“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” just might be the world’s most expensive Rorschach test. Everyone that comes out of this movie sees something different. It’s been downright fascinating to watch it unfold… And somewhat puzzling, because I’ve never seen such emotion attached to a single film. Like, this one movie is going to end world hunger, create world peace, and cure cancer… and aids… and herpes too. And, anything less than all of those things is a disappointment.
Perhaps, it’s the connection that people feel to these characters. What they represent in our lives gets read on to them. We trust these characters, whether in comics or film, to take our baggage, our fears, our anxieties. This goes deep. However, with these particular characters also being attached to a big giant capitalistic machine like Hollywood, it ALSO has to do the job of making a lot of money.
That’s why I’m so surprised by the fact that, for a big tent pole action film, it’s risky. It’s probably the most thematically ambitious superhero film I’ve ever seen. However, I’d say that it fulfills those ambitions to varying (a keyword here) degrees of success. As a result, the film is big, grandiose, undeniably messy, yet utterly fascinating to watch. But, it is also unquestionably flawed. Flawed in ways that I don’t believe damages the film seriously… But, I do believe these flaws are indicative of the dual purposes of this film’s existence, and how it never quite reaches greatness.
First, the most glaring problem is editing. A good chunk of the film lacks a narrative flow. There’s no connective tissue to glue these scenes together. So, while watching it go on, it literally just seems like “this happens, and then this happens, and then this happens, and then this happens.” See the problem? All of these things, yet the flow isn’t there. They just happen. Scenes are just dropped anywhere, seemingly at random. This made it a bit difficult to figure out the rhythm of the film for at least the 2nd act. Now for me, this would only be serious damage to the film if the events happening were confusing and didn’t make sense, but I never felt confused. I always felt like I knew what was happening, and why it was happening.
This is where you’re introduced to a lot of subplots and characters at a very very rapid speed. The film never gives any space for these things to breathe. It’s a very very stuffed film. I think this is the single biggest narrative failing of the movie. By placing focus on ALL of these stories in one film, we can’t explore them as thoroughly as we’d like. There’s a general feeling of unfocus for the first two thirds that doesn’t dissipate until we’re into the third act. Which is especially a shame, because this film tries to tackle some very complex ideas.
What I admired the most about the film is its willingness to ask hard questions about these characters, and its refusal to give easy answers. Superman is tasked with understanding how the world perceives him while dealing with the consequences of trying to do the right thing. Batman, in his rage and cynical state of mind, becomes the kind of criminals he swore to fight. Each main character in the film represents a sort of cultural mood and point of view.
This Batman is the best one I’ve seen on film. Ben Affleck’s take on him is completely spot-on. Of all the characters in the film, I feel like I can hook into his mind and his motivations the most. Affleck is really the first actor I’ve seen be able to effectively play both Batman and Bruce Wayne. It’s a very brutal Batman, one that reminds me of Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Rises”. We’re seeing a more aggressive Batman, one that in the wake of an incredible amount of personal loss, retreats deeper into paranoia and anger. This is a take on the character I’ve always wanted to see.
I think Henry Cavill plays a Superman that is still trying to figure himself out. I do wish more of the film centered around him. I wanted to feel the weight and enormity of his very being, and the film stubbornly keeps him at arms length, preventing me from doing so. Upon further thought, I view this as an intentional choice. It puts us in the mind frame of the humans that inhabit this world, and makes us understand the distrust many are feeling towards Superman.
Which brings me to Jesse Eisenberg’s take on Lex Luthor… Look… I loved his take. I’m not even gonna lie. I thought his take on the character was really unhinged and creepy in a good way. Although, this is CLEARLY a matter of taste, because it seems like everyone is coming at this character differently. But for me, a lot of my favorite scenes in the film involve him. I think he brings an energy to the role that it has never had before. I think that there is somewhat of an issue with character motivations, specifically involving Luthor. I feel as though I wanted to know more about his intentions.
It’s interesting, because so much of this film is about the very nature of mythologizing and deification. I think that’s the thematic core of the film. Humans can choose to believe or tnot believe in a supreme being. But, what if we actually gain access to the knowledge that God is actually real? How would that change society? Would humanity ever be the same? I think this idea gets teased repeatedly in the film as characters try to grapple with a post-Superman world. Again, I don’t think these ideas are explored very thoroughly, again the main narrative failing of the film.
Well, that and what I complain about in every almost comic book movie as of late… REFERENCES AND SET-UPS!!!! This is ubiquitous in the subgenre… “Avengers: Age of Ultron”… “Amazing Spider-Man 2″… “Iron Man 2″… So much time spent setting up films that aren’t the one we’re currently watching. I have a particular beef with that, because it’s fucking presumptuous… It presumes that the movie will be successful enough to get a sequel, and it presumes that we, the audience, want to see it… Which is irritating to me. It’s no different here. The “Justice League” gets teased, but they get teased so randomly, it stands in stark contrast to the rest of the film. There’s one particular sequence, a dream sequence, that is such a moment of “what-the-fuckery”, that it totally could’ve been excised from the film entirely, and we wouldn’t have lost anything at all.
As you can probably tell, I’m not mentioning the things that you already know are good… The visuals. Zack Snyder, for all his failings as a storyteller, is INCREDIBLE with visuals. Right at the start of the film, the way he shoots and edits Bruce’s origin (yes, we see it again) makes it feel more horrifying and tragic than it has EVER felt. And, the action scenes really hit you in the gut. You feel every punch. This is especially true for the much-hyped fight between Batman and Superman, which was…. AWESOME. There’s one sequence where Batman is taking down a warehouse full of guys that so represents the kind of combat I’ve always wanted to see from Batman. He’s a straight-up brawler, which is different pretty much every other iteration of the character.
Speaking of awesome, Wonder Woman. She’s a badass. Her scenes, whether in costume or not, are moments when the film especially pops. But, you expected that. Let me bring up another character that probably won’t get the shine Wonder Woman is getting, and that’s Lois Lane, as played by Amy Adams. Her character is strong because she’s portrayed as capable and smart, in stark contrast to a lot of other films treating their women as scenery. Such is not the case here, and it’s quite frankly refreshing.
The film is, admittedly, a bit of a mess narratively speaking. But, frankly this film excites me because of how ambitious it is. It’s, like I said in my opening paragraph, a Rorschach test… One in which I see a superhero film that hits more than it misses… One that makes me happy that different tonalities can exist in comic book films. One that, while very flawed, goes-for-broke visually and thematically. In a safe and unchallenging world of entertainment, I respect the films that actually takes risks. “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”, to my surprise, does.
SCORE: 7.5 (out of 10)