Saturday, 26 March 2016

Movie Review: Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016)



I briefly got into this same point when discussing The Death Of Superman Lives, but it bears repeating here: I seriously do not care about Superman. Whether it’s not being brought up in the right place or era where his brand of heroics would’ve left a proper impression, or just a general disdain for overpowered main characters in action films, Superman has never struck me as a character I should care to see on screen. This probably isn’t helped by how the only Superman film I’ve seen in full is 2013’s Man Of Steel, which might well be one of the most unheroic depictions of any superhero that doesn’t involve straight-up torture (Looking at you, unaired pilot of Wonder Woman). Anyway, to paraphrase fellow reviewer and frenemy of the blog Todd In The Shadows: “Being bulletproof is boring. I’d rather be the guy who gets shot and still keeps fighting.” Yeah, I’m backing Batman in this fight, in case it hasn’t already been made clear. There’s quite a bit riding on this film, considering it’s not only the latest reboot of the Caped Crusader but it’s also supposed to serve as the entry point for a DC cinematic universe… but since this is guaranteed to make money, I’m not going to pretend that that plan isn’t already going ahead. But should it, based on this initial outing? This is Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice.

The plot: Superman (Henry Cavill), after the destructive battle with General Zod nearly two years prior, is viewed by some to be a person above the law who, at a moment’s notice, could raze humanity where it stands. One such person who holds this belief is Gotham City vigilante Batman (Ben Affleck), who fears what Superman could be capable of if he decides to turn on them. As Superman struggles with his own place in the world, and Batman prepares to stop Superman by any means necessary, eccentric philanthropist Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) sets the stage for what may be Superman’s final stand.

This is an… oddly casted film, in that all of the actors are good, just that some are good in ways that they shouldn’t be. Bit confusing, I know, but bear with me here. Cavill is still a solid pick to play a Superman, though it still sucks that he has been saddled with the Snyderverse “How does help people?!” version of the character. Amy Adams also maintains a decent level of competency, Laurence Fishburne gets to actually play Perry White this time around and isn’t given a long string of pretentious twaddle to spew out, and unfortunately Diane Lane ends up becoming a half-formed Woman In Refrigerator to serve the plot. Argh. Now for the new members of the cast and, here’s a shocker, Affleck isn’t bad in this one. He’s put through the quick press to get his character good and ready for the eponymous fight but, in portraying the Caped Crusader as a darker reflection of the same ideal of justice as Superman, he does well here. Especially good alongside him is Jeremy Irons as Alfred, nailing dry wit and cold brick logic when they’re both needed. Eisenberg… is where the casting gets weird. Yeah, he most assuredly is way too young for this kind of Machiavellian genius but, for the most part, he still pulls off the grandiose statements and conniving schemes really well. He may go too far south into Crazytown with his mannerisms, but overall he checks out. Gal Gadot still has a fair way to go to convince that she is truly Wonder Woman but, given the utter crap that inflicted on us in her name not that long ago, her fighting alongside Batman and Superman was still glorious to see on the big screen.

One of my big issues with Man Of Steel, something that I’m sure is shared by its other detractors, was that for all of its espousing about how much of a Space Jesus Superman was, he continuously put other people in danger especially during that final fight with General Zod. Hard to say that he “saved Metropolis” when it looked more akin to a nuclear test site than any kind of habitable city, in spite of Superman’s “heroics”. I bring this up because it seems that Snyder, or at the very least writer Chris Terrio, has heard those same arguments. As such, there are a number of scenes that seem to play directly off of just how green Superman is in this reality. From the opening scene of Bruce trying to save people on the ground during the fight with Zod to the numerous mentions of how the areas where bouts are taking place are conspicuously free of civilians, it seems like someone has learnt their lesson. Not only that, that fear of what he may or may not do when the next alien threat comes around ends up adding a lot to Bruce’s arc concerning his own feelings towards Superman. Discrepancies with his characterization aside (I will forego the long-winded rant about why Batman shouldn’t be killing people, or even using guns for that matter), his worry about what such a titan could do to humanity fits in with his rather paranoid attitude to things, something that’s been a constant with him since the days of Frank Miller. Hell, along with Batman, this film actually manages to nail Superman’s entire existence within the DC canon, that as a symbol of hope for the common and even uncommon man, in a move that completely justifies this film’s intent of being a springboard for a Justice League film.

