Friday, April 1, 2016

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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So I finally saw Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice this afternoon, about a week after it opened.  And of course I’m writing a review of it!  However, this won’t be exactly like my standard reviews, partly because it’s outside the MCU and partly because apparently I missed the memo that BvS reviews were supposed to come out a week and a half ago!

I’m only going to write a single review for this movie, so there will be spoilers ahead.

When Marvel Studios started lighting Hollywood on fire by releasing Iron Man and kicking off the Marvel Cinematic Universe, EVERYONE took note.  The Avengers made a boatload of money and paved the way for about a decade’s worth of additional movies.  And suddenly everyone wanted their own cinematic universe, complete with spinoffs and team-ups and tie-ins.  Now, some of these cinematic “universes” most likely just plain won’t work—I mean really, Transformers?  Hasbro?—but a comic book company like DC could definitely make it work!  Since then they have announced a full lineup of solo films, as well as 2 Justice League movies.  However, it all starts with Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.  Man of Steel, released only a year after The Avengers, offered an opening for DC to begin its cinematic universe.  Man of Steel was a decent movie (I will publish a review of it over the summer), but it alone was not enough to start a universe, or at least not on DC’s timeframe.

That’s where Batman v. Superman comes in.  Batman v. Superman essentially serves as the Iron Man 2 or The Amazing Spider-Man 2 of the DC Extended Universe:  it sets the whole thing in motion.  This is very important to keep in mind as we get into the meat of the review.

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The movie opens up with what is essentially a Batman origin movie.  We see Thomas and Martha Wayne’s murder by Joe Cool, followed by young Bruce discovering the Bat Cave.  Over the rest of the movie we learn that Bruce has fought crime in Gotham for over 20 years, and that by this point in his career he’s got all the iconic toys—and all the attendant baggage, including a dead Robin.  He is aided in his crusade by Alfred, of course, and the Gotham P.D. has a Bat-Signal to work with him.  Ben Affleck makes a very good Bruce Wayne and Batman:  intense, brooding, intelligent, absolutely devoted to his cause.  The opening with Bruce’s perspective of the climactic battle from Man of Steel was absolutely amazing, and said just about everything necessary about Bruce’s history and his motivations for the coming fight.

Superman also gets an action scene to open the movie, as Lois goes to interview an African warlord/terrorist, along with her photographer, who has since been revealed to be Jimmy Olsen.  However, the interview takes a bad turn when the soldiers find a tracking device in Jimmy’s camera, exposing him as a CIA operative who used Lois’ journalist credentials to get close to them.  Jimmy is executed and Lois is taken prisoner.  However, a few of the soldiers turn on the others, shooting them up and fleeing just before Superman shows up to save Lois.  Unfortunately, this action causes numerous civilian casualties thanks to the reprisals it draws against the village from the government.  This leads to public calls for Superman to be held accountable for his actions.

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The concept of Superman being held responsible for the destruction of Metropolis, the murders of African villagers, and all the other unintended consequences of his actions is very interesting, and something which I wish they had explored further.  Certainly the fact that Bruce saw Superman and Zod’s heat vision tear through his building and then watched them fighting while comforting a newly-orphaned girl while surrounded by the wreckage of said building is a driving factor for all his actions in the movie, including his theft of Lex Luthor’s kryptonite in order to create kryptonite-based weapons for use against Superman.  There is even an extensive montage of various news outlets debating the issue of Superman.  Senator Finch (the chair of the Senate Committee on Superman) holds public hearings calling for him to be held responsible for his actions—but for the record every time she opened her mouth I couldn’t think of anything except how fascinating it is that Elastigirl is trying to hold Superman accountable!

However, much of this gets pushed aside when it is revealed just how extensively Lex Luthor has been manipulating both the public and the Senator.  Lois uncovers that LexCorp manufactured the experimental ammunition used in Africa—a bid to frame Superman for the destruction.  Luthor manipulates a former Wayne Enterprises employee (who was injured during the battle) into becoming a suicide bomber to blow up the Senatorial hearing at which Superman was present.  Luthor even manipulates the entire battle between Batman and Superman—accusing Bruce Wayne by proxy of letting his family die and abducting both Lois and Martha Kent to blackmail Superman into killing Batman.  He also allowed Batman to steal the kryptonite!

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And that leads into Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor.  Frankly, I wasn’t thrilled with him.  The movie paints him as being a calculating, manipulative genius who is able to manipulate everyone into doing exactly what he wants with no one the wiser.  He even manipulates Batman (whom he knows to be Bruce Wayne), for crying out loud!  He learned the identities of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, and learned about (perhaps identified) Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman.  That is all very impressive, but he just doesn’t earn it.  The quirky affectations which Eisenberg brings to the character really doing jive with the intelligent and cunning mastermind he’s supposed to be.  At the end I thought they were going to set him up to become the cold, calculating arch-villain he is in the comics, but his final scene with Batman actually turned him into a raving lunatic akin to the Joker.

Also, what was his motivation?  At different times he seems interested in sowing chaos for the sake of chaos/personal gain, or else to be jealous of the fact that Superman saves people today, but did not save him from his abusive father.  And then at the end it sounds like he is somehow working for a greater threat which is going to come and destroy the Earth now that “God is dead.”  Which of these motivations is it going to be?
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That was a lot of negative criticism, but it’s not all bad for this movie.  Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman is excellent in the scenes she gets.  She is a centuries-old warrior woman who came to Metropolis in order to steal back a picture on Luthor’s hard drive of herself fighting in World War I.  Bruce finds it after cloning Luthor’s drive, and deduces that there is more to her than meets the eye.  She is then on her way out of the country when she sees the news reports of Batman fighting Doomsday (created by Luthor from Zod’s body and his own blood).  She saves Batman and then the three team up to fight Doomsday.  Following the battle, she and Bruce meet at Clark’s grave and agree to bring together the other metahumans whom they discovered on Luthor’s drive.

