Monday, March 28, 2016

Tell me, do you bleed? You will.

So I recorded something off-the-cuff for this, but it ended up being an incoherent, rambling, overly-long thing that would have been unpleasant for an audience to sit through.

Much like Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. ZING!

I'm partially kidding. Batman V Superman is Warner Brothers and DC's attempt at jump-starting a Justice League Movie Universe so that they can chase that Avengers movie cash cow, which is something that's been tried before with Green Lantern (and failed).

Actually, I saw the almost universal panning of the film by the media as a curious thing, especially when a couple people I respect on film/story opinions recommended it. This made me curious enough to see it myself to form my own opinion. Well, I have, and its complicated, and that's why I spent my Sunday night hammering this out.

Short and spoiler-free take? Its a disjointed mess with flashes of goodness but loaded with bloat and inconsistencies that ultimately frustrate the viewer with wasted potential.

From here on out, we're going into spoiler territory.


Bats V Supes is a direct sequel to 2013's Man of Steel, which was directed by Zach Snyder and starred Henry Cavill as Superman. That was a deeply divisive movie that garnered tremendous amounts of criticism, but did well enough to warrant a sequel, and with Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy wrapping up, meant that the time was ripe to open up the DC vaults and get a good ol' fashioned crossover going. Two superheroes are led by misunderstanding to fight each other, resolve that conflict, and team up to take down the REAL villain. Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme.

Except Bats V Supes is something of a bloated mess of a movie that has multiple ideas, plotlines, and even tones jockeying for the limelight.

The plot of the movie, such as it is, follows Superman trying to find his place in a world that is now in awe of his godlike power, and sometimes fears him. Rightfully so, as the opening sequence features Bruce Wayne rushing to Metropolis during the climactic battle of the last movie and trying to save people's lives while building an understandable resentment for the carnage caused in Superman's wake.

We skip ahead to where Bruce Wayne's hatred of Superman festers into a two-year obsession with finding a way to stop or even kill the Kryptonian while Superman struggles with trying to do Superman stuff like saving Lois Lane from bad guys and being inspirational in a movie that wants to punish him for doing Superman stuff. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor is trying to get the U.S. Government to fund his attempts to experiment on Kryptonian technology so that he can find a way to kill Superman. And Wonder Woman shows up occasionally to justify her being in the climactic fight scene with Doomsday.

Is it a total mess worth 29% on Rotten Tomatoes? No. Zach Snyder continues to have a flair for shot composition, and that's something I think people miss. Hell, during Man of Steel, the movie goes from a washed out and gray color palette that increases in colorfulness as Superman begins doing more and more Hero stuff, so that by the end of the movie, its bright and colorful. Which is not something I ever saw mentioned in Man of Steel reviews.

Action sequences are generally well put together. When Batman fights goons, there's a visceral speed to how he takes people down. When you get to the Main Event between Batman and Superman, its a brutal slugging match as Batman has to keep finding ways to hamstring Superman in order to be able to hurt him.

Ben Affleck is great as an older, more jaded Bruce Wayne who's been doing the Batman thing for two decades. There are hints at the cost of being Batman, such as the dead Robin costume with Joker graffitti and the burned out husk of Stately Wayne Manor. This is an older, wiser, but deeply flawed Batman who, refreshingly, makes mistakes and gets outwitted occasionally. No Batgod here.

Instead of Batgod, we get Bat of Murder. This is terrible, because in just about every Batman story out there that isn't a movie version (*cough* Tim Burton *cough*), Batman has two simple rules: No killing. No guns. What does he do here? Kill people with guns. Quite a lot. Even in his dream sequences. Which makes him a hypocrite when he criticizes the destruction that follows Superman. It makes them both hypocrites. Its a horrible mis-characterization that mars an otherwise fantastic Batman.

Wonder Woman is played by the Fast & Furious' Gal Gadot. The whole “she's too skinny to play Wonder Woman” thing before the movie came out was dumb. She looks fine enough and there are worse problems with the movie anyway. Acting-wise, there's not much to evaluate her on. She shows up to be mysterious in the first half, and then shows up for the big team up. The biggest problem with Wonder Woman in this is that she's unnecessary. The movie could've happened without her with minimal changes. “Wonder Woman: International Woman of Mystery” isn't a bad hook for the character, but I doubt the movie in the works will take that direction.

I maintain that Henry Cavill is a good Superman. He's got the face and can sell the earnestness of the character, but both Man of Steel and this seem hell bent on not letting Superman feel good about helping people. Yes he saves people, but its in a slow motion montage that shoots for profundity and misses. Part of the appeal of Superman is that he is always going out of his way to help people, even if its for fairly mundane stuff, like stopping car accidents, foiling amateur bank robberies, or talking a suicidal person off a ledge. Showing Superman fix a spare tire or save a cat from a tree would have gone miles to helping his character in this. They mention this this kind of behavior, when Bruce Wayne accuses Clark Kent of writing puff pieces for Superman, but this is a direct reversal of the SHOW, DON'T TELL rule of storytelling.

