Saturday, March 25, 2017

Awesomely Shitty Movies: Batman v Superman

Welcome to Enuffa.com!  It's been a while, but the time has come to resurrect the old favorite, Awesomely Shitty Movies!  Some of you know the drill, but for those who don't, ASM is where I examine the good and bad elements of some piece of cinematic tripe.  

And today's entry certainly falls into that category.  That's right, it's Zack Snyder's latest creation, the long-awaited Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice!


This 151-minute superhero mashup marks the first time in history that Metropolis's messiah and Gotham's masked vigilante share the big screen, and I can assure you it ain't to swap gazpacho recipes.  Nope, it's to pummel the ever-lovin' shit out of each other (and also to set up the Avengers-esque Justice League movie in 2017....mostly it's for that reason actually).

Henry Cavill is back as Kal-El, the brooding, reluctant alien hero from Man of Steel who sorta looks like Superman but doesn't share any of his character traits.  In Batman's cape and cowl this time is Ben Affleck, who might just have the greatest superhero jaw in the history of the world, and who is also ENORMOUS in this film.  Huge.  Like, did anyone check who's supplying his "vitamins?"  Plus we have Israeli model Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor(??).  So let's get to it - what worked and what didn't?



The Awesome (For the purposes of this column I use that term loosely)


Visuals

As with most of Zack Snyder's work, the visuals here are super slick, very stylized, and moody.  Just like Man of Steel, the color palette in BvS is very muted and there are a lot of CG enhancements, but the costumes look badass and there's plenty of eye-candy.

Lotta cool-looking stuff in this movie


Batfleck

For all the complaining when he was cast, Ben Affleck makes a pretty good Batman.  It helps that his costume is based on Frank Miller's wonderful version of the suit, giving Affleck a fearsome, bulky appearance.  His Bruce Wayne is older, more grizzled, more cynical, and more ruthless.  Affleck plays possibly the most tortured screen version of the character to date, who's given up trying to be a normal dude, even letting Wayne Manor fall into decay and settling for the modernized guest house nearby (This was a nice touch I thought, and served as interesting symbolism for the character).  Also his electronically-enhanced "Bat-voice" is way cool-sounding and I think they've finally found the right way to execute that.  All that said though, I still never fully felt I was watching Batman.  I was always at least slightly aware it was Ben Affleck in a Batsuit.  But overall no real complaints about Batfleck.

Possibly the best-looking cinematic Bat-suit



Some Superman Scenes

Cavill as Superman is still monosyllabic and therefore almost impossible to identify with.  Aside from his look (which is perfect), Cavill has still not proved to me that he's the correct choice for Kal-El, nor does he even bother playing Clark Kent as a different character.  To all those people who say Lois should know Clark and Supes are the same person because it's unrealistic for her not to figure it out, I say this: If Superman doesn't act any differently as Clark Kent, isn't it more unrealistic for everyone else (including the World's Greatest Detective Batman) not to put it together?

However unlike Man of Steel, BvS at least provides Clark a few scenes where we feel a little something for him, such as the one after he fails to stop a bombing and expresses to Lois that maybe he wasn't meant to be a hero.  This idea doesn't really get explored further, but the scene itself was well done.



Frank Miller Influence

This movie is FULL of visual references to Miller's The Dark Knight Returns.  I already mentioned the Batsuit lifted right out of Miller's artwork, plus the armored Batsuit (which looks INCREDIBLE in movie form), much of the Bats vs. Supes fight itself, and some unrelated moments I'll get to in a bit.  It was cool to see Miller's iconic version of Batman brought to life.

I knew this looked familiar....

Because of this



Some Lex Scenes

There's no question about it, Jesse Eisenberg was completely and totally wrong to play Lex Luthor.  But as we learn early in the film, this character is actually Lex Luthor Jr., son of the character we all know from the comics and earlier Superman films.  So while it makes no sense that Snyder has eschewed completely the fabled Luthor vs. Superman relationship as we know it, at least it explains why this Lex is a petulant, mousy little waif.  And despite far too often evoking memories of Heath Ledger's Joker and Jim Carrey's Edward Nygma (including the ridiculous mop of hair he sports the whole movie), Eisenberg does ok with some of what he's given.  There are a few scenes where he expresses resentment and apprehension at the existence of a Big Blue God who's allowed to roam free wielding unchecked power.  This serves as a thin but understandable motivation, which is then thrown out the window later in the film.  More on that in a bit as well.

