BATMAN V SUPERMAN:
DAWN OF JUSTICE
PG-13, 151 mins.
2016, PG-13, 151 mins.
Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne / Batman / Henry Cavill as Clark Kent / Superman / Amy Adams as Lois Lane / Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor / Diane Lane as Martha Kent / Laurence Fishburne as Perry White / Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth / Holly Hunter as Senator Finch / Gal Gadot as Diana Prince / Wonder Woman / Callan Mulvey as Anatoli Knyazev / Tao Okamoto as Mercy Graves
Directed by Zack Snyder / Written by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer
To quote its full – and somewhat longwinded – title, BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE is a super hero epic (the second entry in the DC Cinematic Universe post-MAN OF STEEL) that has an operatic visual scope and scale that oftentimes – but not all of the time – matches its fairly courageous story and thematic ambitions.
contained within this film are among the oldest and most recognizable and
coveted in all of 20th Century pop culture, but BATMAN V SUPERMAN – much
like the film that predicated it – manages to find a manner of paying
revered tribute to the roots of these comic book titans while
simultaneously offering up compelling new interpretations of them that
speak towards our contemporary fears and anxieties.
It certainly doesn’t make for a “fun” and “enjoyable”
super hero romp, per se, but it does make for a fairly intriguing one.
Even though the
franchise is still in its relative infancy, there’s simply no denying
that BATMAN V SUPERMAN and MAN OF STEEL take calculated risks and gambles
with their inherent material that frankly many other super hero films
(including those from Marvel) are too timid to take.
Some of them pay off handsomely in BATMAN V SUPERMAN, whereas an
equal number of them simply don’t.
However, I steadfastly respect the audacity of director Zack Snyder
and writers David S. Goer and Chris Terrio (recent Academy Award winner
for ARGO) in trying to segregate their film
from a very overcrowded pack. This
approach, no doubt, will have a polarizing effect on both lay viewers and
diehard DC Comics fundamentalists, but it should be appreciated that
BATMAN V SUPERMAN – beyond featuring, yes, a cataclysmically rendered
donnybrook between two wounded and emotionally vulnerable orphans that
just happen to be costumed crusaders – at least poses and tries to
answer questions about what the nature of true super heroism means in a
movie universe that doesn’t optimistically and blindly embrace it.
BATMAN V SUPERMAN
does something from the outset that almost no other comic book film
(whether it be the first two AVENGERS or even MAN OF STEEL itself) have
achieved: it offers up a ground zero perspective on the sheer enormity of
the collateral damage that protectors like Superman – whether directly
or indirectly – cause while attempting to save humanity.
You may recall the much debated climax of MAN OF STEEL, during
which time Superman (Henry Cavill) engaged in a Kryptonian battle to the
death with his nemesis General Zod, leaving much of Metropolis in ruins
and presumably hundreds of thousands of people dead.
The mesmerizing and scary opening to BATMAN V SUPERMAN revisits
this entire sequence…but from the POV of citizens that were
unfortunately caught up in it all. One
of them is an older and world-wearier Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who
becomes appalled when the devastation caused by Superman’s exploits
leads to a Wayne Enterprise building toppling over in a moment that has
eerie and obvious 9/11 underpinnings.
He spots a survivor, a young girl that has apparently lost her
mother. Seeing as Bruce
forever struggles – even as an adult – with the tragic loss of his own
parents, witnessing this girl’s torment re-channels his own.
He looks into the skies above and feels that his new purpose in
crime fighting is to rid the world of Superman.
serves the purpose of providing for a simplistic, but altogether plausible
psychological motivation for Batman to hate Superman (granted, rather
ignorantly and without all of the established facts) and fear the possible
future threat of a perceived alien menace.
It also appears that some powerful political forces seem equally
hesitant to let the Last Son of Krypton go unchecked, including a pesky
and determined Senator (Holly Hunter) that wants to hold congressional
hearings to question the righteousness of Earth’s newest savoir.
While struggling with an increasingly divided populace that both
equally covets him as a God and admonishes him as a war criminal, Superman
tries to navigate though all of his inner conflict while maintaining his
cover as Clark Kent and a relationship with fellow Daily Planet journalist
Lois Lane (Amy Adams). He's also trying to convince his boss Perry
White (Laurence Fishburne) of the need to cover the return of Batman to
Gotham City (revealed to be a neighbor city to Metropolis).
Adding to the stress is the appearance of Lex Luthor (Jesse
Eisenberg), a rich industrialist that wishes to tap into crash landed
Kryptonian ship technology while, at the same time, maliciously conspiring
to give Superman his own motives for wanting to wage war on Batman.
thankfully, BATMAN V SUPERMAN doesn’t squander too much wasteful time on
expositional specifics for series newcomers.
We all know of Batman’s origins already, so it’s a wise move on
Snyder’s part to cover it rather expeditiously in a brief flashback
sequence early in the film, which eventually piggybacks its way later –
and somewhat unexpectedly – in the final clash between him and Superman.
Of course, the film also has to deal with one of the most
frequently debated scenarios in all of comic book fiction: how in the hell
would a mortal like Batman be able to exchange blows with an all-powerful
deity like Superman in a “fair” fight?
Well, much as was the case in Frank Miller’s seminal 1986 graphic
novel THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS (elements of which BATMAN V SUPERMAN borrows
from in both a subtle and copious fashion), the Caped Crusader uses his
cunning intellect, some methodical planning, and newfound combat enhanced
technology to ensure that he’s not horrifically injured or murdered
within seconds of squaring off against his enemy.
Snyder wholeheartedly delivers on the years of built-up
expectations of this titular action sequence, even though it abruptly ends
via an awfully convenient and less than convincing dialogue exchange
between the pair.
