Monday, 28 March 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

I wasn't as excited about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as most people who know me would probably have expected me to be. I think this is largely down to me getting older and not getting excited about upcoming films the way I used to. I do also think however that it was partly due to the fact that I didn't love 2013's Man of Steel, I'm not really a big Zak Snyder fan and, at least initially, I wasn't keen on the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman.

Gradually, as the release date approached, I became slightly more excited. In retrospect I think this was exactly the right amount of excitement for this film because Batman v Superman turned out to be a good, but not great, superhero film, worthy of moderate but not significant excitement. That said, I do not consider the film and its cast have been given the credit they are due.

Batman v Superman is 2 hours 31 long, in other words, long but not long for a superhero movie. The movie managed to keep me entertained for the whole of those 2 and a half hours and there were a variety of well-choreographed action sequences and cool special effects. Unlike many films of that length, there weren't any long periods where nothing happened, although that positive actually leads on to what I would say is the biggest negative of the film (which I will discuss later).

Probably the most interesting aspect of this film is the political element. The movie borrows many of its ideas from its source material, Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns which culminates in a battle between Superman and Batman. The reason for the conflict in Zak Snyder's film (and in the graphic novel to a similar extent) is the question, how can powerful vigilantes be allowed to run free in a modern democracy and in particular, the view that each of our two superheroes has of the other. Bruce fears Clark because he could destroy the entire planet just like that if he wanted to. Clark disapproves of Bruce's aggressive and merciless approach to the criminals he apprehends. The film cleverly manages to develop and justify these seemingly hypocritical attitudes of our two leads.

There are a decent number of action sequences in this film which can't be said for all superhero movies (*cough cough* Iron Man and Captain America). The eponymous showdown between the Bat of Gotham and the son of Krypton is pretty cool. I even found myself believing that Batman could stand a slim chance of beating Superman (OK, well, not being killed immediately by him).

That said (spoiler alert if you haven't seen all the trailers), when we come to the big battle between Batman and Superman and the real monster of the piece, what ensues feels very generic and familiar. The creature itself looks like someone has tried to merge the face of Michael Shannon's General Zod onto the cave troll from the Lord of the Rings. It's pure fisticuffs, eye lasers and lassoes with nothing particularly new or inventive.

It's not just the final battle that felt familiar either. Many of the scenes involving Bruce Wayne (especially the flashbacks to his tragic past) felt like Zak Snyder had watched Batman Begins and then re-shot it scene for scene except with Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Lauren Cohan as Thomas and Martha Wayne. 

The biggest weakness for Dawn of Justice was for me its haphazard editing and the way the film seemed to jump too quickly from scene to scene, often without any apparent segway. Particularly early on in the movie, there is a lot of cutting back and forth between different characters and settings. Very few scenes last for more than a couple of minutes. On top of this, there are a lot of dream sequences that appear at first to be real and, rather than having the dramatic effect sought, just served to confuse me and my film-viewing companion.

Although Batman v Superman had a number of issues, I think many of its critics are going to have to accept they have "egg on their face" because Ben Affleck as Batman was really good in this new superhero flick. Zak Snyder is no fan of subtlety and many of the scenes with Clark and Lois felt over-dramatic and a tad camp (not that that is completely out of place in this kind of film) but I thought Ben Affleck captured well the tortured, disillusioned character of Bruce Wayne in a very understated way, using the acting skills that made him so good in Gone Girl.

I did genuinely enjoy the movie and not only the political story and Ben Affleck as Batman. Henry Cavill essentially is Superman, Jesse Eisenberg is a decent Lex Luther and Gal Gadot is pretty cool in the few scenes we see of her as Wonder Woman. I have moderately high hopes now for the Justice League film.

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