Thursday, March 31, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Review: Lots of Spoilers

Since my last update a certain movie has become the internet's new whipping boy. Yes I'm talking about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. This gargantuan effort from Warner Bros to kick their own shared shared cinematic universe into high gear has been met with buckets of cash and plenty of scorn. Seeing as I'd been dreading the outcome of this one for sometime I wasn't exactly shocked by the response it received. Still; being a superhero fan meant it was time to head to my local theater, the same place I've watched comic cinema like Batman Forever, Spawn, Blade, Spider-Man, Superman Returns, Rise of the Silver Surfer, etc. Was the experience truly as bad as critics and my fellow audience members seemed to think it was? Read on for answers but be warned there will be loads of spoilers.

Before that lame accusation of “you're just a Marvel fan” pops up, I'd like to note that I totally want a DC film slate to succeed. Can you imagine how great it would be to have both companies pushing out quality flicks on a regular basis? We're talking nerd heaven, especially for those of us who keep Batman and Spider-Man hardcovers on their bookshelf. Hell; I've even harbored my own concept for a Superman film, and yes it would be at least 3 hours long. I want all my superheroes to flourish on screen but I can not get behind crappy movies. There's a reason I've never watched all of Iron Man 2.

The biggest issue with this film, well other than it's garbage script, is that it approaches the subject matter of superheroes with zero passion. Every scene is a trudge through another dramatic speech or grimaced face. Even when there's an attempt at humor, it usually falls flat only to be followed by another slow motion pose. Locations are interchangeable and largely ugly, astounding feats are at an all time low. There's simply nothing resembling a heartbeat here. Thankfully I didn't seem alone in this feeling as I watched heads sink in the audience. Three adult men left after the first hour, and folks walked out as the ending was still transpiring. There was never a clap or a cheer, at best there some laughs at the two jokes that actually worked.

Despite a double billing, this leans more towards being a Batman affair. I am not one of those people who threw a fit about Ben Affleck being cast as the big bad bat. I usually enjoy his work and the mere fact that he directed Gone Baby Gone earns him a fairly large hall pass. Even those who trashed this movie have been impressed with Ben's performance and he does indeed do a good job with what he's given. That may account for all the scenes were he appears bored out of his mind.
For decades, writers have struggled to remember that Batman's power is his intellect. Guy's the world's greatest detective after all. Here he's more of an overbearing bully. He's stubborn, selfish, cruel, and crazy easy to manipulate. When Superman shows up for the big battle asking for help, Batman's response is to beat him nearly to death and even throw in a little torture all while insulting supes for not being as good as humans. In 2016, a time when racial and class divides are the hot-button issue billionaire Bruce Wayne's goal in life is to bully a minority.....yikes.
You've probably heard that Batman kills people this time around. That is true. He's killed in other films and different comic variations over the years which means you could have a whole editorial on this topic. Rest assured that he probably has the second highest body count of the film behind Lex Luthor. What bothered me most about his violent attitude is a scene I haven't seen many people discuss. The scene in question involves Lex Luthor returning to his offices only to the guard shack on fire, ambulances in the parking lot, broken glass, bullet casings, the whole shabang. Batman stopped by to steel some kryptonite off camera and in the process saw fit to terrorize and injure presumably innocent civilians. Ya know I'm kind of with Superman on this one. The bat guy has got to go.
Another element of Batman's role in this tale are dream/premonitions. The first one where a flock of bats lift him into the air earned some chuckles and murders from the audience. The second one with what seems to be Man-Bat earned confused glances, then we got to the big one.
The first time we actually see Batman in action is during a vision of a hellish future where he gives the Chuck Norris treatment to a band of Superman worshiping soldiers before being captured. That's when we meet evil future Superman who slices people in half with his laser eyes. This all caps off with The Flash making his first appearance as a screaming banshee delivering cryptic messages from beyond. So that's the Gotham City portion of this tale, what about the other guy?

You'd be forgiven for thinking this was a Superman movie. Poor bastard practically fades into the background of what is in essence a sequel to his last adventure. Perhaps if the writers had chosen to bless him with a personality things would be different, but alas no. Confidence, joy, a sense of humor, this Superman knows not these things. Even after saving people his most upbeat response is to crawl off to the nearest dark corner and have a cry. Perhaps he deserves it since the quality of his heroics varies wildly. Early in the film he can hear Lois Lane getting into trouble in Africa, while later on he can't locate his own mother in the same damn city. Even he can't believe it when he fails to notice a bomb a dozen feet away.
There is one montage where we're treated to the blue boy scout doing his thing and rescuing people all around the world but lord knows it wouldn't be complete without tons of Christ imagery and debate over whether his existence is a bad thing.
Then there's his problems with Batman. First we have to get past the idea that Clark has never heard of Bruce Wayne or the dark knight despite living across the bay from Gotham where bat antics have been occurring for the last twenty years. Now that he's caught up with the rest of the world, Superman is morally outraged, so guess what he does. Maybe give this tack down this vigilante and engage in a proper conversation? Nope, he just tears apart the batmobile and makes thinly veiled threats. Alright, he might deserve an ass kicking for that one.

