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2013’s “Man of Steel” was the warning shot. Director Zack Snyder takes citywide destruction and wonky superhero world-building to the next level with “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” manufacturing a DC Comics answer to the ongoing work Marvel is doing to construct their seemingly bulletproof cinematic universe. Snyder isn’t aware that nuance is an option, looking to create the biggest, baddest event film possible while pouring the foundation for assorted superhuman characters to come. Even with a 150 minute run time, “Batman v. Superman” feels claustrophobic and needy, with the helmer digging into his shallow bag of tricks to bring two iconic characters to life. Instead of servicing patient storytelling, Snyder gets lost in his own limited ambition, frequently relying on his love for noise and numbing violence to make sense of a poorly written, acted, and edited effort. During the Battle of Metropolis, where Superman (Henry Cavill) defeated General Zod (Michael Shannon), billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) struggled futilely to rescue his staff trapped inside the Wayne Financial building, watching them perish in the chaos. Nearly two years later, Wayne’s life as the masked vigilante Batman has become an obsession, trying to discover a weakness for Superman, who’s also struggling with his place in the world, with alter ego Clark Kent navigating a tricky relationship with top journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Emerging as a powerful threat in Metropolis is Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), a rich and connected businessman looking for answers to great mysteries located inside seemingly deactivated Kryptonian technology. With Bruce and caretaker Alfred (Jeremy Irons) putting the pieces of Superman and Luthor together, the Man of Steel fights to define his life, soon targeted for condemnation by Senator Finch (Holly Hunter), who leads the charge against the friendly visitor, testing his commitment to Earth.
“Batman v. Superman” has a helping of origin story business to tend to before the anticipated clash begins, quickly flipping through the highlights of Bruce’s formative years, where he witnessed the murder of his parents and discovered an obsession with bats after falling down a well. These are familiar sights, and Snyder doesn’t linger, quickly working to establish Bruce’s Batman motivation and future impatience with crime. The action eventually returns to the climax of “Man of Steel,” only instead of the Superman/Zod massacre, we remain with Bruce, who speeds into the heart of the city, only to discover mass death and destruction — a bloodbath he blames the Kryptonian visitors for. This is where the efficiency of “Batman v. Superman” ends, watching the endeavor suddenly set out to establish a fresh presence as a franchise impregnator, finding the titular heroes only a small part of the new DC Universe Snyder is in charge of introducing after bringing Superman to life three years ago.
Confusion is common during “Batman v. Superman,” as a major subplot involves the demonization of the Man of Steel in Washington, who’s spent the last two years saving lives and generally helping humanity avoid major disasters after stopping Zod and his gang from taking over Earth. He’s become a God to some, but the screenplay by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer never truly explains why this is such a problem, concocting a painfully vague accident with casualties in Africa as a reason to shut down Superman’s global presence, despite his stellar track record with crime-fighting. The threat of condemnation never feels like a priority to the feature, though Snyder tries to make an easily solvable situation into an extended battle with isolation, rehashing exile ideas from “Man of Steel.”
“Batman v. Superman” is crippled by excessive length, with superfluous dream sequences and supporting characters in need of trimming. There’s extensive fan service as well, with a slew of DC Universe heroes stopping by for a visit, including Wonder Woman, with actress Gal Gadot physically, not dramatically, perfect for the part. Of course, all these awkward additions are meant to pay off down the line in spinoffs and sequels, leaving little time to develop the rest of the feature, which climaxes with yet another smash-em-all fight in Metropolis. Snyder loves to destroy things, and that’s essentially all the film has to offer, finding the production more interested in deafening the audience instead of trying to thrill them. “Batman v. Superman” is a cold, deadening picture that effectively mutes fascinating superheroes, treating them as action figures instead of feeling, multifaceted characters. Snyder strives for spectacle, but arrives with a soulless effort that takes its sweet time to end up exactly where it began.