Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Review - Iron v The Critics v The Nerds

Jiminy jillickers, another month and another over-hyped superhero slugfest forced upon us like creationism in an American science class. I happen to prefer DC to Marvel, however, so I'm too not mad. But I do long for the days when liking leotard superheroes would get you run out of most social circles like you were the Pig-Man of Cannock Chase. The current superhero renaissance is akin to some trashy seventies sci-fi movie where super-powered aliens have infiltrated society and are slowly indoctrinating us with their propaganda; manipulating us into believing that they really are capable of all these heroic feats and that ordinary humans suck. And Soylent Green is people, it was Earth all along, and the President is a robot.

I'm willing to wager that the admission that I prefer DC rustles the jimmies of at least one reader. The furore and pointlessness of the DC-Marvel rivalry is comparable only to that of the Bloods and the Crips, afterall. But I've often found DC more tolerable than Marvel. DC's idea of maturity may tend towards the grimdark territory occupied mostly by Warhammer 40k fan fiction written by fifteen-year-olds, but that's why I like it. Marvel films are designed to be perpetually fan-pleasing. As such the stakes in the MCU are always going to be negligible because Marvel lives in constant fear of the inevitable nerd backlash. DC’s cinematic universe, on the other hand, feels less clinical and more auteur in intent. In dire contrast with Marvel, DC are the bumbling fools who can’t do anything right. Don't get me wrong - I'm well aware that both Marvel and DC are the artistic equivalents of a candy floss based diet. But as far as I'm concerned, DC is the Stanley Kubrick to Marvel's George Lucas.

So Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The idea that those two would fight is, at once, the ultimate nerd bait and an exercise in stupidity. What would be gained from such a fight? Other than a persecution-free day for the criminals of both Gotham and Metropolis. And like the man with a ten-foot long cock trying to get his end away with a woman with a vagina that's eight foot deep, there are practical considerations. But I was ready. I bought into the hype and went as soon as I could face going to the cinema. And then, nearly three hours later, I left. Partially satiated, somewhat aggrieved, but mostly just numb, as though I had tried to rub one out to every episode of Game of Thrones. I'm not the only one disappointed by BvS - critics have been tearing this film apart like it's a pamphlet filled with Donald Trump's hair styling tips. Naturally, this prompted the nerd brigade to come out in full force and challenge all that threatens its hive mentality. So I thought that, in this review, I'd do something a little different and weigh in between the wildly contrasting opinions of the critics and the audience. Mine being the one true opinion, of course.

This is what happens to me whenever I mention my website.

Critic #1: “The film generates zero tension from what is implicitly marketed as a seismic battle of superheroes.”

Nerd #1: “As the title suggests that it's a battle between Superman & Batman.
The two mightiest heroes of the world (that's a serious case). The movie is EPIC!”

Iron: I’ll admit that watching Batman and Superman share the screen - or seeing Batman wander Metropolis and Superman in Gotham - got me excited to levels normally reserved for my criminal extracurricular activities. The Dark Knight Returns is a storyline that was second only to the Swimsuit Issues on the comic fan’s wish list of properties to adapt into film. But, like going on a date while wearing a pair of boxers made entirely out of sandpaper, Batman v Superman soon eroded my excitement. As it transpired, the audience had been duped into believing that Man would do combat with God. See, I was expecting a cinematic clash between two titans; but what we got was more strained facial expressions than an advert for constipation aids. Batman v Superman plays out like Sucker Punch but with more angst. No Zack Synder, that wasn't a compliment. A more fitting title for the film would have been: 'Batman and Superman spend an hour doing random shit, trash talk each other, have a scrap, and then become best friends forever.' Superfriends, you might say.

A friend commented that it wasn’t really Batman v Superman, but Bruce Wayne v Clark Kent, and I’d be hard pressed to disagree. Too much of the film was focused on the characters’ civilian alter-egos scowling at the very thought of the other, and honestly, I was half-inclined to yell “kiss her you fool” at the screen. However, the titular fight was well-executed and brutal (in the Casino Royale-Bond savages a man in the toilet, kind of way). With all the technological bells and whistles in a modern cinema, you can practically feel Batman battering Superman around the head with the bog room sink. But considering Synder loves his destruction, and that these two heroes cause collateral damage on a far larger scale throughout, it was light on the destruction overall. It is a franchise movie starring two of DC’s biggest creations limitedly - the stakes were always going to lower than the urinals in a Hobbit tavern.

The homosexual dependency relationship parallels are too rich a vein of comedy to simply ignore, however. With Batman spending half the film's runtime brooding over images of Superman, I wouldn't have been too surprised he had confessed: "I wish I knew how to quit you." The weird Brokeback Mountain visual only intensified during the fight's climax which saw Batman stood over Superman, throbbing green staff in hand, both sweating like David Cameron visiting his accountant, letting slip pained grunts from the physical exertion; ready to stick it into Superman with the tender efficiency of a fan-fiction writer inserting a gender-queer character into their favourite work. What was I saying again? Oh, that's right: SMASHY SUPERHERO FILM ISN'T SMASHY ENOUGH. SMASHY.

