Monday, January 09, 2017

I Watch Films: Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice

1. Batman vs Superman as a Superman film.

Did you like Man of Steel? If so good for you! I didn't*.

The most interesting thing about BvS compared to MoS is that everything I though was bad about the first film was... better in this film. So this is a superior Superman film to MoS! Not all of it was great, but Superman is starting to get the hang of being a hero; it's saving people no matter the cost, not bringing them to justice no matter the cost. (That's Batman's niche.)

Superman makes a number of misjudgements, most of which can be laid at the feet of Lex Luthor, although there are problems with Lex as the master manipulator here which I come to Part 3 of this review. Still, he's actually being a hero here. He has several scenes of rescuing people; as Clark Kent is concerned about how the Bat of Gotham has gone beyond what he thinks are suitable limits; when summoned by congress he turns up; and finally steps up and sacrifices himself at the end. No, this is a perfectly adequate Superman film, with good support from Lois Lane and Perry White. I rank this above Superman IV: Quest For Peace, so it's out there scrapping with Superman III and Superman Returns for third spot I guess.

2. Batman Vs Superman as a Batman film

Boy, this is interesting. although not always in a good way. Bruce Wayne gets this very wrong, doesn't he? Yet it's not a bad hook; one of the things that Batman can't do is pass on a challenge. If a giant lock appears in Gotham Central Park he's going to be looking for the key. If an alien causes mayhem, he's going to be looking for Kryptonite.

That said, he moves between good detective work and very, very bad. Where does he get the information about the White Portuguese from? Why does he think it's a man (or woman) and doesn't, I don't know, try googling it to find out it's a ship?

Batman spends quite a bit of time in the batmobile and batplane, both of which have powerful machine guns and he is, to put it gently, indiscriminate about using them. At one point he does explicitly state that he's at war, and a Batman at war is different to one that's trying to keep the peace. For that matter a Batman that's been at it for twenty years has seen a lot of people die, even if not at his hands. From the hand to hand scenes I get the idea that the film thinks that it's turned the dial up a bit from the Bale/Nolan Batman, maybe a notch, a notch and a half**. Yet that requires we ignore e.g. a car with Lex Luthor's goons in landing upside down on another car full of goons, or him strafing them in the street and multiple explosions resulting. The violence has gone up from maybe 4 to 8; someone's going to die every time Batman gets in his car.

That's okay; a desperate Batman who is pushed over the line is a perfectly acceptable plot, but the film thinks he's still hanging onto the line by his fingertips. No he's not. He's gone gone gone.

His plan to fight Superman is okay; a strong (conventional) start, goes south in the middle, then the Kryptonite comes out and he's got the edge.

Bruce Wayne has some really vivid dreams. The apocalyptic war-zone with flying bug men was great. Man, we should get Zack Snyder doing some sort of grim space fantasy.

I like this Alfred, but he needs better jokes.

3. Dawn of Justice

So how about looking wider? The film as a whole, and the way the film fits into it's larger "cinematic universe"?

I can't explain exactly why, but it somehow feels like this film is trying to be both the second and third parts of a trilogy that began with Man of Steel. It wants to expand and explore the world, introduce new characters and give them a little breathing space to show who they are AND it wants to drive everyone and everything hard towards the finale.

Lex Luthor, the villain, the master manipulator. Is he supposed to be bonkers from the start, or is it access to the Kryptonian Archive that tips him over the edge? He switches between completely there, the non sequiteurs hiding the steel trap mind, to off his trolley from scene to scene. This works well enough though, so I guess I'll roll with it, even if I'm left with questions. More Lex though: He's Alexander Luthor Junior; his father founded Lexcorp. There's some comics precedence for this, which might explain why he's not all there. Also, ting ting ting ting ting is very suggestive.***

Wonder Woman is great. Though all she really needs to do is swan about being glamorous and mysterious, then turn up and fight at the end****. Her own musical theme does a lot of the heavy lifting for her appearance. The rest is her basically disapproving of what's going on. This is why she turned her back on the world of men. Yet when there's a giant monster she steps up anyway.

Doomsday is as interesting as he has ever been. They manage to have him without bone spurs, then they appear, in a completely different way to his original way! Disappointing they couldn't find a way to have the boots and cycling shorts on him.

If there's a single big flaw, it's this; what is the film about? It says it's a fight between Batman and Superman, and it delivers that. So they fight and there's a climax. And then...

The way it's shot and foreshadowed and put together, the scene where Bruce is standing over Clark, asking why he's saying "Martha", the film is basically telling us YOU MUST UNDERSTAND THIS. THIS IS VITAL TO UNDERSTANDING THE FILM. No it isn't. Clark and Bruce's mothers have the same name. It doesn't mean anything, not really. They're fighting because they didn't talk, and they're fighting because Lex has tricked them. And he's tricked them because... he hates aliens? He's mad? He's working for someone else?

So there we are. The film is about two guys fighting, because someone wants them dead for some reason. That's okay. But it's not great. It's not good even. It's just... okay.

Watch This: For some good action scenes, a bit of thrillery plot, some set up for, presumably, another set of flawed superhero films.
Don't Watch This: If it's too dark, or too stupid or too much explody, shooty, punchy nonsense.
Do: Ask if everything would be better if this played every time you entered a room:
(Youtube Link)

* Here's why:
1. My usual complaints about modern action films: Too pointlessly dark and grim, a stupidly long action sequence at the end that has no real plot or character moments, confused about what it's actually saying or about.
2. The character of Superman. Both Crowe-Dad and Costner-Dad tell Superman to hide his powers and not be a hero. And he does. When he finally steps up there's a variety of problems: Forced to make a choice between Earth and Krypton he finds no way of saving even the slightest glimmer of a future for Krypton; He chooses to fight in a major city and makes little effort to spare the inhabitants or bring the fight outside; Then when he finally is driven to save people from Zod he snaps his neck. This isn't a bright and heroic Superman forced by a grim and unrelenting world to make hard compromises; this a Superman who is bad at being a hero spiralling down and when he finally comes into his own he kills someone with his bare hands. I'm not a fan.

** We have to suspend our disbelief that Bale/Nolan Batman doesn't kill anybody; clearly a couple would have died from beatings per film, and at least a dozen more from car accidents, bullets, flying debris, falls etc. Yet Batman is trying to be precise and targeted; we can accept that no one gets hit except as he chooses and after the explosion everyone's going to be okay, maybe, with a couple of weeks in hospital for the worst hurt.

*** It's Darkseid. We may yet see a film with Darkseid as the villain go head to head against a film with the Marvel rip-off version Thanos, who is inferior in every way except for the name which is much cooler.

**** This would basically be my script if someone wants to give me a Wonder Woman book/film/cartoon.

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