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“Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice”: The Good + The Ugly

It’s time we had a candid talk about Batfleck versus Space Jesus
Dulani Wilson 29th March, 2016 Comics, Movie
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By now we are sure you have joined in on the hype that has been Batman V Superman and many have walked away from the experience… well, conflicted. And we don’t blame you. At the end, whether you thought it was the greatest film in the world or thought it fell short, you did sit in front of that screen with the premise that you were witnessing a first. All DC titans on one screen. Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman. That is a cinematic spectacle worth seeing, in any sense. And the $424 million at the international box office is proof of that.

So, why all the negative reviews? Warner Bros. constitutes this to there being a disconnect between Critics and Audiences. Which in part may have some merit. Rotten Tomatoes is not the end-all. But, as mentioned, this is a first for the DCU. Who wouldn’t want to see Batman V Superman? Whatever the outcome. The real question is will a similar approach applied to films like Justice League bring about the same level of success?

Reviews, for the most part, try to evoke strong, often-controversial opinions to illicit a response and for impact. It’s called creative writing for a reason. Not that you should read any review and take it all in its entirety. It’s an opinion. Make up your own minds.

But there is also another form of disconnect that Warner Bros. should be focussing on: style and substance. For example, one film can be high in one variable, and low or non-existent in another. High-Rise for example was pretty high in style… substance was more shallow than a kiddies’ pool in a high-noon desert sun.

So here is where (opinions and SPOILERS ahead) I believe BVS got it right, and where they could have improved, and where they just damn right fell off.
 

The Good

1. Crafting Mythos and Legend in the DCU

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If one thing Snyder understands is crafting mythos. That well-orchestrated shot. A metaphorical interpretation of our DC heroes prone to be accompanied with bouts of reverence and iconoclastic blasphemy in a snapshot in time. This has always been Snyder’s strong suit, and his saving grace. Pun intended.

Not surprising Batman V Superman did well in this arena, as the Christian / Messiah ideology was heavily lined throughout the film (it was even a topic of discussion in the fake news cast in the film). In various parts of the film, Superman is likened to that of Christ and Devil (False God), and the power of that Judaeo-Christian ideology comes with its own set of imagery and invokes strong emotive responses, for both believers, agnostics and atheists alike.

As for Batman, who DC Comics has put as an Atheist in his profile character breakdown, is likened to both Devil and Man. And given Bruce’s affinity for ingenuity and the triumph of man’s will over adversity, the antithesis between Batman and Superman is given biblical, apocalyptic significance. It’s not just superheroes going at it. As Lex rightfully puts it, it is “God versus Man. Day versus Night.”

 
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The one scene along this theme I found to be more striking than the rest, was the moment Superman goes to save a woman’s daughter from the conflagration at the Day Of The Dead celebration in Latin country. His walk, with the rescued girl in his hands, among the crowd of skull-painted revellers, has both artistic and an eerie milieu about it. The scene is cultish, almost as if he is walking up to an altar with a sacrificial lamb amidst praises. The onlookers reach out to the Man of Steel in awe, wanting to get a touch of the Space Jesus, a messiah that would cure all their whoas. Of course we could delve into a more deeper, fucked-up interpretation of the white Messiah complex, and how historically the Aztecs viewed the coming of the white Spaniard as an answer to the premonition of a coming saviour. A saviour who turned out to just be savages who pillaged, raped, burned and killed men, women and children. And yes, all those verbs were done to all those nouns. So I guess Batman had a point to be prepared.

It’s no wonder a lot of beautifully-framed aesthetic shots were crammed in to portray Kal-El as the saviour of mankind, a Messiah who was by all definitions perfect like a blonde-haired, blue-eyed child in 1940’s Germany. It was beautifully done in some shots. Other times it was ideology crammed down our throats; “If God won’t kill man, the Devil will do it!” Okay Zuckerberg. Calm down.
 
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Or how about that 3-shot of Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman. Slow track in hero shot. When I first saw it, I honestly believed it was specifically shot for the trailer. But it was in the film. The camera movement with oddly positioned heroes up in arms showing off muscle and weapon… felt like the kind of staged shot you’d use in promoting three slightly different blenders at the end of an infomercial.

But all-in-all, it was great viewing.

 

2. Batfleck

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Ben Affleck needed redemption… in the comic film realm. When he was announced to play the Dark Knight, many had a bit of a gag reflex like an unpolished porn star, with the Daredevil movie still freshly seared on our frontal lobes. But like Michael B Jordan to Fantastic Four, the actor that was considered the weakest link cast for Batman V Superman instantly became the strongest. Don’t feel bad, I was one of the doubters once upon a time, though not your typical all-caps-screaming-fan-boy-forum-cryers.

