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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Release Date: 3-25-2016)

        Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a title bout, though not one contested between the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel. Perched atop the movie’s shoulders are an angel and a devil, each whispering into the film’s ears, holding the reigns in alternate succession. The force of good argues in favor of narrative intrigue, occasional restraint, and the merits of thematic unity. The satan spawn, on the other hand, relays the virtues of scattershot storytelling, repugnant violence, and physically and emotionally weightless destruction. It’s fitting that the movie would serve as a proper introduction to Warner Bros. intended DC Comics universe, because while the Justice League and their compatriots are figuring things out on the fly, so is director Zach Snyder, and his whirling dervish of a film.

We begin with the obligatory murder of Bruce Wayne's parents, though the film coldly recognizes our familiarity, and uses the tragedy as window-dressing for the opening credits. Next up is pure exhilaration in the form of an adult Wayne (Ben Affleck) experiencing the battle royal of Snyder’s previous feature, Man of Steel, from the ground floor, the sequence eagerly invoking 9/11 imagery. From there we're jarringly transported to the Middle East, where reporter/Superman distraction Lois Lane (Amy Adams) appears completely hopeless until the man in red and blue (Henry Cavill) arrives to save the day, leaving mindless collateral damage in his wake. Don’t worry, I’m not about to write a complete synopsis of every scene in the film; I only specify the three opening passages because they provide a window into the movie’s heedless ambition. Within a span of under 20 minutes, we experience reverent adherence to DC’s sacred texts, exhilarating Bourne-style action, and confusing geo-political mumbo jumbo. Snyder, teamed with screenwriters David, S, Goyer and Chris Terrio, wants to have his cake and eat it too, and while each idea contained within Batman v Superman is at least passable, there’s simply no making sense of it all.

        As a matter of fact, ‘sense’ is at an all-time premium in Snyder’s latest, especially when it comes to David Brenner’s editing. The film at large plays like 25 individual scenes all spliced within one another, making the proceedings difficult to follow, and explicitly unemotional. It’s hard to image a flick with such gruesome depictions of violence that so struggles to impress on anything other than a physical level, but the constant feeling of narrative whiplash sucks the blood out of the proceedings. It’s interesting to have scenes begin and end so abruptly as to force viewers to parcel through what's happening at the start of each new passage, but interesting isn’t necessarily good... a fact that seemingly never occurred to Jesse Eisenberg.

        The re-imagining of Lex Luther as a flamboyantly unhinged trust fund kid is inspired, and Eisenberg gives the role his all, but the casting immediately sticks out as ill-conceived. Saddled with the lion’s share of ponderous dialogue in a film with a surplus, Eisenberg proves stunningly hammy. At least he’s having fun though, which is far more than could be said of our leads, Cavill’s Superman/Clark Kent both blunt and bland from first frame to last, while Affleck plays Bruce Wayne with the solemnity of a monk. The film knowingly paints him as ‘the darkest Batman yet,’ but relies almost exclusively on CGI whenever a melee starts, creating an enormous divide between the man Affleck plays, and the crime fighter who lurks about the shadows.

Zach Snyder knows how to make a movie. The guy clearly grew up on Spielberg, Scorsese, and Hitchcock, and is aware of cinematic gestures, but everything he does successfully feels disingenuous. There’s not a single scene within Batman v Superman’s runtime that reads as unique, and the director’s aesthetic follows the blockbuster playbook with religious zeal, though he obviously skipped the chapters on audience engagement and character development. How else can you explain the brutish, unpleasant nature of the titular showdown, or the heartless CGI romp that immediately follows? That’s where the devil on the movie’s shoulder finally wins out. The film explores vigilante justice and the responsibility god owes to man for the better part of its runtime, but it takes literally one word from Superman’s mouth to sideline the flick’s larger ruminations in favor of pixilated WWE. It’s an intelligent movie made both by and for morons, and while I was surprised by its philosophical interests, everything once again boils down to punching an ugly monster that a computer made. I guess Superman doesn’t bleed like a human, so why should the movie?

Grade: C-

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