Mar 28, 2016

Why Can't We Be Friends? Batman v Superman Review

Oh boy we're in for a rough one here. The divisive Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice movie finally came out and people are not happy with it. But all of these reviews both good and bad are all influenced by the pop culture discussion around the movie and not the movie itself. So what I'm going (or attempt) to do is explore the actual film in a vacuum. I feel it's the only way to give the movie a fair shake.

The plot: It's been over a year and half since Superman's (Henry Cavill) apocalyptic fight with Zod in Man of Steel. Metropolis for the most part is rebuilt and the world is coming to terms with a God routinely zipping around the world and rescuing people. Not everybody is cozy having Superman around, seeing the death and destruction caused by him when he appeared and having no discernible defense against him have a great number of the population against him. Among them is an older Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) who lost friends and co-workers during the battle. He's gearing up to take Superman down permanently before he decides to take over the world. Meanwhile Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is scheming to take down Superman too and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) has her own mysterious agenda.

It was a slower paced story than what I was expecting. I liken it to setting up a fireworks display on July 4th. All the rockets and pieces are meticulously set in the right place before everything is set off. There's a lot of plot building as all the characters get ready for the final battle in one form or another. As with any superhero movie there's allusions to what's to come in the wider universe that this movie has created. The whole shebang ends with the fight between the two Titans of American myths leaving the audience with a truly unexpected ending and the promise of more heroes from DC Comics' pantheon on the horizon.

The biggest thing that's going to hit you in this movie is just how different Bruce Wayne/Batman is. Batman is paranoid and extraordinarily violent; going so far as to brand criminals with a red hot batarang and not opposed to lethal force. That's right boys and girls, Batman kills people. Killing is not his first choice but he will not hesitate to take someone down if life is threatened. You might see this as a bad thing. Whether or not it's smart storytelling lies in the execution. Is there a reason for Batman's brutality? Yes. Batman is angry after about ten years of wearing the cowl. The Wayne mansion is an abandoned burned out husk, no doubt because of some super-villain attack. He's lost Robin to the Joker and alludes to losing other allies either to death, injury or simply turning to the dark side (Likely Batgirl becoming paralyzed and Harvey Dent turning to Two-Face, although neither is explicitly said.) Further Alfred (played expertly by Jeremy Irons) calls him out on this anger several times. Ben Affleck was the right casting choice for this version of Batman. He conveys the barely controlled hatred and anger of a man that's lived his life eyebrows deep in the worst humanity has to offer.

Both in and out of costume Superman has made it his mission to bring the psychotic Batman to justice. What compounds Superman's anger is that nobody seems to outright oppose Batman's actions because everyone is more concerned with Superman's Godhood.

In the middle is Eiseinberg's quirky Lex Luthor acting as the grand manipulator that's ten steps ahead of everyone. By the end he qualifies himself as being Superman's greatest villain and likely knows more about the ultimate evil on the horizon than anybody else in the film.

Gal Gadot made a great Wonder Woman and I'm happy she was included in this film despite her not really needing to be. In her limited screen time she was able to capture the modern version of Wonder Woman. Amy Adams does the same for Lois Lane. She continues to meet the high bar she herself set in Man of Steel as she embodies her character's curiosity and bravery.

The action was well choreographed and is the most comic accurate of all the Batman movies when it comes to how he fights and plans encounters. In short: Superman expects a game of checkers but Batman brings a chess board. The special effects are on par with what you'd expect of a blockbuster on this scale. Superman's heat vision stands out as the most visually impressive. The music is pounding and gets the heart pumping at the appropriate moments. On the negative side I found the movie to be visually murky and dark on several occasions. It is always clear what is happening but I would've liked to have seen things a bit more clearer.

The only legitimate narrative complaint that could be made is that it has a one to many plates spinning in the air. While the foreshadowing and cameos might seem unnecessary I don't have a problem with them as it's narrative staple to set up plotlines for more installments. But the hints themselves are more for the comic book fans and will leave the general audience confused. That could have been done better.

With all of that said there is something missing from the film. The indefinable technical term is  "movie magic." I've thought about how this movie is constructed and acted forward and backward. While there's nothing definitively bad about it I find myself enjoying the movie much less than I probably should. I can't think of any clear improvements to make. In fact it has qualities I've always wanted: an older Batman, a different tone than the Marvel movies, framing these characters as you would the modern day Greek gods, the costumes, the powers etc. Frankly I'm stumped. Forgive my smugness but until now I've always known what's holding back my own enjoyment. Hence it missing the ever mysterious "movie magic."

It circles back to how I believe movies should be viewed. Everybody has their own preferences when it comes to their entertainment. All formats of media can be done perfectly well but still not be to our liking. What I think has happened with not just myself but other critics and audiences is that while Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a fine blockbuster it just doesn't neatly fall into our personal preferences when it comes to its execution. This does not make the film bad by any means. It just means it's a film that has targeted an audience that might not be as big as Warner Brothers would like.

But we know why you're here. Is Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice a good movie? Yes it is. And no it's not. In the end you'll have to decide for yourself. All I can say is that I think it's worth the experience.

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