'Batman v Superman' Draws Mixed Reviews: Overly Serious, Not Enough Wonder Woman

"The film is only slightly more pessimistic than Lars von Trier's 'Antichrist.' You'd have to go back to Mel Gibson’s 'Passion of the Christ' to find this much Christian iconography wedded to this much sadism."

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice didn't soar with the majority of film critics.

The Warner Bros. sequel to 2013's Man of Steel is again directed by Zack Snyder and stars Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons and Holly Hunter. It's eyed as a launchpad for the studio's proposed series of "DC Extended Universe" tentpoles that it hopes will prove viable rivals to Marvel's cinematic universe of comic book figures turned film franchises.

Opening this weekend on over 4,000 screens domestically and 30,000 worldwide, the $250 million film hopes to pave the way for the flood of WB/DC outings already set for release over the next four years. It boasts huge interest in prerelease tracking, suggesting an opening of $150 million or more in North America.

On Wednesday morning, the sequel held a score of 47 on Metacritic and a 41 on Rotten Tomatoes, with reviews skewing negatively due to the film's "ominous" and "pessimistic" allegory, and fight scenes that didn't win with every critic.

The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy writes, "The film may be imposing, but it's not fun. ... Eisenberg's Lex Luthor is so intensely annoying that, very early on, you wish Batman and Superman would just patch up their differences and join forces to put the squirrelly rascal out of his, and our, misery. ... The solemn, grandiose atmosphere is severely disrupted by Luthor, portrayed by Eisenberg as a privileged tech guru who makes the actor's take on Mark Zuckerberg look like the epitome of style and manners. Loaded with vocal ticks and gushing with smarmy ripostes and threats, the character is loathsome without an ounce of insidious charm; if the legacy of the studio's Dark Knight films might have suggested anything, it should have been in the area of great villains, but here there is just a great vacuum."

Additionally, Affleck is "fitting the role just fine" but his "mature" Batman, "as written, never comes into full bloom; all the same, one can look ahead with some hope to Affleck in the role in future installments. Cavill is also likeable enough but, again, hamstrung by the twisty, convoluted inventions designed to limit his abilities during long stretches." And "the filmmakers would seem to have thrown up their hands at how to gracefully integrate Wonder Woman into the action, simply hurling her into the epic final battle without significant preparation at all. With just her sword and shield, she doesn't seem meant to mix it up with these big guys right off the bat."

Time's Stephanie Zacharek summarizes it as "a grand one, with a mondo-operatic climax and a final shot infused with quivering, exhilarating molecules of grace. It’s also not much fun: Barely a minute goes by when there isn’t a character or real-life talking head (Charlie Rose and Neil deGrasse Tyson both make cameos) showing up with some droning pronouncement about how humans today, savvy and mistrustful as we are, still need to believe in gods and heroes. The picture is thick with allusions to “aliens” as enemies of the people, dangerous forces that will only come back stronger when we try to vanquish them. At one point a villain with some crazy ideas intones, 'God is tribal. God takes sides.' All of these statements are intended to provoke thought, of the political or spiritual kind, but they’re simultaneously too unshaped and too obvious. Snyder floats them onscreen like ominous nighttime clouds, onto which we can project our own Batsignals of meaning. Why, oh why, can’t we just get what we came for?"

Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips calls it "a near-total drag. ...  the film is only slightly more pessimistic than Lars von Trier’s Antichrist. You'd have to go back to Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ to find this much Christian iconography wedded to this much sadism." And Cavill's Superman is "as narcissistic a Superman as you’ll ever see" and "seems to have crossed an invisible line of smugness." However, "Gadot’s Wonder Woman helps out in one of several climactic destruction festivals featured in “Batman v Superman.” Long before she actually suits up, though, you’re good and sick of waiting for Gadot to hijack all the rage-y, steroidal, bone-crushing smackdowns setting the tone in Snyder’s literal blockbuster. ... An hour into Batman v. Superman, you wonder: Can we just settle this little spat and move on to Gadot’s Wonder Woman movie?"

New York Post's Lou Lumenick says, "Snyder puts together some very striking scenes — which may be enough for many fanboys — they never really cohere into a whole. He literally throws in the kitchen sink in a film that frantically introduces characters and concepts while never clearly establishing the rules of the DC Comics universe." Plus, "constantly threatening to collapse from self-seriousness, this epic has way too much of everything, including CGI and Oscar winners up the wazoo," as well as "'the greatest gladiator match of all time,’' which turns out to be not only 20 minutes of anti-climax — but the undercard for an even bigger and more ridiculous bout that probably should have ended up on the cutting-room floor." However, unlike some other critics, he calls Eisenberg "fiendishly entertaining."

USA Today's Brian Truitt reviews the "massive though improved sequel" favorably, with three stars out of four. "The subplots dovetail decently into the big finish, one Snyder pulls off with a surprise return, one huge shocker and the promised throwdown between Batman and Superman. For those wondering why these two have to fight, there is a very good storyline reason for the two frenemies coming to blows, and in the director’s action-packed movie resume, that faceoff and their inevitable alliance with Wonder Woman against Lex's vicious monster Doomsday vault to the top of Snyder's best-told fight sequences." Plus, "Cavill is again a solid Superman (and Clark Kent), even more the second time, though Affleck and Gadot are really special in their debuts. ... For the nerdier crowds, a fleeting glimpse at other superheroes hints this is the Dawn of something potentially sensational."

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