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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Directed By: Zack Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams
Rated: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Violence and Action Throughout, and Some Sensuality
TMM: 2 out of 5 Stars
Strengths: Wonder Woman, Visually Engaging, Iconic
Weaknesses: Slow Pacing, Lack of Connection to Characters, Studio Concerns, Lack of Mystery, Henry Cavill
Picking up where “Man of Steel" left off, “Batman V Superman” is an epic of two legends clashing over the meaning of Justice and the hand which wields it.
Disturbed by the devastation wrought by Superman (Cavill, “Mission Impossible: Fallout”) and General Zod in their climactic battle through the city of Metropolis, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Affleck, “The Town”) dedicates himself to the undoing of the invincible alien known as Superman but he isn’t the only one dubious of Superman’s motives.
While Lois Lane (Adams, “Arrival”) may never waver in her belief in Superman, Senator Finch (Holly Hunter, “The Incredibles 2,” “O Brother Where Art Thou”) isn’t so sure. Playing on the seeds of disbelief and fear in both Finch and Wayne, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg, “The Social Network”) pits the titans against each other and raises a beast of unparalleled power which can only be defeated by the both of them with help from a new ally.
I am a fan of Superman. Batman too, but liking Batman is pretty common in geek circles. Superman has a lot of haters. People think he is too powerful and really boring. I disagree. I won’t get into a long diatribe about why but I want to make sure you know that I like Superman because it frames a lot of my thoughts about this film.
I wanted to love this movie. I was the one scolding folks online for hating on the movie before seeing it. I thought it deserved a chance and I felt like a lot of people decided a long time ago that Superman is dumb and they use that as justification to nit pick films which, if they were about Batman, they would be fine with. I think “Man of Steel” is better than “Thor” or “Iron Man 2” but it gets far more hate than either of those films.
The same is true of Zack Snyder films. A lot of people hate on him because of “Suckerpunch” or “Legend of the Guardians” (the owl movie) but I think “300” and “Watchmen” are two of the best comic adaptations I have ever seen. Seldom have I seen films that feel more like their graphic novel counterparts.
So I was still hoping this film would be good.
But it wasn’t.
There is a bit of debate going on over this. There are people who can’t believe how much critics hate this movie because they really like it. I am not one of them. I see why general audiences like this film but also why critics and I dislike it.
So here are the strengths, and I really think, after a couple discussions with people who like the movie, that it is these reasons they like the film.
The first reason I think people like the film is that while I may feel that Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot, “Keeping Up with the Joneses”) is introduced in a totally boring way and that she is incredibly one dimensional in this film, the fact remains that she represents something important to many people, especially women. I know this was one reason my wife enjoyed the film. It is just fun for women to see someone like them being able to stand with and even one-up the boys.
As men, we forget what it must be like to never see ourselves in this way because every film shows us as heroic, but we know it is hard to watch a film we don’t see ourselves in because we don’t often go see movies which feature all female casts. It shouldn’t surprise anyone, then, that giving a woman any screen time at all (even if I feel it could have been better quality screen time) makes a film stand out.
Another reason this film succeeds for some is that the visuals are really striking. This is one of Snyder’s strengths. He especially knows how to use slow motion and camera movement to create visuals that seem like they were lifted straight off a comic book page. These visuals may not always be connected by the strongest story or characters but they still look cool.
If you want to see a cool fight, or see the caped crusader believably looking like his ingenuity is stronger than Superman’s brawn, then this film pulls that off in spades. If you want to see Superman looking like a god descending among men, you’ll find it here. If you want to see building collapse 9/11 style around a cosmic battle between alien mythological powerhouses, watch on.
Sure, it makes no sense that Metropolis and Gotham are within eyesight of each other but the visual of Superman standing in Metropolis and seeing the Bat-signal goading him to fight is powerful even if it is nonsensical.
It is iconic.
This is the real strength of the film. This film deals in Legends. These are monolithic characters which stand in for the legends of old. We do not tell stories about Ulysses, Hercules, Perseus, or Prometheus on this scale anymore and people don’t turn out in droves to see them. We laud and hail Superman, Iron Man, Daredevil, and Batman. We do not fear Hades, the Minotaur, and the Hydra. We fear Doomsday, Magneto, and General Zod.
