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'Batman v Superman' dinged by critics: 'Unfocused,' 'Ponderous'

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Warner Bros.

It’s a question that’s almost as old as comic books themselves: Who would win in a fight between Batman and Superman? Zack Snyder’s latest superhero epic attempts to tackle that question, and if early critical reactions are any indication, he does so to mixed results.

There’s a lot at stake with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Not only does Snyder’s follow-up to 2013’s Man of Steel bring the long anticipated superhero-versus-superhero battle to the big screen, but Dawn of Justice also ushers in Ben Affleck’s era as the Dark Knight. Perhaps even more importantly, it’s supposed to serve as the catalyst for a whole slate of future superhero films, including a Wonder Woman standalone and the upcoming Justice League movie.

So is Batman v Superman a fitting introduction to the Justice League series? It depends on who you ask. While some critics have reveled in the epic action sequences and existential questions about heroism, others have condemned the big superhero face-off as bloated, inscrutable, and — worst of all — boring.

Most have directed their praise at individual actors, and Affleck’s take on the Dark Knight has been especially well-received. Critics have also overwhelmingly applauded the first-ever movie version of Wonder Woman, as Gal Gadot brings everyone’s favorite Amazon to the big screen for the first time. But Cavill’s dour Superman and Jesse Eisenberg’s exaggerated Lex Luthor haven’t been as well-received.

“I get that this mano a supermano story line is a sacred text among comic-book aficionados, but Dawn of Justice doesn’t do the tale any favors,” EW’s Chris Nashawaty wrote in his C+ review. “It’s overstuffed, confusing, and seriously crippled by Eisenberg’s over-the-top performance. As the megalomaniac tech mogul hell-bent on bringing our heroes to their knees, the actor is a grating cartoon of manic motormouth tics. He might as well be wearing a buzzing neon sign around his neck that says ‘Crazy Villain.’”

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Read more of Nashawaty’s review — as well as other critical takes — below.

Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly)

Dawn of Justice is big, all right. The brawls are busy and brutal, the story is sprawling in scope, the effects are an embarrassment of pixels, and the performances (well, some of them, at least) couldn’t be broader. If it’s just size you’re after, you won’t be disappointed. But at this point in Hollywood’s superhero cycle, is that really enough?”

A.O. Scott (<emNew York Times)

“A diverting entertainment might have been made about the rivalry between these two muscle-bound paladins — a bromance or a buddy comedy, an album of duets. Batman v Superman directed by Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch, Man of Steel), is none of those things. It is about as diverting as having a porcelain sink broken over your head (one of the more amusing things that happens onscreen). In keeping with current business imperatives, what Mr. Snyder has concocted is less a free-standing film than the opening argument in a very long trial. Its two-and-a-half-hour running time — not so much a ‘dawn’ as an entire morning spent watching the clock in anticipation of lunchtime — is peppered with teasers for coming sequels.”</em

Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times)

“As directed by Zack Snyder, the two-hour, 33-minute Batman v Superman does go on too long and lingers more than it should, as Snyder’s Man of Steel did before it, on its climactic action set pieces. But the director, a strong technician whose slam-bang emphatic, occasionally operatic style seems made for comic book adaptations, has been well-served by an adept script co-written by Chris Terrio (an Oscar winner for Ben Affleck’s Argo) and David S. Goyer, which raises a number of interesting issues.”

Ty Burr (Boston Globe)

“Eisenberg probably has the right approach: He overacts even more severely than Gene Hackman did in the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, and you’ll find him either an active irritant or the one giggly note of revelry in the gloom.”

Jonathan L. Fischer (Slate)

“To put it delicately, this comics fan hated Batman v Superman with the fury of a thousand red-dwarf suns. Blunt, humorless, and baffling, it collides the brutish directorial stamp of Zack Snyder (he of 300 and Watchmen fame) with the most shameless instincts of our latter-day superhero franchise bubble. It is worse than the widely detested Joel Schumacher Batman films, including the one with bat nipples.”

Andrew Barker (Variety)

“While Batman v Superman’s Dark Knight may be more of a pure punisher than some fans would prefer, Snyder’s conception of the character at least feels fully formed. Superman remains something of a work-in-progress. (If nothing else, it’s strange to see Clark Kent cast a more brooding figure than Bruce Wayne.) Daily Planet scenes are even more perfunctory this time around, and Adams’ Lois has plenty to do but little to say.”

Peter Travers (Rolling Stone)

“Better than Man of Steel but below the high bar set by Nolan’s Dark Knight, Dawn of Justice is still a colossus, the stuff that DC Comics dreams are made of for that kid in all of us who yearns to see Batman and Superman suit up and go in for the kill. Suck on that, Marvel.”

 Richard Roper (Chicago Sun-Times)

Dawn of Justice is a dark-palette feast for the eyes, with some memorable set pieces, just the right amount of dark humor, strong performances and so many inside references and hints of characters and films to come there could be an entire day of Comic-Con panels just about the spoilers and the teasers and the ‘WHOA!’ moments.”

Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter)

“For his part, Batman is provided with plentiful backstory and psychology, but the mature character, as written, never comes into full bloom; all the same, one can look ahead with some hope to Affleck in the role in future installments. Cavill is also likeable enough but, again, hamstrung by the twisty, convoluted inventions designed to limit his abilities during long stretches.”

Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune)

“An hour into Batman v Superman, you wonder: Can we just settle this little spat and move on to Gadot’s Wonder Woman movie?”

Alonso Duralde (The Wrap)

“You can feel Batman v Superman occasionally reaching out toward more than what its corporate interests have dictated — there are a few minutes of Affleck and Gadot verbally one-upping each other at a swanky society party, promising a sexy caper movie that never emerges, and Luthor occasionally stops being a cartoon when Eisenberg commits to some speeches about the nature of man and his gods, and how a being can be all-good or all-powerful, but never both. Such moments are fleeting, however, and are mere filigree on Snyder’s real agenda of blowing stuff up.”

Jen Yamato (The Daily Beast)

“Instead, Zack Snyder’s would be game-changer sets the big business of spandexed spectacle back a step, because — shocker! — watching Batman and Superman rage at each other like little boys makes for a pretty tedious two and a half hours. When you walk away from the terminally unfocused BvS with no desire to see another Batman or Superman story ever again, someone up the chain has made a terrible mistake.”

Devin Faraci (Birth Movies Death)

“The plot trudges along weighed down not just by the stupidity of it all – half the plot points make no logical sense, like Lex Luthor supplying his henchmen with experimental military bullets – but by the apocalyptic self-seriousness of it all. Each scene is ponderous in its attempt to be meaningful and iconic, rendering every moment in the movie a phony pose. Heavy, overbearing score thunders above it all, reinforcing the po-faced absurdity. The film reaches for an operatic thunder and ends up with a wet, limp raspberry.”

Helen O’Hara (British GQ)

“But the wider problem is that this film doesn’t make you want a Justice League film. It just wears you down and wears you out, making you wonder if there was ever such a thing as a hero anyway. Let them pummel each other if they must; just leave us out of it.”

Overall Metacritic rating: 48

Rotten Tomatoes: 33 percent

Rated: PG-13

Length: 153 minutes

Starring: Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot

Directed by: Zack Snyder

Distributor: Warner Bros.