Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Bat and the Boy Scout—Review of Batman vs. Superman

Nice suit!
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was just bumped, as expected, by Melissa McCarthy’s The Boss.  Having watched the BvS this weekend, it’s easy to see why.  Zach Synder loves to recreate panels from the comic books he’s based his movies, which is sweet fan service, but also misses the mark for the fans he’s trying to serve.  He trades pacing for artistic moments which were better represented in the still-media of comic books.  Was there anyone in the theater who didn’t know Bruce Wayne’s origin story?  Even summed up as it was, spending several minutes on the well-worn-path-to-the-Batman does nothing to move the story forward, and is one of the key reasons BvS is only a mediocre film.  Snyder’s lack of pacing took what could have been some very cool plot points and character introductions, and dragged them out into a 151-minutes.

Simplicity is best.
That doesn’t mean BvS is a bad film.  It’s not.  Ben Affleck does an excellent job bringing us all the gravity and humor that should accompany Bruce Wayne/Batman.  Henry Cavill gives us all the statue-like qualities that exemplify Clark Kent/Superman.  All the elements promised to fans and viewers alike from the much-drooled over trailers are present.  Every.  Single.  One.  It’s the plot that’s a mess.  Synder jams in and draws out some amazing visuals—so much so that they start to become boring.  Worse, the impetus for Superman to try to get Batman to stop doing what he’s doing—and conversely Batman to try to shut down Superman—never really materializes.  Is Batman, now gun-wielding and Bat-branding, out of control in his one-man crime fighting crusade?  Does Superman, the god-like immortal whose fights do vast damage and cost untold number of lives, need to be reined in?  In straddling these two characters, and perhaps not wanting to take sides in a potential fan war, the movie only ever gives us a “maybe” of an unsatisfying answer.  Holly Hunter’s wonderful Senator June Finch could have provided this one way or the other, but her character was misused giving Jesse Eisenberg’s so-smart-he’s-crazy villain Lex Luthor—now with Daddy Issues!—ummm . . . well, not reasons for his villainy.  More like a target with some minor justification?

Note to Zach Snyder—Villains don’t need a lot of reason, but they should be comprehensible.

In Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, where much of the source material for BvS comes
Looks like you boys need a hand!
from, the lines are lot clearer.  Batman doesn’t just go rogue, but he does it in such a spectacular way that Superman has no choice but to try to put the Bat down.  Both heroes take a side which results in one of the greatest uppercut, knockdown, smash-around fights ever imagined.  BvS on the other hand never really gives the audience a reason for the ultimate “who would win” fight.  When issues finally come to a head, Bats and Supes could have been easily solved with a quick conversation—something which Miller’s characters and their ideological stances didn’t allow.  Snyder’s time would have been better spent paying attention to the conflict Miller created, and less to the artwork he was going to steal recreate.

I dream of a world where my vitals are covered.
Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince/Wonder Woman also struggles with this same issue.  While Bruce and Clark are busy looking for a reason to trade punches, Diana wanders in and out of parties looking incredibly exotic and beautiful.  Point for Snyder.  When it comes time for her to reveal her true powers as Wonder Woman, Snyder again provides little in the way of reasoning.  Diana shows up in a “sexy” boob-plated leather ensemble, which leaves her mostly exposed, while her super friends are covered from head to toe in more practical garb—or at least as practical as Superman’s blue-and-red tights ever get.  Gadot infuses Wonder Woman with impressive strength, and her scenes battling the Big Bad are some of the best—but why is she there?  Why does she care?

Maybe all that would be OK if the film were shorter, sharper, and edited with an eye toward what we all came for—Batman versus Superman.  But by the time the titular sequence shows up, it’s tedious.  It’s all there, but like the slow-motion scenes Snyder loves to force on his audiences, it’s so drawn out, it’s not worth the price of admission.  Batman, in powered Bat-armor, comes off less "world's greatest detective" and more lucky that he doesn't lose the fight on the first punch.

Wait for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice on DVD, the streaming service of your choice, or the first twenty minutes of Zach Snyder’s Justice League Part One due 2017.

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