Monday, July 25, 2016

"Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" (Ultimate Edition)

"I can't hear you with this helmet on."
Despite expecting, even desiring, badness, I actually quite enjoyed Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice when I saw it in cinemas. Now don't get me wrong, Batman v Superman is not, in as "objective" a sense as I can muster, a very good film. It's too long with a dodgy screenplay, heavy-handed symbolism, questionable performances, thin characterisation and a fairly bad plot. For reasons I can't explain, however, that didn't bother me the first time I saw the film and it didn't bother me when I rewatched it recently in the shape of the "Extended Cut" released on the Ultimate Edition blu-ray. Despite going for two and a half hours in the cinema and three hours in the extended edition, the film didn't bore me, and it didn't annoy me particularly. Before I get onto my brief review of the film proper, however, I thought I would discuss the "Extended Cut" by answering the following question: 

Does the Extended Cut add anything significant to the film?
In my opinion the answer is "no." The Extended Cut fills in a few elements of the plot in a little more detail, but other than that I don't think it contributed that much. I'd say it feels somewhat like a more rounded film due to some added scenes about Lois's investigation into the mysterious bullet and Clark's research on Batman, but it doesn't really add any more Batman or Superman action or fill in any existing plot holes, like how Lex knows Superman's secret identity. All in all I could probably take or leave the added scenes, and although some people have, I believe, argued that the Extended Cut would have been better received than the theatrical version, I don't think that's very likely. I think people had a problem with what was already there, not with what they felt was missing.

"Stop a bullet cold, make the <Central Powers> fold..."
Anyway, here are my thoughts on the film in general:
My biggest problem with Batman v Superman is that it feels like two and a half or even three films jammed together: a decent Batman film, a mediocre Superman film and a bad Justice League prologue. The actual "Batman fights Superman" element is so perfunctory and incidental to the main plot that it doesn't really feel like a part of any of these three stories, so perhaps in that sense it's almost four films, with the fourth strand being an ideological conflict between DC's two flagship heroes. Yet, despite everything, I still feel as if the film does a decent enough job of handling these elements and synthesising them to an adequate degree. The ugliest graft onto the structure is the "Justice League prologue" element, which the film would have been better off without. The scene in which Wonder Woman watches videos about Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg on her laptop for a few minutes while the action stalls are particularly egregious. Personally I didn't find Wonder Woman to be particularly interesting and could have done without the additional heroes in the story.

The Superman Aspect
"My only weaknesses are Kryptonite
and my Irritable Bowel Syndrome."
The problem with Henry Cavill's Superman is that he always looks like he's trying to do a shit. In general we also don't get enough of a sense of who Clark Kent really is, I feel, such that it's hard to find Cavill's Superman too interesting. There aren't really any moments where we see Clark Kent enjoying himself, for instance, apart from the bit where he jumps in the bath with Lois, and all the dialogue in that scene is still pretty heavily plot driven. I feel like we need to see Superman just being a person because his character is a little lacking at the moment, I think. Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor is okay, although I agree with the criticisms that he feels like Heath Ledger's Joker. Personally, however, I feel like his ranting about gods and demons and Prometheus and stuff makes him feel like a hybrid of Ledger's Joker with Kevin Spacey's Luthor from Superman Returns, which was itself a slightly more serious version of the Luthor of the Reeve era Superman films. Thus I feel like their Luthor feels heavily dependent on existing film representations rather than doing something new (or, indeed, even adapting the comic books very closely).

If only Superman could read this Lois's mind,
his job would have been a lot easier.
Lois's role in the film seems to mostly be to cause problems; not quite a damsel in distress but more of an instigator of chaos, because almost everything she does in the film, such as going to visit the warlord at the beginning or throwing away Batman's kryptonite spear just seems to make Superman's life more difficult. As for Doomsday, well, he looks like an orc from one of Peter Jackson's Hobbit films and as far as big CGI battles go the conflict with him is pretty generic. Superman already fought a Kryptonian enemy in Man of Steel, and in this he's basically just fighting a worse version of Zod again. They could have done something a bit different. I really wish they'd do Brainiac in a film.