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The fight sequences were really amazing, also.  Batman and Superman’s first encounter, as Batman is attempting to steal the kryptonite, was done quite well.  Their second confrontation, in which Batman prepped the ground and prepared kryptonite weapons that could hurt Superman, went almost exactly the way I thought it would.  Batman is just about to kill him with a kryptonite spear when Superman reveals that he’s being forced to fight by Luthor.  Superman goes to check out the Kryptonian ship site while Batman rescues Martha Kent (I was surprised both their mothers had the same name, but sure enough, they do in the comics!).  The battle against the newly-born Doomsday is absolutely awesome as the three heroes join forces together.  Each of them gets their opportunity to fight Doomsday, and each of them contributes to his ultimate death.  I actually thought the ending of the fight—Superman sacrifices himself to kill Doomsday with the kryptonite spear—was extremely well executed.  I was a little surprised that they decided to kill Superman (to inevitably resurrect him in Justice League Part 1) so soon, but his death while fighting Doomsday is an iconic moment in the comics.  The twin funerals—representing his dual identities as Clark Kent and Superman—were also quite well done, although it did feel like a lot of work to sell us on something we know is only temporary.  And sure enough, the movie ends with the dirt Lois through into the grave starting to levitate, showing that Superman is going to come back sooner than later.

One other aspect of the movie that I didn’t mention yet is the relationship between Lois Lane and Clark Kent.  Simply put, it is excellent.  Their relationship is extremely believable, from her trauma at having been held captive to his willingness to do absolutely anything to keep her safe.  I actually really liked the small twist at the end when Martha showed Lois the engagement ring that Clark had bought to surprise her, and which she was wearing at the funeral.  Simply put, the fact that their relationship is simple and uncomplicated is surprisingly fresh these days.

All of this is what relates to the movie at hand—and that movie is pretty good.  Most of the issues I’ve highlighted so far revolve around Lex Luthor.  The heroes themselves are handled well, and the character dynamics are all spot-on.

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However, where Batman v. Superman falls the shortest is with its attempt to set up the rest of the DCEU.  Honestly, it’s just too much, too soon, and distracts from the rest of the movie too much.  First, there’s the reveal that Luthor has files on Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman, including videos which Diana watches.  We see Cyborg’s creation, Aquaman fighting off undersea explorers, and Flash foiling a convenience store robbery.  It’s kind of ham-fisted for Diana to just watch video on the other potential members of the Justice League.  Then we get the “Knightmare” (not my term) which Bruce has a couple times during the movie.  He sees Superman taking over Metropolis.  He sees flying mechanical alien creatures.  Some time-traveler gives him a cryptic warning while he’s dreaming.  Frankly, it just doesn’t make sense.  How does this tie in with the movie at hand?  How is Bruce the one having visions of a post-apocalyptic future which is supposedly going to happen?  I just don’t get how this fits into the movie at hand beyond the one “Knightmare” of Batman leading a group of rebels against Superman’s tyrannical reign.  The rest of the “Knightmare” is purely setup for a future movie, and distracts from the one at hand.

This last point is the problem with trying to jumpstart a full cinematic universe after a single movie.  The Amazing Spider-Man 2 attempted the same thing, and it failed.  Iron Man 2 attempted substantially less, and it barely succeeded.  Batman v. Superman essentially tried to push the DCEU forward about 8 steps, but it stumbled.  I don’t think this means DC is in trouble, but it does mean that they cut some corners.  If I were trying to build the DCEU, I would have left the rest of the Justice League characters out of this movie entirely, along with the fortune-telling.  Instead, I would have focused the movie entirely on Batman and Superman fighting each other, and then the two of them teaming up with Wonder Woman against Doomsday.  Then I would have either indicated that a couple of the villains in Suicide Squad were put away by other heroes or waited for 2017’s Justice League Part 1 to introduce the rest of the team.  As it is, they have sufficiently established that these three are not the only “metahumans” or heroes out there, so we can consider the groundwork sufficiently laid for the rest of the DCEU.

Batman v. Superman is not a bad movie.  It suffers from a less-than compelling villain who undermines the “Batman versus Superman” premise.  It tries to do so much to set up future installments that it distracts from its own plot.  The Batman and Superman plots don’t tie together overly well, making it feel like two movies jammed together.  But it is not a bad movie.  In fact, the Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman elements of the movie are all really good.  If you are a fan of DC Comics, you will love seeing DC’s top 3 heroes on screen together.  If you liked Man of Steel, you will enjoy seeing the continuation of Lois and Clark’s love story.  If you thought that Man of Steel caused untold property damage without any consequences, you will appreciate seeing Bruce Wayne’s perspective of the destruction.

So would I recommend this movie?  Yes, I definitely would—the action scenes alone are enough to recommend it.  Hopefully DC will be able to build on this commercial success to create an excellent Justice League movie down the line.

What did you think of this movie?  What was your favorite part?  Did you like Lex Luthor?  Let me know in the comments!

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