Batman v. Superman: I Didn’t Hate It

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A few months ago, we had a well-reviewed movie that a lot of the franchise’s most devoted fans were trying to convince everyone was terrible (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) and now we have a poorly reviewed film that a lot of the franchise’s most devoted fans are trying to convince everyone is good (“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”).

I didn’t side with the fans in the first instance, but I am going to go ahead and side with them in the second.

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is far from the best entry in the seemingly ceaseless cinematic superhero sweepstakes, but it’s not the disaster that many critics seem to want to gloat over.

The aspect of the film that fans dreaded the most turns out to be one of the best things about it: Ben Affleck’s portrayal Bruce Wayne aka Batman aka Bruce Wayne.

Affleck will never be half the actor Christian Bale is, but this Dark Knight suits his talents. He’s a roguish, impulsive, horny wreck.

He’s usually the most interesting thing on screen, unless he’s sharing the screen with Gal Godot.

Jesse Eisenberg’s interpretation of Lex Luthor has been called the worst thus far, but I think that dubious distinction should be reserved for Kevin Spacey in “Superman Returns.”

Spacey’s casting was hailed from all quarters and yet his performance is neither fish nor fowl. Spacey (aided and abetted by a confusing screenplay) never seemed to get a handle on how he wanted to play the character, so he settled for mailing in a lukewarm Kevin Spacey impersonation – hitting a lot of generic Kevin Spacey notes.

There are undeniably some cringeworthy aspects of Eisenberg’s performance, but at least he went all in.

I think really good actors sometimes flirt with bad acting as a way of accessing the best acting. It’s sort of like how some really good poetry flirts with being bad poetry. There are thin lines separating these seeming extremes, in other words.

The best Luthor to date is still Michael Rosenbaum’s from the “Smallville” TV series, in my opinion.

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is choppily plotted – a result, I suspect, of screenwriters knowing what scenes needed to be in the film but never figuring out how convincingly to connect all of them.

The same problem, incidentally, plagued the better reviewed “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” For all of his aptitude with quippage, Joss Whedon also seemed to have a lot of trouble connecting that sequel’s dots.

People who don’t read comic books don’t understand how comic book movies are constructed. The screenwriter treats the 50- to 80-year history of a particular title as a buffet from which he can spoon a drib of this and a drab of that. He might take something from the Vietnam era and the Reagan era and the WWII era.

He might take something from a video game, an animated series or a Happy Meal box.

The result often strikes the true comic book fan as a little hodgepodgey.

The literary equivalent of this would if a screenwriter borrowed material from Mark Twain, Kate Douglas Wiggin, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and created a movie that should probably be called “The Adventures of Huckleberry Karamazov in the House of Seven Gables at Sunnybrook Farm.”

It wouldn’t be called that but it should.

Look, I am no babe in the woods where live action superheroes are concerned. As a writer who gets paid by the word, I certainly understand the impulse to want to pack 10 pounds of s*** in a five-pound bag. When I was a kid, Nick Fury was played by David Hasselhoff, J. Jonah Jameson was played by Larry Tate and Captain America was played by Gristle McThornBody (aka Reb Brown). I have a strong constitution, is what I’m saying.

So, the highlight reel nature of these films barely registers on me anymore.

My biggest issue with “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is identical to my biggest issue with its predecessor, “Man of Steel” – director Zack Snyder’s one-dimensional view of Superman.

In Snyder’s world, humans regard Superman in one of two ways, both bad: They either venerate him as a god or vilify him as a god.

Where’s the scrappy newspaper delivery kid who shouts, “Nice job, Superman! Keep up the good work,” before tossing his next rolled-up copy of the Daily Planet?

As controversial messiahs go, Snyder’s Superman almost out-suffers Jesus Christ. He walks around with this perpetually queasy look on his face. Does kryptonite cause diarrhea? Because Snyder’s Superman always looks to me like he’s searching for the nearest bathroom.

Snyder may have given us the first Superman in the history of moving pictures who is slightly more concerned with his own problems than he is with the problems of others. He’s the sort of superhero who seems to spend a lot of supertime supergazing into his supernavel.

