Skip to main content

Nobody cares about Clark Kent taking on the Batman.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
(2016)

(SPOILERS) You probably need to be sufficiently invested in the DC Universe in the first place to truly care about its cinematic desecration. Or even notice it. Much has already been said, and continues to be said – far more than any right-minded person can or should keep up with – over the past week about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, how it defecates all over the legacy of Superman and isn’t even really doing Batman many favours, but that’s rather beside the point. Zack Snyder’s movie doesn’t fail because of its take on these iconic characters; it fails because it’s an abject mess in its approach to basic storytelling. 


For a while there, before Batman and Superman engage in their less than titanic tussle, I was beginning to think Snyder and screenwriters Chris Terrio and David Goyer were going for something almost admirable in its flagrant disregard for convention; a two hour-plus movie composed entirely of two-minute (or less) scenes with virtually nothing to connect them. Perhaps this was to be the superheroic equivalent of Godfrey Reggio’s Qatsi trilogy? Alas, they eventually confound any illusions of eccentric artistry by reverting to something that does, sort-of, make sense. The chief problem, however, is that, amid this carnage wreaked upon narrative structure, they maintain one element of consistency; BvS is never in danger of becoming a good movie.


Which isn’t to say I have particularly passionate feelings pro or con about the movie. The complete picture turns out to be precisely as it was the trailers, only spread over 150 minutes. The problem is, trailers are supposed not to tell a story; they’re simply there to provide the appetiser for one. If you try and tantalise audiences for any longer, you’ll likely end up with unpalatable mush. I didn’t come away feeling there was very much actively terrible about BvS, but neither did I feel there was very much actively great about it. And what’s in between constitutes its biggest sin; it’s determinedly dull. Incredibly pretty (well, when it’s not focusing on Doomsday, seemingly the spawn of Alien Resurrection’s newborn and thus a design feat no one should be boasting about), but incredibly boring.


Shilly-shallying with a plot summary isn’t really necessary, but the manner in which Snyder et al have reverse-engineered the negative reaction to Supes’ Man of Steel destruction derby and made it the focus of the sequel is perversely impressive (no, no, Goyer and Snyder planned it all along). And then, as some would have it, they go even further, so compounding their earlier transgressions. 


It has been suggested this Superman, off-beam (and don’t those laser eyes chafe so?) from his traditionally selfless mode of oozing virtue from every pore, is a reflection of Snyder’s fascination with Ayn Rand, and his (presumed) concordant belief that those who achieve through devout selfishness should be justly rewarded (as such, when Superman acts selflessly, he must die, and maybe come back as a monster). Or maybe Superman is merely a symbol for modern America, doing what he thinks is right and being vilified for it (but one day, one day, everyone will see the truth). Or maybe Snyder just hates Superman, which seems to be the most vocal conclusion reached.


I’m not quite sure how to gauge that, as I don’t really know – or sufficiently care, truth be told –  enough about the line being crossed with this depiction. Which is to say, it’s not as if Batman could be considered well hung here either. Indeed, I was marvelling throughout at – given some of the pre-viewing criticism I’d dipped into – how much better Superman came across than Batfleck. I mean, the former may not have been on the best of form, or awarded a welter of cool moments, but neither did he come across as a tunnel-visioned moron.


Perhaps you have to be American to really get behind Superman. A paragon of virtue isn’t really a good fit for the nation that brought the world Terry-Thomas, the ultimate cad and frightful-est bounder. I’m certainly one of those who was never remotely taken with the character, which might be why I liked the Reeve incarnation most when he was put on a back foot (made human in Superman II) or had to duke it out with his dark side (Superman III). Or when you wheel on a charismatic (English) villain to give the whole enterprise a bit of pep (tell him Terence Stamp is fucking coming!)


Henry Cavill’s fine as Superman – although he’d be better as Bond – and there are more decent Superman scenes in the movie than there are Batman ones, although there are more decent Wonder Woman scenes than there are decent scenes for either of the headliners, so she definitely rules the roost (that at least is one in the eye for those complaining about Gal Gadot’s casting and her general lack of Lynda Carter-ness).