Lex has "Too many questions.....too many questions...."



Alfred's Too Old for This Shit

Jeremy Irons plays Bruce's reliable butler Alfred, who in BvS is more or less fed up with Bruce's Bat-guano, but continues to help him anyway.  I liked this take on the Alfred character just because it was a little different, but by the same token I never felt like I was watching Alfred.  He was more like "some helper guy."



Batman vs. Superman

While Snyder and the screenwriters lacked the discipline to build this fight up in the proper manner, a la The Dark Knight Returns (Where they've known and worked with each other for years and their fundamental philosophical differences place them on different sides of the law, as opposed to just "I don't like the way you do things"), seeing these two characters come to blows was still kinda neat from the standpoint of pure spectacle.  It didn't deliver anywhere close to the exhilaration that was promised, and it lasted about 1% of the film's bloated running time, but it had the old-timey schlock value of King Kong vs. Godzilla.

Oh, shit's on....

So that's what worked for me.  Here's a much longer list of what didn't.



The Shitty


Dialogue

There's some really bad dialogue in this movie.  Some bad because it's so cringe-worthy, some because it totally betrays the spirit of the character saying it.  But here's a few examples...

  • Wonder Woman (about Doomsday): That thing seems to get its power by absorbing energy.
  • Superman: That thing is from another world.  My world.
This exchange is right out of a B-movie and I was embarrassed to have even heard it.

  • Martha Kent (to Superman): You don't owe this world anything.  You never did.  
Jeezus, now I know why he's such a selfish prick.  Between Jonathan telling him to let a bus full of kids die and Martha saying he doesn't owe anything to the planet he's been squatting on for 30 years it's a wonder Supes didn't grow up to become a serial killer.  Or Donald Trump.

How 'bout Bruce's lofty-sounding voiceover at the beginning?
  • Bruce Wayne:  There was a time above....a time before.....there were perfect things.....diamond absolutes......But things fall.....things on Earth.  And what falls.....is fallen.  In the dream they took me to the light.......a beautiful lie.
Umm, what the actual fuck is all that supposed to mean?  Bruce literally says nothing in that speech.  Was he supposed to be drunk?  Absolute fuckin' nonsense.


Finally there's a moment when Supes tells Lois he might have to go kill Batman, and she gasps incredulously.  His response before flying off is, "No one stays good."  SUPERMAN, ladies and gentlemen....

Considering the lengths to which Snyder went in Man of Steel making him a Christ figure, Superman's about the least Christ-like character in these movies.



Storytelling

The narrative of this film is unbelievably sloppy and disjointed.  It's literally a series of mostly interchangeable scenes without a logical flow to them.  A bunch of stuff happens, then another bunch of stuff happens, there's almost no arc to any of the characters, and when a character does make a change it's completely out of the blue (see the Nitpicks for examples).  I get the feeling Snyder doesn't understand basic storytelling.  I felt zero emotional attachment to any of the characters, nor was any of them really likable or worth rooting for.  Everyone in the movie is a dark shade of gray like in a David Lynch movie, so for me the experience simply involved letting things unfold rather than actively becoming wrapped up in the story.



Editing

Tying into the poor storytelling was the frantic editing.  Snyder jumps from scene to scene without using establishing shots, introduces random dream sequences without making their purpose clear, and at one point even halts the story's momentum to a dead stop (just as the big Superman-Batman showdown is about to happen), to show us Wonder Woman watching videos of The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg.  There's another example at the end, where Bruce and Wonder Woman are talking at a funeral, they cut to Batman interrogating Lex in prison, and then cut back to Bruce leaving the funeral.  Wait, did he leave, talk to Lex and come back or was that interrogation bit supposed to be a flashback?  It's like the editors weren't sure in what order everything was meant to go, and they just threw stuff in random sequence.



Tone

As with Man of Steel the tone of this film is so dour and gloomy it makes one wonder who the target audience is.  Presumably most people see superhero films as a form of escapism, yet there's all sorts of 9/11 imagery, terrorist groups, bombings, violent beatings, destruction on a massive scale, etc.  And spare me Snyder's line about this being a "realistic take" on Superman (an invincible alien god who flies around and shoots lasers from his eyeballs).  That flim-flam goes out the window once Lex creates a 20-foot ogre who emits lightning balloons.  But worse than that, there's nothing and no one to root for.  None of these superhero characters is very heroic at all.  What the hell kind of an upbringing did Snyder have?  Jeezus man, lighten the fuck up a little.  Even Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight movies had moments of levity.



