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Dawn of a new universe or a giant black hole? – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

March 25, 2016

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  1. Color me shocked, but Affleck is a tremendous Batman, in some respects the most Batmanish interpretation we’ve ever had. He’s smart, suave when he has to be, brutal when he needs to be, has great chemistry with Jeremy Irons’ Alfred, and is the true star of the film. The story opens with the millionth retelling of Bruce Wayne’s parents’ murder, and cuts to the Metropolis battle from MoS, which is a gripping sequence at ground level and makes us understand why this guy would ultimately want to kill “The Superman” — as he’s referred to in an opening title card. (It also makes Wayne a superhero version of Howard Lutnick, the Cantor Fitzgerald executive who lost hundreds of employees and his own brother in the September 11th attacks.) And about this Superman gent: I still maintain that there’s a great Superman lurking in Henry Cavill, if they’d only let him do something besides feel oppressed by his powers and a world that doesn’t quite know what to make of him. You get hints of that, especially when he’s interacting with Amy Adams’ Lois Lane, but you can tell that Snyder — and WB execs, surely — don’t want to pull the trigger on making him the cheerful big blue Boy Scout from the Donner days. But look over at Marvel, and what they’ve done with Steve Rogers and the Vision, two square characters who embody aspects of the Superman character. They work splendidly, and so could a sunnier Superman. (Hell, when they Amalgam-ed Marvel and DC back in the day, Captain America and the Man of Steel were combined into one. They’re in many ways the same guy.) Cavill’s Superman is good — let him be great is all I’m saying.
  2. Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is — well, he’s something. I don’t know what possessed him to portray Superman’s arch-nemesis as a cross between his Social Network Mark Zuckerberg and the Chicken Lady from The Kids in the Hall, but that’s what we get. He’s a fidgety, odd, nutso guy who combines the billionaire and mad scientist strands from the character’s history in a very strange way. As I’m sitting here typing, I have no idea what his motivations were for A) manipulating Batman and Superman into fighting each other and B) unleashing an unstoppable uber-monster onto the world. There’s literally no explanation for this in the film’s runtime, and by the end he’s Joker-level crazy, only lacking a cuckoo clock sound effect to complete the ensemble. Here’s my uninformed, out-there speculation: There’s a moment early on when he’s at a gala and he’s giving a speech, and starts distractedly tripping over his words, and just before he leaves the stage he uses the word “paradoxically.” Just the way he said it made me think of Brainiac for some reason, and I harkened back to the Brainiac/Luthor team stories of old. Let me stress that there’s nothing in the plot to suggest that he was being controlled in any way, but one’s mind looks for answers where none are readily available, and I’ll be damned if I could think of anything else to serve as a motive. He seems to know more than he lets on, too, especially at the very end. (I’ll add that Brainiac has been rumored as the villain for the first Justice League movie, with big bad Darkseid coming in number two, so maybe. Who knows?)
  3. Have you ever wanted to see a movie Batman take out a roomful of gun-toting thugs? This movie delivers. As many have pointed out, it looks like a video game — but isn’t that exactly what a cape-wearing bat-ninja fighting should look like?
  4. Kandor mention? Kandor mention.
  5. Hey, Wonder Woman! If you’ve seen the trailers and commercials you’ve already seen the majority of her screentime, but the good news is that Gal Gadot seems to fill the boots, bustier and tiara. Her appearance and intervention in the last act battle sort of work, but her mere presence — not to mention a picture of her in 1918 Belgium with Captain Kirk — is definitely something that grabs you and screams LOOK AT THE MOVIES THAT WE’LL BE RELEASING SOON!!! And they couldn’t possible have come up with a worse way for us to get our first glimpses of other Justice League members than an e-mail attachment. Yes, you read that right — a goddamn e-mail attachment. (I don’t think Aquaman could look any goofier.)
  6. Just an observation: It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re old, but when the movie that young Bruce Wayne goes to see with his doomed parents is one that’s been released in your own lifetime, you sure ain’t a kid no more.
  7. I never thought I’d see a jar of piss used in a superhero movie, but here we are.