I liked Superman’s heroic montage as he rescues floundering rockets and idiots genuflect before his perceived messianic purity. I liked his turning up at the Committee hearing, unrecalcitrant. I liked when he was blown up by a nuclear warhead, hanging emaciated in space. And I (well, not completely, but at least it was him rather than Batman) liked his final self-sacrifice (although I have no idea how Clark Kent’s going to explain away not being dead; perhaps he’ll wake up in a shower. Of which, showing its influences, Man of Steel-sort-of-not-II invites unflattering comparisons by aping Star Trek II’s funereal bagpipes). But there is an underlying sense that making him a moody sod limits the palate the DC cinematic Universe has to play with. You miss Reeve’s essential affability (and Cavill can do affable – in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. he’s one long affable).


Added to which, Superman doesn’t necessarily come across as all that bright. I know movies and TV have to consistently pull the trope of the hero’s dilemma, the choice between the one they love and the greater good, but Luther kidnapping Clark’s mum is so hackneyed, he really should have contemplated and planned his response to such an inevitable eventuality.


But however dense Supes is, Batfleck is doubly so. And then some. People seem to have taken to Ben’s incarnation of the Caped Crusader, so maybe this won’t leave him with Gigli all over his face, but it’s not through want of the screenwriters trying. I don’t for one moment buy into Wayne’s grim motivation to have at Superman (which maybe why Alfred – a decent Jeremy Irons – is so dismissive of his intentions). You can at least see why Superman would be in a bit of a turmoil (if he wasn’t more than a mere mortal and above such things), but the attempts to steer Batman towards the status of ever-branding bad guy fail to connect, no matter how many times the movie rehearses the death of his parents and has him ramble on darkly about what he has to do.


Everything about Bat-Bruce’s goal here makes him look like the biggest chump ever, be it his “If there’s a one-per-cent chance” desire to make sure the Man of Steel doesn’t get the option of going bad, to his training montage with really BIG weights, to his leading Doomsday back into the city at the climax (they even have to insert a line clarifying that he isn’t doing exactly what Superman was guilty of in Man of Steel; the showdown takes place on highly fortuitous disused dockland, so that’s okay), to his bizarre turnabout on hearing his dearly beloved ma’s name (the effect is as rampantly ridiculous as the cry of “Cleaning woman!” in Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid). And, while Affleck’s personification of Bruce Wayne as a playboy cocksman is moderately entertaining, having the hots for Wonder Woman and all, they definitely missed a trick not having him hit on Superman’s mum.


All that said, Batman in action here is far, far cooler than anything Bat-related we’ve seen on the big screen over the past quarter of a century. We’ve gone from a director (Burton) with no facility for bat-tle, to ones (Schumacher and Nolan) who appreciated it but tended to suck all the coherence out of it. You have to go all the way back to Adam West wrestling a shark for anything of this order. It’s just a shame what’s on display is in the service of such tepid material (there’s a huge car chase at one point, and you’re left unmoved, not because it’s hard to follow but because there’s no engagement with its purpose or intent).


But. I did enjoy the Lex party scene, with everyone in their civvies up to their own investigative work (although as has been pointed out, if Superman can eavesdrop with his super-hearing why not use his x-ray vison too – probably because you run out of things to do with a character with no limits very quickly). 


Of which, I’m torn on Luthor. Jessie Eisenberg is supremely punch-able, but then that’s the point. I half-liked what he was doing, but he needed more of the genius thing going on to counterbalance the m-m-m-mental rich kid (presumably his being m-m-m-mental is the excuse for why he doesn’t just expose the trio’s identities to the world?). We only really glimpse a proper display of smarts when he is birthing Doomsday. I seriously doubt Bryan Cranston in his stead would have been the night and day difference in making the picture work that much better.


The dawning of justice? Well, Gadot undoubtedly has star power, you can tell as much because her role mostly amounts to giving knowing looks and she still makes an impact. Diana Prince and her alter-ego get off lightly, I suspect, simply because they aren’t around for long enough to take a knock in terms of character or motivation. None of the others DoJ-ers make much of an impression, in their brief snippets, although Ezra Miller is inspired superhero casting (and yet, I had no idea he was future-Flash-in-red in Bruce’s dream). Joe Morton was evidently cast as a reference to his T2 scientist, while Neil deGrasse Tyson whores himself out again, but to diminishing returns in the wake of Zoolander 2.


