Thursday, March 31, 2016

Batman v Superman: Snyder's Super-Anti-Heroes

If there's one thing we know about Zack Snyder, it's that his movies are filled with top-notch CGI, tons of slow-mo, IMAX camera work, and are supremely dark, sometimes just for the sake of darkness.

Mr. Snyder's latest, Batman v Superman, is no exception. It appears, based on the largely negative response from the critics, that people in some circles are growing tired of his continued insistence on delving into the grimdark side of what comic book movies can be - and I don't quite blame them. I mean, just look at the other major DC adaptation series, the Arrowverse, which is (other than its parent series) beloved for being exactly the anti-Snyder - lighthearted, full of humor and action, and knowing exactly when to turn the emotional dial up to eleven.

“Ice Cream!!!”
@melissabenoist @grantgust @supergirlofficial @cwtheflash 
#supergirl #theflash #melissabenoist #grantgustin #karazorel #barryallen #lordmesaart #mangastudioex5
And also, ice cream sweetness for Lord Mesa to put in his artwork.

So, going into this movie, I expected something a little more Nolan-esque, but with far more fantasy elements involved because, well, Superman. I've seen Man of Steel maybe one and a half times (I sort of remember giving up halfway through it the first time, because at the time, I really had no idea how Superman worked, but later I learned that Snyder took a much darker turn to deconstruct the mythos of this hero, allowing me to appreciate his movie better the second time around.) Thankfully, I didn't have to remember too much of that movie for this sequel, especially given that BvS begins with a different side of events during the Supes/Zod battle over Metropolis. First off, holy freaking crap, I forgot just how destructive that was...and second off, through Bruce Wayne's eyes, we get to see some human casualties, and Bruce actually does what he can to help people stuck in the ruins of his Metropolis office. (Wait, he has a Metropolis office? And wait again - Bruce is being a hero today instead of Batman? Well, desperate times and all that.) This scene helps establish that we're watching not so much Superman's movie as Batman's, so naturally, Snyder uses this as a chance to turn up the darkness.

And the hellfire. Please don't forget that.

Our two title characters' primary antagonist is Lex Luthor, here played by Jesse Eisenberg. Like many of the casting choices in this movie, Eisenberg was immediately criticized by fans, only to later turn out to be shockingly good. While still polarizing, Eisenberg's Lex Luthor still makes a profound impact, if only for his over-the-top (and, quite often, legitimately creepy) performance. His Lex Luthor doesn't borrow from that of Michael Rosenbaum on Smallville (the only other Lex Luthor I've yet seen - I've never really been in Superman fandom, so I've never seen any of the old movies, or even Superman Returns), but instead, Eisenberg combines elements of the Joker and Erich Blunt, the software engineer played by Tom Felton (yes, THAT Tom Felton!) on Murder in the First. You know, right away, that he's a seriously messed-up dude, because as much as he wants to come across as fun and friendly, he just plain overdoes it. I'm especially looking at the scene where he makes his demands regarding a big hunk of kryptonite recently found in the Indian Ocean, and feeds this government-bureaucrat type dude a piece of candy in the process. Also, there's the part where he invites Holly Hunter's character, Senator Finch (R-KY - I'm assuming she's Republican, anyway, but she seems far more well-adjusted and rational than most in that party these days) into his study, which looks like something straight out of Hannibal in its opulence and adornment with a freakishly Biblical painting of angels and demons. (Luthor turns the painting upside down, to make it appear that the demons come from the heavens.) All in all, he's basically a great big upstart, wanting so badly to make a name for himself but not entirely possessed of the charisma to back up his goals - and therein lies the source of his imminent psychosis.

Trick or treat! Gimme all the Jolly Ranchers!

Also on the side of good, though, is Wonder Woman. Eagerly awaited, and for good reason, she's presented here as a sort of DC analogue to Black Widow in that she starts out looking like a seemingly innocuous - if quite glamorous - side character, only for her secret past to be very slowly revealed. And then cometh the ass-kicking (complete with a rocking leitmotif that I need on my iPod!) as we learn just how much of an Action Girl this demigoddess truly is.

Bats: She with you?
Supes: I thought she was with you!

Not to mention, now that Wonder Woman's here, soon the rest of the Justice League will follow. And luckily, we get a bit of video footage of three of them in one scene in this movie. Jason Momoa's Aquaman is every bit as dangerous and awesome as he should be (no longer shall that character be such a joke in the fandom!) and while Cyborg's cameo footage focused more on Silas Stone, we at least still got to see the beginnings of Victor's partially-robotified self. Sadly, Ezra Miller failed to impress either me or my friend in his version of Barry Allen - particularly because we only got to see him in his civilian life, forced to use his powers to foil a convenience-store robbery while he's out buying milk. (Possible Amazing Spider-Man reference? Or am I just looking too hard?) In any case, my friend prefers the classic Flash, Jay Garrick, and really loves Teddy Sears' performance on the CW series. And as for me, well, there's really no beating Grant Gustin, because just like Andrew Garfield is Spider-Man for me, Gustin is The Flash, and I'm thinking I won't enjoy Miller's interpretation of the character nearly as much. Knowing that we're not getting either of the Arrowverse versions of the character in the DCEU is just plain sucky, especially compared to Marvel's live-action ABC and Netflix series, which are all explicitly part of the cinematic universe. And when you take into account that the Arrowverse also is explicitly a multiverse, and that Earth-2 Barry has Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and Batman on speed dial, it sucks even more that they're keeping 'em separated.

Tell me about it, Ramon. :)

Overall, this is perhaps the most operatic superhero movie since maybe Snyder's earlier opus, Watchmen. It's tons darker than any of its Marvel competitors, and it's full of destruction and psychosis and emotional torture to its characters. It's also very long, so there are a few moments where the action devolves into something less exhilarating and more numbing and fatiguing (although usually, there's another big shocking set piece not long afterwards to make the viewer sit up and take notice - I won't spoil the biggest one, but let's just say if you scream out loud when it happens, I won't blame you.) So, unlike many Marvel movies, there's really not much room to feel any feels - although one major death at the end made me tear up just a bit, and I swear I heard at least one little kid ugly-crying a few rows ahead.

For all the negativity this movie's gotten, though, it's no slouch in the acting, writing, directing, music, or visual departments. So, while it's often quite flawed, and I can't say whether or not I'll ever see it again (except maybe with my dad if he's interested in checking out the DVD), I will hereby bestow upon Batman v Superman a grade of B, for "Batman." (No, seriously, he - and, by extension, Ben Affleck - was the real top hero of the movie, and don't let anyone forget it!)

Till next time, Pinecones...

Remember - Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

Oh, and one more stray (and slightly spoiler-y) observation...

Goddammit, Jared Leto.

That part where we saw the vandalized remains of the Robin suit, foreshadowing the Joker's appearance in Suicide Squad this summer...that was the most painful part of the movie for me, because instead of seeing that, I could instead see what it must have looked like when Bruce grieved for his lost kid. What can I say? Writing no less than four past and/or present incarnations of Robin into my Spidey & Speedy fanfics has made me feel very protective of these guys, I guess.

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