Face it. Love the film, thought the film was okay, hated the film… whatever, but one can’t deny Ben Affleck’s Batman is pretty boss. Damn near the fullest Batman package we’ve seen! Now imagine Ben Affleck… okay just imagine, Affleck replacing Christian Bale in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Okay… okay, don’t answer, just let that marinate.

Usually with Batman’s cinematic appearances, they get the dark, charming playboy right but the brooding, ugly Batman wrong. Or the even more rare vice versa. BVS‘ Batman gets both right, very right. Scarily right. I think Ben Affleck is Batman. Add in a savvy, capable Alfred and you get fireworks.

And the ‘torture’ thing? Why not. A weary, Robin-less Batman’s bound to go off the deep end.

 

3. Luthor reimagined

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This was one that could have went the other way, but Jesse Eisenberg’s interpretation of the evil genius gets a modern revamp that works well for BVS. The awkward, douche but incredibly brilliant mind who has built his fortune off of technological advancements and the circumvention of international law had us thinking Eisenberg was simply still in Social Network mode.

 
Now as beautiful as that was, there are some things BVS does that leaves us confused, slightly annoyed and a couple tools short of a functioning tool box.

 

The Ugly

1. The ‘DC’ crutch

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Established comic franchises like DC comics has a roster of heroes whose individual mythos has been infused into society’s wealth of pop-culture knowledge. To the point you can show a person an ‘S’ in a shield, or a 2 ‘W’ logo, or a yellow lighting bolt encompassed by a circle, and instantly than person mind will be flooded with images of superheroes, capes and the moral barometers of our childhoods. DC Comics has 75 years + of tried and tested narrative arcs dedicated to sculpting our favourite superheroes. And Snyder knows this. And he is not afraid to lean heavily on it, even if the result is a fractured, Frankenstein monster-narrative.

And this happened many times in BVS. Case in point: future-hopping Barry “The Flash” Allen gives a sleeping Ben Affleck a premonition of the future. ‘She’s the key’ and all that. Well, at this point in the cinema, the resounding quotes from people around me were “What The Fuck?” And for a minute, “What the fuck” was also my question too. Now I eventually got what was happening… and that is only because I am a fan of comics, I know a bit of The Flash (Flashpoint being a favourite arc of mine), writing blog entries for the coming Batman V Superman film and cameos set to appear etc. But in the filmic sense, the transition from dream to premonition to reality, was it done in the best way? Of course not. No one knew what was happening in that scene. No one. I pieced it together from my other worldly knowledge. But for a person who is just a lover of film, well, there was no set up for those weird sequences.

Something that’ll make sense when fleshed out with extra scenes come Director’s cut? Maybe. But still…

 

2. Character Motivations

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Snyderism is an issue we all have to deal with. And it is never more than an issue as when it comes to character motivations. To be fair, Superman is a hard character to write for, mostly because if danger is what moves men into action, how can one bring vulnerability to a character that is… invulnerable? Sure, you have the physical green mineral, and some internal moral conflict. But both could be solved with a long reflective stroll on a beach during a sunny day.

On an off-note, can we expect the lowest moments of Superman to be abruptly followed by Superman spontaneously getting a super-sun tan?

It’s not just Superman. Lex’s motivations seemed shaky at best. He hates Superman. That’s evident. No one man should have all that power. But to facilitate blowing up a court hearing, knowing Superman would survive, what was the point of all that? And whatever his point, it’s not made entirely clear why he is obsessed with killing him. Jealous of Superman’s power? Wanting Superman’s power? Killing a god to become god? And what about that last scene where Lex claims the bell can’t be unrung, presumably (as a recently released deleted scene implies) referring to Lex making contact with an Alien race that’s now coming to Earth. Why’d he (knowingly?) do that, if alien invasion was a pet peeve of his? See? Confusion.

At least we got a properly-motivated Batman, because that would’ve been terrible if he wasn’t.

 

3. Cameo-Saturation

The film was called Batman V Superman. But really should have been called “Dawn Of the Justice League”. Again we were inundated with short, nearly-pointless cameo after cameo which only served to tell us “hey, Justice League film’s coming!” Nothing much in the furthering of the present narrative at all. Maybe it is the unnervingly loud Flash future-hopping spirit of space-time continuum Christmas future. Or Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman (who’s warrior scream was great, but still not convinced of her physique or movement, as she was CGI-jumping all over the place). So the cameos have essentially robbed some of the fire that should have been between the Dark Knight and The Boy Scout, likening BVS to a cheap prelude to something greater later down the line. A film as part of a canon should not only stand as part of said series, but should be able to stand on it’s own. BVS I feel falls short of this autonomy, the same autonomy that The Dark Knight presently enjoys. Which leads to our next point…

 

4. Superhero mega-team bandwagon

We know how Hollywood thinks. Find a formula, milk it to death move on to next ‘fad’. That’s why as the comic film seems to be peaking, they are already focussing on tapping the next unearthed film source with a wide fan base: video games. As for the comic film, Avengers have done pretty damn god for itself. And with Captain America: Civil War being seen as Avengers 2.5 and Avengers Infinity Wars boasting 67 comic characters, it looks like superhero over-saturation in one film is the new trend.