Debates will continue to rage over just what DC is doing to its icons, even if that amounts to little more than making the grim-smart Batman grimmer still but also wholly dumber with it, and the stalwart-and-true Superman ever more introverted and less honest-and-open. But – and it’s not such a cop-out in terms of finding little to wail and gnash teeth over – was this ever going to be anything other than a display of dour, over-stuffed, incontinent posturing? Its consequences of audience interpretation feel more the result of dramatic ineptitude and tonal misjudgement than manifest intent (and I suspect that’s true even of Superman, no matter what his most ardent adherents have to say against Snyder’s dark-seedings). The fallout of which can already be seen in the backtracking on the DC Universe’s love affair with tortured seriousness and the post-Deadpool embrace of (likely short-lived) anything-goes-as-long-the-audience-think-it’s-something-different (which definitely won’t be the R-rated cut of BvS).


Mostly though, I was left feeling profoundly indifferent towards the movie. You can only do so much baiting if you haven’t hooked the audience in the first place. That’s – largely – why Marvel has been on such a winning streak. They’re past masters at getting the balance right. I’m not interested in the multiple Superman and Batman flashbacks, or the extended interlude of Darkseid dreams – which may or may not, more likely not, given Warner Bros already appear to be lightening up Suicide Squad, come to pass (that said, unless they’re planning on a Highlander-esque relationship between Superman and his Blossom, Lois Lane, decade-older-than-Cavill Amy Adams will surely be compelled by the Hollywood law of averages to exit before long). They end up as a string of narrative non-sequiturs.


In many respects, the highlight of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s score, which consistently offers an distinctive diversion, so directly contrasting with the onscreen action, from the harpsichord accompanying Luthor’s aberrant activities to Wonder Woman’s rousing electric cello. To wit the latter (Wonder Woman, not the rousing electric cello), if nothing else, the clash of DC’s top two has ensured an appetite for her solo debut, so that’s one thing the movie gets kudos for. There won’t be many coming its way for anything else.




Popular posts from this blog

Doctors make the worst patients.

Coma (1978) (SPOILERS) Michael Crichton’s sophomore big-screen feature, and by some distance his best. Perhaps it’s simply that this a milieu known to him, or perhaps it’s that it’s very much aligned to the there-and-now and present, but Coma , despite the occasional lapse in this adaptation of colleague Robin Cook’s novel, is an effective, creepy, resonant thriller and then some. Crichton knows his subject, and it shows – the picture is confident and verisimilitudinous in a way none of his other directorial efforts are – and his low-key – some might say clinical – approach pays dividends. You might also call it prescient, but that would be to suggest its subject matter wasn’t immediately relevant then too.

Abandon selective targeting. Shoot everything.

28 Weeks Later (2007) (SPOILERS) The first five minutes of 28 Weeks Later are far and away the best part of this sequel, offering in quick succession a devastating moral quandary and a waking nightmare, immortalised on the screen. After that, while significantly more polished, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo reveals his concept to be altogether inferior to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland’s, falling back on the crutches of gore, nihilism, and disengaging and limiting shifts of focus between characters in whom one has little investment in the first place.

I said I had no family. I didn’t say I had an empty apartment.

The Apartment (1960) (SPOILERS) Billy Wilder’s romcom delivered the genre that rare Best Picture Oscar winner. Albeit, The Apartment amounts to a rather grim (now) PG-rated scenario, one rife with adultery, attempted suicide, prostitution of the soul and subjective thereof of the body. And yet, it’s also, finally, rather sweet, so salving the darker passages and evidencing the director’s expertly judged balancing act. Time Out ’s Tom Milne suggested the ending was a cop out (“ boy forgives girl and all’s well ”). But really, what other ending did the audience or central characters deserve?

The Bible never said anything about amphetamines.

The Color of Money (1986) (SPOILERS) I tend to think it’s evident when Scorsese isn’t truly exercised by material. He can still invest every ounce of the technical acumen at his fingertips, and the results can dazzle on that level, but you don’t really feel the filmmaker in the film. Which, for one of his pictures to truly carry a wallop, you need to do. We’ve seen quite a few in such deficit in recent years, most often teaming with Leo. The Color of Money , however, is the first where it was out-and-out evident the subject matter wasn’t Marty’s bag. He needed it, desperately, to come off, but in the manner a tradesman who wants to keep getting jobs. This sequel to The Hustler doesn’t linger in the mind, however good it may be, moment by moment.

