Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice introduces Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) by retelling in slow-motion the tragedy that would lead him to become the Batman later in life. It then zooms ahead to the events of Man of Steel, where Wayne witnesses the destruction in Metropolis caused by the battle with Zod. Some time later, Superman (Henry Cavill) has become a controversial figure, the hero criticized for acting unilaterally, and accused of killing innocent people. Back in Gotham, Bruce Wayne has been preparing for a war, the vigilante becoming obsessed with taking Superman down.
In pitting these two heroes against each other, the film plays at some sort of ideological difference between the two. The problem with Superman, as presented in this story, is that he acts unilaterally, with absolutely no oversight. He is also accused of killing people. This is, unfortunately, no different from the movie’s depiction of Batman. Rather than present two opposing portrayals of goodness, the film basically crafts two detestable fascist superheroes. The best conflicts are complex, with each side presenting qualities worth rooting for. In this story, the conflict is complex because neither side is particularly compelling.
The movie gives much of its focus to its iteration of Batman, who doesn’t appear to be connected in any way to the Christopher Nolan Batman films. He is a much older figure, and much more prone to lethal violence than previous iterations. This Batman comes with an arsenal, his vehicles equipped with plenty of firepower that he gleefully uses on bad guys. Fans of the character will find this problematic, as should the rest of the populace. The iconic hero, largely still marketed to kids, is a fascist nightmare that shoots down scores of people when he isn’t crushing them with his armored vehicle.
But the real problem is that this depiction makes the central conflict really uninteresting. There are no philosophical differences between these characters. Batman is basically just afraid of Superman, fearing that the alien will use his power to bring the world to heel, not realizing, apparently, that it’s already what the Bat is doing to Gotham. This movie largely becomes about Bruce Wayne trying to acquire the tools to take on the alien superhuman, large swaths of the film dedicated to Batman on a nonsensical wild goose chase tracking down “The White Portuguese,” a subplot that reveals that this version of Batman isn’t a very good detective at all.
It isn’t even fun. The tone is too dour, the film playing at a seriousness that becomes laughable at points. The opening sequence pretty much says it all, the iconic images evoking little emotion, no matter how much slow motion it uses. By the time the movie gets to the big fights, the tedium of the film’s tone has already ruined everything. It doesn’t help that the big climactic fight is burdened with subpar visual effects. As Superman, Henry Cavill remains an uninteresting lump. Ben Affleck’s Batman is just a pile on anger. Gal Gadot doesn’t get to do much as Wonder Woman, which really points to another big problem with this film.
And that problem is in the subtitle: Dawn of Justice. This movie, at some point, went from being just a film about the two superheroes, to a film meant to launch the series of films set in a shared universe. The clunky inclusion of Wonder Woman is only one part of the film’s larger-world agenda. There are even clunkier scenes laying down the seed for future installments in this movie world. The way everything is tacked on really points to the core issue with this film: the filmmakers don’t seem to particularly care about any of these characters. At best, they are just vehicles leading into wide scale cinematic destruction. It almost doesn’t matter that they’re Batman or Superman. All that matters is that things blow up.