Movie Review Monday: BvS

Hello Everyone,

For my first review, I will start with movie that has fans and critics in a uproar.

Batman versus Superman: Dawn of Justice

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Warning! This Post Contains Super Spoilers

This movie was doomed from the start…

Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice is, in many respects, one of the more concise depictions of a comic book transposed onto the screen. The problem is that film is not the illustrated page, and the disparate conventions of each medium are in full effect.

Spatial and temporal dislocation abound through three simultaneously developing story arcs that muddle together to create the film’s diegesis. Eventually, a fourth plot enters the ring and now it’s a free for all to see who can hold the audience’s attention. Unfortunately, the answer seems to be no one. Not for any length of time, anyway.

This is not so much a problem of acting. Outside of Eisenberg’s Luthor vicariously oscillating between Emanuel Zorg and The Joker—which even then is still effective—there is no particular character to point to and say, “Well they could have done a better job there.”

It is not even a problem of story. The conversation on the Superman/Batman paradigm is one worth having, and culturally relevant to this day and age. As analogues of greater concerns, both characters have representations that worth mediation. BvS fails, however, by choosing to represent these distinctions as polar opposites when they are not and cannot be such. Extrajudicial intervention colors both characters equally.

Batman is upset about the collateral damage Superman causes. Superman is upset because Batman stands as a symbol of fear and retribution as opposed to hope and peace (It’s not an S, remember?). Batman doesn’t hurt the innocent; Superman unintentionally hurts the innocent to serve a greater good. Both are vigilantes. It really just comes down to a question of scale.

Which is basically the film’s problem. Between dissecting the symbols of Batman and Superman, introducing and villainizing Lex Luthor, Wonder Woman’s mini-arc, the Doomsday project, senate hearings, terrorism, an investigation into illegal arms, and the penultimate fight between the two titled heroes, the film has far too much going on in far too many directions.

There are other notable concerns. The use of sepia tone and slow-motion is gratuitous. Editing is all over the place. The musical score neatly undercuts one scene only to drown out the next. And all the while, we’ve got all these stories to manage and try and pay off, some of which never do.

The Good

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What sets BvS apart from purely amateur efforts, is the game cast. Cavill, who is barely given dialog much less any emotions to play, still shows up to physically embody the character. Amy Adams is a blessing, continuing her sparky, determined portrayal of Lois Lane even in the face of expository demands and being used shamelessly as a plot convenience.

Filling out supporting roles with talented actors, like Holly Hunter, Laurence Fishburne, Diane Lane, and, especially, Jeremy Irons, helps ease the whiplash editing. Then there is Ben Affleck and Jesse Eisenberg. While not the deepest Batman (that goes to Christian Bale), Affleck delivers one of his most rounded performances, seething and charming when needed.

I’m actually kinda ready for full two hour movie staring “BATFLECK” … and I never thought I’d ever say those words.

Eisenberg is a different story. Making three or four too many actor choices, Eisenberg hews closer to early aught villain performances, like Colin Farrell as Bulls-eye or Julian McMahon as Dr. Doom – two characters who take campy humor to a whole new level.  He twitches and squeaks to a distracting level, which is a shame since on the page, his Lex Luthor is close to the source material. In certain scenes, his unhinged performance works wonders, but, frequently, he goes too far.

The Bad

The best sequence of the film occurs within the first fifteen minutes. After yet another retelling of the Wayne murders, the film opens with Bruce Wayne hightailing it to a Metropolis that inconveniently finds itself in the middle of an alien duel. He has friends there, colleagues and businesses that are in direct line of fire. He is chased by loud explosions and an even louder by Hans Zimmer’s score as he rushes to their rescue.

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Snyder’s way of directly addressing the criticisms of the previous movie, Man of Steel, is by stranding the viewer in the middle of the exact same scene in this one. Only this time, we are looking at it from a completely different perspective.

The scene is effectively convincing: Not for one second do you doubt Bruce Wayne’s hatred towards Superman, and what caused it. His actions have just killed countless men, women and children. Of course Bruce would consider him a threat. Unfortunately, this is where the movie peaks, and it’s never good when a movie peaks in its first scene.

It’s all downhill from there.

Flash forward 18 months and a rescue Lois mission gone wrong, the world is now losing faith in Superman; the film attempts to raise questions about the consequences of living in a world with a “god-like” deity.

Like in Man of Steel, most of Superman’s scenes unfold in endless montage sequences featuring civilians looking up at Superman in divine wonder and reaching out to touch him as though he is the prophesied messiah.

For Those Who Haven’t Seen Man of Steel (they say it better than me)

The Christ imagery first invoked in Man of Steel, when Superman falls to earth with his arms outstretched and his cape wrapping around him like the crucifixion, is hammered home even further. Superman skewers one the film’s many villains with a Kryptonian spear reminiscent of a holy lance in one scene poignant scene during the final battle – making the film’s conclusion (which I won’t spoil) both obvious and slightly tacky.

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These montage sequences (and there are many) distract from film’s narrative flow and renders any form of identification with the character impossible. As a direct sequel to Man of Steel, this is supposed to be Superman’s movie; but he is the weakest of character in the film.

Two movies into the DC Cinematic universe and we still know nothing about his personality, drives, or desires; his character has yet to develop. We just know that Superman’s the good guy and he loves Lois Lane.

In fact, he will show up to save her from falling off buildings even though the film positions in another part of the world. Apparently, a Lois is in danger radar is another (secret) power that his Kryptonian heritage gave him, and his radar pings whenever the movie needs to take a breath between action scenes.

The Unforgivable

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While the world questions the power of the Last Son of Krypton, tech billionaire, Lex Luthor, hatches a convoluted plot to kill Superman simply because he’s … powerful? Yeah, that isn’t really explained well in the film. Lex’s hatred for Superman is really just a plot device to bring the two heroes into conflict.

That’s right – the entire showdown between Superman and Batman is engineered by the film’s villain and not out of the ideological differences between the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight.

Lex kidnaps Superman’s mom, Martha, and demands that in return for her safety Superman must kill Batman, revealing to the world that he is a menace. Thus, there are no real emotional stakes in this film; neither hero is wrong, and the conflict is easily (if not ridiculously resolved) when Batman hears Superman call out the name Martha (also the name of Bruce’s mother) right before the killing blow is about to be delivered.

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Crisis Averted.

The Verdict: Wait for Redbox

Seriously – don’t waste your money on theater prices.

Ask: What is Your Favorite Batman Adaptation?

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