Friday, March 25, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

In a League of Their Own
World's Finest? ("Hrrrrn.")

If Zack Snyder was actually using the comics (pre-Frank Miller*) that Batman and Superman appeared in as inspiration, he might have named the movie "World's Finest" (which was the title of the publication that featured pairings of Batman and Superman). Instead, it has a title that might better fit a WWE match (with a promised sequel after the semi-colon). That's stuffing a lot into a movie title. As it is, the title is a bit mis-leading. Dawn of Justice? Maybe. 

Batman v Superman? That's just a distraction, really. Marquee value. There could have been another title, which is what the movie is really all about (and no, it's not Marvel's over-used "When Titans Clash").

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice does cram a lot of story into its 2 hours and 30 minute running time (there is no Marvel-like preview for another installment, so there’s no need to sit through the credits) , but it manages to do it with efficiency and without neglecting its large cast of characters (which includes nearly everybody from Man of Steel, plus Jesse Eisenberg’s schizzy Lex Luthor Jr. (at least they’re not trotting out a Gene Hackman variation) and his minions, adding Batman characters—actually just Bruce Wayne and Alfred—and tossing in a couple other heroes from the DC Universe as brief cameos) and still giving everybody a chance to shine. The secret is that this one tells a story quite apart from what one is expecting and expanding the Man of Steel universe to tell a story of what being a hero means in the larger scheme of things. It is easily the best movie Zack Snyder has ever made.
But, how is it? As the final credits were starting to dwindle to music credits and the “Thanks to…” a couple of the die-hards in the audience had a quiet post-mortem: “So, what’d you think?” “I don’t know, man, I’ve never had more respect for Superman.” I wanted to turn to them and say “You KNOW Superman isn’t real, don’t you?”

But, that would have spoiled it.
There seems to be a lot of spoilage to
BvS:DOJ. The reviews have been harsh, very harsh (Needlessly so, in my estimation—I liked it a lot, certainly more than Man of Steel, certainly more than the latest Star Wars, and certainly more than SPECTRE and the last Avengers film) and seem to be focusing on the needs of the reviewers rather than the movie itself. It might be tough to review this one without SOME prejudice. In many ways, it feels like not only a sequel to Man of Steel, but also to its own previews, which spoils an awful lot of surprises** and which have generated hours of parsing analysis most of which has been wrong or at least premature. In this instance, whetting fandom’s appetites and doing damage-control for nervous-nelly-nerds worked against the movie proper. It seems to have generated a backlash to dump on the movie before any word-of-mouth can be generated (“no WAY are we going to let another ‘review-proof’ movie get by us!”). As usual with rushes to judgment, the consensus is wrong, but it IS interesting to note what the reviewers find necessary to focus on.
European reviewers (who saw it first) dumped on it as an apologia for collateral damage caused by unlimited power (Gosh, who COULD they be talking about?), a female reviewer had only nice things to say about
Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman (legitimately, the character and Gadot’s playing of her are a highlight) but had nothing good to say about the men (who all had their female support systems). One gets the impression that people are not reviewing the movie, but their expectations for it—never a good (nor professional) thing to do. Certainly that’s the case with the smattering of reader comments I’ve managed to scan—they read like they see blood in the water and are enjoying a “rip-fest.” At some point, I found the arguments ridiculous and gave up. Someone can point out to me that “RottenTomatoes” (that bastion of reliable taste) gives it a 30% rating, but I can point out that the horror crap-fest The Visitor (1979) has a 100% rating. And Donald Trump is winning the Republican nomination for President.  So much for “the wisdom of the tribe.” Consider this, then, my backlash to the backlash.
So, I’ll stand alone in saying that I thought BvS:DOJ did a fine job of telling its story (with the notable exception of a really messed-up Batmobile sequence that starts well, but gets ham-strung by some clumsy direction/editing in its mid-section), a story—an amalgamation, really—by David Goyer and Chris Terrio, owing a lot to comics writers Frank Miller and Dan Jurgens (both of whom also felt the need to bring in other DC heroes to buttress their stories). Yeah, this one isn’t a “Batman” movie or a “Superman” movie, per se, it’s a chapter in a larger tale in which both of them appear, sort of what the up-coming Captain America: Civil War promises to be (rather than the inconsequential blip that Age of Ultron was), but uses the two familiar heroes as entrée to an expansion of scope in which some sacrifice has to be made to allow some of the other heroes to shine.
Performances are good throughout. With the aforementioned Gadot's commanding performance, any needless worry about "Bat-ffleck" can also be dispelled, as he's great as an older Bruce Wayne, obsessed, passionate, and with none of the angsty world-weariness that Christian Bale brought to his Batman. Not sure why folks are coming down hard on Henry Cavill’s Superman, as he does a fine job (and I'm not a big fan of him as an actor) with a character beset by guilt over the consequences of his actions and the collateral damage that comes even when he’s doing the right thing (all the griping, mine included, about the devastation wreaked in MofS, provides the main motivation for Batman coming back on the scene, seeing Superman as just another “freak dressed like a clown,” but with enough potential to level cities—or attract things that can). Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Larry Fishburne make their moments count—even that guy I can't mention because it would ruin the surprise. And Jeremy Irons' Alfred knows how to make the humor dry without making it a caricature. Holly Hunter is always good to see and she plays a rather feisty U.S. Senator, who plays a lot of scenes with Eisenberg's Luthor and does a nice job of interrupting his brain-flow (which nobody else in the cast seems capable of).
Now, I can discuss finer points—Does Ben look stupid in the Bat-suit? (no); Are the fights good? (yup, in fact the Batman fights are the best they've been, but are REALLY scary off-camera)...
Does Doomsday suck? (no, in fact, I was surprised at how effective he/it was); Is Wonder Woman hot? (based on Gadot's performance, such a remark would produce a withering look that would drop you to your knees...and then she would smile). It's solid stuff and will take you places you didn't think the producers (or Warner Brothers) would dare go, and that's saying something...a lot, actually, considering the usual timidity all the studios usually show for already-established comic book franchises. 
So, if the reviews are stopping you from going, you're making a mistake. Reviews never have and never will make a movie good. It's all up there on the screen to be beheld. See for yourself. You decide.

* Frank Miller is an interesting cat. His comics work is truly revolutionary—at least it used to be—but when he transitioned to film, his work scrapes the bottom of the barrel. Robocop2, 3, the Sin City films (and do we even dare mention The Spirit and close the argument?) are all pretty crappy. Miller is better as inspiration than artist because at least there's room for improvement.

** No surprises. BVS:DOJ may have been undone by its "See? you'll really like it!" slew of previews.  I had the same reaction when Spider-man showed up in Captain America: Civil War after Iron Man says "Underoo's?" In the theater seeing the movie for the first time that line would have delighted and surprised me. When I DO see it, I'll be expecting it and grousing that it's not very respectful to Marvel's most iconic character.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sticking up for this. I liked it. Thought it was bold and took chances.