Filmsy Reviews: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Director: Zach Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams, Lawrence Fishburne, Diane Lane, Holly Hunter, Jeremy Irons.
Quick Summary: The bat of Gotham must fight the son of Krypton. For Reasons. Featuring Wonder Woman!
Rating: Crisis of Infinite Dread.
There's been a lot of things said about this movie since it came out. Most of them bad. I'm here to tell you that most of them are true, and if you're one of the few people who are still hesitant to watch it for some reason, save your time and money, because it's seriously not worth it.
This is a spoiler free review, but I'm going to address some things that were public knowledge before the release of the movie, as well as some non-important plot points just to make my point across. However, if you're still convinced there are redeemable elements to this film (and again, there are not) you could still go to the theater right after reading this... though I can think way better things to do with that time, like catching up with Netflix's Daredevil.
Or even this Daredevil.
It should really come as no surprise that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (or BvS for short) was received the way it was, since it was a troubled production from the start. Man of Steel, the movie preceding BvS was similarly reviewed, among many other reasons, for its radical departure from the source material and its attempts to make the character of Superman "edgy". This was a major setback for Warner Bros. Studios, which had plans to jumpstart a new cinematic universe to compete with Marvel, plans that had already been altered when Christopher Nolan finished his Dark Knight trilogy and parted ways with Warner, and when Ryan Reynolds' Green Lantern was received poorly. Nonetheless, in a very bold move they doubled down and announced that, instead of making separate installments out of their different superhero properties the way Marvel did leading up to Avengers, the follow-up to Man of Steel would work backwards and build upon the most polemic aspect of that movie, using that plot point to introduce a conflict with a reinvented Batman and also showcasing a few other heroes that would come together in a new Justice League movie. Then, if that movie worked out, they would perhaps give these new heroes their own feature films.
Also known as the Wesley Snipes method of "Always Bet on Bat"
(Which did wonders for him... I think?, I don't really follow up on non-geek news)
Weirdly enough, this might actually end up working, since BvS did very well at the box office despite overwhelmingly negative reviews. WB seems relentless and hasn't made any changes on their release calendar for the remaining of the decade, which includes a solo Wonder Woman next year, as well as Suicide Squad hitting theaters later this summer. And despite initial skepticism (Jared Leto Joker, for real?), after watching the trailer I'm actually cautiously optimistic about those projects... but I'm getting ahead of myself.
I'm not going to go too much into the plot of this movie, not only because I don't want to spoil it, but because it's Prometheus levels of stupidity. If you have ever read a comic book crossover, or hell, just going by the title alone you already know there's going to be some kind of fabricated misunderstanding that will make the titular heroes clash. Then, once the fan service fight is done with, both Superman (Henry Cavill) and Batman (Ben Affleck) will realize that they've been foolish for wasting their time fighting each other and that they should join forces to beat a common enemy, which in this case happens to be Mark Zuckerb...err, Lex Luthor. That's pretty standard, and even genre-savvy Joss Whedon couldn't escape from it on Avengers. But the reason given here is idiotic even by those standards, and it was so clumsily handled that it defied even my already low expectations.
Jesse Eisenberg's take on Lex Luthor (which is sort of a mix between the aforementioned Zuckerberg from the Social Network and Heath Ledger's Joker) could have been interesting, but it's ultimately wasted by turning up the crazy to eleven, and making his schemes so absurdly convoluted that they make Gene Hackman's real estate scams from the Donner films look like sensible financial strategies in comparison.
Nothing quite as insane as that traffic light fight from Superman III, though.
There's also a new character played by Holly Hunter, a career politician whose only purpose is being plot fodder. She instigates suspicions and tries to turn the people against Superman, because apparently destroying half of Metropolis and causing the deaths of thousands in the first movie wasn't enough for humanity to distrust him. And from the start, it's pretty transparent that she's just a piece of Luthor's chessboard which never adds anything of interest to the movie. Furthermore, even Luthor's interventions come off as superfluous, because by every indication and interaction between these two it looks like a confrontation was inevitable regardless.
Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is back from the first movie, and so are Perry White (Lawrence Fishburne) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane), but they are all equally unimportant to the plot and might as well not have been there. No one would have missed them and neither of them makes any impression in all 151 minutes of this movie. At least Jeremy Irons milks his screentime by providing necessary comic relief as Alfred.
However, I should also point out that out of all the mistakes made on this movie, picking Ben Affleck for the role was certainly not one of them. Despite the speculation and negativity from the press when the news broke out, Batfleck turned out to be probably the best thing about BvS, even though there are some important character derailments I won't get into because I don't want to spoil things.
If only it was something as awesome as doing the Bat dance.
Henry Cavill as Superman is a serviceable, adequate Clark Kent/Superman. I guess the problem lies in within the character rather than the actor, or how hard it is to write for the man who has everything, because he was excellent as Napoleon Solo in last year's The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and he was the least terrible thing in Man of Steel, and the same thing happened with Brandon Routh in Superman Returns.