This film trades on legends, and in a world that has no universally believed mythology, this is about as close as you can get to a film about universally held beliefs and their emblematic gods. It seems weak to say, and critics usually dismiss these issues, but the subject matter IS what makes this film. If you think these figures stand taller than the mere stories they are apart of, you will like this film. Like Christians who enjoy even bad films if they have Jesus in them, people with rudimentary understandings and admiration of Superman and Batman will eat this film up.
The problem for some of us is that we know too much about Batman and Superman and this film feels like a hollow representation of our beloved characters. This is because it has very little depth and is a poorly made film that fails to tease out any of the emotion we typically feel for our heroes.
I don’t know why every director thinks I need to watch Batman fall down a hole and see his parents killed to realize he is a scarred individual but I think we all know that song by now. I know that Snyder is trying to draw the connection between watching his parents killed and seeing a city destroyed, and imply that Batman will feel a duty to save the city because he is by proxy saving his mother, but we already know that is why he saves cities. At this point the imagery is such well tread ground that a director really needs to dig deeper to find analogies and links that engage an audience rather than bore them.
On top of this, the film takes forever to get moving. This is a common problem with Superman films. Superman is so powerful that if he ever figures out the plot, he can stop it instantaneously, so directors tend to take their time letting him know what is happening. But this makes for a boring film because one of our main characters isn’t just not doing anything, he doesn’t know there is anything happening that he should be stopping.
Thematically the film goes nowhere either. The central question being asked by many characters is, ‘can we really trust this Superman guy?’ But no one is really having a discussion about this. They are just saying it over and over again. If we saw a character asking this question, then Superman saving people and the character thinking ‘yes, I can trust him,’ then getting hurt by him, then the question isn’t just being asked, it’s being explored, and that is what good stories do.
Because none of this is happening and characters are just firm in their beliefs and never waver. We fail to connect with any of them because they are less people and more stand ins for ideological concepts.
Lex Luthor’s plot Batman V Superman is incredibly transparent and predictable until it takes such a hard left turn (introducing a pretender to the Doomsday throne) that no one could ever see coming because it is almost as ridiculous as if he had phoned up Mr. Mxyzptlk and invited him to his house to have dinner with Superman. It is so obvious from the first moments of the plot that Luthor is manipulating Batman and Superman into fighting each other that it makes Batman and Superman look stupid for not seeing it a mile away. You can do a lot of things in superhero films but don’t make Batman or Superman look stupid. They aren’t.
While on the subject of introducing characters where they don’t naturally fit (Doomsday), why subtitle this film Dawn of Justice? This film has so little to do with the Justice League and yet, somehow too much. The studio forcing little snippets of Cyborg, the Flash, and Aquaman, into this film is bad enough. They add and progress nothing in the film and are merely there to hint at a movie that isn’t being set up or made to look interesting at all. These scenes belonged post credits not in the middle of the film when Batman is figuring out the main plot of the movie.
If they had removed these hints and taken out a bunch of the disjointed dream sequences they could have had a more fully integrated Wonder Woman and made her feel like more than just “Sexy Lady Who Fights.” Give her some depth.
Lastly, on the subject of depth, Henry Cavill’s acting is terrible and Amy Adams’ Lois Lane has nothing to do. She literally just runs around asking for helicopter rides asking for information, being told no, then asking again and being told yes for who-knows-what reason. I think we are supposed to think she is convincing people but she never seems to have an argument any deeper than ‘please?’
This film confirms a lot of my feelings about Zack Snyder. I think he excels at capturing great visuals but needs simple stories, which are well established to give meaning to those visuals. His best films are adaptations of graphic novels that stray little from their original source. As soon as he is asked to branch out, he seems to flounder.
I can’t say I recommend this film. If you like Batman and want to see him fight against a foe who is superior in strength, check out “The Dark Knight Rises.” If you want to see Superman in all his iconic glory try the animated film “All Star Superman”. If you want to see a great Zack Snyder interpretation of a graphic novel, try “The Watchmen”.
If you want to see a disappointing film, see “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.”
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