Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ★★★★

(various spoilers)

Fully armed to contribute to the dominant cultural rejection of this excessively festooned, dour-looking, franchise-baiting sequel to what I thought was an awful Superman reboot in 2013, I return from my viewing a reformed man. It's a good movie, and thankfully less adherent to genre mapping. It tells a grim, ambiguous and harrowing story that feels connected to certain real world crises while still featuring larger-than-life comic book icons in what feels every bit as epic as Nolan's crime saga masterpiece "The Dark Knight", and in fact surpasses that film's breadth of scope with its operatic climax and sometimes more evocative, less anvil-heavy dialogue. The specifics aren't always as finely calibrated (the actors don't come off as powerfully, the perpetual momentum isn't as intense), but many of its strengths bear a resemblance.

This is the most adult-oriented movie version of either superhero thus far, and I for one am all for that. If they can publish mature comics about these guys, why not occasionally make mature movies about them too? I don't get the complaint that it's not kid-friendly enough. Who cares? There are already plenty of other Batman, Superman, and [ ]-man movies suited for young audiences. Let them re-watch those. Nolan's Batman trilogy wasn't for kids at all either and I didn't see anyone complain about that. Many say that this movie is joyless, but why does that matter? It's a serious film. Zack Snyder wants to induce a kind of nightmarish quality, and he succeeds through the brutality, the oppressive production design, the unsettling dream interludes, the bleak characteristics of this world they inhabit, and a range of wicked musical notes composed by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL. I would've expected more people to appreciate how thoroughly he commits to such a hardboiled tone. I enjoy levity in my movies like anyone else, but much like "The Dark Knight", I thought "BvS" was actually so effective at immersing us into its sobering chaos that there was too MUCH comedy sprinkled in to mitigate the masses. Alfred's numerous CUE LAUGH TRACK mutterings about how reckless Batman is could have been tossed out, among other gratuitous jokes. This movie doesn't have a sense of humor, many say? Like hell it doesn't. I could write out a list of several dozen different lines that were meant to lighten the mood.

I also can't quite agree with the criticism that it's over-stuffed, even though, well, it is. But so were the "Avengers" movies, and so will "Civil War" be next month. I was grateful that they downplay the other Justice League members in this - they're only seen in archive footage, and Wonder Woman's arc is at least developed throughout the movie leading to her introduction in the climax. She was pretty unnecessary to this movie overall except for setting up her origin story, but it didn't get in the way too much of the more compelling feud between the title heroes. Doomsday makes total sense, as Lex's avatar weapon. I don't see why people disliked seeing him in this. The movie needed to offer a foe that required the efforts of three superheroes at once, could somehow be engineered by Lex himself, and would lead to that particular resolution; who else were they gonna get? The Vision didn't REALLY need to be in "Age of Ultron", all those references to Thanos didn't NEED to be in any of those movies, yet they were integrated fairly well, and so are all the DC Extended Universe details in this. It accomplishes the same effect as in the Marvel movies, of making this world feel more grandiose knowing that other significant people and events are occurring simultaneously and may intersect with our protagonists in the future.

The action is sometimes pretty outstanding here too - there's this one superbly choreographed and haunting looking single-take of Batman fighting off a whole army, even though it's technically just part of a dream. It was kind of artistic, even. And the finale with Doomsday is majestic, though hard to see sometimes (so dark and turbulent)

The "Martha" justification to reconcile Batman and Superman during their fight? Kind of a brilliant utilization of lazy overlapping from the comics themselves. And no Batman didn't change his mind just because their moms have the same name. It's Bruce recognizing that Superman isn't just some dangerous alien God imposing his will on a foreign land, that he's a kindred spirit who fears for his family, reminding Bruce of his own pain and his life's mission to prevent it from happening to others. They make peace over an acknowledgement of each other's humanity, which had been overlooked amidst Lex's manipulations. Nice job, writing.

Batman is a murderer and that betrays who he is in the comics? Boo hoo, shut up. Who cares if he kills people. They're hardcore criminals and most of the time they're about to kill him first. Why do some people cling to this sophomoric moralizing? Our movie heroes have always been killers (James Bond, Indiana Jones, Hans Solo, Rambo, John McClane, everyone Arnold's ever portrayed); to let it bother you now, especially with a character who's known for his anger and vengeance, and who is deliberately depicted in this incarnation as older, more bitter and cynical, is just ridiculous.

Jesse Eisenberg falls flat as a nerdy Joker-like Lex Luthor? Okay I can agree with this one to an extent. He makes the part interesting at times, like when he's on the verge of a nervous breakdown or really sticking it to Superman towards the end, but at least half his scenes are pitched too wildly for Eisenberg's instincts as an actor. I suspect he'll win people over more in future appearances when his intensity becomes more controlled and Eisenberg's subtler mannerisms are able to shine.

Ben Affleck is a perfect fit as Batman/Bruce? I wouldn't go that far - my wife pointed out that he doesn't sell anger or intimidation very well based on his limited, unconvincing facial expressions and yeah, I can see that, but he does look dashing in a three-piece suit! And both his burly physique and something about Affleck's demeanor suit the part just fine. I just wouldn't say he's better than Christian Bale. That guy is underrated in those movies, for some reason.

Henry Cavill continues to make for a solid Clark/Superman. Wasn't his fault the other movie sucked so much, but he gets more to do in this one anyway. I personally hope he sticks with the role for a while, if they do in fact continue making movies in this lineage. Amy Adams kills it too as always, though during one climactic speech to Superman I was suddenly reminded of her inspirational talk with Will Ferrell in "Talladega Nights" and I couldn't take her as seriously anymore. Really, that's the most awesome moment of her whole career: "It's because it's what you love, Ricky. It is who you were born to be. And here you sit, thinking. Well, Ricky Bobby is not a thinker. Ricky Bobby is a driver. He is a doer. And that's what you need to do. You don't need to think. You need to drive. You need speed. You need to go out there, and you need to rev your engine. You need to fire it up. You need to grab a hold of that line between speed and chaos, and you need to wrestle it to the ground like a demon cobra! And then, when the fear rises up in your belly, you use it. And you know that fear is powerful, because it has been there for billions of years. And it is good. And you use it. And you ride it; you ride it like a skeleton horse through the gates of hell, and then you win, Ricky. You WIN! And you don't win for anybody else. You win for you, you know why? Because a man takes what he wants. He takes it And you're a man, aren't you? Aren't you?"

Okay, let's wrap this up. In this age of comic book movies, there's a thrill to watching the two prom kings of the superhero world face off even before they literally start to fight. The ideological differences and the challenges they each face trying to make a difference in an imperfect world add up to an engrossing script, and maybe not everyone's on board with Zack Snyder's vision but at least he has one, a strong visual style, a somewhat more relentlessly punishing (though not altogether hopeless, it should be remembered) attitude than we're used to from our superhero films, and yet still some room for blockbuster-art spectacle. There was a lot they tried to tackle and cover with this movie, and most of it landed, though I suppose not as crowd-pleasingly as a Marvel adventure. Apples and oranges. This is worth seeing with an open mind.

Side note: Based on my very limited experience with the comics, I'd say this movie isn't as fascinating or memorable as Superman what-ifs like Grant Morrison's "All-Star Superman", Mark Millar's "Red Son", or Steven Seagle's "It's a Bird", but it did strike me as comparable to the ambition and impact of Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns"

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