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Batman v Superman [2016] Review

It’s no secret that I have a bias towards #TeamBatman. As someone said to me after asking my opinion of the film; even if Batman just sat silently on a chair in a room, I would have liked it.

The Good

When Ben Affleck was cast at the caped crusader, for a moment I thought it was an April fools’ joke. After his unfavourable turn in 2003’s ‘Daredevil’ I was surprised to think that he would want to tread in this territory again, and that studios would take the risk to cast him. I had faith though; this Batman would reflect more of Frank Miller’s mature, grizzled and vengeful ‘Dark Knight Returns’ Batman. Affleck has had a dark and angry side to some of his roles; he made the character his own and pushed the envelope further than I expected. Batman was much more demonic than what we’ve seen on film before; hiding in the shadows and aggressively beating criminals to a pulp. There’s clear influences from his fighting style in the Frank Miller comics and the fantastic ‘Arkham’ video game series. Batman stabs, kills and snaps bones; this has polarised the internet, who firmly believe that killing is against Batman’s moral code. As a Batman fan this didn’t offend me; it’s another interpretation of the character, just like how Frank Miller interpreted it, and just like how Tim Burton did too (he changed the suit, changed the origin, and mounted machine gun canons to the front of the Batmobile…). This is a gritty movie and quite a hard action film, certainly setting a different tone to the light-hearted moments of Marvel. Even from the opening origin of Bruce Wayne’s parents being murdered, the gunshots from the steely Colt .45 are painful and brutish to watch. I’m looking forward to seeing the action toned up for the R-rated cut that’s rumoured to be released on DVD/Blu-Ray, rather than it just throwing in some extra profanities. Even for a PG-13 the envelope is pushed. Snyder has made a film for the fans and I have to applaud him on pushing this through.

Zack Snyder is a great action director. BvS feels fresh amongst the director’s back catalogue. We’re thrown in to a thrilling opening sequence set amongst the ‘world engine fight’ from ‘Man Of Steel’, and from the lucid white title card we feel how alien the arrival of the man from Krypton is (more so than MoS). The film feels quite kinetic, and Snyder’s visual style is perfect for this, but the trade-off is that it feels like there is just a shoe string of a plot thread. It’s lots of small visual sequences stitched together with some exposition. The visual style is great and cut together quite well with the pulsing soundtrack.

The other part of the holy trinity, Wonder Woman, was probably the best female superhero I’ve seen on screen yet. Gal Gadot was commanding and confident; I thought she was fantastic. Jesse Eisenberg was surprisingly terrifying as Lex Luthor and Jeremy Irons was also a great version of Bruce Wayne’s butler/guardian/foster father and Batman’s quartermaster.

There are some really interesting questions for debate raised in the film but they didn’t really get followed up. What should a superhero’s duty be? What effect does a Jesus-like alien from another planet have on the human psyche; a species who believed that they were the only special and self-aware entity in the universe?

The Bad

The lack of a coherent plot thread is the real villain, and you can feel the difficult task that the editor had. There are some moments, such as Bruce Wayne’s Darkseid dream sequence, that even to someone familiar with the universe seemed to stick out like a sore thumb. Snyder and the writers seem to have planned the movie (and perhaps filmed it, given the time it has take for it to arrive on our screens) in spread out chunks and encountered problems in the editing room. There’s no doubt that Warner Bros. got it hands involved and forced too much in to the movie in the pressure to build the DC Universe, but after a second viewing I feel that Snyder actually handled it all quite well. There’s a lot crammed in to this movie and it can be quite exhausting once the final credits roll. Jesse Eisenberg was surprisingly terrifying as Lex Luthor, but I never really caught his motivations of setting up the two titular protagonists, other than that he was a bad seed. Plus, we lingered on Granny’s Peach Tea a bit too long…

For all that Zack Snyder is a comic book fan and did a great job bringing ‘Watchmen’ to the screen, I don’t think that he fully understands why we love(d) the character of Superman. I was sold on the angle that was taken with ‘Man Of Steel’ of portraying him as an alien with a constant inner torment of who he should be in life (should he follow the life of his Earth foster dad from Kansas, or the destiny of his biological father from Krypton?). This was a major focus in the teaser trailers that got me really excited, but it was never really developed in the final film. The long and short of it is that Superman is actually quite boring; audiences can no longer relate to him because he’s indestructible unless there’s some handy Kryptonite around. The Christopher Reeve era was no doubt a high point in the character’s screen career, but the character was still fresh back in the 1970s. Snyder was brave to ‘kill off’ Superman at the end of the film but you always know that he’s going to come back. Someone needs to be braver with defining Superman for a 21st century audience and re-writing the rules for his character. He needs to be more vulnerable and shock us. I don’t think that killing Zod had the desired impact the writer’s thought it would. They also need to be realise one of the key reasons why we love Superman; because he can fly. What’s at the top of many childhood superpower wish lists? The audience got to fly with Christopher Reeve, Brandon Routh in ‘Superman Returns’, and even Dean Cain in ‘The New Adventures Of Superman’. As much as Henry Cavill embodies the character we’ve yet to join him in the sky as he’s taking ‘faster than a speeding bullet’ a bit too literally. This surprises me given the amount of stylised slo-mo trademarking in the director’s filmography. Just a final dig whilst we’re on Superman; the hammy dialogue of Superman whilst he had Batman’s iron foot on his throat could have been improved just a little bit….(“Martha….Save……Her!”).

We went to Picturehouse Central to see a 35mm screening, but it was blurry and out of focus around the edges of the screen. The Picturehouse manager tried to blame it on the print. I’m aware it’s difficult with digital projectors, but 35mm is a selling point and people pay specifically to see it in this format (in this case, £18 per ticket – ouch). He was on the defensive, but after a little more persistence we managed to get 2 free tickets (beautiful cinema though – great sound system too in screen 1).

Finally, the trailer revealed way too much. Doomsday should have been the film’s ace card.

…..and The Verdict

A superhero action film I was expecting, and a superhero action film is what I got. I knew going in that it wouldn’t be in the same league as the entries of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, but Ben Affleck & Zack Snyder’s iteration of Batman was thrilling and refreshing to watch. Better than ‘Man Of Steel’ but could do with more heart.

 

UPDATE (July 8th 2016): Just watched the 3 hour Ultimate cut. It presented a better moral conflict of Superman, more depth, more mean Batfleck and less confusion! Thoroughly enjoyed it.

Featured image © Warner Bros. and DC.

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