Friday, September 2, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Every once in a while, Google sends me an email offering a discount on digital movie rentals. I used the most recent one on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
I didn't go to see Batman v Superman in the theater when it came out earlier this year, largely because the reaction from my friends that did ranged from "meh" to "avoid at all costs." So I went into this with a pretty low set of expectations. There were two major complaints: the iconic characters weren't portrayed as expected, and the way the movie unfolded just didn't make a lot of sense.

Batman is pretty easily my favorite comic book character of all time. Not even close, really. I've enjoyed all the various versions over the years, from the campy Adam West TV show to comics through the 80s and 90s to the Christopher Nolan films. Which is a bit of a long way to say that I don't really care about staying true to any particular "iconic" version. Same goes for Superman and just about any other character. The fact that this movie showed a Batman didn't seem to mind killing a few bad guys, or a Superman that is more conflicted than bright-and-shiny undaunted hero, doesn't bother me much.

I do, however, care about a movie's plot, characters, action, and setting flowing together to make an entertaining whole. On this front, I'd say Batman v Superman was pretty awful. The entire plot hangs on one thing: Lex Luthor is nuts, while at the same time being incredibly smart and manipulative. Batman and Superman both come off as chumps, maneuvered by Lex into fighting one another. I thought it would have been a much better movie without them getting into any kind of fight at all. Meanwhile, Lex is busy creating some uncontrollable monster, clearly just as bad for him as for anyone else - insanity at work. Unfortunately, basing the entire plot on the workings of an insane mind does nothing for narrative flow - things just sort of seem to happen for no reason other than to put a big fight in the spotlight.

If I had to pick a single word to describe Batman v Superman, it would be "clumsy." You can see what the writers and director are trying to do, but it just falls flat. Lex's manipulations only make sense if the heroes are stupid, distracted, or both. The romance between Clark and Lois is assumed from the very beginning, and then a bunch more scenes build it up if we don't already know they're lovebirds after the very first rescue. Other Justice League characters pop in for a scene or two, adding exactly nothing to this movie (other than Wonder Woman) - an incredibly clumsy way to tie into a larger movie universe. Even the big fight scenes feel as if they were choreographed by the special effects people for the most spectacular shot, regardless of how silly that makes the actual characters look. And the character design is nothing special even outside of poor action choreography - Doomsday in particular looks terrible.

Despite all that, there were still some good things to come out of Batman v Superman. I enjoyed Ben Affleck's portrayal of Batman, and Jeremy Irons did a pretty decent Alfred. Gal Gadot did a good job as Wonder Woman, actually fitting better into the story than anyone outside of Batman - certainly better than the cameos by other Justice League members. Gives me hope for future movies, as long as some lessons are learned instead of just repeating the mistakes.

If I'd seen this movie 10 years ago, it's possible I'd have liked it a lot more. But now, I've got the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe to compare it against, and that's not flattering for Batman v Superman. With luck, future DC movies will be better.

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