Tuesday, April 12, 2016

'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' - a series of no-spoiler reviews

So I finally saw "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice."

As promised I'm reviewing it and I'm doing so in a series of no-spoiler subjects. So let's jump right in!

The three-word no-spoiler review: Unfocused hot mess (More on why that is in the last section.)

The nerd reference no-spoiler review: "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" borrows scenes taken directly from panels of BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS with a heavy emphasis on the "Doomsday" storyline and a second Superman story I won't mention by name, but Supes fans easily can figure it out based on the aforementioned reference.

There's also an homage to Jack Nicholson on a sign in Gotham City, a quick homage to the "Death in the Family" storyline and a delightful reference to "The Wizard of Oz."

That being said, director Zack Snyder doesn't deliver anything terribly original or inventive.

Snyder and the writing team toss the three aforementioned stories into a blender to come up with the "Dawn of Justice" plot. If you've read those comics and seen the various trailers, you can figure out exactly where "BvS" is heading -- especially since Wonder Woman makes a Black Widow-esque appearance in the first "Iron Man." And there are cameos by three other Justice Leaguers (whose inclusions are completely unnecessary).

What "Batman v Superman" needs is more meaty "Dawn of Justice" elements and a much bigger dose of the heroes' testy relationship seen in writer/artist John Byrne's SUPERMAN: MAN OF STEEL origin reboot and in DC Comics since the late 1980s to properly handle the two protagonists. (Read this 2013 flashback op-ed if you want to know what I wanted to see happen.)

The Bruce Wayne-centric no-spoiler review: If you're a Batman fan, you should enjoy "BvS" because it's clear from the opening two sequences that Bruce Wayne and his Dark Knight alter-ego are the focus.

Ben Affleck is superb, delivering a laser-focused Wayne whose moral stance on the dangers that Superman may or may not pose is unshakable. Right or wrong, he knows his mission in regards to the controversial "Superman question."

Affleck's Wayne is as charismatic, if not more so, than other previous onscreen portrayals. We see Wayne being not just making great use of his detective skills, but also being a scientist. And in one of my personal "hell yeah!" moments, we finally are treated to the billionaire working out in the Batcave (which is by far the coolest version in the Bat's 27-year modern film history).

This is a Wayne is a man of action, a cool customer who runs into danger when others are screaming away from it. Not quite as disillisioned as I expected him to be after "20 years of crimefighting," Wayne has nightmares -- disturbing ones reminding him of the past and prophesying post-apocalyptic futures.

The writers make a daring choice to have Wayne abandoned Wayne Manor years ago (WTH happened to that place?) and live in the Batcave and a much smaller home which overlooks the lake that hides the Batman's secret lair. The equally intriguing choice is that this middle-age Wayne is a drinker who has a "bad habit" of noticing the most beautiful woman in the room.

The Batman-centric no-spoiler review: Not surprisingly, Batfleck is cut directly from Frank Miller's ultra-violent and brutal Dark Knight from RETURNS. Unlike Miller's Batman, this one hasn't retired from crimefighting but he has remained the scourge of the underworld.

And while I'm not a fan of the short ears and blocky Batsymbol, seeing a skin-tight, gray and black Batsuit is a treat for the eyes. The costume is perfect for Affleck's broad shoulders and bulked-up physique.

Despite the concern Wayne shows for other's well-being, Batman is a different story. He leaves carnage in his wake when he drives the Batmobile and in a fight, the Dark Knight shows no mercy to his opponents.

Affleck's Batman sees criminals sprout up like weeds no matter how much he does. Despite being middle-age, the Dark Knight moves with lightning-fast speed in fights. Moviegoers will be blown away with what Team Snyder does with the fight scenes.

The "Dawn of Justice" Batman/Wayne is a schemer and master strategist who prepares for all contingenices, which is borne out in his confrontation with Superman.

All this being said, Snyder and Co. have spent too much time worshiping at the Miller Batman altar -- such a drastic characterization that I can't help but think once Affleck's Batman in the Snyderverse has run its course after the two-part "Justice League" and a possible solo Bat-flick, I expect there will be a shift back toward a more centered and compassionate yet badass Batman I've always preferred.


Meme by CARY ASHBY/CARY'S COMICS CRAZE
(See for yourself if my prediction from nine months ago that Batfleck would be a completely different type of Caped Crusader is accurate or not. In late August 2015, I compiled a list of my definitive takes on Batman in comic books, film and animation.)

The Superman-centric no-spoiler review: If you're any sort of Superman fan -- from casual to diehard, "BvS" will disappoint you.

Supes just doesn't get the film, much less the characterization and/or respect, he deserves. The sad truth is the Man of Steel is the least interesting character in his own sequel.

The theme of "BvS" is accountability and while the script and early part of the film do its best to see both perspectives of the damage caused by and the lives lost due to Superman's battle royale in "Man of Steel" with General Zod, it's clear that Superman is largely vilified and villainized. Snyder seems to have little to no love for him; otherwise he would have made sure there was more balance in this Batman-heavy script. There are very few moments about which Superman fans can cheer.

Actor Henry Cavill does as much as he can with what he's given to do -- which isn't a lot. His most compelling moments are as Clark Kent arguing with editor Perry White over the need to write stories about Batman's literal "brand" of justice and when he's onscreen with Wayne.

It's difficult to like, much less care for, Superman, when Cavill only plays him as a silent noble, burdened/misunderstood hero or enraged jock.

The generic no-spoiler review (aka the wrap-up): The elements of "Dawn of Justice" I enjoyed I really loved. The parts I didn't like were unenjoyable to the point of being distracting and/or made me scratch my head with a "WTH?" expression.

Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor had me cringe each time I saw him onscreen.

But surprisingly. I didn't hate the way he played it. Eisenberg doesn't go as big or as broad as I feared thankfully. This Luthor is easy to hate and despise, but isn't that the point? His warped theology is hard to take -- even when you know villains have an innate lack of proper perspective.

Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman is a treat. There's still much for us to learn about her, but each time I see Diana Prince onscreen I can't wait for her return. Her scenes with Affleck's Wayne are well written and the two actors engage each other marvelously. Wonder Woman is a through-and-through warrior and when she takes on Doomsday, it's obvious battle-lust runs deep in her soul. Gadot brings mystery and class to the character.

While there are scenes that don't connect well, others are simply confusing. One "knightmare"-within-a-dream sequence and a flashback to the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne would have been best served left on the cutting room.

Snyder does his audience a massive disservice; his film lacks subtlety and logic when it's needed the most.

Despite four of the first six sequences being disjointed, "Dawn of Justice" begins as a promising film and slow boil with the pieces falling into place, setting up a dramatic confrontation between Batman and Superman. But by then, it shifts into dumb-action film smackdown mode. From the heroes' fateful battle and beyond, "BvS" is about as subtle as a gun-toting Batman.

Grade: B-/C+

And what did I think of what's known as the "Ultimate Edition" of "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"? Did the added footage help what I've called an "unfocused hot mess"?

In short, only partially: the best version of "BvS" would been a situation of addition by subtraction. The so-called "Ultimate Edition" still fails to to give Superman the proper, er, justice, he deserves in character development and growth. For the full review, click here.

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