Eighteen months after the leveling of Metropolis at the conclusion of 2013’s Man of Steel, the world must come to grips with Superman (Henry Cavill), a seemingly benevolent but nevertheless godlike being with the ability to destroy the planet. Meanwhile two billionaire technocrats—Bruce Wayne aka Batman (Ben Affleck) and Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), both infatuated with their own wills to power—compete to either subdue or destroy him. Superman busies himself with being a rather objectivist version of Earth’s savior, insisting on his own moral superiority, while the Dark Knight uses increasingly brutal tactics to pursue his own twisted agenda. Of course it can’t be a coincidence that all three of these men are emotionally traumatized orphans.
Worse even than the useless story elements is the terrible action.
Revising two beloved comic book icons into fanatical ideologues—a Krypto-fascist (see what I did there?) and a terrorist with unlimited resources—would appear to be Christopher Nolan territory. Say what you will about Nolan but he’d at least make the attempt to layer his pet themes of regret and responsibility into the narrative with some degree of finesse. Here we’re stuck with broteur Zack Snyder, never a great storyteller but often a triumphant visual stylist when adapting strong material he’s too dumb to get in the way of (see Watchmen or 300), here completely set adrift by the demands of this desperate attempt by a studio to jumpstart a Marvel-style dynasty out of its stagnating DC Comics intellectual property. Go ahead, stop the film cold for a few minutes of teases for characters to appear in later films. Sure, rack up a morose third-act plot twist only to tease its inevitable undoing in the next movie. But worse even than the useless story elements is the terrible action. Snyder’s never been one to make ugly films, but here he’s inexplicably ditched his patented speed-ramping tableaux for chaotic handheld and constant edits, which makes even less sense given that vast chunks of this film are almost entirely virtual. Why make choices when you can be an indecipherable CGI smear? It’s enough to make one long for the relative stylistic coherence of a Michael Bay Transformers. This is a failed 150-minute proof-of-concept reel.