Friday, March 25, 2016

NINJA STUFF: My Review of Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice

We're going to talk movies today, Esteemed Reader, specifically superhero movies. It's going to get really nerdy here and I'll understand if you'd rather opt out until I have a new interview with  a writer or literary agent. But this is my blog and those of you who are regular Esteemed Readers know how I feel about Batman movies and Superman movies and how I have long dreamed of seeing them in a movie together.

I try not to discuss movies at this blog too often, not because I don't love some of them, but because they get discussed plenty elsewhere and this is a blog about reading and writing. You may recall I got sick of movies last year when I had a perma-free pass. Alas, that pass has since expired and I haven't been back to the theaters for three months now. If I have to pay cash money for a movie in addition to leaving my house where I will be forced to put up with people talking and blinding me with their light-up cell phone displays set to maximum rude, somebody better be wearing a cape:)

But last Friday we got 13 incredible episodes of Daredevil on Netflix (and yes, I've watched them all over the course of 6 days) and we're about to get Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. This may be the greatest week of entertainment in the history of the world and afterwards I'm going back to mostly reading books as I don't think Hollywood can top this week and I probably won't venture out to the cinema again until Captain America III: Spider-man Party.

I'm writing this on a Wednesday afternoon, March 23rd. My eyes are slightly crossed from hours of making revisions to the middle of my next horror novel, The Book of David (soon to be available provided no one releases any more episodes of Daredevil). My tickets are for the earliest available 3D showing of Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice tomorrow, so I haven't actually seen the movie yet. I thought it might be fun to split my review into my expectations for the movie before seeing it and my reaction after seeing it.

Therefore, you can read the first part of this post without fear of spoilers, because I don't know any.


PART ONE: WRITTEN BEFORE SEEING THE MOVIE

I'm so excited, Esteemed Reader. This might be the most excited I've ever been about seeing a movie in my adult life--certainly the most excited I've been since just before The Dark Knight Rises released. And I should've learned a lesson about adjusting my expectations. Because I keenly remember the disappointment that followed The Dark Knight Rises being worse than the disappointment that followed Batman and Robin.

You see, I expected Batman and Robin to suck. Every trailer leading up to its release looked terrible, so my expectations were managed. I didn't even see it until it had been out a day or two. I had a half hope that a movie chock full of so many beloved characters could somehow pull off something still worth watching despite the terribleness on display in those previews. In a way, it did, because I have yet to see another movie that's quite so much fun to hate (and I do love hating it). I have seen Citizen Kane exactly once (it was fine), but I have hate-watched Batman and Robin more than twenty times in the almost 20 years since it's release (oh my God, what have I been doing with my life!?!?).

Whereas The Dark Knight Rises caught me by surprise by simply being not very good. It was the sequel to The Dark Knight, which is the best Batman movie of all time, and The Dark Knight Rises was made by all the same people, so of course my expectations were through the roof. And the movie has some top-notch Batman and Bane fights in between scenes of Alfred crying all over himself.  It's not Batman and Robin bad where you can enjoy making fun of it. It's just extremely dry and boring with moments of painfully bad acting and bad screenwriting and scenes of such sheer stupidity they stand out even in a goofy comic book movie (really? all the cops in the city went underground at the same time? really? this is your gritty, "realistic" Batman?).

And I'm aware my ire is puzzling to many normal readers who gave up on this post already. I felt the same puzzlement way back when Star Wars: The Phantom Menace came out and fans lost their minds hating it. I remember watching the flick filled with mediocre acting, some dodgy special effects, and a bunch of mystic space mumbo jumbo and thinking "yep, that was a Star Wars movie." Jar Jar Binks was annoying, but the big light-saber fight at the end was great and there were lots of interesting aliens. Oh, and I liked the pod racing (so sue me). I felt like I got my money's worth and so I recall being the only one in my friend group to leave the theater feeling happy with what I saw.

But that's because I'm a casual Star Wars fan. I totally dig those movies, but I don't love, love, love them the way some do. I had a couple Luke and Han action figures when I was young, but my mom sold them in a garage sale and that was fine. As I write this I have a shelf overlooking me stuffed with Batman and Superman action figures, including a new Batfleck and a Henry Cavil Superman. I feel about Batman V. Superman the way most of the country felt about The Force Awakens (which I really enjoyed, but not on the same level as the true fans, I'm sure).

