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Batman Versus Superman: Dawn of Justice

I don't care much for DC characters. I'm not going to be able to love or hate this movie as much as some fanboys because I simply don't have as much investment into this universe and characters. I like Batman just fine, I hate Superman, and I'm ambivalent about most of the rest of the characters. Making Superman invincible just sucks any drama away from any conflict that he engages in. The only way to get around that is for Superman to be a complete idiot and to manage to fall for Kryptonite traps every time; otherwise, there's no story. Good writers can find ways to put Superman in situations in which he has to make split-second decisions, and that can create drama for any characters whose fate hinges on Superman's decisions. But there's only so many ways to do that before it starts to feel contrived, assuming that it ever didn't feel contrived to begin with.

So I didn't care much for Man of Steel, and my expectations for Dawn of Justice was pretty low. The only thing that I thought might give this movie any chance in hell was that the trailers made it seem like the movie might actually tackle the destruction-porn criticisms of Man of Steel by framing Superman as a villainous, city-destroying monster. The success or failure of the movie would be contingent on whether or not audiences can buy into the idea of Superman being more dangerous than he's worth.

To the film's credit, this is exactly how it starts. The first half of this movie dives right into the issue of super hero collateral damage, and Superman is criticized for his unilateral, un-supervised actions that put the citizens of Metropolis (and the world) in direct danger. The movie asks questions of whether or not Superman has the right to take actions without the consent or oversight of the people, regardless of whether his intents are noble. There's some superficial allegorical commentary about the threats posed by unilateral action by authorities (whether it's Superman taking the action, or a government). I was really enjoying the movie, especially the early scenes that played around with viewing the heroes actions through different perspectives. This stuff was thoughtfull and heady! We see Superman's actions through the perspective of a thoroughly immasculated Bruce Wayne. We see Batman's vigilante justice through the eyes of skeptical police. And we see both from the perspective of the civilians they are purporting to defend, and even from the media. I was really liking all this...

The first half of the movie user perspective shifts to reframe the actions of both of our heroes.

... And then Lex Luthor blows up the Capitol building, and a lot of the good will that the movie had been earning kind of goes down the toilet. All those themes about acting without the consent of the people, and all those perspective shifts, just go out the window to make room for a battle royale. Literally the entire second half of the movie is one extended action scene with virtually no weight or substance. Other than Batman moving the conflict towards a section of Gotham harbor that is supposedly abandoned, all the political and ideological substance that the movie had seemingly been about in the first half is completely ignored and completely unresolved. I guess we'll just have to wait until Captain America: Civil War to tell us this same story, with these same themes, in a more compelling and enjoyable way.

Dawn of Justice gets criticism for supposedly having weak motivations for its characters. I don't think this is true. I get why Bruce Wayne is so fearful of Superman. It's a bit obsessive, but it makes sense based on the history of the character in this film. After all that Batman has seen and been through, after all the villains that he's fought and all the criminals he's put down, here comes an unstoppable alien who could turn on humanity at any moment. I get it. I didn't buy into Clark Kent's dislike of Batman; although, neither did the movie's writers, since Luthor basically has to pull the whole "kidnap the hero's loved one(s)" cliche in order to threaten Superman into wanting to fight Batman. And just as much as the two's resentment towards each other felt forced, the way in which their fight "resolves" itself is similarly forced and silly.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - Robin's costume
Did you miss the significance of Robin's old costume? If so, you missed a critical piece of character backstory.

There's also a lot of little, character-informing details that audiences might miss because they're not very well presented by the film. The best example is probably a costume that is briefly shown in the Batcave that is covered with graffiti that reads "Hahaha Joke's on you Batman!" This isn't one of Batman's old costumes (as my girlfriend thought at the time); it was Robin's costume. This movie takes place after The Joker had murdered Robin and sent the body back to Batman as a "practical joke". This is a major character-informing moment in the movie that tells us why this Batman is so broken and beaten and angry. It's not just because he's old and has lost a step. But many viewers simply miss this important detail because the costumes are so drab and indistinguishable from one another. The "R" on the costume is almost completely obscured, and so unless you recognize the mask or the staff (or the apparent lack of pants), it's easy to fail to recognize what this costume represents.

