Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Batman vs. Superman

(Yes, there are spoilers here)

What a cool idea for a movie! What if, instead of yet another new villain, two of the good guys we know and love from multiple movies opposed each other instead? Awesome, right? Well ... not exactly.

First off, this Batman is a new interpretation of the character, 20 years into his crime fighting career. It's not a strict follow on to the Christian Bale Batman or the Michael Keaton Batman or the animated Batman or any other Batman that we know. The origin story is the same (we see it in the opening of the movie) but we don't see much about the decades since.

Superman is the Superman from Man of Steel so we have at least met him. It's not the traditional optimistic Superman though. He doesn't seem to have changed much since the last movie but people are building statues of him so he seems to be liked at least, if not loved.

The Prequel
I went back and watched Man of Steel again before seeing this movie. I had not watched it since it was in the theater and I wanted to refresh my memory of it. I like to think I am open to different interpretations of comic book superheroes because we get them all the time with different writers and artists and storylines anyway, not to mention when they jump to animation or live action shows or movies. This movie is definitely a different take on the Superman story. I'm OK with about the first half of it other than thinking Krypton looks pretty drab for an advanced society. The biggest break point for me is Superman's earth-dad, Johnathan Kent. In every other interpretation of Superman, Pa Kent is a classic midwest American farmer, an optimistic man who thinks his adopted son was sent here for a reason, to make a difference. In Man of Steel he debates out loud whether his son should have let a school bus full of children die to preserve his secret identity. This, the attitude of his earth dad, is the single biggest point of divergence in the movie and sets up a very different kind of Superman. Can you imagine the Christopher Reeve Pa Kent, Glenn Ford, having that conversation with his son? How about the Lois and Clark dad? How about Bo Duke as superman's dad in Smallville? How about the animated Superman dad? I can't. I thought the 90's were the decade of paranoia and government conspiracies in popular media and we get a sort of 90's take on the character here.

B vs. S
Moving on to the sequel, I'm fine with the general debate over can-the-super-powerful-alien-be-trusted - that's the kind of thing a comic book movie should examine! I'm fine with Batman having a problem with him, as within the context of the setting he has a decent case to be upset. So plot-wise I like the concept. The plot takes quite a while to develop. Normally I am fine with a movie taking time to set things up with the assumption that there is a big payoff in the end. That's where this movie starts to fail though.

We have machinations by Luthor, but we never really get an explanation of why. Why does Luthor want to do the things he does? It needs to be more than "he's crazy" because a) he's built a major corporate empire so something is working in that brain and b) we have other villains to cover "crazy". You chose Luthor to be the major driver behind this - tell us why! In the comic books his motivation is typically are either revenge or jealousy and I didn't get either of those from this movie.

Plot-wise we also have the problem of a bait and switch. Batman does take on Superman, and beats him! Then he's derailed by a really strange coincidence - not "strange" in that someone else in the world is named Martha but "strange" in the sense that that alone would break him out of a killing rage. I can accept it but it seems weak to me and that a little more effort should have been spent on this crucial turning point of the movie. It is critical, CRITICAL, to sell this moment, that after two hours of single-minded pursuit of the goal of ending Superman, the thing that turns them into allies needs to be 100% believable, and for me this level was not achieved and I find myself going with "well it is a movie" and rolling with it.

So we have two hours of driving towards a particular destination - the clash of Batman and Superman - which is resolved in one fight sequence. But we're not out of movie yet! We take a turn in a completely different direction where they are now allies and have a problem to solve and a new opponent to defeat. These last 20-30 minutes of the movie have very little to do with the rest of the plot. it feels like the result of a conversation along the lines of "we don't have enough fighting in here so what could we do for a big finale" - was "Batman vs. Superman" not enough?! Could you not make a movie that was exactly that and have a big finale? "Superman seems to be dead" was where things ended up anyway - could that not have been done through the promised confrontation?

The movie also has to set up the Justice League thing so somehow we end up with the origin of the  Avengers. That's right - several known heroes come together to stop a raging, seemingly unstoppable menace and decide to keep working together. That's exactly what we get here with Doomsday vs. our heroes. So nice job on that.


  • I like the idea of somewhat world-weary, cynical, Batman Year Twenty. He clearly doesn't care about some things anymore - the World's Greatest Detective sneaks off to plant a device in Luthor's tech room and gets seen by at least 3 people, one of whom beats him back to retrieve it. Bruce seems to care more about the punching than the sneaking at this point. He also seems pretty fine with using guns. Also remember when Bruce Wayne was supposed to be the lightweight cover identity, sort of the opposite of Batman? that's nowhere in sight here. Affleck plays him the same - "Batman" is just a costume, not a separate personality, and Bruce Wayne looks and acts like someone who's spent two decades on the police force, not as a billionaire playboy.
  • This Superman is just not something I like. I think Henry Cavil looks the part, I think the costume looks great, but the character is just not what I want or expect from Superman. For all the talk about "hope" he doesn't seem to have or inspire much. He's much more Thor on a bad day than traditional Superman here. I could take the cold superior Superman a little easier if there seemed to be much growth or change but I don't see it. Oh and the guest-appearance by his earth dad is once again completely wrong for the character: "I once did something heroic but it turned out that I hurt some other people and I had nightmares about it for years" - yeah, thanks dad, thanks for that little motivational moment. This character would be less damaged if the ship he arrived in had landed on dad than he is by having Costner-dad around giving him advice.     
  • Wonder Woman - well we don't get to know much about her. I like the attitude when she's fighting at the end, but that's about it.
  • Lois Lane - there's just not much here. I like Amy Adams, but I can't really think of anything distinctive about this Lois, and that's after two movies. Margot Kidder's Lois was memoriable, this one is not.
  • Alfred - does Alfred hate Bruce Wayne in this movie? He seems more like a disgruntled employee hanging on for his pension than a concerned parental figure. From Alan Napier to Michael Gough to Michael Caine I've been pretty happy with almost every portrayal of the butler but this one just doesn't seem to like much about what he's doing.
  • Luthor - I didn't hate the portrayal like I thought I would after the trailers but it is very different. That said, I could see a place for this version of Lex in the long run if they could back off of the crazy somewhat. "Eccentric evil genius" could work. Plus I need a motivation.
In the end, no I didn't like it as much as I wish I had. I could live with the plot hiccups if the characters were ... better. The characterizations were where it really fell down for me. yes, different interpretations and all but if you don't want to make a movie about the characters as they are best-known, why are you making a movie about Batman and Superman?

I saw some chatter online about how it would be cool if they were secretly making a Justice Lords movie and the more I thought about it, the more I like that idea. It would answer every complaint I have about the characters. Can't you see the Justice Lords Superman originating with the kind of dad he has in these movies? I can. Plus it would give some hope that at some point the "true" version of these characters are going to show up and set things right.

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