Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice / ***½ (PG-13)

Bruce Wayne/Batman: Ben Affleck
Clark Kent/Superman: Henry Cavill
Lois Lane: Amy Adams
Lex Luther: Jesse Eisenberg
Martha Kent: Diane Lane
Alfred Pennyworth: Jeremy Irons
Perry White: Laurence Fishburne
Senator Finch: Holly Hunter
Diana Prince/Wonder Woman: Gal Gadot
Wallace Keefe: Scoot McNairy
Anatoli Knyazev: Callan Mulvey

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by Zack Snyder. Written by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer. Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Running time: 151 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality).

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” has been critically reviled. I expected to be in the critic’s camp on this one. I hated, hated, hated Zach Snyder’s “Man of Steel”. I revisited it a couple of weeks ago. It did not improve upon a second viewing. I’ve rarely approached a film with such dread as I did BvS. I have rarely been so pleasantly surprised. Ben Affleck is all the Batman and Bruce Wayne I wanted him to be. Henry Cavill is given a little more to do with Supes this time. Amy Adams’ Lois Lane even receives a little character development. And, I think even the critics who hated the movie think Gal Gadot kicks ass as Wonder Woman.

It’s not that BvS is incredibly steeped in substance, but compared to the false depth of “Man of Steel”, the thematic elements of following false Gods and seeing a government trying to be good and failing under the influences of corrupt manipulation were fulfilling cups of milk compared to MoS’s half empty vessel. Perhaps it helps that Snyder is opening up Superman to a larger DC Universe, which makes it easier to contextualize the character for a modern audience. MoS missed much of the historical context that inspired the Superman myth to begin with, while this movie gives some other modern comic book character interpretations for Superman to work off.

The film concentrates a little heavier on Batman than Superman, but other than re-imagining the basic origin of the murder of his parents, Snyder doesn’t bother to reintroduce the character to audiences. This is a smart move, but it may make the story a little more confusing for the uninitiated. That really goes for everything here. Lex Luther is an interesting new interpretation of the character by Jesse Eisenberg, but he’s not really explained outside the context of the action. It’d be interesting to see some sort of differences between LexCorp and Wayne Enterprises explained. Bruce Wayne and Lex are aware of each other, but don’t seem to have much opinion of each other despite the fact that their companies would be fierce competitors of each other.

Snyder and his screenwriters, Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, seem to be going for a New 52—this is a very deep-rooted nerd comic book reference—take on the Justice League with this film that will act to set up this new comic book film franchise. This is a world that fears these super-powered heroes. Even Batman fears them, which does work to explain the most frequently asked question about this film before it’s release. “Why Batman versus Superman?” It makes sense in the context of the overall story. The question as a whole reflects much of the confusion we are facing as a society right now. In the film, Batman is getting harsher against the criminals he faces, very much in the same way the character became judge, jury and executioner in one of the most famous Batman comic books of all time, “The Return of the Dark Knight”. It is his character that struggles with one of the great questions of our time—how do we deal with violent terrorism without losing our morals in the process? Like many today, he’s content to toss those morals aside.

Superman’s alien origins make him an easy target for blame, with many all too willing to forget any good he’s brought to the planet. And yet, Superman himself struggles with his own moral choices when decisions made in his own interests rather than that of the greater good may be seen as endangering humanity as a whole. Politics play a large role in these themes and Superman in particular paints a picture that shows just how muddy the lines between the truth and perception are with respect to media and political spin. Holly Hunter plays a key role in this message as a senator who heads a committee looking into the possible threat of super powered beings.

Of course, what a movie is about does not determine its success so much as how it is about it. Snyder still makes a bit of a mess of things in the way he presents his material, which is characteristically for the director too chopped up in terms of timelines and chronology. He also introduces a great many dream sequences into these mythologies, which are jarring at first, mostly due to the fact that Snyder fails to create any sort of differentiation between each characters’ individual fantasy and their overall realities. When I first saw young Bruce Wayne lifting off the floor of the well he falls into after his parents’ deaths, I couldn’t help evoking my own personal WTF moment in my head. Once I realized it was a dream, I became more open to this aspect of the movie throughout. It could’ve used a little more artistry and imagination about it, however.

Despite the indelicate direction by Snyder, however, the movie as a whole worked very well for me. Like the superhero team books, it’s a little more about the action and melodrama than the deeper intellectualism of solo adventures, like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. It holds enough thematic elements to satisfy a cineaste and comic book fan like myself though. Unlike the feeling of watching a video game inspired by “Man of Steel”, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is much more of a story experience. Also unlike “Man of Steel”, it left me wanting more, probably the most desired reaction for Warner Bros. who are gambling the house on a Justice League universe to be birthed out of this first ever DC cinematic crossover film.

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