Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Movie Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Have you ever heard so much universally bad stuff about a movie that you started to think: '*PFFFTTT!* It can't possibly be that bad. Can it?'

Between Man of Steel's tone-deaf franchise launch and the venomous word of mouth surrounding Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I decided pass on seeing the latter in theaters. Or on video, for that matter. But when it recently landed on Netflix like a bag of wet cement I thought to myself: 'Seriously, this flick has three iconic superheroes in it. How bad could it be?'

Now, movies can have a lasting impact on the viewer for several reasons. Some are wild n' crazy roller-coaster rides that serve up a truly visceral experience. Others unfold slowly and deliberately, like a satisfying visual novel. Some movies make you so invested in what you're watching that you never want them to end.

But occasionally you encounter a movie that's so thoroughly and completely devoid of any redeeming features that it baffles you. The sheer awfulness of what you witnessed stays lodged in your brain like a splinter and you're left trying to fathom how in god's name they managed to cock things up so spectaculalrly.

And that's where I'm at right now with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I'm trying to figure out who's most to blame for this burning trash heap. A lot of people have pointed the finger exclusively  at director Zack Snyder but honestly, unless the dude gave explicit marching orders to screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, then those two chuckle-heads are just as complicit.

Like many of Snyder's past films, including Dawn of the Dead300 and WatchmenBatman v Superman looks good at the very least. Granted it would have looked even better if it wasn't cloaked in the same muted, boring, grimdark color filter that seems to taint every modern blockbuster nowadays. The incessant Blade Runner-levels of rain, fog and smoke certainly don't help matters any.

So, there you go, I said a good thing. It looks fine. Oh, and Jeremy Irons' Alfred is salty good fun. But everything else, and I mean everything else, is a complete and utter waste of time and effort.

Awrite, let's get on with the autopsy.

So the whole conceit of the film is that we're eventually gonna see Bats and Supes go mano-a-mano with each other. Now, based on seventy-odd years of comic book lore, we already know that these two are the superhero equivalent of oil and water. In spite of this, they still generally get along with each other and it would probably take a lot to put them at loggerheads.

And this represents the film's two biggest failures. First off, I didn't believe for a second that Batman and / or Superman were even in this movie and secondly: I wasn't convinced that these two impostors had any legitimate reason to be pissed off at one another.

The movie starts with a flashback to the protracted, obnoxious, hyperactive orgy of mayhem that was the finale of Man of Steel. Bruce Wayne (played by an alternately sullen or unhinged Ben Affleck) realizes that one of his office buildings is smack dab in the middle of the destructive tilt between Superman and General Zod. But instead of calling someone in the building and telling them to evacuate or, better yet, hiring employees capable of autonomous thought or a sense of self-preservation, we gets this hilariously over-the-top sequence whereby Bruce drives his SUV directly into the heart of ground zero.

He arrives just as the building collapses. Throwing caution to the wind, OUR HERO rushes into the smoke cloud, frees an employee who's legs are pinned under a steel girder and then pauses to hug an orphaned girl who clearly picked the worst possible time to participate in "Take Your Moppet To Work Day". As the camera closes in, we see Bruce seething in helpless rage as the two super-titans continue to clash overhead.

Notwithstanding the rank idiocy of the execution, there's actually some potential here. In fact, here's the story I would have explored:

Given the widespread carnage that Superman blissfully presided over at the end of Man of Steel, it makes perfect sense that the entire population of Earth is scared shitless of Superman and other Kryptonians. This immediately renders all of Batman v Superman's conspiracy crap entirely superfluous.

This also serves as the perfect impetus for Batman to emerge from the shadows of Gotham and start formulating a plan to contain Superman and his ilk. Inter-cut between Batman's efforts, we see Supes trying to make amends by re-building the damage, working overtime to rescue people, and getting cats down from trees. Y'know the kinda stuff we actually expect to see Superman do.

Being the observant dude that he is, Batman picks up on Superman's contrition tour and this colors his opinion of the guy. So when they finally meet, Batman believes that our boi is sincere and they step away from the brink of confrontation. But little do they know, a rat bastard by the name of Lex Luthor is cooking up ways to derail this budding bromance. He uses Red Kryptonite to turn Supes to the Dark Side, which, in turn, activates Batman's contingency plan and they end up tangling.

