Tuesday, March 29, 2016
I've been wracking my brain all week trying to figure out why I can't come up with a coherent review for this weekend's big hit, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It wasn't until I saw it again this weekend, in an obligatory revisit to take my two young boys, when I came to this conclusion. My thoughts are only as scattershot as the film itself tends to be. Dawn of Justice is Zack Snyder's attempt at jump-starting the DC Extended Universe or DCEU, the filmic counterpart to its rival Marvel's own cinematic franchise the MCU. It is reminiscent of those graphic samplers DC Comics puts out a month before they introduce a major storyline that will snake through its entire publishing lineup. The movie tries to whet the viewer's appetite for future installments, but fails to come up with a satisfying story that can stand on its own. So why not mirror the movie itself in presenting my own disjointed thoughts on the failures (and yes, some minor successes) of this schizoid superhero dirge.
Ben Affleck's Batman is Somehow Both More Right and More Wrong - With the possible exception of the animated version voiced by Kevin Conroy for nearly 25 years, Affleck's Batman is somehow both more right and more wrong than any version of the Dark Knight presented onscreen thus far. Right in the sense that he seems more agile and more vulnerable, a sharp contrast to the lumbering godlike Superman (Henry Cavill) first introduced in Snyder's Man of Steel. Batfleck is a hulking example of peak human condition in both mind and body, much more so than his Kevlar-sheathed predecessors as played by everyone from Michael Keaton to Christian Bale. This vigilante only armors up to level the playing field when facing off against the Man of Tomorrow in the movie's climactic battle royale.
Where Affleck goes wrong is in his one-note portrayal of Bruce Wayne, the Caped Crusader's lockjawed secret identity that appears even grimmer than the Batman himself. As much as Superman is a larger-than-life persona the sweet-natured, small-town Clark Kent dons to square off against some outsized, otherwordly villains (like this movie's CGI-generated Doomsday), the real self is Batman with millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne serving as the brilliant disguise. Dawn of Justice's Wayne is world-weary at the ripe old age of fortysomething, yet spry enough to successfully take down a dozen hostiles in less than 5 minutes or tumble back to his feet after his Kryptonian quarry bounces him around Gotham's abandoned warehouse district in his Iron Bat getup like spam in a can. Even the obvious flirtations coming from Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) are not enough for Affleck to break character, reserving all clever one-liners for Jeremy Irons' grittier take on loyal Wayne butler, Alfred.
Speaking of Wonder Woman... - I'm excited about Wonder Woman. Now let's hope they don't find some way to fuck it up. I knew nothing about actress Gal Gadot before having seen this film except that she is Israeli, smoldering hot, and had appeared in the Fast & Furious franchise, one series I have so far managed to avoid. Seventies kid that I am, I was fairly skeptical that anyone could step into Lynda Carter's boots. Why, I wonder now? Carter is not exactly a name one associates with the word thespian. But what Carter lacked in that regard she made up for with presence, a necessary pre-requisite for any Amazonian warrior and, on paper, Gadot looked like kind of a lightweight. Boy, was I wrong! Gadot steals every scene she is in. Add that nifty musical motif that sounds like a war cry crossed with the Jimmy Page riff from "The Immigrant Song," throw in an intriguing photograph that shows Wonder Woman looking even more formidable during the height of World War I in devastated Belgium of 1918, and we see one of Dawn of Justice's small virtues. It knows how to entice us into coming back for more.
Hey Wait, Lois, What About Man of Steel 2? - My opinion of Man of Steel was definitely a bit off-reservation than most other critics'. I praised the film for its earnestness and anticipated that the destruction that decimated the movie's Metropolis would have some serious repercussions. With allusions to Lex Luthor peppered throughout Superman's tussle with Zod (Michael Shannon), I was sure that the sequel would present us with a Trump-like take on Luthor as a populist, humanity's champion against alien immigrants so to speak. I'm still fairly certain something along those lines was being set up because organically, that is the direction which the story pointed to. Instead, we have much of the Man of Steel cast—Perry White, Jenny Olsen, the now Senator Swanwick, and most prominently, Martha Kent—making contractual walk-ons onto what is already a mixed, overstuffed bag of a film. The two-and-a-half hour running time that is supposed to designate Dawn of Justice as some kind of event movie but is really just a signifier of its cumbersomeness could have been cut by a third had Snyder not tried to make this both a sequel to the Superman film and a launch pad for the Justice League.
Just Throw Everything in the Blender and Run on High - Know why there are some parts of the movie that are undeniably winning and others that are objectively bad? It's because Dawn of Justice reeks of a film written by committee. Remember there has been some form of Justice League film floating around for decades now, and seeing David Goyer's name in the credits is the tipoff for me. Goyer is the goto script doctor for superhero films, usually brought in to smooth things over in the final draft after a screenplay's dissonant elemnts have been Frankensteined out of separate scripts for the same property. That's why some things work like gangbusters—the scary Batman scene where the cops stumble onto sex trafficking in Gotham; the sequence where Superman flies to Mexico in an instant to save a girl from a burning building; anything Wonder Woman—and some things decidedly don't—Batman's exceedingly ominous nightmares, especially the out-of-context apocalyptic (or is it Apokoliptic) flash-forward; the Super Friends cameos; Doomsday; and anything Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). The inaugural DCEU movie takes Marvel's way of setting up future films to an extreme. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice spends a lot of its time introducing new elements—big, small, and incoherent—at the expense of successfully fulfilling its own dramatic arc, a misfire that may lock the future of the DCEU franchise it's setting up into a path that is by no means assured.