Am I destined to be disappointed at my own personal The Phantom Menace? It's entirely possible. The early reviews for Batman V. Superman are out and though I'm trying to avoid them, I know they're not great. I'm really hoping they spend more cash and make Doomsday look less fake than he does in the trailer. I'm also hoping Jesse Eisenberg turns out to be a better Lex Luthor than he has been in the previews. For my money, the best Lex Luthor in any medium was Michael Rosenbaum on Smallville and I stopped watching that show when he dropped out of the cast. And above all, I hope they please, for the love of God, show Thomas and Martha Wayne being gunned down in quick flashes rather than making us sit through that enitre scene for the eleventy-billionth time.

I really, truly loved 95% of Man of Steel. Hans Zimmer's Superman theme makes my heart soar and Henry Cavil shows Brandon Routh how it's done, though neither of them can hold a candle to Christopher Reeve. I'd love Man of Steel all the way if only Kevin Costner's Johnathan Kent (inspired casting) had simply had the good sense to die of a heart attack instead of a bullcrap tornado that totally messes up Clark Kent's mythology and makes him a bit of a sociopath (why didn't you save your Dad, dude? And don't tell me it's because he told you not to. You're Superman. Dude. No, seriously, dude.).

Everything else about Man of Steel made me cheer and when I watch it at home, I just skip over the tornado scene and I'm a happy camper. And yes, I like that Superman snaps Zod's neck. I've rarely chuckled harder in a theater as I did at the concerned looks on the faces of parents sitting with their children ahead of me as they for sure weren't expecting that:) I like my Superman complex and my movie endings morally ambiguous. Say what you will about that ending, it challenged the viewer and made him/her think, and that's a rare moment in a comic book story.

I like all of director Zack Snyder's movies, yes, even Sucker Punch (though admittedly, I like that one least). His remake of Dawn of the Dead is my favorite zombie flick and 300 is Frank Miller come to life. The director's cut of The Watchmen is absolutely astonishing and a true work of art (it ain't Watchmen without the intentionally unremarkable death of Hollis Mason). I even enjoyed Legend of the Guardians.

I remember the internet going nuts over the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman, but for the record, I have always been pro-Batfleck. Ben Affleck has made a lot of terrible movies and I'm not saying he hasn't. I bet if I met him in real life I probably wouldn't care for him, but I'd imagine that to be true of most movie stars (anybody seriously think Christian am-I-gonna-walk-around-and-rip-your-bleeping-lights-down-in-the-middle-of-a-scene Bale makes an ideal dinner date?). But I used to audition for plays with one of Affleck's Chasing Amy monologues and he's turned in a few great performances between Reindeer Games and Jersey Girl. He's a huge dude with a great jaw and totally believable as a handsome rich guy who likes the ladies. I'm sure he'll make a fine Batman/Bruce Wayne.

I've been excited since this movie was first announced and we were promised the source material would be none other than one of my three favorite books of all time, The Dark Knight Returns. In the trailers, we've heard Batfleck say "It's way past time you learned what it means to be a man," and "The world only makes sense if you force it too." So I would say that even if the movie is mostly terrible all around the scenes of Batman saying those lines to Superman, I'm still going to be glad I sprang for tickets in advance.

In a way, this is the best part: this moment of anticipation before I actually see the movie. And even if the flick fails to live up to my highest expectations, life is short and often fraught with misery. How glorious it is to have something to love as much as I love Batman and Superman movies? How exhilarating it is to be this excited about anything in life. It's like the excitement I feel when starting a new novel by a favorite author.

And that's it, except for me to list my nerd bonafides so you will know how seriously to take my opinion once I've seen the movie. So, here ya go:

Favorite Batman movies ranked in order of my love: 1. The Dark Knight 2. Batman (1989) 3. The Dark Knight Returns (parts 1 and 2) 3. Batman Begins 4. Batman: The Movie 5. Batman: Year One 6. Batman: Mask of The Phantasm  7. Batman Returns 8. Batman Forever 9. The Dark Knight Rises 10. Batman and Robin

Favorite Superman movies ranked in order of my love: 1. Superman: The Movie 2. The Dark Knight Returns (part 2) 3. Man of Steel 4. Superman II 5. Superman III 6. Superman Returns 7. Superman IV: The Quest For Peace

Favorite superhero movies ranked in order of my love: 1. The Dark Knight 2. Unbreakable 3. Batman (1989) 4. Spider-man 2 5. The Watchmen Director's Cut 6. The Dark Knight Returns (parts 1 and 2) 7. Superman: The Movie 8. Man of Steel 9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier 10. The Avengers 11. X-Men 2 12, Supergirl (yes, I know it's not actually a good movie, but I don't care, I love you Helen Slater, please marry me)






