Movie reviews today in 2016 are a tricky beast to tackle, whether you’re the one writing them or the person viewing them. In today’s world of technology and instant-content, reviewers and critics are all too concerned with being among the first to upload their reviews to their YouTube channel or their blog so that everyone will click on their link before they even go to see the movie on opening weekend. What this has created, in my opinion, is a rush to judgement. This has even filtered over to audiences. With the current place comic book movies have in the world of blockbuster cinema, fans are all too anxious to see a movie, quickly watch it, then are immediately asking for the next one that they can go watch. They aren’t taking the time to really digest what it is they’re watching, so if they don’t fully get everything they’re seeing on first viewing, the movie is bad and they have little desire to watch it again because another comic book movie will be coming out in 3 months. Because of this, I try not to give my review of a film until a couple of months after when I’ve watched it a couple of times and really broken it down. For example, in 1989, everyone was saying Tim Burton’s “Batman” was the best cinematic experience we could ever want in a Batman movie and that it was perfect. Many people go back and watch it now and see that there are actually quite a few problems with it, mainly lying in the story. So, without further adieu, lets jump into breaking down the most controversial comic book movie of 2016 (if not of all time): Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
I don’t think anyone really needs me to spell out the premise of the movie at this point. We all know the film deals with the political aftermath of the events in “Man of Steel” and that both Batman and Lex Luthor see Superman as a massive threat to mankind and feel compelled to take certain measures to take him out of the picture before he can hurt anyone. Batman wants to do it himself, while Lex Luthor wants for the entire world to see him as the evil he truly is and have their hate and fear destroy him. Lex accomplishes this through manufacturing several deaths and disasters that Superman is blamed for, he manipulates Batman’s rage towards Superman to push him further to the edge to kill him, and he even goes so far as to create Doomsday.
One of the biggest critiques that I’ve heard several times when referencing the film is the overly dark and depressing tone of the movie. “It doesn’t feel as heroic or upbeat as a movie about superheroes should feel.” With the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, it got me to thinking about one of the best sequels ever made: The Empire Strikes Back. This was a movie that, at the time, was not well received by critics or fans because the movie didn’t feel as though it had a beginning, middle, and end. Also due to the overly dark and moody tone of the story, especially with the ending between Luke and Vader. Now, I’m not saying that Batman v Superman is better than Empire Strikes Back, but what I do see is a homage to the tradition Empire Strikes Back started which was adopted in other films like Godfather Part II and The Dark Knight: make the sequel/follow-up darker. Put your characters in extremely difficult and emotionally trying situations as it makes the audience feel as though the characters are in danger that they may not recover from. For me, Batman v Superman does that for the two protagonists as we find them both in situations that we have never seen them in before. Both have had to make compromises and it seems that they cannot possibly come back from the dark, emotional conflicts that they’ve found themselves in. But in the climax, we get to see how both Batman and Superman find a path to the light: Batman finds it in Superman’s sacrifice and Superman finds it in his realization that Earth and Lois are his home; that he’s NOT as much of an alien as he’s told himself he is.
When broken down into the simplest of terms, the story is extremely strong and worthy of this iconic first on-screen meeting of the two biggest superheroes in comic book history. However, we cannot deny that there are issues with how this story is told. I feel that a big portion of the blame goes to not allowing Zack Snyder to release his original 3-hour long cut in theaters as the Ultimate Edition highlights several key scenes that provide exposition and visual elements that further elaborate on subplots that further fill in the main plot such as Clark Kent’s investigation into Batman, Lois Lane’s investigation into the deaths and bombings that Superman is blamed for, and the sequence of how certain scenes were edited into the film. But does the Ultimate Cut clear up every problem many people saw with the story? No, it does not. Which leads me to the second problem: Zack Snyder is a very visual director. He relies far less on dialogue and exposition and relies very heavily on visual elements to convey information that tells the story. As I said earlier, if you’re a person who enjoys watching a movie multiple times, then this creates a fun experience of exploration as you can watch the movie and always uncover new things that help fill in the story. But this is a big problem for a movie that you’re trying to present to the widest audiences possible because many times, if people don’t understand something on their first viewing, they become frustrated and have very little desire to ever give it another chance. A key example of this is the “Knightmare Sequence”: many fans and audiences to this day still don’t fully understand what it is they were seeing. Was it a dream? Was it the future? Does Bruce see that or is it just the Flash who sees it? If Bruce does see this, how is he able to be seeing his future? People became more frustrated by the elements they couldn’t understand than they were wowed by the cool factor of seeing Batman battle an army of Superman soldiers and Parademons.
