Saturday, March 26, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Some of the most heated debates you'll ever see begin with a single question: "Who'd win in a fight?" Pick any two popular fictional characters, and the idea of them doing battle is enough to send any geek's imagination running wild. We'll even occasionally end up with these arguments bearing fruit, with movies like King Kong vs. Godzilla and Freddy vs. Jason hitting theaters and wars between the Alien and the Predator sprawling across comic books, video games, and two movies. But other than James T. Kirk versus Jean-Luc Picard, the one argument I've seen the most is who would win between DC's legendary superheroes, Superman and Batman. It's a battle that's actually happened in the past, most famously in the pages of Frank Miller's seminal comic book The Dark Knight Returns, but never on the scale of the newly released flick Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. But I should have taken the movie's Rotten Tomatoes score (as of this writing, it sits at 30% and will probably drop lower) as a warning, because I don't know if I could have been more disappointed with it.

Eighteen months have passed since the city of Metropolis was left devastated by General Zod and his band of rebel Kryptonians. And while his intervention on that fateful day and his acts of selfless heroism since then have led many to trust Superman (Henry Cavill) as a benevolent force, there are those who are convinced otherwise. Among the doubters is billionaire industrialist Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who witnessed firsthand the death and destruction caused by Superman's battle with Zod and is now fearful of the day that he might switch from savior to conqueror. He's bound and determined to prevent this, using the expertise and equipment he's acquired as the masked vigilante "Batman" to develop a means to neutralize Superman should the need ever arise.

Wayne's paranoia is surpassed, however, by that of Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), an eccentric businessman who has grown obsessed with proving that Superman is far from the altruistic hero that appears to be. Luthor begins secretly orchestrating ways to sully his enemy's good name and shift the public's perception of him, while using his vast wealth and political connections to get access to the top-secret laboratory built around the wreckage of Zod's ship and find answers to all of his darkest questions about our superpowered visitor from another world. But his primary goal: to subtly stir the tensions between Superman and Batman and manipulate them into a fight, a clash of titans that that he hopes will end with Superman either dead or exposed as the villain Luthor believes him to be.

I wanted to like this movie. I honestly did. I went in thinking to myself, "There's no way it can be that bad." But I was wrong, dead wrong. Batman v Superman is a bloated mess of a movie that tries to accomplish way too much in the time its given yet never really does any of it right. It's painfully obvious that they're trying to play catch-up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe yet missed every single thing that Marvel Studios did well so wildly that it's almost like they were doing it on purpose. The movie practically assaults the audience with all of its failed potential and wasted efforts. Between that, the inconsistent writing, and the oppressively dark tone, Batman v Superman is an absolute chore to get through.

Zack Snyder returns to direct the movie after helming Man of Steel, and I'm not one hundred percent convinced that Warner Bros. was wise to bring him back. Snyder has always been accused of preferring style over substance, a criticism that is none more accurate when applied to Batman v Superman. There's absolutely nothing worthwhile about the movie beyond what's on the surface, and what is on the surface isn't very appealing. The movie's dark, downright bleak tone makes it really depressing to watch, as if the entire project was one big experiment Snyder was conducting in an attempt to discover the antithesis of fun. It's like he was actively trying to make a movie that was utterly devoid of any sort of happiness or glee, instead preferring to make a movie so gloomy and joyless that it makes me simultaneously sad and angry that this was the best Snyder felt that he could do.

It's also relentlessly dull until the climactic fight scenes, because it feels like Snyder and the writers are trying to cram so many things into the movie that nothing really ends up happening. And the fight scenes... oh dear, the fight scenes! By the end, it felt like Snyder was beating me over the head with a pipe while trying to make me go deaf and blind at the same time. It's one giant terrible mixture of cacophonic light and sound, an all-out assault on the senses that stops being entertaining and becomes annoying halfway through.

And then there's the piss-poor script credited to Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer. It feels like Terrio and Goyer just cobbled together pieces from other, better stories without trying to make any sort of coherent narrative out of it all. It feels bloated, trying to cram numerous movies worth of material into one 150-minute project just because the Justice League movie starts filming this summer and they've got to hurry up and get all this stuff out of the way now while they still have a chance. There's just so much going on that it does not allow for any sort of narrative flow at all. The story bounces around like it's trapped inside a pinball machine, with no chance to make any sort of sense of it or to give the audience a chance to care. You'd think that a movie that is ostensibly a sequel to Man of Steel would be more concerned with just being that. But instead we have to clumsily introduce Wonder Woman, shoehorn in cameos from Aquaman, Cyborg, and the Flash, and give Batman the lion's share of the movie's focus.

