Every single second Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is on screen, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” crackles with excitement, joy and promise.
Sadly, those few moments are surrounded by two hours of bad movie.
A ponderous exercise in tedium, Zack Snyder’s second DC Comics movie (third, if you count the alternate universe “Watchmen”) pits the publisher’s two biggest icons in a convoluted battle that intends to be as philosophical as it is physical.
Forty-something billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is convinced the super-powerful alien who destroyed parts of Metropolis battling his Kryptonian kinsmen in 2013’s “Man of Steel” is bad news for humanity.
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Meanwhile, the newsman alter ego of said alien, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), is avoiding his editor’s marshmallowy sports feature assignments by chasing a vigilante who is terrorizing the Gotham City underground in a flying rodent costume.
On the periphery of this struggle are the well-intentioned Southern senator June Finch (Holly Hunter) and the nefarious Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). Like Batman, both are concerned about a bullet-proof man in spandex who flies around zapping stuff with his laser eyes.
(If all that seems convoluted, it is. I promise we streamlined it.)
When “Man of Steel” arrived, much was posted and printed about Snyder sucking the fun out of Superman.
The director doubles down on the grimness in “BvS,” as the Last Son of Krypton continues to be mopey and a little bit dangerous. And it’s not because Supes is understandably reeling from his destructive battle with Zod in the first movie. Instead, he has a petulant desire to protect and occasionally jump in the bathtub with a fawning Lois Lane (Amy Adams).
But while many fingers again will be pointing at Snyder, there’s plenty of blame to go around for this mess, starting with the script by Chris Terrio (who wrote Affleck’s “Argo”) and David S. Goyer (“Man of Steel,” “The Dark Knight”).
It’s extraneous to have three main characters questioning Superman’s methods. It not only wastes viewers’ time, it also dilutes Batman’s motivation.
Batman, meanwhile, spends much of the movie searching for some person or thing called “the White Portuguese,” while most of the audience will be thinking, “Let me Google that for you, Dark Knight Detective.”
The point of Luthor is he should be the brains to Superman’s brawn. But instead of brilliant and diabolical, this Lex is a spoiled and possibly deranged tech billionaire. He’s not as campy as Gene Hackman’s and Kevin Spacey’s versions of the character, true, but he’s less intelligent.
Even dumber: the music. The score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL lacks any subtlety. When it came time to compose a theme for Lex Luthor, it seems as if one said, “What if I just bang my fist on the left half of the piano keyboard?” and the other said, “Perfect!”
(You also should make plans to see the film in a theater with good projection and a good screen. Not only is the film dark in tone, it’s dark.)
The bright spots, though, are Affleck and Gadot, whose scenes are so different in tone from much of the rest of the movie it almost seems someone else directed them. Maybe Affleck himself?
Who knows what stuntman is in the Batsuit when the Dark Knight is battling bad guys, but this Batman actually moves. The “Batfleck” complaints from when the actor was cast turn out to be unfounded; Affleck’s weary vigilante feels absolutely right.
Gadot’s Wonder Woman outwits Batman, outmuscles Superman and outperforms the rest of the movie. Her scenes with Affleck make you wish this had been “Batman and Wonder Woman.” A riskier move for an early chapter in a new franchise, certainly, but probably a better movie.
Much as Marvel has done with its superhero films, Warner Bros. is using “Batman v Superman” to set the direction of the DC movie universe for years to come. These characters certainly deserve their due, but if “BvS” is the best first effort, it’s hard to see how it’s going to be worth our journey. It’s probably safe to say fewer of us would have made it all the way to “The Return of the King” if “The Hobbit” had been our first trip to Middle-earth.
“BvS” does feel bigger and more epic than Disney’s Marvel superhero movies. But the film lacks heart, humor or any sense that you’re going to have a generally pleasant time at the old cineplex.
It’s also that rare movie that makes you anxious to see the next installment only because it surely has to be better than what you just watched.
David Frese, email@example.com. Twitter: @DavidFrese
‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’
Rated PG-13. Time: 2:23.