Saturday, November 26, 2016

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

Coming a little bit late to the party with this, but that's how it goes sometimes. Tonight I caught up to Zack Snyder's Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. While Snyder's previous entry, 2013's Man of Steel, had only a 55% critical approval rating on, I enjoyed many things about it. I liked Henry Cavill as Superman, the more serious tone (seeing as Superman has typically been one of the more light hearted superheroes), Michael Shannon's great villain General Zod, and I even liked the maligned decision of Superman killing Zod at the end of the movie, showing that he knew Zod would never stop and it showed that Superman knew Earth was his home now and he'd protect it at all costs. The movie wasn't without its flaws, but I still liked it overall. When this followup was announced, its title suggested at least a partial adaptation of the beloved Frank Miller graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, where Batman and Superman duel. Great news. I applauded the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman, though I was one of the few at the time, seeing how he's grown over the years into a much more interesting leading man (and overall artist, through his writing and directing) than his 90's and early 2000's output would've suggested. The first trailer got me very excited, as it did many people. I even got excited by the trailer for Snyder's next movie, Justice League, before I'd seen this movie. I stayed away while it was in theaters because of the ridiculously low RottenTomatoes score (27%), but knew I'd catch up eventually, so here we go.

I won't bother reciting the plot, as there's far too much (and somehow too little), plus most people who want to know about it already do. Again, Henry Cavill makes for a wonderful Superman and Clark Kent. You can feel his decency, but he's not a boring boy scout. He's complemented by Amy Adams' strong, supportive, loving Lois Lane. The plot revolves around the machinations of Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) eventually pitting the two title characters against each other. Though it probably takes an hour and a half before the movie realizes that's what is happening, even if we know Luthor isn't there for window dressing. Eisenberg is an actor I like a good deal, but whatever it is he's trying to do here is awful. His twitchy, stuttering, odd performance is like it's from another movie. It makes for a thoroughly un-menacing and ineffectual big bad. Ben Affleck is predictably terrific as Batman and Bruce Wayne. He strikes an imposing figure, Affleck is about 6'4" to Cavill's 6'1" though both are sporting ripped physiques here, and he hints at an intelligence behind his scowl and cowl. His Batman is a more hardened and wizened one to what we've seen recently from Christian Bale. Graying at his temples, Affleck's Batman has been at this a long time and is a wearier Batman than we're used to seeing on screen. Gal Gadot makes a big impression as an unnecessary addition of Wonder Woman, but she's great, so why complain about how her character doesn't add anything and just contributes to the fractured feeling of the story?

And about that, this movie has enough plot for a trilogy of films, to the point that every aspect of the movie is underwritten. Every character underdeveloped. Every idea only half formed. This robs us of any dramatic weight that could've been built up either through characterization or simple reliance on standard dramatic formulas. Writers David S. Goyer (who co-wrote one of my favorite movies, Dark City) and Chris Terrio (who won an Oscar for his script for Affleck's Argo) stuff the movie so full of everything possible that nothing matters. This movie has the continuing story of Superman and Lois Lane, the introductions of Batman, Wonder Woman, and Lex Luthor, and when it should be winding down, and would've been just fine to do so, it introduces the infamous villain Doomsday, memorably introduced in the best selling The Death of Superman comic. So this ends up being an adaptation of the stories from two of the most famous and best selling DC comics stories ever written, and doesn't do justice to either of them. We also spend too much time with Holly Hunter's Senator Finch, who talks in ridiculous "southern" metaphors that become comical and detracting, in a storyline that could've been done with zero screen time for that character, since it ultimately amounts to nothing. It's an extra stuffing of junk when we already don't get enough of the main characters we're supposed to care about. The movie is 2 1/2 hours long, and feels longer because there's no drive to it with all these distractions and extraneous parts.

I also had an epiphany about Zack Snyder while watching this movie. Sucker Punch, Man of Steel, Batman V Superman, and Justice League all have terrific trailers and yet don't amount to much (well, JL is yet to be seen, but the others still apply). Snyder is an awful storyteller, but a terrific creator of small visual moments. His background as a TV commercial filmmaker shows in his ability to create striking images and moments in a movie, while also showing his inability to sustain any sort of storytelling momentum or drive. His most successful (from a narrative standpoint) movies were the ones based on existing material, his remake of Dawn of the Dead, Frank Miller's 300, and his slavish adaptation of Alan Moore's Watchmen. In all of those he was gifted with terrific established stories. Despite Snyder having the opportunity to adapt either The Death of Superman or The Dark Knight Returns, this movie is doomed from the outset by trying to adapt both. There's no reason to, and I'm not sure the best writers in the world could make those two books into a good single script.

So now I'm quite apprehensive of Snyder's Justice League movie, as a large ensemble of superheroes jockeying for screen time and character development is likely to fall apart under Snyder's watch (especially seeing as he brought Chris Terrio back to script it). Meanwhile, I'm intrigued to see what Ben Affleck does writing, directing, and starring in his next outing with The Batman. Affleck is the best part of this movie, and his assured storytelling abilities as a director (though balanced with his generally flat and uninspiring visual sense) will undoubtedly be better for us in the audience than Snyder's brand of schizophrenic mess of storytelling is.

With the chilly critical and audience reception, I wasn't expecting too much going into this movie, but somehow I still left disappointed.

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