Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have your head driven through solid rock and glass and brick walls for two and a half hours, blinding flashes of lights unceasingly forcing your eyes shut?
Would you like to have this experience accompanied by a blaring, schizophrenic musical score?
Maybe you'd be down for a handful of frustratingly underdeveloped political ideas, slathered thickly with a merciless onslaught of way, way overdeveloped religious references—nay, images and statements that border on flat-out plundering the Gospel accounts?
Great! Then this Good Friday, saunter on out to your local multiplex for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
This installment, an obvious set-up for a forthcoming Justice League franchise, is directed by Zack Snyder, whom even the most ardent fans could not accuse of subtlety. It stars Henry Cavill as a pudding-faced Superman, Ben Affleck as the most square-jawed Batman imaginable (with Jeremy Irons as Alfred), Amy Adams as Lois Lane, and the twitchiest of Jesse Eisenbergs as Lex Luthor. Superman is in Metropolis and Batman is in Gotham, and various people doubt that they ought to be able to operate outside the law, while various other people think it's for the greater good. Though the title is a bit of a red herring, various circumstances do lead them to fight, parts of their respective cities get super-destroyed, and Lex Luthor prances about uttering the kind of lines that make you back away from people on the subway. There are monsters and science and Evil Corporations, and plentiful bad dialogue.
I am only mildly attached to these characters and stories, not having grown up with comic books or television and movies. I've seen (and liked) Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy and Tim Burton's Batman. I haven't seen any Superman movies, but I get the gist of the story and have a sense of who Superman, Lois Lane, and Lex Luthor are. My main goal when I see a film like this is to have fun, be made to think a little, and feel for at least a few characters when something is at stake.
Which is why I can confidently state that when we cast our wistful gazes back to the Nolan trilogy, it's remarkable how little background information a person needed in order feel invested in (or terrified of) the characters and plot. Sometimes those films veered toward moralizing, but they had the right idea: superhero movies do best when they're not just a story about some characters fighting, but a tale that’s really about us, in the real world, where we don't have superheroes.
In about five-minute intervals, something happens in Batman v Superman that makes it clear it wants to do this. But they build to nothing. This movie has no idea what it's doing. It seems like maybe Superman is supposed to be the more noble of the two, with a purer heart toward mankind, except we mostly just see him save his friends and family. A pivotal moment on which the plot turns and the title gets inverted is so profoundly, unbelievably unearned, so baldly manipulative, that it has no meaning at all.
There's a Senate committee on Superman headed by Senator Finch (Holly Hunter), in which she suggests that nobody should be above the law and that in a democracy we decide together by discussion what counts as good—except it's clear from ensuing plot points that's not true. What is true is that evil spoiled heads of corporations are bad and shouldn't be allowed access to science, or, for that matter, Greek mythology.