Monday, April 11, 2016

'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' review

At this point, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a movie that needs no introduction. Ever since the embargo for Warner Bros.' kick-start to the DC Cinematic Universe broke on March 22, the internet has been a war zone. This is probably the most polarized and extreme reaction that I've ever seen to a film. Fans proclaimed it to be the best superhero movie of all time, while critics were repulsed, awarding the film a flat-out mediocre 29% on Rotten Tomatoes and 44 on Metacritic. Box office has been a constant topic of discussion. Angry DC fans have bashed critics, saying that they're on Marvel and Disney's payroll. It has ignited all kinds of discussion on the nature of the heroes, the future of the DCCU and critical viewpoints in America. And for some reason, I've yet to publish my thoughts. Partially because my life has exhausted me and partially because I keep telling myself that I'll see the movie again. But for whatever reason, I haven't published anything in-depth about this movie beyond a few tweets. So yeah. About time I change that.

I'll preface my thoughts on this movie by saying that I'm going to be qualifying a lot in this review. Now, for anyone who's take AP Lang or any kind of rhetoric class, you probably know that it's the last thing that you should do. Support a claim or refute it, with no middle ground. That's what they tell you. Unfortunately, that thinking does not work with Batman v Superman. It is neither the greatest superhero film of all time nor a trainwreck on the level of Fantastic Four, Green Lantern, or even Ant-Man. It is better than Man of Steel, but it isn't nearly as good as any of Nolan's Batman movies. Ben Affleck is good as Bruce Wayne and Batman, but he isn't the "quintessential" performance of the character. This whole movie is stuck in a bizarre middle ground that does not fit the internet climate of hyperbole.

When I look at Batman v Superman, I find a movie with a lot of raw potential. There's a lot of good stuff in this movie. Firstly, it is considerably darker than any superhero movie in the marketplace right now. This is grim, weighty material, created on an epic comic book stage. You can say a lot of things about Snyder, but there is something truly unique about his heroic vision. Batman v Superman takes place in a world where Batman is a murderer. Where he is perfectly willing to kill men in cold blood to enact his version of vengeance. This is a world where Superman is no longer universally regarded as a hero. He's a target, someone who becomes a scapegoat for the world's problems. This is a world where our heroes recognize the burden of being heroes. It takes the ambiguity of Nolan's trilogy and stretches it even further. The movie doesn't always follow through with this promise, but when it does, there's something magnetic about Snyder's vision and the promise that it holds for this cinematic universe.

In the years since Man of Steel, Superman (Henry Cavill) has split America in two. Some believe that he's a hero- a beacon of hope in a world swept up in anger, loss and fear. Others believe that he's a villain, a person with absolute power who must be stopped at any cost. After all, look at the destruction in Metropolis. Is that the work of a savior? Among those against Superman are megalomaniac tech mogul Lex Luthor (the manic Jesse Eisenberg) and Gotham vigilante Batman (Ben Affleck). Luthor has a complex history of hatred for people in power, and uses his manipulative mind against Superman, while Batman (aka Bruce Wayne) has a whole different story. His building was destroyed in the Metropolis attacks and many of his employees were killed. Because of this, he holds a deep mistrust of Superman. As the rift grows between the two icons, a battle will brew and evil forces will pit the Son of Krypton against the Bat of Gotham.

Although that does serve as a general summary of the story of this movie, I've barely begun to scratch the surface of the sheer amount of content that Zack Snyder and the head honchos at Warner Bros. tried to shove into this 151 minute film. Beyond the basic storyline, there are plenty of subplots and cut scenes that sometimes fit into the story and often don't. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) has a key (?) role in the movie, appearing during the final fight scene to help our heroes. There's also a lot of time devoted to the search for Kryptonite, a weapon that both Luthor and Batman are attempting to utilize. Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) has a vital role as well, conducting the majority of the Capitol hearings against Superman's actions in Africa- another part of the story.

