Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Further Inspection- "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice"


Further Inspection is a new column on my blog. Every few weeks, I will pick a new movie and create a spoiler-filled write up for it. Initially, when I write my reviews, I never want to spoil movies in order for my audience to see them. This will allow for a spoiler-filled conversation, because sometimes, movies require the audiences to really indulge in the text in order to understand them. I AM GOING TO USE THIS COLUMN TO REALLY DISCUSS SPOILERS, SO UNDERSTAND YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

I was out of town yesterday, and when I was at O'Hare airport getting ready to board my plane, I read a story about how "Batman vs. Superman" revenue dropped 81% from its opening weekend. As I read this news, I wasn't at all surprised. There is no way the critics were that far off of just how affectingly weird "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice" was. The only ones who are truly apologetic about this movie are the super, hardcore, die-hard DC fans. I am not a staunch DC fan, nor am I a staunch Marvel fan either. I don't believe you have to be one or the other. I just like most superheroes, and I don't care which comic book company they call home. I want all of these movies to be awesome, so it especially pains me when one of them isn't awesome. Especially, one that features the two most popular and iconic superheroes ever created.

Its time to really get into the meat and potatoes of this thing, I really need to discuss why this one doesn't work on a huge host of levels. I need to understand how hazardously distasteful this was and how DC and Zack Snyder landed so disastrously off-course. As I said, in my initial review, things start off pretty well. There is a quick flashback to the night Bruce witnessed his parents murdered and after watching the "Walking Dead" finale last night, I smiled reflecting that Bruce's parents were played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Lauren Cohen. Its so funny to me that Maggie Greene and Negan would end up being Bruce's parents. But telling from Batman's behavior later on in the film, I guess it makes sense that Negan would be his father. There is also a quick flashback to when Bruce ran away and he fell into a hole, full of bats. Then we are skip right back to the day Superman and General Zod fought in the middle of Metropolis. The building Zod uses his heat vision for the first time? A regional office for Wayne Enterprises. We see Wayne Enterprises employee Wallace Keefe (Scoot McNairy) loose his legs, a little girl parentless and other horrid destruction. I thought this movie was off and running from this point, and that Bruce would see just how powerful Superman is. It was a great way to open the film...or so I thought.

What was surprising was the incident in Metropolis wasn't the thing that really got Superman on Batman's radar. No, it was when Lois Lane traveled to Africa to interview a terrorist. Lois Lane and her co-worker Jimmy Olsen. But you see, Jimmy Olsen doesn't work for the Daily Planet, he's a CIA agent. But we never get too far into that storyline, because he gets shot in the head right after meeting him. A Russian named Anatoli Knyazev (a name you might recongize if you are a hardcore DC fan), kills all the terrorist's subordinates. Right when Lois' life in on the line, Superman shows up and saves her. This entire film hinges on this scene. It brings Batman closer than ever to Superman. It also sets Batman and Superman closer to Lex Luthor. Luthor after this incident tries to get Senator Finch's (Holly Hunter) approval to dig Kryptonite out of the Indian Ocean. A substance that resulted from Zod's terraforming technology in "Man of Steel." In short, people start looking at Superman in a much different light because they believe that Superman killed all those people in Africa. Superman never uses a gun ever in the entire movie, nor does he in this movie. There is never any evidence in the film that supports he uses guns. Plus there are already so many people in the world that know what Superman is capable of. So why does the whole world seem to believe that Superman just decided to fly to Africa with some guns to mow down a bunch of bad guys?

It becomes clear that the Africa incident was masterminded by Lex Luthor. I stated in my initial review that I detested Jesse Eisenberg in this movie. I totally blame Eisenberg for not really created a soul for the character, but had another actor been cast, I am not sure it would have helped. This is worst written Lex Luthor I have ever seen. Worse than Gene Hackman. Worse than Kevin Spacey. He's ticks and mannerisms more than personality and character. Those ticks and mannerisms seem to change with the wind. So much of the first few hours is spent on Lex Luthor trying to get governmental approval to use Krpytonite and making Superman look bad (yes, it takes two cataclysmic events to finally get public opinion against Superman, the second being the bombing of a public hearing with Superman that kills Senator Finch) that one wonders why it was called "Batman vs. Superman" in the first place. If people were so upset by the Christopher Nolan Batman movies for featuring so little Batman, I really wonder what people thought of seeing so little of both Batman and Superman in a movie called "Batman vs. Superman."

