Saturday, March 26, 2016

Batman vs. Superman: The Dawn of Mediocrity

[WARNING: Thar Be Spoilers Ahead. It's sort of necessary for me to make some basic points.]

This is one of those movies no one wants to review.

The quickie version: Lex Luthor wants to take Superman out and so acquires soe kryptonite. He has a problem getting the kryptonite into The States, and so manages to sneak it in while killing off the senator opposing it and making things even worse for Superman's reputation. Batman figures out what's going on, snags the kryptonite and weaponizes it. Lex sets up a confrontation between the two and they fight. They of course end up teaming up, and Wonder Woman decides to skip a flight to help out against Doomsday. Superman "dies" and Batman and Wonder Woman decide to start up a team of metahumans. And of course it's a lot more complicated than that, but that's the gist.

So....the question is whether or not it's worth the 2-1/2 hours or so. And that depends on how you feel about "Man of Steel". There's a lot of good news: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, and Jeremy Irons knock it out of the ball park as Batman, Wonder Woman, and Alfred respectively; Wonder Woman even has her own heavy metal/Greek theme that's worth the price of admission alone. You get to see some of the future Justice Leaguers in action, and there are a lot of great little Easter eggs.

Jesse Eisenberg deserves some special praise. As Alexander Luthor, he plays one of the creepiest psychotics ever, and he is easily the mental match of the two titans. There's even some debate as to whether or not he allowed Batman to steal the kryptonite in order to facilitate the titular disagreement. There is the problem of his motivation, which seems to change from scene to scene ("Superman must die!", "I have daddy issues!", wait no, "I hate gods!"..."Nope: I did it to protect the planet from an incoming threat! Yeah, that's it!"), but overall he takes the role and makes it his, just as Heath Ledger did with The Joker. It's actually a great performance.

The rest of the cast, however., could have been dropped and no one would have noticed. Lois Lane is chasing a story to prove Superman is a good guy, but the news story ends up not being needed. Ma Kent gives Clark some unnecessary cheerleading, as does the deceased Pa Kent (don't ask), and she also provides the victim that forces Superman to fight Batman. And the Daily Planet scenes could have been omitted altogether and no one would have missed them.

And then there is the Man of Steel. Perry Grant says it best with his "this isn't 1938" speech: This is not the Superman you know from virtually every other source, and is a jerk. He's had almost 18 months in order to deal gain some maturity as a hero, and hasn't. He's flying around doing good deeds, usually centered on Lois Lane, and he hasn't really learned anything from his helping to take down Metropolis. I'd love to allow that this is the beginning of his career, but anyone with kind of real conscience would have at least taken a step back and tried to figure out what he's doing based on the sheer amount he did; he apparently didn't even bother helping with the clean-up, resulting in some serious split opinions on his presence. He is seen as angel or devil depending on how one sees the events in Metropolis.

In short he's helping people but lacks the maturity he needs to be a real hero, and the Daily Planet puff pieces do little but feed his ego. And it's not the immaturity of a rookie hero but the arrogance of someone who just doesn't really care about those he's helping.

Adding to the mess is that the movie is trying to crib as much as it can from "Dark Knight Returns" and "Death of Superman", with added bonus religious material. He's being made out to be a messiah, including basically two resurrections (one after a nuclear strike and another after Doomsday kills him). If the movie had just decided to stick with a single source the movie would have been an hour shorter, at least, but combining the two with an extended set up for the Luthor basically siccing Superman on Batman and Lois' fruitless quest to prove her man innocent makes for a more muddled film than anyone should be forced to sit through.

There's also a lot of scenes that just don't make any sense beyond moving the plot along. Luthor should have needed a lot more than cut off finger-tips to fool the ship's biometrics and he should not have been able to over-ride the computer's safety protocols wth a simple bluff; they must have had the worst programmers on Krypton. The dream sequences are neat, but not really needed; they are more director's conceit than really needed. Even the conclusion of the fight should have gone better: Superman needed to be made aware that he can be beaten rather than yet again being allowed to get off. Even the explosion that killed off the senator Lex was having gave him an out as he didn't have to really deal with the consequences of his powers. it worth it? The Batman and Wonder Woman scenes are definitely worth it, as are the fight scenes. The special effects work, and there is a lot of fun with different camera angles. However, the scenes that concentrate on Superman are pretty much a waste of time; they tend to come off as, depending on the scene, either bad pop psychology or messianic mythology as told by an atheist who is mad at his dad. The movie needed a serious script editor, and someone needed to slap Snyder down a lot. So it's not a bad movie, but it's not a great one. This makes a great rental, especially as it allows the Easter eggs to better shine, but should be seriously debated before you go see it at the theaters.