Monday, 28 March 2016
Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (Film Review)
Remember everything wrong with Iron Man 2? Multiply that by a few dozen times over, rob it of a lot of the likable light moments, add a very confused message, and you have this film. Really, while it's not quite as bad as many people feared, this is most definitely a mess of a production, and the fault is as much due to the director as the studio.
As the last article mentioned, Zack Snyder is a fan of comics, and is a fan of these characters, despite what some people say. The problem is that he has trouble picking up on what makes these guys work at their core, or to think of a solid, definitive take on them, and so we end up with a work focusing upon the wrong aspects. These stories, as such, become tales for the non-comic fans who think Superman should kill others and Batman should wield a minigun. This would have been problematic to be sure, but it at least would have been relatively cohesive, with a set plan, message and direction behind it. Even with misgivings behind Man of Steel, it still could have been something well worth exploring. Yet somehow it all went horribly wrong.
You all know what the plot should be if you've seen a single trailer - Batman sees people die in Superman's fight with Zod and the sheer collateral damage it inflicts upon Metropolis. This prompts him to start seeing Superman as a likely threat to humanity and, despite having retired long after Robin's death, convinces him he is needed once more to end this threat. Yet others are manipulating events, and have their own reasons for wishing these two to come to blows, ending a new era of heroism before it can come to fruition.
It's a promising premise to be sure. However, before anyone can really make use of the story, the second blow of the one-two punch which damns this production hits home. Warner Bros., having apparently learned nothing from Green Lantern, once again went about demanding the start of a big franchise. So, rather than letting it slowly evolve naturally and allowing this film to exist in its own right, we end up with a cancerous tumour of tie-in events which weigh down the plot. Really, the moment you become invested into a scene, something attempting to establish the Justice League comes along and rudely interrupts it, dragging you kicking and screaming out of the experience. If there was executive meddling throughout, it would also go quite some way to explaining the uneven tone of the film. Many sequences feel as if they're following on from events which took place off-screen, and there's no sense of time or progression here. Whole swathes of the film must have been left on the cutting room floor, as this is so schizophrenic put together that it honestly feels like one third of a finished product.
The actual themes of the story are supposed to focus upon the questions of accountability, paranoia, alliances and even acceptance of the differences of others. While there was an undercurrent of this in the Avengers, but it never really delved into it, and despite the criticisms of many, this would have justified a multi-hero crossover so early on. The actual set-up itself works absolutely fine given what they had to work with, and it ties into Man of Steel well. You get a real sense of what's at risk, and by showing the other side of the story through Bruce Wayne's eyes, the actual conflict here does seem very believable. Much of this comes down to the actual choice of actors given to pull off these roles, and hats need to be given off to all involved. Really, it takes a very specific person to pull off any member the Bat family and do them justice, and Ben Affleck proved so many of his critics wrong here. Even as a lifelong Keaton and Conroy fan, his Batman did work as an old, jaded vigilante getting back into shape and was easily the highlight of the movie. Really, even paired up with a bad script, the chemistry he has with Jeremy Irons' Alfred and visible weight of his past actions makes him one of the best Bruce Waynes we've had in decades. It might have even been enough to save the movie, if one writer hadn't apparently confused him with Midnighter.
While Affleck carried out the role excellently, someone in the script writing department simply did not get Batman. So, awesome as he was, we suddenly see the caped crusader wielding guns and killing people on sight in the name of justice. This often became the focal point of many disagreements, often by fans pointing out that this completely undermines the argument between the two characters. After all, it's hard to level accusations against someone about recklessly endangering lives and murdering a villain, when you're lobbing explosives and wielding an assault rifle for most of the film. Honestly, it's amazing they didn't become best buds at first sight, and the knee-jerk excuse to have them team up left the audience in hysterics for minutes afterwards.
Speaking of actors, sadly it seems like the more vocal elements of the fandom were right about the other choices. Jesse Eisenberg goes from scene to scene, twitching and tittering about the film. Acting like a man on a carefully balanced cocktail of raw sugar, acid and OCD, he's less the Luthor we know than an overgrown manchild who is trying to ape the Joker. There's scenes where the drama really hits exactly the right pitch, truly starts to get the ball properly rolling and work, which are promptly destroyed by him simply stumbling headlong into them. The only reason he's a threat is because the film keeps winning victories for him without rhyme nor reason. Out of nowhere he suddenly learns the identities of Batman and Superman, but this giggling nutjob seems hardly the sort who could even think his way out of prison let alone gain that kind of power.
As for Gal Gadot, her effectiveness varies depending upon what the scene requires of her. While she can certain pull off the looks, physicality and fighting style of Wonder Woman, every line of dialogue is flat, every emotion forced and every scene is just off with her. While she can certainly fight like Wonder Woman, she lacks even a fraction of the strength and charisma the character is famous for, and is just woefully forgettable as a result. Of course it's hardly helps that, once you analyse her involvement, she boils down to little more than forced fan-service. Really, her every scene amounts to little more than forced attempts to cram promo-pieces for future films down the audience's throat. Not since the Amazing Spider-Man 2 have we seen a classic character reduced to a ticket-selling near cameo appearance, and her scenes stick out like a sore thumb. Want to know how bad it gets? There is, quite literally, an entire scene devoted to Wonder Woman sitting down and watching little more than trailer footage for other DC superheros. Yes, really.
