Guys, it’s not Ben Affleck’s fault. In fact, he did everything he could to save us from the hot mess that is “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”, turning in a masterfully calibrated, workmanlike performance that manages to—I’m gonna swallow hard, because I’m eating about six months’ worth of words right now—humanize Bruce Wayne, creating a likeable, cohesive, verging-on-interesting Batman. I can’t believe I just typed that. Hang on, I need to go smack myself in the face hard while staring at a mirror.
OK, I’m back. As I was saying, we all need to lay off Affleck because Jesus Christ, he tried. In a few years, when the toxic radiation has died down and wolves and deer are returning to graze amongst the twisted remnants of this trainwreck, Affleck will be remembered as the last man shoveling when the tidal wave of shit rolled in. And oh, what a wave it is: at once towering and completely featureless, both ponderous and pointless. There’s no message here: Batman and Superman are fighting, until they aren’t. The world is frightened of Superman, until they aren’t. Civilian casualties are a concern, until they’re not because it’s inconvenient. The movie lumbers on, until it is over—presumably, because the popcorn needs to be swept up, and Zack Snyder has run out of coke. And coke is almost certainly the fuel that stoked this nightmare’s engine: no other drug comes close to explaining the unchecked hubris on display here, the total lack of anything approaching a point. Characters in “Batman v Superman” are endlessly intoning strange, garbled aphorisms about gods and mortals and Prometheus and democracy, as stone-faced as if the lines were carved in marble and carried off a mountaintop—but they’ve missed something crucial in the translation, and the result is gibberish. “God is good… as dead.”
“Be their angel, be their monument, be anything they need you to be… or be none of it.”
“Do you know what the greatest lie ever told in America is? That power can be innocent.” (I must have missed that day in civics, because it’s not ringing a bell.)
As thuddingly awful as the dialogue is, it looks snappy compared to the visual storytelling. Dreams and flashbacks and symbolism are used, sometimes all at the same time—not because they are necessary, or explanatory, or illuminating, but because someone apparently told Snyder that Important and Serious Films used dreams, and flashbacks, and symbolism. The murder of the Wayne parents (replete with a faceclutching shot of Martha Wayne’s pearl necklace scattering on the pavement) is shown not once but twice, as if sheer repetition could imbue a hamfisted sequence with deep significance. Dream sequences occur with such regularity that we come to disbelieve even the things that are really happening (since the things that are “really happening” include the digestion of General Zod’s body by a squid, the confusion is understandable). Slow-motion is used, again and again and again, to signify profundity—even when all that is happening is a shot of Lex Luthor’s sneakers walking across a ramp. “Look at this,” the movie insists, zooming in on a painting of hell. “This is important,” it screams, repeating for the third time a shot of the Wayne family mausoleum. “Are you watching?” it blares, slowing down a shot of an empty rifle cartridge, used in a ceremonial salute, kicking up a plume of black dirt. “WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?” it howls, showing us a jar of pee. If “Batman v Superman” had any kind of a point, all this navel-gazing indulgence might be forgivable—as it is, this is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.