I actually liked Ben Affleck's Batman a heck of a lot more than Christian Bale. Affleck seemed to have just the right combination of bulk, thoughtfulness, perceptiveness, flirtatiousness, and an awkward detachment from real life that I usually associate with Bruce Wayne / Batman. This older, more jaded, The Dark Knight Returns-inspired Batman was easily the highlight of the movie. I actually look forward to seeing a stand-alone Affleck Batman movie!

I also really enjoyed Jesse Eisenburg's performance, though the character did suffer from his own poor writing. I've always thought of Luthor as being a villain who thinks at multiple levels and who always has his own end game that he's planning and plotting for. As clever as Luthor's scheme wanted to be, I never really bought into just why he wants Superman out of the picture, or what exactly he was trying to accomplish. This all seemed like a lot of trouble to go through in order to frame Superman so that he could get the government to give him a contract to develop kryptonite weapons. And I would think that framing Superman for blowing up Congress would have been sufficient for that cause, so why the whole plot about tricking Superman into murdering Batman? And why would he give away the kryptonite to Batman, if having a monopoly on kryptonite weapons was his end goal? In addition, Superman has no reason to dislike Luthor, so why would Luthor want to go so far out of his way to make an enemy out of the most powerful being on the planet?

UPDATE: APRIL 7, 2016: The only thing that I can come up with regarding Luthor's motivation is that he doesn't have any specific agenda. Instead, he is just a huge ego-maniac with an inferiority complex (probably derived from his relationship with his father), and maybe even a God complex. His dislike of Superman is because he feels threatened by a being so much more powerful than him, and he wants to prove that he is smarter or more powerful than Superman by defeating him in some way. This works just fine as a motivation, and the movie sets this all up well. I'm OK with that. He's a good foil for Superman, since he's a man with a god complex who lacks power and is motivated by selfishness; Superman is a god-like being struggling with doing good in a world that doesn't want him. This is virtually the same Lex Luthor-Superman dynamic that we've seen in every live-action movie; though this one may be a bit more ham-fisted about it. What I had problems with was trying to understand the details of Luthor's plan. Is he trying to prove his power with the kryptonite bullets? Does he want to outsmart Superman in a battle of wits? Does he want to prove his power and influence by tricking Batman (the world's greatest detective) into killing Superman? Which of these is the plan? Are they all just backup plans and contingencies? The movie seems to want to frame Luthor's plan as some big puzzle for the audience to figure out (hence Lois' role), but this scheme just doesn't add up to me, which means there's no puzzle to solve, and Lois loses relevance in the plot.

Gal Godot was also perfectly likeable as Wonder Woman, even though she felt completely superfluous. It would have been nice if she had something worthwhile to actually do in the movie. I went into the movie thinking that she would be a romantic interest for Bruce Wayne, and at least it wasn't that.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - Wonder Woman
Could you remind me again what color Wonder Woman's costume is?
Every scene is so drab and colorless that I really couldn't tell if it was red or brown.

From a technical standpoint, the movie wasn't very impressive. Some of the battle scenes (especially the final fight) looked really washed out and monochrome. There was so much dull brown and gray that I thought I was playing Call of Duty for a moment. It was so bad that if I didn't already know what Wonder Woman looks like, I'd have left the theater having no clue what color her outfit was supposed to be. I had the same issue with the first Transformers movie: the colors of the robots were so subdued that when they fought, all I saw was balls of gray metal. Michael Bay learned from that mistake and brightened up the color palette for the Transformers sequels, but apparently, Zach Snyder didn't learn from Bay's example.

I also have enough cursory knowledge of comic books to not be at all saddened or worried by this movie's ending. Nice try, Snyder, but I'm not falling for it. It's also way too soon to pull that kind of move, because the character's arcs aren't resolved, and the audience doesn't have enough investment in the characters to react as strongly as the writers apparently want us to react.

Dawn of Justice isn't a terrible movie (and I didn't think Man of Steel was terrible either). It actually contains a lot of thoughtfulness and some heady concepts that force the audience to question whether the protagonists are really heroes or threats. And that's exactly what the movie needs to do; otherwise, it couldn't possibly work. I think Superman could probably be presented a bit more heroically and optimistically, but if you slip too far in that direction, then Batman doesn't work as well in context of the film. The biggest mistake that the movie makes is simply Luthor's flimsy scheme, and the justification for the climactic battle royale. Unfortunately, those are pretty big deals.

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