Saturday, March 26, 2016

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice Review

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice Review
Well, we have arrived at it at last. The big dukeroo. The main event to end all main events. The two most iconic superheroes ever created are meeting each other for the first time in a live action motion picture. Not only that, but DC is going to take their stab at a shared universe and we are going to see some competition against Marvel in the superhero movie genre. "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice" had so much riding on it, so much potential and so much hype spiraling around it. I am sure no matter what, the monetary profit DC will be taking in within the next few months will be enormous. They really are the two most iconic superheroes ever, this is a big deal. I thought it was a big deal. 

Now, on the other end of the field, I have seen the movie. I'll be honest, I am little deflated and a bit underwhelmed. I don't think its the horrible movie that critics have been clamoring about, but its definitely a wildly uneven movie. I think Warner Brothers rush to get going with their shared universe and compete with Disney may have been their undoing. But even if you push that to the side, "Batman vs. Superman" is still a baffling ordeal. There's a lot to like here, but there is just as much that is flabbergasting and frustrating.

One point of frustration comes from the main characters themselves. Back in 2013, its safe to say I lost my mind for "Man of Steel." That was the movie that got  this ball rolling on the DC shared universe franchise and launched Henry Cavill as Superman. I remember that I was in the minority that year, as many people dismissed "Man of Steel," and calling Cavill's Superman "not heroic." I wholeheartedly disagreed and I have argued with anyone who would argue since then. Zack Snyder may have directed both "Man of Steel" and "Batman vs. Superman," but make no mistake, the latter feels like it was made by someone else. It feels like it was made by a person who either A) does not understand the characters or B) hates the characters. Superman in this movie is more mopey than in "Man of Steel," and in "Batman vs. Superman" its more blatantly obvious. We see several scenes of Superman saving people and doing good things for humanity, but he never inspires the hope and courage he's suppose to. He has a look on his face like saving the planet is somehow annoying or beneath him. If that gets your goat, then wait until you meet Ben Affleck's Batman. Batman is a weird, warped version of The Punisher who both kills his enemies and uses guns. Look, I understand Batman is a flexible character, and Snyder was reaching for more of a Frank Miller version of the character for inspiration. But this is taken the extreme, and its completely out of character. Who do we root for when they go to fight if neither of them are very heroic?

Then there is the circumstance of why Batman and Superman brawl in the first place. "Batman vs. Superman" opens with one of its best moments, Bruce Wayne was in Metropolis the day General Zod (Michael Shannon) unleashed his World Machine to destroy Earth and restore Krypton. The battle that ensued left most of Metropolis in rubble, and one of those buildings destroyed was a regional office of Wayne Enterprises. Bruce Wayne sees first-hand how powerful and dangerous Kryptonians are, and his distrust stems from what he witnesses in Metropolis that day. Most of "Batman vs. Superman" deals in the world reacting to the presence of Superman and there is an incident early in the movie involving Lois Lane (Amy Adams) that only heightens the world opinions of the superhero. Not only did Bruce witness a tragedy in Metropolis, but he has these weird dreams seeing Superman as a threat. The dream sequences in the movie are very weird, and sometimes a little confusing to whether or not they are dreams. 

I was kind of hoping that the movie would be a battle of philosophies that goes from a simmer to a boil over the course of the movie between the two heroes. But sadly its mostly a movie about people wondering if Superman can be trusted or not. There is also a ticking clock ending tacked on to build the tension I feel the movie should have earned. We get two hours of set-up for a eight minute fight. Yes, its true. The fight between these two heroes is over pretty much before it begins. It also ends with one of the stupidest endings a fight could have in a superhero movie. I know Snyder was reaching for an emotional crescendo between the two heroes, but its so laughably bad and it makes zero sense in terms of the movie. Basically, the two heroes become quick friends because the script needed them to, instead of any emotional or character development. Trust me on that eight minute fight too, if you've seen all the trailers and TV spots for the movie, I assure you have seen the entire fight between Batman and Superman. Disappointing, huh?

