Thursday, 31 March 2016

Batman v. Superman: Doing them Justice? SPOILER DISCUSSION

Welcome back, all. I know it's been a while, and that's my fault. And I am sure you are wondering, where is Part 2 of the Ghostbusters discussion? All in good time, friends. I have a plan regarding that particular topic but it requires that I ruminate on that subject further. So instead, let us discuss the newest offering of the superhero genre, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. This post will potentially contain massive spoilers. If you have not seen the movie yet and do not want to know the finer details, please skip to the bottom, past the Grumpy Cat picture. That will take you to the conclusion and my final thoughts, and will prevent an unnecessary spoiling. So, let's dive in and take a look at the the film that is the set up to the DC Cinematic Universe.

I hope that is sufficient warning. I am trying my best not to give away plot details to those who don't want them, but I feel as though I need to discuss this film in detail in order to really articulate my thoughts on it. For those of you still with me, I thank you and let's unpack this one, shall we?

Now, I was of two minds going into the theater to see this one. First, as fan going to see a live-action superhero film that not so long ago would have seemed impossible; not only Superman, but Batman and Wonder Woman, all in the same movie! The other part of me was the skeptical part, the part that had seen the trailers, had followed the creation of this movie and feared that were elements that would be questionable, if not downright bad. So, it was this combination of optimism and trepidation that I watched Batman vs. Superman.

The Good 
 I am going to make this review as fair as possible, and look at both the good and the bad before giving my final verdict. And there was good in this movie, this wasn't a case of grasping at straws to balance this review. There were elements I legitimately enjoyed. First and foremost, our three heroes. Full disclosure, I have seen approximately ten to fifteen minutes of Man of Steel, which happened to be just ending when I came home from work one day. So for all intents and purposes, this was my first outing with Henry Cavill's Superman. And to be honest, he is perfectly serviceable and does well as the character. Watching him saving people in his heroic montage, I bought it. It worked. Even small things like the way he flew in and then walked into the Capitol Building, ready to talk. Not only does that really showcase what Superman is and his values, but having the inquiry at all, and showing the human impact of this superbeing really grounds the movie in reality. He does well with the character. The problem comes in that he is overshadowed by others, but that is not necessarily the actor's fault. I though he looked the part, and did well with what he had, but more on that later. Most of this overshadowing came from Ben Affleck's Batman, who came into this universe as a force to be reckoned with. He is the older, jaded counterpoint to Superman's younger, wanting-to-do-good-by-others heroics, and I liked that dynamic and wanted to see more of it.

So let's really talk Batman. If there's one character (and seemingly one character only) that live-action DC movies know how to do, it's Batman. And this Batman is the best in a very long time. Not only that, but Ben Affleck can play both Batman and Bruce Wayne, which is a rarity. This Batman also utilizes his intelligence, his detective skills and his gadgets far more than Christopher Nolan's Batman ever did. I will go so far as to say (and perhaps this is a heresy) that I prefer this older, yet more dynamic and more true to form version of the character than the thuggish brute of Nolan's trilogy. Not that there aren't nods to that version. The Batmobile is very much a fusion of the Tumbler and the old, impractical, long car. And yet, the Batplane is a modern take on the sleek, bat-shaped one most of us remember and the modulated voice that Batman uses is almost a reaction against Bale's infamous in-costume voice. And the gadgets, they abound. I appreciated the love for the grappling hook this film seemed to have. I don't know that Batman has ever used his grapple gun so much in a live action movie. The Batcave was also very well done, and the water entrance with the long road in was just perfect. And to see in use, fixing the car, the computer, Alfred randomly tinkering with Bruce's armor, it felt like a space that was used. Alfred himself was good, although Jeremy Irons almost didn't seem old enough to be Alfred to an older Batman. Regardless, it grew on me, and it's really more of a nitpick.

That brings us to the third member of the DC Trinity, and the one I was looking most forward to: Wonder Woman. And... well anyone who was worried about Gal Gadot can put their minds at ease. She did not have as much time as the other two, but I enjoyed every scene she was in. And when it got down to the big fight and she came out in costume, then it got good. Her track on the score 'Is She With You', which played during that scene, is my favorite piece of music in the film. So I was disappointed when they cut away from the fight for 'Lois and Clark romance stuff', because I wanted to watch Wonder Woman hacking away at Doomsday. Even when he threw her across the screen and her sword skids away she just smiles, gets up, and goes back at it. She was badass and my concerns about her were alleviated one hundred percent. While some will continue to argue she is too thin, etc., she stood side by side with Batman and Superman (both actors being in ridiculously amazing shape), and held her own. Bring on more.