PART TWO: WRITTEN AFTER SEEING THE MOVIE

I'm writing this second part of the post the morning after having seen Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I've only seen it once (but I'm going back to the theater as soon as I find an opportunity) and so I have yet to grock the flick's fullness, but I loved it. Surprise:)

It's absolutely not for kids (I felt sorry for the parents sitting ahead of us with their young children) and I'm not going to try to convince you that it's a perfect movie (it's not) or even an especially thoughtful movie. It's loud and kinda silly, but I can't wait to see it again and I wish I had the blu ray so I could rewatch parts of it over and over.

I'm kind of glad the early reviews came out and proclaimed the movie not good as they tempered my expectations. I saw it with my best buddy and we talked about Batman and Robin before hand and agreed that BVS had to at least be better than that. But right away the movie captured my imagination and about thirty minutes in I gave up waiting for it to start sucking. Sure, there were a couple lines of dialogue that fell flat and maybe one dream sequence too many and a few plot conveniences along the way, but at no point did any of that hamper my good time because  BVS gets right way more than it gets wrong.

In fact, I wanted to stand up and cheer about three minutes in. Yes, we have to watch Thomas and Martha Wayne get gunned down, again, but the filmmakers wisely knock that bit out during the opening credits, interspersed with scenes of Bruce Wayne discovering the batcave. They couldn't not provide the information as it comes up in a big way later, but they got Batman's origin story out of the way with a quickness. ATTENTION SUPERHERO MOVIES: this is how you do the origin of superheroes we already know and love. Put together a montage at the top and be done with it. Marvel, please don't make me sit through another hour of teenage Peter Parker cradling his Uncle Ben and being bit by a spider. Get to the interesting part already, which is what BVS did.

As I was watching the movie it occurred to me that anyone who didn't already know these characters inside and out by heart would have a hard time following parts of the flick because it is jam-packed with all kinds of story and it never slows down to explain. And there's a bit too much setup for sequels wedged in. I liked seeing Aquaman, Cyborg, and Flash, but they probably could've been saved for the next movie or a post-credits tease rather than BVS grinding to a halt to force them in (that felt like a studio-mandated commercial).

But oh well. Have I mentioned that this is a movie that has both Batman AND Superman in it? Because it totally did. And Superman was all flying around saving folks. And Batman was all punching people and looking the best on film he's ever looked. And then Wonder Woman showed up and she had a sword and a lasso and she was all like boom, and Superman was all like bam, and Batman was all like pow, and all my favorite heroes were fighting in glorious 3D and the Hans Zimmer guitar was wailing and it was so awesome and then Doomsday shows up because apparently you can rub some blood on a dead body and shove it in a Kryptonian microwave and make a monster because that's how science works and then Doomsday's all rahr! and Batman's all like batarang to the face, punk, and so on...

Look: if you're expecting MacBeth level drama or Birdman levels of subtlety and nuance or the poignancy of Spotlight, why are you watching Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice (the whole plot is given away in the title)? If you pay to see Transformers 3 and are upset that it failed to enlighten us on the complexities of the human condition, that's not Michael Bay's fault. If you got really big action sequences of robots fighting, he did his job.

Batman V Superman knows what kind of movie it is, even if it occasionally aspires to be more with real subtle stuff like paintings of angels wearing red capes and demons with bat wings and you-can't-possibly-miss-them crosses in a scene that could've been taken directly from The Passion of the Christ (which makes an Easter weekend opening kinda funny). And there are many, many great references to The Dark Knight Returns throughout, which I loved because real talk, they're never going to make that book into a live action movie (not sure it would work if they did), but Zack Snyder knew to steal images and sequences from the best. There were plenty of moments throughout the film that made my fanboy heart soar such as when Bruce Wayne tells Alfred they've always been criminals (heck yeah you have!) or assures a criminal in a standoff "I believe you," (heck yeah you do!) or tells Superman that his parents taught them a different lesson dying for no reason at all (heck yeah they did!).

