Dodano: 20 April 2016
GLIMPSES OF HOPE AMIDST CHAOS
It has been eight years since Marvel Studios initiated an unprecedented project in movie history. Creating separate franchises, each devoted to a single superhero, has been replaced with a shared cinematic universe, in which characters and their plots from different works can crossover with one other. Their latest film, Captain America: Civil War, will be released in May, a month after Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice from the rival DC Comics. In both movies two American icons find themselves on opposite sides of an ideological conflict. It is too early, however, to compare both franchises, since Batman v Superman is only the second installment in the DC Extended Universe, after Man of Steel, whereas Civil War is… the thirteenth one in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Unfortunately, it can already be observed that the creators of the film have made a series of mistakes, desperately trying to catch up with the competition, which results in an uneven and chaotic work, though not without its intriguing moments, giving some hope for the future.
The film is a direct sequel to Man of Steel. Superman’s fight with General Zod resulted in the deaths of thousands of people. Among the victims were employees of Bruce Wayne who comes to the conclusion that the alien from Krypton poses a threat that must be stopped. The rest of the world is not sure either what to think about a being possessing an almost godlike power. Is Superman a god, a demon, or maybe, as one of the commentators in the movie puts it, “a guy who is trying to do some good?” Meanwhile, Clark Kent, a Daily Planet reporter, is outraged by the fact that Gotham City is terrorized by a masked vigilante called Batman, who puts himself above the law and acts as judge, jury and executioner. Both, however, are unaware that they are being watched and manipulated by Lex Luthor, an insane billionaire who is trying to provoke a fight between the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel, hoping that it will end with both heroes’ demise…
At a first glance, the plot seems interesting and can be seen as a logical consequence of the events from the previous movie while the characters’ motivations fit their comic book counterparts. It is also quite curious that the way Bruce Wayne and the majority of the world react to Superman’s activities reflects the negative reception of the previous movie in the real world. Man of Steel was criticized for its main protagonist’s carelessness, as he did not seem to pay attention to how many people had been killed or injured while he was fighting his enemies. Zack Snyder’s latest film either proves that the director decided to admit to his mistake or that he planned everything from the beginning.
Regardless of his intentions, the final result is, unfortunately, frustratingly chaotic and uneven. The film consists of unfinished scenes, appearing one after another without any logical, smooth transition. There are moments when characters have to explain in detail what happened off-screen (the consequences of Superman’s actions in Africa), sometimes with just a throwaway line (the absurd and unrealistic claims that the city districts where the fighting takes place are abandoned) and some elements of the plot are never explained at all (how Luthor acquired certain crucial information). On the other hand, these ambiguities, when used properly, can work to the film’s advantage, creating an aura of mystery surrounding the characters. The audience can only speculate what made Batman even more ruthless and distrustful than usual. The movie shows the burnt ruins of Wayne Manor and a Robin suit covered with the words “HA HA HA JOKE’S ON YOU BATMAN,” Bruce mentions that Gotham City has had “a bad history with freaks dressed like clowns” and reminds Alfred that after twenty years he lost many of his allies… All of this encourages the audience to go see a solo Batman movie in the future, which may answer some of the arising questions. Unfortunately, the film is also filled with unnecessary hints to other members of the upcoming Justice League that have no impact on the plot and take up precious screen time, which could have been used to explain some of the subplots. Batman v Superman makes the same mistake as The Amazing Spider-Man 2, in which the story and character development were sacrificed in favor of setting up sequels that never happened.
Yet another element which makes following the movie difficult is the way action sequences were shot. During the Batmobile chase the audience is constantly blinded by the cars’ headlights, whereas the final fight with Doomsday (the distributors should not have spoiled his presence in the trailer) is covered with heavy smoke, explosions and electrical charges. Luckily, the movie’s climax, which is the fight between the two main heroes, looks very good, mostly thanks to the Dark Knight’s ingenuity, as he effectively uses his wide arsenal of weapons. Another scene worth mentioning is an incredibly dynamic and brutal fight between Batman and Luthor’s men, which brings to mind the Arkham games.
At this point, looking back at all the positive aspects of Snyder’s work, one can notice its biggest problem: it focuses almost entirely on the former of the titular heroes. Batman has always been the most popular and the most profitable product of DC Comics, which is why the creators of the film put most effort in depicting his character in the best possible way. One has to admit that they succeeded: Ben Affleck as the Dark Knight is one of the best aspects of this movie. In just a few words, and sometimes with nothing but his eyes, he can reflect his tragic experience and weariness, as well as determination and aggression. He is being supported by Jeremy Irons, who portrays a very complex version of Alfred, his loyal butler. In one moment he can sarcastically comment on Bruce Wayne’s obsession, only to turn serious almost immediately and express his concern. Aside from the actors, Batman’s equipment is just as impressive: his suit, the armor he wears during the fight with Superman and his vehicles, the Batmobile and the Batwing.
