Monday, July 15, 2024

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a review

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When I was organizing the cinema outing for Batman v Superman, I was surprised by the low interest among my friends. Most of them were pretty underwhelmed by Man of Steel, and therefore disinterested in seeing any sequels. That made me remember how I was quite underwhelmed by Man of Steel as well, and that I shouldn’t probably get my hopes up. In light of that, I made exactly one prediction about this film, which was that it was not going to be as good as this spoof video with Jimmy Kimmel. I’m sorry to say that I was right. But then, the bar was set pretty high.

The main thing that strikes me, and that was constantly on my mind during the film projection, is that this movie seems to be constantly doing its best to undermine itself. It presents some idea or plot point that could actually work, and then ruins it by some silly detail, or by not adding some other silly detail that could have made it all so much more reasonable and would have prevented the breaking of the suspension of disbelief.

There are at least ten examples of this through the film, but to illustrate with just one that doesn’t really spoil anything that isn’t generally known, Bruce Wayne’s trauma from Superman’s fight and destruction of Metropolis in Man of Steel was, at least to me, very significantly undercut by the way that scene was scripted. I’m not in the business of victim blaming, but the thing is, when you decide to have the casualties in your script exert absolutely no effort to save themselves, even when they have time to do so and without any plot points preventing them, it sabotages the tragedy of the whole moment, because the viewer is instead wondering “why did they all just stand there?” This problem could have very easily been removed by just tiny tweaks of the script. And, as I said, it’s just one example among many.

There are also some frankly troubling aspects of representation. One scene that turns out to be very important for the plot takes place in Africa, presenting us with just about the most stereotypical picture of Africa one can think of, centred on a military dictator trying to seize power. This plotline also culminates with an African woman testifying before a US senate committee about the matter, which was a little confusing. I don’t really understand the system of US congressional hearings, but it seems a little surprising that it would be dealing with a matter that happened outside the US and had no involvement (that they mention) of any official US institution like army or some such. They just talk about Superman, who is a private individual.

I suppose if this was meant to be more about the general matter of whether Superman needs supervision, it would make more sense, but at the very least it was implied that this African affair was the reason for the inquiry. As if all the dead left in Metropolis after Man of Steel weren’t enough to give Superman a hearing, and as if this new matter shouldn’t have primarily been dealt with by a court of the country where the incident actually happened.

Wait, so…countries outside the West have courts, too?

But anyway, back to representation, there is one scene that reminded me very painfully of the Game of Thrones episode “Mhysa.” You probably know what scene I mean. The oh-so-very iconic one. Because, of course, if you’re freeing slaves they have to be people of colour, and if you’re saving little girls in such a manner that people basically worship you and some even kneel in front of you out of gratefulness, it has to be in Mexico. When white people kneel in front of somebody, it’s demeaning. (Do I actually need to add that this was the only scene taking place in Mexico and the one mentioned above was the only scene taking place in Africa? I didn’t think so.)

Uncomfortable yet? Also, what is it with using Día de los Muertos as casual background for  blockbusters lately?

And this reminds me of that gem where Clark Kent reads about Batman beating up a child rapist and a sex trafficker and his first thought is ‘wow, this vigilante justice must be stopped.’ Not that I think vigilantes are a great idea, but shouldn’t Kent maybe be worried about the child raping and sex trafficking that’s apparently going on in Gotham more? But that just concerns some regular people, of course, so it’s below our hero’s notice. Kent actually says, at one point, that “ordinary, innocent people” are afraid of Batman. Given the two examples they gave us of those affected, I find this statement rather disturbing. Not to paint Batman in too good a light, of course – it doesn’t exactly sound like he did it to get justice for the victims and prevent further crime either. Did the definition of “heroism” change when I wasn’t looking?

In fact, one of the problems of this film, for me, is precisely that it was very hard to sympathize with either of the so-called heroes. I already said how I think they undermined Wayne’s central trauma, and it didn’t get any more believable or sympathetic from there. If they concentrated on actually exploring this instead of giving Bruce vague nightmares, it would have, in my opinion, worked better.

