This article comes neither to bury Batman v Superman nor to praise it. That's the critics' job. So far, they seem to be doing a lot more of the former than the latter, which has been a bit hard for the cast and crew to handle sometimes - poor Ben Affleck! - but hey, it's the critics' job. To see the movies, react, and embolden or warn you.
History will judge whether this initial round of feedback turns out to be the short-sightedness of a critical community that may just be a little superheroed out this year, or some valuable early think pieces on why the DC Extended Universe - the only attempt to compete with the Marvel Cinematic Universe on an equal level really worth taking seriously - collapsed in 2019 (though judging by the early box office returns, it might be closer to the former than the latter.)
Here are the 13 Most Scathing Reviews of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Beware: some of these insights might constitute at least minor SPOILERS.
13 Robbie Collin, Daily Telegraph
Collin wasn't sure just what he saw, really. While a few critics have found the abundance of goings-on in the movie to be a strength, Collin just felt overwhelmed. This lines up with early reports that the movie, despite a robust opening weekend, is getting its worst response from people who don't already know who Doomsday is.
“What’s happening, Alfred?” our hero barks at his faithful butler (Jeremy Irons) via the intercom on his Batwing fighter jet. There’s a brief pause, then Alfred’s voice comes crackling back, reedy and sardonic. “How best to describe it?”
Under the circumstances, it’s a reasonable question. The best I can do is apocalyptic sneezing fit: largely because whenever you think it’s dying down, its nostrils start fluttering again.
No major blockbuster in years has been this incoherently structured, this seemingly uninterested in telling a story with clarity and purpose. It grumbles along for what feels like forever, jinking from subplot to subplot, until two shatteringly expensive-looking fights happen back to back, and the whole thing crunches to a halt.
12 Ann Hornaday, Washington Post
Hornaday had an easier time understanding what was going on, paying more attention to tone than to plot. Unfortunately, she found the tone a bit lacking. To be specific, she felt it was missing that three-letter f-word that motivates people to come to blockbusters in the first place.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice begins and ends with a funeral, which is fitting for a movie that plays like one long dirge...
Director Zack Snyder returns to [Man of Steel's] questionable core values in a film that replaces genuine intrigue and suspense with a series of confounding red herrings, tossing out solemn observations about men, gods, martyrs and saviors while invoking such hot-button issues as terrorism, drones and immigration. Batman v Superman is so desperate for the audience to take it seriously that it forgets to have any fun at all: Rather than escapism and sensory exhilaration, viewers get down in the mire with protagonists who grimace, scowl and wince their way through heroics with the joyless determination of shift workers making the doughnuts.
11 Rob Harvilla, Deadspin
Harvilla finds a few things to like about the film - the relatively low body count, Holly Hunter, Laurence Fishburne and Ben Affleck's chin. But when he picks a target, it's much more substantial (the plot, the director and the main villain) and he's much more merciless. (His article also bears the snarkiest title of the lot: "Batman v Superman is v Bad.") His choicest observation, though, comes early:
A clearly excited 7- or 8-year-old kid sitting in front of me busted out crying and had to be whisked out of the theater by his father within the first five minutes. Perhaps he was unnerved by the harsh, operatic violence of Bruce Wayne’s parents getting murdered—the mom’s pearls get tangled around the gun, somehow, which allows for some very tight and poignant slow motion—or maybe he was offended by the notion that a 2016 Batman movie felt it necessary to depict Bruce Wayne’s parents getting murdered. Either way, this kid bounced. (As an unsubtle metaphor for the aging target audience for comic-book movies, this is nonetheless way subtler than anything in the film itself.) I felt really terrible for that kid immediately, and was mildly envious of him two hours and 25 minutes later.
10 AO Scott, The New York Times
Scott is one of the best-known film critics working today, and New York and literary high-mindedness are in his bones. You'd think he might be sympathetic to ambitious movies set largely in Gotham (basically a fictional vision of New York), even if they do feature a costumed crimefighter or two. And you'd be right. Unfortunately, those movies were Christopher Nolan's. Zack Snyder, in his view, fares less well:
Intellectual pretension, long an occupational hazard in the superhero business, has been elevated to a creative principle. Christopher Nolan is partly to blame. His Dark Knight entries in the Batman saga raised the genre’s allegorical stakes and dialed down the humor to an all-but-imperceptible whisper. Still, Mr. Nolan’s filmmaking skill — above all the coherence of his inky, cruel vision of Gotham City and environs — enabled those movies to carry at least some of their self-assigned thematic weight.
Mr. Snyder, for his part, deploys signifiers of importance without having anything much to say... the point of Batman v Superman isn’t fun, and it isn’t thinking, either. It’s obedience. The theology is invoked not to elicit meditations on mercy, justice or sacrifice, but to buttress a spectacle of power. And in that way the film serves as a metaphor for its own aspirations. The corporations that produce movies like this one, and the ambitious hacks who sign up to make them, have no evident motive beyond their own aggrandizement.
