Monday, March 28, 2016

Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice review

Warning - Long Rant ahead about the nature of Superman and Batman. Also, minor spoilers.

    It's always the job of the critic to be true to his actual feelings on a movie even if they're going to be unpopular or go against the geek group-mind. Now I'm not an actual critic, just a guy who has a blog but I like to think some of you bother to care what I think when I read this. So, I'll be straight up: I liked Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice. I liked it a lot and this is going to be a positive review in a sea of overwhelming negativity from other critics as well as most of my comic book fan circle.

    So be it.

    It's funny, actually, because I know exactly why this movie grinds the teeth of so many comic book fans. It's a continuation of the same sort of thought pattern which was established by Man of Steel, a movie which I had serious issues with, but got a good deal of enjoyment out of. However, the problem with Man of Steel (aside from some enormous plot holes and stupid decisions by characters that there's no defense for) is it's dark. Literally so as the movie saturates its colors and also in terms of plotting as it's a movie which reflects Superman's troubled and somber life.

Batfleck is probably the highlight of the film. Which, admittedly, is a bit of a problem in a Superman film.
    This is, of course, the bugbear of so many fans because Superman is not supposed to have a troubled and somber life. Superman is supposed to be a joyous, hope-filled avatar of goodness in a world where we're too often afraid of such things. Part of the reason the Spiderman reboot failed was, in addition to no one wanting a reboot, was the fact it wanted to make Peter Parker's life darker when Spiderman has always been about making his life brighter through his red and blue duds.

    Superman vs. Batman: Dawn of Justice is not about Superman being a cheerful goofy boyscout trying to make the world a better place. It's about a pair of men who are trying to make the world a better place but dealing with the immense responsibility thereof. It's a perfectly valid take on Superman but people and by people, I mean geeks, have a very big desire to see what they think of as the iconic depiction of their characters onscreen.

Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor is a genius manchild psychopath--which I have no problem with.
    They point to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it's big, bright, and goofy depiction of the heroes in all of their four color glory. Never mind, my favorite MCU movie was Captain America: The Winter Soldier which is all about the fact SHIELD is an awful organization and questioning what sort of role the man who wears the flag should have.

    What does Superman vs. Batman analyze?

    Okay, not much.

Wonder Woman is a glorified cameo but what a cameo it is.
    This is where I'm going to undermine my entire case because this isn't a misunderstood masterpiece anymore than it is deserving of the intense vitriol it is. It's a movie about Batman deciding Superman is a threat after the events of the previous movie resulted in thousands of deaths. Events convince Batman that Superman has to be killed so he builds a supersuit to do it armed with Kryptonite. It's not going to be spoiling anything to say the heroes do not kill each other and they team up against the evildoer and his monster at the end. You know, if you've read a single comic book in your life.

    Superman v Batman is a movie of enormous spectacle surrounded by a few character moments. It's a film about big fight-scenes and the building up to the big fight scenes. The Avengers was one long fight-scene really and people loved that movie. In fact, I have got to say I found the final battles to be quite satisfying even if I suspect many a fan will think they're rather short compared to all the hype and buildup.

Superman's supporting cast might as well not be in this movie.
    Henry Cavill continues playing a Clark Kent who I very much enjoy reading about. He's just a guy who has an immense responsibility and incredible power. Indeed, if I would give into the fanboy rage for a bit then I'd say his biggest problem is he's playing Spiderman rather than Superman. Clark Kent is a miserable and troubled man who is tortured by the death of an adoptive parent figure who he could have saved but is determined to make up for that by saving as many people as possible.

    The fact is this Superman is not trying to be God or the messianic figure of previous adaptations. He's not even trying to be the inspirational figure of hope which so many fans want him to be. He's just a guy who wants to help people and be treated as someone who can do that. Cavill captures the Clark Kent who doesn't embrace the Nietzschean morality of so many superhumans but is just trying to do his part. The fearful or worshipful attitude other people put on him is on them with Lex Luthor wanting to make Superman God rather than just accept him as a person--a very Lex Luthor sort of thing.

Subtle mind-manipulation afoot!
    Ben Affleck's Batman is also a valid interpretation of the Batman character even if he's more Michael Keaton than Kevin Conroy. This Batman is a killer, not to a Punisher level but not too worried about casualties either, and quite possibly crazy. However, this Batman is one who is fundamentally one of the good guys. I like this is the Batman who has gone too far because of the loneliness and isolation triggered by his lifestyle, only to be brought back by realizing Superman is a force for good.

    Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor is a manic display of mad energy and genius which is the primary source of the film's much-needed levity. He is a psychopathic monster who sees nothing wrong with killing everyone and anyone who stands in his way but is offended at Superman's very existence. Superman being, essentially, a superhuman being who doesn't abuse his powers the way he does his genius and wealth.

    Eisenberg's Lex is the kind of character who would grow up to strangle his karate instructor for winning in a match or build a suit of power armor to kill Superman. Some people wanted Bryan Cranston for the role but the problem with that is, essentially, the older mature billionaire super-genius opposing Superman in this movie is Batman.

Batman really goes to town on Superman. It's actually kind of horrible.
    Supporting cast wise, they might as well not be here. Jeremy Iron's Alfred is a character who is needed and does a great job with the role despite being too young for the part compared to Batfleck. Amy Adams, however, is underutilized and is a character who we essentially skip the entire Superman-Lois Lane courtship thereof. It's a disservice to Adams as well as the character of Lois Lane herself but we really needed Superman 2: Krypton Boogaloo and Batfleck: I'm not Bale but I can do this before this movie.

    To no one's surprise, this movie is a gigantic set-up for the Justice League movie which could not be more obvious as against a certain villain set revealed via huge gigantic use of his symbol in the film. Indeed, one of the movie's biggest plotholes is they have Batman, essentially, have a psychic vision of said villain's coming which he interprets as about Superman.

    Yes, I'm serious.

"You're not the Superman we want!" "But maybe I'm the one you need." "Nope!"
     The ton of the movie is dark, somber, and depressing with Superman debating what sort of symbol he should be for the world or whether he should try to be at all since he's either scaring people or causing him to worship him. Batman is traumatized by, well, being Batman for twenty-years and facing the one thing he really isn't sure he can control or defeat no matter how much preparation he does.

    The human race is reacting to Superman like they're the humanity from the X-men movies versus the humans of the DCU and all of this actually forms a coherent theme. It's not the theme people necessarily want to see in a Superman movie but it's one I enjoyed. Superman is a perfectly valid character to analyze questions of God, responsibility, power, and worship with.  It's just not particularly the character which fans wanted to see who would prefer a jokey fun film instead. To each their own is what I say.

    Still, I enjoyed this film. I'm going to see it again. I had fun and that was really all that I wanted from it.



  1. The Winter Soldier worked because it surrounded Cap with people who had compromised their principles for the illusion of security. Cap didn't and was against SHIELDs plan from the beginning while the others were blinded to the corruption by their compromises.

    1. Which is really my objection. Superman isn't a judgemental god or cult leader or messiah. He's just a dude who does his best to help people whenever possible.