Saturday, March 26, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

There is so much controversy surrounding this movie that I was a little nervous to actually see it for myself. Not because I believed the undeserved critical lambasting that was going on, but because I knew it was bound to be polarizing. All films with genuine ambition tend to bifurcate critics and audiences, especially when it comes to the DC extended universe. Before I even get into my review, I would recommend everyone who hasn't seen Man of Steel in a while to go re-watch it prior to seeing Batman v Superman, as it serves as a perfect set up to the entire story that plays out in this film. Having Man of Steel fresh in my mind definitely got me more invested in what director Zack Snyder was aiming to do, and from the get-go he follows up on what we saw back in 2013 in epic fashion. I've heard so many complaints about this film that it's tempting to just address each of them in this review, but I'll leave that duty to someone else. Instead, I'm going to discuss this film openly and honestly without getting into spoilers. Now that I've had some time to process this film, I feel like I can adequately tell what works and doesn't work without the haze of fanboy hype or the taint of critical hate. With that, let's get into the plot.

The destruction in Metropolis was a terror to behold for all who witnessed it, but one man was particularly scarred by the Kryptonian battle that played out on our world.... Bruce Wayne. Owning a financial building in the otherwise pristine city, he races to rescue as many people as he can from the vicinity before it's too late. Unfortunately, heat rays rip through the building from the inside and send the tower crashing to the ground. With only a few survivors, including one man who will need both of his legs amputated, Bruce is swallowed up in anger and hatred towards the mysterious god-like being that seemingly brought this calamity upon them. Though the city erected a statue to honor their hero, there are plenty out there who don't quite buy into the messianic nature of the Man of Steel. Lex Luthor is particularly disenchanted with the superbeing, to the point where he's arranged for a certain green rock to be transported from the Indian Ocean to his facility, despite not receiving clearance from the U.S. government to do so.

That's all I'm going to get into with the plot, so as to steer clear of all spoilers and also avoid having to explain too much about the complex story that unfolds in this film. This movie, like all Zack Snyder films, is a visual marvel... or wonder, to keep it in the DC family. The visuals and the screenplay work in near-perfect synchrony to tell a multi-dimensional story that could be simply relegated to a WWE match-up a la Alien vs. Predator. Instead, there are heavy and fascinating themes at play ranging from the moral ambiguity of doing the right thing, to the seemingly paradoxical relationship between power and innocence. I have nothing but praise for Chris Terrio (scribe of the Oscar-winning film Argo), who compares and contrasts our two heroes in a subtle yet meaningful way. The titular "V" in this film isn't necessarily just referring to a physical battle, in my opinion. It's also about the difference in their ideologies. There's a symmetry to the letter "V" that doesn't exist in "vs.", and given the juxtaposition between the two superheroes we're following, I think that may have been an intentional choice on the part of the film makers.

While I found the writing to be exemplary, the performances across the board lived up to both the script and the source material on which it is based. Despite all of the backlash generated from the announcement of Ben Affleck's casting, he is already being hailed as one of (if not the) best Batman ever put to film... and I can't disagree! Even though I will always love what Christian Bale brought to the role, Affleck has a fierceness that I've never seen from Bale, even when he went off on that lighting technician. To all those who are complaining (I almost used a different word) about the fact that Batman is so dark in this film and appears to even cause some fatalities, let me just say... get over it. Anyone who's saying that is bringing in a preconception from the comics that was never established in this film. Even if you're going to stand by the idea that this Batman is against killing, I could easily point out that the character is going darker than even Alfred feels comfortable. In response to Bruce's increased brutality of late, Alfred says, "Everything has changed.... That's how it starts, the fever, the rage... the feeling of powerlessness... that turns good men cruel." But even if you want to ignore that, you could also explain it by the fact that the events of this movie are after Jason Todd (or some other version of Robin) has been murdered by the Joker. This could easily have turned Batman to slacken his rule, and we're seeing the aftermath of that.

As for his counterpart, Superman is doing what he can to live up to his Earth father's hopes for him. He decides to start helping people all over the world, which strikes up an argument that he shouldn't be acting unilaterally, even if he is doing good. Just like this movie, Superman just can't seem to win with some people. Not only is he being critiqued for the destruction in Metropolis that stemmed from his fight with Zod, but he's also been framed for an atrocity in Africa that has resulted in a Senate hearing. This is clearly a difficult time for Kal-El, and Henry Cavill portrays that inner turmoil very effectively. He doesn't say a whole lot in the film, but his nonverbal reactions to the events around him really hit me in the feels. Having said that, Superman is given a darker treatment here as well, and there are moments that show us just how terrifying he could be if he suddenly stopped trying to do the right thing.

The last character I'm going to bring up is Lex Luthor. This was another casting decision that was controversial, to say the least. No one doubted Jesse Eisenberg's talent, as his Oscar-nominated turn in The Social Network pretty much won over everyone who saw it. However, this is a much more sinister and unhinged character than we've ever seen him play before, and for my money, he rose to the challenge and then some with his portrayal as the iconic villain. This Lex is just as intelligent and sinister as any other we've seen, but his psychopathy is really what impressed me the most. His facial twitches, his sometimes incoherent, but often incredibly insightful mutterings, and his unconscionable desire to gain power makes him one of the better villains we've seen in a comic book movie. Plus, for those who have a bit of knowledge about the comic books, there are hints as to why he might be so intent on destroying "God", as he calls the Man of Steel on multiple occasions.

There is so much more praise to heap on this movie, so let me just start listing it off: Wonder Woman is amazing, a true highlight of the film; the cinematography is gorgeous; the score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL (Mad Max: Fury Road) is hauntingly beautiful, terrifying and awe-inspiring in equal measure; and the fight scenes are not only visceral, but because they're set up so well, we're fully invested in why they're being fought. I've heard a lot of critics comparing this to the films in the Marvel cinematic universe. First, let me just say that I love both comic book juggernauts.... but they're right in saying this isn't like a Marvel movie. Batman v Superman is complex, takes chances, has a good villain, introduces thought-provoking themes, and isn't afraid to go dark. This isn't a referendum on Marvel, but just because this doesn't have a joke every ten seconds doesn't make this a lesser work. In fact, I think we should be celebrating the differences between DC and Marvel, as it gives us the opportunity to see a good variety and range of tones told within the comic book movie genre.

I could literally go on and on about all the things I loved about this film, but I'll stop there. The point of this review is to convince you to see the movie for yourself, so hopefully I've done that without telling you everything good about it beforehand. Trust me on this - the critical rating of this film at large is not indicative of its quality. While its complexity might cause a few to scratch their heads, and the Justice League set up could have been a bit more organic, I honestly had no other complaints. Whenever films get maligned by critics it's easy to feel guilty for liking it and allow their negativity to pull down your opinion, but after seeing this movie twice I'm willing to stand behind my review. This is a tremendous comic book film that sets the DC movie universe on an incredibly interesting path that I can't wait to take. Regardless of nit-picking reviewers who had bones to pick with this movie before ever having seen it, I found it to be a triumph. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice deserves a solid four stars.

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality