Wednesday 13 April 2016

Review: Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice

Year: 2016
Director: Zack Synder
Screenplay: Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot

Synopsis is here:

The critics are wrong. They whine too much. They're far infatuated with what this pop culture brand used to be. Also, they don't remember how to have fun with the product. Boy oh boy is product the right word for this. The fanboys are wrong. At time of writing, I'm sure tons of comment boards will be aflame. Overwrought overreactions (with probable death threats) will be posted on sites and film forums. Trying to protect a film that will make millions no matter what. The brand will be saved from those nasty critics by the dollars of the TRUE fans. Boy oh boy is brand the right word for this film.

Let's try and be honest. Be it the negative reviews or the fanatics digging their heels, it doesn't matter because Batman vs Superman isn't really worth either. It highlights that Warner Bros and DC want to be the serious comic guys with the heavy issues, but does so at the expense of balance, storytelling and character development. This won't matter to the audience much. That’s not what they want to see. In the same way the Transformer franchise delivers robots smacking bolts out of each other, this delivers superheroes doing the same. It doesn't matter that Lois Lane does something incredibly stupid to maintain that there's an actual climax. It doesn't matter if the geography between Metropolis and Gotham exists in some kind of wormhole. Is a causal film goer or fan going to pick apart the fact that much of the film doesn't really seem to carry enough weight, from effects to character motivations? No, they will not. As long as the Batman and Superman are doing the man dance, little else matters.

This is unfortunate. For a viewer like myself, whose interest in Superheroes and the films they inhabit, waivers between intrigued casual fan to tired cynic, this film, which overzealous fanboys have crowned “only for the hard-core fandom” has decided to forget that it’s the broad audience that needs nourishing through these films, whether they like it or not. Batman vs Superman isn’t the worst superhero/comic book movie ever, but it is a comic book movie that could have been more than the sum of its parts.

I found myself once again sitting through a film which was exceedingly long, and yet has a narrative that never seems to progress. Characters make great exclamations, but actually say very little. Pieces of the puzzle get moved around, but never to build a fuller picture. It’s a film with weighty themes that do point towards a growing maturity towards the very ideals of heroism, and yet never does the film get to grips with what it’s trying to tackle. It can be argued because there’s some be fish to fry, but honestly, it could do with some decent work on the story’s connective tissue as opposed to setting up the next entry to its soon to be long running series. Claims of Iron Man (2010) doing the same is understandable, but it’s surprising what the charm of Robert Downey and Sam Rockwell can do. I will also say that the screenplay of that film doesn’t feel as patchy as this one, which has already had media outlets touting the 30 minutes extra left for the home video release.

Still, it’s not hard to be fascinated by the idea of Snyder continuing on the topics that raised eyebrows in Watchmen (2009). A modern world where idealism and heroism is dying and questioned. Cynicism bleeds through this film and to be honest, elements of it are somewhat refreshing. Even more so than Nolan’s own Dark Knight Series. Synder places these symbols in a world of black and white absolutes, Batman may be ok with picking up a gun. Superman questions the meaning of “goodness”. To even consider that world goes against what we think we know about these characters, yet still remains a compelling dynamic.

Other things frustrate. Lex Luthor for instance; a character who always seemed accustomed to acumen and preciseness, now feels likened more to a haphazard agent of chaos (similar to the Joker). Jesse Esseinberg’s coked up Trump Zuckerberg is entertainingly quirky performance, but the visual tics and manic energy do little to hide the fact that his plan to kill superman feels incoherent and unclear. We know the goal, but the reasoning never feels clear. Eisenberg always feels to be one second away from blurting out “everything burns”. Something that has never been his M.O. to my knowledge.

I also like the idea of a modern Superman, free from the shackles of Richard Donner and the cleanest cut Boy Scout image. But this figure is less tragic than just mopey. Heroism as a burden, unless it involves Lois Lane (A criminally underused Amy Adams). It's never engaging because Superman is never engaging. Neither by character or performance. Cavill’s stiff and dour Superman is combined with the angry and violent cynicism from Affleck’s impressive Wayne/Batman. The problem is in a film in which these two juggernauts are meant to clash, both heroes would happily jack the heroism thing in. There’s little to no conflict of points of view to really speak of. Just two miserable men being manipulated against each other. We don’t need wide eyed idealism, but Synder’s film has decided that neither character seems interested in nobility at all. This may not have been too much of an issue if the film settled on one of these characters. Because it doesn’t, we’re faced with overkill.

At least we’re given Batman’s origin story yet again, highlighting just how pushed to the side Superman often feels in a film which started out as a sequel to his own franchise. I have nothing but great things to say about Gal Gadot’s performance as Wonder Woman, but her subplot has little reason for being other than to wink at the hardcore fans. As does so many elements of the film (cameos, nods to future events, etc), which may have been better spent touching up the plot strands.
If there’s one thing that I cannot argue with, it’s Synder’s ability as a visual stylist and director of action. If the film's story felt as cohesive as the set pieces, I doubt we’d be obtaining the knee jerk early reviews we received. I can only imagine what the film looked like in the grandness of an IMAX screen. Watching Doomsday howling in front of the LexCorp sign is a simple yet effective visuals, as are the images of Superman hovering majestically in silhouette. It’s a shame, however, that more aspects don’t hold as much investment.

You don’t need to be paid by Marvel to see that so much of BVS is as unwieldly as its full title. Nor do you need a Zack Synder bias to feel that this is not the director’s greatest moment in terms of storytelling. There’s no anti-Warner Bros sentiment. If that’s the case, than why were Christopher Nolan’s Batman series so well received by critics? The reason why Marvel’s movies appear to be so much healthier (despite their own issues), is that the studio established a stronger structure to stand on.  Those claiming that its record breaking weekend defines this film as “good” should google just how often a film “breaks” a box office record these days.  I’d also like to see how they feel about Kim Kardashian. She too rakes in millions. Does that mean she should be adored with no questions asked? Same goes for Justin Bieber, Coldplay et al.

My personal view on Batman vs Superman is that it’s simply an overegged and overlong blockbuster. It contains some interesting ideas and some solid visuals, but no more. I came to this opinion a few days after my midnight screening of this feature. Others feel different. I won't be seeking them out with hate mail. I haven't got time. Some of us have lives to lead, Lives that don't need aggression about yet another entry in the long line of super operas. It may be interesting to see how the film frames itself in 2020 when even more of these suckers are released, but I’m not holding my breath in any way. Why should I? With Suicide Squad and Civil War are making their ways to cinemas soon, I’m finding it harder to find the time watching these things let alone arguing about them. Why fight in real life? Can’t we leave that to the Super heroes?