Friday, April 8, 2016

Men In Tights

Year: 2016
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams
Run Time: 2 hours 31 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

F**k Christopher Nolan, am I right? The man is pretty much solely responsible for the current whiplash dichotomy in superhero movies today. It’s either the peppy smirking of the Marvel empire or the dour bleakness of DC, and that’s entirely the result of the success of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. And while I admit the first two are good films, the gritty superhero genre already folded up its own ass with the uniquely baffling Dark Knight Rises. Yet they keep on pumping this crap out.

The thing is, when a Marvel movie is bad, at least it still has a sense of fun (it’s no coincidence that Marvel’s biggest recent failure, the Fox-produced abortion Fantastic Four, is also the darkest film in their slate). There’s a bit of that comic booky cotton candy flavor that at least makes it bearable. Unfortunately, “fun” is a four-letter word when we’re in Zack Snyder’s wheelhouse, even when presenting a team-up that has been caramelizing in comic book fans’ fevered imaginations for half a century: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

The court case of the century.

In BvS, Batman (Ben Affleck) is the vigilante alter ego of Bruce Wayne, a wealthy playboy whose company was turned to rubble during the highly destructive Zod battle at the end of Man of Steel. He has since vowed revenge on the caped crusader what wrought this devastation. Batman lives in Gotham, a crime-riddled city located just across the river from the bustling Metropolis, in a lunatic bit of comic book world-building that has no place in this relentlessly serious film.

Metropolis is the home of Superman (Henry Cavill), who works as a reporter for the Daily Planet as his alter ego Clark Kent. His elaborate disguise, a pair of glasses, is even more ridiculous considering that even wearing a suit and a nerdy tie, Cavill looks like a WWE wrestler crammed into a tube sock. Anyway, Superman has a distaste for batman because he’s been running around f**king branding people like he’s Immortan Joe. I think that’s fair.

Anyway, when Superman’s girlfriend Lois Lane (Amy Adams) – who sucks at everything she tries to do, constantly tripping into life-threatening situations – gets a hard-hitting interview with a Middle Eastern crime boss (her first and only question: “Are you a terrorist?” Now that’s journalism!), things go south and Superman saves her. For some reason totally obscured by a poorly edited action sequence, Superman is blamed for several deaths and called to trial by Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) as the public begins to doubt their trust in this literal superman who could crush their skulls without breaking a sweat if he wants to.

This crisis is being whipped into a frenzy by wealthy magnate Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), who is the screenwriter’s mouthpiece for approximately a quarter of a billion twitchy monologues about the stunted themes the film tries to force on us about power and man’s goodness or whatever. Also Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) shows up to toss in some Justice League promo, but she has fewer than twenty lines and exists solely to be hit by things, only to swing her hair in sexy slomo as the dust clears to reveal that she’s indestructible.

Go feminism!

Oh man, where the hell do I begin? I suppose we should start with the obvious controversy: Ben Affleck as Batman. The masses were certainly upset by this decision, but I have no beef with the man. He turns in a solid world-weary performance, and he’s about as impossibly, gay porn buff as Cavill so at least our heroes match.

The real problem is that the actual character of Batman is spectacularly ill-defined. Other than a needless repetition of his “dead parents” backstory, this Batman is nothing but a haphazard collection of iconography the film assumes we already know (Alfred, batmobile, Bat signal, etc.). But this ain’t a continuation of Christian Bale’s character. This is an entirely new personality that we are given no face time with because this is through and through just a Superman sequel. But Affleck? No, he’s not even a blip on the radar of the tremendously bad things this movie provides in spades.

While we’re on the topic of casting, let’s talk Lex Luthor. Jesse Eisenberg is not Lex Luthor. And I don’t mean that in the “oh, he’s not bald, oh he’s too young” wailing tone of the hopelessly obsessed comic canon advocates. I mean he’s the single worst casting choice made by a major motion picture studio in perhaps a dozen years. And I actually like Jesse Eisenberg. But his work here is a plumb embarrassing retread of his Mark Zuckerberg persona (The Social Network weighs heavily on Luthor’s characterization in this universe) performed via a weak Robin Williams impersonation, rapidly shifting from silly voice to silly voice in a palsied, irritating frenzy, sometimes just kind of yipping like a Chihuahua for no reason. It’s bad, you guys.

