The critically reviled Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the first of many DC Comics-derived movies. Here's how the rest can be better. CONTAINS SPOILERS

It’s no secret that Warner Bros has a lot riding on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. First, it reportedly cost the studio in excess of $250 million to make – which means, after marketing and distribution, it needs to make upwards of half a billion dollars worldwide to break even.

And that’s not the half of it. Zack Snyder’s film is intended as the lynchpin of the forthcoming DC Extended Universe franchise – which, at the time of writing, comprises at least nine more superhero films, many based on comparatively unknown DC characters such as Aquaman and Cyborg, to be released before the end of 2020.

This shouldn’t be impossible to pull off: Marvel embarked on a similar empire-building project eight years ago and – well, look at them now. But the idea that DC might be able to snare a similarly sized fanbase with just one film certainly seems optimistic.

Doubly so, now the first reviews are out. By and large, they haven't been snuggly. At the time of writing, they skew just 3 per cent "fresh" on the Rotten Tomatoes aggregator – two percent lower than notorious film maudit The Room – and take issue with almost everything in it, from its sour tone to its incoherent structure. I’m one of a not-exactly-bulging club of critics who enjoyed Man of Steel and view Snyder as a significant filmmaker, and even I didn’t like it.

At this point, the idea a general audience would relish the prospect of a similarly toned franchise seems doubtful. As Helen O’Hara wrote in British GQ: “Let them pummel each other if they must; just leave us out of it.”

But all is not lost… at least, not yet. Here are eight points I think Warner Bros should mull over as they attempt to grow a viable superhero franchise from this grimly unpromising start. Be warned: serious Batman v Superman spoilers lie ahead.

1. Ignore the hardcore fans

Significant portions of Batman v Superman are given over to pandering to what Warner Bros probably views as DC Comics’ hardcore fanbase. The various Easter eggs include a hallucinatory fight scene involving winged Parademons and an enormous omega sigil that suggests the super-villainous Darkseid is close at hand, and teaser clips, discovered among Lex Luthor’s files, of the three further "metahumans" – The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg – who’ll join Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman for the two-part Justice League movie.

Here’s the problem: both sequences bring the film’s already faltering momentum to a standstill, while making next-to-no sense to lay viewers (and they’re exactly who has to enjoy Batman v Superman for it to serve its corporate purpose).

While they might be relatively valuable as advertising, they’re kryptonite for storytelling, as Marvel themselves discovered with their teaser-packed but otherwise listless Iron Man 2. Nods and winks are fine. Cryptic foreshadowing, of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens variety, is even better. Confusing digressions like these belong in post-credits stings and deleted scene reels.

2. Ignore the other fans too

On a related note, some early criticism of Batman v Superman has revolved around Snyder and his writers, Chris Terrio and David S Goyer, "not getting" the film’s lead characters: which means either interpreting them in a way that’s at odds with the comic-book source material, or having them act in ways that contradict their established pop-culture personas. Batman’s sadism (he fights with guns and knives, and scars baddies with a bat-shaped branding iron) and Superman’s lofty superhuman detachment have both been extensively picked at.

But this doesn’t matter in the slightest: in fact, fresh perspectives on familiar characters are exactly what these films should offer, providing they work on their own terms. Batman as a sadistic gun nut is theoretically interesting; the reason it doesn’t work here is because the film doesn’t use it to tell us anything about him.

Credit: © 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC and Ratpac Entertainment, LLC/Clay Enos

Likewise Jesse Eisenberg’s much-derided Zuckerbergian take on Lex Luthor. The character isn’t terrible because he differs from the Luthor we already know: it’s because as the film presents him (tech billionaire who hates his father and therefore wants to kill God), he makes no sense. On which point…

3. Work out who the characters actually are, and tell us

“They say the best weapon is the one you never have to fire. I respectfully disagree. I prefer the weapon you only have to fire once.” In that single line from Iron Man, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) tells us all we need to know about him: it’s punchy, memorable writing, but it’s also efficient, and allows the film to get on with the fun.

In contrast, here’s the first thing Ben Affleck's Bruce Wayne says in Batman v Superman: “There was a time above. A time before. There were perfect things, diamond absolutes. But things fall. And what falls is fallen.”

Err, great. So we know that Batman has the grumps – but while the fallen angel metaphor will be teased out later at agonising length (see point  6, below), as a door into his head, it’s next to useless. Ensemble superhero films have to streamline this stuff. Look at the way Joss Whedon organises his 12-strong team in Avengers: Age of Ultron: War Machine, played by Don Cheadle, is largely there to deliver a running joke, but it sets out exactly who he is. It’s funny, too.

As noted above, Eisenberg’s Luthor is the main casualty: he talks frantically and at length about everything from geometry to spiritual warfare, but there’s no sense of a coherent character looming behind the rants.

