Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

   Zack Snyder's latest superhero epic is probably one of the most interesting and thought provoking entries in the entire genre. Yet, it's also deeply flawed. I'm remiss that I even have to mention it's flaws, because the ideas and concepts it explores are so much more interesting and deserving of discussion. What's equally intriguing is the backlash the movie received, not over it's structural missteps, which is often mentioned as a footnote, but the backlash it got over the tone and depiction of Superman and Batman. I can understand it... like one understands a mental illness, but that's all. Batman V Superman is incredibly fascinating.

   'Zack Snyder hates Superman!' a billion 'fanboy' laptop-critics cried out, and every single one of them was/is wrong. Snyder delivers the same silver screen Superman we've known and loved since 1978. Why does it feel so different though? Because we're different. As a culture, as a society. The world is a different place now. Even Perry White says it, insisting that it's not 1938 anymore. Zack Snyder didn't create a time capsuled world for this Superman to inhabit, he let him loose in the modern day. It's an era of mass shootings, terror attacks, a lack of faith and patriotism. People are paranoid, angry, scared. Nobody is ready or willing to ignore the consequences of the actions made by politicians and police anymore...

   So why would they with Superman?

   Audiences wanted a rosy, nostalgic outlook on Superman. They wanted the world he inhabits, to be the world of yesteryear. They wanted fluff. A comforting tale about simplistic good and evil. Zack Snyder didn't deliver that, and here's the kicker, NOR SHOULD HE HAVE. Christ, how interesting can our heroes be if we need to tailor them to fit inside a peachy nostalgic box that never challenges them? Batman fans say Superman is overpowered, and that's why he's not interesting. It's not about his powers! It's about how society reacts to his actions. He's the closest thing mankind will ever have to a tangible god who walks among them.

   He's not a god though, he's a man. He thinks like a man, he feels like a man, and he has this enormous responsibility on his shoulders. He has the power to save the world, but maybe the world doesn't want to be saved. Maybe not everyone accepts this idea of a savior. Maybe they don't trust him. What does he do? Ignore the cries for help, when he knows he can intervene. Does he submit himself to the state to be regulated and tangled up in red tape? Who does he answer to? Should he answer to anyone? These are the questions and dilemmas that make Superman an interesting character in 2016. He just wants to do the right thing, and there are people who will hate him for it regardless. Batman doesn't have that weight on his shoulder. He has one city to look after.

   Batman V Superman puts the man of steel into a world of consequences, with people who don't take good Samaritans at face value, let alone ones with god-like power. Officials want to add a 'Terms of Service' agreement to his very existence. Yet, at his core, he just wants to help. To save lives. To make a difference. He still wears a red cape, red boots and blue tights (more or less). We're even told (in Man of Steel) that the symbol on his chest means 'Hope' in Kryptonian. He smiles when he talks, and is always a hair's breadth away from a "Gee, Lois!". So, how is this not the Superman everyone knows and loves? Because it seems like it is.

   Batman's story is an extreme version of one we've seen several times before. It's an extension of the imagery and the themes that Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy presented us with. Batman is far more world-worn though. He's bigger, darker, more violent. He's the drastic opposite of Superman. He struggles in his crusade against crime, using fear as his ultimate weapon. Superman is still trying to spread hope, and he's being crucified for it. The excessively intricate machinations of the plot conspire to pit the dark knight against the man of steel, but it never manages to do this organically. The cogs in this machine move almost grudgingly, in need of an oiling. What's worse is that there are so damn many cogs too. So many moving parts.

   When the movie boils down to a hostage/double jeopardy situation, you wonder why it needed to be so complicated to get there. A subplot about a weird metal, prototype weapons, no fewer than two or three conspiracy plots and theories, and a good portion of this filtered through the lens of mass media. The movie builds up a conflict founded on principles and ethical debates, but ditches all of that for traditional comic book thrills in the last act. Batman and Superman scowl at the idea of each other, but probably would've never fought if it hadn't been for Lex Luthor, the movie's true villain. So why the ultimate billing as a grandiose mano-y-mano fight? The movie is never really about that.

   It's about conflicting outlooks, not dueling titans. The most soars when it delves into the brooding issues of being Superman, and the grim world of being Batman. It's frequently fascinating material, married to stunning visuals and fantastic cinematography. The movie also excels at delivering straight-up comic book action set pieces. So where are the flaws that I mentioned I was loathe to discuss? It's in the way the movie is structured, and the plot vehicles it uses to get to where it's trying to go. It's a choppy experience, even the extended version. There's so many moments of world building for future sequels that it bloats the movie.

   Batman V Superman was already full-up with ideas and concepts without having to devote time to set up sequels, let alone shoulder the origins of a whole franchised universe. With so much pressure to do so much in one movie, it's no wonder that fans are divided. The movie isn't Batman versus Superman so much as it is 40% a prequel to Justice League. Silly us for not taking the sub title more literally. Yet when 'justice' finally 'dawns' in the movie, it feels slightly forced. It's a shame really, because BvS is a fascinating and layered movie that deserves a passionate fanbase willing to deconstruct it. This is easily the Cloud Atlas of comic book movies; ambitious, layered, clunky, beautiful, intriguing, three hours long, and incredibly misunderstood (if not outright given-up on...). But seriously, see the Ultimate Edition if you've got a choice. I gathered that I made the right decision there.

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