Now a superhero needs action, right? So, how was the action? Well, when it was there, it was good. Really good. The best fight was the one seen in the trailer, with Batman taking out a warehouse full of bad guys. And it was beautiful, it looked like it was pulled straight from one of the Arkham games. The titular fight, while all too short, also showcases the Dark Knight's ingenuity, showing off the preparation that has become a staple of the character. The suit he wears, in direct homage to The Dark Knight Returns comic, is both great looking and practical in action. As I said above, the fight with Doomsday is good for the most part, but that one gets very.... explosion-happy and becomes messy looking in parts. Although, in another homage, Superman becoming all withered and gnarly, and then healed by exposure to the sun, was a nice add.

Other things I enjoyed: Batman's parents, although given that they were played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Lauren Cohan, it was more for meta reasons. I liked the look of Aquaman, the brief look at him that you get. The TV hosts playing themselves was a nice extra to add realism as well, when showing the news coverage of Superman's exploits. And of course, my favorite cameo in the film, none other than Neil deGrasse Tyson, as himself. The Cynic and I had a fan moment at that part, I must admit.


The Bad
 Well, now that the niceties are out of the way, we now turn to the more frustrating elements of Batman vs. Superman. And unfortunately, they were numerous. I wish I could say otherwise, but unfortunately, that's where we are.

First and foremost, I want to talk about my biggest problem with this movie. Looking through my notes, this is the one aspect that absolutely dominates the 'con' side. Lex Luthor, as portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg. I have nothing against the man personally, and in fact it is a unanimous opinion in our house that had he introduced himself as Edward Nygma instead of Lex Luthor, then it would have been a vast improvement. In that case, I would most likely be extolling his performance, instead of excoriating it. But the plain fact remains, of all the routes to take the character of Lex Luthor, this was the strangest and most painful. I realize that they have a throwaway line insinuating that this Lex is the son of the character we all know, but given that this version is called Lex throughout the film, and never with a 'junior' to amend it, that the line is question was just an attempt at appeasement. This character has none of the manner or personality of Lex Luthor. Not. One. Single. Thing. Where as Lex Luthor is a genius businessman, who absolutely believes in his own superiority and carries himself as such, there is none of that here. This Lex is jittery and twitchy, he stutters and talks too fast. He is intelligent but we never really see that, we never really see the resentment he has for Superman; the fact that there is someone who is better than him and he cannot overcome that. There was one moment in this movie that ruined this character for me, one small scene that pushed me past the point at which this Lex could be redeemed in any way. It was easy to miss, Lex walking down a hall and away from the camera as he begins to enact his plan and recover General Zod's body. He walked hunched over, slouched and shuffling his feet. It was a tiny thing, and it seems a strange point to fixate on, but that was the straw the broke the camel's back, as it were. A man convinced of his own superiority, a man that holds himself above the rest of humanity, a god in his own eyes, would never slouch along like a regular schlub before his first coffee of the morning. If he was truly not supposed to be the Luthor we know, then he should have been 'Alexander', or 'Lex Jr.'. End of story.  The saddest part is, I saw a clip from The Social Network, and in that short video, Jesse Eisenberg was a better Lex Luthor than he was through the entirety of Batman vs. Superman. It boggles the mind.  There was only one instance where he actually did something in the spirit of Lex Luthor. The 'Granny's Peach Tea' thing. He wanted that senator to know he was responsible, even if only for that split second before the explosion. That was the Lex Luthor ego and the one in-character moment in the movie.


Well, now that I've got that particular rant off my chest, let's look at some of the other negatives. The second largest problem was the pacing and editing of the film. Bluntly put, this movie was horribly disjointed, especially for the first half. It isn't until almost the titular fight that the movie gains any semblance of coherency. It was a scene, then a scene, then a scene, etc., but with no flow and jumping all over. Added to this are dream sequences that appear out of left field, only to jump up, tweak your nose and shout 'gotcha!' when the character in question wakes up. This can work for a movie, but it is obvious that this one was probably mangled in editing to achieve this particular result. In fact, this is likely the case, as the original cut was apparently 3 hours or better, and a deleted scene was already been released on YouTube. This scene actually answered one of my questions/issues, in that 'How does Lex know about Darkseid/Apokolips?'. I wonder how many other of the many questions this film raised actually has answers that we didn't see, and how many were sequel or prequel bait?