But since Batman is a sharp cookie, he realizes that something is seriously wrong. He exposes  Luthor's scheme, reverses the effect, and they rush off to confront the baddie together. Lex is ready for them, tho, and takes them on wearing a Kryponite-fueled Power Suit. In the end, teamwork saves the day and the villain is defeated. Close curtains.

I think this idea (working title: World's Finest, natch) would have made gobs of money and, most importantly, viewers wouldn't have felt compelled to slit their wrists and climb into a warm bathtub.

But nope, that's not what we got. Here's what we got instead:
  • A boring, pointless subplot about a bullet which is nothing more than a thinly-veiled Lois Lane make-work project. Look, if there's any sleuthing to be done here, it needs to be done by The Worlds Greatest Detective. *PSSSTTT*...I'm talking about Batman, kids. 
  • Speaking of the Dark Knight, we get a Batman here who's a dim, psychotic, Crossfit-obsessed goon that murders people at will and isn't much better than the scumbags he's annihilating. Particularly moronic is his habit of branding people, which is supposed to convey a "death sentence" in prison. Dafuq? Wouldn't your fellow criminals sympathize with you for being branded by an unhinged nutjob? Don't worry, just throw it over there on the pile of other shit that doesn't makes sense. 
  • More wasted screen time in the form of a Russian weapons trafficker.
  • A very confused Lex Luthor. Notwithstanding a few throw-away lines of over-wrought dialogue about God and his daddy issues, I guess Luthor was scared of aliens just like everyone else. But, wait, that doesn't make any sense because he ends up hand-crafting the greatest  rogue alien threat on the planet. At first Lex offers to help the government prep their Kryptonian defense but when they realize that he's crazier than a shit-house rat they cut all of their ties to him. Didn't anyone find it odd that the film's primary villain has the exact same motivation as Batman? Luthor is most certainly a bad guy since he blows up a bunch of innocent people and molests poor Ma Kent, so why didn't they just give him a distinctly different and self-serving motivation? In my scenario, Lex would be an ethically-bankrupt / Martin Shkreli / corporatist scumbag who's never heard the word "no" during his entire cushy life, so he starts to panic when two incorruptible super-powered vigilantes start sniffing around. *BAM!* Instant motivation! But, hey, what do I know? I'm just simple man who has a soft spot for frivolous crap like logic, plotting, character motivation and common sense. 
  • In order to fast-track the DCEU and "keep up with Marvelses", Wonder Woman was  unceremoniously shoe-horned into this shlock-pile. Is there anything sadder than making "creative" decisions based on playing catch-up to your competitor? Oh, wait, how 'bout waiting seventy plus years to give one the most iconic super heroes ever a live-action movie role only to make her third banana to a couple of already-prolific assholes? Oh wait, it was also done to set up a Justice League movie that hasn't been earned and trick fans into buying more movie tickets. Disgusting.  
  • Speaking of completely cynical corporate decisions, I love how Lex Luthor was meta enough to compose three l'il teaser trailers for Wonder Woman, the Flash and Cyborg for us. He even had the presence of mind to design some tres-marketable thumb-nailed logos for all of them. Convenient.    
  • There's no story here, just a series of stitched-together clips of random shit. Witness Bruce's nightmare where he envisions Superman's dystopian future state. I'm still trying to pinpoint the worst thing about this sequence. Is it our first look at the Batsuit, which looks completely ridiculous in broad daylight? Maybe it's the screenwriter's decision to show Superman callously murdering people with his heat vision and Batman gunning down enemies without a second thought? Or what about those inexplicable winged creatures flying around like locusts? Yeah, I'm gonna go with the latter because, unless you're heavily steeped in comic book lore, you'd likely have no clue that these things are supposed to be minions of the DCEU's future Big Bad: Darkseid. When you throw in Bruce's non-sequitur "Flash"-back, you realize that none of this was done to improve the quality of the movie you're currently watching, its designed to set up sequels that the audience no longer wants because you haven't bothered to make a good movie yet. Hey: Zack Snyder, Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer: live in the now.  
  • Oh, man, do not get me started on the laughably inept character of Wallace Keefe played by Scoot McNairy (!). Wallace is the employee that Bruce Wayne rescues at the beginning of the film. Look, it makes sense that Wallace has a grudge against Superman, but I can't fathom why he'd refuse Bruce's compensation checks and then suicide bomb himself. Does he agree to do this just because Luthor paid for his bail and bought him a shiny new wheelchair? How did Lex sweeten that particular pot? Did he convince this dumb, sad fuck that the wheelchair was transferable to the afterlife? 
  • Granny's Peach Tea. 'Nuff said.
