Tuesday, March 29, 2016

"Freaks dressed like clowns": 8 notes on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

1) I reacted to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice much like Quentin Compson responds to the question "Why do you hate the South?" at the end of Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!: "I don't. I don't! I don't hate it! I don't hate it!"

2) Me, soon after seeing the movie: "I liked Wonder Woman."
 
The wife: "Of course you did."

Why does the theater audience cheer when Wonder Woman finally arrives to fight? Because, by then she's a relief from all of the epic male aggression on display. If one views all of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as an elaborate way to get the viewer curious about Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), then the movie succeeds. As Batman writes in an email to her, "Who are you? Where have you been?" By not answering that question, Zack Snyder did something right. I was confused at times by BvS, but in the long run, I would just as soon not have any idea what was going on--let the movie wash over me in a disconnected Terrence Malickian dream vision.

3) Unlike, say, James Mason's suave Phillip Vandamm in Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959), Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) comes across as awkwardly adolescent and incompetent. Midway through the storyline, he gives a hesitant rambling speech that no one appears to listen to at a high class social function. Why does Zack Snyder undermine his character? Lex does make a nice point to Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) about how the "oldest lie in America" is "that power can be innocent," but Superman never seems much affected by that sense of a higher law. By the by, why has the doubtless intelligent Jesse Eisenberg allowed himself to suddenly become overexposed in so many movies?

4) Almost simultaneously (spoiler alert), upon hearing the word "Martha," both Batman (Ben Affleck) and Superman (Henry Cavill) reveal, during the climax of their epic building-shattering fight, that they both have unresolved mother issues. A late-inning alien monster named Doomsday romps around snarling like a big ugly baby, tearing up the landscape with much computer-generated abandon. There's something about these PG-13 movies that arrive with much disaster porn gravitas, but they remain emasculated. Perhaps for that reason, Zack Snyder promises to release a more manly R-rated version later soon enough on Blu-ray.

5) Ben Affleck has the settled, grizzled, stubbled, iconographic, and somehow rather thick face of a man who knows that he has the lead role in a major upcoming tentpole blockbuster movie.

6) Beware of a film that makes multiple overt Wizard of Oz references, including flying monkeys in a World War II dream sequence.

7) It's always nice when the screenwriters give Lois Lane (Amy Adams) something to do with herself (aside from being saved by Superman) late in the storyline amidst all of the earth-moving, building-crashing, CGI hoopla. During the last half hour or so, Batman cannot really participate in the fight because he’s human, although Wonder Woman can. Batman’s basically obliged to go hide under a large piece of concrete wreckage.

8) So much of the plot--the quickly forgotten bombing, Lex Luthor's playful machinations, the political protests, Batman's extra heavy battle gear with glowing eyes, Doomsday rampaging also with glowing eyes, and a nuclear missile going off in the sky--all of it has the cumulative effect of giving Superman the equivalent of a bad day, so he appears mildly put out for much of the movie. He sighs, and looks askance, his super-hair unruffled by the bomb blast. Humans can be such a nuisance.

2 comments:

DeadSpiderEye said...

I nearly saw it today but I got caught in a shower in town and had to buy an umbrella with the cash I was gonna buy the ticket with. I love comics, which as a medium has a lot more depth to it than the super-hero genre, but the live action flicks, especially the recent ones, they just don't butter my parsnips. I dunno why that should be, I'm thinking they're kind of boring but it's a odd kind of ennui they generate. The best comics create a tension between stylisation and realism, which although reflected in the contrast between the cgi and studio sequences in the contemporary live action scene, what the films lack is the middle distance. Flash bang wallop, a city disappears in fog of brownian emulation, then we cut to a some people yakking. One exception, Guardians of the Galaxy, which I caught rather belatedly but enjoyed immensely.

Did I say I love comics? Yeah well, perhaps I should've said loved because the snot has been knocked out of the Industry. There was a time, not that long passed, when it was medium that could bare a certain degree of risk, but now the properties are multi billion franchises and we can't be tarnishing those with anything untoward. So The Batman becomes The Fixer as DC cops out and what did they do to Peter Parker? Funny that, because success proved to be so much more deadly to creativity than the paranoia born from The Seduction of the Innocent.

FilmDr said...

Thanks for your thoughts, DeadSpiderEye.

I was not a comics reader. A colleague of mine refused to go see Batman v Superman because he did not like what Snyder had done to Superman in Man of Steel, so that as well as the major critics panning the movie became reason enough for me to see it. Fully expecting to hate the film, I found it somewhat fun at times, grim, surreal at others. In their big fight scene, Batman and Superman crash through enough walls to remind me of Scott Pilgrim vs The World. At another point, I think Lex comes up with a variation on Blanche's "I've always depended on the kindness of strangers" from A Streetcar Named Desire. All of that studio pressure hinting at superheroes to come (Captain Marvel! Aquaman's entrance is the most humorous) mixed with Snyder's whimsical visions, what can one say? How many of this year's blockbuster wannabes will devolve to two swollen muscle-bound color-coded figures duking it out WWF-style amidst a great incoherent splash of CGI lighting as great cities crash, burn, and die in the distance?