Oh, and I almost forgot Jesse Eisenberg. But he's pretty easy to forget. I figured Eisenberg might be one of the low points of the movie, and I just received confirmation from the movie. Eisenberg is a horrible, horrible Lex Luthor. He's worse than Gene Hackman and he's worse than Kevin Spacey. It seems the screenwriters didn't even know how to write the character. He's cold and calculating at some points, then he's full of weird ticks and mannerisms in other points. He's a character that feels like it was written by a schizophrenic person. I have personally never been a huge Eisenberg fan, but I did like him in "Zombieland" and "The Social Network." He's capable of good work, but he's totally wrong for Lex Luthor and it shows tremendously. A good Lex Luthor intimidates Superman, even though he's merely a man. The Lex Luthor in this movie is just an odd, whiny creep.

One of the high points of this movie is Wonder Woman. Gal Gadot totally nails it, and the audience I saw the movie with cheered when they saw her. She has a mysterious agenda in the movie, and it was the one point of intrigue I had while watching the movie. Gadot does a good job keeping us interested in her character and as I said, she nails it. There is a moment in the film where Wonder Woman gets punched and goes flying across a landscape. Before she gets up, she smiles gleefully before jumping back into action. Its my favorite character beat in the entire movie. The only thing wrong with Wonder Woman is she could have been edited out entirely. She only serves two purposes in this movie. Giving Batman and Superman help in the big fight with that cave troll-looking thing, and setting up her movie. She's basically a human commercial for her own movie. I half expected her to look at the camera and say "Come back to this cinema for Wonder Woman in July 2017." Because its that obvious that she's just a tease for her movie and nothing else.

That's another problem with the movie as a whole. It suffers from the exact same problems that "Iron Man 2," "Avengers: Age of Ultron," and the "Amazing Spiderman" movies suffered from. There is so much lip service put toward setting up the rest of their DC Extended Universe franchise. No, they are not Easter Eggs. The movie literally stops so we can get all the footnotes needed for "Justice League" in the next few years. Wonder Woman only serves to set up future films. The final discussion between Luthor and Batman that ends the movie is only in the movie because its setting up future films. We get a movie called "Batman vs. Superman" with very little Batman and very little Superman and quick, quick fight because Warner Brothers is ready to unleash their own shared universe. It becomes a problem because this doesn't feel like "Batman vs. Superman," it feels like a massive commercial for everything Warner Brothers has planned for the future. Its also so cryptically explained and analyzed that I wonder why its even in the movie at all. My mother (who isn't a comic reader by any means) said herself that she didn't understand a lot of what happened in the films ending, and that's when these shared universe franchises become a problem. Hollywood isn't making these movies for just comic book fans, they are making them for everyone. The general audience shouldn't have to do homework before going to see these superhero movies, but since last year, it almost feels like a requirement. 

There is also a story thread that feels shoehorned into the ending of  the movie, and all I thought while it played out was "why?" Why is this in the movie? Warner Brothers has already released their big slate of DC superhero films for the next four or five years. We know that what happens in the ending will just get reversed in a year or two. So why blow one of the most compelling DC stories in a few short minutes when most of the audience knows it will just be undone? Its just another pitfall when Hollywood plans first, then makes the movies they want to make.

I know I have been very careful with my wording, because I didn't want to expose too many spoilers yet. I will be back in April and I plan to write my second Further Inspection piece on this movie. I will get more in-depth with my frustrations over the movie and we can talk about the big spoilers regarding the ending and the characters then. For right now, just know that "Batman vs. Superman" wasn't worth the hype of its title. Its a movie that has many good moments, but those moments don't seem to add up. The actors do good work here, but the script never adds up. It feels like a movie that had several hands on it, and that created an unbalanced mess. Its an interesting mess, but its still a mess.

See you in April to really dig into the spoilers.

FINAL GRADE: C

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