There’s one way to stay awake and alert during all 151 minutes of “Batman v Superman”: See it in a 4DX theater.
Billed as the “Absolute Cinema Experience,” the 4DX is like 3-D but four better. In one of their theaters — like the one that just opened at Regal Cinemas Union Square in New York City — the chairs rock maniacally with the onscreen action. The house lights flash on and off at appropriate moments. I’m even occasionally spritzed with water while the back of my ears get blown gently but firmly with cool air.
But an immersive “Batman v Superman” is still “Batman v Superman.”
We only get the first 10 minutes of this nose-diving blockbuster at a press event, but evenwith this brief taste at a press event it feels like an amusement park ride, only one that, in this case, also boasts cryptic fascist undertones and references to national tragedies. My chair wiggles early and often. When the camera glides up into the sky or down to earth, my seat subtly moves with the images. As young Bruce Wayne’s parents are shot by a random mugger, the theater lights flash brightly, as though some prankster was messing with the light switch. A Wayne Enterprises building crumbles in the cringingly 9/11-ish assault on Metropolis, and as it falls steam rises tastefully from the front of the theater.
“Batman v Superman” is perhaps not the best way to introduce New York City to 4DX. It’s punishingly dense, it’s 151 minutes long and it’s dark and unpleasant, which even the film’s fans would have to admit.
That’s not to say 4DX — like the many, many DC Comics films that will be following in this poorly-reviewed and shruggingly received monstrosity’s wake — is a bust. It just needs the right film: One that’s purely about spectacle, that doesn’t engage the deeper recesses of the brain, that isn’t longer than “Goodfellas.” The whole affair harkens, endearingly, back to the days of William Castle, the huckster who fitted mediocre shockers — “The Tingler,” “House on Haunted Hill,” etc. — with gimmicks, like electrified chairs and crap coming out of the screen, to create an experience more fun and memorable than the movie itself.
And yet we no longer live in times of short, brainless ditties. Ours is an era of heavy, lugubrious epics with butt-numbing lengths and stuff constantly comin’ at ya. And that’s how people like it. Long and busy is what makes the most money these days.
People seem welcome to another theatrical element on top of 3-D. Indeed, 4DX may have just scored its first New York City home — with a second at Regal E-Walk in Times Square arriving soon — but it’s been around since 2009. Created by South Korean company CJ 4DPLEX, the tech has spread since its inception to 36 countries. It hit America in 2014, taking over Regal’s L.A. Live Cinemas, followed by one outside of Chicago. A pricey ticket — between $25 and $30 — requires pricey equipment, so the films they’ve augmented have all been blockbusters: “Jurassic World,” “Furious 7,” the last “Star Wars.”
Horror films would be great on 4DX — but, CJ 4DPLEX big wigs point out, those tend to only sell on opening weekend. To be worth the time and money put into it, a 4DX run has to last two weeks. After all, what’s the point in rocking chairs and sprayed mist if no one’s there to get rumbled and hosed down?
Still, the longer, heavier blockbusters, like “Batman v Superman,” seem unendurable, even if constant distractions do pry our attention away from the film’s many dodgy elements. (Did nice guy Daily Planet photographer Jimmy Olsen just get shot in the face?)
The true test of the 4DX will be how it complements the forthcoming live action-CGI redo of “The Jungle Book.” It’s a perfect fit with this new gimmick: It has a manageable length, it’s lousy with effects and it has a tale familiar to anyone who’s ever been a child forced to watch Disney films (or, you know, read books). Therefore it’s light enough that we can turn off our brains, tune into the movie and let our chairs and other dohickeys tell us what to think and feel.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge