Saturday, April 14, 2018

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) (5th Movie Review of 11)

     After the conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s iconic Dark Knight trilogy, I felt it was time for Batman to retire from the movies for a while, but I was also open to the possibilities of new theatrical ventures with the capped crusader. Then with the rise of Marvels cinematic universe, Warner Brothers aimed to launch their own universe themed around the heroes of the DC comics. It wasn’t long before Batman made his return to the big screen in the 2016 movie “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice”. Now while this film can be sited as a launching pad for Batman’s new film series set in the DC cinematic universe, it’s also a sequel to the 2013 movie “Man of Steel”. In many ways it’s also a theatrical teaser trailer for a new “Justice League” movie, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The point is, this is going to be very different from all the other Batman movies, and thus I’ll be reviewing it a little differently. I’ll start by saying that I had no real interest in the new DC cinematic universe, and truthfully, I still haven’t even seen the 2013 movie "Man of Steel". That’s not to say I have any animosity for DC, but we have so many superhero movies as it is, and another cinematic universe just seemed like too much to swallow. Maybe in twenty years, it would have been a great time to launch this franchise, but I personally think it was too soon. However, the first live action Batman crossover with Superman was genuinely tempting, and I just couldn’t pass it up.  

       The movie kicks off on a high note with an opening credit sequence that’s paired with two flashbacks, the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents, and him as a boy discovering the bat cave. While it’s exhausting for us fans to see these same flashbacks on film again, they were undeniably shot and scored beautifully, and I loved that they were intertwined with the opening credits. Seriously, a Batman movie with an opening credit sequence is a special treat I thought I’d never have the privilege of seeing again. Then we get a recap of the climax from “Man of Steel”, in which Superman battled an alien invasion in the city. The difference this time is that it’s shown from the point of view of Bruce Wayne, who’s on the ground and trying to help as many people as he can amidst all the destruction. This scene was outstanding, and honestly, it’s my favorite individual scene in the movie. I loved seeing a massive city invasion from the point of view of the ground people, and it highlighted Bruce Wayne the man as a hero, just charging into danger in an effort to protect and save whoever he finds. We also see that do to Superman’s negligence during this battle, many innocent people were either killed or severely injured, and now Bruce Wayne see’s the man of steel as a threat that needs to be taken care of. At this point, I was viewing "Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice" as a perfect five-star movie. These opening 15 minuets were just gold, and I was very excited to see what was going to happen next. Then the actual plot kicks in … and it’s a slow decline from there.   

      Superman is framed for killing people on the other side of the world, and it leads to political unrest and tension as everyone is debating if Superman is either a hero or a danger to mankind. While Superman’s love interest Lois Lane is hard on the case to prove his innocence, Batman is convinced that Superman is a threat that needs to be destroyed. By contrast, Superman views Batman as a dangerous vigilante that’s doing more harm then good. Enter the villain Lex Luthor, who through the power of unexplained plot conveniences, takes note of the feud building between the two, and stages certain events that would lead to these two titans fighting to the death. If that doesn’t work, he also has a backup plan to create a doomsday monster to kill our hero’s. Beyond that, Lex Luthor’s motivations are left surprisingly vague, as are several plot details in this film. It’s as if a deep political story and intriguing character arcs are all buried under a generic and meandering comic book plot. Seriously, this film is trying to be so many things at once, and just feels so empty and lifeless as a result. The pacing is inconsistent, the story is all over the place and it just feels like a mess. There is thankfully an extended cut of the film called the “Ultimate Edition”, which definitely streamlines this movie in a more coherent manner, but weather or not it can pass as “good” is still up for debate. 

     Let’s first look at Batman, as he was one of the most divisive elements of the film for me. This is arguably the darkest, and most dangerous Batman we’ve ever seen in a movie thus far.  He has no moral code, he kills people without mercy or regret, his methods of fighting are intensely brutal and he even brands his victims, which we later learn is an invitation for other prisoners to kill the guy. In short, this version of Batman isn’t a “hero”, he’s just really messed up. Now I’m all for a different interpretation of Batman, but I feel this approach robs the character of his greatest strengths. Personally, I always saw Batman as a guy so skillful, he could take out a room full of criminals through stealth tactics, and not brut force. Also, seeing Batman use a gun felt very off putting, not just because of the moral implications, but because Batman was always skillful enough to take out his enemies without using something as basic as a fire arm. I also didn’t care for the design of the costume, as it just felt very plain and generic. Having said all that, Ben Affleck surpassed my wildest expectations in the role, not so much as Batman, but his Bruce Wayne was outstanding. It’s hard to describe, but Ben Affleck brought so much wait, grit and even a charm to Bruce Wayne. I actually think this is the very first time I was more engaged by Bruce Wayne’s presence then Batman’s. 

