Batman v Superman: Dawn of Good DC Movies?

Well, after a couple of interesting teasers and one horrible, HORRIBLE, trailer, the much anticipated/dreaded Batman v Superman has finally been released. Early reviewers, from what I gleaned, absolutely hated this one, and so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in seeing it on opening day. However, I found, strangely enough, that I liked it! I say “strangely,” because I was underwhelmed by Man of Steel, its predecessor, and was dismayed by that one trailer for BvS that gave away too much about the film, even the fact that our two titular heroes eventually set aside their differences to fight a common foe. I know that last part should be a given, but if you call it BATMAN VERSUS SUPERMAN, that’s still a conclusion that should have probably been left up in the air. Anyway, here’s my review of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice!

First of all, let me get some of my dislikes out of the way. It has become very trendy to be against CGI, and let me assure you that I am not one of those who have any prejudice against its ongoing use in films. However, it’s painful for me to see CGI being used where practical effects could have been employed more credibly. Over all, BvS has excellent production values, but there are moments where you wonder what they were thinking. Case in point, there is a scene where Batman (Ben Affleck) avoids a cop by climbing up a corner of a room, and then performs an almost Spider-Man like escape when he’s noticed and engaged by the cop and his shotgun. Setting aside for the moment that Batman, a sans superpowers hero, does a very good imitation of a superhuman, perhaps too good, the CGI model of the Batman just hanging out near the ceiling in all of his waxy glory just did not look very good. It would have been much better if the director had Affleck hoisted up there for the initial shot, and transitioned to CGI as he made his escape.

Next, I didn’t care much for Ben Affleck as Batman, but he was a lot better than I expected him to be. You will always run a risk in casting a character like Batman with a well-known actor, and while this has almost always been standard operating procedure for Hollywood Batmen, often to great success, in this case it was a slightly mixed bag. While there are plenty of times where Affleck is quite good as Batman/Bruce Wayne, there are also scenes that are so jarring and Affleck-ish that you’re taken out of an otherwise good moment. It would have been better if they had used a lesser known actor, but all in all, he wasn’t horrible. I give him a B- in his portrayal.

Last on the list of flaws is Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. Never mind the ridiculous business of making this Lex superfluously the son of another Lex Luthor (which doesn’t appear in the film), the new Lex is not the confident and cold-blooded villain that most of us liked from the comics, the early movies, or the Superman animated series. No, Eisenberg’s Lex is a quirky, slightly insane character with a hinted at past of being abused (let’s feel sorry for the bad man). Also, this characterization of Luthor with his ticks and exuberance bares more than a passing similarity to the Riddler than any Luthor that I’m familiar with. As a stand-alone villain, he would’ve been otherwise fine, but Eisenberg was playing the Man of Steel’s arch-nemesis, and his performance was just too different for such an iconic character, even to the point of being distracting.

Now that the warts are all out of the way, let me tell you about what made this movie good. First, Batman v Superman made Man of Steel a better movie. Many people, like this reviewer, were a little disappointed with MoS because we didn’t get to see much of the hero that is Superman. Instead what we got to see was a lot of excessive destruction with little real assessment of the humanity lost. It’s fine to take a good character to a dark place, that’s drama, but as a first act of an ongoing saga, it is odd that MoS starts dark, remains dark, and ends dark. However, when paired with BvS, suddenly we get to see the cost of what happened in MoS. Most of the movie focuses on Bruce Wayne’s conviction that Superman (Henry Cavill) is a threat, a decision he reached after the Zod-Superman fight (from the first film) destroyed a Wayne tower in Metropolis. Though Bruce did everything he could to save his employees, he ultimately watches helplessly as they die with a prayer on their lips. Bruce acknowledges little of the stakes of the last film, his concerns are that Superman contributed to the deaths of his friends and he, by his great powers, represents an existential danger to every man woman and child on the earth… a danger that Batman alone must deal with. Without the events of MoS, BvS wouldn’t have had its central struggle, and without BvS, MoS wouldn’t have had much meaning to its massive display of destruction. So, MoS improves just for having this next chapter.

Next, it didn’t feel to be crowded with characters nor have a cobbled together story, as I feared it would. A big worry was that DC was going to rush to catch up with the Marvel movies by forcing this one to be a de facto Justice League movie, with a ton of DC heroes thrown in. Thankfully, this did not happen. Other than some blessedly short video clips of 3 other heroes, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is the only other hero/heroine to appear, and she’s limited to a few scenes where she helps the plot move forward rather than appear as so much window dressing. And although this film borrows some from the comic story lines of The Dark Knight Returns and another that I won’t name for fear of giving away the film’s ending, it remains its own story that flows quite well. You end up caring about these characters beyond their nostalgic appeal, which is a testament to a well written screenplay and the film maker’s skill.

Additionally, the film has a great humanity and moral exploration to it. It deals quite well with theme’s such as whether or not morality is a negotiation or an absolute, what the source of legitimate authority is,  the possibility of  morality apart from God, and of course the long pondered proposition of whether or not the ends justify the means. The thematic discourse in this film adds a level of seriousness to it that sets it apart from your average summer movie or comic book film.

Lastly, in a small but important point, I was pleased to see that BvS was the first Batman movie to give credit to Bill Finger. For those that don’t know, Bill Finger was the co-creator of Batman along with Bob Kane in 1939, * but was never given credit for his efforts in his lifetime. His contributions included the look of the Batman costume that endures until this day * and key contributions to the creation of the Joker and Robin. * Knowing about Bill and the raw deal he got for the important work he did on one of the most iconic characters (an old song in the comics industry), it was pleasant to see him get his due, if only posthumously.

In conclusion, I highly recommend Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It is a thrilling film that holds one’s attention despite its length, its production values are largely top-notch, its story was well crafted and interesting, it was thought provoking and even emotionally evocative, and its lesser parts aren’t strong enough to overwhelm the excellence of the rest of the film. This is easily one of the best films I’ve seen in months and I think this could show that the DC film franchise to has the potential to be every bit as good as the successful Marvel one. I give it a four out of five.

– Ryan Thorson

 

* http://www.legionsofgotham.org/HISTORYfinger.html

 

 

 

 

 

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