4. Beat the director’s cut into shape

Zack Snyder has promised that his director’s cut of Batman v Superman, which will be available later this year on Blu-ray, will be around half an hour longer. Having seen the theatrical cut, this doesn't surprise me in the slightest: the film in its current state is borderline incoherent, particularly in its almost unwatchably choppy first hour.

Ben Affleck and Zack Snyder on the set of Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice Credit: © 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC and Ratpac Entertainment, LLC/Clay Enos

If what’s missing is connective tissue (and you pray that it is), restoring it might make sense of the jumble of events that trigger Batman and Superman’s feud – and make their planned further adventures feel more of a natural progression. 

5. Don’t blame Zack Snyder

Some disapproving reviews have laid much of the blame for Batman v Superman at Zack Snyder’s door, and as a divisive "vulgar auteur" with a history of critic-baiting, flashy sadism (see also: Michael Bay), he’s an easy target. But Snyder is a supremely talented stylist whose pop-fascist aesthetic and dance-like action set-pieces square perfectly with the cool, gleaming DC universe – and contrast well with Marvel Studios’ warmer, wittier work.

Henry Cavill in Man of Steel Credit: Copyright (c) 2013 Rex Features. No use without permission./courte/REX/Shutterstock

Snyder’s 2013 Superman reboot, Man of Steel, channeled image-makers as diverse as Leni Riefenstahl to Terrence Malick to craft its vision of a flailing America in need of redemption and the Nietzschean übermensch/ersatz Christ-figure (atheists and believers both welcome!) who could do it. The film wasn’t a knee-slapper, but it was distinctive and thought-provokingly weird, and felt like something genuinely new.

This is of course speculation, but: Batman v Superman’s problems don’t feel like the product of a directorial ego run riot. They seem mired in anxiety and compromise, as if no-one quite knows what the film should be doing at any given moment. Much more of this and DC will be heading for full franchisal prolapse. 

6. Pick a myth and stick to it

Just before we move on from myths: are there any Batman v Superman left out? The film frequently feels like a Wikipedian meander through religious and classical lore – and while there are lots of homages and invocations to spot, there’s little to be gleaned from any of it.

Done well, this stuff can unlock and elucidate new angles on old heroes. It’s perhaps never been done better than in Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman (for what it’s worth, my own favourite take on the character), which refracted the Man of Steel through Soviet art, Blakean cosmology, the philosophy of Nietzsche (him again), the Hercules legend, and so much more – and did it with feather-light wit and a bone-deep understanding of what’s being appropriated and why.

A frame from All-Star Superman, written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Frank Quitely Credit: DC

Batman v Superman, on the other hand, just invokes and moves on. The film wants you to know it’s aware of lots of big ideas, but doesn’t have the inclination – nor the smarts, you begin to suspect – to unpack them.

If future DC films want to unleash some collective-subconscious Jungian juju, they could do worse than learn from Joss Whedon’s Age of Ultron. Whedon’s screenplay pilfered from the Prometheus myth, while weaving in elements of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley’s own modern repurposing of that story. But the aim was to tap into those tales’ still-resonant themes of ambition and hubris – not to play BA (Hons) bingo with paper-thin literary and art-historical references.

7. Make every twist count

At the end of Batman v Superman, Superman dies. That sounds like a cataclysmic spoiler, and by all rights it should be. But it doesn’t give any of the film’s plot or action a new, tragic resonance, or serve as a cliff-hanging send-off: we know he’ll be back, at the very latest, by November 2017 for Justice League: Part One.

Rug-pulls and switcheroos can breathe life into a genre known for its rigid adherence to formula, but empty gestures like this are at best vapid, and at worst patronising. Aim instead for the inspired mischief of The Mandarin’s real secret identity in Iron Man 3 – a basically un-spoilable twist you had to see for yourself – or the sheer audacity of Christopher Nolan writing Batman the character out of vast stretches of The Dark Knight Rises, allowing space to explore the idea of Batman as a symbol and article of faith.

8. Most importantly: have fun!

“They’re not supposed to be fun!” If film critics had a pound for every time they heard those words in relation to a DC Comics film, they’d be almost as rich as they would if Marvel really was bribing us to trash a rival’s products. The fact that Batman v Superman ‘isn’t fun’ might be the single most common and most commonly misunderstood complaint I’ve yet read about the film.

Christian Bale as Batman in 'The Dark Knight' Credit: AP Photo/Warner Bros/Anonymous

Critics aren’t bemoaning the lack of banter between the leads, but the lack of wit in the film’s construction – that silent voice-of-the-film that’s having a whale of a time, even when the action on screen is deadly serious. You hear it through clever cutting and elegant camerawork, dramatic irony and foreshadowing (NB: not including dream sequences), wildly imaginative set-pieces, creativity, ingenuity, tragic flaws and poetic justice.

Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy was as serious as superhero films get, but they were also enormous fun. The opposite of this kind of fun isn’t "serious", it’s "boring" – and if they want us to make it through nine more films in four years, DC had better start having some.