Thursday, March 24, 2016

I saw Batman and Superman Fight to Unite!!!

Frank Miller claims there’s no way Batman and Superman would ever like each other. Heck, because they come from different crime-fighting vantages, maybe he’s got a point. However, I’ve seen the two team countless times over the decades among various sources, and I’ve come to accept their allegiance as one of the “World’s Finest”. 

With that said, seeing these two at odds can be disconcerting and intense (as Miller's "Dark Knight Returns" demonstrates), and yes, the conflict can be even acceptable, if there's a positive, logical resolution to it. 

That resolution does, in fact, occur in Zack Synder’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”, which for all its contentious pre-imagery, turns into (SPOILER!!!) a touching buddy movie, divided into three, justice-founding parts, thanks to the scripting skills of David S. Goyer and Chris Terrio.

The initial phase is the set-up: Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) plots to foil Superman (or any available representation of good, for that matter), while Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill) and Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) increase their cynicism toward each other: each perceiving the other as reckless extremists. They should know better than to indulge in such petty, personal tactics, but then so should the general public, a portion of which is quick to deride both heroes, despite the fact that they go to great lengths to help and protect people, and yes, sometimes leave destruction in their paths, but with the assurance that the terrorists will always meet defeat.

The collateral damage, however, irks Senator Finch (Holly Hunter), and she implements a crusade and hearing on the matter, focusing her wrath on Superman, regardless that General Zod (Michael Shaunnesey) would have destroyed the world as we know it without Kal-El's intervention. She also blames Superman for deaths caused by a dictator named Anatoli Knyzaev (Callen Mulvey), with whom Luthor has ties. Indeed, why condemn the obvious cretins when an honorable extra-terrestrial is ripe for the picking? 

In a roundabout link to the senator's view, we come to realize that the sectors over which Batman and Superman preside, whether Gotham, Metropolis or beyond, are rough and mean, itching for hope, but just as inclined to celebrate an ugly underbelly and scoot it to the highest heights of praise. It’s an upside-down world in need of revelation, of an essential second wind. Batman and Superman are the potential beacons of inspiration who can crush the dire misconceptions, but Luthor's behind-the-scenes manipulations intend dull the luster of their stellar deeds, further bolstering Batman's existing wariness of Superman and indirectly churning controversy where there would be otherwise none. But fear not. Good has a way of evening out and rising above the scum. 

To attain this "rise", our duo must first take the bait and battle, though the primary brawl results from Luthor kidnapping Martha Kent (Diane Lane) and coercing the Man of Steel to fly forth and kill the Dark Knight in exchange for his mother's life. This scenario constitutes a large part of the film's second phase: an energetic, though unsettling feast for the senses, with one mighty entity gaining the upper hand over the other and back again. Prior to such, Alfred Pennyworth (Jeremy Irons), Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) interact with their champions throughout the mounting conflict, offering encouragement and disdain, as does Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), albeit initially on surreptitious terms and essentially with Wayne. 

Though tensions run high, Batman and Superman do eventually acknowledge Luthor's ploy. When the arch criminal realizes they're wise to him, he triggers his backup plan--along with the film's powerful third act--using Zod's extracted DNA to hatch an even greater “devil”: the ferocious, mutating Doomsday.

The creature exceeds Zod’s strength and destruction, and Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman must team to stop the mad monster. (Sorry folks, contrary to conjecture and hope, Bizarro and Riddler don't enter this chapter, but the Hulk-proportioned Doomsday is more than enough mega-villain to cover their absence.)

Visually, the film mirrors Snyder's stylish "Watchmen", with scenes tinted in hazy pigments, which complement its lingering sense of doom. The exchange of heroes is also similar to "Watchmen", with various shades of gray surfacing among the principles, but with a clear-cut distinction surfacing as to what constitutes good and bad; thus establishing a staunch Steve Ditko philosophy that extends beyond the film's climax.  

