Friday, March 25, 2016

Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice Movie Review

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice
I would like to state off the bat that I am not a fan of director Zack Snyder. Never have been. Sure, I enjoyed what he did with Watchmen, one of the best films of the year. But when he is behind the camera and supervising production, no other movie has impressed me. With Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, it was my hope that he had a love for the material and applied his best talents in the same manner he did for Watchmen. Warner Bros., responsible for a cinematic first (Batman and Superman sharing screen time together) made a bad judgment call... I was hoping Snyder would add a second film to my favorites list. What a major bat bummer. 

There is a running joke among fandom: Marvel movies are made by fanboys and DC movies are made by executives. Almost from the start I was deluged with product placement. Ben Affleck is dodging the crumbling rubble of buildings between the streets of Metropolis while driving a Jeep Renegade that exemplifies the durability and reliability of an SUV during Armageddon. Add to this Turkish Airlines, Sears, the Galaxy S7 smartphone, and others that were so obvious you could not avoid the closeup shots. (Reportedly Warner Bros. covered $170 million of the $225 million budget just in product placement.) Never since the fourth Transformers installment did I feel this was one long infomercial. Regardless, this movie will make a billion dollars in Asia.

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice
With the box office success of The Avengers, Warner Bros., owners of the DC Comics property, decided to establish the Justice League with the sequel to Man of Steel, incorporating Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman. The recipe for success with Marvel was to tease the fans with a post credits sequence at the end of each movie, leading into an up-coming Avengers movie... and this was a lengthy five-year build-up. Was it worth all the hype? It sure was. For Warner Bros., the studio decided to take a shorter route. They introduced all of the characters (some very briefly) and will now branch out into individual Wonder Woman and Aquaman movies, then return with a two-part Justice League movie. Batman vs. Superman sets the stage for the shape of things to come. But The Avengers: Age of Ultron taught Disney (the new owners of Marvel) that more superheroes does not mean more money. Warner Bros. needs to be reminded of this lesson. Perhaps this is why they embarked on what might just be the most expensive advertising campaign leading up to the movie's release.

In the hobby of comic books, geeks know that the same story has been retold many times through various forms of artistic interpretation. Novels tell the story from the printed word and movies from a visual medium. Comic books are a combination of both art forms. And every few years some artist convinces DC Comics to allow them to create a mini-series or one-shot graphic novel retelling the origin and motives behind the Dark Knight and Man of Steel. Some people will no doubt watch the film and be disappointed: this may not be the same Batman or Superman you grew up with. But try to keep an open mind. Motion-pictures provide another artistic take on a familiar theme that might feel a slight case of over-saturation.

The script is excellent. The dialogue sharp. This is what I hope for when I go to the movies. The acting was two-dimensional, sadly, which can be blamed on the director who did not want this to feel like a comic book movie. The Flash and Supergirl, now on the CW and CBS, respectfully, are produced by the same company and are clearly comic book adaptations. Director Snyder should have taken a page from those productions -- trying to add realism to a genre that we have come to embrace with a suspension of disbelief is not a wise decision. Across the board, Warner Bros. wants to continue with a somber tone in order to differentiate DC property from the more fun-loving Marvel counterpart. (Bob Iger, the CEO of the Walt Disney Company, publicly stated that Marvel movies originating from Disney will never have an 'R' rating, in response to Fox's decision to release Deadpool last month with a hard R rating.)

I grew up with the Justice League, only it was a half-hour cartoon series and they were known as the Super Friends. I am looking forward to seeing the movie in 2018 and 2019. Yes, it will be a two-parter... sigh. But I fear it will not be Super Friends

As for the movie itself, the entire plot builds on a climatic battle between a bitter and angered Bruce Wayne (in the same Batman persona as depicted in The Lego Movie and the up-coming sequel), who feels Superman is a threat to our world, and requires extermination. The Man of Steel is questioning his place in a society where he is obviously an outcast -- public protests, Congressional hearings, bronze statues in his image and wholesale destruction weigh heavily on his shoulders. More than anything, Superman is depicted as a God-like being and questions whether he is under the circumstances. Ultimately, he chooses to save a young girl from a burning building, rescue families stranded on their rooftops during a flood, and remain a role model for young children to aspire to. Lex Luther plays the role of a stage magician... maneuvering pawns in place so the masked vigilante and superhero will face off in the gladiator match of the century. Jesse Eisenberg is great as Lex Luther, who you know is secretly setting up his master plan with Batman and Superman across town working out their differences... and he plays the role clearly inspired by Mark Zuckerberg in what is referred to today as the "new workplace trend."

Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luther
The only redeeming part of the movie is the character of Wonder Woman, making her first big screen appearance ever (she was always relegated to television). Gal Gadot is a fanboy's wet dream and she has very large boots to fill under the circumstance. She plays the role with superior female independence, and an Amazon warrior's prowess to match. After all, female action stars usually parade around in sexy jumpsuits but Elektra and Black Widow have nothing compared to the most recognized female superhero in the world. She dominates the entire climatic battle sequence without deliberately attempting to overshadow her co-stars. It was how she was portrayed in the movie that makes me really want to see the Wonder Woman movie next year, the general opinion shared by everyone leaving the movie theater. (A friend of mine who also saw the film said people cheered when the heroes made their entrances but when Wonder Woman appeared in full costume, sword and shield, the crowd went wild.) Not a spoiler here but Wonder Woman not only saves the day -- she saves the superheroes. 

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
Cautionary Measures
If you have children under the age of 10, you might want to watch the movie in advance before deciding whether or not they should see the film. If violence and two vulgar words (I only counted two; I expected dozens) is of no concern, my only advice is when you see Lois Lane turn on the tap to fill the tub, ask them to shield their eyes for a few minutes until her bath scene is finished. 

My regret is that the movie contains little -- if any -- redeeming values. There is no wisdom fiction and no lessons to be learned. The entire movie lays the groundwork for future installments. Is this a Superman sequel? Is this another Batman movie? A stand-alone movie this is not. I get the opinion that Warner Bros. simply wanted to take the best of three screenplay scenarios and combine them into one. And this is a bit too much.

Some will love it, some will not. That is how it goes. I was hoping it would be better than I was expecting. And I wasn't expecting much.

1 comment:

Gene Phillips said...

Very good review. I was so busy pondering the involved plot that I didn't even notice the sheer quantity of product placement...

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