The problem is that while trying to depict Batman and all the elements from his universe in the best possible way, Batman v Superman almost completely forgets about its other titular hero. Henry Cavill returns as Kal-El and, much like in Man of Steel, he is very good at portraying his gentleness, humility and simplicity, as well as gravitas and strength. Unfortunately, unlike the previous movie, in which he was the main protagonist, this time he has very little screen time, and when he does appear, he does not say much. As a result, he cannot oppose the accusations and state his point of view. At one point, when he is about to do that, a sudden plot twist stops him. His actions and people’s reactions to them are summarized in just one montage. But the worst thing is what happens to Superman at the end of the movie. One can see it coming very early on, especially if one is familiar with his comic book biography. All of this makes Batman v Superman, which was supposed to be a clash between two radically opposing worldviews, very one-sided.
This balance is further shaken by the introduction of a mysterious Diana Prince, whom Bruce meets at Luthor’s party, unaware that he has encountered an immortal Amazon warrior: Wonder Woman. The actress who portrays her, Gal Gadot – mostly known for her work on The Fast and the Furious franchise – is, despite having very little screen time, one of the brightest points of the movie, next to Ben Affleck. Both are experienced superheroes who decided to isolate themselves from humanity. Gadot, however, enriches her character with an unusual trait. Unlike the bitter Dark Knight, Wonder Woman is extremely enthusiastic about fighting. During the battle with Doomsday – it is worth praising that she effectively uses all of her comic book arsenal – she is knocked to the ground, to which she reacts with… a smile. Her warrior qualities are also perfectly reflected in her music theme, filled with the dynamic sounds of an electric cello and the rhythmic beating of drums. By comparison, the Batman theme is disappointing, consisting of six repeating, loud notes that sound like a fanfare at the end of a trailer (it was actually used for this purpose at the end of one of the film’s trailers). Superman’s theme from Man of Steel still holds up, reflecting well his optimism and strength.
Finally, one should mention the major supporting characters. Amy Adams as Lois Lane attempts to portray her as an intelligent, independent and determined reporter. In the end, however, her role is reduced to being saved by Superman. Laurence Fishburne as Perry White serves, much like Irons as Alfred, as the source of rare humor in the movie. Jesse Eisenberg playing Lex Luthor is one of the most controversial casting choices in recent years and, unfortunately, not a very good one. For years Superman’s archnemesis has been depicted as an incredibly intelligent manipulator who puts on a mask of a businessman and philanthropist for the world. Luthor according to Eisenberg is mentally unstable and does not hide his insanity. However, rather than terrify, his nervous ticks, sudden tone changes and violent gestures tend to annoy. One may get the impression that Eisenberg tried to recapture the success of Heath Ledger’s Joker.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a film which is very hard to judge. The chaotic way the story is told, badly shot action scenes (with few exceptions) and almost complete disregard for Superman will disappoint many viewers. On the other hand, the perfect depiction of the characters of Batman and Wonder Woman gives hope for the future of the DC Extended Universe. In order for it to succeed, however, its creators must learn from their mistakes. DC comics are filled with fascinating, diverse characters with rich history that can easily compete with Marvel heroes. Their stories must be adapted into films gradually, so that the audience will get to know them better, without being distracted by the overabundance of allusions to other movies. Batman cannot do it alone. He needs the Justice League. As well as a better director and screenwriter.
The author of this review is Jakub Michalik. MA in English philology at the Institute of English Studies, the University of Warsaw. The author of a thesis devoted to the features of Stephen King’s American Gothic fiction. Interests: classic works of literature (especially the American Renaissance, the Victorian period and modernism), sociology of popular culture, the superhero genre in comics and movies, literary translation, the history of film, film criticism. Batman fan.
Proofreading: Klementyna Dec.
Title: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: David S. Goyer, Chris Terrio
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, Scoot McNairy, Callan Mulvey, Tao Okamoto
Cinematography: Larry Fong
Music by: Hans Zimmer, Junkie XL
Edited by: David Brenner
Production design: Patrick Tatopoulos
Costumes: Michael Wilkinson
Running time: 151 minutes