Lois Lane (Amy Adams, popping up wherever the plot sees fit), Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) and Alfred (Jeremy Irons) factor into the movie in various ways, and of course, we can't forget about Wallace Keefe (Scoot McNairy), the injured Wayne Enterprises employee who holds a grudge against Superman. Martha Kent has a very critical role in the plot, providing an emotional crux to one of the most fundamental moments of the film. Kevin Costner reappears for a moment as Jonathan Kent, Tao Okamoto has a small role as Mercy Graves, and Callan Mulvey plays criminal leader Anatoli Knyazev. Oh, and we also get to see Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). Yeah, they're in there. And Jimmy Olsen! Spoiler alert- Snyder kills him without every telling you his real name.

All of what I just listed provides the basic problem with Batman v Superman- it's too much. This movie is trying to do everything and it is almost exactly what I feared going in. It's trying to be a Man of Steel sequel, a Batman origin story, a Justice League set-up movie, and a cohesive Batman v Superman movie all over the span of 2 hours and 31 minutes. There are so many characters, so many subplots and so much sheer information that it all becomes a bit overwhelming. For audiences not acclimated to the world of comic book movies, this will be like a slap in the face. Snyder and the writers pack in the comic book lore like it's nobody's business and the comic book-esque structure of the movie will definitely make things even worse for some casual fans. It's practically sensory overload.

Unfortunately, by trying to accomplish all of these things, Batman v Superman loses its identity as a film. The pacing can be shoddy, the film jumps around everywhere and the editing is pretty awful at times. One moment, we'll be at Ma Kent's farm in Kansas and the next, we'll be back at the Luthor laboratories. Oh, and then shortly after that, Wonder Woman will open her laptop and look at the videos of other "Metahumans" that Luthor has compiled. There's so little flow to Batman v Superman at times that it can be a tad stunning. It stretches to right the wrongs of Man of Steel (yes, we get it, the island is uninhabited) and is constantly at war with its more superfluous elements. And of course, by the third act, the movie is a total orgy of CGI and violence, as our Holy Trinity faces off against Doomsday. The faults in Batman v Superman are numerous, and it's completely understandable to see why someone would find a lot to dislike with this film.

And yet, I still really enjoyed this movie. I've had to ask myself "Why?" many times over the last few weeks, and I've arrived at a simple answer- it's different. I love Marvel, don't get me wrong. They have produced some of the greatest superhero films of the modern era. Avengers, The Winter Soldier, Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy- I adore all of those films. But despite their many differences, most of those movies find themselves with the exact same visual palette and tone. Batman v Superman is different in nearly every way. It's sad. It's thoughtful. And yeah, it can be a bit joyless. In the world that Batman v Superman takes place in, there's very little reason to be happy or joyful. It's a world of terror, fear and violence, and it's a world that never stops.

In several ways, this is the world we live in. And for me, it's interesting to think about what might happen if Batman and Superman lived in this world. Would the citizens of America just blatantly accept two uncontrolled vigilantes as their heroes? Probably not. Would those two heroes like each other? Probably not. And does humanity even deserve to be saved? Once again, probably not. Batman v Superman poses these questions in a thoughtful way, and it all progresses over a series of character arcs that are compelling, thrilling and sweet. I like where this movie puts Batman and Superman at the end, and I feel that it's a fairly natural progression of their characters. It's depressing, but it works in every way.

While I did find much enjoyment in this epic superhero ride, it's easy to recognize the flaws. The Dark Knight, The Incredibles and The Winter Soldier did all of this and did it better. It's true. I can't avoid that fact. Dawn of Justice is a sprawling, overly busy mess at times, with a huge cast of characters that doesn't quite gel. But contrary to the views of many others, at the end of Batman v Superman, I cared about Batman, and for the first time, I cared about Superman. I wanted to see the Justice League movie that was being set up by this film. In that way, Snyder did the job right- he guaranteed that I'll buy a ticket for the next go-around. By taking a darker road, Snyder and the screenwriters (David Goyer and Chris Terrio) managed to explore elements of these heroes' psyche that we haven't seen before. For some, that will turn them off right away. But for me, this fantastical, philosophical journey into the mythos of two American icons was more rewarding than I ever expected.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B                                              (7.3/10)

Image Credits: THR, Variety, The Guardian, Joblo, Screen Rant, EW

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