First, my disclaimers. I love Marvel. I'm not a D.C. person. I am not very familiar with the D.C. universe. In addition, I have not seen the Dark Knight trilogy. I was not a big fan of Man of Steel. "My" versions of Batman and Superman are Michael Keaton and Christopher Reeve, respectively. So, I wasn't really excited about seeing this installment, but I was outvoted by my children and Captain America: Civil War isn't out yet.
Second, it was not as bad as I feared. It's no Captain America, but it was interesting. (Rotten Tomatoes has it at 29% from critics; 71% from viewers. I disagree with the critics.) Ben Affleck, as much as I wanted to hate him, was pretty good as an older, resigned, wise Batman. The problem with the movie is not Batman; it's Superman. This man of steel is not like the Superman of yore. He does not fight for Truth, Justice and the American Way. He does not love America, or humans. He loves Lois Lane. He is depicted here (and in Man of Steel) as a stranger in a strange land basically biding his time until he wakes up back on planet Krypton. Perhaps there was too much stuff to put in the movie so we couldn't waste time watching him save random people or have any sort of personality at all. But the result is that he seems more like someone in hiding than a superhero. Batman has more dialogue and more air time; we know what makes him tick. While Superman reacts to situations around him, Batman is a proactive superhero. Or antihero. Or whatever.
Whether or not Superman or Batman are heroes is the main question of the movie. What would we do if there were humans among us with powers that threatened democratic debate and civil society should those humans prove not to be benevolent dictators? Should we fear Superman? Is the planet better off without a Superman? (This, of course, is a question played out in the X-Men series as well as The Avengers. And how do we feel about vigilantes? Assassins? These fears are stirred up in a crucible located in what I'll call the "twin cities" of Gotham and Metropolis, which are apparently right next to each other. In a creative scene, Bruce Wayne is present at the final fight scene between Superman and General Zod that ends Man of Steel. The destructive battle, in the middle of Metropolis, topples a skyscraper bearing the name of Bruce Wayne's company and kills many employees. Bruce tries to save as many on the ground as he can, but the devastation is overwhelming. In that moment, Bruce Wayne becomes Superman's biggest critic. (Batman does not seem to contemplate what would have happened to his employees under General Zod, but his heartbreak is palpable and his misplaced rage seems logical.) Two years later, Batman is still monitoring Superman, and Clark Kent (almost lamely) wants the Daily Planet to investigate Batman, who he sees as an out-of-control vigilante, branding his captured bad guys so they are marked in prison.
Left to their own devices, Batman and Superman may have left each other alone, but Lex Luthor sees an opening. Lex Luthor is our young, upstart genius bad guy (and having Jesse Eisenberg, known for portraying Mark Zuckerberg, play the evil genius seems a little on the nose). Luthor's motivations are amorphous. Unlike the 1970s Luthor, he is not attempting to amass wealth or even power. He could be playing the two against each other so that one will take the other one out, leaving more room for criminal minds like his, but then he creates an even worse, uncontrollable monster to fight them both. Luthor seems to be rooting for chaos and destruction for its own sake, and doesn't seem to have a plan to save himself from that destruction.
In the end, there are a lot of interesting themes here. Because it was Easter, I saw Superman as a Christ-figure both loved and hated, and Holly Hunter as Pontius Pilate tasked with passing judgment on him. Batman is Saul, a hater who sets out to destroy him but who has an ephiphany along the way and becomes a convert and organizer. Who is Luthor? The Devil, who still blames his father. Who is Wonder Woman? Who knows? She was only on screen for 10 minutes.
My boys liked the movie, but it was dark. I thought my 8 year-old was on the line for violence and intensity, though there were much younger kids there. There were no jokes, no witticisms, no comic relief at all. Clark and Lois aren't flirty or cute -- they are doomed and resigned. I prefer my action movies with a dash of fun. This movie is obviously the "Dawn" of a new string of DC movies: Wonder Woman, The Flash (which doesn't seem to be linked at all to the Netflix series our family has been watching), Aquaman. I hope they have a little bit of humor.