Saturday, 26 March 2016

Review: Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman (Ben Affleck) and Superman
(Henry Cavill) square off.
Warner Bros.
This review contains spoilers for the film's climax. I'll try to mark them where possible. 

Are DC and Warner Brothers really so desperate to cash in on the success of Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe that they would rush the production of the Justice League? Well, yes. Yes they are.
     Warner Brothers launched the so-called "DC Extended Universe" with Man of Steel back in 2013, a film plagued by a painfully serious mood, extensive shoed-in messianic overtones, a confusing editing style and a climax in which Superman commits cold-blooded murder and produces $750 million worth of property damage. (That's thirteen 9/11 attacks.) Years later, the loquaciously titled Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice tries to rephrase that film in terms of a serious discussion about the nature of messianic figures and individual vigilantism. It doesn't work, instead providing a painfully long, loud and bland attempt to rush the formation of the Justice League and be "controversial".
      Aside from a very confusing editing style which often randomly goes off into ridiculous dream sequences, the film gives itself far too much to juggle - it's quite sad when a film lasts the same length as a Lord of the Rings movie and it barely feels like any characterisation has actually occurred. Aside from continuing the storyline of Man of Steel, BvS also introduces Batman, Lex Luthor, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash. (Although to be fair the last three are glorified cameos.) Batman is arguably the main star of the film, with Ben Affleck actually being surprisingly good in the role, giving a seriousness which is more serious than his predecessor Christian Bale, but which feels like it has more authority (especially as Batfleck uses a voice modulator and doesn't just put on a silly deep voice.) Gal Gadot is also great as Wonder Woman, although mysteriously they decided to leave all of her character development for next year's stand-alone movie, keeping her appearances down to several scenes sneaking around and then a final triumphant appearance in the final Boss Fight.
    As we're meant to eventually care about both Batman and Superman, we need a villain, which takes the form of Alexander Luthor. Instead of the comics' suave genius Lex Luthor, we instead get his son, a nerdy neurotic psychopath whose mannerisms have a lot more in common with Heath Ledger's Joker - although the most obvious comparison was with a slightly deranged version of actor Jesse Eisenberg's most famous role, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Luthor's plans are never clear, and the fact that the finale depends on him seemingly randomly manipulating Kryptonian technology to create a monster seems to come out of nowhere. Lex Luthor's mere existence causes a lot of the film's plot holes, from his bizzare and self-defeating desire to blow up the world, his out-of-nowhere personal vendetta with Superman, and the fact that he's able to gain access to giant amounts of alien technology by basically assaulting a US Senator.
It's not a bad performance, but his character does cause the
movie a lot of its problems.
Warner Bros.
      The film's biggest lasting legacy is its darkness, and that's not just a media circus. Everything is taken to its darkest point possible while still keeping the PG-13 rating. Batman, whose character tends to abhor guns due to the murder of his parents at gunpoint, is seen in this movie carrying dual kalashnikovs and gunning, stabbing and impaling his criminal enemies willie nillie. The film takes the idea of Superman as a vision of hope and grinds it into the dirt, reveling in in-universe right-wing media sources decrying Superman as an alien monster to be treated with utmost suspicion. And, funnily enough, I see there point - this is a Superman who gets angry, who doesn't control his immense power, and this inevitably leads to his destructive battle with Batman. By far the lasting impact of this film's darker influences was a scene in which Superman is tricked into going to a Congressional Hearing by Lex's men - a hearing which turns out to be a trap when an explosion flattens Capitol Hill. The image and shooting of the scene was very well done and caught me completely by surprise, but the subject matter may still be a little raw given the events only three days prior to the film's release.
      By far the worst symptom of this darkness, though, was the ending. Spoilers follow for this paragraph. Once Lex Luthor's plot has been defeated, we find his back-up plan - Doomsday. Via some alien jigory-pokery that isn't really explained very well, Lex Luthor creates the giant Kryptonian supermutant Doomsday, a fella who looks like Azog the Defiler and who can fire immense electromagnetic blasts from his face. Superman and Batman team up with new arrival Wonder Woman to fight him, with Superman using Batman's Kryptonite spear to stab him in the chest. In the resulting melee, Doomsday impales Superman on one of his claws, and Superman dies. The problem is that despite five grueling hours of Dark!Superman material, we still don't know him in as much depth as we do other versions of the character. I don't care enough about the character to be shocked by his death, and I also don't believe that DC is going to permenantly kill off their headline character in the second film of a franchise that already has five more films planned out. This plotline was used far too early, and it essentially destroys any tension in future films from the DCEU. It also continues the ridiculous, lazy messianic archetypes ruling over the Superman character - even to the point where in both the UK and US, the film premiered on Good Friday.
Maybe if people stop obsessing over Gal Gadot's physical
appearance, they might realise she's a fantastic Wonder Woman
and I'd love to see more of her.
Warner Bros.
   At its core, Batman V Superman: Electric Boogaloo could have hit some very interesting points - if they had kept the drama down to just Batman and Superman, following on from the repercussions of Man of Steel and deconstructing the typical Superhero action film by really showing the consequences of mass-scale collateral damage. Those aspects of the film were by far the best, especially the superb performance by Holly Hunter as the Senator in charge of leading the hearings. Sadly, it was Lex Luthor and the endless tie-ins to future movies that took a strong premise and coated it in tar and feathers. Warner Brothers really failed to understand that the reason why The Avengers works is because we had time to get personally invested in each character over a number of years. This film is often compared to Captain America: Civil War, a similar superhero duel movie coming out in May, but that ignores the main difference that will almost certainly make Civil War superior - it is the thirteenth film in its franchise, while this is only the second. Combine that rushed pace with poor direction and a general lack of a sense of humour, and you get one of the biggest let-downs of this year so far.

Thanks.

P.S. Hopefully my review won't make Ben Affleck too sad. (Thanks to my friend Jen for asking me to include this. ^.^)
P.S.S Reasons to watch Channel Five news...

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