Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice begins where its 2013 DC-Comics predecessor, Man of Steel, ended: The titular Kryptonian is fighting his nemesis, General Zod, over the streets of Metropolis and, in the process, laying waste to much of the city. What we didn’t know before is that down there, amid the rubble, is the billionaire Bruce Wayne, trying with limited success to rescue workers at a local branch of Wayne Enterprises from the collateral destruction.
There’s the germ of an interesting idea here. The Man of Steel director Zack Snyder took a fair amount of grief for the way that movie casually depopulated an American city, however fictional. In Snyder’s retelling here, Bruce Wayne (a.k.a., obviously, Batman) essentially becomes the voice of those critics. Is Superman really a hero? Or is he just some alien interloper who brought his extraterrestrial vendettas to our humble planet, knocking down an entire urban skyline in the process? In the hands of another director—the Christopher Nolan of the Dark Knight movies or the Bryan Singer of the X-Men films come immediately to mind—this and other moral quandaries might have been drawn out in intriguing ways.
Instead, alas, we have Snyder, whose idea of a moral quandary is should I make this scene grim—or grimmer? Loud—or louder? Violent—or more violent still? It’s thus no surprise that after all its early, ostentatious handwringing, Batman v Superman ends almost exactly as its predecessor did, with another dull, city-smashing duel between super-beings. The only surprise is that the movie recalls its animating premise vaguely enough to bother explaining that the neighborhood being leveled this time around is “uninhabited.” No harm, no foul.