  • I assume Zack Snyder is the main reason for my next gripe but Terrio and Goyer are likely accessories to the crime. I hate how this piece of junk shamelessly cribs from The Dark Knight Returns. At the end of that classic graphic novel, Superman and Batman have a knock-down, drag out, Pier 6 donnybrook. It's the stuff of comic book legend. The key difference between The Dark Knight Returns and Batman v Superman is that the former earns this confrontation thanks to meticulous plotting and character development while the latter just uses the former as a storyboard reference. The most odious implication: if anyone tries to lens a live-action adaptation of Miller's seminal work in the future it'll probably be viewed as derivative by morons who saw Batman v Superman and somehow liked it. Fuck, that pisses me off.
  • Snyder and company somehow manage to double down on the sickening vein of Objectivist bullshit that tainted Man of Steel. Ma Kent, played by Diane Lane, spins a few of Ayn Rand's greatest hits for both her son and the oblivious audience. After the general population turns on Superman, for good reason mind you, Clark goes to see his moms and gets the following piece of sterling advice: "Be their hero, Clark. Be their angel, be their monument, be anything they need you to be... or be none of it. You don't owe this world a thing. You never did." What a giant crock of horse-shit. The whole point of Superman is that, in spite of his boundless power, he's completely selfless and wants to do good by others. He could easily enact Batman's future-nightmare scenario, but he doesn't. Trying to turn an intrinsically-good character like Superman into a selfish prick is the heights of cynicism. Please, Zack, go make The Fountainhead already and get this sophomoronic crap out of your system. At least that garbage comes pre-ruined.  
  • As if that wasn't bad enough, Clark goes to visit his Dad's grave site and a haggard-looking Kevin Costner suddenly materializes like a Force Ghost and tells him the following "inspirational" tale: "I remember one season the water came bad. I couldn't've been twelve. Dad had out the shovels and we went at it all night. We worked 'til I think I fainted, but we managed to stop the water. We saved the farm. Your grandma baked me a cake, said I was a hero. Later that day we found out we blocked the water alright...we sent it upstream. A whole Lange farm washed away. While I ate my hero cake, their horses were drowning. I used to hear them wailing in my sleep." Now, need I remind you that this pretentious drivel is in a movie featuring a flying indestructible man in a cape, a guy dressed up like a bat and an Amazon? Hey, kids, are ya havin' fun yet? Remember this message: don't even try to be good 'cuz it's only gonna blow up in your face! Jesus Christ, the makers of this film should be sued for criminal de-hope-ification and misappropriation of heroic icons.
  • "SAVE...MARFA...!!!" Y'know, if this scene had been presented with a deft hand, it could have been an effective and dramatic TSN Turning Point. Unfortunately, between Henry Cavill's hammy delivery, Ben Affleck's scenery chewing, Batman's goofy suit of armor, the glowing green spear thingie and Snyder's pretentious direction, the whole thing comes off as unintentionally hilarious.
  • Even I have to admit that the Martha Kent rescue sequence is legitimately well-staged and features the best Batman-related hand-to-hand combat I've ever seen on screen. Pity its ruined when Batverine snaps and starts blowing up, stabbing and shooting people with gleeful abandon. 
  • Similarly, there's a pointless action set piece earlier in the film when Batman attempts to steal Kryptonite from Lex Luthor. Granted, on-screen Batmobile chases of yore have always featured a certain level of, shall we say, collateral damage but this time we see Batman machine-gunning enemy vehicles and flinging cars all over the place with a grappling hook. I.E. he's straight-up murdering motherfuckers. Its the equivalent of Snyder and company shouting at the audience: "See, kids?!? This ain't yer daddy's Batman! Our Batman is a total EDGELORD. He's SAVAGE as FUX!" The really funny thing is that Batman doesn't get the Kryptonite and all of that death and mayhem is completely pointless. In the end, the Dork Knight sneaks into Lexcorp and steals it off-screen. Man, that would have been a much more tense, character-appropriate and inexpensive thing to do! 
  • The whole comedy of errors with the spear smacks of the screenwriters trying to appease Amy Adams' agent. 
  • Lex Luthor molests the body of General Zod and turns him into an Uruk-Hai....er, Doomsday.  Great, yet another story thread that's completely frittered away. Here DINO (Doomsday In Name Only) amounts to a giant CGI orc that Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman have to team up to defeat. Honestly, it's as if Snyder, Terrio and Goyer saw X-Men: The Last Stand and thought "Yes! This is the perfect way to alienate fans, confuse casual movie-goers and piss away a bunch of perfectly good story points all at the same time!" 
Now, those might be the movie's most obvious sins, but Batman v Superman isn't even good from a nuts n' bolts perspective. In fact, he film's most crippling liability is that the atrocious writing and the ham-fisted dialogue results in some pretty dismal performances.

