A blog about movies and filmmaking.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

In action, comic books, Fantasy on March 25, 2016 at 1:23 pm


Well, first of all, it’s been nearly two years since I have posted to the blog, here. And the reason that I’ve come back is I saw a movie today that the whole world is crapping on, and while I’m not the one to stand up and defend it completely; I am here to explain why I enjoyed it.

It’s been nearly three years since MAN OF STEEL, the first film in the burgeoning DC Cinematic Universe, appeared and while my review of that movie was fairly positive, in the time since, I have grown to have major issues with the portrayal of Superman in this new form. I still hold it’s not the destruction or even the fact that Superman kills which bothers me. It’s instead the personification of the character. His principles and the choices he’s made growing up – and from that, the principles that his adoptive (human) parents instilled within him. I think it’s a legitimate concern about an alien child falling into the Kansas top-soil, and fear of what our governments, and sects of fanaticism would do with that knowledge. But, the issue comes from how Pa Kent (as played by Kevin Costner) instilled Clark with the perspective that in order to keep his secret, he should be willing to let people die. He shouldn’t try to save everyone. In fact, in Man of Steel, there’s a continued idea of Kal-El being a god. His Kryptonian father says as much, Pa Kent thinks so. And it becomes one of the repeated, basic tenets of BATMAN v. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE. Is there actually a god if aliens, and specifically Superman, exists; and if so, is Superman god? It’s a good question, and I feel like it works as a plot-thread throughout Batman v. Superman.

Just a warning, there aren’t any major spoilers in the rest of the review, but I do discuss aspects containing the plot. So, if you want to remain untainted, tread carefully.

Here’s my issue. While I appreciate that question being asked by the wider public, and certain main characters in the film who feel threatened by that idea, Superman should be above that. Yes, he knows he’s different. He knows he’s a bridge between two worlds, and he has tremendous power that he could go either way in utilizing. But, as the character who was created in 1938 has shown repeatedly, he would never look at himself as a god. He’s just a boy from Kansas. Superman doesn’t stand for old fashioned ideals like “truth, justice, and the American way” because he’s good. Clark Kent stands for them because that’s how he was raised. Yes, as a young Superman, I can see him messing up and allowing things like the destruction of Metropolis in Man of Steel, without fore-thought to the human lives at risk – because he, himself, is fighting for his life. But, he should have known that if you make a mess, you clean it up. And for me, that’s where Man of Steel, and Batman v. Superman, doesn’t hold up in giving me a Superman that I can cheer for. At the end of Richard Lester’s SUPERMAN II, after much damage has been done by General Zod and his goons, we see Superman cleaning up and helping to fix the damage done. In fact, one of the last scenes is of him landing a new roof on the White House and promising the President, “I won’t let you down again.” What we get at the end of Man of Steel? Clark in the middle of a decimated Metropolis, making out with Lois Lane and quipping about how “relationships only go downhill after the first kiss”.

That’s not the Superman I want.

There was a lot that went around after Man of Steel – namely from Snyder and Cavill – who were saying that that movie was just Superman learning how to be a hero. Maybe the sequel will deal with the aftermath, and see him become the true Superman. So, that’s where Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice comes in. We have Metropolis, two years later. It’s seemingly gone through some rebuilding, but there’s also a massive Superman statue surrounded by a near-replica of the Vietnam Memorial of the names of all the dead. That image in itself is troubling. One of the key architects of these people’s deaths is memorialized along with them? What! There’s some government hearings that question whether Superman is to be trusted or not, there’s a group of murders he’s accused of committing (though, how that connection is made, I’m not sure), and finally, when it comes time for Superman to stand up and proclaim what he stands for; well, it doesn’t lead to anything good.

Okay, but what about the movie! Well, here’s where I think it takes a step in the right direction. It gives Zack Snyder (returning as director) the one character he was born to make a movie for. Batman. The movie actually starts with 1. re-enacting the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents, 2. young Bruces’ discovery of the cave full of bats, and 3. Bruce Wayne landing in Metropolis while the climactic action of Man of Steel takes place. So, all of that devastation is now seen from the street level, as Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck, in a great turn as the Caped Crusader) charges into danger. Giving this movie over to Batman’s perspective, is what I think makes it work for me. He’s a character that can be played many ways – even, as in this movie; a near-psychopath that isn’t afraid of using guns and mercilessly killing people. It’s well-worn idea that Batman doesn’t kill, and he doesn’t use guns; except that for a time at the beginning of the characters journey in comics, he had pistols as part of his costume and used them. Then there’s all of the Frank Miller Batman stories, that plays a major role in this adaptation – including the metal armor suit he wears later in the movie.

