This weekend I had the opportunity to watch "Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice" and in doing so I discovered the reason why the critics have hammered it so mercilessly.
The reason, they've been trying to fit the square peg that is a comic book movie into the round hole of expectations.
The key word here my friends is "expectations." It seems the critical masses has a different set of "expectations" than the viewing public or better yet the faithful comic book reader.
As I sat through the movie I waited for that critical hour to pass where the movie transitioned from an exciting adventure to the morass that has been termed a "Hot Mess."
It didn't happen.
Part of the problem with the aforementioned "critical masses" which I define as the print, tele-visual and internet critics, is that they develop a knee jerk response where-in piling on becomes the norm. Once that snow ball of negativity starts to roll there is no stopping it and the joy ride of cynical acrimony becomes unstoppable.
As it rolls, those who join in applaud themselves with being right and attach themselves to the critical intelligentsia and merrily pat themselves on the back as they skip off into the sunset.
It's almost as if Lex Luthor was behind it all.
It seems the expectations for this movie was something akin to, let's say, The Lord of the Rings. (Or maybe even The Ten Commandments.) It had to be epic in scale, surfeit in stars, grandiose in stage and surpass all expectations.
That last one is a toughie.
I thought to myself as the movie closed, "That was awesome, I loved it." So what did the critics and there slavish minions expect? Did it not include Batman and Superman? Did it not find a way to introduce Wonder Woman to the story? Was it not set on a mythological stage of Athens versus Sparta? (Read Metropolis versus Gotham.) Did it not contain the hubris of humanity and fallacy of their gods?
It did indeed.
Might I point out it took The Lord of the Rings three movies to earn all its accolades and bevy of Oscars. Perhaps we should wait for the second Justice League movie to come out before we condemn the whole thing. (Personally, I thought Charlton Heston was pretty hammy in The Ten Commandments. Still liked it.)
I think part of the problem for the critics is the story starts in mid-stream and it rocked their critical boat. They expected an origin story for Batman but what they got was an embittered version that has aged badly like a sour wine.
Where was the "Batman Begins" version with Christian Bale's story of Bruce Wayne? How were we able to see how he became this way?
Sorry, not that movie.
What about Superman? Why wasn't he able to transition to his own sequel and and complete his own journey? Again, sorry, not the premise here.
So herein we find what troubles the critical masses. They took an established story and used it to set up a franchise of future movies.
Heathens! Thou shalt not establish a franchise without setting up the proper sequence of movies. Of course, Warner Bros is being measured against Marvel and it's Disney stable. Their formula was to establish a hero (Iron Man) introduce his cohorts and then move on to the collective superhero saga where all the gang joins in. (Hmm, didn't "Age of Ultron" get hammered?)
Can Warner Bros. be criticized for rushing their franchise? Sure, there is money to be made and they don't want to miss out on that boat. Does this make Batman v Superman a bad movie? No. It just didn't match the expected formula and for that it was damned.
Let's all take a deep breath and get to the movie.
Much like Christian Bale's Batman, Affleck's is better without the mask. Affleck gets to use the wry humor we saw in "Gone Girl" and his sense of urgency displayed in "Argo." With the mask he gets a little more wooden. It's not the actors fault it's literally the mask's fault. There was something about the way the eyes were set in it. Much like the mask had to be adjusted in the Bale movies the same has to be done here.
Otherwise, this Batman is pretty kick ass. Superman fans will not like the way he handles the Man of Steel. Even I grimaced at the thrashing. Ouch.
There is also a rescue scene that is choreographed wonderfully and Batman literally thunders his way through the opposition. Think Jason Bourne style or Daniel Craig in Casino Royale. You'll wince in a good way.
Did he use guns? Yes he did! Not all together explicitly. Like when he used the guns aboard the Batwing or Batplane if you prefer. He employed them to destroy vehicles the baddies were using. Could they have died aboard said vehicles? Most certainly. But it wasn't shown explicitly. So you can infer whatever you like. He also used a handgun in several instances. Here again, no explicit head shots with blood spurts. The shots may have been fatal but we weren't treated to their immediate aftermath so it is open to question.
