Friday, 25 March 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - Review / Initial Thoughts (CONTAINS SPOILERS)


I saw Batman v Superman a few hours ago. I thought I'd jot down some initial thoughts before eventually writing a more thorough review at a later date. This article will contain SPOILERS!!! BEWARE!!!!

Ben Affleck is perfect. He's very much Frank Miller's Batman for most of the film, but the way Bruce Wayne is distracted by Diana Prince at Luthor's party, and his subsequent almost-flirty encounters with her bring to mind Grant Morrison's "hairy chested love god". The first time you see Batman is amazing. He's clinging to the upper corner of a dark room, looking like a proper monster. He's terrifying, but in a more visceral, less theatrical way than his Bat-predecessors.

Henry Cavill has to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders for most of the film, and so doesn't have much to do except look sad. Despite this there are moments when the quiet, dignified strength he brought to Superman in Man of Steel is evident, particularly in his scenes with Amy Adams' Lois Lane. The bathtub scene at the start is wonderful, and it's a shame there wasn't space in the film for more happy, quiet scenes like this featuring Cavill and Adams.

Amy Adams is brilliant as Lois Lane, which is lucky as Lois gets lots to do. Lois gets rescued a lot and at one point is used as bait, but she's far from the damsel in distress. She plays an integral role in getting the two warring heroes to join forces. Everyone has been discussing #WhoWillWin in a fight between Superman & Batman, and in the end Lois Lane won! This is very important as Lois is the most human character in the whole film and she demonstrates, as she did in Man of Steel that human beings aren't passive observers in this battle between gods, they have agency too.

In a film packed with memorable performances Jesse Eisenberg stands out. Lex Luthor's "hmmm"s and chuckles and tics all point to a man sitting on a seething cauldron of spite and rage, who's barely able to contain it. At one point Luthor is delivering a friendly speech about his own philanthropy and towards the end of it he begins to trail off as if distracted by his own hate. It's a fantastic performance.

Gal Gadot is absolutely spot-on as Wonder Woman. For me, the moment she truly nailed it was when she fell back while battling Doomsday and gave a smile that showed how delighted she was to be facing a worthy adversary. Having said that, I would have liked to have seen the compassionate side of Diana depicted alongside the warrior aspect of her personality. For example, I expected to see her comforting Lois after the final battle and was rather surprised when she didn't.

Jeremy Irons' Alfred lacks the depth of Michael Caine's Alfred, but that's more due to a lack of screen time rather than any faults in Irons' performance. He's still entertainingly grumpy, two words that also describe Laurence Fishburne's Perry White quite nicely too.

The story had a lot going for it. I loved seeing Luthor's machinations come together. I loved how the film depicts the consequences of a super-hero appearing in a world that has no frame of reference for the concept. I loved Bruce's predictable yet satisfying character arc - from a battle worn and cynical soldier to a man who no longer believes that his dream of being carried by Batman into the light is a lie. I loved how Clark, Bruce, and Lex were all struggling with the same problem - how to live by (and with) the lessons taught to them by their parents, particularly their fathers.  I loved how Clark and Bruce found common ground in their mothers.

The tone of the film is quite gloomy, but it's also very OTT and packed with melodrama, which I felt kept everything nice and entertaining and saved it from being too depressing.

The film does have a few big flaws but they're flaws that I find myself torn over. If I wear my 'objective critic' hat I have to acknowledge that the foreshadowing of future films - the parademon nightmare, the Flash's warning from the future, the secret footage of Barry Allen, Aquaman, and Victor & Silas Stone - are all completely unnecessary and actually spoil the flow and coherence of the film. Bruce's nightmare shows us that Bruce is scared of Superman's power, but we already knew that, there's no need for a big dream sequence. The Flash's warning means nothing to your average cinema-goer and is completely irrelevant to the plot. Wonder Woman viewing the camera footage actually cuts into a major action scene and feels completely out of place.

BUT!

I completely lost my shit when I saw Barry appearing before Bruce shouting "Am I too soon?" It was one of the most exciting experiences as a fan that I've ever had in the cinema. Likewise, the security camera footage put a big smile on my face. There was something about that shot of Ezra Miller buying milk while preventing a robbery that screamed "THIS IS BARRY ALLEN" at me. Glimpsing Aquaman swimming at super-speed through the water was genuinely thrilling. And as for the Parademon nightmare, Batman looked damn cool in that duster.

The fan side of me loved these scenes and I was left wanting more. But I also firmly believe that a film must be able to stand alone as a work in its own right. Objectively speaking, those scenes are irrelevant to the story that the film is telling, they're essentially adverts for films that haven't been made yet. I have to acknowledge that as much as I enjoyed those scenes, the film would be tighter, pacier and more coherent without them. There's a reason Marvel do most of their foreshadowing in the post-credit scenes,

In conclusion (or TL:DR)

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice contains a bit too much fanwank to stand as a truly great film in it's own right, however the cast are very strong, and the characters are spot-on. It's basically just the story of three guys trying to deal with the lessons their parents taught them, except with monsters, and explosions, and Wonder Woman.

I loved every gloomy, noisy, melodramatic, over the top, second of it.

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