Wednesday 30 March 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016)

It's been hard to avoid the hype machine for Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice (forthwith known as BvS for the purposes of this review). Ever since initial announcements were made, to either applause or sneers, or both, there has been an almost steady, grinding inevitability to viewing this superhero battle. A sense that Warner Bros. have placed us all on a conveyor belt that they alone have been operating, with the end drop either leading to a fiery hell or cool oasis, depending on your general view of the DC properties and their plan to rival Marvel on the big screen. And if you don't LOVE this one, well that is okay, because don't forget that Suicide Squad will be along soon enough, as well as a Wonder Woman movie (which, based on the impression made by the character in this movie, could be a very good thing indeed - but that will come later).

This is a movie that apparently garnered such a positive reception at the screening for certain studio execs that new Batman Ben Affleck was immediately signed on for more movies and everyone started to simply look at their about-to-soar stock shares whenever their partners were unable to bring them to orgasm. That last bit is untrue. Of course. But I have to state the untrueness of it . . . . . . . just in case.

And then it was released. Audiences were good. Ticket sales seemed in line with the predictions. And critics unleashed a large selection of reviews that seemed to come perilously close to calling this a big, fat turkey. Articles started to appear in support of the movie. Many articles started to appear that tried picking apart just what it got wrong. And a perceived divide between critics and audiences seemed to widen. But was that really the case? It's far too early to decide whether or not this film will end up proving to be a bit of a financial disappointment, compared simply to what Warner Bros. are obviously expecting from it, but I've heard from very few people who unequivocally loved it. Do we regular cinema-goers invest that little bit more just because we've already invested our money in a ticket? I actually suspect that we do. Pair that up with the growing feeling that many critics have in the internet age, that they're becoming less and less necessary in a world in which quotes can be culled from blogs (I know, I know, I guess I may well be part of the problem) and Twitter alike, and you can start to appreciate why it is probably easier for critics to either lambast a film or heap great praise upon it. They're seeing it for free, and we live in a world that demands more and more hyperbole to grab attention amidst the vast material adrift in cyberspace.

Anyway, let's get to the film itself.

The title really tells you everything you need to know. Henry Cavill is back in the role of Superman, Amy Adams also returns as Lois Lane, and Ben Affleck is a certain Gotham resident. During the events that took place at the climax of Man Of Steel, Bruce Wayne saw many innocent bystanders die. He decides that Superman is a powerful threat. And many others start to agree with him, leading to debates about power and morality. Oh, and Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) plans to pit the two heroes against one another. And Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is on the scene. And a few other familiar characters, giving fleeting cameos. Which just about covers everything, apart from the inclusion of one more major element, featured in the trailers. Doomsday.

I'd better start by clarifying that I didn't love Man Of Steel (please see the review hyperlinked above). As much as I often like the work of Zack Snyder - and, believe me, I am one of the few who enjoyed Sucker Punch - I think that he fundamentally misunderstood just what makes Superman so super. Henry Cavill was superb in the main role, and he continues to be superb this time around. But there was certainly a lot of room for improvement.

The good news is that BvS DOES hold up as a move in the right direction. There are some interesting themes and ideas in the mix, with one or two moments of dialogue nicely summing up the different views of the main characters. Visually, it's a slightly brighter film than Man Of Steel, certainly when it comes to Superman himself and the scenes that show Metropolis not in any immediate danger. And most of the newcomers do themselves proud. Ben Affleck is fine as Bruce Wayne/Batman but I'd still put him just below both Keaton and Bale. Jeremy Irons is a wonderful Alfred. Gal Gadot doesn't get too much to do, but she does well enough with what she's given.

The action scenes are also pretty well done, with the main event being the unsurprising highlight of the film. It's a shame that the climax goes down the overblown, overly-CGI route (although it's still not as ineffective and ultimately dull as the videogame that made up the grand finale of Avengers: Age Of Ultron). And it's all grounded quite nicely, which is pleasantly unexpected, considering the characters being portrayed.

Now let me get to the bad stuff.

Snyder seems to continue misunderstanding the main character, with the additional damage caused by him also now misunderstanding Batman. Perhaps it's best to blame the writers (Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer) but Snyder has always seemed to be a director able to put his vision directly on to the screen, and this time around his vision jars when set against the long history of these characters in comic book form. It's easier to forgive this time, however, as viewers should be able to accept a little bit of "fudging of the details" to line things up for the battle and the cinematic growth of this universe. There's certainly nothing here as bad as the major mis-step that many people criticised in Man Of Steel, and the fact that it uses the end of that movie as a developmental stepping stone almost makes me re-evaluate my opinion of it. Almost.

The bigger problem comes from some of the casting. I like Jesse Eisenberg. I've often REALLY liked him onscreen. And I think he's the absolutely worst Lex Luthor in the history of onscreen Lex Luthors. There's no way around it. His motives are murky, at best. His mannerisms are ridiculously over-emphatic. And a weak villain unbalances any standard "good vs evil" tale. Ezra Miller may only be seen for less than a minute, but that's some casting that I can't get behind (see the movie to see who he is portraying). And then you have Kevin Costner and Diane Lane. They're not bad here, but their presence feels unnecessary, as if they've been shoehorned in just to keep the cast prestigious enough. Which isn't necessary when you have a couple of scenes featuring Holly Hunter reminding people how great Holly Hunter can be.

Last, but by no means least, we have the editing. Despite the runtime, the pacing isn't really a problem here, but there are some unnecessary sequences that I couldn't help thinking would have been better left on the cutting-room floor. One dream sequence too many is mildly irritating, but using one dream as a potential prophecy/warning is downright lazy.

Despite the flaws here, I decided to be generous to BvS. It actually does everything that it sets out to do. Comparing it to other movies isn't always going to leave it in the best light, but that isn't always going to be fair either (particularly when comparing it to any of the now-well-established Marvel outings). This is an impressive blockbuster. It's got some great imagery, with a sequence set during a Day Of The Dead celebration standing out as a personal favourite, it's got one or two ingredients too many being stirred into a big pot, and it's got a handful of small delights in pretty much every sequence. Considering what Snyder was tasked with, it's hard to think of a final product ticking as many boxes as this one does.

And it's got plenty of people excited for the upcoming Wonder Woman movie. Which can't be a bad thing.