review round-up

Critics Are Not Being Kind to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Photo: Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

After a lengthy and contentious trial (a lot came out during cross-examination), the verdict on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is in. The film hits — literally, by the sounds of it — theaters this weekend, and beyond appreciation for Gal Godot’s Wonder Woman, the earliest reviews have not been kind, by and large. We’ve gathered a roundup of what critics are saying about the DC-quel, keeping things pretty spoiler-free. Hey, if nothing else, Batman v Superman may get quite the legacy as the movie that made Man of Steel look less bad by comparison.

“It’s a shame that Batman v Superman is also a storytelling disgrace. It has maybe six opening scenes and jumps so incessantly from subplot to subplot that a script doctor would diagnose a peculiarly modern infection: ‘disjunctivitis.’ Said infection is the upshot of a sort of gene-splicing. For a studio to move beyond the ‘franchise’ and ‘tentpole’ stages to the vastly lucrative ‘universe,’ a comic-book movie must at every turn gesture towards sequels and spinoffs, teasing out loose ends, cultivating irresolution. The movie wanders into so many irrelevant byways that it comes to seem abstract. There’s enough going on to keep you watching — and, as I said, to keep fanboys wowed by the scale of the production and pretension. But most people will leave feeling drained and depressed, wondering how a studio can get away with withholding so much.” —David Edelstein, Vulture

Dawn of Justice is big, all right. The brawls are busy and brutal, the story is sprawling in scope, the effects are an embarrassment of pixels, and the performances (well, some of them, at least) couldn’t be broader. If it’s just size you’re after, you won’t be disappointed. But at this point in Hollywood’s superhero cycle, is that really enough? Snyder has built his career on the supposition that it is. In films like 300WatchmenSucker Punch, and Man of Steel, he’s proved to be the kind of filmmaker who cranks every knob as far to the right as it will go. Modulation, economy, and nuance may not be his thing, but at least his movies always look like a billion bucks. And this one does too.” —Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly

“Why, oh why, can’t we just get what we came for? That is, a good, meat-and-potatoes showdown between a brooding vigilante in a pointy-eared mask (Ben Affleck’s Batman, a.k.a. asocial rich guy Bruce Wayne) and a simpler, sunnier protector of humankind (Henry Cavill’s Superman, who, when he’s not in tights, struts around in criminally sexy horn-rimmed glasses as reporter Clark Kent). Batman v Superman lunges for greatness instead of building toward it: It’s so topheavy with false portent that it buckles under its own weight. Snyder, the man behind the Thermopylae phantasm 300, as well as the flawed but raggedly affecting riot-grrrl head trip Sucker Punch, is an ambitious visual stylist. And there are more than a few dazzling sequences in Batman v Superman, including an apocalyptic dream battle in which spindly, winged terrors, imported straight from a Guillermo del Toro nightmare, buzz menacingly in the margins, while poor Batman gets the batstuffing kicked out of him in the foreground. Incidentally, the brutality of Batman v Superman is the heavy-duty, bone-crunching sort, a factor you might want to consider if you’re thinking of taking very small kids.” —Stephanie Zacharek, Time

“Affleck’s adversary is played by Henry Cavill, who hit his green-screen marks well enough in Snyder’s 2013 Man of Steel (which is looking better every minute). Still, in Batman v Superman, he’s as narcissistic a Superman as you’ll ever see. Cavill never should’ve taken on The Man From U.N.C.L.E.; working on that project with director Guy Ritchie, perhaps the only successful contemporary filmmaker whose facility with big-screen action is more assaultive and aggravating than Snyder’s, he seems to have crossed an invisible line of smugness, from which it is difficult to return.” —Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

“Who would win in a fight, Batman or Superman? Could the Flash outrun Superman? Could Superman craft a boulder so heavy even he couldn’t lift it? While ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ ostensibly seeks to tackle the first of those evergreen schoolyard hypotheticals, it’s the third that ends up proving the biggest litmus test for director Zack Snyder. Tasked with colliding the two most archetypal of American superheroes while also answering critics of his last outing, Man of Steel, and perhaps most importantly, paving the way for an extended DC Comics universe of films on which much of Warner Bros. future bottom line relies, Snyder has set a Sisyphean task for himself. That this very long, very brooding, often exhilarating and sometimes scattered epic succeeds as often it does therefore has to be seen as an achievement, and worldwide box office should be sufficiently lucrative to ensure future installments proceed on schedule. But amidst all the grueling work of saving the world and shouldering a franchise toward the heights, it would be nice to see these heroes, and this series, take a few more breathers to enjoy the view.” —Andrew Barker, Variety

“The main issue facing the writers of a superhero smackdown like this is concocting a reason why, given all the evil out there, they have to fight each other — as well as, in this case, coming up with a way to level the playing field when one hero is essentially immortal and the other is just a really buff rich guy with a costume and lots of gizmos. Screenwriters Chris Terrio (Argo) and David S. Goyer (all three of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight blockbusters) have sort of solved this by devising ways to make Superman more frequently vulnerable than he’s ever been before. But the villain here, Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, is so intensely annoying that, very early on, you wish Batman and Superman would just patch up their differences and join forces to put the squirrelly rascal out of his, and our, misery.” —Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter

