Monday, April 4, 2016

Movie Review: Batman vs. Superman

I finally took the girls to see Batman vs. Superman on Saturday.  For the purposes of this review, I’m assuming that you’ve seen the movie if you are at all interested in seeing it, so this write-up contains many spoilers.  Judging by the drop-off in attendance numbers from Week 1 to Week 2, it seems safe to say that you’ve either seen the movie or don’t care to see it.  That’s fine.
Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice
*Spoilers after the jump*

Let’s start off with the positive.  I enjoyed this movie.  It was fun.  There were some great visual spots and several very interesting action set-pieces.  I particularly liked the scene with the Batmobile chasing the Kryptonite truck as well as the scene where Batman has to rescue Superman’s mother from Lex Luthor’s private security guys.  In a movie that’s about Batman fighting Superman, it’s hardly a given that the action is going to come off looking both larger-than-life and believable.  Even better, this movie looksgood.  I know that director Zach Snyder and company used a lot of CGI to generate the movie’s visual effects, but I never noticed it in the way I did during Avengers: Age of Ultron.  
The Dark Knight Returns
That’s all good.
My issues with the movie were twofold.  
First, Warner Brothers made a sequel to its Superman movie—about Batman.  Sure, Superman has a story arc.  However, it’s Batman who has the first scene and the last scene, and the story itself draws most of its inspiration from The Dark Knight Returns, the most famous Batman books of all time.  Hell, Batman even gets top billing in the movie’s title.
Why is this a problem?  
Because it plays into the hideous stereotype that Batman is the only worthwhile property at DC Comics, and this at a time when Supergirl is a hit for CBS and The Flash is a bonafide phenomenon over on the CW, and neither of them is grim or gritty in the least.  Meanwhile, here’s Batman overwhelming everything in what ought to be a Superman movie, and it creates a serious problem in tone.  This ought to be a lighthearted popcorn movie about a bunch of superheroes fighting each other.  Instead, Snyder and company play it like it’s Macbeth.  The Flash is a monster hit for the CW precisely because it’s not grim and gritty, regardless of how much death and destruction occurs.  Barry Allen just isn’t a grim and gritty guy.  But Bruce Wayne is, and because he’s Batman, he sets the tone for everything around him.
People want to be uplifted.  That's why these shows work.
The real crime, though, is that Batman is set up as the movie’s protagonist from the very first scene—because he’s Batman—but he’s not actually our hero.  When Batman and Superman finally face off, it happens because Batman has been played for a sucker.  Which is bad enough.  But between that and the way that this movie ends—with Superman making the ultimate sacrifice—really, this should have been Superman’s movie.  It should have been called Superman vs. Batman.  
This is fundamentally a Superman story.  Batman may get top billing, but he’s actually the villain of the piece.  Batman should have been a supporting character.  However, Snyder and his masters at Warner Brothers didn’t have the gumption to go that way with it, and from there, everything goes haywire.  The result is a mess, albeit one that’s visually entertaining.
Superman-first framing may look problematic on its face considering how overwhelmingly powerful Superman is, but bottom line, this is a movie about a man with godlike powers who’s trying to find his place in a world that no longer trusts him.  That makes perfect sense.  Unfortunately, Snyder couldn’t bring himself to actuallydemonize Batman, so he stuck with the dynamic established in The Dark Knight Returns even though that dynamic makes no sense in the context of the rest of this story.  DKR sets Superman up as a government stooge.  That’s exactly the opposite of what we have here, to the point where Superman probably wouldn’t have had to die in this movie’s final fight scene had Batman not spent the entire movie up to that point acting like such a complete and utter asshole.  Snyder even has Alfred call this out near the end, but Batman doesn’t look too broken up about it, unfortunately.  This Batman is entirely too self-involved.
The worst part of all this, though, is that we never even see Batman decide that Superman needs to die.  This is important because Batman never kills!  He breaks bones and even brands people, but he goes to extraordinary lengths not to kill directly.  This is true in DKR, it’s true in the hyper-gritty Nolan films, and it’s even true here—up to a point (it’s strangely NOT true when Batman is in this movie’s Batmobile).  Batman’s crusade against Superman even starts with a good explanation.  Batman wants to put a check in place in case Superman ever goes rogue.  Given the ending of Man of Steel, this is entirely reasonable.  But then the Capitol blows up, and suddenly Superman has to die, even though the whole incident is manifestly not Superman’s fault.  Superman’s so upset by it all that he disappears.  
Tell me again why Superman would attack with explosives?  
Look, I get why these guys are fighting.  In Frank Miller’s original work, Batman isn’t trying to kill Superman.  He and Superman are friends, though the relationship is obviously strained.  Still, all Bruce wants is to show Clark who’s boss.  He’s trying to establish that he, unlike the rest of humanity, isn’t cowed by the sight of God-on-Earth.  He, Batman, can actually beat Superman.  He may be the only one, but there it is.  Superman had better not screw with Batman’s plans going forward or Batman will beat his ass.  Superman may have sold out, but Batman is above the law—even Superman’s law.
This works brilliantly in the comic.  It would have worked here, too, considering that by then Superman had already gotten in Batman’s way a couple of times.  Unfortunately, Zack Snyder is a bloodthirsty dude, and here we are.  Instead of having a humbled Superman trying to work with the man who kicked his ass, we’re stuck with a mess where Batman uses all his ammo on the wrong dude.
Has Snyder even read these comics?  No one is humble here, that’s for sure.
The second issue I had with this movie springs from the first, and that’s the movie’s tone.  Much has been made of how serious this film takes itself, so I’ll just say that it comes off more than a little weird.  Snyder’s ending plays like The Return of the King.  He hasn’t earned that.  At all.
The whole movie is unforgivably dark, but the ending is actively terrible, not least because Superman almost certainly would have survived had Batman not been down to his last Kryptonite grenade at the movie’s climax.  But having already expended his ammunition fighting the good guy, Batman is basically useless in that last scene.  And so…  
The last thing I’ll say about this movie is that I genuinely enjoyed the athleticism of it.  Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill made the cover of Muscle & Fitness last month, and wow, did they ever deserve it.  I appreciate how much use Snyder made of the physiques these guys built.  Cavill is probably the better bodybuilder overall, but man, Affleck isgigantic in this film.  We even get a Batman training montage paying homage to the weight room culture that these guys embodied in preparing for their roles.  Sure, it’s useless story wise, but it’s also maybe my favorite scene in the entire movie.  Go figure.
I’m not sure where we go from here.  If it was me, I would probably title my next movie, Justice League: World Without a Superman.  I’d focus that on alien threats now that Clark Kent’s not around to protect us anymore.  I’ve read that Warner Brothers is considering a Batman standalone film starring Affleck as well.  This strikes me as a good business decision, if one that’s a little unfortunate for geek culture overall.  Plus, it looks like Wonder Woman is getting something like Captain America: The First Avenger for her standalone film.  I hope that’s great, but honestly, it’s hard to see how they pull it off using a story set in 1918.  Having just fought a nuclear-powered Kryptonian hybrid, it’s tough to see how mere artillery and water-cooled machine guns can be a threat to an Amazonian demigoddess, but who knows?  Maybe it’ll be great.  Finally, my kids would like to see The Flash, but not a grim and gritty Flash, that’s for sure.  
World Without a Superman
From what we’ve seen, I don’t trust these guys to be uplifting, but y’know, I’m prepared to be astonished.  That’s the fun, isn’t it?

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