Verdict: I’m going to, mostly, go with the critics on this one.

Critic #2: "There seems to be a fundamental lack of understanding of what those characters are about. It’s almost like Zack Snyder didn’t read a bunch of comics, he read one comic once, and it was Dark Knight Returns, and his favourite part was the last part where Batman and Superman fight".

Nerd #2: "F*ck the critics! T'was an awesome movie! They're probably expecting an Adam West Batman and a George Reeves Superman".

Iron: Okay, this was a criticism that didn't particularly fly with me. The cinematic Batman has been a brooding misery-guts since Tim Burton's Batman (1989) and has only grown darker with time. Before that, there was the eternally light-hearted and ultra camp Adam West 1960's Batman. And before that, we were treated to Lewis Wilson's nationalistic Boston-accented wise guy. The point I'm trying to make is that filmmakers should not be limited to a singular interpretation of a comic-book character - Batman wasn't particularly dark until Frank Miller and Alan Moore got their hands on him. BvS' Batman is older, cynical, and strung-out, which results in a caped crusader who, like a striking latrine cleaner, isn't taking any shit. In that respect, Ben Affleck puts in a highly compelling turn as both a strung-out Bruce Wayne and terrifying Batman all-to-ready to become the monster people already believe that he is. And in the early parts of the film, he is a frightening presence - a shadowy figure who hides in the shadows and drags people away to their doom. Once Doomsday starts his rampage, however, all Batman can do is hang about like your girlfriend's kid brother tagging along on your date because his parents wanted him out of the house.

My praise extends to Henry Cavill too. I identified with his put-upon Superman, with a perpetually furrowed brow, wondering "why don't these people like me?" as he plows through an orphanage to save a mangy cat. Making him the superhero equivalent of Lenny from Of Mice and Men - a well-meaning dolt who doesn't realise his own strength - made for a more compelling exploration of the Superman 'problem'. I already accept he's a menace to society without needing some shady authority figure, with an agenda the size of Kim Kardashian's fat arse, trying to brainwash me into believing it. So, yes, the two titular heroes are rather dark and Frankensteined together from a mish-mash of various storylines - but that's not exactly a bad thing. New, daring interpretations should always be welcomed, because when filmmakers milk a winning formula we end up with Bat-Credit Cards and Bat-Nipples. Ew, that just made think about Batman and Robin. That's it, Batman v Superman, you're getting the hose again.

Finally, I would like to discuss Gal Gadot's brief (but wonderful) performance as Wonder Woman; taking the form of a paragraph that's equivocal to her total screen time. Despite the brevity of her role, I felt she was the best part of a movie about the superhero equivalent of two rednecks beating the gay feelings out of each other. Gal juxtaposed the smouldering/enigmatic party-guest and hardened Amazonian warrior roles rather well; even if, physically, she looks like she has as much chance of picking up a massive sword as a Final Fantasy protagonist has at making it through a My Chemical Romance CD without crying.

Verdict: The nerds have this one with their uncharacteristic reasonableness regarding character adaptation.

Critic #3: “[Batman v Superman is] attempting to cram in too much (giggity) and as a result, fails to deliver anything individual enough to stand out.”

Nerd #3: “Personally I loved the movie. I loved the way it "dragged" as people call it. I think it was a good way to make a superhero movie, but in a way that it was completely different than your everyday superhero movie.”

Iron: By this point I've seen Batman's parents get murdered so many times that I'm probably the one who should be emotionally scarred. This time, however, it was all presented in such lovingly morbid detail - focusing on the light leaving his mother's dying eyes - that I'm not entirely sure if it expected me to be sad or turned on. The point is, did we really need to see Batman’s origin story again? Perhaps the film would have benefited more from devoting the time to explain why Alfred was about fifteen years younger and basically Warlock from Die Hard 4. But this was just one strange story choice in a movie that’s like Freddy Kruger’s origin story from Nightmare on Elm Street 3 – the result of a thousand undeveloped stories spunking on the sleek body of the embryonic idea. The plot zigzagged everywhere – strange dream sequence that’s set-up for a future movie, individual character trailers for the Justice League movie, the people against Superman, Batman’s personal crusades, Lois Lane, Doomsday as the final boss, Wonder Woman, etc.

Of all the terrible story decisions, perhaps the most egregious was the renewed focus on Man of Steel’s climatic battle. While I appreciated the attempt at bridging the two films together, in a bid to fill in Man of Steel's many plot holes, all the writers did was put a little hat on it. It as though the writers were pleading: "I know the plot was totally shit last time, and by drawing your attention to it we’re only making things worse, but look - Bruce Wayne was there! Look at all the emotions! Do you love us now?" Admirable but in practice it was like that old woman trying to restore the Jesus fresco only for it to end up resembling Peewee Herman stuck in sex face. The action is far more destructive, bombastic, and morally problematic in this movie, so perhaps we should just move on. Otherwise, we’d be forced to question why Wayne’s employees needed to be ordered to flee a building that’s currently being torn apart by the World Engine.

