Friday, March 25, 2016

It's A Bird! It's A Bat! It's Supermess!

Reel To Reel: Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Going Rate: Worth matinee price
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Intense Sci-fi violence and mild language

A coworker of mine emerged from Batman V. Superman calling it "a trainwreck," and jesting, "I think I'll go home and cry." Clearly this was a movie matchup fanboys were drooling before they found themselves basking in disappointment. This film had potential as the starter of a Justice League franchise for Warner Bros. and squandered it all. It supposedly draws from classic DC Comics storylines, but I have to think some studio suit said, "We have the rights to Batman and Superman, and that Alien Vs. Predator thing seemed to work, so why not this?" Sometimes, studio people are the last people who should be making movies.

It's not that the concept is bad by definition. We have the upcoming Captain America: Civil War featuring a superhero showdown. Deadpool did it quite well. But when you match up two big beloved cape-wearers, it better be good. And good, this isn't. It requires seeing Man of Steel as a prerequisite but not any of the various Batman franchises. The film's execution runs from plodding to murky through the first two acts, including scenes which only increase the murkiness.

We begin with a tangent from Man of Steel, where General Zod's forces are destroying Metropolis as they try to make it habitable for Kryptonian lifeforms. This has more than a few uncomfortable parallels to 9/11, which perhaps was intentional. Caught up in this mayhem is Bruce Wayne (Affleck), who sees the death and wreckage and blames it on Superman (Cavill). Conversely, Clark Kent is seeing way too many stories about the Dark Knight's vigilante justice and wants to stop him. They don't know it yet, but they're about to have a common enemy: Lex Luthor (Eisenberg), a young tech mogul who wants to stop Superman and thinks the key to doing it is getting kryptonite from the wreckage of the failed alien invasion. He needs help from Congress on this one, which is already starting to see Superman as an unelected unilateral agent of justice. Here's where you make up your own political jokes. While we get to the title showdown eventually, we get to see Lois Lane (Adams) look for the maker of some rogue munitions that turned up in Africa while she was chasing down a story, got taken hostage, and got saved by Superman (again).

The film gets bogged down in the psychological baggage of Bruce Wayne and the loss of his parents to a gunman. This is where you Superman fans have to stand up and say, "Hey, Kal-El lost his parents and a whole planet, too!" Equal time is going to be a issue. So will this: Batman is throwing away the "no guns" rule. At least Ben Affleck turns in an enjoyable performance after all the moaning and groaning from fanboys when the casting announcement went out. Cavill picks up neatly where he left off, although I have to be honest with you: Christopher Reeve will always be Superman for me. Eisenberg plays Lex Luthor more like The Riddler from the Batman franchise with a hint of The Joker thrown in. Hey, as long as we're mashing up universes, why not merge characters, too? Oh Gene Hackman, how we miss your smarmy charm as Luthor. And are we in Gotham or Metropolis? Sometimes it's unclear who's on whose turf. How far apart are these cities in the film's universe? Perhaps it's along the lines of Washington, D.C. and Baltimore.

Yes, Wonder Woman (Gadot) is in the film, if you count this riff on Xena the Warrior Princess as Wonder Woman. I count it as a disappointing tack-on for a superhero who has long deserved to have a film of her own. (When they make that film it has to have Linda Carter in it somewhere.)

The Avengers is what you get when you put a bunch of comic-book heroes together and get the chemistry right. Batman V. Superman is what you get when you forsake chemistry for brooding darkness and try to build a single film around three super-duper superheroes who frankly need their own space.

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