Saturday, July 30, 2016

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice [film review]

Released theatrically on March 25th; released last week on all physical and digital media platforms

Ben Affleck becomes the fifth actor to don the Batsuit in the eighth Batman film outing of the modern era, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which would seem to be an awfully high turnover rate. He acquits himself fairly well in the role, landing below Keaton and Bale and above Kilmer and Clooney on my (Bat)scale of effectiveness portraying Bruce Wayne/Batman. Returning as Superman is Henry Cavill, who first appeared as the character in 2013’s Man of Steel. I must admit I missed that one and while he’s serviceable enough in Batman v. Superman, there certainly wasn’t enough in his performance to inspire me to catch up on what I’ve missed.

Batman v. Superman picks up right at Man of Steel’s conclusion, as Superman battles General Zod, with the city of Metropolis becoming collateral damage in the process. It’s a clever choice to have the perspective of this sequence switch to Wayne’s. His witnessing of the extreme levels of destruction Superman is capable of (even when carried out with noble intentions) sets up Batman v. Superman’s expansive narrative and the conflict between the titular heavyweights.

The film, directed by Zack Snyder, also lays the groundwork for future movies featuring DC Comics superheroes, with cameos by a handful of other characters. The brief appearance by Aquaman is one of the better moments in the movie and provided my best laugh during Batman v. Superman’s bloated two-and-a-half hour running time. That’s because I knew it would have my best friend Mark practically soiling himself with excitement at seeing one of his favourite comic book characters finally appearing onscreen.

The “serviceable” description could also extend to nearly all of the larger supporting roles and performances throughout this movie. Holly Hunter plays a Kentucky Senator eager to reign in Superman’s power, Amy Adams plays Superman/Clark Kent’s love interest and Daily Planet colleague Lois Lane, Jeremy Irons replaces Michael Caine as Wayne’s butler Alfred, and Gal Gadot appears as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. None of them are particularly memorable.

Wonder Woman’s film debut here garnered an inexplicable amount of critical praise, as far as I’m concerned. I’m probably permanently tainted by Linda Carter’s campy 70s turn in the role, but I always found Wonder Woman to be a rather lame superhero. That’s not a sexist thing, either. With an admittedly far-less-than-devout knowledge of comic book history, I’d be hard-pressed to name a more rubbish superhero than Hawkeye, at least based on the character portrayed by the equally terribly Jeremy Renner in the Avengers films. Wonder Woman’s first appearance onscreen here is accompanied by a pounding score, but this intended highly dramatic moment lands with a resounding thud. Instead, the moment gave me my second best laugh of the film at the sheer cheesiness of it.

The worst thing about Batman v. Superman is the presence of a dreadfully miscast Jesse Eisenberg. His Lex Luthor (who’s actually the son of Superman’s archvillain of the same name) ruins every scene he appears in, with an over-the-top performance and a bad wig. The mentally unstable Luthor doesn’t invoke an ounce of menace in Batman v. Superman, which really hinders the level of investment many viewers will have in the film’s story.

Some other issues plague the movie. The climatic and tiredly inevitable battle scene between the main characters and the enemy who’s unleashed by Luthor (an alien monster named Cyborg) had me praying for a quick end to the whole thing. Let’s just say that as far as CGI has come, this sequence proves there’s still a long way to go with this art form. Amusingly, while I found the Cyborg CGI to be atrocious, the aforementioned Mark (who’s a comic book aficionado) praised it as one of the film’s best moments because of how true to the comic book character it looked. There’s also a jarring and bizarre nightmare sequence in a post-apocalyptic setting whose context and significance will likely be lost on all but the most hardcore comic book nerds. One of them speculates here that it’s foreshadowing future Justice League movie events. 

This last issue isn’t exactly a fault of the movie, but is anyone else troubled by the frequency nowadays with which supposed journalists whore themselves out to appear in TV shows and films? Charlie Rose, Anderson Cooper, and Soledad O’Brien appear in this movie and are some of the worst repeat offenders, along with Wolf Blitzer. My God, even the late and venerable Morley Safer turned up playing himself in the second season of House of Cards. Maybe I’m just getting old, but enough already. It’s no wonder the media’s journalistic integrity is in such a shambles.

Actually, that “getting old” thing is a big part of the problem when it comes to how I relate to superhero films now. At 46, I’ve just finally lost that youthful intrigue with these larger-than-life characters and their worlds. Simply put, I am no longer the audience for this type of thing (or to paraphrase Danny Glover’s Lethal Weapon character, “I’ve gotten too old for this shit”). And even if I hadn’t outgrown them, “shit” is another huge obstacle in enjoying superhero films because most of them are just that. This past summer’s X-Men: Apocalypse and Captain America: Civil War were damn near unwatchable. A big part of the problem is also the sheer volume they’re churned out with. Try a little quality control, Hollywood. Hell, Stan Lee, who makes a cameo in every Marvel film, is practically a full-time actor these days. Batman v. Superman isn’t quite a full-on turd, but it’s also just not very good.

Rating: C