The long awaited Batman vs. Superman movie. These two should be on film more than once every 3 or 4 years.
The DC Comics superhero movie ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ came out last weekend. This is the first Batman sighting since 2012’s ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ ended the Christian Nolan Batman trilogy and Superman’s first appearance since the 2013 ‘Man of Steel’ rebooted the Superman character on the big screen. The movie has garnered mostly unfavorable reviews which didn’t surprise me since I have been hearing criticism since the announcement that Ben Affleck was to play Batman. I paid no attention to the reviews but I did pay three hours and $24 to take Kathy and Matt to see it on Saturday Night.
We went to the same Marshalltown Iowa Fridley Theatre that wouldn’t give me a refill of my $4.50 soda because the $11 popcorn/soda combo I bought didn’t include the slightly bigger $5 soda cup. This was my first visit to the Fridley Theatre since that infamous day last November and I decided to keep my 11 dollars in my pocket and let the Fridley Theatre have their 20 cents of soda syrup and mountain of popcorn that they slather with that orange goopy artery clogging stuff that they pour on it if you ask for butter. The movie theater was about a quarter full if you count the occasionally screaming baby in the row behind us. I was surprised at the smallish crowd but since the movie has made $200 million worldwide in it’s first two nights I assume most people went early.
This movie takes place two years after the near destruction of Metropolis in the ‘Man of Steel’ movie with the plot driven by the reactions of billionaire Bruce Wayne (also known as the Batman) and billionaire scientist Lex Luthor to the presence of a super powered alien on their planet. Both billionaires come to the conclusion that Superman must be destroyed. Luthor discovers a Kryptonite meteor and sets about smuggling it into the country when the government refuses to give him carte blanch to weaponize it while Batman sets about trying to steal the Kryptonite from Luthor. Meanwhile Superman is just doing his thing – enjoying his romance with Lois Lane, reporting for the Daily Planet as Clark Kent, and saving people whenever he can.
Ben Affleck plays an older Bruce Wayne who recollects being in Metropolis while Superman’s battle with General Zod destroys much of midtown Metropolis including Wayne’s skyscraper. Affleck’s Wayne is more over the edge violent than recent versions. He brands criminals with a bat symbol and has nightmares of his parent’s deaths, shooting criminals, and his parents bursting from their tombs as zombies as he goes to visit them. I suppose this unhinging is necessary to explain Wayne’s decision to steal Kryptonite from Luthor and use it to murder Superman since Batman is not normally a murderer.
Apart from the whole murdering Superman thing, I liked Affleck’s performance as both Wayne and Batman. Affleck’s Bruce Wayne persona was mostly all business with none of Bale’s playboy act in the last Batman iteration. The action scenes as Batman were less acrobatic than Bale’s version but far more powerful (possibly due to an augmented suit). I especially liked how Affleck’s Batman seemed massive but didn’t use Bale’s Vader-esque voice. Batman is the scariest, most remorseless superhero on the planet and Affleck brought that aspect to the forefront.
Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent/Superman has more of a social conscience than ‘Man of Steel’ but is still the same wooden character except for one playful moment in the beginning of the film where Kent jumps into Lois Lane’s bathtub fully clothed which let the audience know that they were an item and that Lane was aware of Superman’s identity. I like the alien in a strange land take but there was no advancement of this character. Superman just goes about his business saving lives and except for the one early bathtub scene with Lane and a confrontation with Batman he pretty much sticks to his strong silent type routine. I don’t see this Superman ever being the franchise cornerstone until his brooding angst is defined to the point where he becomes the unwelcoming protector of an untrusting planet by virtues of his ‘super-ness’.
The villain of the piece is Lex Luthor played by Jesse Eisenberg. In the comics I remember Lex Luthor as a scientific genius and ruthless businessman who truly believes the world would be better off if he ran it. Eisenberg’s Luthor is a spoiled rich kid who happens to be a super genius. This film had Luthor trying to act like The Joker (Batman’s arch-enemy) having him make silly jokes and uttering nonsensical off hand comments. I get that The Joker is probably the biggest movie property DC Comics has (watch and see - this year’s Suicide Squad movie be the year’s biggest box office hit) but there is no reason to try to make an iconic villain like Lex Luthor a clownish character. A good model for Luthor would be Vince D’Onofrio’s Kingpin in Netflix’s Daredevil season 1 – a larger than life character that carries himself with grandeur and a stone cold killer. Luthor was at his best when he blows up the US Capitol building to create distrust of Superman and creates the fearsome Doomsday with Kryptonian technology and the corpse of General Zod. In those scenes he seems like a cold blooded genius but when he coerces Superman into rescuing his kidnapped mother by killing Batman he was back to being a juvenile prankster instead of an evil billionaire that gets what he want any way possible.
This movie was meant to be the launching point for DC’s Justice League group of super heroes to compete with Marvel’s Avengers and there was the briefest of nods to various other DC properties. Aquaman and the Flash make brief appearances on some computer data Wayne hacks from Lex Luthor’s headquarters. The only hero to make a live appearance is a heroine – Wonder Woman (who isn’t called that) who has a random meeting with Bruce Wayne when he is hacking Luthor’s data. Wonder Woman has a big role in the climactic fight scene with Doomsday but otherwise was a plot device that did nothing for the movie except to make it longer. If DC really wants to compete with Marvel on the movie front they will have to get their heroes out in the theaters a lot more often then every three or four years. While it took DC 3 years to get Superman on film for the second time, Marvel has gotten their heroes in multiple films thanks to crossing over characters in multiple movies. By the time DC actually gets around to havin Flash, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman in their next movie their appearance in this file will have been forgotten about.
The fight between Batman and Superman was epic as well as their eventual teaming up with Wonder Woman to fight Doomsday. I left the movie theatre feeling entertained but not like I saw an epic film like the ‘The Dark Knight’. I think the film would have been better served by telling the story from either Batman or Superman’s point of view and cutting out the time spent integrating Wonder Woman into the plot and one less Bruce Wayne nightmare about the death of his parents to bring it to two hours. This movie would have been a great Batman film or a mediocre Superman film. Instead it tried to be both a Batman and a Superman movie and ended up being unfocused and far too long. Batman fans will really like his movie, Superman fans will be lukewarm towards it, action movie fans will think it was way too long, and non comic book fans will wonder of they can get a refund. I’m a Batman fan and really liked this movie except that it was too long and there wasn’t enough Batman since there can never be enough Batman for my taste.