Touch of a Brick

To put it mildly, subtlety is not Zack Snyder's forte.  He hammers every point home like a maniac beating someone to death with....well, a hammer.  From repeatedly having characters point out that the climactic fight is happening in an unpopulated area (just in case we all get our panties in a bind about collateral damage like last time), to foreshadowing the significance of the name Martha in a way that even non-comic book fans could see it coming for miles, to the obtuse staging and direction of the film's climax, to the excessive reliance on Frank Miller imagery, Snyder is a man truly devoid of nuance.  Either he thinks his audience is too stupid to pick up on points made at a normal speaking volume, or he just wants to beat us into submission until we love his movie.



Setup of JL

Batman v Superman is at its core really just a setup for the two-part Justice League film being released over the next three years.  Let's cut right to it: DC and Warner Brothers didn't have the patience or the discipline to lay out their multi-film universe like Marvel did, by introducing each character one at a time in separate films (thus making us care about them before they team up), so they tried to cram the A-list heroes into one film and also introduce each of the B-players so we can get to the BIG EPIC TEAM-UP as quickly as possible.  But what they fail to realize is The Avengers worked so well because we'd already gotten their origin stories out of the way over a period of four years, so by the time they teamed up we knew and understood their motivations and their conflicts with each other.  With BvS the producers and Snyder haven't earned the big payoff of a Justice League movie because aside from Superman none of the new incarnations of these characters has been established yet.  And we now have a brooding 35-year-old Superman teaming with an even more brooding 45-year-old Batman to take on the son of Superman's nemesis (whom Superman never met in this version).  The title should've been Batman v Superman: A DC Elseworlds Tale.

The real reason for this movie


Doomsday

The final battle with Doomsday is a pile of hot garbage.  First, an important character like Doomsday deserves more than a brief third-act appearance as a mindless giant cave troll out of a 50s monster movie (or Lord of the Rings).  It's laughable how generic this villain is, and his superpower involving massive shrouds of lightning or energy or whatever the fuck he's supposed to be generating, makes for some of the noisiest, most confusing action scenes this side of Revenge of the Fallen.  It also didn't help that WB gave away this scene in the trailer (along with every other piece of the story except one, which comic book fans saw coming anyway), so there's no shock value when he shows up.  I somehow found this climax less offensive than the one in Man of Steel though, just because of how brazenly schlocky it was.  But Snyder has zero clue how to block a grand finale action sequence and I couldn't tell you what actually happened in this scene except punch, smash, shoot lightning, loads of damage, repeat.

DOOMSDAY SMASH!!!!


Frank Miller Influence

Yeah I know this was in the Awesome section too, but after being bashed in the face with this imagery for two hours it started to get tiresome.  By the end not only was Batman's entire appearance modeled after TDKR, but he found himself in jumping and running poses lifted directly from Miller's panels, broke through a wall to get at a bad guy with a machine gun, and later Superman gets hit with a missile, shrivels up like a zombie, and grows back to normal size after being exposed to the sun.  These moments stray dangerously out of homage and into shameless ripoff territory, especially since they're utilized in service of a story that has nothing to do with Frank Miller's.  I'm curious what Mr. Miller thinks of this film.

Alright we get it Zack.  You love TDKR.  Take it down a notch.



Score

As a huge Hans Zimmer fan I was horribly disappointed by the score in this film.  Zimmer's work on Christopher Nolan's movies has been incredibly groundbreaking, and with The Dark Knight trilogy he managed to create a now-illustrious Batman score that was completely different from Danny Elfman's work in 1989.  But the music here is generic dark popcorn movie fluff, as though a hack composer were trying to emulate Zimmer's style.  Even the music in Man of Steel was stronger than this.



Super-jerks

It all comes down to this: Batman v Superman is a superhero movie without any superheroes.  Neither Supes nor Bats is very likable, nor are they fighting against a villain for 85% of the film's running time.  So I ask again, who are we meant to be rooting for?  Batman hates Superman because of all the damage he helped cause in Man of Steel, I get that.  I don't like this version of Supes either for that reason.  And also Batman doesn't trust an all-powerful being to always be on the side of good.  Also a valid concern.  Superman apparently hates Batman because he beats up criminals without due process?  But....so what?  It's never established in this universe that Superman is a by-the-book kinda guy who reads criminals their Miranda rights before safely depositing them in prison.  He's shown saving people from accidents (in the most joyless fashion imaginable, mind you), and engaging in city-leveling fistfights with other superhumans.  But at no time do we ever see Superman bringing common criminals to justice.  So the idea that there's a conflict in the crime-fighting strategies of these two characters simply has to be accepted at face value.  Thus we don't care at all about Superman's beef with Batman.  So I guess the fascist Batman is the good guy here?  Except he's shown hacking into computer systems, stealing information, beating the shit out of people, and exerting all this energy to potentially murder the "savior of humanity."  So he's not really a hero either.  This idea of a hero-less universe works fine in a film like Watchmen, which is designed specifically to deconstruct the idea of vigilantes as heroic volunteers fighting for the common good.  But it doesn't work when you're depicting two of the most beloved superheroes of all time.  I enjoyed spending a couple hours with Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America and Thor.  These two self-important pricks are a major drag and I don't wanna know 'em.



Nitpicks

-At the beginning of the film we flash back to the end of Man of Steel, when Supes and Zod are wrecking the place.  But it's from Bruce Wayne's POV, as he's just arriving in Metropolis.  He calls up the manager of the Metropolis branch of Wayne Industries and tells him to evacuate the building.  Wait, what?  Wayne's Metropolis Director of Ops or whatever had to wait for Bruce's go-ahead to get everyone out of the building during a major citywide emergency?  Bruce is a real hard-ass jerk, huh?

-Early in the film we're told Batman has taken to branding criminals with a Bat-symbol, and once said lowlife goes to prison the brand amounts to a "death sentence."  Umm, why?  Why would the other inmates kill a newbie just because he happens to have a Bat-symbol on his skin?  This is never explained.

-I touched on this earlier, but the few examples Snyder shows of Superman rescuing people are tonally all wrong.  Rather than depicting his heroism in an exhilarating fashion so we actually like Superman, it's all done in super slo-mo with languid music over it, like Clark's unselfish acts are such a fucking chore.  Jeezus, if you're gonna be all mopey about it, don't do us any favors then, huh Blue Boy?

"I hope you're happy, people.  I missed pilates class for this."

-To convey Superman's budding hatred for Batman, Snyder shows us Clark Kent pursuing a story about Batty's antics in Gotham - the aforementioned gestapo-esque treatment of criminals - and Clark's boss Perry White (another thankless turn for Laurence Fishburne) orders him to drop the Bat story and instead write about last night's football game.  His reasoning?  The Batman story won't sell papers.  In what the fuck universe would a football score outsell the story of a man dressing as a bat and beating the crap out of scumbags?  I know which story I'd be more interested in reading.

-There's a scene early on where Lois is in Africa talking to a local terrorist, and she gets captured before being rescued by Superman.  But as this is happening half the terrorists (later revealed to be working for Luthor) turn on the other half and shoot them dead, along with several civilians.  We learn this was a setup by Lex to frame Superman for the killings.  So the American public actually believed this godlike being, capable of frying people to cinders with his eye lasers, resorted to gunning them down?

-"Bruce Wayne meets Clark Kent!"  I mentioned this a while back, but this moment is such an obvious bit of fan service.  I know Lex knows who both guys are (We aren't told how, but he just knows), but Clark evidently hasn't heard of the billionaire Bruce Wayne, and Bruce most certainly hasn't heard of a low-level reporter by the name of Clark Kent.  So was this line just written for the trailers?

HEY EVERYONE, LOOK!  BRUCE AND CLARK TOGETHER!  LOOK!

-Lex also sets up the bombing of the US Capitol building (I guess to try and frame Supes for that too) while his assistant Mercy Graves is inside.  What'd he kill off his own assistant for?  What, she wasn't givin' him any action on the side?

-In preparation for his epic duel with Superman, Bruce Wayne gets his hands on some Kryptonite and fashions a spear with which to stab Kal to death.  He makes it pretty clear that's his intention.  Yet when the fight finally arrives he leaves the spear in a different room as though saving it for the end of the fight.  His first line of defense instead is canisters of Kryptonite dust which temporarily weaken Supes, but only for a minute or so.  Why exactly did he save his most effective weapon against Supes for last instead of LEADING OFF WITH IT?  That'd be like Leatherface chasing people with a butter knife, hoping to herd them into the parlor where his trusty chainsaw awaits.  I guess if the fight went the logical route, Snyder wouldn't have been able to so thoroughly recreate the climax of The Dark Knight Returns.

-Another point about the stupid spear, after Lois stops the fight she takes the spear and throws it into the water below the abandoned building they're fighting in.  Then later when Batman says he needs it to kill Doomsday, Lois (who isn't with Batman at the time and isn't privy to his new plan) inexplicably dives into the water to fetch the spear.  How'd she know Bats needed it?  She's some reporter.

-Speaking of Lois stopping the fight, here's how it goes down.  Batman is about to stab Supes to death with the Kryptonite spear when Supes yells "Save Martha!"  Martha is of course Ma Kent, who's being held hostage by Luthor.  So first, Supes calls his mom by her first name, which I found odd, and then Bats hesitates because that's also HIS mom's first name.  So now they're besties because their moms have the same first name.  Isn't that sweet.  By the way, anyone who didn't see this moment coming after the blatant, shovel-to-the-face references to the name Martha all through the film is a straight-up doofus.  Christ, Gerard Butler may as well have shown up and shouted:



-Lex Luthor's motivation is so utterly confusing.  For most of the movie it seems like he hates Superman because Supes is an all-powerful superbeing, and like Batman he doesn't trust that Supes won't just destroy us all if he gets the chance.  "Anyone all-powerful can't be all good."  Like that's clearly his reason for wanting to kill Superman.  So for two years he's been anonymously sending Bruce Wayne mail as though trying to provoke Batman to rid the world of this Kryptonian god.  But then he kidnaps Kal's mom and tells Kal he in fact must kill Batman or Ma Kent is gonna die.  So wait, does Lex want Bats to kill Superman or the other way around?

-Also, if Lex's entire motivation is fear and distrust of an all-powerful Kryptonian being, WHY THE FUCK DOES HE CREATE ANOTHER ALL-POWERFUL KRYPTONIAN BEING??  That's right, Lex is so afraid of Superman's power he genetically engineers Doomsday, a mindless killing machine with even greater power than Superman.  So after Doomsday gets rid of Supes, what's his big idea to get rid of Doomsday now?  If they at least wrote it so Lex created him by accident and then regretted it there'd be some kinda sense to all this.

-And while we're on that subject, can someone with knowledge of genetics explain how General Zod's DNA mixed with human DNA (Lex's) would result in this:

Humanoid alien + human = giant space monster

-When Wonder Woman finally shows up in costume to help our "heroes" dispatch Doomsday, Bats and Supes have the now-familiar exchange "Is she with you?"  "I thought she was with you."  Except Batman's been talking to her on and off through the whole movie.  Why would he suddenly think Superman summoned her?  Oh right, that exchange was only written down so it could be a soundbite for the trailer.  Much like every other bit of dialogue apparently.

They couldn't even give her costume any colors?


Conclusion

I'll say this for Batman v Superman - I didn't hate it.  After the unpleasant bleakness of Man of Steel I expected to absolutely despise this film.  But I didn't.  There was enough to keep me interested if not engaged.  The visuals were cool-looking, the stuff with Batman was at least partly compelling, Superman had a few moments of vague sympathy.  And on some level I could appreciate the unabashedly over-the-top histrionics of it all.  The filmmakers went for broke at every turn and it was almost funny in a way.  But the narrative was so cluttered and ineptly presented I wasn't at all invested in the story.  It comes off as a film made by and for angry 15-year-old boys.  "BIGGER! LOUDER! MORE SMASHING!"  It was simply a spectacle to get Batman and Superman trading blows for a few minutes and more importantly set the stage for the Justice League movie in 2017.

You'll notice I didn't mention Wonder Woman much, and that's because I basically had no opinion of her at all.  She was just there.  Gal Gadot's acting was competent when in civilian clothes, and pretty terrible when dressed as the Amazonian goddess.  Had the trailers not shown her debut maybe her big entrance would've felt like an important moment.  But it didn't.  Nothing in this movie did really.  It's essentially a commercial for the next film.  Zack Snyder and WB were so concerned about setting up the forthcoming team-up story they forgot to create a compelling one here.


That's it for this installment of ASM - comment below with your thoughts, and thanks for visiting Enuffa.com!

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