You may call me an apologist here, but I think Snyder was trying to establish Batman as extremely bitter and resorting to extreme measures because of his anger and frustration over the years of fighting crime. Wayne even told Alfred criminals were like weeds. You pull one and another pops up in his place.
This Bruce Wayne Batman also suffers from a deep sense of loss that we only get a glimpse of. I suppose for the critics this isn't good enough. They need to see the whole thing to establish loss. Sorry, maybe in the stand alone version. There is a unique take on the Wayne murders to start the movie especially concerning Martha Wayne. It's the pearls. You'll see if you haven't already.
Superman also give Bruce Wayne to focus his anger on. This is an important distinction. Yes, Wayne is angry with the aftermath of the Superman/Zod battle and its wanton destruction. But you have to understand, Bruce Wayne is already angry. Superman provides the focal point for it. (And it's part of the conspiracy in the film.)
As for the vehicles Batman employs, you'll particularly get a charge out of the Batmobile. Wow, that thing is amazing. Much less a tank like the Tumbler of Nolan's movies and more like a sports car on steroids. The Batwing is very cool also and the sound design for it includes a whirring mechanical like noise that makes sound very retro or perhaps even steampunk.
You'll like the Affleck Batman. We should get to know him more when he gets his own movie.
This is a very human Superman. In that, this movie is very much a sequel to the "Man of Steel." The story continues in Superman trying to assimilate himself with humanity. Therein lies his weakness. In trying so hard to be what people want him to be or what he expects of himself, he tries too hard. Mistakes are made that are both forced and unforced. He becomes manipulated by those who adore and fear him.
There are Superman fans out there that don't like to see their hero weakened. Yet, in his assimilation into society his vulnerabilities are exposed. There is nothing wrong with this type of Superman. I've always appreciated Cavill's take on the Man of Steel. He's wounded and more that a bit lost. Take the photo above. The adulation is overwhelming and even when he does the right thing he seems confused by the aftermath.
Superman has his kryptonite but that's not his greatest weakness. He needs to feel grounded, he needs a home and he wants to be loved. By the end he finds resolution to all three but a terrific cost.
Superman fans may not like this resolution.
And speaking of weakness.
This is where the critics have a point with their "Hot Mess" scenarios. I don't think Jesse Eisenberg is miscast its just that his character has to much to do. In his eveil machinations he is responsible for everything.
Another cinematic example would be the James Bond Film "Spectre" where that evil organization was responsible for all that went wrong in the previous films. Its too much and too burdensome for a plot line to carry. Even in that universe it stretched credulity way too thin.
The same applies here. The plausibility that Luthor's tentacles can be applied to a master plan is just too much. The only kind of character that could carry that kind of weight was Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies and he was supposed to be funny.
Eisenberg's Luthor is skittish, schizophrenic, narcissistic and quite possibly bi-polar. That's too much also and it is a wonder a person with all that baggage could possibly carry off that big a master plan. It's implausible even in that universe. (Isn't it?)
Gal Gadot is good as Wonder Woman. In fact she is very good. Her heroine is clever, strong and confident. She has to deal with her own frustration however and it come from many years of fighting the good fight. It has left very little positive results and she has become disaffected.
She is no fool in a world full of fools and as we are to learn, the world is ruled by foolish men. Hey, I'm not offended by that. It's her perspective and gives Wonder Woman her strength. She doesn't steal the movie as I predicted but I have no doubt she will steal her own movie. (Spot the Steve Trevor cameo!)
Judging by Galdot's take on Wonder Woman, I predict it will be an immense success.
Speaking of Predictions...
In my blog post, "New Batman v Superman trailer: What the Experts Missed." I made a prediction concerning the bandaged hand of Lex Luthor seen above. Turns out I was right. You can read that bold prediction at the link.
Some may say Luthor's machinations led to the undoing of the film. You could add the several endings were too much also, although "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" had many false ending to it also and it turned out all right.
In conclusion, I do recommend this film. I fact I would give it three out of four stars. Especially given its comic book origins. That's the perspective you should look at it in.
Messy endings or convoluted plot lines are very "comic booky." If you take it for what it is you will be very satisfied and if you are like me, wanting more.
"Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" is just the first step. They've chosen their own path and broken with formula. That does not make it a bad film.
It means its the beginning of a great adventure.