Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Batman v Superman: The Dawn of Justice Review (2016)

Zach Snyder’s “Batman v Superman” is the latest superhero extravaganza, this time courtesy of Warner Bros and DC. It’s a follow up to Snyder’s 2013 Superman reboot “Man of Steel” and Warner’s attempt to jumpstart a DC superhero universe (ala the Marvel Cinematic Universe) that will eventually lead to two “Justice League” movies. Unfortunately, Warner Bros is trying to establish this universe too quickly (the “Justice League” movies, as well as a few other standalone DC hero movies are in varying stages of production) and as a result this latest picture suffers dearly. Simply put: there’s too much going on in “Batman v Superman.” Snyder adheres to the “quantity over quality” philosophy. The picture is a disorganized, unfocused, overstuffed and emotionally stagnant mess that turns into a nonstop barrage of mind numbing action.

It’s a shame because the concept at the center of this mess is somewhat compelling. I know I’m in the minority in saying that I’ve grown tired of all these superhero movies, primarily because most tend to follow the same derivate cookie cutter plot involving a one-note villain and a major city being leveled. So, the idea of two superheroes having a scuffle is far more interesting to me than a superhero having to face yet another super villain hell-bent on world domination/destruction. Yet, because so much is crammed into the movie (including cameos from additional superheroes. In terms of the main narrative, they serve zero purpose. But hey…Aquaman!) the conflict gets lost in all the noise and commotion. I guess it’s not enough to simply have Batman and Superman fight.

As far as plot is concerned…there’s a lot of it (and it adds up to squat). We’ve got Batman in Gotham City and Superman in Metropolis…both in the same universe! Batman, aka Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck, unshaven and grouchy) is older and more cynical this time around; his senses are dulled, he’s tired of fighting crime that never seems to end and he’s a cold blooded killer. He’s also been directly affected by collateral damage due to Superman’s silly tendency to destroy buildings during his fights with baddies in Metropolis. For what it’s worth, Affleck’s jaded, washed up Batman is by far the best, most refreshing thing about the movie because it’s at least distinct from other onscreen incarnations.

As for the Kryptonian himself, Superman (Henry Cavill) is…there too.  He’s still flying around in his red cape and blue tights, at times resembling a wax figurine and posing as a reporter for the city newspaper by day, doing a lot of intense staring and brooding either way. That’s pretty much it. He’s the same old Superman. Cavill was so charming and funny in last year’s spy comedy “The Man from U.N.C.L.E,” but here, he has about as much personality and charisma as a block of Kryptonite. The conversations about him (by various supporting characters and Batman) are far more interesting: is Superman a god? Is he the savior we need? Or is he a false prophet? All thought provoking questions, except the movie only grazes the surface. We get Holly Hunter as a Metropolis senator giving heavy-handed speeches in front of committees and a media montage where various commentators discuss the “Superman Question.”

What else? Well, Superman’s main squeeze and fellow reporter Lois Lane (the lovely Amy Adams, doing the best she can with thinly written character) runs around in a pants suit doing some investigative journalism and needing rescueing from Superman (seriously, she gets captured like three times). We have the mysterious Lex Luther (Jesse Eisenberg, essentially doing an exaggerated version of his standard fast talking/wise ass persona with a smidge of The Joker thrown in. His performance feels forced most of the time and the character never quite cuts deep enough) that wants to get his hands on some powerful Kryptonian artifacts. There’s also Batman’s faithful confidant Alfred (Jeremy Irons) and…Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is also shoved into the narrative, only because she’s got her own movie coming up soon (don’t worry, she was shown front and center in the trailers. No spoilers here). I guess it doesn’t matter that she doesn’t fit in with the central narrative. But one thing’s for certain: she has a neat costume.

OK…I’m exhausted.

“Batman v Superman” is overkill in practically everyway. There are too many characters and too many plotlines, which causes the first twenty-five minutes of the movie to be nothing but tedious exposition. It has to tease plot lines and characters for future movies. There are multiple glowing objects that are recovered and/or change hands throughout, a bizarre dream/simulation sequence that feels like it was left over from a first draft of the screenplay, and powerful beams of energy that shoot out of various facilities (powerful beams of energy have become common place in superhero movies for some reason). The movie even manages to go overboard on symbolism and social commentary. We get some 9/11 imagery, lots of Christ symbolism (it is Superman after all), allusions to bitter and disillusioned war veterans, all handled with the subtlety of Superman’s fist and shoddily inserted into the rest of the proceedings. There’s even an homage to “King Kong” near the end because, why not? In other words, the picture tries to cover so much material that it can’t really explore any of it in any real depth or nuance. It has to keep chugging along to shove in even more stuff.

What’s most frustrating is that, despite the convoluted plot and overabundance of material and characters, it adds up to virtually nothing.  Like most other superhero movies, it all comes down to a dull final clash between heroes and a power hungry super villain (again, apparently, Batman fighting Superman isn’t good enough) in a climax that goes on for what feels like an eternity. There are about four fight scenes crammed in to this single sequence, a surprise bad guy, ticking clocks, two damsels in distress and lots of city damage.  Seriously? Was there any sort of editing, either at the script stage or in postproduction? It’s the cherry on top of this chaos sundae.

Even from a technical standpoint the movie is a dud. The action sequences are horrendous--poorly shot using a mix of shaky hand held cam and disorienting crane/dolly work. The editing is muddled and nonsensical; we constantly lose track of what’s going on. And of course, there’s too much action. The cinematography by Larry Fong is simply atrocious, using dull, murky tones of grey and muddied, phony-looking CGI backgrounds. Meanwhile, Han Zimmer’s thundering orchestral score is overbearing and obnoxious. It’s used much too frequently and occasionally drowns out the dialogue.

The bigger issue here is that “Batman v Superman” wants to be big and epic in every scene, as if the filmmakers were worried they would bore the audience (well, they bored us anyway). Rarely does it settle down and let quiet, more intimate moments between characters play out. The few romantic scenes between Superman and Lois feel cheesy and forced. As is the case with most of Snyder’s movies, “Batman v Superman” is ultimately more committed to style and spectacle rather then character and narrative substance.

The longer “Batman v Superman” went on (and the more stuff it introduced) the more I grew to despise it. I walked out of the theater seething with rage, angry that I had to sit through such a long, hollow, bloated mess that wants so badly to be about everything that it’s not much about anything in the long run. It’s one of the worst superhero movies to come out in a while and I never want to see or think about it again.


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