Nearly every character in this ultimate superhero matchup gets reams of dialogue about good and evil and man and God and virtue and sacrifice and our fallen, fallen world. ‘Devils don’t come from the hell beneath. No, they come from the sky!’ ‘If God is all powerful, then he can’t be all good. And if he’s all good, then he can’t be all powerful!’ By the time Kevin Costner shows up to relate a folksy memory about a bad flood, his ‘hero cake,’ and some drowning horses (don’t ask), you might find yourself stifling giggles.” —Bilge Ebiri, Village Voice

“Affleck’s Batman is a surprisingly emotional one. A few scenes showcase a strong, even flirty chemistry between him and Gadot, rivaling that of Cavill and Adams and of the cinematic Caped Crusaders over the years, Affleck seamlessly moves between Batman and Bruce Wayne. BvS will please those either waiting for the two main players to lock horns on a movie screen, or those who’ve just been pining for Wonder Woman forever. And for the nerdier crowds, a fleeting glimpse at other superheroes hints this is the Dawn of something potentially sensational.” —Brian Truitt, USA Today

In the battle between Batman and Superman, I pick Wonder Woman for the win. It’s not that the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel don’t get in their licks in Zack Snyder’s Freudian free-for-all between two mama’s boys — it’s just that Gal Gadot’s wowza of a Wonder Woman is the kick-ass revelation at this party.” —Peter Travers, Rolling Stone.

The best moments of Dawn of Justice resemble nothing less than a feature length adaptation of a series of Alex Ross paintings in all their naturalistic glory. But amid the visual treats is an utter mess of thinly sketched characters, haphazard plotting, surprisingly jumbled action, and ‘cut your nose to spite your face’ world building. It’s not a success either as a stand-alone Man of Steel sequel or a would-be kick-off to the DC Extended Universe, and attempts to insert Batman and his Super Friends do real damage to the story and thus the film. And, my word, this movie is almost a self-parody on ‘grimdark.’” —Scott Mendelson, Forbes

About a half-hour into ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,’ I was starting to feel this could be one of the best superhero movies of the last 20 years. Alas, we go from spectacular to solid, from great to good. That said, Zach Snyder’s hotly anticipated showdown of two great DC Comics icons is hardly a disappointment — and please see it on the biggest IMAX screen within 50 miles of your home if you can.” —Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times

Thank goodness Ms. Prince turns out to be Wonder Woman, who injects some real vitality into the sludgy superhero sameness. It’s also worth nothing that she’s the one female character, with the possible exception of Soledad O’Brien playing herself, who isn’t used in the film as a pawn or hostage, which is about all we get from Amy Adams‘ Lois Lane (who’s apparently as addicted to stilettos as Bryce Dallas Howard in ‘Jurassic World’), Diane Lane‘s Martha Kent or Holly Hunter‘s all-too-brief turn as a Kentucky senator who squares off against Luthor. You can feel ‘Batman v Superman’ occasionally reaching out toward more than what its corporate interests have dictated — there are a few minutes of Affleck and Gadot verbally one-upping each other at a swanky society party, promising a sexy caper movie that never emerges, and Luthor occasionally stops being a cartoon when Eisenberg commits to some speeches about the nature of man and his gods, and how a being can be all-good or all-powerful, but never both.” —Alonso Duralde, the Wrap 

We cannot, however, credit this as satire. It’s too bombastic, too loud and ultimately too meaningless to qualify; any similarities to real life are entirely coincidental. The effort, following 2013’s Man Of Steel, to tint Superman darker with a dollop of the grim solemnity that Christopher Nolan brought to Batman is now complete, and we have a Superman film with barely a glimmer of daylight. Given that he’s powered by the stuff metaphorically as well as literally, that’s unfortunate.” —Helen O’Hara, British GQ

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a joyless slog. Filled with scenes of gloomy characters confronting their demons or wrestling with their insipid moral quandaries, it’s not a superhero movie so much as it is an excruciating therapy session in which there are occasionally huge explosions and guys in capes. The template for how to make a great Batman movie laid out by Christopher Nolan in his Dark Knight trilogy — grounded characters, a somber tone, believable emotional stakes — has now been pureed by Man of Steel filmmaker Zack Snyder into this indigestible, posturing, two-and-a-half-hour mope-fest. In the past, the man behindWatchmen300, and Sucker Punch has let style suffocate substance, but even his misfires have always had a welcome kink or spark to them. By comparison, Batman v Superman is simply soulless, which is strange for a film whose main characters are supposedly plumbing the depths of their souls most of the time.” —Tim Grierson, The New Republic

So, there is plenty of good in the film, much more than in Man of Steel. The moral keening of this new film seems largely inspired by the backlash to Man of Steel’s opera of annihilation, as if Snyder is himself grappling with the pervasive criticism that the increasingly massive, city-wide melees so popular among franchise films these days have begun to lose all sense of context. Batman v Superman takes stock of the genuine, human toll of its predecessor, opening the door for the deeper inspection of superhero-ness that gives the film its most gripping, provocative moments.” —Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

Critics Are Not Being Kind to Batman v Superman