Lastly, and I know this is a subject that has left most viewers divided: Zack Snyder is a very visual storyteller. If you’ve seen his movies like Sucker Punch, Watchmen, 300, or Man of Steel, you know that he loves storytelling and plot development through thematic content told through visuals. Not only thematic content, but informational content. Much of the information you can gather about certain characters or events that have transpired since Man of Steel. So, for me, I really enjoy being able to watch a movie for a 7th or 8th time and still pick up small images or messages that further help expand upon the plot or themes within the film. Some examples of this can be found in scenes such as Bruce’s conversation with Alfred and he says, “Criminals are like weeds, Alfred. Pull one up, another grows in its place,” then he leaves Alfred and walks amongst the weeds surrounding a derelict Wayne Manor. Or how Bruce keeps the bullet-ridden suit of a deceased Robin who was clearly killed by the Joker on display in a glass case in the middle of the Batcave so that he HAS to look at it every single day before he puts on his Batsuit, constantly reminding him of his greatest failure, further fueling his rage and determination to not take it easy on criminals.
So, where do I stand on the story of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice? I think that the key plot is the best Superman story we’ve ever seen by giving Superman an enemy that he can’t punch his way out of: human perception. He can do almost anything that he wants to do and can overcome any physical confrontation, but when he has people hating him and protesting him because of who he is and how he is perceived and the way his actions are interpreted, that’s extremely difficult for him. And while I think this version of Batman is very close to the comic book version, he lacked the detective/contemplative element that allows him to use more logic than emotion. And while the first two acts are slow moving, the third act was very well done. Showcasing the showdown between Batman and Superman, the epic warehouse sequence, and the final confrontation of The Trinity vs Doomsday. If I’m going based on the Ultimate Edition of the film (which I feel is the most fair as that is the version we were always meant to see), I have to grade the story 4/5. Strong plot with great motivation for the two protagonists as well as a very sufficient story for Lois Lane, but it all becomes a bit muddled with everything they wanted to include in the movie as well as the weak resolution to the conflict between Batman and Superman.
COSTUMES: I think it goes without saying that the costumes in the DC Extended Universe have all been pretty much perfect. Michael Wilkinson has worked with Zack Snyder on most of his films such as 300, Watchmen, and has returned for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice after his work on Man of Steel.
Superman: Wilkinson improves upon the great foundation he established in Man of Steel with Superman’s costume. I love the chainmail armored look of this costume as it lends more credibility to having it look like the comics, but not be spandex. What Wilkinson improves upon is color and texture. Using brighter blues and reds, the suit looks a little less muted and metallic as it did in Man of Steel. He also utilized a new material for the cape, making it appear with more of a sheen and vibrancy to it. I also love the addition of the Kryptonian glyphs in the crest on his chest as well as in the biceps.
In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Zack Snyder made the decision to finally make a comic book accurate adaptation of the suit. Keeping in line with the look of the Superman suit, Batman sports a grey bodysuit with a black bat symbol on the front. The cowl is very representative of how it was drawn by Frank Miller and Jim Lee in various DC Comics storylines, utilizing shorter ears. Before this costume, I would have said my favorite movie Batsuit was either the Batman Begins suit or the 1989 Batman suit worn by Michael Keaton, but this new suit for Batman v Superman is perfect in my opinion. Not only does it capture the comic accurate color scheme, but the way the musculature of the body is conveyed and the texture of the suit gives an older, worn look and feel, the suit just feels like it’s Batman. The armored mech suit that Batman wears later in the film even further exemplifies perfection as it evokes a loyal adaptation of the armored suit in The Dark Knight Returns, but captures a visceral look and feel when realized in the real world. I think I’m so impressed with this suit because it was a physically made suit and not a CGI suit.
I think it goes without saying, I give the costumes 5/5 stars. Each costume is perfectly crafted and will surely please every fan.
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Going to try and keep this section short as I don’t really see there being much debate. People can say what they want as far as what it is they personally prefer, but they cannot deny the utter beauty of how this movie looks. Rich with vibrant, strong colors and visceral environments, this film is a gorgeous masterpiece to look at. Each shot looks as though you could select any frame and have it be a panel in a comic book. Many people critiqued that Man of Steel looked drab and washed out, but Batman v Superman brings a rich story of color and lighting to highlight the various textures and environments that surround that characters. Larry Fong and Zack Snyder perfectly capture the look and feel of every scene through lighting, framing, and camera movement. The scene in the rain during the Batman/Superman fight is by far the most beautifully shot sequence I’ve ever seen in any comic book film, and that’s saying a lot when you think back to the shots created by Christopher Nolan and even Joss Whedon in Avengers. Cinematography gets 5/5 stars from me, and I can only hope that you agree.