The biggest surprise to me was how much I enjoyed what Jessie Eisenberg did with Lex Luthor. I don't know if I'd give him the crown from Michael Rosenbaum just yet, but he swung for the fences and gave us a Lex Luthor we haven't seen before (he never even mentions real estate). He's grating at times, but he's supposed to be, and Eisenberg sold me on the idea that Lex was really as crazy and egomaniacal as he needs to be to serve the plot of this comic book story come to life. I'm not completely convinced by some of Batman's motivations (try talking to Supes first, buddy), I think some of Supeman's thinking only really makes sense if he occasionally forgets he has superpowers (you don't have to trust Batman to save your mom when you have super speed), but Lex Luthor 100% convinced me he wanted to kill Superman to get back at his dead father.

Jeremy Irons was an outstanding Alfred and Ben Affleck was a Batman I hope we get to see more of. I love that his Bruce Wayne isn't just pretending to be a billionaire playboy but actually doing it (best secret identity ever) and Affleck was better than Kilmer or Clooney, and possibly Bale (will maybe have to give that one more thought, but Michael Keaton is still the best). Batfleck killed a lot of folks, some of them with guns, which is a decidedly un-Batman thing to do. But all the other movie Batmen have killed folks as well, even the ones who spent a lot of time talking about how they didn't, so I'm just going to assume Batman somehow knew that all the people in the cars he blew up were bad and deserved to die.

I could go on about how much I loved this movie, but this post is already very long and I have actual writing that needs doing. I laughed a couple times and I got something in my eye toward the end. If you love Batman and Superman and want to watch a movie in which they fight, even if they make up and (spoiler, I guess) become superfriends like right away, without really even having to work that much stuff out, then this is a movie for you. I would probably rank it as my third favorite Batman movie. It's fun and made especially for a hardcore fan like me.

Batman V. Superman has not changed my life, but I would say its existence has improved my life. This movie entertained me and made me happy and God bless the good people at Warner Brothers for making something I love so much. Please go see this flick in the theaters so they don't do something silly like cancel Justice League. I want more Batman and Superman punchy smashy.

In conclusion:




Ultimate Edition Update 7/18/16: I've now seen Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition (longest title ever) 3 times and I love this movie even more. I'm actually furious on behalf of Zack Snyder that this isn't the film Warner Brothers released in theaters as it's clearly the movie he made. Like his extended cut of Watchmen, this is simply a far superior film. If the studio had released this instead of the extremely compressed version, I'm convinced the critics would've been kinder and the sharp decline of ticket sales weekend over weekend would've been lessened, so way to shoot your tent-pole franchise movie in the foot, WB. 

If you hated the theatrical cut, this version won't change your mind (the Martha thing is still grating, the email advertisement for Justice League still grinds the film to a halt, and the giant bat dream sequence that seems to exist only to remind us that Bruce Wayne's mom is also named Martha is still silly), but it's 30 minutes more of a great movie and I'd sit through a five-hour version if there was one. 

There's only a little more Batman (why did they cut him taking out security guards!?!), but a ton more of Superman, Clark Kent, and Lex Luthor. Lex's scheme is fully flushed out and easier to follow and Superman acts more like Superman. It makes a huge difference in his characterization that he helps folks after the explosion of the capital building instead of just flying off to be emo and it's sort of important to know that he couldn't see the bomb responsible as it was cased in lead. It's also fun to see him investigating Batman as it gives him, ya know, a motive to fight him other than because Lex said to.

I'm not sure the F-bombs add much and I really didn't need to see more shirtless Clark or Batman's butt (was that the day Joel Schumacher stopped by to offer directing tips?). Batman's murder spree is even more hardcore, which God help me I love, even though it flies in the face of who he is as a character. I think this may be the darkest Batman or Superman movie we ever get as Snyder has promised to go lighter next movie, but I like all the death and emo wallowing. I like that Jimmy Olsen is introduced and shot in the head (he'll be back in another iteration). 

The movie certainly isn't perfect,but fanboys lambasting it online remind me of spoiled children. Old Man Ninja says: "Back in my day we had two or three years between superhero movies instead of getting a new one every couple months. You young punks don't know how good you got it. I sat through Batman and Robin in the theaters so don't tell me about superhero movies failing to live up to your expectations. We've lived to see Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman fighting in a live action extravaganza and we're going to get another one next year, and another movie that has Batman in it, Suicide Squad, next month. This is an amazing time to be alive!"

I was talking with friends about other movies that have come out and I haven't seen any of them. I've pretty much only watched one movie this year, but God, what a movie!!! I did see  Captain America: Civil War, once, and it was pretty good (even if it only had 30 stinking minutes of Spider-Man). But I'm a DC man from childhood and I can't imagine loving any other movie as much as I love Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition.

If loving this movie is wrong, I don't want to be right.


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