Friday, April 1, 2016

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

I left the theater after seeing Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice with only one thought in my head: I can't believe I never realized that Batman and Superman's moms are both named Martha!  That's not a good sign.  The film is a joyless, CG-heavy, action film that takes two of America's greatest comic book characters and makes them... dumb.  Very dumb.  Characters in this film are not people, they are cardboard stick figures that move from place to place and spout cliche dialogue.  You thought The Dark Knight Rises had plot holes?  Well, it does... but Batman V Superman puts it to shame.  It might actually be easier to count the things that DO make sense as opposed to the things that don't.  This is the kind of event movie that should be the purest form of awesome.  I love Batman.  I love Superman. But I don't love Batman V Superman.  It felt more like Diet Watchmen.  Does it have its moments?  Sure.  But for every good aspect of this movie, there are more than a few groan-worthy ones.

Perhaps some of my greatness will rub off on you...

Eighteen months after the events of Man of Steel, the public is afraid of Superman (Henry Cavill) and the potential power he holds over the entire world.  Sure, he uses his powers to help people now, but what's to stop him from taking over the world if he wants?  This is a particular worry for Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck), who bore witness to the horrible destruction and death toll of Superman's fight with General Zod (Michael Shannon) firsthand, which nearly left Metropolis a giant crater.  Meanwhile, the wealthy and powerful inheritor to LexCorp, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), seeks a way to kill Superman via the green Kryptonite found inside the remains of Zod's ship, and manipulates the already enraged Batman into doing it for him.  Meanwhile meanwhile, Luthor figures out how to create a beastly alien being out of the now deceased Zod's DNA (known in the comics as "Doomsday").  Meanwhile meanwhile meanwhile, Wonder Woman (Gal Gaddot), under the guise of Diana Prince, has been operating as a secret superhero for decades, and helps to open up Batman's eyes to other meta-humans who use their powers for good.


Besides obviously being overstuffed, that doesn't sound all that bad.  There are reasons for a Batman/Superman fight that make sense; we're dealing with consequences from the previous movie, and hey!  Justice League coming soon! Isn't that neat?  But it doesn't feel that way.  Every character is so ultra-serious, and most of their interactions are wooden as hell.  Action scenes are uneven, with the poorest using CG cartoon versions of the characters to dodge obstacles or get thrown around.  The color palette is muted, which wasn't a bad look given the tone, but it's not exactly a pretty film.   Music by the great Hans Zimmer (and by the good Junkie XL) is above average, especially the reprises of the Man of Steel theme.  Wonder Woman also has a kick-ass theme (complete with electric guitar riffs), but if Batman has a theme here, I didn't spot it.  I wouldn't have minded the use of one his classic themes, but different universe blah blah blah whatever.

Na na na na na na na Batman!

The biggest issue here is the script.  There's so much crammed into the film that was unnecessary. The story of how BATMAN meets FREAKIN' SUPERMAN should be enough to make a compelling movie on its own.  But instead we have to establish Wonder Woman, spend time with a Doomsday origin, make it work as a Man of Steel sequel, and set up future movies.  Many dream sequences are self-indulgent, and often result in Bruce Wayne doing the cliche "wake up while jerking up and yelling" thing.  That's never happened to anyone ever in real life, and I'm really sick of seeing that.  In addition, very little time is spent establishing where we are and why things are happening.  Establishing space just isn't a priority.  Some of this could be overlooked if the characters had more meat to them, more defining character traits.   No one sounds like a real person; no one makes a joke (expect for Jeremy Irons' Alfred) and no one talks about anything not plot-related.  It becomes extremely tedious and boring.

Make my monster grow.

I'm going to be talking about the ending of the movie a bit here, so skip this paragraph if you don't want to know.  The climax is very underwhelming.  Doomsday looks like a cartoon character and any semblance of martial arts in what should be a great fight between Bats and Sups is drowned out by poor editing.  We haven't spent the last two hours getting to know these two, we've spent it watching them scowl.  The reasons for the fight aren't exciting, they're contrived.  It's like... a Three's Company-level misunderstanding.  And the reason for the fight to stop?  Horribly executed.  It makes these two icons look like total idiots.  And don't even get me started on the ending, which blows its load way too early in the series on something that should be meaningful but couldn't feel more hollow.  The Super Friends show handled this better.

This is why Superman works alone.

Amy Adams is beyond wasted in this film.  She's a wonderful actress whose Lois Lane had the potential to add heart and humor to the story, but none of that is to be found.  Damsel, damsel, damsel.  There are THREE distinct situations where she only exists to be saved.  You might think, "Well she's Lois Lane! The epitome of the damsel in distress!"  Babe, it's not 1938.  Lois has been tough, smart, and plucky ever since Margot Kidder played her in 1978.  But here, she feels superfluous.   Affleck gives it his all as Bruce Wayne/Batman, but wow does this script let him down.  There seem to be so many missing pieces to his darker turn as the caped crusader, despite his having the most relatable motivations in the whole movie.  Also, if you know anything about Batman, you probably know what his one rule is.  This version of Bats doesn't seem too concerned about that rule, which left my mouth gaping on multiple occasions in shock.  Is that writer/director Zack Snyder telling the fans, "This is MY version of the character! If you don't like it, SUCK IT!"   Not surprisingly, that was my exact reaction to Superman in Man of Steel; neither "heroes" feel like the characters.   But my even my positive opinion of Harvey Cavill in the main role has taken a sharp downward turn.  No life behind his eyes the majority of the time and no passion in his voice.  Can we just watch Superman IV: The Quest for Peace? At least there, Christopher Reeve seemed to care about "THE PEOPLE!!!"

Why so se-he-he-rious?

So in all this darkness, there are bright spots.  One thing I was sure to hate was Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, and um... I kinda didn't.  He doesn't feel like Lex Luthor, and may have been conceived as an attempt to recapture the magic of Heath Ledger's Joker, but at least he injected a little life into the dullness of it all.  His scenes with Holly Hunter's character (one pretty clever setup and payoff involving Granny's Peach Tea especially) are very well done, adding much needed tension that builds to something morbidly spectacular.  It's the best scene in the movie and one of the few times I was truly invested.  And taken out of context, there are plenty of gorgeously shot moments.  Batman's backstory has been done to death, and frankly I'm getting tired of watching it, but recreated in the style of The Dark Knight Returns graphic novel here, it was very good.  There are a few action scenes featuring Batman that are really well-executed too; not surprisingly, they feature nice wide shots and continuous, unedited fight choreography.  And I know I harp on CGI, but there are moments when it's used to good effect.  But it's overused when it didn't have to be, and that's the real problem.   And while we're on a semi-positive note, I will say that the costume designs for Bats, Sups, and WW all look fantastic.  Might be my favorite on-screen looking versions of the characters.

In your satin tights! Fighting for your rights!

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is as clunky as its title, but with Man of Steel as its predecessor, it's hard to be shocked or disappointed.  If this had been the follow-up to Christopher Nolan's trilogy, this would be all kinds of catastrophic.  But as it stands, it's just a dull mess.  This isn't Fant4stic bad (I feel safe calling this some kind of movie), and it's packed with interesting ideas.  However, none of them come into fruition or draw from the endless political ideas and emotional stories that were right there for the taking in the comics and TV shows.  Monotone, obviously incomplete, and devoid of all the things I love about Batman and Superman, this Justice League series is going down a dark (and stupid) path that I'm afraid I just can't follow.