ACTION/FIGHT SEQUENCES: This is something that a lot of high-nosed critics point a finger at as a negative while comic book fans complain if there’s not enough of. But when you’re looking at comic book movies, this is something that I feel has to be taken into account because you’re dealing with characters that have extraordinary abilities and we want to see how those abilities are used in fun and interesting ways.
Overall, this movie isn’t very action heavy until the final act. Yes, there are bits where we see Superman flying around or hauling naval ships or we see Batman beating up thugs and zipping around in his Batmobile, but there isn’t an action beat every 10-15 minutes. This is another topic where you’ll get a different answer depending who you ask. Personally, while I love action sequences, I like that this movie didn’t rely on them so often. For me, I enjoy seeing a story develop and unfold through dialogue and exposition or seeing the characters going places and doing things. The primary action sequences that really stand out for me are the Knightmare sequence, the Batman vs Superman fight, the warehouse fight, and the final Trinity vs Doomsday sequence.
However, while the action sequences are amazing, 3 of those 4 sequences occur in the third act which leaves a lot of people feeling like the movie has too much action. Something the Marvel movies do well is pace their movies. Yes, they do a lot of action beats, but they do it in such a way so that viewers don’t feel overwhelmed by a lot of it in a third act. For me personally, I prefer Snyder’s method of saving it for the third act because it just adds this weight and gravitas to the climax and you feel the suspense and adrenaline.
Something that I really like with this movie is the technique and visceral nature of their fighting styles. Obviously Superman has never been trained in any form of martial arts, but he’s vastly more experienced with his powers now, so you can see how he’s gone less from the wild haymakers he was throwing in Man of Steel and has become a bit more focused in this movie. However, because Batman is human and Superman isn’t out to try to kill him, we don’t get to see Superman go all out on Batman like he did with Zod and Faora in Man of Steel. We do get to see him let loose a bit on Doomsday in the third act which was a dream come true for many fans to see these two titans go blow for blow.
The two characters that were most impressive were Batman and Wonder Woman. In the DC Comics Universe, there aren’t really any characters who are better fighters than Batman and Wonder Woman and I think that this movie captures that perfectly. Both Bruce and Diana have very different fight styles and I think that’s extremely important. Batman showcases are very diverse repertoire of martial arts techniques, but all are implemented to take out his opponents in the most brutal and expedient way possible. Here we get to see Batman jump, kick, throw, and move in ways that we’ve never gotten to see previously in any live action movie, but is very indicative of how he’s conveyed in the comics. The best way to put it is that Batman’s fighting style and techniques in this movie are like the Arkham video games come to life and it perfectly suits the character. Christopher Nolan was the first to really show Batman fight in a more complex and impressive manner as I don’t think Tim Burton or Joel Schumacher were ever really able to. The problem I have with Christopher Nolan’s depiction of Batman’s technique is that he elected to use a martial art called Keysi, which utilizes high speed movements and elbow strikes within close quarters combat that made the fights look a little unimpressive and hard to follow at times. Zack Snyder gives Batman this formidable arsenal of techniques that presents him as an impressive and unbeatable fighter.
Diana’s technique is much more fluid and graceful, almost like a dance. She’s very methodical and precise in her movements, showing that she has a century’s worth of experience. We don’t get to see too much of her ability in this movie, but the way that they have conveyed her speed and mobility are perfectly in line with her character from the comics. The way she utilizes her sword, shield, lasso, and gauntlets to be all that she will ever need for a fight are brilliantly realized in this film as much as Captain America with his shield or Thor with his hammer: The fighting styles and techniques perfectly capture who they are and how we recognize them from the source material.
Seeing how all three of these characters blend their fighting styles together in the climax against Doomsday gives one of the greatest fight sequences we’ve ever seen in a comic book movie. Their fighting styles perfectly personify the characters they’re playing and helps the audience truly believe that they’re seeing these characters come to life on the big screen.
At the end of the day, I think Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was made for a certain kind of fan, and as we’ve seen, a lot of people love it while a lot of people hate it. It does break the mold of what most other comic book movies of today are like, and that could play a large part in why I like it more than other people do. This movie took the idea of Batman and Superman meeting for the first time and should have been more optimistic and upbeat, but they decided to go a different way. Hopefully, going forward, Zack Snyder will find a way to make the DC movies brighter and more optimistic without compromising his artistic fingerprint and the stories that he wants to tell because I truly believe he’s one of the greatest storytellers out there. He has one of the best eyes for visuals of anyone I’ve ever seen and I can’t wait to see where he takes these characters in Justice League this Fall.
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