Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice Reviewed

Growing up with Superman as our iconic movie hero was an awesome thing. He had charisma, confidence, was straight laced enough to be taken seriously but good humored enough to be funny without begging for laughs. When Superman Returns was released, it was clear the film makers were trying to recapture some of that magic, but those wacky nuances of 70's/80's film are a product of their time and reproducing them in modern times, when completely serious about their impact, is a recipe for disaster. The result was not terrible, but fans could agree it was...odd. As if in answer to that riddle came Man of Steel. If the zany adventures of everyone around the original Superman were a product of the era, then Man of Steel should introduce a Superman who is at once an awe inspiring powerhouse and raw, emotional being struggling with his own morals and just looking for acceptance. It took me more than a couple of viewings to come to an understanding with Man of Steel, and while I've developed an appreciation for the first half of the film and the frail humanity of the character, the Superman I'd come to appreciate through comics and cartoons lived in a sunnier world. The symbol of hope on his chest rang true in Clark Kent's eternally positive disposition, even as comical counterpoint to Lois Lane's sarcastic view of...well...everything. In the face of adversity, Superman would find a way to protect humanity and prevail...and be damn near polite about the whole ordeal. It's a happy world, albeit constantly under siege from alien invaders, mad scientists and your occasional powered up baddie feeling brave enough to step up to an insanely powerful force for good.

This stood in counterpoint to the world of Batman, where even a trash can will cast a shadow so dark it seems demons could crawl out at any moment. The hero of that world is as troubled as some of his villains. He's a broken man who holds himself together with an unrelenting drive to see justice done, reminded of his humanity by those who take up his cause and rally around him. When you change the tone of these worlds, the entire narrative shifts as well. Change Lois, and she changes Superman. In Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, nearly everything is changed, and if you can't accept that up front, you are in for a hard time.

At the core of any good Batman/Superman story is the disparity between the humanity of Clark and Bruce. Yes, Superman is a god-like alien, but it is those powers that force him to temper everything he does...every movement he makes...with great forethought and a gentle approach. This is a man who could laugh at a joke you told, clap you on the back to show his appreciation and break you in two. Bruce...is human, and no amount of gadgetry, armor or cunning will change that, so he must be faster, stronger and smarter than any adversary or be stopped by a single bullet through his eye hole. Worse, all of that training and gear means nothing when standing before a being who can shake the ground with a well placed footfall. This is the position Bruce Wayne finds himself in while visiting Metropolis on a clear sunny day when a giant machine threatened to crack the city in two and a battle of titans reduced giant structures of glass and metal to rubble. This is the astronomical carnage we are presented with as we re-experience the closing battle of Man of Steel, now at street level. The world is literally coming down around you and the one man who could stop a falling building from ending your life in a second...has his hands full. The scene is nothing short of amazing. It's literally like watching a disaster movie where the disaster is the collateral damage left over as super humans fight, ironically, to save us. For some, this scene will be worth the price of admission alone. ....for some.

The film rolls on with a cacophony of sound coupled with odd, caterwauling music playing against a flurry of scenes that creep ever so slowly toward inescapable conclusions we knew about from watching trailers and glancing at the newest LEGO sets. This is one film that would have been greatly improved if we didn't already know who the villain was ...before or during our viewing. Point of fact, the film makes it so painfully obvious that the villain is the horrifically awkward, twitchy megalomaniac genius that any attempt to take us along for an unraveling of the mystery is just cause for our brains to incessantly scream YES...WE GOT IT...IT'S THAT GUY...MOVE ALONG PLEASE!! Sure, we don't know exactly what crazy guy is going to do (unless you've watched any trailer), but we don't know how he'll do it..and that..could be..fun? In truth, the "tech" of the plot is visually appealing, but a large part of it is enjoying the villain, and the film makers seem to have gone to great pains to make him largely unlikable...so it's going to come down to how much of this guy you can handle.

Happily I will announce that if you've shown up just to watch Superman and Batman beat down on each other like there's been a Yo Momma contest gone horribly awry, this is the place for you. The premise which pits the two heroes against each other is actually clever, though a bit ham-fisted in design and execution, but it at least makes things a bit less 2 dimensional. Like a prolonged round of the Mortal Kombat vs DC Comics video game, our favorite comic characters put each other through walls, floors and ceilings and spend equal time grinding the other's head into concrete slabs. This is less a relentless battle of powered heavyweights and more a methodical measuring of blows, which, while logical for a human going up against a near invincible alien being, still comes off a bit plodding. The visuals more than make up for it. (and the DREAM SEQUENCE!!!)

