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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Earl and Sean v Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

On the way home after seeing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Sean and I attempted to record our thoughts on the film. Unfortunately, the recording cut out after 30 seconds, so I present here a more traditional review, with Sean's thoughts thrown in as I recall them.

We went into the film with very low expectations, so our agreed-upon score of five out of ten stars may in fact be too kind, since we expected the movie to be even more dire than it was. In short, we felt there was a good movie in here trying to get out, but Zack Snyder's leaden, depressing, joyless direction overcame whatever promise the film once held.

The film begins with a reasonably interesting premise: Batman sees Superman as a threat because of the events in Man of Steel, during which Superman's fight with General Zod and the other surviving Kryptonians laid waste to Metropolis - as well as Gotham City, which we discover in this film lies across the bay. Public opinion on Superman is torn thanks to the circumstances of his arrival, and if you buy the premise and tone of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman's themes work in that context.

This presumes you accept that this film is very much Zack Snyder's dark vision, and the characters onscreen, save perhaps Wonder Woman, behave in ways that are so far out of character fans will wish Snyder would leave DC Comics alone and make sequels to 300 or Sucker Punch instead. Sean pointed out the film's dismal portrayal of poor Perry White, who's been a crusader for truth in journalism for 75 years in the comics, reduced here to a cynical shell. Diane Lane's Martha Kent tells her foster son, Superman, "You don't owe this world a thing," the complete opposite of the Kent values as espoused, again, during decades of comic book stories.

It gets worse. Batman is angry at Superman for all the collateral damage he caused in Man of Steel, but Sean rightly points out that Batman kills a number of people in this film, and overtly uses pistols and machine guns in a dream sequence in such a way that it's clear he's comfortable using them in real life, too. Batman brands suspects in this movie. He is prepared to kill Superman.

Superman, for his part, behaves like an arrogant bully during at least two points in the film, and mopes around for the rest of it. Only during the film's final act is he at all heroic - more on that later.

Sean made note of Jesse Eisenberg's ludicrous, over-the-top portrayal of Lex Luthor, taking care not to blame the actor, but the screenplay and director. To that I would add Luthor has no motivation for his actions in the film. He does things because he's the villain, because he's Lex Luthor and of course Luthor hates Superman (and Batman). In the film itself, the audience is given no reason to explain why Luthor is so hell-bent on wiping out Superman (and Batman). Why couldn't the fight in Man of Steel destroyed a project dear to Lex's heart, or perhaps killed his sister? Any motivation would have been better than what Snyder provided: Lex does bad things because he is evil.

Kudos to Jeremy Irons; his Alfred Pennyworth is perhaps the only character who's actually in character this whole movie. I suppose Amy Adams' Lois Lane comes in a close second; Adams is always delightful, but like the other characters she's working against a very weak screenplay.

The film is disrupted by a number of dream sequences. Clearly Snyder is desperate to be seen as a serious filmmaker, as these sequences are leaden with pretension, but he succeeds only in confusing the audience or making it roll its collective eyes.

Cameos by the Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman are so clumsily handled it's embarrassing. I'm not a professional screenwriter, but I'm smart enough to see at least two different ways those cameos could have been included organically, building the DC cinematic universe without making viewers think they're watching an ad for later films in the series.

Sean and I both agree that Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot do a good job as Batman and Wonder Woman, respectively. Affleck has enough gravitas and anger to carry the role, and Gadot is a revelation; in just a few minutes of screentime, she displays more charisma, sympathy and bad-assery than anyone else in the movie. Personally I thought Henry Cavill did a good job as Superman given what he had to work with, but as Sean noted, "How many lines did he even have?" He's right; the Man of Steel is more plot device than character in this film.

We both agreed that the film does pick up somewhat in the final act, as long as you're willing to forget all that came before. The moral conflict that sparked the film is dropped in the most ham-handed way possible and never resolved, because of course the heroes have to team up to fight a giant monster. For what it's worth, the final battle itself is well choreographed, exciting, and finally gives Superman a chance to be heroic, though very near the end of the film's overlong running time.

Aside from all of the above concerns, this is a joyless, almost literally colourless film. Characters are treated like chess pieces to move the plot forward, the aesthetic is depressingly nihilistic, and Zack Snyder clearly doesn't understand the fundamental properties that have sustained these characters over the course of three-quarters of a century.

In other words, when Batman fights Superman, everybody loses. Especially the audience.

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