That said, though, this film crams a lot of information and subplots and setups for future films into a semi-confined space (two and a half hours), and yet not that much ends up being accomplished plot wise. Something tells me that the dream sequences have a fair bit to do with it. Dammit Snyder, I gave you credit for learning for past mistakes, and then you go right ahead and rehash Sucker Punch’s equally pointless dream sequences for Batman. Sure, they all end up helping to build up his paranoia, but there are better ways to do that than to show what are essentially loading screens for the rest of the plot. This is especially true when one of them (involving a call back to The Flash) is so mindfraggingly out of nowhere that you think that the filmmakers just got bored and decided to fuck around with their audience. There’s also the matter of how, even though Batman gets his fair share of development, Superman is at the exact same spot as before: Not sure if he has the answers for the tough dilemmas that he will face, one of the only solid threads that ran through Man Of Steel. Instead of setting up what is honestly a pretty major bit of development for him, he just reaches X point in the story and realizes that this is what he needs to do in order to save the day. No preamble or anything, it just happens. Much like the appearances of the rest of the soon-to-be Justice League, actually. Wonder Woman’s past is tantalizingly hinted at, but we don’t even get surface information on her to help integrate her into the film’s world, and the others get a few seconds of screen time at best. Hell, there’s even a flat-out chance to utilize Aquaman that isn’t used, for reasons that elude me at this moment.

Well, that’s all window dressing quite frankly; how are the action beats? Honestly, a lot better than I was expecting after the broken-zoom-function nausea of MoS. The fight scenes are solid, with some really decent brawls featuring Batman, the effects work is serviceable enough… for the most part, and the subtext makes the ensuing carnage a lot easier to stomach. As much as the aforementioned mentions of abandoned buildings and districts may be a bit of a cop-out, it still makes the ‘victorious’ moments actually feel like such without thinking that Superman may have killed almost everyone through his own negligence. There’s the iconography that, also unlike Man Of Steel’s handling of it, manages to hit home in terms of showing superheroics in a superhero movie. This is probably helped by how the introduction of Doomsday, AKA Superman’s adversary from a comic book storyline that made national news way back when which, while tweaked in places, is still worthy of the name of Doomsday. And hey, even if the morality behind the two of them gets muddled in places, the titular fight between Supes and Bats is pulled off really damn well. Sure, my recollection of MoS may have had me on Batman’s side for… pretty much the entire film, but said depiction didn’t do either hero a disservice. Hey, in a team-up like this, that’s not an easy thing to do.

All in all, this certainly a lot better than I was expecting after the trainwreck of Man Of Steel. That said though, it’s a serious crapshoot if any of you will get anything out of it, considering how its supporters and detractors are pretty across the board at this point. The action scenes are up to Snyder’s pedigree, the acting is solid (if a bit off-centre in places) and the writing, while pretty muddled when it comes to properly setting up the moral conflicts at the heart of the film, is still competent enough to bring surface level development for the characters. Maybe these films should just stick to being fun action romps, rather than these dark and serious morality tales, because it’s becoming painfully clear that without the aid of Solid Snake, Zack Snyder isn’t capable of something that complex. If nothing else, we know that Batman as a character is in capable hands. It’s better than The Danish Girl, which seemed to have taken up all of the heavy-handed symbolism that I was expecting to be in this film. Seriously, the relative lack of Space Jesus imagery on its own gives the film the edge. However, despite its rather exclusive dialogue, The Big Short wasn’t nearly as clogged up with plot as this was so what worked about it was able to flow a lot more smoothly.

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