Now WB, Snyder, whoever, have seen the wealth of success Marvel has garnered with hero-laden films and thought they could capitalise on that too. Sure, anyone with half a brain would do. But here’s the kicker: Marvel has spent years cultivating a MCU with film after film, from Phase 1 upwards, building individual characters and their worlds, climaxing to the hero-laden teams and cameos we have today.

Now WB + Snyder are trying to formulate a short cut to the comic super-team movie, using another critically-divisive film of his as a starting point- Man Of Steel. One film. And to this point, we are seeing Snyder’s Batman for the first time. Who has to share a screen with Snyder’s Superman. And Snyder’s Wonder Woman. And Snyder’s Flash. See what I mean. Marvel’s Iron Man + Captain America all had to be able to stand on their own before The Avengers surfaced, and there certainly were better at quarterbacking events and narratives as well. So when Snyder comes on a public platform to throw shade on Marvel and their efforts really does nothing but reflect poorly on him and in essence tarnishes the brand of the ‘Distinguished Competitor’. And by no means am I saying Marvel’s formula is perfect, but it surely connotes foresight. The Snyder team seems to be more of the scrambling type. From the directorial issues surrounding Wonder Woman, and WB’s handling of it, it all feels sloppy, childish and petty.
 

5. Cornball-tastic scenes

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Jesus. Where to begin. A romance scene in the middle of a battle, where a 5,000 year old goddess and a mortal man fight a abominable alien half-human/ half-Kryptonian science project called Doomsday? Sure, why not. Or how about Batman saving Martha Kent. They could have kept playing off the fact that she shared the same first name of Bruce’s deceased mother, make some heartfelt moment where Batman risked everything in some attempt to change an ugly past where he is finally capable of saving a motherly figure with the first name Martha. But, no:

“I’m a friend of your sons”
“I figured… the cape”

Die Martha. Die with cheese in your mouth.

And as much as Cavill is a perfect fit in the looks department for Supes and Clarke, there were times where his conversations felt forced, robotic and revised. Check that scene where Clarke speaks with Perry about persuing the Bat story angle. Or when he speaks directly to Bruce Wayne at Lex’s function asking about the Bat vigilante. ugh. I guess it works at times given he is an alien and he hasn’t got the nuances of human communication pat-down… or the manner of his speaking gives him an air of moral high-ground superiority. But it stands out like a sore thumb at other times, which you think the edit would have at least picked up on.

Also, how many dreams are in this movie? What’s a dream? What’s madness and hallucinations? What’s a premonition? All very muddled. Very muddled indeed.

But I honestly think Batman brings out the best in us, as there was considerably less corny scenes than what came in Man Of Steel. Thank you Batman.

 
Now is the film great? It has it’s moments, moments that rely on comic book knowledge and ideology. Moments that are aesthetic and visually-arresting. Snyderism is awesome in that respect. Which then leads to the cons: poor character motivations, cheesy scenes, using BVS as a platform for future DC projects rather than treating it as a film – all rob the film of glory. The film started off strong, but things started to tank as the frequency of dream/ clairvoyant / delusional states and cameos increased.

And how about the cheesy, ‘cliff-hanger’ ending. If by ‘cliff-hanger’ you mean ‘drop off abruptly into the inky swells of oblivion’. A dead Superman lies in a coffin. Wonder Woman criticises Metropolis’ version of Superman’s funeral saying they don’t know how to honour him. Diana, you met the dude for no more than a few minutes fighting Doomsday. How could you possibly know what honours him?

Then earth somehow experiences low gravity causing the soil to rise off his coffin? Well I guess we know why they aimed to have the movie premiere in Easter. But a 3-day resurrection is the other guy’s schtick.

But it’s not all Snyder we suspect. It’s Warner Bros. The machine. The drive to hit higher box office sales and spin-off chains of follow-up movies. The same shaky hand that even Christopher Nolan and The Dark Knight Rises succumbed to. And it sucks. Especially in an industry where high sales = success. That is why WB will brush off criticism with an obvious disconnect, when they know it’s fans’ intrinsic love for their favourite comics that powers the machine. Fans who are more concerned with the longevity of the brand.

The question WB and Snyder should be asking is simple: in 10, 20, 50 years from now, will the people see “BVS colon the prelude to the next film” as a pulpy fad-film of time passed, or will they remember a greatly-crafted cinematic experience that redefined a generation? And there you will find your answer on whether or not Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice was a great film.
 

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