Have you seen Spirited Away recently? Among its many awesome features is the character No Face, who is normally docile but when provoked will eat anything (and anyone) around him, taking on the personality traits of his victims. In the movie he eats a little anthropomorphic frog, who is greedy for the endless gold No Face is able to produce. Consequently the monster becomes insatiably hungry, particularly for the attention of the protagonist, Chihiro. This goes on until Chihiro feeds No Face medicine, which causes the monster to barf up everything he's eaten in this gross, black sludge that gets all over the place. It's gnarly but also poetic and thematically necessary.
Why am I talking about Hayao Miyazaki's animation masterpiece in a review about Zack Snyder's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice? Because Spirited Away is great and everyone needs to talk about it more. BvS is big, dumb and full of zero surprises. I like to think of Snyder as No Face, Frank Miller is the little frog man and this movie is goop that Snyder vomited up onto our heads. No one's seen Miller lately. We should check on him.
BvS is also not the worst thing in the world (ringing endorsement!) so put down your End of Cinema signs and stop marching. It's guilty of the same crimes that contemporary blockbusters, including my beloved Dark Knight trilogy, all commit. It's way too long, spins too many plates at once, has a dearth of characterization, is way too white and has climaxes on a story arc that look like a Richter scale readout.
The difference is one of hype. Bane's body was still warm when Warner Bros. started rumors about a new Batman movie and how he may come to blows with their version of Superman that was set to come out soon. They handed the reins to Snyder, a filmmaker who never met an explosion or bout of violence he couldn't underwhelm you with but nevertheless makes lucrative movies (well, not Sucker Punch or Watchmen). He's a strangely classical sort of director, if you define classical as "ass-backwards," "misogynistic" or "stubbornly old-fashioned." He may put all the money on the screen but his films lie squarely in the dusty framework of tiresome 80s action cinema. He is the worst part of this movie and, as a director, that's a big part.
But the movie is not entirely a wash. I feel this way because I am not immune to the pleasures of seeing immortal characters from comic book history sharing the screen in live action. The script by Snyder and Chris Terrio does them few favors, but the cast playing the heroes is almost uniformly great. Ben Affleck shows how well suited he is to the Bruce Wayne role and Henry Cavill continues his iconic presence as Superman. Gal Gadot is under-utilized but also welcome when she is onscreen as Diana Prince and, eventually, Wonder Woman. Jesse Eisenberg, channeling more Max Landis than Mark Zuckerberg, gives an interesting take on Lex Luthor who, in the comics, has a lot more in common with our President-Elect than is comfortable. Here he is more the spurned, spoiled child of a man who couldn't care less about him, so he throws his power around to introduce a little anarchy in the world by having its greatest heroes tear each other apart. And Amy Adams gives life and warmth to Lois Lane in a way that the character has never gotten before, despite the filmmakers' best attempts to damsel-in-distress-ize her as much as possible.
The movie is basically about Bruce Wayne deciding that Superman is too strong and that his effect on the world is a net negative: there's often too much collateral damage every time the Kryptonian shows up to do good. Bruce learns about the discovery of a giant chunk of Kryptonite at the bottom of the ocean (you know, the glowing green rock that strips Kryptonians of their ubermensch powers), so he vows to steal it from LexCorp, the conglomerate run by Lex Luthor, who has his own plans for the material. A mysterious woman named Diana seems to trail Bruce's movements and interferes with his plans, throwing into question how much of an ally she really is. Bad things happen when Superman agrees to a senate hearing, which is destroyed by a terrorist attack, shedding Superman of the little good will he had fostered among the people. Eventually he and Batman fight for what seems like three hours. And then they fight another guy. At some point Wonder Woman watches video clips of other DC superheroes who exist in the world.
This movie has an interesting premise that it body surfs straight into a brick wall once it decides there's been too much interesting dialogue and not enough men beating the hell out of one another. Snyder's Michael Bay-ish tendencies of maximum destruction with minimum consequence are on full display here, so the fight scenes devolve into what feels like a child smashing two action figures together and throwing them across the room. Those fights are the movie's raison d'etre, unfortunately, so a huge amount of time is allotted to them. But the film's world-building, clunky as it is, is nevertheless intriguing, and the versions of Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince set up in this film are certainly worth following in future iterations, like 2017's Justice League, also directed by Snyder. Affleck himself is set to direct The Batman at some point, which will be very interesting indeed. He's a director who knows something about visual clarity and well-defined characters, so hopefully the Warner Bros. machine doesn't eat up his film's personality.
I'm fairly down on this movie, but perhaps I'm not completely trashing it right now because I went into it with subterranean expectations. I'd heard the most scathing indictments of the film up until now, and it simply isn't that bad. It's aggressively mediocre, to be sure, but the cast is just enough to make it worth watching. The saddest part is that my standards are this low and the only way for movies like this to stop being made are if they make no money. I watched it on HBO, so I guess it's like I didn't pay for it? Actually, no, I'm still part of the problem by even talking about it. We're all part of the problem. Stop watching movies with superheroes in them! Watch Studio Ghibli films!