Saturday, April 2, 2016

Batman vs Superman - A Review from someone unimportant.

Having now seen Batman vs Superman, I can give something of a more definite opinion. Spoilers follow.

First, the actors in general did an excellent job portraying their various roles as the story dictated that they should be portrayed.

Ben Affleck did, indeed, do an exceptional job of portraying Batman, my personal preference on portrayals is still Kevin Conroy, but he was better most or even all of the previous live-action Batman actors. At least where the plot and script decisions as to what Batman is allow him to actually be Batman.

The elements of Mark Cavill's performance that made Superman seem more human and relate-able while still being the inherently virtuous Clark Kent carried over to this movie.

Gal Gadot did a wonderful job portraying a confident and intelligent Diana Prince. I especially loved the brief moment of warrior glee she expressed during one of the fight scenes when she was knocked over by Doomsday.

Amy Adams was a bit less tough-as-nails than I usually picture Lois, and a bit more twitchy-veteran but I'm not sure whether that is her portrayal or what the script called for.

Jesse Eisenberg was the Luthor that the script called for. I have issues with the story decisions here, but Eisenberg at least seemed to portray a consistently on the edge, twitchy Lex Luthor.

The action sequences were out and out glorious for the most part, though the actual Batman vs Superman fight is probably the least impressive sequence of the lot (still enjoyable, but doesn't match the level of the Batman vs goons sequences or the Doomsday fight).

Now come to the problems.

First and foremost in my mind, and this is going to be a bit towards my bias, but the treatment of Mercy in this movie was a fucking crime. Mercy, one of the toughest fighters in DC, gets not one single fight scene and barely gets a nod towards intelligence. She's more or less treated as Luthor's sexy Asian army candy rather than bodyguard/assassin. To top that off, she gets offed somewhere in the middle of the movie by Lex Luthor...and not even as a direct "sorry but I have to" moment. He works up a guy who lost his legs in the first movie to go into congress with a bomb in a wheel chair and, while Superman is there, he blows up the senate hearing on Superman's unilateral actions. Mercy is in the scene because a few minutes earlier Lex told her to go in and save his seat for him.

That's how Mercy dies, because Luthor doesn't have the slightest bit of consideration for her.

I am not even a particular major fan of Batman or Superman comics, but this is even worse than the "mindless drone" treatment of Lady Deathstrike in X-Men 2 because at least Deathstrike was a badass before she died just a couple moments after her eyes seem to blink clear of the brainwashing. Mercy is reduced from lethal killer to eye candy. From indispensable aide to casually expendable pawn.

Which comes to Luthor. It seems like they couldn't decide whether or not to go with the suave humano-centric CEO of more recent years who can hide his megalomania behind a veneer of civility or the rather cartoonish supervillain of the 60s and 70s. For a little bit of extra fun he is so very twitchy that it almost feels like they were trying to evoke some of Batman's more psychotic villains underneath a mask of Lex Luthor.

His motive is fuzzy at best. There is some lip-service to the traditional attitude of Lex Luthor demanding that humanity never have to bow itself to something alien, but mostly we get rants about god and devils and what seems to be a blame-shifting thing where he is angry for about his father's abuse and since no one came down to save him, he's decided he has to break things.

Instead of a confident and charismatic mastermind, we get someone stuttering in front of a crowd. As much as people might want to blame Eisenberg for this, this fault seems to go all the way down to the plot and script. Eisenberg was more like Lex Luthor when he played the arrogant magician from Now You See Me. That character had the sort of smooth confidence and self-assurance that should have fit a genius supervillain (though that didn't help much given that movie had him out-masterminded by both Mark Ruffalo and Morgan Freedman)

Beyond all that, Luthor's last scene in a prison with Batman threatening to brand him has him reduced to more ranting about "the bell has already been rung" and how out in the stars "he" knows that "God is dead" referring to Superman's apparent demise at the end of the movie. (I say apparent because they're already teasing his resurrection as the credits start.)

By and large, it seems like Zack Snyder and his writing got their ideas of Lex Luthor from Dwight Frye's portrayal of Renfield in 1931. It almost feels like he's been getting manipulated by Darkseid to eliminate Earth's defenders. Which so far opposite of Luthor it's insane. The Luthor of the comics might hate Superman and a lot of other metahumans, but has no desire to see Earth conquered either.

Some minor issues with Batman, they opted for a Batman willing to use lethal force. This is not unique. The original comics from the thirties had Batman even using guns and Keaton's Batman was straight up murderous a few times. Affleck's Batman at least does not have those instances where he kills someone where he really doesn't have to (counter to Keaton). However, they've undercut him in other ways.

The branding issue, for instance is bizarre and this is the first time I've heard of something like that. Nor do they explain why the prison inmates would rush to kill such a person unless Batman saves his brands for people like slavers and child molesters who do historically have worse than normal outlooks in prison. It might be that Luthor is pushing people to have these branded people killed himself, but that's pure conjecture on my part. The most we can say is that he did get pictures of the aftermath in order to send to Clark Kent.

Then of course there's Batman's chosen method of operation in this movie. As with Nolan's trilogy we see precious little of "The World's Greatest Detective" and a lot of a brute force vigilante. Almost all of his detective work is behind the scenes and we get only a couple of nods of his use of cunning and deceit. This Batman defaults to frontal assault. When recovering the kryptonite from Lexcorp, we see the aftermath in which the scene looks very much like a warzone with emergency vehicles, spent cartridges enough for LoL's Jinx to do laps and lots of structural damage. This is a far cry from those of us whose expectations of Batman's efforts of infiltration actually, you know, resembling infiltration at all rather than full frontal assault. They could have done perfectly well just having Lex move through the building to the lab and finding the container for the kryptonite empty with no explanation.