Beyond Batman himself, it's sadly clear that the creative team had no understanding or knowledge of how to handle anyone else. Once again Lois Lane is banded about the plot with little actual direction, and appears only once the scriptwriters abruptly realise she's been missing for entire scenes of the film. Even then, much like Luthor, the script performs narrative back-flips and utter contrivances to keep her invested. These are usually the kind which leave you banging your head against the nearest wall and leave a lovely plot hole in their wake. A key example is when she examines the bullets used in a certain crime scene, only to realise they're an experimental brand made and used only by LexCorp. With this single act, Luthor might as well have written his name into the walls with said bullets, announcing to the world that the mysterious man behind a certain atrocity is, in fact, him. Keep in mind, this is the first act of a plan which requires him to remain relatively unknown until his machinations come to fruition.
Even Superman, one of the two big names Warner Bros. expects to help put backsides in seats, is directionless in this production, and left without any goal or proper game plan to work with. Serving as little more than an obstacle for Batman to face, he becomes little more than a tool within the story and suffers from some of the most woeful storytelling seen since Batman and Robin. Remember that whole event with Zod, the bit which made so many audiences cry foul and comic fans everywhere flipped their collective shit at? Well, you might be surprised to know that's not the murder which triggers Batman to finally move against him. Oh, the battle in Metropolis is certainly the spark to be sure, but rather than making use of Zod's execution they instead have Superman kill yet more people in Africa.
Now, to be fair, Sups is basically fooled into taking more lives in an act which is set up by the main villain. Also in fairness, even taking that into account the entire scene is cold, unjustified, completely unwarranted and downright callous given Sups still freely chooses to follow through with it. They took the one bright spark which might have stemmed from Zod's death, the one possible gem of having it kick-start Superman's adamant no-kill policy, and promptly crapped all over it. Given the backlash, given how frequently the film goes out of its way to set up its big explosive fights in abandoned sections of cities, it's honestly amazing that the creators looked at the backlash, and learned absolutely zilch from any of it.
Still, if that doesn't damn the film for you, perhaps the continuity problems will. Take Batman's return just for starters. The entire film sets it up so that he's basically been around for years, had a long career in crime fighting but retired two decades ago. Despite being well known enough to have fought the Joker, defended his city and set up contacts throughout Gotham, at the same time the film expects people to not know a damn thing about him. Really, it sets up this whole legacy idea and his long, experienced history, but also tries to have everyone ignore that. Times that by about twenty or thirty times, and you'll have a good idea of just how poorly planned the entire plot is. Troubled production or not, this is completely inexcusable, and the kind of thing which should have been picked up after handing in a first draft. Wait, no, that's not good enough, while writing a first draft.
Even if you somehow do manage to sit through that though, even if you're willing to stomach every single last problem just so you can get to see two titans go at it, you're still going to leave disappointed. The fight choreography is awful, plain and simple. Often marred by bizarre visual choices and colours, it's easy to lose track of what's going on as things simply blur into one another. While, once again, a few of Batman's individual fights retain the fantastic kinetic strength and speed the Dark Knight is known for, the rest fall to bits. It honestly seems as if the very second superpowers are thrown into the mix, Snyder completely loses track of what to do. Perhaps the single worst example is the Doomsday fight, where the monstrous Goliath is shown powering up and constantly turning orange, all with very bright and orange explosions behind him. Oh, and even then the long hyped fight the trailers focused upon spans five minutes at the tail end of a two hour film.
Speaking on a personal note, when I left the Avengers for the first time, I texted a friend one simple message: I have seen the superhero film of my dreams, I can die happy.
Upon leaving the theatre screening Superman vs Batman, I did the same thing again, expressing my feelings in one sentence: The Justice League need a restraining order against Warner Bros.
The only reason you have been sparred a bile filled, hateful rant here is because the film simply didn't earn that investment. While Fant4Stic got things so horribly wrong it left a me in a blinding rage for days. Batman vs Superman left only a sense of total apathy and extreme disappointment in its wake. If this film is anything to go by, if this forced production, this costly monstrosity is anything to go by, the DC cinematic universe is dead on arrival. Oh it might shamble on for a few years yet as Warner Bros. attempt to substitute talent and care with cold, hard cash but any hope for a big cohesive setting is now gone. While we might see a few hits - Suicide Squad among them, god willing - productions like this will ensure it will sadly never reach Marvel's standards. At best, we might see a few gems hidden among string of big budget monstrosities, shambling onward, unaware they are unwanted by fans and constantly failing to live up to the source material.
If you honestly want to see a great DC film this year, stick to the classics. Better yet, take a look into DC's vast library of animated films and cartoons. Many treat their subjects with more maturity than what's found here, and at least aren't ashamed of their origins. As for this one, don't waste your cash. It simply doesn't deserve a single penny from you.