A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
"Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" is state of the art epic superhero filmmaking. That's a compliment if you prefer these movies to be ponderous, disorganized and glum, but a warning if you prefer tonal variation from film to film and scene to scene, and have a soft spot for storytelling that actually tells, you know, a story, as opposed to doing an occasionally inspired but mostly just competent job of setting up the next chapter in a Marvel-styled franchise.
story begins with yet another flashback to young Bruce Wayne witnessing his
parents' murder by a gun-wielding mugger, followed by a bracketing trauma, his
encounter with a flock of bats in a cave near stately Wayne Manor. As co-written
by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer (“Blade,” “Dark City”) and directed by Zack
Snyder ("Man of Steel," "Sucker Punch," et al), this
sequence initially plays like one more visit to a dried up well. But it makes sense when
you get to the next scene, a replay of the Metropolis-leveling "Man of
Steel" showdown between Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod (Michael
Shannon) from the point-of-view of Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck), who sees
hundreds of members of his adopted professional "family" killed when
Wayne Industries' Metropolis office is damaged in the super-fight. (The
sequence also portrays Wayne as a somewhat detached one-percenter who’s ashamed
at having taken his work "family" for granted—a thoughtful touch.)
This is the film's most affecting and original sequence, in large part because it takes a persistent complaint against "Man of Steel"—that the supposed Boy Scout from Krypton was callously oblivious to collateral damage—and retrofits it, so that it looks like something “Man of Steel” always meant to do, the better to provide strong, simple motivation for Bruce. Re-traumatized by a 9/11-style disaster that kills dozens of his employees, including a young girl’s mother, he channels his anger and helplessness into a preemptive war against Superman, to be carried with biomechanical armor and Bat-tech fortified by Kryptonite. He sees Kal-El as a clueless and careless false god whose powers must be neutralized, lest humans get so comfortable with worshiping "aliens" that they set the stage for a takeover by more Zods.
I keep referring to the cowled hero as Bruce because, more so than any Batman picture, “Batman v Superman” treats the Caped Crusader as a scary-awesome manifestation of ordinary neuroses, practically a lycanthropic rodent-beast who emerges at night, summoned by his own monogrammed spotlight-moon. In comparison, Superman seems a more balanced character: aside from the presence or absence of glasses or a cape and the stress of maintaining his cover story (he gets so preoccupied by an unauthorized investigation of Batman’s vigilantism that he starts screwing up his regular duties at the Planet), Clark Kent and Superman are essentially the same guy.