You'd be forgiven if you thought that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice had come out already. Announced years ago and with a trailer hitting screens shortly thereafter, the marketing for WB's terribly-titled blockbuster has had a stranglehold on every piece of media you've laid eyes on since 2014. And while it's hard to not be cynical about something that's constantly rammed down your throat, the wonky trailers for the film didn't exactly do the blockbuster any favours.

Attempting to kick off DC's cinematic universe then, Batman v Superman endeavours to patch up the fallout that followed 2013's middling Man of Steel and the general pessimism that's been attached to this franchise ever since. And while it bends over backwards to apologise for that circus, by stitching up old injuries Zack Synder's latest vehicle only opens up new wounds in the process.

The apologising starts almost immediately, with an opening that shows Bruce Wayne in the heart of Man of Steel's final battle. Caught up in the destruction of Metropolis, Wayne rushes to do what he can, although he's ultimately helpless and has to impotently watch as friends and strangers alike are obliterated in front of his eyes. It's a surprisingly harrowing introduction; the focus on the civilians who get caught in the cross-fire of these superhero flicks offers a refreshingly unique perspective, and the scene plays out more like a disaster movie than anything else. As Superman and Zod crash through buildings and an alien machine levels entire streets, Snyder throws you straight into the chaos, showing how terrifying it would actually be if you were just an average joe on the sidelines of these superhuman fist-fights. The sequence sets the tone perfectly, establishing the fear and uncertainty surrounding Superman's essentially omnipotent power while giving Bruce Wayne a real reason to hate the Man of Steel. It's superheroes like you've never seen them before; they're gods and monsters that tower over humanity, and yeah, you'd probably be shit-scared of them too.

Unfortunately, that's the only time The Dark Knight v The Man of Steel ever features a scene that's captured with a clear unified vision and purpose. In fact, the rest of Snyder's film is more like four movies in one. Part Batman reboot, part Man of Steel sequel, part "versus" flick and finally part Justice League-lite. Arcs are started and dropped, while ones from seemingly different movies are finished later on down the line. A villain will switch motivations throughout while secret identities are revealed without any explanation of how characters became privy to the information. Nothing in Bruce Wayne v Clark Kent happens naturally and characters don't get completed arcs, things just happen; over and over again for two and a half hours. It would be exhausting if the material itself wasn't so good; the storylines themselves are dramatically and thematically juicy yet we're only given the cliff notes of each to make sure the movie can get through them all before the credits role. Too many cooks spoil the broth, and all that.

There's a moment in Gotham's Guardian v The Man of Tomorrow where Lois Lane tells Clark Kent that she's so glad he's come back, and I hadn't even realised he was supposed to be missing in the first place. The movie starts and ends so many disparate, barely connecting arcs that any emotional weight behind them is nullified by a permeating sense of confusion that has you piecing together a plot that's somehow both too convoluted yet too simple. It makes for a frustrating experience; what's there is all good, yet Synder tries to pack in so many different stories that the film doesn't work coherently as a single entity, ending up a horrid amalgamation not unlike the monstrous villain that turns up out of nowhere to steal the final act. It's all fun in the moment, but once you take a second to think about it, it's clear that a focus on one of the movies crammed into The Caped Crusader v Superboy would have made for an amazing start for DC's universe. Instead, you can only watch in horror as they squander some of the series' greatest dramatic beats in order to make sure the studio had a movie big enough to light up theatres for the next three months.

Annoyingly, the incoherent nature of the narrative is even more painful because the little plot that's actually there is so simple. Batman hates Superman. Superman hates Batman (for some contrived hypocritical reason about not trusting vigilantes). Batman wants some kryptonite so he can fight his supposed nemesis. Superman, well, Superman has no motivation, and is content to spend the majority of the two-and-a-half-hours looking menacing and being the world's worst journalist. Poor Henry Cavill gets sidelined in his own blockbuster, relegated to the supporting cast and given the bare minimum to work with. He's a fine actor, yet he's wasted in the part, because for most sequences they could have (and sometimes just do) integrate a CGI version of the actor's head onto a stuntman's body. Even when he does get a token character moment it's just the same recycled beats from Man of Steel. By the end of Snyder's film you know nothing more about who this character is other than what's established at the start, and when one of your two titular heroes doesn't have an arc, you know there's something fundamentally wrong.

Speaking of Superman's non-presence in the entire film, there's a reason why "Batman" comes first in the title. The Caped Crusader very much takes a front seat, and the dynamic between Affleck's Wayne and Jeremy Irons' Alfred provides the film with its best moments. Yet there's surprisingly not much time spent with Affleck actually in the suit. Instead, we get a lot of Wayne stalking around the Batcave spouting exposition. That might be for the best though, because when we do get to see Batman, you know, being Batman, he's an utter psychopath. This isn't the no-kill version of the superhero popularised in most media incarnations. Affleck's Batman straight-up murders petty thugs, handles guns with glee and oh yeah, brands captured paedophiles who then get brutally murdered in prison. It's an ugly version of the character, and while Affleck and Irons do make it work to an extent, you can never shake the lingering imprint of the directors and screenwriters desperately trying to be gritty and grown-up.

Yet because of this inherent ugliness you come out the movie not knowing who it was actually made for. The dark themes, exposition-heavy plot and surprising lack of action until the final third makes it a useless vehicle for kids, while the incoherent narrative and lack of compelling characters keeps it from connecting with adults. Like its titular heroes, the blockbuster suffers an identity crisis; the overbearing pessimism evident in every single frame of the film no longer works in 2016, especially when it's executed with such a vacuum of depth as in Snyder's latest movie. Gritty superhero films have become a bit of a punching bag in recent years, but it's because DC equates clichéd attempts at being edgy for grit and maturity. The screenwriters are content to discard the movie's strongest themes for brooding stares and scenes of cold, heartless violence. It's the post-9/11 superhero film everyone always expected but never wanted, made even worse by arriving six years too late.

With all that said, The Goddamn Batman v The Last Son of Krypton isn't a terrible movie. In the moment, the action can be blistering, Hans Zimmer's score is always rousing and the at-times breathtaking cinematography all comes together to create what will no doubt be one of the biggest spectacles of the year. Unfortunately, movies aren't fleeting experiences, and after a few seconds thinking about the plot the film quickly comes apart at the seams. Although critics are being criticised for just not "getting" comic book movies, I'm not disappointed in Snyder's film because I hate superhero films, it's quite the opposite. The movie falls flat because it squanders all the potential and promise of these stories and characters, and while no doubt superhero fans will defend this movie to the death, they deserve better. The themes that prop up Batman v Superman could have made for one of the most dramatically interesting superhero films of the past few years, so it's such a shame to see Warner Brothers trade in all that promise for an overwrought hypermasculine dick-measuring contest instead.