And honestly, none of it ever goes anywhere. It's setting up for movies down the road without worrying about taking care of itself. Instead of being a self-contained movie where Superman fights Batman, it's basically giving you an entire franchise worth of Cliff's Notes just so Snyder and Warner Bros. can skip straight to Justice League with as minimal effort as possible, and then give all of the characters that aren't Batman or Superman their own movies after the fact. It's a classic case of trying to put the cart before the horse. Rather than treat this movie with love and care, they just slap everything together in a great big rush and shove it out into theaters without really caring how good or bad it is because the Marvel Cinematic Universe has made nearly ten billion dollars combined at the worldwide box office and they want some of that action too. But rather than develop a world a world of heroes and villains and build towards Justice League as the natural payoff towards all of their hard work, it's like they've convinced themselves that people would rather just see all of the characters lumped onto the screen together and have a bunch of monotonous action scenes thrown at them without things like story or character development or good acting getting in the way.

And how about that acting, huh? One almost gets the feeling that even the majority cast realized how awful the movie was going to be and couldn't bother to even half-ass it. The rest were so hampered by the lousy material that even if they'd given their absolute best, they'd have barely made it out intact. Granted, there are a couple of good performances, but the majority of the cast is just disappointing at best. Among the good is Ben Affleck, who is a strong Batman. When his casting was first announced back in 2013, it drew an absolute ridiculous amount of criticism. How dare they hire the guy that played Daredevil? But now that the movie has been released, Affleck shows that he's a lot better in the role than anyone could have anticipated. He approaches the role with a grizzled, jaded demeanor that really suits the character. Affleck's Batman is haunted by years of emotional grief, his fight to protect Gotham City having taken a toll on him. We're only privy to bits and pieces of it ― the broken-down state of Wayne Manor, a desecrated Robin costume kept as a memorial in the Batcave ― but Affleck manages to convey so much through his actions, his facial expressions, his tone of voice. This Batman has been through absolute hell, and it's Affleck who shows us that.

I also really enjoyed Gal Godot as Wonder Woman. She isn't really given a lot to do until the finale (and Wonder Woman is completely irrelevant to the plot, to be honest), but Godot absolutely nails the role. Godot's Wonder Woman is a strong, charismatic heroine, just as she should be. Once she leaps into battle, you can't take your eyes off her. She commands your attention with a ferocity that makes one curious as to why it took so long for Warner Bros. to work Wonder Woman into a movie. But word is that they're making one as we speak with the intention of it coming out next year, which I'm actually excited for because I can't wait to see Godot actually have something to do as the character.

And while the movie does boast those good performances and some decent ones among lesser members of the supporting cast (Jeremy Irons, Laurence Fishburne, and Diane Lane are all fantastic, by the way), they're outweighed by the bad and the ridiculous. Henry Cavill, for starters, certainly looks the part. But the way his character is presented, he's stuck playing a whiny, emo bitch. This is not the big blue Boy Scout we all know and love; it's instead an emotionally conflicted wuss that feels more pathetic than heroic. I get the reasoning behind writing Superman that way, as I'm sure Snyder & Co. felt they were giving him more depth that way. But what's wrong with the traditional depiction? Regardless, Cavill seems to be trying hard, which I appreciate, but he just can't overcome how poorly written the script is. He's not playing a character to believe in, but to pity. And that is no Superman that I want any part of.

And why is Amy Adams even here again? She's dull as dishwater, having absolutely none of the likability, charisma, or spunk that made Lois such a beloved part of the Superman mythos. It doesn't help matters that Adams and Cavill have zero chemistry whatsoever either, but that's more the fault of the casting director than Adams herself. She is a talented actress, don't get me wrong, but Adams honestly doesn't feel like she was the right person for this role. One wouldn't be surprised if the only reason she was playing Lois at all is because someone wanted a multiple-time Oscar nominee in the role.

Speaking of roles that are woefully miscast, Jesse Eisenberg sucks. This has to be one of the absolute worst performances I've seen in quite a while. He's an annoying doofus that does nothing but inspire anger and frustration every time you see him. Eisenberg is painfully inconsistent, wandering all over the place throughout the movie, hitting all points of the map sometimes within a span of a few moments. This isn't Lex Luthor at all, but a schizophrenic hipster instead. Had Superman just torn his head off and punted it into orbit, I'd have been perfectly fine with that just so I didn't have to see Jesse Eisenberg in this movie anymore.

As I said earlier, the whole thing makes me think that Warner Bros. saw Disney raking in cash hand over fist with the Avengers and went into full-blown panic mode. And in doing so, they entrusted the franchise to a director who has made it abundantly clear that he has doesn't have a single clue as to what makes these characters so wonderful. Zack Snyder has given us the cinematic equivalent of all those crappy comic books from the '90s, the ones full of violent, brooding antiheroes because being "darker and edgier" was what they thought was cool, as if all the bright, shiny, happy stuff that had come before it had somehow suddenly become lame. I've loved the heroes of DC Comics since I was a little kid, but Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice makes me want to rethink that. Watching this movie hurts. It hurts a lot. If this is how the road to a shared cinematic universe starring DC's characters gets started, then I should probably just stick with the Avengers.

Final Rating:

No comments: