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'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' review: Characters deserve better than this empty spectacle

DC Comics' biggest names, Batman (Ben Affleck) and Superman (Henry Cavill) come face-to-face and wage an all-out brawl against each other. With Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, directed by Zack Snyder ("Man of Steel," "300"). In theaters March 25. (Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

PLOT Two DC superheroes duke it out while the fates of Gotham and Metropolis hang in the balance

CAST Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot

LENGTH 2:33

RATED PG-13 (Intense action-violence, some bloodshed)

In an era where the most effective superhero movies increasingly focus on edgier, smaller-scale narratives, with a lightness of touch and a sense of humor, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” arrives like a hulking beast from another world.

This is filmmaking by sledgehammer, as plodding as a tortoise and treated with the seriousness one might ascribe to a Holocaust drama or a war picture.

The self-absorption can be staggering. There’s about five minutes of actual story buried in a two-and-a-half hour mélange of booming clashes marked by melodramatic sound design, inexplicable narrative digressions to fill in the many empty spots, Christ-like imagery that wore out its welcome in “Man of Steel” and a general overarching belief on the part of director Zack Snyder and company that this is a capital I important movie with something to say about the way we live now.

It isn’t and it doesn’t.

The film is something to behold, alright. Batman (Ben Affleck), whose Gotham dwells inexplicably adjacent to Superman’s Metropolis, despises the erstwhile Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) for reasons that barely make sense. The latter condemns Bruce Wayne’s vigilante efforts. Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) seeks to advance this conflict. The proceedings also involve a Kentucky senator played by Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot’s under-utilized Wonder Woman and a whole lot of narrative filler.

The movie lumbers through flashbacks, dream scenes, general misdirection ploys and other classic tropes big-budget filmmakers utilize when they haven’t crafted enough of a story to give context and meaning to the centerpiece fight scenes. 

There are logical holes embedded in the marrow of the concept: If Batman and Superman are neighbors, if Metropolis is Manhattan to Gotham’s Brooklyn, for example, then why is there a need for a Batman at all?

Coming off Christopher Nolan’s rich “Dark Knight” trilogy, which captured the fundamental appeal of Batman as the most human of superheroes by placing him in the hands of the great Christian Bale and in recognizable urban settings, this new iteration rife with unwieldly artifice is a pretty spectacular letdown.

Affleck dwells on one note, angry determination, without so much as a taste of something more complicated. No amount of slow-motion flashbacks to the fabled Wayne parent murders can save him.

Cavill remains a serviceable Superman and Gadot shows promise ahead of her own, overdue, standalone picture. Eisenberg plays the same individual he always plays, a whiny know-it-all, only this time reconstituted as the world’s least threatening superhero villain.

Still, these are rich characters with tremendous mythologies constructed around them. They deserve better than this empty spectacle.

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