He makes Kylo Ren look like genius casting.

It’s not like any of the cast is up to any truly great work (Cavill contents himself with strangled teeth-gnashing, Adams is profoundly boring – though she’s given zilch to do, and a random extra gives a portentous line reading with all the misplaced emphasis of a second grader attempting to read Shakespeare aloud), but Eisenberg sinks every scene like a cement brick. It doesn’t exactly help that the film hangs on his every word like it’s the divine gospel.

Actually, that’s a problem inherent to the entire film, and to Zack Snyder’s career if you think about it. Whether Batman is decrypting a hard drive or Lois is checking into a hotel, the film treats it like The Single Most Important Thing That Has Ever Happened. My problems with this are twofold. 1) They ignore the actual most important scene (Superman cooking breakfast shirtless), and 2) if everything is important, nothing is important. Junkie XL’s percussive score worked for Mad Max: Fury Road because every frame of that movie is the most exciting thing ever filmed. But here it just drives home how unimpressive nearly everything you’re watching actually is.

And boy is this film just a pile of unimpressive nonsense. When it’s not overexplaining itself like you’re 8 years old (“I need Kryptonite. I’ve got to get back to Gotham. Because that’s where the Kryptonite is.”), it’s launching into an inscrutable barrage of gobbledygook that is either forced promo for Justice League films three years down the line or one of a million useless dream sequences that endlessly repeat the film’s puerile themes. 

And the action scenes for which the film was ostensibly created are too-dark jumbles of half-hearted punching with absolutely no juice. Plus, you know how people complain about Hollywood movies being all explosions and no plot? Well, if you took every explosion from one of those movies and crammed them together, you would have a single frame of Batman v Superman, which at certain points seems to take place in a whirling firestorm. You sometimes can’t even see the action through the smokescreen of orange and yellow flames.

Let’s take a moment to relax and realize that the substandard action makes sense when you remember that the movie is actually just gay porn.

I suppose the biggest flaw of Batman v Superman is that it’s at odds with itself, attempting to be both a superhero battle film and a hoo-rah teamup Justice League prequel. The reason there’s almost zero motivation to their fight is that they have less than half a movie before they have to be BFFs, [SPOILERS which would explain Batman’s on-a-dime turnaround during the patently ridiculous scene where he discovers that Superman also has a mom named Martha. That’s even more embarrassing to write down than it was to watch.]

This weakens the already thin characterizations, leaving us with nothing but a bombastic sludge of dreary overexertion, filled with deeply unthreatening villains, a preponderance of sloooooow ominous zooms, and a rich undercurrent of misogyny that may or may not especially hate Asian women for no discernible reason.

Oh, and because this is leading to an Avengers-style team movie, we have a handful of attempts at quips and winking barbs that either fall flat from the get-go (like the syntactically spurious “Firm grip. You should not pick a fight with this person.”) or were so clearly retrofitted to be in the trailer that they reek of flop sweat (the famous “Is she with you?” “I thought she was with you!” exchange re: Wonder Woman actively defies pre-established plot mechanics).

But I suppose I should say something nice about the film before I get the hell out of here. The opening credits are pretty. Well, not the actual font, which is punishingly bland, but the sequence that they play over has some interesting visuals. And a couple images that deify Superman actually deserve the film’s pretentions of grandeur. But the single best thing about the film was that it definitely didn’t feel 2 ½ hours long, so I must have enjoyed it on some level. Right?

There’s a scene in Batman v Superman where a woman discovers a jar of piss on her desk, which causes her to babble incoherently. I couldn’t think of a more perfect analogy for this review. Don’t see Batman v Superman if you can help it. Don’t let my sacrifice go to waste.

TL;DR: Batman v Superman isn’t the worst superhero flick ever made, but that doesn’t mean it’s not infuriating.
Rating: 4/10
Word Count: 1608
Reviews In This Series
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Snyder, 2016)
Suicide Squad (Ayer, 2016)

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