Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is Snyder’s muddled masterstroke

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Nutshell: Director Zach Snyder knows how to craft a scene to reach maximum audience reaction. With Batman v Superman, he builds up each superhero and then shows the cracks in the facade. But BvS suffers from too-much-itis; there’s a whole lot going on, and people who want an actual story may be disappointed. For those of us who just want to see our heroes on the big screen, and don’t mind wading through “what’s going on?” moments in order to get it? This serves as a kickass, albeit flawed, opening to the new DC movieverse. Grade: B-

“I’m saying there’s a cost.”  

NOTE: I won’t be spoiling anything that you haven’t already seen in trailers for this flick*.  Carry on.

Batfleck. Man of Steel.  There’s been a lot of back and forth about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, almost as soon as the film started production.  I’ve waffled about this film myself; part of me was totally pumped to see these two heroes together on the  big screen.  Another part of me cringed when I heard Ben Affleck deliver the line “Do you bleed?”  — seriously, they couldn’t have used a better voice modulator? On the whole though, I decided to wait and see, because this matchup sounded cool, because the comic book version of this story kicks all sorts of ass, and because this is the start of a whole Justice League series of films that proves the DC Universe has serious penis envy can toss product into the multiplex with the best of ’em. (In fact, Justice League: Part One hits theaters next November, with Wonder Woman aiming for a summer 2017 release.)

So now I’ve seen the film, in all its dusty, dark-hued glory.  And it ain’t bad.  No, I’m not gonna blow smoke up its ass and say it’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.  But as far as superhero films go, it’s got a whole lot of action, and a ton of cool special effects.  I’ll even go so far as to say that this story is better than Marvel’s Age of Ultron, the last multi-superhero film to hit theaters.  Why?  Because BvS is still cobbling together the ol’ JLA gang, so there’s still new superhero smell to be had.  And while there are several crazypants scenes of destruction here, at least this storyline isn’t crazy enough to tear a chunk out of the world.  There’s only Doomsday.  Y’know, between the two Doom seems relatively sane in comparison.  But more on that Big Bad in a minute.

Three years ago I said Man of Steel was about “75% style and 25% substance”, and the same can be said of BvS.  Well, Snyder’s consistent, I’ll give him that.  And I’ll say that he made a helluva watchable movie.  There’s a lot of eye candy here, and I’m not talking about the times both Bat and Kal-El go shirtless.  With BvS, Snyder takes iconic moments of DC canon and shoots them with his usual combo of darkness, grit and sepia.  But he takes an interesting turn by showing what one superhero’s heroic moment may be like for someone else.  Clark Kent fights General Zod while Metropolis crumbles, and Bruce Wayne sifts through the wreckage in the streets.  This is what happens on the sidelines of a superhero/supervillain throwdown, and it’s an amazing scene.  It also serves to get everyone in Batman’s headspace, because otherwise really; why in the world would anyone think Superman is anything other than super?

With BvS that answer is clear; anyone who has lost anyone as collateral damage.  Not only is this a particularly poignant message today, but it actually inadvertently serves as a warm-up to Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War and its themes of accountability and balance.  Apparently 2016 is the year when superhero movie fans have to meditate on what it truly means to have power.  Don’t worry; comic book readers have been digging into this issue — and arguing about it — for years.  We’re here for you, and we’ll hash that out again and again, as long as you’re buying.

Every superhero movie has to have a super Big Bad, and while the title of this film lets you know what the showcase throwdown will be, there are several other plot points along the way.  Let’s just say that there’s also Doomsday, a well-known baddie from the DCU, and perhaps one of the most powerful villains in comics. There’s a lot of tweaking of this super-bad, and anyone who’s seen this trailer knows Doomsday is a force to be reckoned with, regardless.  Hey, that’s just the villain to get Wonder Woman in on the action…

I’d dig into this a little deeper, but 1) spoilers darling, and 2) I really have no freaking idea what the hell the point of all of that was.  Okay hint: it all ties in, but damn if Snyder doesn’t make it tough to follow.  So tough he lost me several times, and I ended up simply watching the ADD-pacing of yet another battle scene.  It’s as if Snyder decided to re-write the old fastest-way chestnut to say that the fastest way from point A to point B is by taking as many alleys, misguided shortcuts, and looping narratives as possible.  And then tack on a few scenes with real-life cameos, don’t forget the dream sequences and flashbacks, now!  Yeah, it’s beautiful.  The art director should be applauded.  But all that glory doesn’t cover up the fact that Snyder doesn’t know what he’s doing when it comes to telling a coherent tale.  But bring the pain, baby!

As for Ben Affleck as Batman?  Do not let that one line in the trailer sour you.  Affleck does an admirable job of donning the cowl and cape, and the hints of silver in his hair and his world-weary eyes lend a post-“A Death in the Family” gravitas to the bat.  Plus, he holds his own alongside Jeremy Irons’ Alfred, which ain’t bad. Granted, as with Diana Prince, Alfred doesn’t have much to work with here.  But hey.

Henry Cavill is still a bit too polished as Superman — I much prefer his bespectacled Clark Kent — but now I kinda get that as a man from another planet, he’s got to have an air of the otherworldly about him.  And that he’s got.  Though during one scene where Clark is off on walkabout, I kept trying to figure out how in the world the Man of Steel would shave his stubble.  It’s a quibble.  And probably the best product placement ever.

Let’s take a moment and talk about Wonder Woman, shall we?  Becuase Gal Gadot is absolutely amazing.  Here in the Bat versus Supe show she’s second string, and Gadot’s  air of mystery and commanding presence made me wish she had more screen time.  Lord knows I could have done with a touch less brooding side-view shots of the guys.  But with the Wonder Woman movie hitting theaters next year, I’m guessing they’re saving the meaty backstory stuff for that.  Okay, while I’m talking about the lead woman in the film, I’ve gotta take a moment to mention Amy Adams, whose Lois Lane manages to humanize her man, while not only managing to have a life beyond pining for her caped crusader.  She’s as badass as a human without a batarang can be.

Yeah, Batman v Superman is choppy as hell.  Yeah, it’s hard to follow sometimes, and the easy-to-guess plotline is often a welcome relief because of all the crazy.  What amps up in a trailer soon turns to muddled mush as the minutes and hours tick by.  Still, for opening up the wide world of the DC Universe even for just a small peek?  It’s a cool ride.  A messy, convoluted, crazy ride, but if you’re down with the superhero jam, you won’t want to miss it.  With other directors taking the helm for other Justice League films in future, I’m not too worried that Snyder will bring his addled storytelling brain to wreak havoc on more heroes.  But it’s a shame he brought so little circumstance to all this high-quality pomp.

*One sorta-spoiler: ZOMG Aquaman y’all!  Okay, so this has been teased a bit online, which makes me feel a little better.  But I can’t help myself, I had to share.  The brief footage of The King of the Seven Seas was worth the price of admission for me.  (Yeah, I got in free. So?)  Jason Momoa looks absolutely, 100% perfect in the role, and I can’t wait until Aquaman in 2018.

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