Although I staunchly maintain that all three of our principal heroic leads are well-cast, they aren't given anything remotely interesting to do. Henry Cavill's Superman gets a particularly short shift. He floats through the entire film with a permanently-furrowed brow and a sour expression nailed to his face. Whenever he's on screen as Superman he's either put upon or surly or both. Also, since there's no perceivable difference between Clark Kent and Superman in either appearance or behavior, it's ridiculous to think that not a single investigative journalist at the Daily Planet has put two and two together yet.

In theory, Ben Affleck should be a great Batman / Bruce Wayne. Unfortunately all he's asked to do here is act like a sad bag of spoiled milk. He oscillates constantly between mopey and apoplectic. Gal Gadot is the physical embodiment of Wonder Woman but she's mainly on hand to help the two menfolk beat up a giant cartoon monster. The script also manages the impossible task of making Amy Adams a liability. Every time she's on-screen the script makes us feel as if we're all in purgatory. 

But Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor is definitely the film's cardinal sin of casting. And even though I kinda dig the idea of Luthor being a Mark Zuckerberg / Silicon Valley nerd, Eisenberg's take is too manic and too silly to work. I wish he'd been more reserved and socially inept as opposed to unhinged. As it stands, Eisenberg is about as threatening to me as, well, me...ranting about this stupid movie. I also can't help but picture someone with the gravitas of Bryan Cranston in the role. 

So, yeah, beyond some decent casting and cool visuals pilfered from a vastly superior piece of legitimate art, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a vast wasteland. The dialogue is heavy-handed and self-important, the story feels as if it was improvised on set, it's completely devoid of any joy and the entire cast looks like they're on Xanax. Even worse: the titular tilt that takes forever to come around ends up throwing in the kitchen sink and becoming inadvertently funny. 
P.S. normally at this point in the review I'd say something diplomatic and / conciliator such as: "Yeah, well, even though the movie didn't work for me, I'm glad it worked for you." Not this time, folks. In fact, I'm just gonna come right out and say this: if you think that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a good movie then I'm afraid you're part of the problem.

The way I look at it, you can't be a fan of the source material because the characters are so far removed from their comic book counterparts as to be unrecognizable. It's the equivalent of yodeling and banging the butt end of a mike stand on a snare drum and and calling it your cover of "Master of Puppets". And you can't claim that it's good as a regular ol' film because the plot, dialogue performances and editing are all universally terrible.

In fact, the only reason why someone might like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is because it's full of spectacle. But since the movie is so dour, depressing and poorly edited it scarcely qualifies on a purely superficial level.     

I hate to break it to you, but if you like this movie, you really need to take a long, hard look at yourself. Your aesthetic is broken and you need to fix it.

           Tilt: down

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