I found the underlying logic behind the People v Superman plot flummoxing too. After Man of Steel, society views Superman as an unaccountable force of destruction. Not too unreasonable considering his rescue of Metropolis is only marginally less destructive than summoning Godzilla in SimCity. However, the entire case against him only really comes to fruition once Superman is framed for gunning down the members of an African terrorist cell. No one ever points out that Superman would be the last person to use a gun: his entire body is a goddamn weapon. Akin to that one colleague who eats nothing but tuna sandwiches, Superman could kill simply by coughing. But everything I've mentioned so far pales in comparison to the conclusion of the titular conflict: Batman reaches an anagnorisis regarding Superman because their mothers share the same name. This is like when people point out that Hitler had a dog and therefore couldn't have been all that bad. The two going from unadulterated rage to practically embracing (in the space of seconds), reminded me of that scene in The Simpsons where Homer and Cletus, taking a class for bad parents, hug immediately after strangling each other.

Verdict: The critics all the way with this one.

I'll let you assign which is Batman and which is Superman

Critic #4: “Overlong superhero mash-up is dark, violent.”

Nerd #4: "‘Movie critics’ criticizing Batman v Superman for being too dark & serious is a little hypocritical, wouldn't you say? Considering every time Marvel puts out a slightly darker movie, they write a puff piece editorial…."

Iron: As the word ‘dark’ possesses two connotations, I thought I’d discuss both. Firstly, yes, this is a visually dark movie. When it comes to filmmaking Synder only really has one trick up his sleeve: cinematography that makes use of low contrast and ‘dust filters’, so that it looks like the film's taking place inside a Henry Hoover. The set design and colour palette resemble that of the Earth the day after the squids have taken over. As I watched the desire to take a steaming hot bath itched at me; which, considering I bathe only whenever Halley's Comet acknowledges that it isn't so fucking special, should tell you all you need to know. Many of the opening Batman sequences verge on being too visually dark, and it's hard to discern what is precisely happening. But I appreciate that Synder was trying to quickly establish Batman's whole deal for the girlfriends held captive in the audience, and having him hide in the shadows like a nerd trying to sneak into Skywalker Ranch was the quickest, and laziest, way to accomplish this thankless task.

This being a Zack Synder film, the visual effects verge on the ridiculous towards the end. The climatic battle between the superhero trio and Doomsday takes place on some bizarre Biker Mice From Mars esque landscape, and it was here that the film's conflicting pretensions rapidly descended into a clusterfuck of epic proportions. Suddenly the indefinable feeling of unease that pervaded throughout the movie finally started to make sense: BvS is basically a bad anime. The cartoonish visual effects coupled with a gritty and dark story resulted in the weird imbalance ever prevalent in bad anime. Usually, this is the first warning sign that the sexy tentacles are about to come out, or the female sidekick's tits are going to turn out to be a weapon of mass destruction. Luckily BvS never enters that horrifying territory - well, it could be argued that Wonder Woman is only propel herself that far forward through the power of queefing.
As the cited nerd quote states, the criticism of BvS being too dark and grim is more than a little hypocritical. Marvel are regularly lauded for the bleaker aspects of their Cinematic Universe. Every time that arrogant twat Tony Stark faces the consequences of his actions, the critics praise Marvel for making dark storytelling choices. I couldn't help but laugh when a friend reverently declared Age of Ultron the darkest Marvel film yet - I'd hardly call the guy from Kick-Ass getting himself killed profound storytelling. BvS verges on the ridiculous side of dark more often than not, but at least it knows that it's basically the spotty neckbeard atheist type. The upcoming Infinity War saga will almost definitely attempt awkwardly blend overwhelming darkness with cringy humour. Good luck fitting the team banter and shawarma scenes in a story about Thanos literally wanting to use his Infinity Gauntlet to give Death a good (power)fisting.

Verdict: I'm going with the nerds.

Critic #5: The best? Affleck in the Batsuit. The worst? Eisenberg's Lex Luthor.

Nerd #5: Jesse Eisenberg was tick central for the majority of the running time which was the big worry for me going into the proceedings from the trailer, just wanted to smack him.

Iron: Okay, I think we're all in agreement here. Jesse Eisenberg is a fucking frustrating actor, the equivalent of that one friend you desperately try to like even as he repeatedly pegs you in the balls. I'm beginning to suspect he's not actually even an actor, just some insufferable cunt who travels from set to set being as condescending and anti-social as possible. Eisenberg has been the holier-than-thou nerd so many times before, what other possible explanation could there be? It couldn't be that he has all the range of a Republic blaming his various scandals on poor people, could it? Regardless, this Joker-light Lex Luthor can piss off. Eisenberg plays Luthor like a vegetarian discovering his falafel chunk is actually a chicken nugget half way through eating it.  

Who am I kidding? You just know a twat like this identifies as a pollotarian.

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