And if I haven't talked about Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman yet, that's because there really isn't that much to talk about. The best and worst thing I can say about her character is that she's there... which is more than I can say about the rest of the Justice League, which are only briefly shown for less time than the average Stan Lee cameo in a Marvel movie. I will say that she at least does look pretty badass, even if her character doesn't really do much for the movie, in the same way that her appearance doesn't actually affect the movie that much, if at all. I guess what bothers me is that BvS already feels crammed even before she appears, so it would have been nice that her presence would add something instead of feel like a cheap marketing gimmick, and a bad one at that. As a longtime fan of DC comics and Wonder Woman, I would love to see her starring in her own movie, but for now she can fly away in her invisible jet for all I care.
As for the technical aspects, I will say that the action stunts are pretty well made and that there are some very impressive wide shots that look awesome on a big screen; things that are always appreciated on a big film such as this. The special effects are kinda hit and miss, though. Some scenes and characters look superb, while a few others rely too much on CGI that still looks like something out of Ang Lee's Hulk or Green Lantern's godawful abomination of a movie. The score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL fits the movie well, if not exceptionally so. The photography, which is something that Snyder usually excels at, is just a mess. The contrast between a wide palette of colors and darkness just doesn't work in the same way it did for movies like Sucker Punch or Watchmen. The dark is too dark, and the brighter scenes look too fake. Then there's the whole thing with all the cutscenes interlaced along the movie, which are sometimes flashbacks, sometimes dreams, or premonitions, or hallucinations; they all feel too out of place and take you away from a movie that was confusing and disjointed to begin with. At one point you start wondering if this is a superhero movie or an episode of Lost.
Damon Lindelof: "Hey, don't look at me!, I had nothing to do with THIS mess."
What little bits about this movie are salvageable, most of them involve Batman. Both Ben Affleck and Jeremy Irons play their parts really well, and I bet if WB doesn't screw up too much the rest of their DC Extended Universe and eventually greenlights a new Batman movie, directed by Affleck, that would probably be something worth watching. The action scenes are also kind of cool, even those without Batman, but there's really nothing so great or that we haven't seen before, nothing that would make it worth sitting for two and a half freaking hours!!! Like I said at the very beginning, the people this movie was made for already saw it a couple of times, and probably are still in denial about how bad it really is, much like Star Wars fans after the prequels. Things look grim for the man of steel and his friends, but they say that Superman is more powerful than a locomotive, so I'd love to see how he gets out of this trainwreck.
What you should watch instead.
It's really sad that DC is doing so bad on the big screen, or that everyone focuses so much on that aspect, when they have been doing a terrific job with other media for quite a while now. Here are some examples:
The Flash (TV, 2014-present)
Along with Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl, DC is taking network TV by storm with high-quality shows featuring great stories for the whole family. However, if you must watch just one of these, start by the Scarlet Speedster.
"The Dark Knight Returns", parts 1 and 2 (2012, 2013)
Direct-to-video might not be as sexy as feature films, but this is where some of the awesomest stories featuring the Justice League and the World's Finest heroes are. Furthermore, there is nothing Marvel is doing that is remotely close to the level of work DC has been doing for the last three decades. They have a big catalog which covers stories for all kinds of audiences and not just for kids, as was demonstrated by this two-part adaptation of Frank Miller's seminal graphic novel that features the most epic clash of Batman and Superman.
Injustice: Gods Among Us (video game, 2013)
As great as the gameplay on this fighting game that features more than 24 playable characters from the DC Universe with unique sets of moves is, Injustice is worth a mention even if you don't actually play it just for the amazing cinematic cutscenes and a story mode which is probably the best portrayal of the Justice League and their characters outside of the comic book pages. When the Joker pulls a killing prank on Superman, he goes mad and appoints himself ruler of Earth, with the help of corrupted heroes and co-opted villains. The only one opposing him is Batman, who must recruit the Justice League from an alternate reality to put an end to Superman's reign.
Don't worry, I also have a couple movie-movie recommendations:
An overlooked noir-style detective film partially inspired by the real mysterious death of George Reeves, the first actor to play Superman on screen. It also features Batfleck and Diane Lane, who are both in BvS.
"The Death of 'Superman Lives': What Happened?" (Documentary, 2015)
And because sometimes even a disaster might be fun to watch from the right angle, this great documentary gives us a glimpse of what this infamous movie project could have been. Featuring great interviews with the crew and conceptual art that's even crazier than you could have imagined from a 1990s Superman film directed by Tim Burton, written by Kevin Smith, and starring Nicolas Cage.
Bonus: If you were hoping to watch BvS because you can't get enough of watching Bruce Wayne's parents get killed, don't despair, I got you covered.
Second bonus: if you need something to take your mind off the sad, watch this gif of traffic light signs engaging in massive scale warfare. Inspired by that wacky scene from Superman III.
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