Let's talk about Batman for a moment. Do I think Ben Affleck did a bad job playing him? No. I think with everything he had, Affleck tried to do the best job he could. Its just the Batman he given to play is incredibly weird. First of all, Batman was more dreams and hallucinations that its hard to keep track of what is real. The strange scene with the guards in Superman body armor and Batman wearing a trench-coat is a dream. After it, a guy in red shows up to deliver some information to Batman and warn him of an impending doom. This guy in red is our first look at The Flash, but there is nothing given in the movie to support this. You have to know who The Flash is just to really understand the scene (more on that in just a moment). These visions, coupled with the Africa incident shows Bruce that Superman is a threat. Now, lets talk about how Batman operates in this movie. First, I can't stand that he isn't The World's Greatest Detective in this movie. In fact, what bothered me the most was that Alfred Pennyworth (Jeremy Irons) did most of the investigating for Bruce. He is the background controls, he is speaking into Bruce's ear when he goes out. Bruce is never seen doing any type of investigative work on his own, and as a Batman fan, its crippling to watch. I want at least one Batman movie before I die in which Batman does some true investigative work. Second, he's a killer who uses guns. And no, its not just in the nightmare he has. There is a scene near the end of the movie, where he's in his airplane and mows down countless bad guys with bullets. "Oh, but Batman killed and used guns in the comics." Okay, yes. But the thing is, it was rare. Batman in the comics only used a gun when he felt he had no other choice. He used them in the comics when he felt there was no other option. Killing and especially guns were a last resort for Batman in the comics. He hated guns because it was a gun that took his family away from him. So when we see him blow bad guys away left and right and when we see him brand people to be targeted and killed in prison. That seems wildly out of character to me. 

The movie gets inconsistent when Superman has a vision too. There is a scene where Superman is at his Fortress of Solitude (which may or may not be his popular Fortress, so little is discussed in the movie that it could have been anywhere cold.) of his father. Kevin Costner shows up to deliver the grand metaphor to Superman in a silly, pointless, mind-numbingly bad scene. What the hell is going on here? Why is Superman all of a sudden having visions of his father? Why did they decide to have both of their heroes hallucinate just to move  the story forward? Did they not think it would be weird or inconsistent for Batman to have several visions in the movie, then suddenly for Superman to have one? I guess Snyder and the WB didn't care, and its the most pointless scene in the entire movie. A scene that could have been deleted scene fodder for the DVD extras. I couldn't help but notice that Superman never has an encouraging or inspiring moment in the entire movie and that feels weird to me. Captain America has had more Superman in his personality in four movies than Superman has had in two and that rings wrong to me. Then when Lex Luthor bombs the Senate hearing, Superman is just going to fly off and mope? No. That's dumb.

Now, you guys know I liked Wonder Woman and Gal Gadot in this movie. I think Gadot will nail her solo Wonder Woman movie. But in "Batman vs. Superman," she's just an advertisement for her movie. The movie stops cold in order for Wonder Woman to investigate a photo that Lex Luthor has in his records. All that photo does is tell the audience to come see Wonder Woman next year. It is a mere advertisement for a movie that has barely begun production. But why should we care about her solo movie? What is in this movie that will make me want to come back next year? What is it about Wonder Woman that makes her cool and interesting? Those questions aren't answered. She can fight well, but that's about it. So why should we care?

In speaking of Lex Luthor's files, lets talk about what Batman and Wonder Woman find in Luthor's files. Because again, the movie stops cold to show us what's coming. Lex Luthor has been studying other metahumans for countless years. He has created files on Aquaman, Cyborg, and The Flash. He has even gone ahead and created each of  the heroes logos for them (yes really, Lex Luthor created the logos for each of the superheroes!). We see three quick videos of Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash, and they are all meaningless. Who are these guys? Why should we care about them? But mainly, who are they? The answer never comes. The man we see in The Flash footage is the same guy in red who came to warn Bruce, but that connection is never made for the audience. There is so much knowledge that people need to have before they come to see this movie that its kind of unbelievable. It reminds me of when David Lynch adapted the science fiction novel "Dune." So much was left unsaid and so much wasn't explained that movie theaters gave attendees glossary cards before entering the theater. The same should have been done for this movie. So Warner Brothers really expects 300 million Americans to read 40+ years worth of comics just so they know whats going on in one movie? Do they really think that this was going to work? Also at the end of the film, Lex Luthor yells "He's Coming" to Batman from his jail cell. But again, who is coming and why should we care? General audiences aren't going to get the Darkseid references and since Darkseid isn't a character in this movie, there is nothing for the audience to hold onto. Who is Darkseid and why does he matter? It was clear to me that Warner Brothers put so much hype and hoopla around this movie, when all they did was make a movie for the hardcore DC fans. Fuck everybody else. Good job WB, you have alienated a good portion of your audience.

