Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice

For the year of 2016, it appears there has been universal disdain on the DC side of the lucrative comic book films market. I have heard countless criticism and flatout hatred towards the first DC film this year from Warner Bros. and the subject of today’s blog, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Do not let the order of the title mislead you, this is a sequel to 2013’s Man of Steel. Both films are directed by the controversial Zack Snyder. Snyder has been coming under fire for his darker takes on Superman and Batman, and the uncut home video release of Dawn of Justice dubbed ‘The Ultimate Edition’ (trailer) raises the stakes by adding in an extra half hour of footage that the MPAA deemed worthy of upgrading the home video version of the film to an R rating. The film has been receiving a lot of backlash from fans, and I appear to be in the minority that absolutely loved it, so bear with me as I try to break down why Dawn of Justice worked for me on so many levels.

We are only four years removed from the last Batman film, Dark Knight Rises, but this is the first DC movie to feature Batman in DC’s connected film universe and so now Ben Affleck takes the role of the Dark Knight. Instead of spending the first half hour of the film going over Bruce Wayne/Batman’s origin again BvS wisely gets it over and done with during the opening credits in a nicely done sequence that actually foreshadows a major turning point during the film’s final act. I also really appreciate how the film shows Wayne’s alternate perspective of being on the ground amidst the chaos during the epic clash of Superman and Zod from the end of Man of Steel that goes a long way at establishing a building block as to why the Batman automatically has it out for Superman (Henry Cavill).

On the flipside, a reason why Superman is not a fan of Batman is now because with Batman getting up there in years he has decided to add an edge to his form of vigilante justice by ‘branding’ his prisoners with a Batman icon. Regardless of the crime the criminal committed, the film determines that if a criminal is branded that it is a huge taboo among the prison populace and as a result the inmates do not last long in prison. There were a few extended/new scenes in the Ultimate Edition I noticed that helped explain this element of the bat branding, but even then it did not convince me of being something that Batman would actually do. Superman agrees with me too as this would play a factor on why the two would inevitably fight it out.

One element of the film that initially did not sit well with me in theaters was how the heroes two main hometowns, Gotham and Metropolis, are literally right across a lake from each other to explain why both caped heroes interact with each other so frequently. I am not a super loyal reader of the comics, but read enough of them to recall that was never the case in the books and I was pretty reluctant to accept this. Upon this second viewing though the plot eludes to this a few times so it made a little more sense the second time around. Another thing I was able to accept on the second viewing was Batman using guns in a couple scenes. If Batman used a gun in the comics, it was quite rare and there was a damn good reason for it, so to see him do it here out of nowhere was definitely surprising. I only came around on it here because it was more of a defense mechanism of the Batmobile when it was under heavy automatic weapon fire and came off as a last straw defense measure.

I still do not know what to make out of Dawn of Justice’s take on Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). Kevin Spacey’s version of Lex in Superman Returns is vastly superior. Eisenberg does a great job with the material he is given, but it still does not come off like a genuine portrayal of Luthor to me, and the film tried to make him a little too much like The Joker to by making him a bit too zany for my tastes. Even though Luthor is the antagonist, a lot of Luthor’s scenes are responsible for most of the film’s moments of levity. There are a few nicely timed sprinkled moments of dry humor from Bruce Wayne and Superman’s mom (Diane Lane) of all people that had me cracking up, but those jokes are few and far between. I heard a lot of backlash for this film not having enough laughs and being too dark, but I feel Dawn of Justice and Man of Steel are perfect counterparts to the Marvel films that tend to ride that line of overdoing it on the amount of lighthearted zingers. Dawn of Justice has just enough that makes their occasional joke go a long way and mean more.

Yes, Dawn of Justice is a dark film, and I would not have wanted it any other way. Of the new and extended scenes I was able to make out, it did not seem like it was enough to push it as R rating, but it still comes off as a hard PG-13 if that makes sense. I absolutely love the score that assists in complementing the nature of this film that is dominated by a heavy bass sound for the epic moments throughout the movie, and very brief but effective use of electric guitar when certain villains appear. The big build going into this was that Batman and Superman are going to fight, and going into the film I could not help but wonder if the filmmakers are going to deliver a convincing fight of Batman standing a chance against the invincible ‘Man of Steel’ and would Dawn of Justice make sense of what it took for these two heroes to come to blows. The answer is a resounding yes on both fronts. There is a lot more than what I already mentioned that leads to both icons squaring off, and it surprisingly came off plausible and made total sense to me and not in a cliché ‘he was mind controlled’ sort of way. The fight scene itself also lived up to the hype with Batman coming up with several unique ways to stand his ground against Superman and made for an intense encounter that did not underwhelm.