Beyond those visuals, there's not much else going on. Batman is a grimacing, anger fueled caricature of himself. If Superman can kill in this world, then Batman is unflinching as his finger hits the trigger. Even in battle, we can't fully enjoy the nuances and movements of a man who has studied every martial art around the world as well as escape, misdirection and military strategy. Batman looks more like a black blob as he moves through groups of opponents who hit the blob and are then sent flying. He's less a mysterious, ninja-like force inflicting pain on ne'er-do-wells and more a relentless juggernaut of death and destruction. Even if Batman allows you to escape death into the hands of authorities, he may have assured you a sticky end further down the line. Just thinking about it makes my head hurt. Superman's only character trait seems to be wearing his heart on his sleeve, eternally coming to the rescue of Lois Lane. While the film goes to great lengths to show that Lois is a capable, fairly fearless being in her own right, she still manages to need saving regularly, and with such frequency that the tender look they assign to Superman after he assures she is safe begins to come off like a boy patting the head of a rambunctious puppy who gets into mischief. Point of fact, only Alfred and Perry White are allowed to have any sort of personality and, to be sure, allowed the only delivery of humor in this mostly laugh free film. Those looking for added dimension from Wonder Woman will have to wait til she appears in her own movie. She's not even given a proper introduction here. Two scenes showing off the flawless Gal Gadot in jaw dropping dresses followed by a plunge directly into battle is no way to introduce the most iconic female super hero in the world. The reveal of other heroes is present, and impactful, and fleeting. It's at once extremely satisfying and frustrating. The wait for their next on screen appearance will be agonizing.

Batman vs Superman is a LOUD, bleak, teeth chipping, chaos fueled spectacle jam packed with super hero violence, city wide destruction and a body count I couldn't even hope to calculate. At this rate, the world in which the Justice League resides may not be able to survive their heroic deeds! The film strives to give comic fans the moments we love torn directly from the panels, but it's a mishmash of elements jammed together and held there with scotch tape. Batman vs Superman feels like the guy at a concert who is dressed like a fan of the music and clearly knows all the words to all the songs but he is only mouthing those words...never singing out loud and clearly not celebrating the experience. This is not a terrible movie, but it certainly isn't one that has learned lessons from the mega successful Marvel franchises. This film is all calamity and no heart. To those suggesting this is the best Batman on screen to date, i'm forced to question what Batman you were brought up with, or are reading currently. Batman vs Superman certainly has plenty to OO and AHH at, but at the end of the day, it's lacking in fun.


  1. " In the face of adversity, Superman would find a way to protect humanity and prevail...and be damn near polite about the whole ordeal."
    he did prevail in man of steel, you weren't paying attention.

    "city wide destruction and a body count I couldn't even hope to calculate." lies

    "Batman vs Superman feels like the guy at a concert who is dressed like a fan of the music and clearly knows all the words to all the songs but he is only mouthing those words...never singing out loud and clearly not celebrating the experience. " ironically, i bet you're that guy... what do you know of the comics?

    1. 1. I didn't say he didn't.
      2. Nope
      3. Lots! Wana quiz me?

    2. Could you expound on "lacks fun."

    3. I'll do my best. Let's look at Superman vs The Elite. It had lots of levels. Excellent introduction to the characters who start out looking like heroes, make it clear they take no prisoners and quickly become the enemy. There's a progression of tone that sucks you in well and takes you along for the ride. Superman is very "on character" from his classic depictions and the resolution of the film is so startling, you are forced to laugh out loud from the creativity used and the sheer insanity of the events. It's fun. It's funny and thrilling and engaging surprising and true to the source material, all while being amazingly dark at times. It proves you can have the ultra violence along with the fun..and even the ultra violence can be fun. It just has to be written exceptionally well. This movie is just dark and nearly every character is as enigmatic as a cardboard cutout. Even the villain is forcefully offputting rather than being engaging..or sympathetic..or just flat out deliciously evil. It's all flash and flat.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Paul. This sounds like pretty much what I expected it to be.

    You hit on something in talking about the differences between the characters that really got me thinking. Aside from the light/dark and happy/tragic counterpoints of each, Superman is really an alien looking to become closer to humanity while Batman is a man looking to alienate himself...its a dynamic I don't think I've seen any writers really explore.

    Granted, I'm not a diehard DC fan so I could be totally wrong and would be interested in hearing about any storylines that touch on that theme if anyone's got some suggestions. Either way, you got me thinking about it and I just wanted to share.

    1. Hmm...I don't know specific story lines as I've hopped in and out of Batman reading over the years and my Superman experience is mostly animated movies and cartoons, and pre-anything interesting happening Superman stories from my childhood. The thing I always found most interesting was each character's take on their alternate persona. Superman is Kal El, not Clark Kent. Kent is his adoptive family name, obviously, but more importantly, Kent is the act. Clark is where Superman spends most of his time pretending to be unassuming, unremarkable, meek and reserved. As Superman, it's like taking off the disguise. He can be himself. Bruce Wayne was born a Wayne with responsibilities and a legacy to uphold, but he is scarred horrifically and forever changed by his parent's murder. It takes a lifetime of self punishment through training and study to get himself to a point where he can look comfortable in his own skin (as Bruce Wayne), spending any second possible perusing criminals to make up for the night when he was powerless. So...both heroes are more alive, confident and "in their element" when they are in their hero persona, but one because it is who he really is and the other because it's a persona that allows him to feel in control of his world. The only time Bruce isn't pretending to be Bruce is when his "bat family" forces him to, by default, because they behave like normal people so he falls into line because he cares about them.