Of course, BATMAN
V SUPERMAN is an audio-visual nirvana throughout, and Snyder’s long-time
cinematographer Larry Fong (who also shot 300
and WATCHMEN) always gives this film the
level of dark, yet opulently beautiful grandeur that it deserves.
On a level of pure production artifice, the film is a masterful
triumph of movie magic whizbangery that frankly dwarfs just about any
previous BATMAN and SUPERMAN film that came before.
Snyder should also be given props for impeccably casting his film
as well, and Cavill’s stoic, understated, and emotionally wounded
performance as Superman reiterates his previous attempts at infusing some
much needed pathos and sense of helplessness in a character that
desperately needs it. The
real performance elephant in the room is Affleck – coming on the heels
of the critically lauded DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY – whose casting years ago
in this film caused ripples of initial fanboy outrage.
He all but silences his skeptics as a resoundingly solid successor
to Christian Bale, who pitch perfectly captures the spoiled, drunken
one-per center playboy billionaire alter-ego of Bruce Wayne while also
given us one of the most vengeful and ruthlessly determined portrayals of
Batman ever shown on screen. Much
has been said about the character’s moral code in this film, but it’s
his chilling cold-hearted detachment from this code that makes him a
frighteningly unhinged opponent for both Superman and others.
Beaten down and jaded by two decades of crime fighting, it’s
almost as if Batman has forgotten what it means to be a hero and has
carelessly thrown out the rule book, something that his butler Alfred (a
wonderfully sardonic Jeremy Irons) rightfully scorns him over as a
fatherly voice of reason throughout.
casting question mark of the film is Jesse Eisenberg as Luthor, and it’s
unlike just about any other portrayal of Superman’s arch nemesis ever
presented on the small or big screen before.
Less a calm spoken, austere, and unscrupulous entrepreneur than he
is a stammering, socially awkward, and creepily idiosyncratic introvert,
Eisneberg’s Lex is presented as a deranged flurry of instability
throughout, which is both a uniquely welcome change of pace and obtrusive
distraction in a film that’s trying to dramatically
“ground” itself. Like Batman and Superman, he’s a child trapped in a
man’s body that tragically lost a father, but any effort on the
screenplay’s part to comment on such fascinating commonalities between
these tormented players is regretfully abandoned.
His ultimate Machiavelli-like end game to use the endless resources
of Kryptonian knowledge to eradicate Superman, Batman and company is never
quite fully explained or exploited in the film, especially when he
inevitably resorts to the cheapest tactic in the "Comic Book Villain
101" playbook in the final act to really get underneath Superman’s
indestructible skin. .
BATMAN V SUPERMAN is an ambitious film.
A seriously ambitious film.
Alas, it's a film that's dogged with an excessive running time of
150 minutes and an ill-focused attempt at shoehorning in multiple
plot-threads that makes the enterprise feel more exhausting than
exhilarating at times. Predictably,
the film is a build up to a future Justice League film, and Snyder faced
the unenviable task of trying to build a new cinematic super hero team
mythology without past solo films to prop it up and support the
cause…and it shows. One
welcome inclusion is the all-to-brief, but highly memorable appearance of
the enigmatic Diana Prince (aka Wonder Woman, played rather appealingly by
Israeli actress Gal Godot), and when the Amazonian makes a rather
calculated and impressive entrance in the film in full kick-ass warrior
regalia, it’s the stuff of long-overdue comic book nerd fantasies come
to life. BATMAN V SUPERMAN
throws in fleeting glimpses of other future Justice League hall of famers,
one of which is included in one of the film’s many (far too many) dream
sequences that will have many lay viewers not familiar with DC lore feel
hopelessly lost while trying to ponder and decipher its secrets.
The film has
other noteworthy issues, the largest of which is its climax, yet another
all-out brawl between heroes and – in this film’s case – a dully
rendered CGI monstrosity that leads to yet more eye-numbing city spanning
destruction (there are also some laughable throwaway lines provided by TV
reporters that the battle is occurring in largely “depopulated” areas,
which is clumsily handled, if not improbable on a level of modest
veracity). It’s funny how
we’ve now had two AVENGERS films and now two DCCU films that have opted
to lazily retread action beats, with no creative lessons being learned in
the process. BATMAN V
SUPERMAN also concludes with a would-be shocking story development that
could have evoked a whole new thorny angle to the potential inception of
the Justice League and Superman/Clark Kent's future as a whole.
Disappointingly, it’s undone with a final shot in the film that
all but unravels any semblance of tantalizing mystery of what’s to come.
V SUPERMAN is a problematic super hero tentpole extravaganza with aims as
lofty as Kal-El’s flight patterns.
Critics have been savagely – and unfairly – crucifying the
film, but it's certainly littered with flaws that holds it back from
soaring up, up, and away and into the pantheon of truly transformative
super hero films. Yet, BATMAN
V SUPERMAN is aesthetically awe inspiring, boldly cast, compellingly
acted, and ripe with endlessly intriguing ruminations on the inherent
worth of super heroes, so much so that to label it as a “failure”
would be a criminal disservice. It
also forces viewers to challenge themselves regarding their beliefs about
the practical necessity of its larger than life heroes...and more so than
a handful of other recent and similar genre films.
These heroes don’t have the ethical values of, say, the classic
heroes of old that we grew up with in comic books, mostly because…some
of them here (like Superman himself) haven’t fully cultivated them yet.
V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE has a lot more up its sleeve and more to say
than most are giving it credit for…and it ultimately deserves big screen
(on as big of a screen as possible) consumption. It’s a
good film and a good preamble to future DCCU entries.
MY CTV REVIEW:
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