So what about the villain who's arranging this battle of titans? Full disclosure, I can't stand Jessie Eisenberg but even I won't lay all the blame for this version of Lex Luthor on him. Once again an actor has to work with the material, and when they say be the twitchy, quirky, annoying villain with a million speeches about lies, gods, and power, you try your best to make it work.
For the life of me I can't fathom how anyone thought turning Luthor into a mix of Jim Carrey's Riddler and punchline Marvel villain Arcade was a good idea yet this is what we're subjected too. His dialogue is such that you dig your fingernails into the seat everytime he appears. And then there's all his needlessly goofy shit like force feeding jolly ranchers or leaving a mason jar of urine in the middle of the senate building.
Lex's villainous scheme this time around? Well thank god for once it doesn't involve real estate. No, Lex is concerned with showing Superman to be a fraud. To this end he he tries to frame him for murders in Africa, and a bombing at senate hearings, all while pushing Batman to kill him, and even growing a cave troll knockoff for good measure. All of these plots are easily traced back to Lexcorp, unless you're Batman who can't even put in the same amount of legwork as Lois Lane. Granted these evil schemes do provide a certain amount of threat but it all feels a little weak seeing as all our heroes have plentiful opportunity to smack this guy down, if only they weren't so far up their own asses. Oh yes, we have one more hero to talk about.

Having only seen Gal Gadot in the Fast and Furious flicks, I was a bit concerned she wouldn't work as Wonder Woman. Color me surprised then when she actually turned out to be fairly entertaining despite her abysmal amount of screen time, most of which is spent attending social functions in various cocktail dresses.
In all I'm still not totally convinced she can carry an entire movie on her own but that's because I largely have no idea what this version of Wonder Woman is all about. She barely speaks to Superman and while it's nice to see one of these three characters shows signs of a smile there's little else to set her apart.

While we're on the subject of ladies, let's talk about poor Lois Lane who is handed a subplot so lame I actually forgot it was happening. After her trouble in Africa she goes in search of the source of a fancy bullet used in the massacre. This takes over an hour only to of course point back to Lexcorp. None of it matters though as no one will confirm her findings. Still unlike, Bruce Wayne the girl at least knows how to investigate.
Once the bullet plot line is finished it's right back to being a damsel in distress. Clark has to rescue her at least three times in this movie, maybe more. Oh and for fans of that lady dialogue test, she and wonder woman never speak to each other opting instead for the movie's bread and butter of sad glances.

So what about the other characters who've been shoved into this mess? Fellow Justice League members Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg are almost exclusively reduced to glorified youtube videos. The only exception being Flash's brief appearance as a screeching phantom from the future in a particularly hammy scene that comes across as purposefully vague in case they need to make course corrections in later films.
Jimmy Olsen's in here. He's a C.I.A. Operative who takes a bullet to the head.
Perry White is just kind of there.
The fairly small supporting character of Luthor's assistant, Mercy Graves as played by Tao Okamoto has been reduced to generic mysterious Asian lady who's clearly up to no good....that is until Lex blows her up.
Cold War era Batman foe, KGBeast is here as your standard issue terrorist.
Oh and let's not forget Wallace. The former Waynetech employee who lost his legs after being crushed by a girder during the climactic finish of Man of Steel. He spends his days hating Superman until Lex gives him a shiny new wheelchair that house a bomb.
Diane Lane gets to be a damsel in distress as well as the clunky plot point that bonds the heroes when Batman discvera their moms have the same name. The ghost of Pa Kent shows up as well and my first though was “oh thank god it's Kevin Costner!” His folksy wisdom nearly provided actual emotional content.
Holly Hunter as Senator Finch provides plenty of irritating southern cliches until she's blown up next to a jar of piss.
Doomsday fails to even register as a character. He's just a larger laser eyed version of a cave troll. While not handled as poorly as Origins era Deadpool, his appearance amounts to about as much. He's just there to provide a CG punching bag for the big finale.
Oh and Alfred Pennyworth is in there too. Tasked with the thankless task of trying to convey what a moron Bruce Wayne has been of late.

Then there's that ending. This is big spoiler area here, people. So Superman dies fighting Doomsday because, why not? Jesus, Clark, stab the monster in the fucking back why don't ya? Director Zack Synder has admitted this was done so there's a reason to put Batman in charge of forming the Justice League. In the meantime not a tear was shed in my theater cause no one bought this death as anything other than a stunt. By this point the movie had already hinted at Superman being alive and evil in the future. Plus they introduced something called a genesis chamber which could presumably be used as a means of resurrecting the man of steel. To top it all off the closing shot of the movie is the dirt on Clark's coffin starting to vibrate and float, hinting that he's still alive. How is anyone in the audience supposed to take this seriously when the filmmakers pull a Search for Spock before the credits roll?

Much as it may seem like I hate this movie, it doesn't inspire anywhere near that amount of passion. More than anything I'm baffled by its existence. Through all two and half hours nothing of substance takes place. The whole thing comes off as something we'll look back on years from now as a cinematic curiosity. The most comparable movie I can think of is Avatar, another hollow endeavor that made tons of cash entirely on the merit of being shiny. Perhaps this DC film universe will one day provide us with a good flick. For now; I'm just happy there's a new episode of Arrow on my DVR.

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