Bellowing its Deep Meaning and declaring its self-importance every minute of its two-and-a-half hours, the long-awaited Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice turns out to be a bloated, messy, humorless and thundering gasbag. It makes sense that everything about the plug ugly $250 million-plus movie is big, but did even the tiniest moment need supersizing? In the age of irreverent and highly entertaining films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool, is this really the best way to to reinvent a superhero franchise (or two)?

At the helm of the thing is Zack Snyder, the Watchmen and 300 director not known for subtlety. This guy is about the exercise of brute force, so the audience gets pummeled by building-tumbling, collateral damage-ignoring battles alternating with religious symbolism laid on as thick as peanut butter. The soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL is deafening and absurdly overblown, aiming for operatic loftiness and grandiosity. There are dark, gloomy end-times special effects up the yin-yang, too many of them trading cynically on our collective nightmares of 9/11.

Jaw-clenched caped crusaders Ben Affleck (good at brooding) and Henry Cavill (oddly passive, looking all sad) have bulked themselves up to doublewide-trailer size with shiny, gelled wigs to match, the better to bash and smash each other to no dramatic impact whatsoever. Not to be outdone, Jesse Eisenberg goes way over the top playing mind bogglingly wealthy tech mogul Lex Luthor Jr. As the movie’s chief villain, he’s not scary; he’s a douchey, motor-mouthed annoyance. Gal Gadot turns up as Wonder Woman and, considering how her job has been confined to seething, flaring her nostrils and looking great, she’s fine.

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

What’s puny about the movie is the incoherent, snoozy and simplistic screenplay by Chris Terrio (Argo) and David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight Rises). It’s overstuffed with philosophizing meant to give the movie gravitas but coming off instead as deeply silly. It’s almost as if two gifted writers threw up their hands and figured Snyder would crank the music and action so hard that the stereotypical die-hard comic book fan wouldn’t be listening to what the characters said anyway.

The movie doesn’t want to entertain; it wants to bludgeon us into submission. It also wants to pave the way for a new era in D.C. Comics movies with the Flash, Aquaman, Cyborg and Wonder Woman waiting in the wings for their own features. On the strength of the dull, inert Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, we say let ‘em wait.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice