Sunday, April 17, 2016

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice Review


Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is a near-disaster, an overlong, sometimes nonsensical film with some bad, downright cringe-inducing performances and an unwieldy story where plot points, down to whole sequences, come and go without rhyme or reason.

As such, the applause for it at the end demonstrate that a lot of audiences simply don't care, so long as they get big moments of wanton destruction that require little to no thinking on their part (akin to a Donald Trump rally).   Batman v. Superman is a film that, at least to its credit, didn't play out as one long trailer for the Justice League films we will be plagued with in the near future.  It also managed, despite itself, to give Wonder Woman a good debut for her upcoming film.  However, the few good things in this monstrosity cannot overcome the bad.

It's been 18 months after the events of Man of Steel.  Bruce Wayne aka Batman (Ben Affleck) witnessed the destruction of Metropolis at the hands of Superman (Henry Cavill) when said Man of Steel fought General Zod (Michael Shannon) in their extremely September 11th-type war.

Should I even wonder why Wayne Enterprises apparently is headquartered in Metropolis rather than Gotham?

Anyway, Wayne, still traumatized by the murder of his parents all those years ago, sees Superman as a dangerous vigilante figure, accountable to no one.  I figure Wayne thinks the only unaccountable vigilante in the Gotham/Metropolis metroplex (since the two cities are the San Francisco/Oakland version of Comic Book World, being a mere bay away from each other) is him.  Batman is a real lawman-outside-the-law, literally branding those he captures (here again, I wonder if perhaps having a bat branded on one's skin would make said criminal MORE popular with the inmates, rather than less.  It's not like The Caped Crusader goes after pedophiles like Jared from the Subway commercials).  Anyway, despite the warnings from Bruce's manservant Alfred (Jeremy Irons), Bruce Wayne and his alter ego are determined to bring this Kryptonian down.

For his part, Superman's alter ego Clark Kent has shacked up with Lois Lane (Amy Adams), who knows his dual identity.  Good thing too, as Lois appears to be in constant need of rescue, starting from when she is used as bait to get at an Islamic terrorist mastermind.  Superman can sense she is in danger (Spidey-sense?)...but he cannot hear or see or sense bombs (more on that later).  What, does Lois have some sort of 'Danger Sensor' that rings for Supe's ears alone?

For his part, Clark/Superman thinks Batman is a danger to the law.  He wants to write Daily Planet articles on The Dark Knight (again, because the Gotham Gazette cannot be bothered to cover this crime-fighter who dresses like an exile from Die Fledermaus facing off against super-criminals who look like clowns or wear green question marks or waddle).  His editor, Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) insists Kent cover sports, but Clark essentially ignores him and goes on his anti-Batman campaign.

Into this enters tech billionaire Alexander 'Lex' Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg).  He is after some kryptonite, which is part of some scheme to use General Zod's corpse to make what he dubs a 'defense mechanism' against Superman and/or any other Kryptonian who stumbles onto Earth (watch out, Supergirl).  Standing in his way is the Democratic junior Senator from Kentucky, June Finch (Holly Hunter).

I just realized...Batman v. Superman has three Oscar winners and three Oscar nominees: Hunter, Irons, and Affleck, then Adams, Fishburne, and sadly, Eisenberg.

Finch detests Luthor and won't grant him import permits for the kryptonite...even if his piss were called Grandma's Lemonade. 

When Wayne and Kent meet at Luthor's benefit for the Metropolis Library (a most peculiar moment since, despite the two cities' proximity and Wayne's reputation as a millionaire playboy, Kent has no idea what Bruce Wayne looks like), Wayne encounters a mysterious woman with an agenda of her own.  She is Diana Prince (Gad Gadot), who manages to outwit Wayne to get what she wants (even though what she is really after she as yet cannot get at).  For that, she needs Wayne, and Wayne makes surprising discoveries.

Not only is there an old photo of this mysterious woman, but there are brief video clips of 'metahumans' that Luthor has been tracking.  There is one of a kid who can move at super-speed (Ezra Miller), one that is almost merman-like (Jason Momoa) and one that looks like he was part man, part machine (David Fisher).  Curiously, these little clips are in files that feature a "Flash"-like lightning bolt for the first, an "Aquaman"-type for the second, and a C-type for a "Cyborg"-style for the third.  Oh, and did I mention a Double W for a Wonder Woman?

As part of Luthor's mad scheme, he blows up the Senate conference room where Superman finally shows up to answer questions (because the Senate cannot be bothered to serve subpoenas), thus ridding himself of that pesky Democratic junior Senator from Kentucky.  As the hall is blown up, Superman a.) could not see, hear, or sense the bomb, and b.) essentially looks around with a blank expression as he is surrounded by flames and corpses.

The fact that Luthor was to have gone in (down to having a seat reserved) but opted not to at the last minute I'm sure won't draw any attention.

From here, Batman and Superman get into an epic battle thanks to Luthor, who kidnaps Martha Kent (Diane Lane) because he knows she is Superman's adoptive mother, and to save her Superman has to kill Batman.  Superman, who knows Batman is Bruce duel it out, but Batman has a surprise for the Last Son of Krypton: he has kryptonite.  The battle comes close to having Batman kill Superman when Superman calls out "Martha".  Superman is calling for his adoptive mother, but as it so happens, "Martha" is also Bruce Wayne's mother's name.  This puzzles and stuns Batman (the fact that Superman called him "Bruce" drawing no surprise).  Lois, who earlier had been thrown off the Luthor Building by Lex, is there to explain things, but there are bigger problems.

Luthor has managed to create his super-man, and it turns from the corpse of General Zod to Doomsday.  Now, while Superman rescues Martha, Batman fights Doomsday, then jumps in...WONDER WOMAN (who got off an airplane to get there...though whether she used her invisible plane we know not).  Superman later joins in, and both he and Lois know that the only way to defeat Doomsday is to use the kryptonite lance Batman had earlier, a lance Lois conveniently tossed into a pool.  She has to get it, but gets stuck, so Superman has to get out of the battle to save her (this I think makes the third time he rescued our intrepid girl reporter).  Using the lance, Superman kills Doomsday but not before Doomsday fatally injures the Man of Steel.


As Metropolis mourns, Diana and Bruce go to the funeral of Clark Kent (who was 'killed in the chaos') rather than the state funeral for Superman.  Bruce now is going to find the other 'metahumans' to join forces, and we end with Lex, now in prison and with a bald head, and the earth slowly rumbling at Clark Kent's burial plot (bringing back horrifying flashbacks to the end of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). 

Well, with Batman v. Superman, we get the answer to the question, "Can you make a sequel to a bad film that is even worse than the original and botch the set-up for more sequels?"   One watches Batman v. Superman not so much in confusion (though there is plenty of that) but more in frustration, wondering why allegedly smart people cannot figure out how to make something worth our time.

I'm going to start with the aspect that bothered me the most: Jimmy Olsen.  He is my favorite character, and from what I'm told, he WAS in the movie.  However, from what I'm also told, he was there in the first few minutes as the CIA agent that accompanied Lois Lane, Dupe Deluxe. 

OK...I knew things were going wrong when I saw that the photographer (whoever he was) was using FILM for his pictures.  Who uses film for still pictures now?  I think even the most basic photog uses digital, but no, Batman v. Superman opts to have this photog use film.  I don't remember him being called "Jimmy Olsen", or him being relevant to the plot.  However, when I saw the terrorist removing a roll of film, I thought...this guy ain't no photographer (not even a cub reporter).

Yes, the fact that from all appearances Jimmy Olsen just popped in (and wasn't his usual self) is in itself bothersome, but I think also indicates how wildly Batman v. Superman miscalculates its desire to be something else, something unique.  James Olsen in Supergirl is already hit-and-miss, but if this is the DC Expanded Universe take on the character, I can see why almost all the others went so wrong.

Screenwriters David S. Goyer and Chris Terrio apparently decided the best way to introduce characters from said Expanded Universe was to have little bits playing on a laptop, where The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg are shown for no discernable reason.  There's no reason to be there apart from letting us know they are IN this universe.  However, I couldn't help think, there MUST have been a better, smarter, more rational way to integrate them into this universe.

Couldn't Bruce Wayne have given a talk where Barry Allen would ask a question?  Could not Wayne Enterprises be informed of Dr. Stone's work?  When the White Portuguese sailed, couldn't a strange figure be following it underwater?

What a ham-fisted way to integrate these characters, and worse, not only could have cut them out entirely, but how dumb does DC think its audience is by having their emblems pop up on their video clips? 

Speaking of things that could have been cut out, what was it with those dream sequences?  Of particular note was the one where Batman apparently fights Moth-Men who work for Superman.  The film seems so determined to be 'epic' it forgets time to time to be 'rational'.  The heavy-handed symbolism works against the film, making it much more ponderous and overly-serious than it should be.

There are so many things within Batman v. Superman which don't make any sense.  Why is Luthor so interested in all these meta-humans?  How does Luthor find out what Superman's identity is?  How does Superman find out what Batman's identity is?  How was it that Clark Kent, ace reporter, didn't know who Bruce Wayne was?  Why didn't Perry White fire Clark for insubordination?  Where was Superman's Fortress of Solitude?  Why does he apparently go to the Himalayas to consult his dead father (Kevin Costner)? What was the point of that entire sequence?  What was Luthor's ultimate plan?  Why was Diana Prince so worried about a picture that looked like it came from Wikipedia?  Why, despite Bruce Wayne's master skills at detection, could he not figure out the White Portuguese wasn't a person but a ship? 

What, Wayne Enterprises has no way to get Google?

For me, the biggest bizarre aspect of Batman v. Superman was the Holly Hunter character?  Since when would a JUNIOR Senator head up a Senate committee?  Moreover, since when would KENTUCKY elect a DEMOCRAT?  Why not just make Senator Finch the Republican from Washington be just as rational.

For some reason, this leads me to that pesky 'acting' business.  Let's get this clear: Henry Cavill is a breathtakingly beautiful-looking man.  When he stands still and poses (which he does a lot in this film), he seems ideal to the role of Superman.  When he is modeling, he is perfect.  It's only when he's required to speak or actually act that Cavill gets into trouble. 

Henry Cavill cannot act.  With the possible exception of The Tudors, I don't think Cavill has given anything close to what can be called actual acting.  Pia Zadora in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians had more range than Cavill in Batman v. Superman.

I think that even director Zack Snyder was aware that Cavill was beyond limited.  Despite his character being part of the title, there are very few scenes where Superman or Clark had dialogue.  A lot of Cavill's scenes are of him posing or staring at things (if anything, Superman has a penchant for landing).  I think there was a conscious decision to limit Cavill speaking unless it was absolutely necessary, but whenever he did, it was if not sad at least disheartening.

Of particular note is when he survives the assassination of I figure more than three Senators.  There is the Senate committee chamber, up in flames, dead bodies all around, and Superman just stares about him with no hint of emotion.  I was absolutely stunned that even a model as bad in acting as Henry Cavill couldn't bother to get any emotion going.

Somehow, despite himself, Henry Cavill is not the worst performance in Batman v. Superman.  That dishonor goes to Jesse Eisenberg.  In many ways, Cavill and Eisenberg are similar (though obviously, Cavill is gorgeous and Eisenberg isn't).  While Cavill has become an 'actor' thanks exclusively to his looks, Eisenberg has become an 'actor' by doing the same nerdy, rapid-fire delivery, tick-laded shtick over and over again.  There were times when Eisenberg was cringe-inducing as Luthor, less evil genius and more annoying nutter.  When he 'brings together' Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne, I literally covered my eyes at how bad he was. It's as if he were told Lex Luthor is just Mark Zuckerberg as a crazy, incoherent buffoon with delusions of grandeur who has some hare-brained scheme that might not make sense even to him.

While Cavill can be generously called a master of subtlety (if by subtlety, you mean expression no emotion), Eisenberg is the master of wild histrionics, devouring the scenery to a degree not even Faye Dunaway in full Mommie Dearest kabuki mode would dare go.   

To my surprise, Ben Affleck is actually not bad in the film (especially since he's slightly above Cavill in terms of acting ability).  His Bruce Wayne didn't have much personality, as he was basically a crabby old man, one who had no personality and has no problem being brutal to suspects.  Still, given it's Ben Affleck...

The best performance was Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman.  Again, she didn't have much to work with, but her scenes showed a strong female who in the climatic battle fought furiously, like a  true Amazon,  Gadot has silenced her critics (myself included), and makes one anticipate for the upcoming Wonder Woman film.  My only concern was in what kind of story would involve her.

That isn't as bad as how I wonder how Clark Kent will explain his miraculous resurrection once Superman reemerges.

That I think is perhaps why, for me, Batman v. Superman is a failure.  I felt no emotion when Superman met his 'end' against Doomsday (a monster that just popped out because he needed to), especially since I know he will return.

Finally, I detest films that so nakedly evoke September 11th.  This one went so over-the-top that it went over-the-line for me. 

Muddled, dull, overblown, overlong, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is a film that will be forgotten, a launching pad for a slug of other DC Extended Universe films, mini-trailers for other films. 

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, is like the 2016 GOP Presidential nomination campaign.  We, the common folk, can see them going over a cliff.  Those in charge, however, despite themselves, cannot find a way to stop the inevitable disaster from coming to fruition.

Oh, Martha...


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