Friday, March 25, 2016

Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice review

When I first saw Man of Steel at its midnight premiere at the good old Family Cinema in West Plains, Missouri ... I loved it. I was completely blown away by the action sequences, awestruck by the magnificent visuals and captivated by Michael Shannon's fearsome portrayal of General Zod. When I got home that night, still feeling the rush of the final battle, I wrote and posted a glowing review on this very blog. But the next day, once I'd had more time to think about it, I started to realize there really were a lot of problems with the film, most notably Ma and Pa Kent. FREAKING Ma and Pa Kent. That's why, after watching Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice at its premiere last night (this time at the Glass Sword in West Plains), I decided to wait a day before writing my review.

"This town ain't big enough for the both of us, pilgrim."
"We're from different towns, bruh."
"I don't care, we're gonna fight anyway!"
Here's my calculated, considered reaction: it's okay. It's ultimately just a beefed-up version the trailer (with a not-at-all surprising twist ending if you know what happened when Superman fought Doomsday in the comics), but it's worth the price of admission just to see the unparalleled glory of Batfleck on the big screen. And let me tell ya, he IS the definitive live-action Batman. Y'see, opinions have long been polarized as to who is the superior Batman, Michael Keaton or Christian Bale. I'm of the opinion that Keaton was the best Batman and Bale was the best Bruce Wayne, and Val Kilmer was actually the best synthesis of both (because Bruce Wayne and Batman really are two very different characters). But Ben Affleck, God bless him, nails it. He's a 40-something Batman who is sick and tired of seeing his city ... his family ... suffer. He's a brutal fighter, willing to break bones, use firearms or even kill if he has to. He's seen too much ... lost too much. But he's far from broken. And even though he's a very dark character ... he's a lot of fun to watch.

Jeremy Irons, too, nails it as Alfred, outclassing Michael Caine in my opinion (though I would argue he's still slightly edged out by Michael Gough as the definitive Alfred). He's the voice of reason, the dry wit that counters Bruce's grim determination. He's still very much the doting butler we know and love, but he's not running around in gloves and coattails. His real work is in the Batcave, not polishing silverware. And the bromance is strong with Bruce and Alfred. I'm very excited to see more of their verbal exchanges in the next Batman film.

Poor Henry Cavill, though ... he's a great actor (loved him in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), and perfectly suited to play Superman ... but not THIS Superman. He should be playing the classic Superman, the smiling, friendly, good neighbor and true American we know and love, red trunks and all. That's not this Superman. This Superman is kind of a sad-sack. Cavill does the best he can with what the script gives him to work with, but he doesn't have much. He's just kinda there as a generic almighty figure for the paranoid Batfleck to plot against. And he has precious little screen time as plain old Clark Kent, which is unfortunate because the movie desperately needs more Clark. But the lovable, dorky Clark ... not the brooding almost-hipster he is in this film. Hopefully now that the initial distrustful meeting between Bats and Supes is out of the way, we can start to see a lighter tone in future DC films. The dawn of justice needs to shine on the tone of the franchise as a whole.

The fight between Batman and Superman is great, by the way. And in the immortal words of Stone Cold Steve Austin, Batman stomps a mudhole in his @$$ and walks it dry. It's great! Batman fears Superman because he thinks he's not a benevolent god but an inhuman monster, and he pulls out all the stops to bring him down. In the end it isn't Superman's godlike power that saves his life but his humanity, and that realization helps Batman to reconnect with his own humanity as well. The fight has numerous callbacks to Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, and it's a lot of fun to watch Batman's strategic mind in action.

A lot of people complained when Gal Gadot was cast as Wonder Woman, saying she was too skinny, couldn't act, etc., but I'm here to tell ya, she is a joy to watch onscreen. Gadot is beautiful, capable and cunning, and during the final fight with Doomsday there is a moment where we see just how fierce a warrior she is. She's a peacemaker first, but she loves a good scrap. And let me tell you, I got freaking goosebumps when I finally got to see the DC trinity fighting together against a common threat:

"You can run, Snyder, but you can't hide!" 