Making Batman truly the Dark Knight, works very well and should work as a perfect mirror image to the shining beacon that is Superman. Of course, in this world, they’re both essentially messengers of deadly justice. It was almost for every scene where we saw Batman being crazy and fulfilling his side of the bargain of going over the line of what could be legal, we had Superman coming in and trying to hold the line of what’s right – while not actually preaching it. We do get a couple of scenes showing Superman doing constructive and helpful actions, but they all turn too reverential. We see him save a girl from a burning building, and suddenly he’s surrounded by a mob all trying to touch him and bowing to him, again, like a god. We see him catch an exploding rocket – seemingly because there were astronauts inside, I’m not sure – but then the camera just lingers over his rippling body. I guess that’s more Snyder’s fault than it is Superman, but it’s all part and parcel. Superman shouldn’t stand there to be idolized, he shouldn’t stop in the middle of carrying a rocket to flex his abs and pecs for us. He should make sure we’re okay, assure us that rocket flying is still one of the safest way to travel to space, and then take off. What it really comes down to is that Snyder and his collaborators are tying to have their cake and eat it too. They want these characters to be dark, gritty, and grounded, eschewing their “conventional takes” for this humorless, brutal one. But, then they bank on our familiarity and fore-knowledge on what these characters (conventionally) stand for. There’s a moment where Ma Kent (Diane Lane), says Pa always wanted Clark to do something special – when yes, in the comic book world and the one created by Richard Donner, he did; but in Man of Steel, he literally tells Clark to stay hidden! Of course, right after that, she tells Clark he doesn’t owe this planet, “a damn thing”… So, again, you had me and you lost me.

But, where the plot truly comes alive for me, and what makes me ultimately side on the positive side of the spectrum is Batman played for all the darkness that that character can provide. And then there’s Lex Luthor – here played by Jesse Eisenberg. He’s a little manic, but in the way all of Eisenberg’s characters are. Here he just seems to have a little more self-esteem, and that makes all the difference. Ultimately, he’s the mastermind behind nearly everything that happens in the film. All of it being for the over-arching goal of destroying Superman – or at least, revealing him to not be the god her portends to be. We see Luthor playing a cat-and-mouse game with the senator overseeing the Superman hearings (played by Holly Hunter, with not much gusto – except in an early scene where I literally thought they were about to start making out.), slowly revealing his plans to gain access to leftover items from the Kryptonians that attacked Earth. And ultimately, through certain machinations he succeeds in turning most of the globe against Superman, including Batman – leading to the final showdown between the ostensible heroes.

For the title battle, there is a contrivance that happens, that I have to say when it’s revealed, was literally the moment I said to myself, “okay, you win.” It pits Batman and Superman against each other not because, “hey we need to fight”, but for a personal stake that leaves Superman with no other choice but to face Batman. I will say, I liked how the battle originally begins, with Superman trying to enlist Batman to join him in taking down Luthor, but by this point, Batman is so overwhelmed with fury that he can’t even listen. And their fight has some very good moments. Without getting too much into spoilers about it, there’s a great reason for how Batman is even able to go toe-to-toe with Superman, and the payoff when Superman regains the upper-hand was amazing! And then, we have the turn which always comes in these superhero battles. When two good guys are fighting it out, there’s the moment they realize they’re actually on the same side. I will plainly admit, I’ve never made the connection these two characters had in common before, and when it’s stated here; I laughed out-loud. It’s ridiculous, but Affleck sells it for me. The shock, the surprise, and the anger on his face when he has to give up the killing blow because of one word… It’s staggering how I can both mock it and also love that that is how it worked.

And finally, there’s the inevitable buildup for the rest of the DC cinematic universe that is to come from this movie. It’s no secret that Wonder Woman (played, quite brilliantly, by Gal Gadot) appears and plays a vital role in the finale of the movie. But, we also get some tiny appearances by the rest of the cast that are to become the JUSTICE LEAGUE (which is out in two years, I believe, and is also to be directed by Zack Snyder.). Wonder Woman is great in her limited presence. Her battle scenes are fantastic and give a subtle hint to an – as yet unspoken weakness Kryptonians have on Earth, and I buy her as the ancient warrior. I don’t quite buy her checking her email, which we get one scene of… But, what are you going to do? For the other cameos, they’re silly here, but my interest is moderately piqued.

So, in the end, why did I like this movie – despite a lot of this review being me complaining about it? As strange as it is to say, adding Batman and Wonder Woman, and Lex Luthor, to the mix turned the dour Superman on its side. Unfortunately we still have that Man of Steel to contend with, but the surrounding characters have been given life and are close enough approximations of what I would want, that it worked. Pitting Batman against Superman, trading blows, was fun and exciting. And gives truth to the idea that if Batman has enough time to prepare, he can defeat anyone. I won’t lie, I’m still apprehensive about what comes next, but I’m not as closed off to it as I was going in to this movie. So, mark one in the win column. Well, the “it’s okay and I’ll see the next one” column.



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