Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Dawn of Awesome: Justified


I went into last night's movie with low expectations.  Seemingly, everyone and their superhero-loving brother had an unfavorable opinion about Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice.  So, I expected something mediocre.

And yet... there was definitely a spark of optimism inside me.  I hoped the critics were wrong and who knows, maybe they were?

As the lights went down, I watched everything unfold.  By the half-hour mark, I was saying to myself, "Wow, this isn't that bad so far."  After the first hour, I said, "Damn, this is pretty good."  Two hours in, there was no turning back.  Batman vs Superman was extremely dark, sure, but unrelentingly awesome, as well!

Here's the part where I examine what the critics had to say and respond with my own - relatively spoiler-free - interpretations...

Low stakes:  WTF?  The fate of Superman, Batman, and the entire world?  Yeah, low stakes, indeed, buddy.  Keep walking.

Lack of motivation:  Half the movie is devoted to setting up the premise - Batman doesn't trust Superman and there's plenty of good, solid reasons for that.  Did these reviewers forget about Lex Luthor?

The movie is misogynistic, paternalistic, and even fascist:  Just because every woman in the movie isn't the strong, competitive, self-realized ideal of femininity, doesn't mean it hates women.  Sure, there are damsels in distress, but those damsels are also what drive the protagonists.  If the audience sees characters as father-figures, that's on them.  Men in their 40's and 50's can't help but have those comparisons drawn for them.  As for the movie being "fascist", I haven't found a reviewer explain what's fascist about it.

Too many characters:  What did they expect, some kind of one-man show?  I can see that kind of ignorant comment being lobbed at The Avengers, but this film had two protagonists who were against each other for the majority of the movie, a third superhero who was only in a few scenes and one principle super-villain.  Alfred?  Was he the straw that broke the camel's back?  Such a ridiculous claim.

Too grim and intense:  Yes, it's quite dark, as I mentioned.  We live in a fucked up world of terrorists, corporate/political overlords, the powerful preying on the powerless, and deep distrust bordering on mutual hatred.  That's our world.  It sucks, but how stupid would it have been for the script/director to present a sunshiny Earth where everyone is smiling, the colors are bright, and people are cracking jokes every other minute?  As for the intensity?  Do we not want an intense viewing experience from a movie billed as a fight between Batman and Superman?

Confused narrative:  If someone had never seen a movie before in their lives, I could understand this complaint.  Sure, the film jumps around a bit - taking us from previous events to modern day to flash backs to dreams to different characters with their own perspectives and agendas.  To me, it feels like life... full-bodied realism masquerading as stream-of-consciousness, rather than a predictably linear (and boring) story going from point A to B to C to...zzzz.

Superman isn't human enough:  Yeah, he's an alien.  Of course, he's not going to be as human as the guy walking down the street.  Do we have to have a character act just like us in order to identify with him, to empathize, to understand what he's going through?  Why can't Superman's portrayal embrace his otherness?  That just seems like such a dumb criticism: He's too different.

Lex Luthor is a regurgitation of Eisenberg's performance in The Social Network:  Again, I don't agree with that at all.  They're similar in that both are outside-the-box thinkers who are really good at computers and other genius-type stuff, but that's where the similarities end.  Lex is weirder, driven by other factors (like his hatred of Superman), and extremely charismatic, albeit in an awkward, twitchy kind of way.  I thought Jesse Eisenberg's portrayal of Lex Luthor was menacing, fascinating, and all around great.

The showdown between Batman and Superman was boring:  That fight was downright epic!  It was true to the combatants, inventive, dramatic, and emotionally draining.  Basically, a roller-coaster ride of mano y mano.

No one to route for:  Well, then you're dead.  If you can't feel anything for the characters on screen, I can't help you... because you're either a corpse or a sociopath.  On the other hand, if you can't decide which you'd rather route for - because you want to route for both - then join me in congratulating the writers, actors, and director for creating a sense of ambiguity.  The choice is, indeed, difficult.  And that's part of what makes this movie so awesome!

Counterpoint to the "too evenly liked" heroes:  Once we realize that Batman has been cleverly manipulated by Lex Luthor, I, for one, couldn't justify siding with Batman.  Clearly, by the time the battle takes place, we're hoping that Superman doesn't get killed... but also that Superman doesn't kill Batman.

Too much backstory:  I was shocked as anybody - my wife, who was sitting next to me in the theater, hadn't seen any of the older Superman movies and couldn't remember the Batman films that she had seen.  The little bit of background info was just enough to remind us of what came before... and to fill in the gaps for those who have no idea.

Superman is viewed by some as a god:  Well, he is fairly godlike.  Plus, I thought the religious overtones and symbolism were not only justified but part of what makes up the Superman mythology.  It also underscores the gravity of the situation - this alien being is basically given the keys to the planet... is that a good idea?

Wonder Woman was underutilized:  The movie isn't called Batman v Superman and Wonder Woman, too... is it?  No, this is about Batman and Superman.  We're all glad to see Wonder Woman do her thing, but any more presence and she would have stolen the show.

Too many dream sequences:  Life isn't just what's in front of us.  A lot of it is remembering the stuff that happened in our past, the stuff that might happen in the next few seconds, and what future stuff might be like.  The fact that all those little moments took me by surprise and briefly transported me to another world kept my attention.  And let me add, a post-apocalypse superhero movie?  That looked so beyond awesome that I might have to write something up for that RPG-wise.

Something feels missing:  It was nice to be spoon-fed my meals... when I was nine months old!  I'm an adult now and don't need every little thing explained to me.  A little mystery is good.  The audience can read between the lines, we're not dummies.

Too much going on:  The entire plot can be summed up in a sentence: In the aftermath of Metropolis' devastation when Superman was fighting Zod, both Batman and Lex Luthor got the notion that Superman was more liability than savior, but how they go about fixing the problem is entirely different... or is it?  Is there more to the film than just that?  Of course.  It's a two and a half hour movie!

The film is monotone:  Just because an artist limits his color palette and aesthetic, doesn't mean the work or artist is "monotone".  We all make choices.  Those who created this film made theirs.  Dislike it all you want, but don't penalize it for not embracing the entire spectrum.

The reason that Batman and Superman stop fighting each other:  [Spoilers ahead]  Well, it's not just their mothers having the same first name.  That was the tip of the iceberg.  It gave Batman enough pause to think harder about what he was about to do, what he intended to do.  Amy Adams, Lex Luthor, and good old fashioned common sense also play their parts.  For critics to say that the whole film hinges on a coincidence exploited by the screenwriters is not doing them justice.

We know how it ends before it even starts:  Yeah, well, millions of audience members went to see that movie about Jesus knowing what was going to happen.  Did it ruin the film for them when they saw him crucified (oops, spoiler alert)?  Not one bit.  I've watched the original Star Wars about a hundred times.  I know how it ends.  Finding out if the Death Star blows up is not why I'm going to see it one hundred and one.

___

Those that want to see this movie as hopelessly flawed are choosing to see it that way.  For the rest of us, Batman versus Superman: Dawn of Justice is a beacon of cinematic superhero hope.

Thanks for reading,

VS