all done now). The friction comes in Batman’s discomfort with Superman’s godlike abilities, and Superman’s distaste for Batman’s more hands-on approach to fighting earthly criminals, and so the two comic book icons must face-off.
Superhero movies are not known for subtlety, and neither is Snyder, so it’s not surprising that Batman V Superman lacks nuance. Characters are continually stating their motivations aloud, as though the audience isn’t able to understand what makes two characters with, perhaps, the most well-known origin stories in of the last hundred years of literature tick without it being explicitly stated. This often happens in the form of a remarkably easy to understand dream sequence. Same goes for the film’s dominant themes with villain Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), who orchestrates the film’s titular duel, announcing “It’s man against god!” Got it. Thanks, Lex.
For most of the film, Snyder attempts, mostly successfully, to mimic the visual sense that Christopher Nolan brought to his Dark Knight trilogy. And it looks pretty, especially scenes set in the interiors of Lex Luthor and Bruce Wayne’s fancy new digs (stately Wayne manor is naught but a burnt- out husk). But, the director of 300 (2007) finally shows up for the film’s final battle, which comes after the heroes have worked out their differences (not a spoiler), and have joined forces with new arrival Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to face-off with an overpowered foe who is exactly who you thought it was going to be when you watched the trailers (also not a spoiler). It’s a bit jarring to watch the practical, real sets give way to video game-looking CGI fire and explosions.
So how does Ben Affleck do in his first outing as the Caped Crusader? Just fine. Over the course of his career, Affleck truly has grown into being a skilled actor rather than just a remarkably good-looking one, and he makes for a compelling (and beefy, Ben is jacked in this movie) Batman, with a touch of middle-aged grey in his hair. Henry Cavill does able work as Superman, but is unable to overcome the bland nature of the character. Unfortunately, Snyder is contented to split the film’s 151 minute running between the two characters evenly, with unsatisfactory results.