Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Batman vs Superman

Of course, SPOILERS follow.

Ok, so, here goes my second film review. Having seen the film twice now, I feel I am ready to work my way through it. Perhaps I should do this for any film I review, since at the second viewing I often find myself more relaxed and able to take everything in. In any case, before I get into it, I want to make a statement: if you know me, you know I am far more of a Batman fan than a Superman one. I won’t go to deeply into the reasons here; suffice it to say that I just feel that Superman is often not an interesting character. So, this may have coloured my impressions slightly.

I’ll start with some objections to the film that I have read, and then talk about some of the things that I liked.

One of the common ones, and my least favourite, is that the film isn’t funny enough. I knew going in that it was going to be a more serious film than other contemporary super hero blockbusters, influenced by the style Nolan became famous for in his trilogy. I am okay with this. I think that Batman as a character lends himself well to that world, and doesn’t need to be played for laughs. I’m prepared to sink into the seedy underbelly of Gotham. After all, it’s why Batman exists. Superman, on the other hand: I can see why Superfans are less loving of the darker take on the Man of Steel, but I think it’s a logical one to take if the ‘realism’ of what would happen in a world containing such men is to be explored. That’s what DC set out to do, and it makes for a lot of thoughtful cinema.

(NB: if it’s humour you want, the Lego Batman film, due out next year, looks like it could be just the ticket. And don’t mention the Suicide Squad reshoots. Grrr.)

Another objection, which I have touched on above, is that the film is not a true representation of the characters. While the Batman in the film is very close to some of the interpretations in comic form that I have read, I can see that, again, Superman is less so. However, I don’t think the way that they have gone about interpreting the character is inauthentic. The examination of the pair again comes from a desire to explore the way that having these events, powers, and abilities play out in ‘real life’ would affect the men and women involved. And of course, the characters themselves are always evolving, always there to be reimagined and reworked. In this sense, I feel that the movie does a good job.

Kevin Smith commented that the movie had no heart, later saying that the heart was to be found in the viewer of the movie. Now, when it comes to comics and movies, Kevin knows his shit, but it’s hard to define heart in an objective way. I think perhaps he meant that the movie didn’t pull you in, in an emotional sense, didn’t really connect you to the characters. I am not so sure about this. I have never really felt connected to Superman, but I felt for him in this film, in the sense that emotionally and mentally, he is a normal man, but the expectations on him are so large because of his physical powers. Even when he tries to do the right thing, he is criticised. And he has to control himself every day, all the time, while subject to taunts and vitriol, because the slightest flash of anger could kill.

I also understood Bruce Wayne’s point of view, his sense of fatigue after years of fighting crime, losing friends, seeing good men go bad; he sees a new threat, so immensely dangerous and powerful, and he is compelled to act. His anger, his motivation, is understandable, and so is the fact that by the end of the film, he sees Clark Kent for what he is: a man struggling with the responsibility he’s been given. The friendship and understanding between these two men is at the core of the Justice League, which of course this movie leads into.

I’ll comment on the JL tie-ins here, because I know some people felt they were shoehorned, that the movie was trying too hard, packing too much in. That the footage of the other characters was little more than an advert. I disagree with this. I think the tie in to the LexCorp research is logical, and fits with what we saw of Lex Luthor. It was a nice little teaser to the stand-alone movies. Admittedly, DC has been forced to play catch up when it comes to the JL movies, but I feel like as long as they focus on the core of their characters without worrying too much about what Marvel are doing, they’ll do a good job.

The Knightmare sequence, which it has been suggested may be a timeboom rather than a dream, I thought was excellent. The action was good and visually, it worked. It tied in with Bruce’s fears about Superman, while hinting at worse things to come. Sure, if it hadn’t been in the movie, it wouldn’t have made much difference to the storyline, but I like the aesthetic and the foreshadowing of bigger, badder things to come.

In terms of the acting, Henry Cavill was solid, and I really liked Eisenberg’s turn as Lex Luthor. Amy Adams made me like Lois Lane more than I usually do, and Jeremy Irons might just be my favourite Alfred so far. Gal Gadot was excellent as Wonder Woman (and as Diana Prince); she managed to convey the confidence and cool of a woman who’s seen it all and then some, showing determination and even amusement in the fight with Doomsday. It’s good to see a strong female superhero.

Now, I was one of those who bitched and whined when I heard about the decision to cast Affleck as Batman, and I have to say, I was wrong. After thinking about it, post rant, I realised I’d been wrong before, about Bale, about Ledger, and so I scaled back the nerd rage and decided to give the man a chance. And he didn’t disappoint. I really like the way he captured the anger and intensity of a Batman who’s right in the grey area between hero and desperado. I liked the batsuit, too, and the way he moved when wearing it.

Doomsday as a character is not really worth saying much about. He is a gigantic monster, a foil for the big three to rally against. He served his purpose well enough, roaring and spitting lightning. As for the death of Supes: I get that it was needed, I get that it shows the true nature of the threat, it ties in to the comic, and it provides a focal point for the rallying of the Justice League. At the same time, it was hard to feel too sad, because we all know he’s coming back. However, perhaps the manner of his return will be important in a future movie. Let’s wait and see.

One thing I didn’t like about the film was trailer fatigue. We saw way too much in the trailers, and there weren’t too many surprises held back. There weren’t many wow moments. This is a shame. It would have been a good idea to keep Doomsday or even Wonder Woman a secret; as it was, there weren’t many moments when I went ‘whoa’, or ‘that was totally unexpected and cool’. The bomb in the wheelchair was perhaps the biggest one.

I was also worried about seeing Batman’s origin again, but it tied in well with the later connection to Martha Kent, and the thing that made Bruce see Clark as a man. I think this made sense in the context of the development of the relationship between the two, which I have touched on already.

The action sequences were good. The movie was Batman-heavy in that regard, which is a plus in my book. The Batmobile chase scene was exciting and inventive, and even addressed a key weakness of the car raised in The Dark Knight. The warehouse scene was excellent, without a doubt one of the best Batman action sequences seen on film, and the type of thing I love. The ruthlessness and brutality of Batman, along with his innovative and relentless fighting style, were fantastic. The battle between the heroes and Doomsday was good, as much as for seeing Wonder Woman in action as for anything else. Batman diving around trying to avoid being squashed was also kind of funny. The title bout was good, quite well done given the ultimate problem of any fight between the two, but I did feel it could have been more grandiose. Maybe I was expecting it to be too much like The Dark Knight Returns, which is a great comic, and a definite inspiration, but not the sum total of what the movie was aiming to be.

So, overall, how do I rate this film? It’s hard to know how well it will stand up over time, but I can see myself watching it again once every few years. I wasn’t blown away, but I did enjoy it, and I like the action, the aesthetics, and the way it sets up for things to come. Therefore, I give it a 7 out of 10.