9 Brian Roan, The Film Stage
Roan notes what many critics have noted, that Batman v Superman's story seems to be a metacommentary on Man of Steel. The first scene Batman and Superman share - the destruction of the Wayne tower - does indeed echo the reaction to the wanton property damage and loss of life at the previous movie's climax, and the climax of this one mostly takes place in unpopulated areas.
Still, Roan feels it doesn't go nearly far enough:
Unfortunately, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice seems to have made only the most feigned and cursory of steps forward in the action accountability department while taking a rather nasty spill backward in terms of story, cohesion (both visual and thematic), and tone. Minor lip service is given to the idea that heroes ought not to destroy the places and people they seem to want to protect, yet the movie as a whole still attempts to out-do the chaos, disorder, decimation, and ferocity of its predecessor at every turn. The result is a movie that has brazenly refused to learn from its own past, and yet insultingly, boldly pretends to have grown and matured all the same.
8 Joe Gross, Austin American-Statesman
Several critics have called Batman v Superman a big improvement over its predecessor. Others measure it as equal or wanting. But Gross feels that BvS was just out-and-out doomed by its predecessor:
There’s a concept in American jurisprudence called “fruit of the poisonous tree.” It means evidence that is obtained illegally cannot be used in court. It means that the product of something bad remains bad.
The deeply unpleasant Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is, in a different sense, fruit of the poisonous tree that is the equally execrable 2013 Man of Steel, though both would be valuable exhibits if comic book fans ever sue director-of-both Zack Snyder for character assassination on behalf of the titular heroes.
Steel introduced the world to a brooding Superman who thinks nothing of battling fellow Kryptonian General Zod in the middle of a city, killing thousands and then, running counter to literally decades of characterization, snapping Zod’s neck.
So I suppose it’s no wonder that Snyder ... figures the seal is broken on this sort of thing.
Which means a Batman who brands bad guys with a red-hot bat symbol (which gets them killed in prison). Which means a Batman who uses guns or grenade launchers (counter to decades of characterization). Repeatedly. And lets bad guys die. Repeatedly.
7 Norman Wilner, NOW Toronto
The best news from Wilner's end is that he does call Zack Snyder talented, and he doesn't even mean it as a joke. Unfortunately, he's not so thrilled with the purpose the talent is focused on fulfilling. He particularly questions the decision to marry The Dark Knight Returns' famous Batman/Superman fight with the even better-known Superman-Doomsday fight from "The Death of Superman":
Wow. It’s worse than I’d feared.
The superhero smackdown Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice plays like a DeviantArt version of a DC Comics movie – gloomy, self-serious and grotesque for no other reason than a talented artist thought it would look cool.
And make no mistake, director/producer Zack Snyder is a talented artist, able to conjure an eerie mythic resonance from characters who’ve been around for eight decades. But even as he’s doing so, you slowly realize that he doesn’t understand these characters at all...
Screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer are also tasked with incorporating two very different chunks of DC lore, and those chunks do not fit together at all, which leaves the narrative whiplashing back and forth until it disintegrates in an incomprehensible orgy of CG destruction.
6 Alex Leadbeater, What Culture
Alex Leadbeater is rarely constrained in his opinions, and his barbed tongue has many lashes to give out. He has particularly choice words when it comes to the motivations Superman and Batman have for fighting, at least one of which is somewhat different from what the trailers might lead you to believe.
But the unkindest cut is when he comes to the unfolding of DC's grand plans to establish its "Extended Universe."
You know what shouldn’t be in this movie at all? That stupid subtitle and everything it brings with it. The moment Dawn Of Justice was slapped onto the movie this became an overt Justice League prequel, but even me at my most cynical could not have predicted how ham-fisted and frankly offensive that set-up would be; there’s a scene in here that is worse on every level than Thor’s perfunctory Infinity Stone dip in Avengers: Age Of Ultron. Any moment pertaining to the wider universe is a tacked-on addition, slipped into the movie without a care for cohesion (yet more editing problems). Oh, and there’s no post credits scene, probably because they stuck what should have been there in the middle of the film, a sequence that to say comes out of nowhere treats emptiness in a harsh way.