Ben Affleck, regardless of his controversial casting, is quite good as Wayne/Batman, and what a commendable accomplishment coming off the heels of Christian Bale's sterling portrayal. He remains credible throughout, his mood swings identifiable as he presses on for justice. Affleck's presence is also old-school: a throwback to the past when actors like Buster Crabbe played a variety of heroes. Previously, Affleck portrayed Matt Murdock/Daredevil, as well as Superman, in an indirect way, in the George Reeves speculative bio-pic, "Hollywoodland", in which Diane Lane also starred.

The same crossover dynamics can be attributed to Cavill, who's acted in the mythological epic, "Immortals", as well as portraying Napoleon Solo in the "Man from U.N.C.L.E." remake. He also does an impressive job in matching Affleck's unflinching stance, making his second film portrayal of the Man of Steel much edgier. This troubled Superman works seamlessly into the film's early, despairing moments. Cavill also draws us deeper into Superman's frustration when people reject his gallantry, and through his Kent persona, that woe turns into an empathetic, slow burn. 

Gadot nicely completes the trio: an exotic, old-world Amazon, whose shrewd charms shine through her unassuming Diana Prince guise. Her sparkling eyes are always peeled for clues and ways to assist her predestined super friends. Above all, she believes in doing the right thing and is therefore as honorable an emblem as Batman and Superman, and one can therefore assume that she'd also be susceptible to the same illogical derision they face, if not for the fact that she's remained under the radar for a century. 

Eisenberg, on the other hand, is the personification of cunning evil, his wry, comedic tone comparable to Sherman Howard's much underrated Luthor in the much underrated "Superboy" series: fun, yes, but as Lois Lane astutely acknowledges, "psychotic". One can't help but dislike the son of a gun, but he also gains one's contemptuous respect, which should placate those who may have dismissed Eisenberg's persona as irreverent, based on his trailer footage. 

These character-driven additives stir a mighty big powder keg of suspense, all augmented by Hans Zimmer pulse-pounding score: a well crafted, emotional formula, which inspires us to question our current views of good and bad and then tears them down, only to refashion them into a valuable lesson. No matter how one may try to justify the bad or defame the good, an indisputable distinction between the two will always surface. There's no amount of in-fighting or invading villainy that can control the circumstances long enough to prove such wrong: no jealous Luthor or all-mighty Doomsday who can climb to the top and rule, as long as individuals focus on what's right and ensure that justice prevails. 

Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, as well as the other members of the growing Justice League--Jason "Conan/Game of Thrones" Mamoa's Aquaman; Erza Miller's Flash; and Ray Fisher's Cyborg are insinuated personas in this, too--may lack universal support at the start, but by the picture's tear-jerking cliffhanger, they--and we--will know which side to choose. 

Without question, this "World's Finest" adventure may be excessively hard-hitting, even shamelessly rough around the edges, and the conflict between the Dark Knight and Man of Steel is never all that convincing, but at least the story forces us to choose an ideological platform. That, in its own right, should fuel discussion among fans and the general public for quite some time, or at least until the next cinematic chapter hits theaters.

1 comment:

  1. So pleased that the extended, director's cut of "Batman v Superman" has been released. This is the version that should have played in theaters.

    It's not so much that the extended scenes add so much to the plot to alter it. The embellishments simply do their job, resonating with meaning and therefore, give the entire expanse more depth. In other words, what's there isn't just filler for the sake of it.

    The Jimmy Olsen revelation was a startling turn, however, and there are some other, unsettling jolts, which make the film all the darker. It all blends in the end, though, which is what counts.

    There's a tendency now to show movies in edited form during their theatrical releases. I suspect such is done to accommodate the wealth of trailers and commercials packed before a film's commencement. This also appeases those who arrive late, and alas, they are many. Damn shame. This prelude format is a disadvantage to those of us who care about the product we've paid to see and find it silly to wait until a disc release to view a director/writer's full vision. I say, cut down on the fluff and get right to the artistic endeavor: the best (and most complete) product a filmmaker can grant. And damn it, be punctual about it.

    Anyway, seeing the full "Batman v Superman" was a true-blue treat, and with the "Wonder Woman" and "Justice League" trailers now in circulation, the overall feel is most gratifying. It does appear, the best is yet to come.