Monday, March 28, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – A Review

What the hell was that? Seriously, what just happened? Did I just dream that? There was Superman. But Superman was a nervous wreck, on the edge of a breakdown, crippled by self doubt and pretty much only concerned with saving Louis? And Batman was there too, except Batman was filled with rage and hate and regret and fear, and I mean filled with it. Lex Luthor was around as well, but this Lex Luthor wasn't the suave self assured sociopath that we all know and love. This Lex was a raving lunatic, more like the Joker than Luthor? Also Wonder Woman was there, but she didn't really seem to be doing much?

Oh no, wait, I know what that was, I just watched Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

The plot? Well, it's been nearly two years since Superman's (Henry Cavill) colossal battle with Zod (Michael Shannon) devastated the city of Metropolis. The loss of life and collateral damage left many feeling angry and helpless, including crime-fighting billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck). Convinced that Superman is now a threat to humanity, Batman embarks on a personal vendetta to end his reign on Earth, while the conniving Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) launches his own crusade against the Man of Steel.

I've got to say up front, when the trailers were coming out for this film, I was not excited. I was indifferent. It looked like a yawn fest. A tiresome repeat of the wanton destruction at the end of Man of Steel. A boring slugging it out between an inhuman Superman and a tired old bat. Well, I went anyway, and I was wrong, it wasn't boring.

Was this the superhero movie we wanted? Was this the superhero movie we deserve? Was this even a superhero movie? To answer those questions in order: no, maybe, and no.

It's a brutal film, filled with hate and revenge and selfishiness. It's concerned with weighty questions, like man v god, who is to blame, who does Superman owe allegiance to? And it's totally freaking weird. I mean, off the wall weird. Garrett Cook said it was “a superhero's nightmare” and that's a fair summation. It's full of imaginary and dream sequences and if you're not paying attention you're going to get lost.

The DC universe is often described as the coming of the new gods and this seems to fit with what DC are doing in their ambitious film universe. The film is just chock-full of questions about what does it mean for there to be a man who is so powerful he can literally do anything? Does he have the right? What does he want? And what can we do as humans to stop him, if we don't like the answers to those questions?

Is this even a superhero movie? Arguably not. Sure people have superpowers but, a bit like the end of Man of Steel, no one does much heroic. Everyone is selfish and self absorbed. They have a reason to fight, but they aren't holding up a noble ideal, they're fighting for their reasons and their reasons alone. It's not for a brighter dawn, or protecting the weak, they're fighting because they're pissed off or have something to lose. That makes them the old Greek Gods, but certainly not heroes.

This is the nightmare scenario. When gods fight. Yeah, Batman is just a human, except he clearly isn't. If Kal-El is Ra, or possibly Zeus then Batman is Hades, stern and unyielding and unmoved by prayer. Gone is the Christopher Reeves Superman, there is no fanfare. Now we have a Superman who leveled Metropolis to stop Zod. A Superman who appears to have nothing to fear. And gone is Batman too, no Adam West goofiness, or Michael Keaton steel, or even George Clooney cheese. Even Christian Bale's bat is banished in favor of a brutal Frank Miller-esque Dark Knight. A huge, bone snapping gladiator ready to punch the man of steel in the face. Who will seek vengeance for the slain? Who will bring the guilty to justice? Who is the Man of Steel accountable to? Batman.

Do we deserve this? Do we deserve a DC universe which is filled with weighty gods who rain destruction down upon the innocent civilians and appear to care nothing about it? Unfortunately, yes we do, because we did this. I don't know if BvS was in preproduction when Man of Steel was getting roundly thrashed by the critics, but it certainly feels like the criticisms of that film were listened to. Most people, myself included, complained about the wanton destruction at the end of MoS - “What about all the people who must have died in Metropolis? Doesn't Superman care?” Well, here's your 2.5 hour reply. If you said that, or thought that, you are Batman. You did this.

Zack Snyder's reply is more destruction (with a slight nod that no one is in fact in these buildings at the time), god v man, a Superman who appears to only care about two women on the planet and a brutal Batman who snaps limbs and brands his victims.

Garrett Cook also said of this film “you're not high enough to watch this film”, here I don't agree with him. You're not sober enough to watch this film. This is the cold hard sobering smack to the Marvel Movie face. Shit is real. People are going to die. What do you believe in?

Secondary question, do I even want this film? Do I want this dark and macabre DC universe? How the hell is it going to hold itself together? Remember this DC universe, in potential, has Captain Marvel with the power of Shazam, 52 Earths, Gorilla Grodd and Krypto the Superdog in it too? Only time will tell if they can balance this universe or not. At the moment, on the strength of this outing, I'm willing to give it another shot. This sure as shit ain't Marvel and that's alright, now that I understand that.

So, did I enjoy it? Enjoy is not the right word. I respected it. I came out feeling like a piano string after a Shostakivich recital - battered and bruised but feeling like something good had just happened to me. It's intelligent, and it's asking questions, which I have to give it points for. It's brave and bold. It wasn't boring, but it's not for kids either. This is not Marvel. This is the DC universe, and the DC universe is cold, and brutal. Bones are snapped. Fires are started. People are branded. Characters are flawed and wracked with guilt. Nightmares walk abroad. And humans are scant on the ground. Hold onto your loved ones and pray that the giants don't notice you.

My name is Chris Meekings, I watched this film, you might want to too.

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