Instead we get a sort of dream sequence where the ghost of Pa Kent tells a depressing story about how he helped his farm in a flood but in doing so caused the neighbors' horses to drown and some offhand lines about how he's trying fly Doomsday away from a populated area to minimize damage. Instead of Superman going to Congress and giving an inspiring speech about the infinite potential for human goodness, we have an explosion go off before he can say anything at all in his defense. Hell, the speech he gives to the UN in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is a more effective moment, and that movie is all kinds of dumb.

Its enormously frustrating because the movie is hell-bent on turning Superman into a Christ-figure instead of turning him into Superman.

Amy Adams' Lois Lane is fine. She snoops around doing reporter stuff, gets in trouble, Superman rescues her. Classic Lois stuff. I still feel that she would make a better Lana Lang, but oh well.

Jeremy Irons is amazing as Alfred. He's got the right mix of paternal admonishment and encouragement for Batman. Its great. More Alfred, please.

Holly Hunter plays Senator Finch, a character who doesn't really bring much to the table outside of being part of a SHOCKING PLOT TWIST that lands with a thud. It involves a jar of piss labeled peach juice because of a comment made to Lex Luthor. Because scatological humor, am I right folks? 

Speaking of Lex, Jesse Eisenberg's version is just...bizarre. He's very young, very clearly Lex Luthor Jr., and has a mop of unruly hair and twitchy mannerisms that jump all over the place. Sort of like those insufferable millennial hipsters that infest San Francisco. An SJW hipster is a neat concept for a villain, except at that point he's no longer Lex Luthor. Part of Lex's character through his various incarnations has been the projection of strength and control, even when its just a front. This Lex can't even make a speech to a charity event without losing track of what he's saying. He's a creepy weirdo, but unlike Gene Hackman's clownish sociopath or Kevin Spacy's charismatic megalomaniac, this Lex doesn't have that edge of brilliance lurking underneath that justifies his arrogance. Instead, he's pretty much the Joker without the greasepaint.

“But its a false front! He's a master manipulator and he's just fooling everyone into thinking he's a wuss!”

Again, that's not Lex Luthor. Part of the reason he hates Superman is because Lex wants to be strong while Clark Kent IS strong. Lex will never be that kind of strong because Superman's strength comes from his selflessness and Luthor is deeply selfish.

Its a pity, because Eisenberg gives flashes of the real Lex here and there, but again, the movie doesn't let the character be the character.

Adding to the bloat of the film are all the teases for the Justice League. Batman has a dream sequence where he's in a post-Apocalyptic world with a giant Omega symbol and he gets attacked by evil army people, and he starts murdering the hell out of them until he gets overwhelmed by goons and full-blown Parademons. As a tease for Darkseid, its kind of interesting, but it grinds the movie to a halt and doesn't add anything other than a blatant “WE'LL GIVE YOU DARKSEID PLEASE KEEP WATCHING THESE MOVIES.” In that same vein, we get a "thrilling" scene as Wonder Woman receives an email from Batman with data on other metahumans and she opens up video clips of the Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. Its hokey, especially Aquaman spending thirty seconds going Grrrrrr at the camera before destroying it, and it could have worked if the movie would have let itself be hokey. 

Which comes down to the fundamental problem running throughout this movie. It feels like there is a constant struggle between the whether or not the characters should act like themselves. When they do, the movie is better. More often than not, they don't for the sake of fitting into the plot's demands.

A strong character can completely derail a scene or plotline simply by acting in character, spoiling the writer's outline and taking it in a different direction. This movie feels like the characters are trying to do that, but editorial/studio intervention is constantly trying to clamp down on them so that the officially mandated plot can assert itself. Because we have to force nods to The Death and Return of Superman as well as The Dark Knight Returns regardless of them making sense.

Much like that jar of peach juice, the label on Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice tries to tell you its a fun superhero movie about how Superman and Batman met and planted the seeds of the Justice League, when its actually just a bloated mess of conflicting plotlines, characterizations, themes that reminds me more of X-Men III than either the Justice League or even The Avengers.

Its a huge letdown, made more so by the flashes of quality gasping for air. If it was a smaller movie simply about Lex Luthor manipulating the media into getting Batman and Superman to fight each other for his own amusement/ambitions, it could have been fantastic. The climax of the film was and should have remained the fight between the title characters and the realization that they're both good men who've been played. Instead we got a pointless fight with Doomsday for the sake of a fight and Superman's death for the sake of an obvious resurrection down the road to save the Justice League at a critical moment. 

If we're lucky he'll have that 90s era mullet.

Not recommended.

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