DCMU 2: Batman vs Superman - Dawn of Justice
NO SPOILER REVIEW
Most films are part of the landscape of popular culture that simply passes by as you move through life, but some movies are so much more. There are films that speak to people on such a basic level that individuals have dreamt of them long before any actual film was ever a serious discussion to be made let alone released. There are films that have played in people's minds a thousand ways as they hope for it to actually one day get made. Star Wars was one such film. Over the decades before Phantom Menace, the idea of a new Star Wars film fueled fan-dreams.
DCMU 2 : Batman vs Superman is also one of those kinds of films. A personal movie, dreamed of by children, by adults, by fans, dreamed by me but I do not think anyone, including myself, was ever salivating for a "Batman vs Superman" story. We were near rabid over the idea of seeing these character alive on screen, though. When comic fans dream of comic book films they really dream of the characters, the actual films themselves could be anything and nowadays they often also promise so much more than a single movie. Much anticipation is more to do with the idea of what is coming after the film than the film itself. So the pressure on this film is tremendous, not just in the normal way that a film of this size gets pressured, but because it is attempting to launch something so much larger, and it is this, the idea of a DCMU that the fans are really dreaming of.
BvS has many problems which are indicative of this new style of narrative, the shared universe. The movie is pulling so many parts from so many different locations while at the same time trying to construct a future which the actual film you are watching is not even about. So like most comic book movies the film is a mess of loosely interconnected threads all vying for screen time, with none getting the attention it deserves. This is Age of Ultron all over again, all the same, mistakes.
While the movie gets so much right, there are structural problems with how it is made that must fall squarely on the director and the editor. The most glaring problem is the seemingly disconnected scene by scene assembly of the movie. There is no flow of the narrative from one scene to the next, instead, we are left with what feels like a series of independent scenes walled off from the next. It reminded me a little of how a comedy sketch show works. Each scene from a given act could be cut and moved around with little effect on the outcome. This could be one of the worst examples of horrid editing I have seen in a big blockbuster in a long time. BvS simply fails to follow the tried and tested rules of film language and as a result, we see a series of the book ended sequences that produce no feeling of pacing and most importantly of all completely fails to convey the plot of the film itself. This failure, probably in the scripting itself but definitely in the editing is especially galling due to the fight sequences being superbly constructed.
The biggest surprise in the film for me was the performance of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. It really stands out as not only one of the best performances in the entirety of DC films and easily the best representation of Lex outside of the comics, but also a great example of what I believe is a core idea in the DCMU and DC in general.
DC is all about a concept called the multiverse. Each verse or "earth" completely different, yet the same, there is no "Lex Luthor" or "Batman" in DC, not in the kind of defined way you see at other publishers. For me, this is one of the towering reasons why DC is so fantastic, as artists have the freedom to play with ideas and concepts without the rigid conformity that you find at other publishers which can restrict imaginative writing.
The DCMU's Lex is a great example of this idea working extremely well. He is Lex, there is no doubt of that, he is absolutely recognisable. He is artfully brought to life by the actor, and yet he is something new. Something that pulls interest and discovery from the viewer, rather than them sitting in the theater with a bingo sheet ready to cry "Lex" after all the dots get filled. The entire DCMU character list is built in this way to varying degrees of susses. WB's attempt to create real characters on the screen is a bold and intelligent move which creates a far more interesting texture to the movie. After all, when your characters are 80 years old, there is no "real" version, it just depends on what period the fans are looking at. BvS for all its faults has more going on with the characters than most other movies of its type.
The tone of the film is bang on as well. It is no secret that I prefer the darker side of comics and it is a joy for me to see the DCMU continuing to be darker than its peers. I'm not interested in a DCMU that looks and feels like a cartoon, there is enough of that around and even at its best I dislike it. In the comic books, blood flows with violence and madness upon every page. I see no reasoning that compels me to believe that when these comics turn into films they should suddenly become light-hearted half comedy adventures unless the comic itself is one. There is already a very popular location to find the watered down children versions of comics, Saturday morning cartoons. The look and emotional tone of BvS are nearly perfect, only hampered by the fact that there isn't the emotional core in the writing to give it a better sense of reality.
Batman is particularly well done tonally and to my mind is the definitive Batman of film, though on a personal level I think he could have had a little more "crazy" peppered in Mad Max style. Even so his look and Affleck's performance as Bruce Wayne is another highlight for me even though I was surprised at how much of the film Batman takes up, regulating Superman into a near side character. That is not to say that Batman purists will not have a lot to complain about with this more brutal and angry Batman but like Lex the Batman of this film is an actual character to be discovered and I am completely sold, on not only the performance but on this DCMU version Batman itself.
Wonder Woman's role in the film is fun for every moment she is on screen even though her presence is small and ultimately unnecessary, as far as the story is concerned. She is a world building element for the future of the franchise and could easily be removed from the movie entirely along with Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg. This is a problem all current comic book films have. The derailing of the films story and focus by bringing in threads that are not in any way relevant is among some of the greatest reasons that many of these films completely fail in so many ways. Brevity is the sign of a great plot. All the greatest books and films are streamlined and focused, but the very conceptual idea of the future movie tie-in produces a bloated sore upon each comic book film's storytelling. Yet, as I was saying at the start, they are ultimately necessary as the viewers are invested in the next film and beyond, sometimes more invested than they are of the film that they are currently watching. So these building scenes are greatly loved by the fans and appear as sweet spots during the movie even though they are largely responsible for the failure of the narrative as a whole, not just in this movie but in almost all modern comic book films.
BvS is far from the worst film to be released among the modern comic book movies, but it is also far from the best. I would say out of the collection of Disney, WB and Sony movies containing the property of DC and Marvel, BvS is in firmly in the middle of the awesome scale. It isn't terrible, nor is it great. The action is fantastic, its tone is perfect and it contains some great characterisations of some of my favorite characters of all time. The plot, once you decipher it from the loose connective tissue holding everything together is in fact very good. It is a real shame the pacing and execution of this film nearly completely obscure the terrific ideas behind it. It has some amazing imagery and there is no doubt seeing the DC Trinity in action was as great as we always imagined.
This film's greatest draw was the power of the icons within it, and this is also its greatest detractor. For a film like this, nothing short of a masterpiece would be satisfying and there will be a huge backlash upon this film not so much for the many things it got wrong, but also for the fact that, to put it plainly, it's just disappointing. The excellent moments, the great visual style, the performances, and superb action sequences are crippled by horrible editing, a jilted pacing, and convolution through story commitment to the films yet to come.
There was a great film in here somewhere, but it was just not on the screen. Yet somehow I fail to care. There is so much right going on here, and so much to look forward to in the future that a bad, not terrible, film is little more than a speed bump to me. I'd still prefer to watch this film again over many of the other films that have come out in this genre.
VERDICT : Must Watch for fans, worth checking out for everyone else, maybe.
I'll make a spoiler version of this post a little latter after Batman vs Superman has run for a while. There are many ideas that deserve closer attention and discussion which will require spoilers to be dissected.
(Probably should get around to this.. at some point.. but long story short.. the Ultimate Edition is a LOT better and fixes many of the problems I had with the Theatrical Cut, there is no reason to ever watch another version than the Ultimate Edition.)