As you can tell by the box art of the video Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is also a featured player in the film. Even though she is front and center on the poster, she is not featured that prominently throughout the film as Dawn of Justice plays the role of introducing her to the DC Cinematic Universe much like how Civil War introduced Spider-Man to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As I said in the intro, Dawn of Justice is a Man of Steel sequel first and I can explain it better that 60% of the film revolves around Superman, 30% Batman and only 10% Wonder Woman. However, that 10% is incredibly effective because it establishes that Wonder Woman as a badass warrior that plays a key role in the final battle.

Just a few other quick tidbits here because this is already running really long. Ben Affleck delivers as Bruce Wayne and Batman and I was ecstatic to hear he got slotted as the director for the next Batman solo film. Props to Jeremy Irons for nailing the role of Alfred, and as much as I liked Michael Caine’s portrayal of Alfred in the Dark Knight trilogy, Irons is far more diverse in and believable in what Alfred is able to do to be Batman’s mentor/technician/butler/wise man in the film. I will also give props to Callan Mulvey’s role Knyavez, aka Lex Luthor’s heavy. Whenever Knyavez appeared he somehow accomplished the unbelievable feat of being able to hang with the heroes and not come off as meaningless cannon fodder. I was glad to see Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Percy White (Laurence Fishburne) be a little more featured this time around. Lois has a few scenes showcasing her ace investigative journalism talents, and Perry has a few defining moments of his own that rivals J.K. Simmons performance in the Spider-Man films as being the newspaper editor you do not want to cross.

The final battle with Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman all teaming up to take on Doomsday is right up there with the climactic battle against Zod in Man of Steel. There are plenty of adrenaline-filled big moments in the finale that had me bopping. If you know the story of Doomsday then you have a good idea on how this plays out, and I am surprised Warner Bros. went here this soon in the grand scope of the newly connected DC Cinematic Universe when it felt like they could have done one more movie before telling this pivotal moment in Superman’s history. Regardless, I think Snyder did a tremendous job at detailing the aftermath of this altercation and how serious of an affair it turned out to be. Experiencing this film again, and piecing together the other subtle and not-so-subtle hints it lays out for future DC films made it come together far better this time around. While I could not pinpoint every little scene that was part of the new 30 minutes in the Ultimate Edition, I imagine there must have been enough additional/extended scenes that help tightened up the overall plot of the film.

There are 11 extras totaling two hours of special features to consume. Extra feature junkies like me devoured every single minute of them. There are individual features devoted to breaking Dawn of Justice’s depiction Batman, Superman, Lex Luthor and Wonder Woman and how the film brings out all their unique characteristics and gadgets/weaponry. If you want to save some time you can skip over Accelerating Design, unless you are a gearhead because it spends nearly a half hour going in-depth about all the nooks and crannies of this version of the Batmobile. I was a big fan of Snyder’s ‘Maximum Movie’ enhanced video commentary he did for Watcmen and Man of Steel and was a little bummed there was not a version of it here. However, there are already so many other extra features to compensate for it, and I would not be too surprised if Warner Bros. eventually releases another special edition of the film containing that feature.

The individual character features are all good and worth watching, but there are three other features I would give a nod to more. Uniting World’s Finest is a 15 minute look at establishing the new DC Cinematic Universe and previews other characters it introduces in Dawn of Justice. Gods & Men is an entertaining look at the history of Batman and Superman squaring off in the comics over the years. Finally, Warrior, Myth, Wonder is an expansive, 21 minute look at the background of Wonder Woman and how her character drastically evolved over the decades and establishes how she was one of the pioneer female protagonists and how she has maintained relevance over the years and why she will be play a pivotal role in the future films.

If you managed to make it to this final paragraph than thank you for bearing with me in this insanely long entry. I felt like I needed to explain why this film won me over, and in the grand scheme of things I am giving an oh-so-tiny nudge for this being my favorite comic book film of the year thus far. Marvel does great work, and I enjoyed the heck out of Civil War, and yes while I do have some qualms with Dawn of Justice, it ultimately had higher highs for me and helped encapsulate a nearly perfect depiction of how I wanted DC Cinematic Universe to play out.

Other Random Backlog Movie Blogs

12 Angry Men (1957)
12 Rounds 3: Lockdown
21 Jump Street
Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie
Atari: Game Over
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Batman: The Killing Joke
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Bounty Hunters
Cabin in the Woods
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Clash of the Titans (1981)
Clint Eastwood 11-pack Special
The Condemned 2
Dirty Work
Field of Dreams
Fight Club
The Fighter
For Love of the Game
Good Will Hunting
Hercules: Reborn
Man of Steel
Marine 3 & 4
Mortal Kombat
The Replacements
Rocky I-VI
Running Films Part 1
Running Films Part 2
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Source Code
Star Trek I-XII
Take Me Home Tonight
The Tooth Fairy 1 & 2
Veronica Mars
The Wrestler (2008)
X-Men: Days of Future Past

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