This post is the unedited copy of the review published in Mag the Weekly on 1st April 2016.
Damn the Kaboom! Titans Clash…Without Much Sense.
By Mohammad Kamran Jawaid
At the pivotal, poster-image of the ‘technically’ first cinematic meeting of Superman and Batman, found at the center point of the Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, (the part where Batman tries to run Superman over with his Batmobile), the dark knight asks a necessitous question: Does the man of steel bleed? A far more pertinent remark, at least to the viewer, would have been: Do you know your comic book history?
Bummer, if you don’t.
In a market – television, film, the internet – so needlessly overflowing with superhero fatigue, Batman V Superman (BvS) is ‘only’ the second title of the new ‘DC Cinematic Universe’ (the first one was the Man of Steel) – a place, at least movie-wise, where Superman, Batman, and in this movie, Wonder Woman, come out of play. Their playground, about as publically hazardous as Marvel’s, is still nascent and juvenile, tackling serious-sounding themes and faux brood (borrowed straight from Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy) with unskilled subtleness comparable to violently swinging a sledgehammer in a china shop.
Alas, we’re at a place now, where such bombastic novelty feels overused and characterless. Gone are the days where one got miffed at hulked out heroes annihilating billions-worth computer-generated public properties in grand, sweeping, mind-numbing finale’s. The only emotion left at our disposal is stifling an audible yawn, and not snoozing in the cold air-conditioned cineplex.
Partly to blame for this slack of nimbleness and sincerity is director Zack Snyder – the once-talented man who remade Dawn of the Dead and spiraled down to Man of Steel, Watchmen, Sucker Punch, 300 (the last one picked wonderful style over substance).
There is a pattern in Snyder’s work: delicacy is shut out of the gate – though, to give the devil his due, he does try. And in BvS, does the man try. The first hour of the movie has more dialogue than explosions, and – and I can’t believe I am saying this, but I prefer the movie’s big, brawly climax with Doomsday, one of Superman’s main villains, who turns out to have a Kryptonian origin (the planet where Superman was born).
The exchanges leading up to the end are insipid, and even cringe-worthy. Scenes, which stick out like they are reshuffled in the edit, are hollow, empty, fillings that nearly kill the movie dead, while the screenplay in them by David Goyer (who I credit for starting the whole superhero-film genre with the first Blade movie in 1998), and Chris Terio (of Argo), accomplishes zilch while taking up a lot of time and space.
Mixed in-between are a lot of Easter eggs for future movies (Warner Bros. releases two movies every year till 2020, with the current line-up). I’ll demystify a few for reference: in a dusty future-apocalyptic scene serving as Batman’s nightmare, we see Darkseid’s Omega symbol and his flying army called Parademons (Darkseid, is an intergalactic evil god whose power-level is right up there with Marvel’s blue-villain Thanos, seen in Guardians of the Galaxy and the first Avengers); next, we see another future-reference, with the Flash travelling back in time to warn Bruce Wayne to “seek us out”; another bit, more trivia than reference (and definitely a spoiler), is that both Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne’s mothers have the same maiden name – Martha; an odd reference, that slips BvS into Karan Arjun territory – a hard-fact, I kid you not on.
The “big brawl” owes nothing to Batman and Superman’s first meeting in the comics. BvS is simply a machine, formulated as a feeble, almost pitiable, jumping-on point for future DC movies. It serves no other purpose, no matter what it thematically promises (and I’ll get to the themes in a bit). The two heroes, each declared by their own emblematic perspicacity, fight off late in the film – and blame the trailers for giving most of the shots away – the action or the ‘fight-off’, fares adequate, rushing straight into the big-climax with Doomsday. And no, I am not giving anything away – the studio, again, scared of the backlash, or maybe of the movie’s huge price tag, decided to unveil the villain a few months ago in trailers.
So, do we see anything new? Not so much, for a movie of such “perceived” grandness.
In BvS, billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who is working as an under-the-radar vigilante for a good twenty years (my guess) as the Batman, is angry at Man of Steel’s the devastating climatic battle – just like this critic; however, unlike I (who hold no power or say in or at the DC Universe), his resentment is grudgingly personal, with vehement plans to execute Superman, or at least “make him bleed” (which he does, eventually). Bruce, of course, has lost a building with employees in Metropolis, Superman’s resident city, so I guess, duking it out with a god-like alien who is unambiguously an American boy-scout, the best possible alternative action for someone with tons of cash to spare. Bruce’s brand of justice is neither subtle nor with intellectual or subliminal context – which again, going by the hands-on darkly pessimistic theme invested in BvS and the new DC movies, is the supposed holy-grail of big hero movies at Warner Bros.
Coming back to Batman: Bruce is aided by a tired-looking Alfred (played by the unexploited Jeremy Irons) who runs the Batcave – Batman’s base of operations – and mends and irons batman’s costumes and assault-heavy vehicles.
In a series of uneventful events, Bruce steals data from Lex Luthor (an over-the-top, stupefying, Jesse Eisenberg) that tells him of other ‘meta-humans’ – Aquaman, the Flash, Cyborg and Wonder Woman (a ravishing Gal Gadot), complete with their familiar logos (Lex, clearly has a lot of free time). Bruce, meanwhile, finds the means to dispose of Superman, proving the filmmaker’s earnest desperation, that this isn’t the Batman who stuck with his own code of not killing villains, or never using a gun. (Batman seems pro to gun-violence in BvS).
Superman, meanwhile, after rescuing Lois from a terrorist (and unable, or maybe uninterested, in saving her photographer Jimmy Olsen, played by Michael Cassidy), copes with his celebrity status. A huge monument of him, which by accident or design seems to be giving the world the middle finger, stoops down in Metropolis. People try to touch him, proving that for the easily convinced, indeed, a flying savior from another world could, technically, be a god. Superman’s messianic symbolism is still prevalent; this, of course, isn’t a new “revelation” (pardon the pun) – the concept has cried its eyes out since the late nineties after the mega-event chronicling the apparent death and return of Superman in comics. Meanwhile, Anderson Cooper, Dana Bash and Vikram Gandhi discuss politics around him on CNN, as a U.S. Senator, Finch (Holly Hunter), bridges the gap between takes.
Actually, Hunter’s character, who chairs a committee investigating the battle between Zod (Michael Shannon) and Superman in the Man of Steel, is one of many space-filling faces. In her company lie everyone from editorial heavy-weight Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) and Superman’s main squeeze Lois Lane (Amy Adams, restrained and lackluster), who, from what I’ve guessed, is good at being an average journalist and a damsel in distress – a trait, one wouldn’t dare associate with the comics’ version.
While I wouldn’t dream of quoting levels of performances (the rating, by the way, vary by actor, but rarely, overall, reaches above mediocrity), the one stand-out casting is Eisenberg, who is mis-directed and gauchely, consciously, mis-written. As a visibly-different Luthor, Eisenberg channels and adopts Shah Rukh Khan’s mannerisms (originally, a variant of Michael J Fox), whose histrionic style, unsurprisingly, adds a strange, laugh-out-loud goofy magnetism to someone hoping (and failing) to be a megalomaniac.
Cinematically, BvS loses points in all departments. Technically it is well rounded-off, I’ll give it that, but for a motion picture costing over $250 million, that’s hardly a point of argument. I, personally, abhor the darkish, over-contrast, and overly-CGI look of Snyder’s recent movies. The palette has lost its credibility, along with the DC Universe.
Batman v Superman: Yawn of Justice, *ahm*, I mean the Dawn of Justice, is rated PG-13. It is cartoony, in a bad way.
Published Copy Looks Like This