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July 22, 2016

Batman V. Superman: Ruminations on Deicide With Occasional CGI Sparkles

I finally saw Batman V. Superman.

I did not see it, however, with the 30 minutes of footage they'd cut out, but then offered earlier on PPV. I saw the theatrical cut.

How was it?

Well, before I say, let me say I heard a lot of bad things about this movie before hand. Therefore, my expectations were pretty low.

That's important.

How was it? It was... not bad. Pretty good. Flawed. I can barely remember it, to be honest with you. But I thought it was okay.

First things first: Ben Affleck made a good Bruce Wayne and Batman. Oddly -- I don't know why he made this choice -- he sort of has a light southern drawl in his guise as Bruce Wayne.

Why? Bruce Wayne's a damn yankee. Gotham is obviously a New York City analogue. Is Ben Affleck's idea of "rich" the same as his idea as "Georgian"?

But that little odd choice aside, he was good. He looked like Wayne. He had -- for once -- the almost glowing playboy handsomeness I imagined Wayne would have. (See him portrayed in the WB animated "World's Finest" where he suavely picks up Lois Lane, stealing her right from Clark Kent, using nothing but his looks, charm, and billion-dollar trust fund.)

He was physically large and carried himself with the weight of age -- a bit like the Frank Miller Dark Knight, except around early 40s instead of middle 50s. (Alfred in the movie says he's been fighting crime "for twenty years.")

Also, Batman finally wore something that looks like the actual Batman costume: Dark cowl and cape, gray body.

Let's move on to Lex Luthor. I thought I would hate this performance. Luthor was portrayed perfectly in the WB animated series: A large imposing genius who had made himself physically strong not due to any need to be physically strong, but because he was a megalomaniac who could not live with himself if he were not strong enough to kill a man with his bare hands.

This film offers the waifish Jesse Eisenberg, as far from the new cartoon Luthor as you can get.

I was able to accept his performance for a while because it was stated he was Alexander Luthor, and he got his company from his dad; therefore, I reasoned, this is just the "Real" Luthor's son.

Later on, though, they say that the orginal Lex Luthor is dead. (They couldn't stop themselves from making Bruce, Clark, and Lex all be the sons of dead fathers.)

However, by the time they confirmed this was the real Luthor, I had begun to appreciate Eisenberg's take. No, this is not my favorite sort of Luthor, but this was a good Luthor, even if not the choice I would have made.

This Luthor is waifish, vain, callow, needy, and obviously psychopathic. I think the Red Letter Media guys noted this Luthor has a great deal of The Joker's DNA in him. Indeed, he does -- this Luthor reminded me a lot of the Joker maniac minion who Harvey Dent tries to torture in the Dark Knight, the one Batman stops him from hurting, saying "He doesn't have any information. Look at him -- he's psychotic."

Would I have gone this way? No, I would not have stepped into The Joker's Character Space to make a character that was kind of like The Joker. But what is on screen is still pretty good.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman: One of the toughest characters in the world to cast. Think about it: Wonder Woman must be physically hot, and therefore ripely, voluptuously feminine. But, simultaneously, she must be heroically athletic, because she's a superhero.

How do you find a woman who is both Lynda Carter and Rhonda Roussey at the same time?

I don't think you can. So instead they hired a very skinny model. However, even though she doesn't really fit the busty raven-haired pin-up model take, nor the muscular athlete take, she has a kind of strong, confident presence that makes you say, "Okay, sure, this is Wonder Woman. Close enough."

She's Israeli. I mention that because Wonder Woman herself is Greek -- she shouldn't be Anglo. She should be Mediterranean-looking. Gal Gadot is that, so it works for me.

She isn't given much to do. But the little she's given, she does pretty well. She's meant to come across as pretty, mysterious, and maybe dangerous. She does.

I really loved Henry Cavil as Napoleon Solo, and I do like his corny, wholesome take as Clark Kent. But I have to say, this is really much more of a Batman movie than a Superman movie. I always feel bad that Superman gets short shrift. I like Supes. I don't love him like Batman, but the fact that I like him makes me feel bad when they don't really do much with him.

Cavil was fine, Clark was fine, Superman was fine. But... Wanted more.

Amy Adams is not at all my idea of Lois Lane. Just... no. I'm going to have to insist on the fast-talking spitfire Lois Lane, not this quiet, vulnerable mousey version.

The plot operates on two levels: the emotional, meta-level, where details don't matter so much, and the actual specific mechanisms of the plot.

The emotional, overarching plot is good: Bruce Wayne hates Superman because he personally witnessed the carnage Superman (accidentally) caused in Metropolis, and lost a lot of his own employees in the fight in Man of Steel. (He seems to have an office in Metropolis.) He has made it his last major goal to defeat the most dangerous threat to humanity on the planet: Superman, a much bigger threat -- potentially -- than even Joker.

