Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a film done half by committee and half by a hack filmmaker, resulting in one of the most baffling tentpole blockbusters in recent memory.
For all of Man of Steel's issues, there was at least a semblance of hope that dealing with the fallout of Superman's destructive battle in Metropolis would provide an interesting crux for a showdown between comics' two most iconic heroes. Instead Warner Bros. and Zack Snyder don't really shoot themselves in the foot so much as they take a shotgun blast to both kneecaps before this franchise has even truly begun.
To every comic fan out there, these characters probably couldn't be less recognizable, which ends up feeling like a huge miscalculation. And while making such darker and grittier choices when it comes to our titular heroes isn't necessarily a death sentence for a franchise, failing to make an interesting or coherent story certainly should be. For all of the promise that a clash between these two titans should entail, the conflict disappointingly takes a back seat to a mishmash of setups for future movies while failing to have a compelling story or characters of its own.
Even at two and a half plus hours, DC's obsessive desire to catch up with the world-building of Marvel's Avengers means BvS ends up more bloated than a dead whale, covered in pustules meant to tease (or threaten) even more of this tripe. Not to mention it manages to both cram in and bungle some of DC's most iconic comic book runs before we've even had a chance to know or come to like these characters at all.
Everything leading up to the promised battle is..."experimental" editing, we'll call it... where any vestige of film logic simply evaporates almost as soon as it appears. Scenes with virtually no relation appear in sequence with no rhyme or reason (or establishing shots) and it makes following the plot or grasping the buildup towards the climax a Superman-sized feat. And when the two finally do come to blows and the movie starts flailing towards something interesting, the tension is deflated like a sad sigh escaping a wet balloon, which then devolves even further into CGI mayhem and one of the most dramatically underwhelming attempts at emotion in a comic book film to date.
But it would truly take a Herculean effort to reconcile the giant misstep that has been Henry Cavill's Superman. Instead of giving Cavill a single chance to make himself likable after a muted showing in Man of Steel, screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer instead double down on the hemming and hawing that is Superman's Christ complex, refusing to give him a single moment of likability or humanity. His laughably unearned relationship with Amy Adams' Lois Lane is still utterly uncompelling and Lois once again never rises above a plot device when their relationship ought to be the warm heart of the film.
And if Cavill's Superman hits a bum note, his supposed foil is an absolute flatline. Even if Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor was just a more neurotic and eccentric mad scientist than his shrewd businessman counterpart in the comics, it still wouldn't excuse this film's muddled attempt at a motivation for his evil machinations. Luthor's reasoning for pitting the heroes against each other flabbergastingly changes or simply isn't explained and every one of Eisenberg's fidgety attempts to get something meaningful out of the material does not click whatsoever.
If any character makes it relatively unscathed after this movie's thrashing it's Ben Affleck's Batman, even if he’s transformed from a principled vigilante with a code into a murderous, grim old bastard who doesn’t mind branding his victims so they’ll be viciously killed in prison (seriously). While certainly landing amongst the better film portrayals of the Caped Crusader, it's an unfortunate fact that most of the Batman material here is a less interesting retread of what has come so many times before. For all of Snyder and crew's ass-kissing of Frank Miller's classic The Dark Knight Returns, it would've been nice to use that grizzled incarnation of Batman to explore events in his past never portrayed before onscreen. There's only so many times you can feel something as Thomas and Martha Wayne are gunned down in the street and BvS hardly does anything different in the Bat's backstory (are we 100% sure the scene where young Bruce falls in a well isn't the exact same footage from Batman Begins?). Even Batman's most interesting action sequence where he chases down an armored truck is cheapened when the realization sets in that Christopher Nolan did this so much better barely even eight years ago.
As for Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman... she's there. She fights. She does some fairly inconsequential Justice League exposition... wait, why was she here again? To just remind us she has a moving coming out next year? Is this whole movie just a DC infomercial?
There's a fascinatingly great superhero tale buried within Batman fighting Superman that should truly stimulate our superhero consciousness, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has the unfortunate task of having to balance that interesting story with building an entire cinematic universe over the course of a few hours. For those fleeting moments where our heroes do trade blows there's a spark of movie magic that no hack or studio exec could ever screw up, but it's buried under a two hour mess that tries to cram "DC's Greatest Hits" into a dour, colorless romp of unlikable characters. Not all superhero movies have to be colorful or funny, but at least give us a dramatically satisfying story if we're to hop onboard another extended universe.