The heavyweight title bout between Batman and Superman is a smash to the senses, the same way being tossed around in a rollover car accident would jolt one’s system.
That is the level of roaring, unrelenting punishment acted out in director Zack Snyder’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which is at once overstuffed and undercooked. The movie crams together a Batman story, a Superman story and lays the groundwork for several side tales, all in the space of a cluttered two-and-a-half hour collision that aims to bludgeon viewers into submission.
It’s a lot, and yet the experience is rather empty; underneath all the smashing and crashing there isn’t much there. It is so burdened by its responsibility to set up a franchise that it barely takes the time to exist in the present, and Snyder is so encumbered by the idea that superhero films are supposed to be serious business that he forgets to have any fun. This is Batman and Superman, not a funeral procession.
The film introduces Ben Affleck as Batman, and while Affleck looks good in a suit as Bruce Wayne, he doesn’t have the same level of sophistication as previous Batmen such as Christian Bale or Michael Keaton. His is more of a working class Bruce Wayne (he does CrossFit to train, which is very 2016 of him), and the movie relies on what we already know about Batman to fill in the gaps in his character (although it opens, as all Batman tales seem to do, with the murder of his parents).
Henry Cavill is back as Superman, returning to the role he originated in Snyder’s similarly torturous “Man of Steel,” which to watch was to understand what it’s like to be a pinball during a high score game. Mankind is struggling with what to make of the messianic figure, and how to govern the Superman (Snyder would like to see the tale as a religious allegory, if only it were so deep). Among those who want Superman stopped are Lex Luthor (played with devilish glee by Jesse Eisenberg) and Batman, who decides the neighboring towns of Metropolis and Gotham City aren’t big enough for the both of them.
Simple enough, but the story (credited to screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer) still manages to be convoluted and struggles to ignite fireworks the way a showdown between the two comic icons should. Once Bats and Supes do meet, it’s all brute force, which is the only language Snyder speaks. Previous “Batman” movies worked because they were grounded in some semblance of reality, but it’s hard to take something seriously when the characters are being tossed through cinder block walls and shoved through concrete floors for one-third of the running time.
Detroit has a starring role in much of the chaos: early scenes depict downtown Detroit as Metropolis (including Fort St. between Griswold St. and Washington Blvd.); the Russell Industrial Center gets a glimpse or two; and Michigan Central Station is the backdrop for much of the big showdown between the two titans. (The building is also a favorite of Michael Bay, making it a premier location for directors who confuse loud clanging as substance.)
There’s plenty more, including the introduction of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and glimpses at several other eventual Justice League members, and a late-in-the-game villain who raises the level of cacophony several thousand decibels. By the end, it feels what it must be like to go 12 rounds with Batman and Superman. It’s a superhero-sized headache.
‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’
Rated PG-13: for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality
Running time: 151 minutes