Zack Snyder’s second Superman movie brings on Batman, introduces Wonder Woman, gives us a quick peek at Aquaman and works hard to set up DC’s own multi-hero franchise, the Justice League of America.
But it’s all a little tired, slow and confused – as if these Depression-era superheroes were finally showing their real age.
The new film briefly reprises the end of 2013’s Superman reboot, “Man of Steel,” to show us an eyewitness we hadn’t noticed – Bruce Wayne, who arrives in Metropolis just in time to see the Wayne Enterprises skyscraper knocked down.
Yeah, that confused me, too. Maybe Metropolis offered a sweet tax rebate if he’d move his corporate headquarters?
Anyway, Wayne now becomes convinced that Superman is a dangerous lunatic – which is kind of funny considering Batman likes to wear a rubber suit and has started branding captured criminals.
But while Batman’s hunting down the Krypton Kid, Alexander “Lex” Luthor – a spoiled and brilliant brat, played by Hollywood’s go-to guy for annoying geniuses, Jesse Eisenberg – is coming up with a plan to kill both of them, and wipe out Metropolis. Or maybe Gotham. Who cares anyway, at this point?
Not me, certainly, as the film meanders along, playing less like a prequel for the JLA than a greatest-hits medley of every superhero movie ever made – a little “Dark Knight Rises” here, a bit of “Batman Begins” there, all spiced up with some “X-Men” topicality.
The thing is, none of it convinces.
No, not the superhuman creatures in flowing capes. The mood.
Look back at your favorite comic-book films and what you’ll notice first is their honesty. Christopher Nolan committed to the dark shadows of his Batman pictures; the equal-rights struggle that’s at the heart of the first “X-Men” film was one Bryan Singer believed in.
But although director Zac Snyder is a great visualist, all he has here is pretty pictures and giant (and confusing) action sequences.
Nothing feels very new, and it’s not just because we get yet another flashback to how young Bruce’s parents were killed. The idea of Superman-as-Jesus (which was already overdone in “Man of Steel”) gets trotted out again and worked to death, as does the character of the endlessly traumatized Dark Knight.
And whenever interest flags, which is often? Time for Snyder to suddenly insert another out-of-nowhere nightmare for Batman. Even Superman gets a mad hallucination. But then, in an airless and artificial movie like this one, maybe it’s from lack of oxygen.
Yes, both actors look great. Henry Cavill is a real superhero every time he takes off his shirt, and Ben Affleck sports some very distinguished grey at his temples. (Given his last year of marital woes and tabloid adventures, maybe it’s real.)
And the introduction of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman adds fresh interest to the proceedings – even if she’s only given a few scattered scenes, and is late to the finale. She’s got backstory. She’s got attitude. In fact, she got me wondering what this movie would have been like if she were the star, and these guys in capes her supporting players. (She’s due to get her own, smaller-scale film next year.)
But hey, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Men flying through the air and living in high-tech caves? That’s one thing. But a big-budget, high-stakes franchise-opener built around a strong female character? That’s just crazy talk.