Mar 26, 2016

"Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice" - 2016 - movie review

Just saw this film again and it's even better the second time around if that's possible. Pretty much a perfect comic book movie.

Original review starts below the line.


Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice is the best superhero movie since Tim Burton's original "Batman". Zack Snyder has done himself proud and in the process redeemed the Caped Crusader after Christopher Nolan's ponderous and insipid Batman butcher jobs "The Dark Knight" and "The Dark Knight Rises".

Snyder instinctively understands something Nolan never did: that superhero's exist in an exaggerated version of our universe and that both the universe and the characters in it should reflect that. Nolan's silly embrace of "the real" had what's-his-name trying to act 'heavy' on the deserted streets of Chicago; streets that never looked like anything other than the deserted streets of Chicago. Here, Snyder puts some effort into world building and the results are magnificent.

Snyder thankfully deals with the perfunctory Batman origin story upfront. So upfront the montage serves as background to some of the opening credits before segueing seamlessly into the true opening scene which has Bruce Wayne arriving in Metropolis just as Superman and General Zod are going at it. It's a thrilling scene, beautifully crafted, and it sets the bar high for the rest of the film. Thankfully, the rest of the film delivers and then some.

There are no dead spots in BVS. At the end of its 2 1/2 hour runtime I could have happily sat through another half hour. Was it loud? Sure. But the sound design was appropriate to the action and never felt simply noisy. Was it dark? Oh yeah. Beautifully, poetically, apocalyptically dark like a Batman film should be. Did Ben Affleck ruin Batman? To my great surprise Affleck made Batman his own. Unlike some past wannabes his performance never felt forced or uncertain. He confidently shifted from womanizer on the make to vengeful son to determined champion of the human race.

On the other side of the BVS coin Henry Cavill has grown into his character and gives a far more nuanced performance than was suggested in the trailers. His Superman is a 20th century-style hero who is uncomfortable with the criticism powerful figures can attract in an almost democratic 21st century society. He thinks he should be left alone because he's not trying to undermine democracy, he simply understands that democracy has one major weakness: response times. As a result of being constantly hounded and second-guessed however he starts to lose interest in doing the right thing.

Between these two powerful figures we have Lex Luthor and Diana "Wonder Woman" Prince. The good news first; Gal Gadot is a revelation on par with Daisy Ridley. Her presence is such that she threatens to steal nearly every scene she's in. Her character seeps into the narrative over the course of the first two acts: occasionally parrying with Wayne and keeping up with events as they unfold. Slowly she begins to realize the time may be at hand when she'll need to shed nearly a century of voluntary retirement and get involved in human affairs again. When she finally ascends to the film's front ranks in the third act it seems both logical and necessary and she becomes a valuable asset to the film rather than a token distraction.

With that said I need to address the film's only weakness: Jesse Eisenberg. Mr Eisenberg has proven himself a capable actor over the years but he is in waaaay over his head here. Not sure what pictures he possesses of Zack Snyder that landed him this role but they must be doozies. A good villain is either physically menacing or radiates the sense that there's something lurking beneath their surface that would peel the paint on the walls if unleashed. Great villains possess both qualities. Eisenberg has neither. Thankfully his screen time is limited so he never becomes a significant drag on the film.

As for the story: I don't want to give away too much but basically Eisenberg's Luthor has decided to strengthen his own position by ridding the world of it's two super-powered crime fighters. In a nutshell; Superman will be given a powerful incentive to eliminate Batman, and then Lex will eliminate Superman with a weapon he fashioned from kryptonite he gleaned from the wreckage of one of the destroyed Kryptonian ships. The world will then be his oyster. It's a blissfully simple premise that manages to engage all the characters without losing the audience.

There are no huge head-scratching moments like in TDKR where you're left thinking "Why did they send the entire Gotham police department into the sewer at the same time?" or "How did bad guys that walked into the Gotham stock exchange wind up riding out on motorcycles?" Also, because the plot is straightforward there's no need for long expository monologues like the kind that weighed so heavily on TDKR. Things move forward crisply, logically and entertainingly. It's great.

Before I finish I want to go back one more time and touch on the look of this movie. Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice is a beautiful film. It's not just beautiful however. Every image here is in the service of the story and not simply inserted because of its 'awesomeness'. In this sense - the harmony between dialogue and imagery - it reminds me of nothing less than James Cameron's "Aliens", perhaps the best example ever of a film that's greater than the sum of its parts. Because of this symbiotic relationship between words and pictures I could probably watch BVS with the sound off and still know exactly what's going on. And that is the true sign of quality motion picture making.

Kudos to Zack Snyder for finally delivering a Batman-related property that I want to see a second time. I can't give it a full 5 stars due to Jesse Eisenberg but if there were someone more appropriate playing Lex Luthor it would be 5 stars all the way.

Verdict: ★★★★

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