     Jeremy Irons was also extremely charismatic as the butler Alfred. He came off less like a father figure, and more like a close friend stuck in a bad place. Out of respect for his master, he’ll keep all his depression buried under a lair of dry sarcasm. Both Alfred and Bruce actually share some witty banter, which I really loved. Unfortunately, a big issue I had with Batman in this film was just how inconsistent his present-day story is. The people of Gotham seem to view him as this terrifying and mysterious figure, and the press don’t even refer to him as “Batman”, he’s just “the bat vigilante of Gotham”. This gave me the impression that Batman was in his early years of crime fighting, but upon further viewing we discover that this is a war-torn Batman who’s been at it for at least 20 years. There’s even a beaten-up Robin costume in the bat cave covered in Joker graffiti, which means he’s even had a lengthy time with a side kick already. So, why then is the public treating him like something new? There’s even more inconsistencies to this characters set up, which is especially noticeable in his introduction scene. A swat team walk in on Batman doing his work and immediately open fire on the guy. This suggests that he’s not yet allied with the police force, yet for some reason the city already has a Bat signal that’s used to contact him … so what the heck? The writers really just needed to sit down and decide if this was a Batman origin story or an aged Batman returning story.  

    Now let’s put Batman aside for a moment and look at Superman. In general, I’ve truthfully never been a fan of Superman, but that isn’t to say I don’t respect his status as a cultural icon. He’s rightfully earned his reputation as arguably the most iconic superhero of all time, but he’s just never given me anything that I’ve been able to build a fan base around. For my personal tastes, his movies, even when at their best have never surpassed “okay”. I did like the 90’s animated Superman TV series, but even that’s never really stuck with me over the years as a personal favorite. More to the point, even for a non-Superman fan, something felt very off-putting about this portrayal of the character. Henry Cavill seems like a good choice to play Superman, but the performance, or perhaps I should say direction, just feels like another Batman that’s dressed up in Superman’s costume. Seriously, there is nothing optimistic about this guy at all, and he spends the majority of the film just brooding his way from one scene to the next. I don’t even know what Superman’s goal is in this film, he’s just there, while other characters debate and discuss him. I actually felt that Lois Lane was playing a more active part, as she was at least trying to accomplish something. Also, I have to give credit to Amy Adams for giving a consistently engaging performance, even though her character wasn’t written as anyone particularly interesting.   

    Another big issue with this film was a noticeable lack of villains. In fact, this might just be the very first Batman movie to feature no villains from his Rouges gallery. All we have is this movies really odd portrayal of Lex Luthor, and his vague motivations. I’ll give Jesse Eisenberg some credit, he’s at least committed to the role, he’s trying to make this something unique and maybe even menacing in his own way, but the result was far more annoying then intimidating. I will say that the supporting players are all good, we have some “Walking Dead” alumni in select parts, as well as recognizable Matrix cast members, including Laurence Fishburne, and he always delivers. Speaking of smaller game players, the most annoying aspect of the film is when it teases to the Justice League. It’s all blatant set-up for another film, it has nothing to do with the story, and seeing all the big hero’s like Aqueman, Cyborg and the Flash introduced through an electronic email presentation was just embracing. Now having said all that, the introduction of Wonder Woman played by Gal Gadot was absolutely my favorite part of the whole movie. Granted she isn’t even in the film for very long, nor is she written into the film very well, but still she absolutely thrilled me whenever she was on screen. Gal Gadot shined in the role, she had terrific chemistry with Bruce Wayne, and it was just plain awesome to see Wonder Woman fighting for the first time in a live action movie. Also, her theme song was freaking amazing! It’s actually kind of ironic that neither Batman nor Superman have any stand out music tracks in this movie, yet Wonder Woman has a score that left me exhilarated. 

    Let’s talk about director Zack Snyder and his vision for this film. This is a guy who’s resume consists of directing movies adapted from graphic novels like “300” and “Watchman”, as well as other comics translated into the early DC cinematic movies. Needless to say, he has a distinct style and approach to visually bringing comic books to life on screen. In the case of “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice”, it probably has some of the most absorbing comic book imagery of any theatrical Batman movie. Unfortunately, I didn’t like the color scheme at all, as it was dark in the most boring and joyless way. There’s a real emphasis on dirty grays, ugly greens and it's just very unpleasant to look at. I should also note that Snyder has an eye for recreating classic stills from the comics and graphic novels. In the case of this film he visually recreates several iconic images from "The Dark Knight Returns". This is theoretically an inspiring direction for the film, but unlike the aforementioned “Watchman”, “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice” is only based on the comics and not a direct adaption the novel “The Dark Knight Returns”. Because of this, some of the recreated imagery are only there for fan serves and have no real barring on the story.

    Truthfully, I think Snyder got so excited to visually recreate his favorite comic book moments that he forgot to give them any meaning or purpose. For example, this movie recreates the famous dream sequence in which Bruce Wayne is attacked by a giant bat monster, but it’s done without any of the build-up or subtext that was conveyed so effectively in the graphic novel. Also, Snyder’s visual style doesn’t always match with the films tone, which is trying to feel down to earth like Christopher Nolan’s previous Dark Knight trilogy. That’s not to say a film of this sort can’t do both, but there’s really no segue between the two styles. At one moment we’ll be seeing deep real-world debates, immediately followed by these really bizarre and overly stylized dream sequences, some of which are real dreams and others are supposedly happening. Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve wanted to see artsy dream sequences in a live action Batman movie for years, but they just weren’t handled that well, and most of them just felt like teaser trailers for potential movies like “The Flashpoint Paradox”.   

