Have you ever been to a family reunion—someone else’s family—and somebody says, “You remember the time Pooky went to that place and did that thing?” and everyone else either laughs or shakes their head or crosses themselves and you’re the only one who has no idea what’s going on?
That’s the feeling you get watching Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. You get the impression the filmmakers spent so much time talking about what they’d like to see, they could fill in the gaps re the parts left off-screen. And that was a lot of gaps unless you’re the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons.
The battle between the capes is not just physical; it’s psychological, philosophical, even spiritual. Clark sees Bats as a vigilante little better than the criminals he terrorizes. (Even the people he saves are afraid of him.) Bruce sees Supes as a false god who would be unstoppable should he decide to attack the people he now saves. Lex Luthor agrees with Bruce (for reasons that are kinda-sorta explained) and uses his vast resources to create a “Superman-deterrent.”
Batman v Superman had a curious genesis, the love child of committee moviemaking. At first it was just the sequel to Man of Steel, examining the consequences of Kal-El’s battle with Zod. Then they decided to add Batman, then, after the success of the Avengers’ movie, it was decided it would be a sort of backdoor prequel to a Justice League movie (hence the “dawn” portion of the title).
But the other superheroes’ appearances are little more than cameos (even Wonder Woman’s scenes are just extended cameos) and the characters’ motivations and actions are never fully articulated (unless pithy lines spoken in somber tones count).
The other characters display similar unevenness. Lex Luthor seems to be channeling a manic version of Heath Ledger’s Joker. (And people familiar with DC’s Infinite Crisis may notice the similarity between Lex’s metahuman database and Maxwell Lord’s). Perry White is a curmudgeonly cross between Perry from the ’78-87 Superman 1movies and J. Jonah Jameson. (He’s always grousing about Clark Kent never being around but never thinks to try calling his cell phone.) Characters opinions and loyalties change from scene to scene, total 180s with scant justification for doing so.
Some of the criticisms leveled at BvS are deserved: the filmmakers seem to equate “serious” with “dark” so all the colors are muted and even outdoor scenes look as if they were shot on an overcast day. The only spot of humor in the whole film is a dumb exchange. There is none of the wisecracking we routinely get in the Marvel movies.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is not a total squandering of your time and money. But you might want to wait for the home video release, said to add another half hour of material that “fleshes out” the story. But you shouldn’t have to wait that long.