Which brings another issue. Batman in this movie leaves calling cards. It made some sense in the first scene Wayne appears as the Bat since it serves to direct the police down the stairs to find the prisoners. But after that, it's just ludicrous and smacks of Wayne having as much an ego and a need to declare "I did this" as many of his villains. I suppose this isn't unique to Batman movies but it just feels egregious in this movie.

For that matter, the plot of Luthor having spent the last two years trying to manipulate Batman to hate Superman is really not set up well enough to actually be believable. Likewise, when someone sends Kent images of a dead criminal and questioning Batman's actions, it makes little to no sense why he doesn't immediately realize that someone is trying to feed him along a certain direction. The fact that we don't really have any evidence of Superman receiving similar manipulation to explain his sudden convenient need to crusade against the Bat just makes that seem even more odd. Without that, the whole animosity between Batman and Superman just seems silly and the titular conflict comes across without any real substance. Likewise, the plot to blame Superman for the murders in Africa (murders carried out using guns, why the hell would Superman need guns?) is heavily weak and that further undermines the titular conflict.

One of the key problems I think here is that Zack Snyder wants to be taken seriously and doesn't believe that a triumphant story of heroes rallying together to save the world is something to be taken seriously. He wants to show a deconstruction of the superhero story. He wants to show the real consequences of battles on that scale of power. Which is all fine and dandy but it makes me wonder why he didn't try to get the job to direct a movie adaptation of The Authority? There's a comic that heavily deconstructs the impact of having vastly powerful individuals around to save the world.

If Batman slips in and out of Lexcorp with no one even knowing he was there, it sort of reduces the argument about how horrible the existence of superheroes would be. After all, none of the likely innocent workers are hurt, no property damage is done. He's in and out with the nefarious object and that's settled. So, in order to fit the deconstruction Snyder wants, Batman has to leave a wake of destruction and thus that necessitates him either failing to sneak in or else just going for the assault outright. The fact that this happened off screen only makes more standout because an off-screen recovery is almost the perfect time for a perfect stealth mission to go off.

The movie very much shows the attitude that angst=art, an attitude which I find rather annoying and completely fails the environment that usually is present when the Justice League and other super teams first come together: triumph. The Justice League typically first comes together when several heroes realize that the world is facing a crisis that no one of them could completely handle and then, when they succeed in driving back the chaos, they do so with clear victory and little to no loss. Camaraderie is formed and an agreement to keep in touch in case cooperation is ever again needed eventually progresses into forming an actual organization. Hard blows and defeats come later down the pipe line.

The decision to start with Superman's death largely alters the dynamic of the Justice League. Batman and Wonder Woman are now in a position of having to seek out the other metahumans and convincing them that banding together to prepare to fight some vague menace which a madman was ranting about to Batman is heavily problematic.

The desire to have a franchise similar to the MCU is transparently obvious. As is the impatience to have it now. Instead of slowly building up a consistent world movie by movie, introducing each character in their own movie a bit at a time, they decided to dump everything in a blender and switch it on. I'm sure they will have other things to say on their intentions, but right now it reads as "we want it all and we want it now."

A recent New York Post article claimed that the Marvel fans weren't "smart enough" to understand this movie. This was literally in the headline of the article.

No, sorry, we know exactly what you're trying for here. You're trying to be taken seriously. You don't think a fun movie is good art and you want to write good art. You want to "challenge" people to think about the seriousness of what this would be like if it were real. You want to shove in our faces how horrible these unrealistic stories would be if they really happened.

We know all this. It isn't intelligent. It isn't high brow. It isn't real or whatever else.

Speaking as someone who geeks out over word choice and the massive shifts of meaning that can happen when you change even a single solitary word, even the claim that the addition of referring to Kent as "the" Superman represents a higher degree of art and metaphor than typical comic fans are capable of is silly.

You aren't being clever. You're being condescending and we can tell.

Most frustrating of all, you have a fucking beautiful movie buried underneath all that mess of a script and plot with erratic pacing. Your actors carried out remarkable portrayals of their roles. The action scenes were exceptional. You are a handful of re-writes, re-takes and edits away from having an absolutely triumphant movie. But instead you've turned in trash.

This is like the brilliant but lazy student who turns in his term paper, hand-written on loose-leaf paper with a handful of proofreading notations still visible here and there as if they started to consider fixing things and then just said "fuck it."

You could have spent a couple more months stretched out filming a little longer and it would have been wonderful, presuming you put the work in, but you had to match up to Civil War. You had to harp on the Batman vs Superman conflict which has almost always been an alternate universe conflict rather than a canon storyline one. Now you're have this movie which is frustratingly peppered with promise so haphazardly ignored.

I suppose you've learned your lesson somewhat since reports are that Suicide Squad is now getting major rewrites to have more humor and Aquaman is set to be more light-hearted in tone. But the haphazard way you approach your movies leaves me with little doubt that something will fail there as well.

I should stop pretending that anybody in DC will ever read this and just leave this behind.

Edit: Just remembered, he does end up using his blood in combination with Zod's body to create Doomsday and says "Blood of my blood." So the Renfield comparison is even more appropriate.
Edited the quote to be from the actual movie.

Apologies to Jesse Eisenberg who I liked in Cursed and Now You See Me. I choose to blame the writers and director for this portrayal.

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