     Another thing this film could have benefited from was more of a balance between the action sequences and everything else. Seriously, the first two hours of this movie just meander on and on with very little excitement, and then the last hour is like a four-part climax in which all the spectacle is back to back and it just feels exhausting. If the filmmakers somehow organized the scenes around a little, I think we would have had a more engaging film. Now despite my criticisms of Batman’s violent nature, I’d also be lying if id didn’t find his action scenes to be deeply thrilling to watch. There’s a riveting car chase with the new Batmobile on the dry docks, and it’s unmistakably a feast for these eyes, with machine guns, and epic crashes. Both the new Batmobile and the new Batwing admittedly look more like robotic weapons from the future setting of the “Terminator” movies, but I’ll take them. Oh yes, let’s talk about that unforgettable warehouse battle. Again, just putting aside the ethics of the character, this has got to be one of Batman’s greatest stand out action set pieces of the whole franchise. It’s relentlessly fast paced, with brutal hand to hand combat and Batman pulling off incredible stunts. My only problem once again is that it’s sandwiched in-between all the other action mayhem of the third act, and I wish it could have stood apart during all the talky scenes of earlier.

      Lets finally talk about the big showdown between Batman and Superman, which was marked as the big action highlight of the film. Unmistakably, a lot of us fans have been waiting to see this battle dune in live action and on the big screen for years. This was it, the classic showdown between two of the biggest titans in comic book history, but personally … I was very disappointed with the outcome. First of all, for a movie that’s literally titled “Batman Versus Superman”, this should have been the films big finale, but for some reason it’s only part one of this obnoxiously long 4-part climax. Even on its own it still doesn’t work as either an exciting spectacle or as an emotionally driven fight between two hero’s. Everything about this battle just felt so empty, lifeless, and surprisingly dull. It’s set in this ugly abandoned building, and their methods of fighting don’t even come close to complementing their individual strengths. Most of the fight is spent with Superman blindly walking into mechanical traps, and then Batman just tosses him around like a rag doll. Superman also has numerous opportunities to explain the situation to Batman, but he just keeps on fighting.

     Then there’s the whole realization that both heroes have mothers with the same name, which snaps them out of their fight. Obviously, this was supposed to be the moment for Batman to realize the humanity of Superman, but it just isn’t handled very well. First of all, if Superman’s mother was named Lucy or any other name, Batman would have proceeded to kill him on the spot. Second and most important of all is that they don’t stop fighting because they learned anything about each other or that they were wrong about one another, it was just a big, on the noise coincidence, and now suddenly their both best friends. Now things do get good again once they both calm down and work together. Realizing he has to contend with two superheroes now, Lex Luthor moves on to his second phase, which is unleashes a giant cave troll monster on the city. Both Batman and Superman are soon aided by Wonder Woman, who all lead the beast to the abandoned Wearhouse district to make a final stand. I’ll admit, seeing Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman on screen together for the very first time, and fighting in this big epic showdown is any comic book fans dream come true. Granted, this fight has nothing to do with anything that came before hand, and the monster is also kind of stupid looking, but I’m not going to pretend like I didn’t have a blast watching this battle go down. I loved seeing Wonder Woman use her lasso, and it was really cool to see Superman punch the creature into outer space. The only thing I didn’t like was Superman’s supposed death, which was annoying because even without the knowledge of the upcoming “Justice League” film, I knew he wasn’t really dead for good.  

     Upon its release, this film was absolutely slammed by critics, while the fans just seem to view it as “okay”. That’s mostly how I feel about the film, but it’s also very sad to think that the first live action crossover between Batman and Superman couldn’t surpass “okay”. Honestly, it felt like at least nine different movie scripts were all thrown together into one film, and that’s my biggest issue with the movie. For as stupid as 1997’s “Batman and Robin” got, it was at least consistent with its own identity. “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice” has no identity of it’s own and is just an obvious, desperate attempt from Warner Brothers to ketchup with Marvels cinematic universe. It crammed multiple film projects into one, without taking the time to make this a good movie on its own first. Now as a long time Batman fan, I’ve still yet to see a theatrical movie that I legitimately hatted, and for all its obvious problems, I certainly didn’t hate “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice”. It’s probably my least favorite of the Batman movies, but I wouldn’t call it a waste of time, as it certainly had some highlights and powerhouse moments. I realize my feelings for this film have been all over the place, but that’s what the film is like in a nut-shell. Maybe now that the DC Cinematic universe has its foot in the door, it can calm down and make better stand-alone films. I’m actually kind of interested to see where this new Batman series will go next, and I’m especially excited to see Ben Affleck resume his title role as the current Dark Knight.

I give “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice” 2 stars out of 5. Now that I've talked about one of the more recent movies, lets go way back to what it technically the very first film in the franchise, "Batman: The Movie" is next. 

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