My question above leads into my next point. This movie had way too much that it was trying to do and too many things that it was trying to be. It was trying to be an introduction for two of DC's most important heroes, plus a sequel film for a third, in addition a set up for Justice League, all while tackling not one, but two well-known stories of the comic world as well as a commentary on the impact of heroes in the real world. That is a lot for one movie to accomplish, even if that movie clocks in at two and a half hours in length. All these plots should have been split into their own movies, and given proper attention. Batman and Wonder Woman should have had their solo movies first to introduce the characters and give the stories of how they have gotten to the points in their lives/careers they are at in Batman vs. Superman. Why is Wonder Woman out of the business at this point, what happened to bring this about? Why does Batman have no compunctions about killing? Does it have anything to do with the defaced Robin costume in the Batcave? Why is Wayne Manor destroyed/abandoned? Bring us these stories first, before shoehorning the characters into another film. Although, Batman's origin again? We all know why he becomes Batman, honestly. Theater, mugging, gun, pearls, bang, orphan. We got it. But that's a nitpick. Do the solo movies, give Superman a proper Man of Steel 2, discussing the ideas from the beginning of Batman vs. Superman. Look at the impact of heroes on the world and how the world would react to something like that. That's a really interesting idea, and one that doesn't go deep enough here. Then if you want to do The Dark Knight Returns and the Death of Superman, go ahead. I'm not sure they need to be combined, though. It was an interesting choice, to have Death of Superman be the catalyst for creation of the Justice League, but again, it was all too rushed. And at this point in the cinematic universe, we haven't spent enough time with the character to give it the emotional impact that the comic series did. And as for setting up the Justice League, that scene with the computer files would have been better as a mid-credits one, with Batman opening the folder, but the audience only seeing the logos, or just the names, and no footage. That would build excitement better than a lazy shoehorn into the middle of the film.

Speaking of losing impact, that brings me to the things that bugged me, but weren't outright dealbreakers like above. That second trailer. Damn. That first shot of the trinity together ready to go up against Doomsday really lost a lot of the 'wow' factor and impact having already been seen in that trailer.

Cool, but not as cool as it should have been.
Also low on wow-factor: the titular fight. It was surprisingly short, and the motivations changed from what the movie had built up until that point. Not on the level of the T-Rex/Spinosaurus fight from Jurassic Park III, but certainly not nearly on the level that it should have been. Although, on the other side of that, I really thought that Superman would try to reason with Batman more, as he didn't really at all. I had hopes that the fight against Abomination-Blaze-Doomsday would be better. And in fact, watching Batman kite around on the grappling hook, and Wonder Woman charging in, sword raised, was a great start. Unfortunately (as I mentioned earlier), we had to cut away from that for 'Lois and Clark' romance stuff on the side, completely derailing what should have been an epic climatic fight and seeing the trinity really coming together. Also in that fight, and a few other places, the CG looked... oddly terrible. Upon further reflection, I wonder if those were 3D shots (we saw it in 2D) and they don't translate as well in 2D. I have noticed that in other 3D movies that I watched in 2D, so I'm almost willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.

It behooves me to point out that this film has one whole joke. Well, one funny one, at least. That comes courtesy of Martha Kent, after Batman saves her. While I didn't need the movie filled with laughs, it was worth noting that it was funny once. Also funny was that, while others hear notes of the Nolan film score in the music centered around Batman, I heard notes that almost made me think it would burst into Danny Elfman's Batman theme. Perhaps I was the only one, but odd notes pricked at my brain and made me think of it. It could have also been wishful thinking, I guess. But here I end the spoilers and we go to the conclusion and my final thoughts.

/end spoilers 

Well, that was quite the essay, and if you're still with me, I thank you. We've talked a lot here, and now time for my final verdict. And, my opinion of this movie is: I'm indifferent to it. There were some really good things, but there were also some really bad things. Even my notes came up quite even between pros and cons. Nothing I saw on the screen was a surprise. In that I mean, everything I thought would be good was, and everything I thought would fall flat did. I wanted this film to surprise me. I wanted to come out of it blown away. This was a huge deal; the DC Trinity, on screen, together, in live action. And yet, I find myself more excited for the fact that The Killing Joke is getting an animated movie, with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprising their roles as Batman and Joker, respectively. Because in the end, that's the problem. DC does fantastic animated work, and there are countless examples to back that up, from the seminal Batman: The Animated Series, to Justice League Unlimited, to film-length features such as Batman: Under the Red Hood, Wonder Woman (2009), and Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. This is just a tiny sample of their incredible animated offerings. And yet in live action, if it's not Batman, they seem lost (with the exception being at least the first two Superman movies with Christopher Reeve). Until that problem can be resolved, and I truly hope it is, I can only anticipate the future with apprehension. I am still hopeful for Wonder Woman's solo film, and that is my most anticipated of the known upcoming DC lineup. If I end up wrong, and DC live action going forth is everything that we want and hope it to be, then wrong I will be, and gladly. So here's to the future, and to live action DC that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with it's animated counterparts.

Again, I want to thank you all if you've made it here to the end, and I hope to see you next time. We had a lot to talk about here, so maybe we'll try something lighter next time. 

Respectfully yours,

The Scholar


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