5 Steven D. Greydanus, National Catholic Register
You might expect a Catholic publication to voice concerns about how Superman is worshipped in some corners as a god on Earth, even as others deride him as a false one. Greydanus takes a very different tack, understanding what Superman represents to many. If anything, he feels that Superman isn't God-like enough:
Some defenders of Man of Steel hoped that, after his first downbeat outing, Superman would grow into the role — become the legend he was meant to be. Perhaps, it was optimistically suggested, snapping General Zod’s neck wasn’t a violation of Superman’s famous reverence for life, but its origin; perhaps in the sequel he would …
Nope. If anything, Clark is less Supermanly than ever. “Superman was never real,” he confesses to Lois. “Just a dream of a farmer from Kansas.” (That would be Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent, who died possibly the stupidest onscreen death of 2013, all because Clark’s secret was worth more than anything, even his father’s life.)
Trying to buck him up, Lois touches the emblem on his chest, reminding him that it means something. But Clark’s not having any: “It meant something on my world,” he shrugs, “and that doesn’t exist anymore.” Just like the Superman of my youth, apparently. Snyder’s films are so eager to establish that “Superman was never real” that they never permit even the illusion that he ever was.
4 Andy Crump, Paste Magazine
Crump, an occasional Screen Rant contributor, looks at the movie from the larger perspective of its role in the DC Extended Universe. Even if the movie does quite well (and it's already had a good opening weekend), DC's attempt to "catch up" to Marvel might stumble overall. It is, after all, trying to do in two movies what Marvel did in six:
Spinning a shared universe in which superheroes can coexist takes time, patience and sweat equity. It takes build-up, and not only the kind of build-up done through industry gossip and hearsay. This is why Marvel’s 2012 hit The Avengers succeeded and why it changed the superhero game: Joss Whedon and Co. dedicated four years to setting a foundation for the climactic moment where their audience’s beloved pen and ink gods could naturally come together to save the day. Even if you hate The Avengers—and in the world of comic book partisanship there surely are many who do—that movie and all five preceding it each take the correct path toward their ultimate culmination. They put in the work. No cheats, no shortcuts.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is all about cheats and shortcuts. It is Wile E. Coyote, running off a cliff onto nothing and staying suspended mid-air as long as it doesn’t look down... This should have been an easy slam dunk, but this is the price you pay when you rush. Festina lente, as the ancient Greeks would say, and they know a thing or two about mythological figures engaging in battle.
3 Chris Klimek, NPR
Even though Klimek is particularly brutal about Snyder's talents, he too finds a few things to enjoy. And he frames his speculation in a way that acknowledges the buck rarely stops with directors on big-budget pictures. Especially when it's a planned franchise adapted from existing work.
Knowing exactly nothing about it, I have to figure [Marvel's upcoming] The Inhumans will be more fun to sit through than Batman v Superman, from Zack Snyder, the same guy who brought DC's other influential 1986 comic book to the screen in Watchmen. That film was R-rated and long and grim and dark and violent, averaging roughly one joke per 40 minutes. But it looks like Pee-wee's Big Adventure next to BvS, a ponderous, smothering, over-pixelated zeppelin crash of a movie scored by a choir that sounds like it's being drowned in lava.
This is what happens when you give a bad director a quarter-billion or so dollars while doing all you possibly can to make sure every creative decision he makes is motivated by sheer panic: Catch Marvel! Set up the next 10 movies! BvS has no room to breathe even at 151 minutes, 30 or 40 of which offer actual pleasure.
2 Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal
With an eye for color and an ear for scoring, Morgenstern casts Snyder himself as a villain. The ultimate in reviewer sarcasm? Perhaps, but it's hard to say we wouldn't have a passing interest in a film plot like the one Morgenstern describes:
A dark force has been unleashed in a new cinematic universe—an enemy of levity, a besieger of vulnerable psyches, a merciless wielder of advanced technologies against which ordinary humans sit defenseless. And Zack Snyder is only the director of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The other two guys are really downers...
After a while everything looks the same, thanks in large part to the ugly blue-and-teal palette the filmmaker favors (the cinematographer was Larry Fong), and everything sounds the same, thanks entirely to a pitiless score, by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL, that suggests platoons of percussionists high on magic mushrooms.
1 Helen O'Hara, GQ
Helen O'Hara, whose name is just about in the same category as the alliterative Holly Hunter and Amy Adams, has the most interesting lead-in of all. She astutely compares it to a real-life phenomenon that certainly couldn't have been on the filmmakers' minds when they started planning this in 2013. And she at least identifies the movie's goal:
It says a lot of very depressing things about our world right now that this astonishingly dumb film has real-life parallels. Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice is the story of a self-important billionaire with a casual attitude to the truth, who becomes paranoid about a segment of the immigrant population. He decides to take brutal and - as it happens - entirely unjustified and even self-endangering action against that immigrant, to the benefit of a rich psychopath who wants to distract everyone from their own nefarious grasp at power.
We cannot, however, credit this as satire... 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.
If all this negativity has just about worn you out, here's one shining ray of positivity: Al Roker on The Today Show, giving the film 6 out of 5 stars.