The Batman Aspect
Batman voice courtesy of eating the set.
I don't know Ben Affleck from anything because apparently I haven't watched any films for the last twenty years or so, so I didn't respond with derision when he was cast as Batman. I didn't know what to think, really. When I saw the film, however, I was pleased. Affleck seems to get the role of Batman down easily and comfortably and I personally thought that he was the most successful part of the film. I was interested in his ever-increasing feelings of despair and impotence as he becomes more confronted by the powers of Superman and I liked the general aesthetic of his costume, the fight choreography used with him, the image of the bombed-out Wayne Manor and so on. I also enjoyed Jeremy Irons as Alfred; I felt that he fitted the role rather well. Personally I would be very keen to see the solo Batman film made by Affleck that is meant to be in development.

"I'll just get him, sir."
I believe that some have argued that Batman comes across as stupid or unlike a detective in this film, and I agree at times he doesn't appear to be as "in control" as people have come to expect, and I wonder if that's a result of them plopping this supposedly hardened, veteran incarnation of the character into our midst. For someone like me who has read many of the notionally "essential" or "definitive" Batman comics like The Dark Knight Returns and The Long Halloween perhaps it's easier to imagine what this Batman's past might have been like without having to be shown it, but I can appreciate that less nerdy viewers might be more in the dark. That's the thing about this film, I suppose; it relies upon the knowledge of the characters in popular consciousness rather than establishing versions of them in their own right. This leads me to:

The Batman vs Superman Conflict
"Are you taking a piss behind the lectern?"
"No comment."
Despite the fact that I like the fight scene, and enjoy robo-Batman beating the shit out of Superman, who seems to still use the same Kryptonian concrete in his hair as he had in Man of Steel because it still never gets mussed up, even when Batman grabs him by it, the whole conflict feels like it would have been more effective if there had been multiple Superman, Batman and Superman-and-Batman films leading up to it, such that they had an established friendship or at least relationship that was falling apart. As it is, it feels like we as an audience are expected to more or less know or understand the ideological differences between Batman and Superman based on their pre-established, existing presence in popular culture and the popular consciousness, such that the filmmakers appear to want to impress us without the bother of doing groundwork for it.

"You'll ruin my hair!"
This, I think, weakens the conflict, such that the plot is forced to pit Batman and Superman against each other rather unnaturally, with Luthor threatening Superman that he will kill his mother if he does not kill Batman, apparently to force the world to see that Superman is violent and dangerous, not benevolent and just. Yet it feels very contrived, as it's established that Batman is seen as practically a legend, if he's known at all, which makes you wonder what effect Luthor's plan would really have, or what the purpose of it is. Batman's own attempt to goad Superman into fighting him so that he can "save the world" from him is a little more interesting, but I don't feel that it's sufficiently clear why Batman sees Superman as such a threat apart from the dream sequence and the Capitol bombing, which surely an intelligent person like Batman would recognise as an effort to frame Superman. Interestingly, the Extended Cut has Lois investigate the bomber's apartment, but not Batman, which is perhaps a missed opportunity derived from the film's need to have a scene in which Batman and Superman fight for no good reason. Similarly when Superman first confronts Bats with peaceful overtures and asks for his help, Batman doesn't listen and Superman, despite being (as far as he knows, not realising Batman has kryptonite weapons) invulnerable, starts beating down on him simply because he's sick of Batman's sass or something. So they both come across as a bit dumb.

It's a fixer-upper.
The ending is also stupid. We know Superman's not going to stay dead, and the fact that he had to sacrifice himself to kill Doomsday just seems pointless, a forced dramatic moment that almost anyone in the audience would realise would only be a temporary situation. It would have been more effective to have shown the future team beginning to assemble by having Batman use the spear, given that he spends most of the fight against Doomsday simply getting twatted around the place trying not to get killed. Even Wonder Woman could have easily used the spear. I don't know; it just seems contrived to me.

Batman visits any comments section on the film.
Personally, I think Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is an adequate superhero film, even enjoyable, but I know my opinion is even more unusual than usual in this regard. I found it much more engaging than Man of Steel and probably more entertaining than Marvel's rival instalment, Captain America: Civil War, which could have easily been called "Cap v Iron Man: Dusk of Avengers". Maybe I'm just getting bored of the Marvel characters and enjoyed seeing something new; I'm certainly more interested in Affleck's Batman than seeing any more RDJ as Iron Man or anything of the sort. As I've already said, Batman v Superman is a very flawed film, but I can live with it, especially since the teaser for Justice League actually looked interesting. I can't explain my reaction to Batman v Superman. I know it's bad, but I don't care. What a hero I am.

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