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Batman, Superman, and This Is A Long Movie

Batman, Superman, and This Is A Long Movie

I rarely review movies. I do not pretend to be an expert in film theory or movie tastes. But the recent experience of Batman v Superman has driven me to deeper reflection and communication of the chaos experienced. Those who will be upset with a generally negative conclusion might want to skip out.

The Good

Zack Snyder is always good for a visually stunning performance and BvS was no exception. The fight sequences were excellent if not quite minimalist by current CGI standards. The lone exception to this comes through Batman. One such scene is a glance into a potential future (this scene also makes "the bad" list) and the other him infiltrating a building for a rescue. His demolition of 12 to 14 villains may be the highlight of the entire movie for action-oriented comic fans. The fight is intricate and shows off Batman's true crime fighting skills. The actually Batman/Superman battle is anti-climatic — it mostly consists of kicking or punching through walls or floors to Batman's pre-planned bottom floor (ain't he lucky Superman didn't carry him to another building?). Nonetheless, the fighting sequences as a whole are good

The acting in BvS is also rather good. The additions from the Man of Steel cast steal the show, however. Affleck as Batman had me groaning all the way to the theater, but he was truly great. The talk of him being "the best Batman" are no exaggeration. I would not make such a claim, but neither do I find them unreasonable. Eisenberg as Luthor did not translate well in trailers. In fact, many of those lines are even more awkward in the movie — they seem either written or edited specifically for the trailer. In spite of this, Eisenberg has many movie-stealing scenes. His dialogue with one specific senator builds up the first climax of BvS. His dialogue with Superman is one of the highlights of the film and should have been the beginning crescendo to the movie's completion, not just the second act.

The soundtrack was noticeably awesome. Hans Zimmer is pretty much a lock for something fantastic and this collaboration is no exception. This certainly plays a big role in a movie being perceived as complete and well-rounded. Unfortunately, the soundtrack could not save the movie from itself.

The Bad

Despite the strong finish of the "first act," the entire opening 40-50 minutes of the movie are a scattered mess. Character introductions are done in substantially complicated and messy ways. Ultimately, we join the movie in media res without knowing it — even the characters do not know it. This provides some drama to the development of the story (e.g. we don't have superheroes who know everything), but occasionally it leads to confusion — Batman breaking into Lexcorp to steal something (a scene we don't see except through Luthor himself) only to find out Luthor wanted Batman to steal the object. Ideas like this can be done well. They can make a film "smarter" and more intelligent. One is left to imagine how these could have played out differently since many of these attempts fall flat due to editing.

Similarly, choppy editing attempts a dramatic Batman backstory (because who needs a stand alone film for one-half of your namesake?). It only consumes time trying to be artsy while providing less context than the Man of Steel flashback. In Snyder's defense, names are important to Act 2's climax (the resolution of Batman/Superman fighting) and are tied to many of these scenes. Five convoluted scenes involving mothers set up a ten-second plot transition that feels ridiculously simplistic. This is characteristic of the entire problem with BvS — scenes do not exist for their own sake but continually point forward. The movie is repeatedly building sub-themes and plots only to rush through resolutions or resolve them implicitly. Another way of putting it would be that BvS would be a much better movie if it consisted of less movie.

In that vein, the major "bad" of BvS is the entirely unnecessary third act. Doomsday deserves his own movie — not just a final fifteen (!) minutes. Understanding what Doomsday is capable of consumes little time in the movie. And the Superman-killing device Batman has lying around is an over-the-top convenience that ruins the film. BvS should have ended with Lex hitting the "go" button on Doomsday before going to prison. Similarly, the story leading to Wonder Woman's action-reveal needed more time and would have been awesome for a standalone Doomsday/Justice League movie. Wonder Woman's involvement should have stopped in Act 1 or Act 2 after she performs her theft. Leave her in her party dress and let the fanboys walk out excited. Instead, Snyder drags Acts 2 to a halt with Batman discovering the truth about Diana Prince. This whole section of good movie has to go in the bad column because it feels half-baked and over-edited to save time.  

The Ugly

When the filming is good, the surplus of scenes is merely "bad" for BvS. But it also has a surplus of mind numbing scenes (some of which have already been mentioned). I saw the movie with two other individuals. One was familiar with the movie's intended outline (and marginal familiarity with the base comic). The other had no clue what to expect. The opening scenes left both horribly confused. Apart from Luthor's clean trajectory, the first act is disjointed. Neither superhero is given enough time to make them trackable. Their scenes are like spoken dialogue for plot progression. It's just poor cinematography. Batman is on an unconfirmed quest — though everyone knows what it is — that is supposed to result in a tense sense with Alfred (note it falls flat). Superman's public image is the main focus of Act 1 but is predictably forgotten by movie's end. In the midst of the public struggle, Superman is slowly stripped of any virtue ethic — rendering him an "emo" (aka "transparent" and "more human") Superman that audiences might understand. This emotional Superman is necessary to support the battle with Batman, but he looks like a wimp.

Both superheroes have excessive dialogue sequences that painfully interrupt the flow of Act 2 (do we really need Superman having the same conversation with Lois, his mom, and his dad?). Some plot points and sub-themes are inexplicably over explained. Batman is involved in some of the more painful Act 2 interaction, however, when the obligatory "Justice League" trailer begins mid-movie. The awkward e-mail (yes, e-mail. Hello, "You've Got Mail") exchange that leads to videos of the future Justice League members can only be overlooked by biased comic book fans. The rest of the watching audience has to endure a solid 5-10 minute trailer involving characters that are irrelevant to the looming battle between our superheroes — it also distracts from an excellent scene involving Luthor and Superman. 

The third act is better in reference to wasted scenes. The entire sequence involving Doomsday provides few insights outside of the dramatic Wonder Woman reveal. We hear multiple times how "empty" or "vacant" portions of the city are while Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman do their thing. Otherwise, WW is left to provide the obligatory 300/Suckerpunch style fighting that has made Snyder popular. It looks great by the way.


Oh, snap. Can that opening weekend cover the massive fallout?

In conclusion, I believe that this would have been a pretty spectacular two-part movie — perhaps even three separate movies. The content and acting is, for the most part, excellent. But the final version is a befuddled and incompetent mess. Comic books fans will walk away spitting out the many bones in this movie. The raw exhilaration of the good scenes will keep some casual people enjoying it.

Ultimately, I have to ask myself to consider it as a movie and not just a comic/superhero movie (in which plot holes would be expected). As it was released, Batman v Superman is as impotent as Superman around Kryptonite. Recall that excellent scene in the trailer when Batman blocks Superman's punch — the awful realization on Superman's face. That is this movie realizing it underperformed as the crowd walks out in mumbling silence.

Note: The final comment is the actual experience I had. The theater was packed with fans in DC gear. I've never been to such a quiet movie nor experienced so many utterly silent comic book fans in the bathroom line afterward. For the Alamo Drafthouse, a faux-temple for movie goers, it was very telling.

Dr. BvS-love: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Dr. BvS-love: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

numbers game

numbers game