That threat, of course, was Doomsday. When I first saw Doomsday in the trailer, I was a little displeased, but he turned out to be not as shoehorned-in as I expected. An unholy medley of human and Kryptonian DNA, he starts off looking like a cave troll from The Lord of the Rings but soon morphs into the spiny monster we all know and either love to hate or just hate (I've never been a fan, personally). The fight is pretty great, though, and is frankly better than its comic book inspiration in that Superman actually tries to take the fight off-planet instead of slugging it out all the way to Metropolis. Although the comic version of Doomsday is a one-trick pony, whose only offensive abilities are super-strength and sharp edges, the movie version adds heat vision, energy absorption and a visually epic energy pulse to his repertoire.

Now, ANYBODY who has read "The Death of Superman" KNOWS what happens when Superman and Doomsday tangle. It's right there in the title--you can't have Doomsday without a dead Superman at the end. Does Superman die at the end of Batman v. Superman? Ummmm ... well ... sort of. And it's done in an absolutely perfect and heartrending way. But don't worry ... before the credits roll the film makes it abundantly clear we won't have to worry about seeing the Reign of the Supermen in the next one.

The jury's still out on whether or not we'll see the Super-Mullet, though. 

Now, even though Doomsday is the physical Big Bad, the TRUE villain is Lex Luthor, as played by Jesse Eisenberg. And y'know what? He's great. He is a creepy little son of a gun, a quirky, neurotic control freak consumed by jealousy and not just one step but leaps and bounds ahead of those he would make his enemies. He is pure evil, and when the scope of his schemes is revealed it's kinda mind-blowing.

True, he does look like a little twerp:

But he completely won me over the instant he appeared onscreen, when he greeted the audience with a very Mr. Burns-esque salutation.

Points if you're imagining it now. 

As for the supporting cast, Holly Hunter is fun as the senator leading a committee to hold Superman accountable for his destructive actions. It's a role that could easily have been "generic annoying authority figure," but she brings a lot of charm and intelligence to it. Harry Lennix returns as General (now Secretary) Swanwick from Man of Steel. Laurence Fishburne is a wonderfully cranky Perry White. Scoot McNairy plays the even more cranky Wallace O'Keefe (and NOT Jimmy Olsen, thank goodness, as the initial speculation led us to believe), who blames Superman for the loss of his legs during Zod's invasion. Diane Lane's Ma Kent is also a bitter old biddy, and she pretty much tells Clark he can let the world go to hell for all she cares. Great advice, Ma. No lectures on power and responsibility from you, I see. Also--and this made me cringe more than anything else in the movie--Pa Kent (Kevin Costner) returns in a dream sequence. I cannot stress enough how much I HATED Pa Kent in Man of Steel, and this film conveniently forgets the fact that even though Pa DID tell Clark he was sent there for a reason, he told him not to be a hero in the same breath. Pa Kent was a tornado-suicidal idiot who had zero faith in his son, and seeing his stupid face in Batman v. Superman made me legitimately angry.


Then there's Lois Lane (Amy Adams). I still don't think she was the best casting choice for Lois, lacking the feisty edge of Margot Kidder, Noel Neill or Phyllis Coates, but she's a distinct improvement over Kate Bosworth from Superman Returns, so at least there's that. She's the emotional center in Clark's life, not just his love interest but, as he says, his world, and she plays a pivotal role in the film's penultimate battle. Also ... *ahem* ... we get to see a lot more of Lois than I ever would have expected. Let's just say people are going to be utilizing the "pause" function a LOT when the DVD comes out.

And this was the PG-13 theatrical cut!

Here's the problem: this movie does what it set out to do, and that's it. It sets up the Justice League (including glimpses of douchey, not-Grant Gustin Flash, Aquaman the Barbarian and winner of the "Why Am I a Founding Member of the Justice League" award, Cyborg).

"How is freaking CYBORG in this movie while we take a backseat?"

It also costs Lex his hair (though not in the way you'd expect). It teases the next Big Bad (Darkseid--and although we don't get to see him, per se, WE SEE PARADEMONS!!!!). And that's it. There are some great visuals, some incredible fight scenes and a couple of quality emotional moments. But there's really nothing that merits a second viewing other than checking out Lois in the bathtub and watching Batfleck hurt people. That's unfortunate. It's not the labor of love The Avengers was, and even though I'm definitely excited to see the what's next for the DC cinematic universe (especially Suicide Squad and the next Batman film), Marvel is definitely still top dog in terms of movies.

Final verdict: 3.5/5. It's worth seeing in the theater, maybe even twice if you can hit a matinee, but you might oughtta save your money for Civil War instead.

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