Superman, as I have also already hinted, mostly acts insufferably and condescendingly towards everyone, which I think was intentional, but made it really hard to root for him. In fact what many and I among them fear might happen with Captain America: Civil War happened here. The trailers, especially the first one, promised an interesting conflict. Luthor’s line “do you know the oldest lie in America, senator? That power can be innocent” sounded good. I wanted to see this topic explored. Superman fighting the big battles with no regard for casualties and Batman refusing to accept that, refusing to accept that ordinary people should become collateral damage just like that. After that first trailer, I have heard some read it as a metaphor for the US and the more bitter circles in some parts of Middle-East, and that metaphor was interesting as well.

Well, pretty much all the ambiguity or moral conflict was taken out of it by the script of this film, turning it into two examples of toxic masculinity having it out with each other, too much in a hurry to beat each other bloody to even try to communicate first. Talking is for girls, I guess.

And speaking of girls…we have not one, but two damsels in distress in this film. Lois is repeatedly so, while failing to contribute to the plot in any way. There is also one fridged lady as a bonus, not something I particularly appreciate even though I actually liked the psychology of the scene where the fridging becomes relevant – or perhaps more precisely, I felt sorry for the wasted opportunity and thought about how nice that scene could have been if they hadn’t botched the psychology of the entire rest of the film. But anyway, these two ladies are not exactly feminist icons, so are there some that do better?

Well, there is a Token Asian Woman who is supposed to be a bodyguard but we never really see her doing anything…and then, of course, there is Wonder Woman.

Now I am very happy to say that I mostly liked Wonder Woman. She doesn’t really have that much screen time, unfortunately, but what she has is good, understated in just the right way, no excessive drama included. She really could have had a bigger role at the very end – in fact, it would have been much more logical than what actually happened, but I can’t go into this in more detail without providing massive spoilers. All I can say is that she doesn’t really have an arc, so there isn’t much to comment on her otherwise, but I have hope for her in the future.


Speaking of the things I liked, there were also some scenes that I enjoyed purely from the aesthetic point of view, like Batman rising from the wreckage to face Superman. I do sort of feel like a lot of this interesting material has already been used in the trailers, though. There were also a few good lines, and the fights were decent, I suppose – they didn’t bother me, but neither do I recall anything particularly memorable. The visual effects were likewise decent, but nothing to write home about, and for me the enjoyment was at least partly taken out of them by the sheer exasperation of seeing more buildings destroyed. Haven’t you learned anything from Man of Steel? Though perhaps they have. There was certainly much less destruction in Batman v Superman than there, but then, it’s hard to top the previous installment.

There were a number of moments and scenes that felt rather random and unnecessary for the plot, including the roughly five consecutive endings the film has. I could also have easily done without the supposedly deep monologues some characters tended to. At least they weren’t long, I guess. Completely superfluous was also a scene that is rather like Thor in that cave in Avengers 2, in that it is only there to serve as an ad for future films. Honestly, they basically gave us a regular teaser for Justice League inside this film.

Given the controversy casting Affleck as Batman caused, I feel obliged to say that I thought he was good, given the script he worked with. There wasn’t exactly much nuance or character space, but he certainly didn’t offend me in any way, and I enjoyed having an older Batman a lot. The tendency to make everyone very young is one of the more irritating trends in films, in my opinion. (Looking at you, Star Trek reboot.)

In fact, all of the actors were…well, I’d call it perfectly satisfying. It’s really impossible to compliment their acting overmuch without any meat to sink their teeth into, and this truly had no character depth at all. The one exception was Lex Luthor – he had no depth either, but his character was at least different enough that Jesse Eisenberg could have some fun with it, even though there were certainly moments of his scripting that were very hamfisted, and that was where his acting wasn’t quite up to task to carrying their ridiculousness. Can’t say I blame him.

So, all in all, the script was certainly the biggest weakness of this film with characters that were barely one-dimensional, a plot so riddled with holes that Swiss cheese looks consistent compared to it, and with themes that were barely explored. The other aspects, meanwhile, simply weren’t awesome enough to make up for it. It wasn’t a disaster, but I can’t quite say I enjoyed it either. The first half of the film just made me angry by the continual plot-holes, though I was able to get some pleasure out of the second act.

I don’t know. It’s just meh.

PS: Given that there is no after credits scene, part of me can’t help but expect a bonus video to be released on Sunday…

Images courtesy of Warner Bros.

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