Thursday, March 24, 2016

2 superheroes, 1 movie ordeal

Batman v Superman takes itself way too seriously. And let's face it: Some movies shouldn't try to think big thoughts.

Remember when comic book movies were fun? Well, you'll have to use your memory because there's not much fun to be found in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

A Zack Snyder-directed comic book extravaganza, Batman v Superman comes on heavy, as if it's carrying the weight of a fallen world on blockbuster-sized shoulders.

I use the word "fallen" advisedly because the screenplay -- credited to Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer -- loads up on quasi-religious references as it turns Superman into a god-like savior, albeit one whose flock can turn against him.

Whatever its ambitions, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice becomes a dark and often brutal ordeal that clocks in at two hours and 33 minutes.

There are surprises in Batman v Superman, so I'll simply tell you that the movie's complicated (and sometimes incomprehensible) plot eventually features a showdown between the two superheroes; it's part of the movie's bloated, overextended finale.

Observers of the movie business have pointed out that Batman v Superman represents the opening salvo in Warner Bros. attempt to launch a series of comic book franchise movies to rival Disney's Marvel Comics fare. That may be the real battle here, and it's reflected in the way Snyder introduces many secondary characters, including the mostly superfluous Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), who eventually joins the fray.

I noticed that Aquaman was listed in the final credits and had to scan backward over the movie in an attempt to remember whether I'd actually seen him.

Attempts are made to keep the movie from miring in nostalgia. Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), editor of The Daily Planet, reminds us that no one reads newspapers anymore. And there are numerous references to a world so hopelessly mired in evil that the whole notion of "good" has been rendered meaningless.

In another stab at topicality, a Senate committee chaired by Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) looks into collateral damage caused by The Man of Steel when he saved Lois Lane (Amy Adams) from swarthy-looking terrorists.

There's plenty of action in Batman v Superman, little of it distinguished. Snyder (Man of Steel, Watchmen and 300) seems more interested in explosions and rapid-fire editing than in imaginatively conceived set pieces.

Besides, after Brussels and in a world in which images of 9/11 still resonate, one must question the taste of filmmakers who insist on destroying urban landscapes. At one point, Bruce Wayne even gropes his way through the gray ash of a devastated cityscape in which buildings have been reduced to rubble.

Why evoke memories of 9/11 in a fantasy movie?
Now as for the casting...

Ben Affleck makes for a glowering, charmless Batman. Sporting stubble and eventually donning a Batman suit that looks as if it weighs as much as a subway car, Affleck seems to be having about much as a guy who just learned that his tax return is being audited.

Henry Cavill, who played Superman in 2013's Man of Steel , shows Superman wrestling with his conscience as he tries to sort through his loyalties. Let's just say that the movie's depiction of these inner struggles may make you wonder whether the "S" on Superman's chest might actually stand for "superficial."

In this telling, Lois Lane knows that Clark Kent and Superman are the same guy. They live together and Clark ... er Superman ... even cooks dinner once in a while.

Beyond all of this calculated updating, a "my-cape-is-longer-than-your-cape" undercurrent ripples through the movie. Putting the two superheroes in the same movie adds marquee value, but winds up shortchanging both of them.

The movie doesn't do much better when it comes to villainy. Jesse Eisenberg makes a dithering, demented Lex Luthor, a corporate tycoon who's as interested in power as he is in profits. Lex fancies himself the orchestrator of the burgeoning conflict between Batman and Superman, but comes off as a deranged twerp.

Not surprisingly, Kryptonite -- the substance that's fatal to Superman -- plays a role here; it's possible that the whole production was infected by Kryptonite. If not, something else must have robbed the movie of its powers to entertain.

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