"But Marvel did the same thing." Well, its a problem with Marvel too. My big gripe with "Avengers: Age of Ultron" last year was that so much time in "Age of Ultron" was given to set up "Thor 3" and "Captain America 3" and "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Black Panther" that I sat back and wondered "OK, but what about Ultron?" And honestly, I don't want to get into the big mess that was "The Amazing Spiderman" franchise. I figured and hoped that Zack Snyder would look at what didn't work with shared universe franchises and capitalize on that. But all he did was take the worst parts of those two Marvel properties and made them even worse. There is so much introduced in "Batman vs. Superman" that is so poorly explained. Even as somebody who knows DC, I really don't know what a lot of what happens in this movie means, or why the audience should care about it. There is way too much prior knowledge needed for this movie, and even all of it wouldn't help in discovering how this movie makes any sense.

But alas, after two hours of no Batman, no Superman and meaningless set-up, Batman and Superman eventually fight. Not because of conflicting philosophies. Not because of build-up. Not because of anything in this movie. But because Lex Luthor asks Superman to kill Batman. Yep, its that simple. Lex Luthor has kidnapped Superman's mom Martha. So Superman goes and tries to reason with Batman, even though earlier in the movie Superman said he'd kill Batman if he didn't stop being a vigilante, but its no use and Batman and Superman fight. For eight minutes. Then when Batman is about to kill Superman with a Kryptonite spear he created, Superman says "save Martha." Batman hesitates, and then stops. You know why? Because Batman's mom was also named Martha! Batman's mom and Superman's mom have the same name! So Superman must be a good guy right?

It's that begrudgingly hilarious. 

Batman and Superman become best friends on the fly because their moms had the same name.

My eyes literally rolled so hard that they were sore after that moment.

But Lex Luthor has a back-up plan. Using his DNA and Zod's DNA, he creates a cave troll from "Lord of the Rings." At least it looks like a cave troll from "Lord of the Rings." He decides to name it Doomsday. Then in the middle of an abandoned street of abandoned buildings (and the movie hits us over the head to let us know that the block is completely missing all signs of people), Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman fight Doomsday. When this happened, I felt a bad feeling creep into my brain. I was hoping it wasn't going to happen. But then it did. Superman takes the spear made of Kryptonite and sacrifices himself to kill Doomsday. Yes, Superman dies in this movie.

I really wondered why this happened. Warner Brothers has already spent the last year hyping up their shared universe. We already know that we have a two-part Justice League movie coming. So why kill Superman at all? We already know he isn't going to stay dead, so why even go there. In fact, the movie goes out of its way right before the credits roll to let us know that Superman isn't dead. So again, I ask, why the hell is this even in the movie. "The Death of Superman" would have been a very compelling movie to make, but it gets shoehorned into the last half-hour of "Batman vs. Superman." Why? 

"Well, Marvel kills people then they come back to life." Nope. Not entirely. First of all, Loki didn't die in "Thor," he fell. You might as well tattoo sucker to your forehead if you believed he died. If there is no body, there is no death. After "The Avengers" in 2012, we had no idea that ABC would make a TV show called "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." so we had no idea that Coulson would come back to life. And honestly, with "Captain America: Winter Solider," they didn't tease Fury's death just to leave it as an unneeded cliffhanger for another movie down the line. Fury's death was handled within the same movie, and it was thematically sound. In "Batman vs. Superman," its completely unneeded and they squandered what could have been a cool movie down the road.

And with ending the movie just as Superman is about to burst out of his casket, this feels like a non-ending. It feels like somebody just put the story on pause, and we'll see what happens in a few years.

I also loved how Lois Lane just magically knows where Batman and Superman will be fighting. Because she was never told. So she goes there and she magically knows that the Kryptonite spear is some kind of powerful weapon. I love how she throws it into the water for literally no reason at all. Then, when Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman are fighting Doomsday, it somehow dawns on Lois that the Kryptonite spear will kill Doomsday, so she jumps in the water to retrieve it. How does Lois Lane know all of this stuff? Its never mentioned.

The audience has to have so much prior knowledge and given so little information in this movie that "Batman vs. Superman" turns into one huge mess. The more I have thought about it, the more I can't really stand it. If you've somehow avoided this movie until now, do yourself a favor and keep it that way.

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