Meanwhile, Lex Luthor is, somewhat cleverly, the Nietzchean Uberman, the man who must make himself greater than God by killing God. Or, God's closest physical analogue, Superman.

Luthor entertains himself by noting various myths of deicide, and thinks of himself as Prometheus, the Titan who wanted to save humanity from the gods.

All this chatter about Man Versus God and the need for man to bow to god -- or to make god bow to man -- is actually pretty decent. It's clever without being overclever, I think. It's literate without being show-offy and pretentious.

So it works.

Then we have the actual plot, the things that actually happen in the movie.

I'll make this short: very little of the actual plot makes sense. Luthor's specific plans don't make sense, Batman's specific desire to kill Superman -- based only the possiblity that Superman could go rogue -- doesn't make sense.

In the comics, Bruce always had a plan to kill Superman, if it became necessary to do so. He plotted it; he prepared for it.

Just in case.

In this movie, Bruce doesn't just plan; he executes. And I do mean executes. (Or tries to, at least.)

Again, just based on his hunch that this Kryptonian could be a problem down the road.

Does this make sense? Is this Batman, or is this Luthor? Luthor would just kill Superman because he wants to kill Superman.

But would Batman?

No. No, he would not.

Superman's desire to oppose (not kill-- just warn off) Batman makes sense, but it's also not really that dramatic. Superman actually behaves rationally. He doesn't act like a God-Murdering Zealot like Batman. So I have to say, while Superman makes sense, he's just not as interesting as the lunatic Batman, who makes no sense, but is compelling, as lunatics often are.

The only reason Superman even fights Batman is because... Luthor has some kind of idiotic plan to force him to.

It doesn't really make sense.

The action is not particularly good. There's too much CGI -- a favorite effect is to have Superman speed into a blur; but the blur looks like a fast, blurry cartoon -- and there's too much obvious computer cartooning and nothing really feels visceral and real when they start flying around.

Can Batman really survive some of the concussion hits he takes just because he's wearing armor? If I wear plate armor, can I survive being hit by a truck?

That said, I have to tell you, the non-action parts, the parts where Batman is investigating Luthor and Superman, or when Superman is looking into Batman's increasingly-violent crime control in Gotham, or Bruce Wayne following around the mysterious Dianna Prince -- is all pretty good.

It all looks pretty good (the actual physically photographed stuff, rather than the computer generated crap). It's "dark," tonally, but not so dark you can't see. It conveys darkness, while actually having enough light and color in it to please the eye.

It's just the plot is kind of stupid, and there's a bunch of set-up for the next one, whose plot is now completely spelled out. See, Bruce Wayne keeps getting some kind of psychic images -- not his own psychic power, I came to believe, but rather, he is being sent signals from a psionic on another planet -- of a coming apocalypse.

What's obviously going to happen is that "Darkseid" from the planet Apokalypse is going to come to earth and enslave Superman and make him Champion of Apokalypse and have Superman pummel the earth into submission, and Batman and Wonder Woman will have to recruit the rest of the Justice League to fight Superman.

Um... didn't they just sort of fight Superman? They're going to do that again?

Ah well.

Lot of stuff in the movie taken from videogame interpretations; you'll see bits of the Arkham games design aesthetic, as well as some stuff from Injustice.

Overall, I liked it. Not a disaster.

But also not a triumph, alas. It's a shame; they had almost all the ingredients of a real winner here. All they managed, though, was a single.

Oh Wait: I forgot the dumbest thing in the movie.

For some bizarrely stupid reason, Luthor conspires to make it look as if Superman... killed a bunch of terrorists. Because, he thinks, this will turn American opinion against him.

Killing terrorists. The American public will say, "How COULD you, Superman?!!?"


But even worse, how are these terrorists killed?

Remember, Luthor's trying frame Superman for their deaths.

So the terrorists are killed.. with bullets. Because, you know, Superman carries a gun.

Why not kill them with ruby red lasers to simulate a projectile weapon Superman actually carries -- you know, his eyes?

Nope. Bullets.

And not just bullets-- but super special hypermetal bullets that are made by exactly one company: LexCorp.

Gee, that'll really throw people off the scent, huh?

"General, these men were killed with bullets."

"I see. Sounds like Superman."

"Indeed. And there's more -- the bullets were made by Superman's archenemy, Lex Luthor."

"Well, I've heard enough-- arrest Superman!!!"

Later on, Luthor tries to frame Superman again.

But this time, he's smart enough not to use bullets.

This time, he uses a bomb.

You know -- he blows them up with a bomb, Superman-Style.

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posted by Ace at 06:53 PM

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