Tales of the Rampant Coyote

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Quick Take: Batman v. Superman

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 5, 2016

Batman-V-SupermanI finally saw Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The version I saw was the extended edition, which apparently resolves a lot of questions about character motivations, at the cost of a more plodding and confusing pace. So I won’t complain about the pacing here, because… well, I’m sure the theatrical release was better edited.

The movie follows two superheroes on a collision course with each other… well, more than that. One is trying to kill the other, and the other is suspicious of the first. And there’s a third superhero – a woman – who is peripherally involved until its time to fight a boss monster. These characters are named Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. They are loosely based on comic book characters by the same name, but…  I dunno. I can’t say I’ve ever been a major DC Comics aficionado, but I spent a summer reading a bunch of Superman comics from the 70s and early 80s, and I kept up on a couple of Batman titles for a couple of years. So, at least from the time period that I followed, these characters… didn’t feel right. Batman in particular, but he’s as much based on the cinematic character as the comics character.

After some scathing reviews, I was a bit worried, but there were enough good review outliers to give me hope. In the end, I liked it more than I’d feared, but nowhere close to what I’d hoped. It was significantly better than “Man of Steel,” at least, but that’s not saying much. I could say the same of all of Zack Snyder’s films (that I’ve seen): It had some truly outstanding, cool-looking scenes, but the movie itself was disjointed and confusing.

Some Good Things: It didn’t shy away from the mess from Man of Steel. To the contrary, that was a focal point of the movie: Superman’s battle against General Zod killed a lot of people, wrecked a lot of lives, and caused untold destruction. Naturally, that has left the entire world freaking out about finding themselves powerless against a race (albeit almost entirely dead) of gods.

The relationship with Superman and Lois Lane was nicely done. Superman calling his mother just to talk to help deal with things was really nice. It was believable… human. Wonder Woman was also fun… the way she just relished the battle, even as she took her hits, was cool. Perry White, played by Laurence Fishburne, was excellent and pretty well dominated any scene that he was in.

I also liked that Superman had to slow someone’s descent to catch them when falling – not just grabbing them while they are approaching terminal velocity. Because landing in Arms of Steel at high speed really isn’t gonna be any better than landing on asphalt. Just ask Gwen Stacy.

The other thing which I think was a proper approach was the emphasis on the character’s secret identities. Even as a kid, the stories that resonated with me were the ones that focused primarily on the people behind the mask. Whether they were in costume or not, it had to be about characters first. A good Superman story has to be about Clark Kent. And to its credit, the heroes in this movie spend most of their time out of costume. But then, so did Man of Steel, and … well, necessary isn’t the same as sufficient.

So… there were a lot of very likable moments and scenes. But it jumbled together into something that was a bit of a mess (but again… this was the Extended Edition, so that may not have been a problem originally). The real problem here felt like the creators had a bullet-point list of “things that make Comic Book stories and movies really cool” and thought that was it. They confused a list of ingredients for a recipe. They poured ’em in and stirred, and then expected a a Lemon Meringue Pie didn’t drop out of the mixing bowl.

And maybe that’s the thing that bugged me the most about the film. There were some themes and ideas that were GREAT and could have been used and built on throughout the film to give it some great consistency. But… no. They were forgotten by the next scene. I think nowhere was this more apparent than the end, when they basically announce the sequel movies. Bruce Wayne is explaining about how these superheroes need to team up and fight together. Why? “I dunno, it’s just a feeling I have.”

What. The. Hell.? Okay, let’s try this on for size: You were just pwned by being manipulated and turned against each other by a nasty little sociopath. Your main problem with Superman – and his main problem with Batman – was fundamentally the same: Power unchecked, unilateral choices by someone answerable to nobody. Maybe getting together and at least talking to each other and helping right each other’s moral compass once in a while might be a frickin’ Good Idea in retrospect? If you don’t want to do the Captain America: Civil War thing and turn yourselves over to government supervision, that is. Forget this nebulous “I smell more movies in the air” thing… you’ve got your cause right there.

Tonally, I really don’t get this whole need to portray Superman in a gritty, nasty world with a whole theme of “No matter what he does, it hurts as many people as it helps.” Sure, it’s kinda fun to have some scenes where the newspapers and talking heads can’t help but chatter and argue over every single move the guy makes… but after a point, it’s not a Superman story. And Pa Kent? Seriously, after the two movies, I can’t imagine how Clark would have ever tried to be a hero at all. His entire life he must have been told, “Don’t do nuthin’, son, you are just gonna screw things up worse no matter what you do.” Kevin Costner, I know it’s not your fault, you did the best you could with the scripts you were given, but you are officially the Worst Jonathan Kent Ever.

I didn’t mind Ben Affleck as Batman. I mean, the character called Batman. But Jeremy Irons’ Alfred? HATE.

Then so much didn’t make logical sense. The boss battle… the REASON for the boss battle? Why the U.S. didn’t immediately go after an obvious suspect after a particular bombing? The villain’s motivations? The sudden change of heart about the whole central conflict of the movie?  The characters all marched in lockstep with the dictates of the plot, occasionally providing retroactive motivations, but really just doing things because The Script Told Me To.

Anyway — bottom line: It felt like they had bits and pieces of a pretty decent movie. Probably nothing to compete with the best movies from Marvel right now (or even the Chris Nolan Batman movies), but definitely something that could have at least been a decent launch point for the DC cinematic universe. Instead, it’s kind of a mess with some moments of cool. Which might also adequately describe the Star Wars prequels. So… not so great.

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