Saturday, April 2, 2016

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice : Fun, but long, but fun, but okay.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

Director: Zack Snyder
Stars: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg

This semester, I’m teaching Introduction to Film, and as soon as I walked into the movie theater to watch Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, I saw one of my students. I stood behind him in line to get my popcorn, and he turned around to tell me, “I’m not here to analyze this movie. Don’t even ask me to analyze this movie.” I laughed and replied, “Hell, I’m just here to watch Batman.” Really, that’s the only reason why I was interested in this movie; I’m more of a Marvel fan than DC, except when it comes to Batman. In any case, there was a new superhero movie, and I was on top of it like flies on a gut-wagon. What I will say about Batman v. Superman is that it was okay—not exceptional, not something that I’m going to rush out to buy when it comes out on blu-ray—but it was okay.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice begins with a flashback to Superman’s fight with General Zod from 2013’s Man of Steel. Bruce Wayne (Affleck) watches from street level at the alien carnage befalling Metropolis, and he begins viewing Superman (Cavill) as a threat. Superman’s character is tarnished further when Lois Lane (Adams) is taken hostage as she chases a hot lead in the desert, and Superman rushes to save her—though the whole event is orchestrated by Lex Luthor (Eisenberg). Wayne’s distrust of Superman grows, and he explains that if there’s a one percent chance that Superman is dangerous, we must take it as an absolute certainty that Superman is dangerous. Luthor also pulls strings to antagonize Wayne into donning the Dark Knight suit to take on the Man of Steel, and there we get to the whole crux of the movie: Batman vs. Superman in a knock-down, drag-out fight.

Now, I say this movie is okay—not spectacular or exceptional—because I really don’t care for Superman that much. I remember watching Man of Steel and thinking that I didn’t care about the character at all—sure, that movie played up the whole idea that Superman is the only one of his kind and he’s all alone in the universe, but I just can’t relate to him on any level. On top of that, I really don’t care what happens to Superman because nothing can hurt him (save the one obvious thing that crops up in Batman v. Superman: kryptonite). He seems grossly overpowered, and I just don’t care. If I can’t care about what happens to the main character, I’m not going to connect with the movie as strongly.

Because Superman is invincible and grossly overpowered, his fight scenes get a little boring. We see a lot of the same visuals in Man of Steel: laser eyes, explosions, picking up a guy and throwing him into the side of a building and the glass all shatters, etc. Watching Superman fight is like washing your hair—lather, rinse, repeat. He picks up Batman and throws him away; he walks back to Batman on the ground, picks him up, and heaves him through a wall; then he walks back to Batman on the ground, picks him up, and shotputs him through another wall. Since he’s so overpowered, it gets a bit tedious to see him basically do the same move over and over (knowing that he can’t really be hurt). I feel like Marvel superheroes show more character in their fighting styles, and because these are all action movies, that would make sense—you can’t have the superhero do the same fight across two or three movies that need to have their own separate identities. In Batman v. Superman, Superman seems like a one trick pony.

The one refreshing bit about the fighting in this film was Batman, since he actually seems to have a style more his own compared to Superman’s lather, rinse, repeat. In Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Bruce Wayne learns a number of different combat styles focusing on martial arts, but I found Batman v. Superman refreshing because Batman actually incorporates gadgets into his combat styles instead of relying solely on his mastery of martial arts. Seeing Batman shoot his grappling gun at an enemy, swing him around the room, and eventually throw the guy through a wall was much more gratifying than seeing only martial arts combat. This gadget-based combat style seems more in line with the Batman video games, such as Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, and Arkham Origins. (I still have yet to play Arkham Knight, but I’d need to buy an Xbox One first.) In these games, the player gets bonus points for using gadgets during combat, and this lends credence to Batman’s intellect: he uses gadgets during fights in order to outsmart his enemies and gain an advantage, and that’s something that Batman v. Superman did better than Nolan (though Nolan’s visuals still trump this new iteration).

Now, because we’re on the topic of Batman, we have to talk about Ben Affleck. I keep seeing these screenshots from interviews with Affleck where he just looks like someone’s told him that Batman v. Superman was the worst movie in the world—well, I’m guessing someone’s already said that on the internet somewhere. Really, I didn’t mind him as Batman, but as Bruce Wayne, I didn’t find him all that convincing. Bruce Wayne is supposed to be this dapper, intellectual billionaire genius, right? Affleck didn’t really pull that off for me; for example, in one scene, Wayne attends a party at Lex Luthor’s manor, and while he’s there, he hooks up a gadget that downloads a bunch of encrypted files from Luthor’s mainframe—but he’s caught in the act. Instead of playing things suavely, he says something like, “Oh, yeah, uh…I was looking for the bathroom. All those martinis, huh?” Buddy, you’re clearly standing in what looks to be a server room fiddling with the electronics—this is obviously not something to piss on. Part of it could be the writers’ fault in this particular instance, but part of it was Affleck’s performance of Bruce Wayne. Like I said, as Knight of Gotham, we’re good to go, but as cool, billionaire playboy? Not so much.

Getting to acting, let’s talk Luthor and Jesse Eisenberg. Like I’ve said a hundred times before, I’m a filthy casual when it comes to comic books, but I like the movies, and that’s why I write this blog. That being said (again), can someone tell me if Lex Luthor is supposed to be so obnoxious? Eisenberg’s performance here felt really forced, and I didn’t get the same DC villain vibe as I got with Heath Ledger’s Joker (but really, that’s my gold standard for Batman villains). Again, I’d really like someone to tell me in the comments if Luthor is supposed to be as nutty and annoying as Eisenberg makes him out to be. I remember snips from Kevin Spacey playing this role, and he seemed more like an evil genius than…whatever Eisenberg is doing here. His scenes were honestly hard for me to watch.

The big thing that people have asked me about with this movie is Wonder Woman, especially my partner. I don’t really know much about Wonder Woman, though, and, once more, in case you’ve forgotten, filthy casual. My partner made sure to mention that she only saw Batman v. Superman to support the franchise so that the studio would continue on its track to make a standalone Wonder Woman movie. Do you think, based on the low ratings that Batman v. Superman is receiving, that we’re still going to see a Wonder Woman movie in the near future?

Overall, again, it’s an okay movie with its ups and downs, but two and a half hours seems like a long runtime for this movie when things could have been cut down quite a bit. (I shouldn’t speak too poorly of Batman v. Superman on this point, since Captain America: Civil War supposedly has an equally-lengthy runtime.) Am I going to rush out and buy this movie when it comes out on Blu-ray? No, probably not. I might wait a while for the price to go down and pick it up after a couple of years. 

The real question is this: “Was the movie entertaining?” Hands down, yes. This was a nice afternoon at the movies for me.