Friday, March 25, 2016

"Batman V Superman: Dawn (and morning, and midday, and afternoon) of Justice"

In my nearly half-century of life, I have spent more than my share of time and money on comic books.  There are Marvel Comics fanboys and there are DC Comics fanboys.  I have no loyalties - I am a comics slut and give my love freely to ‘em all, and then some!  This admission means, of course, that I am instantly and unashamedly incapable of giving an objective review of the first movie depiction of DC Comics’ “Holy Trinity” of superheroes, namely Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.  Like many geeks, I have been longing for such a movie the majority of my life, so it would take a pretty atrocious film of these characters meeting and doing battle to earn a horrible review from me.  Is this an atrocious film?  Absolutely, positively not.  So, is it a fantastic film?  Absolutely, positively not.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a mouthful of a title if ever there was one, is directed by Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen), who also directed this film’s predecessor, Man of Steel. The movie opens with that film’s climax, but showing us the mass carnage of Superman’s (Henry Cavill, back again) battle over Metropolis from ground level this time.  The seemingly World War III-ish destruction from that film is not glossed over, and serves as the impetus for this one.  Bruce Wayne’s (Ben Affleck) financial empire has holdings in Metropolis, and he is there that day, seeing his property and, more importantly, his employees, being crushed by the aliens engaged in a death-match all over the city.  Who’s to blame for all this?  Sure, Superman saved the world, but a world now with a few hundred thousand fewer people alive.  Congressional hearings are held, CNN spends large chunks of airtime debating the issue, and lots of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump voter-types go wacko in voicing and showing their opposing fervor on the subject of this “alien” who may be our salvation or our doom. That thought drives both Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) to decide we’d be better off without him, and each begin making moves to act on that belief. Let the battle begin!

This movie is breakneck-paced from the opening titles to the closing credits. With a two-and-a-half hour running time, and so much material to cover, Snyder gives us a visual orgy of explosions and costumes and vehicles and heat-ray-emitting monsters that would make Michael Bay blush.  We bounce around disjointed events from around the globe, and the movie hopes we can keep up and string them all together in our minds to see the overall picture. We’re beaten over the head with Hans Zimmer’s score (credited along with something/someone called “Junkie XL,” whatever that is), and see enough CNN on-air personalities that we’re absolutely certain that Warner Bros. owns them, too.

On the other hand, the pace also prevented Snyder from wasting time retelling us things we of which probably didn’t need reminding. Wayne is driven to almost-psychosis over the mayhem and destruction he witnessed, and the movie conveys just enough to convince me of that and moves on.  As he did with Superman’s origin in Man of Steel, Snyder does not bog us down in the minutia of Batman’s beginnings, as he’s confident in our knowledge of the broader strokes of how Batman came to be.  Sure, he gives us two minutes of Bruce Wayne voicing over a dream/remembrance of his parents’ deaths early on, but that’s it, and it’s enough.

But is the movie good or bad? Well, The Good - the majority of the cast’s headliners do excellent work.  Henry Cavill has Superman down-pat now, and while his performance in Man of Steel was probably more personal and touching, that movie was meant to be more emotional than this one (an actor’s gotta do what he’s given to do, right?).  Affleck is fantastic as Bruce Wayne AND as Batman, instantly shaming all those haters who went wild upon his casting announcement two years ago.  Oh, he may get some ribbing for adopting the Christian Bale gravel-voice while wearing the cowl, but that’s actually explained as a plot point and shouldn’t be held against him.  As stated, Wonder Woman makes her debut, played by Israeli actress Gal Gadot, and if you don’t applaud when she appears in costume for the first time, then I don’t want to talk to you.  She doesn’t have much opportunity to take over any scenes, and given Godot’s previous work, that may be a good thing (I guess we’ll find out if she can REALLY act in next year’s Wonder Woman solo flick), but she sure as Hell LOOKS the part, and that’s enough for me so far.

Now The Bad - Chris Terrio and David Goyer’s screenplay doesn’t do Lois Lane (Amy Adams, also back for more) any favors, and Jesse Eisenberg was a horrible Lex Luthor.  Lois, while portrayed to be more independent and less bumbling that almost all previous incarnations of the character, is still basically a catalyst for rescue situations, and disappointing, given Adams’ talent.  The Luthor character is the movie’s biggest and most glaring disappointment, though, being played as something akin to Eisenberg’s portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, but with Parkinson’s or something.  Every time he was on screen was like nails on a chalkboard to me, and while one is supposed to be somewhat turned off by a movie’s villain, Eisenberg’s performance turned me off in the wrong way.

The overabundance of characters and plot points, of course, serve as seeds that will someday bear fruit as spinoff films and a Justice League movie. Yes, the two minutes or so that teases the soon-to-be-members of the Justice League feels shoehorned into the narrative (and may literally have been, as rumors have it that the sequence was filmed many, many months after principal photography wrapped), but I understand the purpose the sequence serves, and it didn’t take me out of the movie.  A less geeky viewer may find his or her experience somewhat different.

The movie is far from perfect, but it’s far from a failure, too. I can understand how a more casual moviegoer would find the movie’s pace almost too frenetic to allow him to keep up with all these characters and their possible motives.  I can tell you with all-but-certainty that the half-hour of excised footage that Snyder and Warner Bros. have promised us for the three-hour R-rated Blu-ray release of the film is sorely missed.  Batman v Superman doesn’t make any pretense about being “Hamlet,” however - it’s a superhero movie.  It’s a flick about dudes (and dude-ettes) in brightly-colored spandex blowing stuff up and bashing the crap out of each other, and setting the table for more such movies to come. If that’s your cup of tea, as it is mine, then you may enjoy it as much as I did.