  8. Much has been made about the Knightmare sequence, and what the hell it means. Is it a dream? A vision? A message from the future? From Darkseid, whose parademons are featured prominently? It’s odd, I’ll give it that. And that was the Flash yelling at Bruce in the Batcave, right? Something about Lois? Was he warning him about the events of this movie? Or something for an upcoming movie? It makes you go “Whah?” and not in a good way. I pride myself on being somewhat knowledgeable on this material (a dubious brand of pride, but pride nonetheless) and I couldn’t make heads or tails of it, and I can imagine an uninitiated general audience member’s head exploding Scanners-style as they try to process what it means.
  9. Is every movie now going to have to go to great lengths to make it clear that there are no normals in harms way as our heroes are duking it out? It was clunky in Avengers: Age of Ultron: Rescuing Civilians: The Motion Picture, and some of the dialogue here is at great pains to point out that parts of the city are abandoned. We get it, all right? We get it.
  10. As for the titular fight, I was worried that the motivations would feel superficial. This is a profound vulnerability, especially since, as even Honey Nut Cheerios giveaway comics will point out, these two should be friends — and have been friends for longer than most of us have walked the Earth. But the motivations on both sides fit, with Batman finally driven over the edge to finish off this guy who could kill them all, and Superman forced to do battle to save someone’s life. Superman even tries to use reason to defuse things at first, calling Batman Bruce, before they both say to hell with it and start punching the living hell out of each other. Yes, there’s Kryptonite involved, multiple times. Yes, there’s Frank Miller imagery from TDKR. (The dessicated, gaunt, post-nuked Superman even makes an appearance later on.) There’s a winner — mainly because one wants to kill the other, while that other truly doesn’t want to return the favor. And then it’s defused by something that plays into my biggest complaint.
  11. This film tries to mine drama it doesn’t quite earn. Large Spoilers follow, so beware. Batman’s about to drive a Kryptonite spear through Superman’s chest when Mr. Kent says his mother’s name, who’s being held captive by Luthor’s goons. Apparently someone in this production discovered that Mamas Kent and Wayne shared a first name and thought that they discovered the formula for cold fusion, because they made this coincidence the fulcrum by which these two to become friends. (Was this a David Goyer twist? Or did Chris Terrio add it in his final pass on the script?) “Martha” is like Batman’s BDSM safe word. They realize they’ve both been manipulated by Lex, and suddenly they’re pals. I’m not saying that this shared name couldn’t be used for dramatic effect, but here it’s more than a tad much. And exactly how many times have you ever referred to your mother by her first name, especially when you have someone’s boot on your neck and a giant, glowing green spear about to plunge through your heart. And speaking of that…
  12. Another Huge Spoiler. So they killed Superman. Not only do they rush the Dark Knight material that should come when the characters are old men (at least one of them), but they go for the tear-jerking jugular by having Superman sacrifice himself in the final battle to deliver the death blow to Doomsday. (By the way, how exactly did Lex make Doomsday? Why did Zod’s body and Lex’s blood(?!) mixing make a giant monster? I’m so confused on this.) The noble sacrifice is rushed here just like it was in Star Trek into Darkness, another movie with an unspeakably awful title. Maybe there’s something to that. At least in this instance Superman is still in a coffin by the time the credits roll and hasn’t been revived with magic Khan-blood. Though, yes, it seems clear that we’re not going to have to wait long for him to make his triumphant Christ-like return. (While Snyder mercifully didn’t cudgel us over the head with Jesus imagery this time around, be sure to look for the rubble crucifixes as Lois and the remaining members of the Trinity stand over Superman’s fallen corpse. Or don’t. Whatever.)

This could have been better. I’m no great fan of Snyder’s work — he focuses too much on the visual and doesn’t think stories through — but you get the impression that the failings here have less to do with his guiding hand and more to do with studio execs worried about profit margins, their own jobs, and getting their own Avengers-ish cash cow up and running. To that end they made a gigantic, incredibly expensive movie that meanders too often off its chosen path. But the money spent is up  there on the screen — this movie looks good, even if they skimped on Doomsday and just left the Lord of the Rings cave troll template in the final cut. I think many of the criticisms of this movie, just like with its predecessor, are way overblown. As I stated above, I want to see this movie again, which is a rarity for me these days. The last movie I saw more than once in a theater? Man of Steel. Take that as you will — as either coming from a Superman nut with blinders on or a guy with questionable movie taste or someone with his own tastes and opinions.

Three and a half Kryptonite spears out of five.

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