Good Film Hunting: Batman v Superman

You would not believe the things I heard about this movie before it came out. The way peeps be talking on the Internet, you would have thought Zack Snyder had assassinated the pope. You would have thought that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice would be the worst atrocity put on film since Guy Fieri’s sex tape.

Then a week or two before the movie comes out, you start getting the anti-backlash, with every excuse under the sun being made about how “no, wait guys, it’s actually going to be super awesome,” which is both equally off-putting and almost never a good sign for a movie’s actual quality. So, with the bar set somewhere between actual war crime and “like, totally sweet, trust me,” I set out, of open mind and weary heart, to review a movie that I honestly wouldn’t have given a second thought (if it wasn’t my job to review it) of just skipping until it was in cheap theaters, or at the very least until it was available on Netflix.

Dawn of Justice is, to absolutely no one’s surprise, a very visually compelling movie. The math all checks out; headliner franchise plus $250 million budget, plus director known for making visually impressive movies (Zach Snyder), equals a very good-looking movie. The movie’s design elements are, for the most part, pretty good; all the characters look fine and the setting looks fine. Everything is dark and grimy looking to go for that “gritty” tone. The whole “gritty” thing is pretty played out at this point, but it does help Dawn of Justice stand out from the Marvel movie universe, so overall it’s probably a net positive.

My biggest complaints on the design side would be that Doomsday looks like a generic videogame enemy (or the troll from The Lord of the Rings, take your pick) and that General Zod’s body dummy looks really fake in a couple of scenes, but other than that there’s nothing really off-putting from the visual side. The audio side is also pretty solid (which is, again, to be expected from a movie with this much money behind it), with a very competent score that has a few really nice touches thrown in here and there. In particular I really liked the little guitar riff cue they gave to Wonder Woman; it gave her appearance in the final fight scene just a little more push. The only down side is that the sound design got a little busy at times, but that happens to almost every big budget action movie, so it’s not a huge deal.

I’m going to take a minute here and say that I am not a comic book expert and I don’t know a whole lot about the DC universe. I watched a lot of the Justice League cartoons as well as the Batman and Superman animated series from the 90’s, and I’ve borrowed the odd graphic novel from time to time. So I’ve got a passing knowledge of the subject, but I’m by no means the end-all-be-all authority on this subject (or really any subject). So all I can really give you is my personal opinion based on my limited knowledge and experience with the DC universe, as well as my opinion as a moviegoer in general. So sorry if I say something that’s not 100% accurate, but whatever, I really don’t care.

In my opinion, Superman is more interesting as a concept and a symbol than he is as a character. Superman is for the most part an all-powerful, god like figure in the flesh. I always like stories that dive into just how terrifying and awesome (I’m using the literal definition here, as in something that inspires awe) it would be to the average person for someone like Superman to exist. I think Dawn of Justice did a pretty good job of exploring those themes and showing the destructive fallout that someone like Superman—even with good intentions—can cause.

The whole notion that even with Superman’s near infinite power to do good, it’s possible that its out-weighed by his also near infinite capacity to cause death and destruction, really appeals to me and it’s my favorite thing about Superman. Superman (played by Henry Cavill), as a character, (as in the things he says and does and his motivations) is a little uneven for me. His decision-making is a little suspect and it causes problems in the movie that could have been avoided, but overall he’s fine.

I really like Ben Affleck as Batman (or Batfleck, if you’re trendy, which I’m not). I like the take on the character as an unhinged, by-any-means-necessary vigilante whose intentions are good, even if his methods are extreme. In Dawn of Justice, Bruce Wayne (who I assume you know is Batman’s alter-ego), has seen the destruction that Superman can cause firsthand and sees Superman as a threat to mankind. This take on Batman is different from the one we’ve seen in other movie adaptations, which is nice.

I also think that Jeremy Irons is my favorite version of Alfred. I love his I’m-so-tired-of-your-shit-Bruce, attitude and all his sarcastic quips. He comes off more as an extremely close, long time friend than the caregiver-mentor vibe Alfred has in most adaptations. I will say that I really didn’t need to see Batman’s origins again. This is like the fourth or fifth time since the mid 90’s. It’s probably the most well know superhero origin story of all time, so you can skip it, no one will care.

The supporting cast is, for the most part, good. Laurence Fishburne is great as the Editor in Chief of The Daily Planet who’s always fed up with Lois and Clark’s shenanigans, and Senator Finch is a pretty good stand-in antagonist (in a loose sense of the term) till the plot gets going. I have mixed feelings about Lex Luthor. I don’t mind that he’s not the bald headed, stoic business man he’s normally portrayed as, and I think Jesse Eisenberg is a really good actor who did everything he could with what he was given.

I understand that he’s supposed to be someone who’s suppose to be a little un-even and he uses a smiling face and humor to hide his sinister intentions, but I think they over did it. He seems like he’s full on crazy, like he has little to no control over what he says or does. Sometimes it works, and about half the time Lex is going on one of his escapades I really get into it, but then he does something that’s a little too strange or silly and it takes me out of it. It also doesn’t help that his persona seems to better fit another famous DC villain and is really similar to a recent portrayal of said villain.

I really hate Lois Lane in this movie. I think Amy Adams did a perfectly adequate job of portraying her, but the character is just not good in this movie. If she were just there so we know that Superman has a girlfriend and to give him a little extra motivation (even though I really don’t like that kind of character use), and occasionally showing us the “hey, here’s what all the normal people are doing” perspective, that would have been fine. But all she seems to do is screw things up.

She just seems to make things worse, for sometimes baffling reasons, and the movie seems to go out of its way to show how incompetent she is, such as when they cut away from the movie’s pivotal battle to show a two second clip of her tripping over her own feet. If they were using Superman’s relationship with Lois as a microcosm for Superman’s relationship with mankind as a whole, (where Superman loves and cares for Lois, but all she does in return is make him vulnerable) that would actually be a pretty good use for the character. But seeing as how overt the rest of the movie’s writing is (comically so at times), that would be giving it too much credit.

Which brings us to the plot. For the first hour and 45 minutes (or the length of a normal movie), I was really getting into Dawn of Justice. The building tension as the plot starts up is great. There are some scenes that are a little silly (such as the whole Bruce Wayne does cross fit in his basement montage), but as a whole, it does a great job of introducing and using its characters and settings.

It’s pretty standard superhero movie fare, but it does its job well while providing some great action scenes. The writing starts to break down in the last 45 minutes and the plot starts to get silly. I’m not going to spoil too much (also this review is getting way too long), but some of the things that happen in the last 45 minutes are just cringe-worthy. It also doesn’t help that the dialogue starts to get real explanation heavy and overbearing (it’s like that through the whole movie, but the characters start talking like they’re reading the cliff notes to the audience by the end).

For all the hubbub, Batman v Superman is fine, and with the easy grading curve of action movies, actually pretty good. It’s not all that original, it’s 45 minutes too long, and some of the plots points are silly or nonsensical. But it’s big, pretty, and fun, with some very satisfying action scenes, which is all I really wanted out of it. It’s not the breath of fresh air that Deadpool was, and it’s not doing anything that’s really all that special or unique, but it is a solid, entertaining action movie.

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