Monday, January 30, 2017

'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - Ultimate Edition' retro-review: It's still a hot mess

Life, time and motivation being what they are, it's now taken me nearly a year to review "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - Ultimate Edition."

My biggest complaints about the film remain the same: Superman gets next to no characterization/story arc (which is why it's difficult to care when he sacrifices himself fighting Doomsday). And in the end, "BvS" is a Batman movie with a special appearance by Superman and a killer Wonder Woman cameo.

Don't get me wrong: I enjoy "Batman v Superman" — or at least large parts of it. But the problems I have with the script, characterization (I'm not into the reckless Dark Knight who acts with no qualms about breaking bones, etc.) and logic behind certain situations are significant. "BvS" is similar to a car or train wreck; I can't not watch it. Moving on ...

The greatest way to make the Man of Steel a more important element in the "BvS" story would have been to change the philosophy of his fight with Batman. Setting the precedent that Superman could have won this bout easily (as in, in seconds!) should have been the way to handle it. But it's not cool nowadays for the Dark Knight not to triumph, even though logic tells us otherwise. It should have been clear that Supes could kill Batman and had the upper hand from the beginning, making it the Man of Steel's fight to win or lose.

Instead, before the nearly six-minute battle we know this was Batman's fight.

Director Zack Snyder clearly is more of a Batman fan — so much so his script is disrespectful to Superman. Fans live in a "Batman's cool, Superman drools" pop-culture mindset, so the Man of Steel gets the complete short end of the storytelling stick throughout "BvS" and certainly the fight.

There also needed to be more dialogue before Batman assaults Superman with his weapons. Superman needs to be more convincing in telling Batman about Lex Luthor's plan and that his men are holding his mother, Martha Kent, hostage. Then once the Dark Knight shows he's unwilling to listen to reason, that's when the Man of Steel should have given into the confrontation and throws the first punch -- but grudgingly so.

Doing this would have made Superman the moral center of the film -- just as he should be in DC Comics. Not the morally elusive Dark Knight, who has become DC's and now the DC Extended Universe's mainstay and poster boy.

If the audience sees more of the emotional impact of the U.S. Capitol bombing has on Superman (which could have been included with some dialogue), the audience could really feel the punch of his sacrificial death at the end of the movie.

Snyder does too good of job earlier of convincing us that Superman isn't to be trusted. Where are the pro-Superman supporters to balance out the haters and cynics? The protesters easily outnumber Supes' supporters at the Capitol. In that case, why should we care he dies to defeat Doomsday? The nation's sudden grieving feels out of place and somewhat forced. Certainly convenient.

Actor Henry Cavill has been given little to do to make us care for Superman. He's much too stoic. Superman says so little to other characters about what he's going through, it's difficult to know he's wrestling with his place in this world that, at the very least, doesn't trust him. Cavill's performance is too internal. And that's the fault of the script, not the actor.

His character is unchanged from the beginning of "BvS" to the end. So sadly, Superman's death means next to nothing.

Besides those criticisms, the best version of "Dawn of Justice" would be one that is mostly done by addition through subtraction (i.e. less scenes, not more). The added 30 minutes of footage doesn't make "BvS" any less of a hot mess; the "Ultimate Edition" makes the film longer and only makes the missing pieces even more glaring. It doesn't clarify what needs to be explained.

The African sequence: It's clear now Jimmy Olsen is more a CIA operative planted by the agency than he is a photographer. The feds obviously made sure he was paired with Lois Lane to get "intel" on the terrorist. Superman blasting through the wall at super speed comes off as murder or at least involuntary manslaughter. It could be planned even; after all, Lane nods to him as if she is cuing him it's OK to make his move and use his super speed. In the "Ultimate Edition," the extra couple of minutes are a mixed bag.

Jena Malone's scenes: Her two cameos explain the origin of the terrorists' bullets -- not to mention that Supes is unaware of the hidden wheelchair bomb since it's inside a lead container. All of this could have been addressed with a line or two of dialogue earlier in the film than the phone conversation between Lane and Malone's character. Her cameos should have been included in the theatrical version and their inclusion wouldn't have bogged down the pacing.

Clark Kent's Batman investigation in Gotham City: This gives us great insight into the public's perception of Batman as a ruthless menace who goes overboard in dispensing his, uh, brand of justice. This sequence also gives heft to what a dangerous vigilante he is and Kent's skills as a reporter. A great addition that adds depth to the Batman-Superman tension.

So what should have been left on the cutting room floor? And why?

Superman's conversation with Martha Kent in Smallville: This should have been handled just as easily with the phone call from the "Ultimate Edition" that Clark Kent makes to his mother. With some tweaking on where this phone call is placed in the movie, this would have been the perfect opportunity for Kent to express how he's feeling after the bombing.

Pa Kent's mountaintop cameo: It's an easy excuse for Kevin Costner to reprise his role, but its inclusion is awkward and confusing. The importance of his story about the Smallville flood is not clear; what does it have to do with what Clark Kent will face as Superman? What does he learn from his father? Nothing apparently, since it's not referred to later and Snyder never connects the dots for the audience. And why is Kent up there anyway? Is it a dream sequence?

Bruce Wayne's nightmare-within-a-nightmare: Both of them are confusing. The Batman vs. Superman Squad scene is exciting, but its intention within the film is unclear. That and the Batman-as-prisoner sequence only prove the Dark Knight and Superman are brutal and not to be trusted. Don't we already know that?

The Flash's post-nightmare cameo: It's only asset is it proves that Wayne was having a nightmare. And with this, we realize he's having another one.

But there's no explanation later on why the Flash makes the cryptic announcement about Lois' importance. Maybe the speedster is messing with time to appear to the billionaire, but that's never been established. Is Wayne some kind of visonary? And why didn't Snyder have actor Ezra Miller shave for this cameo? Who wants a Flash with cheesy, barely-there facial hair? Why include any of it if it's not relevant and adds to the confusion?

Footage of the Flash/Barry Allen, Aquaman and Cyborg: Sure, the three "found footage" confirms Luthor's theory about the existence of metahumans. But really it's a clumsy way to set up the "Justice League" film (addressed in my 2017 genre-film preview post). Snyder should have kept the World War I-era Wonder Woman photo and the surveillance footage and scrapped the rest.

Finally — and not surprisingly, I disagree with fans who say the "Ultimate Edition" improves upon the theatrical cut.

I don't buy what they're selling; well-placed dialogue to explain and/or connect a few scenes and eliminating the fact I mentioned above would make "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" a much more enjoyable and cohesive film. I'm in the vast minority here, but I say the most effective version of "BvS" is a trimmed-down edit of the "Ultimate Edition" with added dialogue (especially from Superman).

On a somewhat related note, the director's cut of "Daredevil" is fantastic and the far superior version of the much-maligned 2003 movie. So, Ben Affleck, you're 1-for-2 on expanded versions of your superhero films. Here's hoping what he says he learned from filming "BvS" spills over into when he films "The

Upgraded grades: Theatrical cut: B; "Ultimate Edition": B-; Extras: A

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