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Holy Toledo, 'Batman v Superman' has too much stuff

The threatened showdown between the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel is a frustrating mess.

‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’
Director:
Zack Snyder
Stars: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill
Rating: PG-13
2 (out of 5) Globes

It has a good idea, anyway: For awhile “Batman v Superman” seems to be about the ethics of superheroes. When we last saw him in “Man of Steel,” Henry Cavill’s roided-up, aggro Kryptonian was destroying Metropolis so he could save it. The follow-up seems to be an apology for one of that film’s harshest and rightest-on criticisms: That Superman, in fighting the bad guys, had basically succumbed to mindless city destruction porn. Citizens and politicians now debate whether having a svelte alien in their midst is a good idea at all — to say nothing of that caped crusader (Ben Affleck) who’s busy meting out his own unregulated justice in Gotham, which is apparently just across the bay.

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There’s lots of brooding, even more real-life journos (plus Neil deGrasse Tyson) ruminating on TVs and a steady peppering of pessimistic aphorisms about how “the world only makes sense if you force it to.” It’s a dour, funereal affair, but not, alas, a serious one. After all, it doesn’t have time. “Batman v Superman” may start out as a knockoff of the ambitiously philosophical Christopher Nolan entries. But thought peters out, replaced by pummeling action scenes and, more important, set-ups for coming episodes and spin-offs. Superhero movies are now like websites with too many pop-up ads, clogging the running time with teases for future films that won’t be fun either.

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At least, unlike the joylessly cramped din of “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” this tries to tell a self-contained story. It's just not a very good one. It’s one of those “vs.” movies, like “King Kong vs. Godzilla” or “Freddy vs. Jason,” which take forever to pit our dueling titans together then deliver an anticlimax. Affleck’s Bruce Wayne doesn’t like Cavill’s Superman, and vice versa. Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor — reconfigured as a coked-up ham who acts like a demented children’s show host or, worse, Johnny Depp — wants to get them together so that…well, it’s not clear. The two’s promised title match appears to have little to do with Luthor’s scheme, which is to create a slimy colossus that will destroy Metropolis and Gotham, so he can then…well, that’s not clear either. (But here’s betting it will make sense three, maybe four DC films from now.)

Motivation is thin on the ground, including why Batman doesn’t only hate Supe but wants to kill him, too. The film is like the collegiate who signs up for too many credits in a semester then quickly burns out. It tasks itself with cramming in not just two very different iconic good guy vigilantes, but also an equally iconic bad guy, plus Amy Adams’ Lois Lane, plus the Daily Planet, plus Jeremy Irons’ Alfred (now basically just Q), plus — what the hell — Wonder Woman, too. (She’s played with zero personality but undeniable ferocity by Gal Gadot.)

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Perhaps it’s understandable that a possibly touchingly melancholic Affleck turn barely registers, or that it dices up a story that’s already incoherent into something that keeps teasing us with something thoughtful. By the time it’s forgotten about its characters as characters with actual personalities and anxieties and demons, it’s become knucklescrapingly stupid anyway — the kind of film where even someone who doesn’t care about logic holes can’t help pointing out that people keep doing things for no discernible reason, just to keep this behemoth stomping along.

In other words, it becomes a Zack Snyder film— he the crafter of handsomely shot but aggressive monstrosities from the planet Bro. Snyder knows that Nolan knew how to combine popcorn with deep sh—t; he even tries to ape him for awhile. Eventually he gives up and starts blowing things up. Snyderrefrains from some of his usual flourishes — look ma, little to no speed-ramping! — but he flattens everything out into a monotonous barrage of emo anger and profundities that aren’t even on the level of a dorm room burn-out session to Pink Floyd’s “Meddle.” When one of our heroes says, “No one stays good in this world,” it’s impossible to imagine what he’s referring to.

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One can’t even only blame Snyder. He's simply at the behest of a committee and a corporation, who want to get in on that Marvel world building business. But the Marvels, whatever their faults, tend to spice up the tone, whereas the DCs are one-note dirges that collapse the second you put more than one hero in the same space. This one is so heavy the ground falls through almost from the start.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge
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