The best and worst aspects of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice can be summed up in a scene you've probably seen before. In their first encounter, the last son of Krypton shows up on a rooftop in Gotham to warn the Dark Knight off his vigilante ways. “The Bat is dead,” he smirks before turning and flying off into the night sky. “Do you bleed?” retorts Batman. “You will.”
You're damn right he will, but you already knew that, didn't you? That's because the exchange is from a scene we've seen a billion times before in trailer after trailer for the much-hyped film, DC’s second installment in its cinematic world-building in response to Marvel's dominance. But Batman v. Superman doesn’t fully deliver on its historic meeting between two of the most recognizable superheroes in American history. If you've seen the trailer, you've basically seen the entirety of the film, a super-powered slugfest that finds the two heroes at each other's throats before *gasp* they team up to welcome, uh, a dawn of justice.
But the most surprising thing about Batman v Superman isn’t that the movie was basically already spoiled for theater-going audiences by Warner Bros. incessant marketing — it’s how much better the trailers are than the movie. Despite the awesome throwdown between the the two titular heroes, the rest of the film is an incoherent mess off sheer destruction, inelegant callouts to the wider DC universe, and an almost nonsensical plot. Hell, the 11-minute long trailer recut is more coherent than the two and a half hours of cinematic dumpster fire. It's as though somebody randomly picked clippings from the cutting room floor, chugged a bottle of whiskey, and tried to piece together the darkest superhero film ever.
Don't get me wrong, there’s a lot to love about Batman v. Superman in the same way that there’s a lot to love about Godzilla leveling a city or Christian Bale ripping a gang of thugs to shreds during his run as Batman. The fight sequences are beautifully choreographed and earth-shattering, capturing the real-world chaos wrought by superhumans in a stark contrast to the sanitized combat of the Marvel universe. And Ben Affleck actually manages to telegraph an aura of sociopathy fitting of the modern Batman underneath his fancy toys and high-tech armor. But the level of destruction imagined by Zack Snyder is almost gleefully excessive, a deafening spiral through flames and rubble that’s visually exhausting — and just so, so fucking loud.
Upping the ante from Man of Steel, the film wants to remind you just how powerful these people are by destroying everything, but when married with overly dramatic choral interludes (foreboding much? seriously, enough of this shit), the combination yields a visual and aural clusterfuck verging on a cinematic migraine. Where Marvel has embraced the light and campy, DC has doubled down on darkness and self-seriousness that made even cult classics like Watchmen something of a bore.
But tonal and aesthetic troubles aside, the film is virtually plotless. [Warning: Mild spoilers] It's been nearly two years since Superman and General Zod leveled whole parts of Metropolis in the astonishingly brutal Man of Steel, killing thousands — including innocent civilians camped out in Wayne Tower (the opening sequence, which weaves Batman’s origin story with Bruce Wayne’s perspective on the Battle of Metropolis, is actually some damn good filmmaking). Batman, who’s been fighting crime for the better part of two decades at this point, is fairly ripshit about the presence of God on Earth, and he’s devoted every resource available to taking down what he perceives as an existential threat to the planet. But this is where things start to get out of control: a civilian massacre is attributed to Superman while he's rescuing Lois Lane in some nondescript Middle Eastern country. Meanwhile, Batman’s investigation into a Russian gangster entangles the two titular characters with Lex Luthor (played by Jesse Eisenberg and a metric ton of cocaine). Everything after this is basically a morass of dream sequences and forced melodrama; when you have a dream sequence within a dream sequence, followed by more dream sequences, something tells me it's time to pack up and go home.
As the film approaches its climax, it’s clear that Batman and Superman are circling each other almost obliviously, their motivations subject to change for the strangest reasons, destined to fight only because it's in the title of the fucking film. Gal Gadot’s excellent Wonder Woman is infuriatingly underutilized, her presence meant only to tease the ‘dawn of justice’ the film promises with a coming slate of stand-alone superhero flicks. And it's not just Gadot whose role is almost entirely ancillary: callouts to other DC characters (Major Ferris?) are forced and awkward, all uncomfortably ham-fisted plays in service of the larger shared universe in which DC is hastily playing catchup. Aquaman, Cyborg, and the Flash aren’t introduced subtly, but as explicitly and fleetingly as possible. The entire movie is incredibly, incredibly close: DC wants to rub our nose in every character and every internal conflict, without letting us piece things together for ourselves.
Batman v. Superman is an entertaining movie, but it isn’t really a movie in its own right. It's a film that is so obviously written in the service of a larger franchise, a means to an end held back by narrative inconsistency and too much forced melodrama designed to telegraph character development without actually fulfilling it. Where Tony Stark and Steve Rogers develop from movie to movie, making their inevitable conflict in Captain America: Civil War more believable as the logical conclusion of their character arcs, it’s hard to find a time during Batman v. Superman where I’m not praying for the talking to stop and the punching to begin. The movie is a popcorn flick through and through, but it's aspirations to be something more, something deeper and more serious, that truly reveal its weaknesses as a film.
There's a scene towards the end of the film where Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince (Wonder Woman’s civilian alter-ego) are discussing the other super-powered folk who've just been shoved down the audiences through throat. “What makes you think they'll fight?” asks Prince. “Just a feeling,” replies Batman, ruining fucking everything. This one line almost invalidates the entire movie, tipping DC’s hand that boy, who actually gives a shit about Batman fighting Superman, we just want to get our Justice League movie as soon as possible. Batman v. Superman could be the superpowered disaster flick we needed to kick off the summer. If you’ve ever wondered if you bleed, go see this movie; we guarantee you’ll start hemorrhaging from your eyes in no time.