So depressed is he that he can barely work up the motivation to differentiate his alter ego, Clark Kent, from his true omnipotent self.

Cavill’s strategy for disguising Superman as Clark Kent is to put on glasses. That’s it.

Now, think back to Christopher Reeve, who underwent a complete physical and dispositional transformation whenever he swapped one persona for the other.

Snyder hates that people keep bringing up Richard Donner’s “Superman” films and I think it’s because he really doesn’t understand what made them great.

Well, they were fun, for one thing. There are a lot of adjectives that can be used to describe “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” but fun ain’t one of them.

In Snyder’s universe, Superman and Lois Lane get exactly as much pleasure out of their romance as two people in a medieval torture room got out of being chained next to each other on a wall.

Snyder’s view of romance in his films is similar to that of many 14-year-old girls. It consists of two people occupying various poorly lit spaces while always seeming to be on the verge of tears.

I watch Lois and Clark’s dour scenes together and I think, “Do these two ever flirt? Does Clark ever put his super-briefs on his head to make her laugh? Does she ever give him s*** for leaving the cap off the toothpaste? Does he ever slap her butt (gingerly, to be sure) as she walks past him in a hallway?”

In Donner’s films, the template for the relationship between these two came from the screwball comedies, in which couples fought in electrifying ways, engaged in witty banter, used exquisitely wrought double entendres and exchanged flammable glances.

Where did Snyder get his ideas about romance? Stephenie Meyer? Nicholas Sparks?

I pity most of the actors who occupy Snyder’s Metropolis because they have nothing to do but look various shades of miserable.

Snyder’s Superman is a superbly muscled dud and it’s not really Cavill’s fault. He has proved in other roles that he is capable of a lighter tough. Snyder has tied his hands. And his feet. It’s hard to hit a home run when you’re not allowed to run the bases.

Snyder has a vision for these superhero films and his vision is that it sucks to be a superhero. As long as Snyder is in charge of DC’s cinematic universe, that vision will govern these films.

The fact that Snyder rejected TV’s Flash, Grant Gustin, for the role of big screen Flash because of the series’ occasionally flippant tone tells you everything you need to know.

The guy he ended up picking looks like one of the stars of “Bill and Ted’s Emo Adventure.”

Tim Burton’s first “Batman” movie was seen as an antidote to, and corrective of, the campy ‘60s TV series.

I suspect that some day someone will make a campy DC film designed to undo Snyder’s dreariness.

Anyway, back to things I liked about the film: The fight scene referenced in the title is a success, not because of the choreography, but because of how the actors play it.

Cavill’s Superman and Affleck’s Dark Knight come to many new realizations about themselves while beating each other up and both actors play those emotions well.

And everything about Gal Gadot’s involvement in this film is fantastic, except for the fact that she’s not in enough scenes.

The climatic monster, with the face of the Toxic Avenger and the sexless body of Stretch Armstrong, is a bewilderingly bad special effect in this day and age. But he serves as an acceptable deus ex machina, setting up an ending that is really less a conclusion for this film than a preface for the next.

All in all, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is a passable entertainment. It’s not one that most people are going to want to watch again and again.

Warner Bros. has a long way to go, however, before it knows as much as Disney does about making these sorts of films.

 

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2 thoughts on “Batman v. Superman: I Didn’t Hate It

  1. I still haven’t seen it, but the impression I get from this film is the same as Age of Ultron: It’s as much about setting up the next film (and the next, and the next, and the solo origin stories, and so on an on and on) as it is about WHAT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW, RIGHT HERE, TO THESE CHARACTERS. That’s why Whedon flamed out after his second Marvel film. The studio wanted him to sell the franchise, and hey, tell a good story if you can. The big difference, as you point out, is that Marvel/Disney “gets” it. They lovingly crafted a universe over time, starting with the ridiculously great Iron Man. They have a comic book guy at the helm. They realize that comics can be serious while still being (GASP!) fun! DC’s films all seem like they’re almost embarrassed to be “comic book” movies, and they suffer as a result.

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