Your desecration of reality will not go unpunished.

2021-22 Best-of, Worst-of and Everything Else Besides The movies might be the most visible example of attempts to cling onto cultural remnants as the previous societal template clatters down the drain. It takes something people really want – unlike a Bond movie where he kicks the can – to suggest the model of yesteryear, one where a billion-dollar grosser was like sneezing. You can argue Spider-Man: No Way Home is replete with agendas of one sort or another, and that’s undoubtedly the case (that’s Hollywood), but crowding out any such extraneous elements (and they often are) is simply a consummate crowd-pleaser that taps into tangible nostalgia through its multiverse take. Of course, nostalgia for a mere seven years ago, for something you didn’t like anyway, is a symptom of how fraught these times have become.

You just threw a donut in the hot zone!

Den of Thieves (2018) (SPOILERS) I'd heard this was a shameless  Heat  rip-off, and the presence of Gerard Butler seemed to confirm it would be passable-at-best B-heist hokum, so maybe it was just middling expectations, even having heard how enthused certain pockets of the Internet were, but  Den of Thieves  is a surprisingly very satisfying entry in the genre. I can't even fault it for attempting to Keyser Soze the whole shebang at the last moment – add a head in a box and you have three 1995 classics in one movie – even if that particular conceit doesn’t quite come together.

This guy’s armed with a hairdryer.

An Innocent Man (1989) (SPOILERS) Was it a chicken-and-egg thing with Tom Selleck and movies? Did he consistently end up in ropey pictures because other, bigger big-screen stars had first dibs on the good stuff? Or was it because he was a resolutely small-screen guy with limited range and zero good taste? Selleck had about half-a-dozen cinema outings during the 1980s, one of which, the very TV, very Touchstone Three Men and a Baby was a hit, but couldn’t be put wholly down to him. The final one was An Innocent Man , where he attempted to show some grit and mettle, as nice-guy Tom is framed and has to get tough to survive. Unfortunately, it’s another big-screen TV movie.

Listen to the goddamn qualified scientists!

Don’t Look Up (2021) (SPOILERS) It’s testament to Don’t Look Up ’s “quality” that critics who would normally lap up this kind of liberal-causes messaging couldn’t find it within themselves to grant it a free pass. Adam McKay has attempted to refashion himself as a satirist since jettisoning former collaborator Will Ferrell, but as a Hollywood player and an inevitably socio-politically partisan one, he simply falls in line with the most obvious, fatuous propagandising.

Captain, he who walks in fire will burn his feet.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) (SPOILERS) Ray Harryhausen returns to the kind of unadulterated fantasy material that made Jason and the Argonauts such a success – swords & stop motion, if you like. In between, there were a couple of less successful efforts, HG Wells adaptation First Men in the Moon and The Valley of the Gwangi (which I considered the best thing ever as a kid: dinosaur walks into a cowboy movie). Harryhausen’s special-effects supremacy – in a for-hire capacity – had also been consummately eclipsed by Raquel Welch’s fur bikini in One Million Years B.C . The Golden Voyage of Sinbad follows the expected Dynamation template – blank-slate hero, memorable creatures, McGuffin quest – but in its considerable favour, it also boasts a villainous performance by nobody-at-the-time, on-the-cusp-of-greatness Tom Baker.

Archimedes would split himself with envy.

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) (SPOILERS) Generally, this seems to be the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad outing that gets the short straw in the appreciation stakes. Which is rather unfair. True, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger lacks Tom Baker and his rich brown voice personifying evil incarnate – although Margaret Whiting more than holds her own in the wickedness stakes – and the structure follows the Harryhausen template perhaps over scrupulously (Beverly Cross previously collaborated with the stop-motion auteur on Jason and the Argonauts , and would again subsequently with Clash of the Titans ). But the storytelling is swift and sprightly, and the animation itself scores, achieving a degree of interaction frequently more proficient than its more lavishly praised peer group.