Friday, March 25, 2016

Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016) movie review

Overall verdict: 8.5/10

The Good: Delves into a philosophical examination of the superhero archetype, complex plot that is resolved well, fully fleshed out characters and motivations, intense well shot action, comic book accurate visual style, fresh portrayals of Batman, Wonder Woman and Lex Luthor

The Bad: Disappointing performance by Henry Cavill as Superman, some underwhelming special effects, many plot threads which may be difficult for some to follow, tends to lose focus on main plot in order to set up future films

3D Readiness: Post production 3D conversion but gives an extra punch to the many  surreal slow motion scenes. Selected scenes also filmed in iMax.

A title is a powerful thing. In a few words, it shapes audiences expectations for a movie, tells them the subject of said movie and attempts to entice viewership. BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (BVS) is a mouthful of a title that at once teases a titanic showdown between two comic book icons and hints at the formation of the world famous Justice League superhero team. No doubt many are going to cry foul when they find out that BVS is not referring to an actual physical bout as it the conflict and contrast of the two titular characters' background, world views, motivations and beliefs. It is a movie that is more likely to make you think rather than cheer, more likely to make you question reality rather than be drawn into a fantasy.
 A godlike alien makes his presence felt in the world, he is met with an equal measure of reverence and fear. Some see him as a saviour, others see him as a threat. Among the latter is billionaire Bruce Wayne, who fights crime as the caped crusader Batman. An ill fated mission in the desert sets superman in the spotlight once again. As the world debates on the responsibilities of this superhero, disaster strikes which pits both Batman and Superman in a clash of ideologies, then a clash of personalities and lastly the epic clash of might and muscle. But threats lurk in the shadows, many threats, and with it, just as many subplots.

 So many subplots that the initial hour of the movie feels bloated. What seems like a meandering mess slowly comes together like branches in a pie chart. As the pieces fit and perceived chaos comes into order, viewers sharp enough would have noticed the foreshadowing of plot elements to come. The slow build up addresses elements from the preceding MAN OF STEEL film and acts like an allegory to the real life criticisms that previous movie faced. Though it manages to hold our intrigue without splitting at the seams, this jigsaw style, non linear plot development may not appeal to everyone, especially those who are more used to traditional chronological arrangement of plot beats or the modern "right into the action" blockbusters.

 What comes next is.......actually less epic than I thought it would be. It is less the super powered death match of the century but a more intimate examination of ideologies and philosophies surrounding the superhero mythos and how those philosophies relate and intertwine in a very real and familiar world. The fallible and corruptible nature of man, the benevolent god debate, the burden of responsibility, doing the "right" thing in a world where right and wrong is subjective, BVS explores all these. The prize bout of batman beating superman draws parallels to real life hate crimes against minorities or migrants with superman as the ultimate migrant.
 Juxtaposed against the differing ideologies embodied by the conflicting trinity of Batman, Lex Luthor and Superman is the theme of how ones past shapes the present. We have three surprisingly well developed characters dealing with past trauma in wholly different ways in accordance with their personalities. The main attraction here is Ben Affleck's Batman. He oozes a restrained intensity with a volcano of emotions boiling beneath the surface, hidden behind a stoic mask. The world weary Wayne has channeled his loss into an unrelenting force against crime but unknowingly projects his past failures onto his current ones.

Similarly for Lex Luthor, he is the opposite reflection of Bruce Wayne. This young, sports shoe and t-shirt wearing eccentric tech mogul is full of energy in contrast to Wayne's older, mellowed portrayal. A phrase he quotes during a speech about having all the knowledge without the power, and the frustrated way he spits it out in contempt underpins his motivations perfectly. He is hilarious without losing his menace, a smidgen of humour in the otherwise serious film.

 Superman on the other less of a character and more of a concept. He acts best as the subject that fuels the debate, if he acts at all. For starters, there is little contrast in Henry Cavill's portrayal of the superman/Clark Kent dichotomy. One is just Superman with a costume, the other is superman in civvies and glasses. Exact same tone of voice, exact same facial expressions that only alternate between morose and angry. Wooden performance aside, BVS elaborates, addresses and brings to closure many of the themes first brought up in its predecessor MAN OF STEEL.

Perhaps the experience would be a complete one when this is viewed in tandem with the former? Surprisingly, the movie does not go full on dark and gritty like MAN OF STEEL did. As mentioned, Jesse Eisenberg's Luthor is like a devious bugs bunny full of dark ironic humour (Granny's Peach Tea). Laurence Fishburne as Perry White never fails to bring a chuckle. And the witty banter and strong chemistry between Affleck's Wayne and Gal Gadot's mysterious Diana Prince is absolutely charming.

Even the colour palette seems more vivid with clear distinct shades, most evident in the black and grey of batman's costume, quite unlike the washed out muted tones in MAN OF STEEL. Zack Snyder alternates between slow motion scenes of a surreal, almost otherworldly, feel, and the hyperkinetic shakey cam going full on "Michael Bay" for the action. His collaborator Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL returns for the music providing a heavy grandiose score full of percussion and choir chanting as if the movie were an operatic epic.

 Through its visuals, narrative and characters, BVS presents an evolution mirroring Superman's evolution from a powerful farm boy guarding himself and his powers against a suspicious world into a full fledged hero who would put the lives of others before his own. Perhaps this is how BVS was meant to be seen: as a natural continuation of MAN OF STEEL and a natural evolution of its themes.

Like its titular heroes, BATMAN V SUPERMAN has divided people in opinion. It tries to do a lot and in doing so may be a challenge for simpler minded audiences to comprehend and follow. This is a complex movie delving into complex themes but maybe people have grown accustomed to something friendlier. Few current day superhero comics, let alone movies, dare to deconstruct and explore the nature of trust, power, and question the inherent good or evil in human hearts. These philosophical questions are brought up, lending much needed depth to a genre reduced in recent years to superficial childlike thrills.  And by the movie's poignant end, we see how two individuals rise above their world burdens and embrace ideals that they had previously abandoned.

Filled with subtle but powerful emotional moments, equally powerful fight scenes, and strong underlying themes and real life allegory, BVS is loud, grand and an easily misunderstood creature. It is different from the more light hearted superhero movies of recent years and in that respect it will get shoehorned into the expectations of what a superhero movie should be rather than be appreciated for what it is and what it could be.

 All this on account of a misleading title.

*****************************Review End***************************

Entertainment: A-
Story: B-
Acting: A-
Characters: B
Music: A-
Replay value: A
"Brains": A-