Action/Adventure, 151 Minutes, 2016
DC Comics has, sadly, doubled down on their loud, dark reimagining of their flagship heroes. While I truly enjoyed 2013’s “Man of Steel” [My Review], it was the soulful examination of a young Clark Kent that sold me. The brash deluge of destruction porn that ended the movie only worked as a counterpoint to that.
Soulful character development or special effects: guess which one they tossed for sequel?
We begin with a flashback to the events of “Man of Steel”. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck [IMDB]) rushes through the chaos of Metropolis as Superman (Henry Cavill [IMDB]) battles titanically with the invading Kryptonians. He vainly attempts to help his friends and employees trapped in the Wayne Enterprise’s building as the city crumbles around them.
In my “Man of Steel” review I said: “Batman reflects who we are and who we are changes over time.” Affleck’s Batman does this, although it’s not pleasant. This Batman is angry, paranoid and more than a little dangerous. He plots the downfall of Superman out of fear rather than sense. He reflects the current environment of isolationism and bigotry.
Batman is also plagued by horrific (-ically long) dream sequences that present some interesting visuals but ultimately fail to advance the character or the plot in any meaningful way. Instead, they seemed designed for heavy-handed fan service. It doesn’t help that he’s also plagued by flashbacks, visions within dreams and flash-dream-forwards with visions.
Positively, Despite fears to the contrary, Affleck acquits himself very well. He’s a convincing Bruce Wayne and a convincing Batman. It would have been nice to see him challenged. It’s sad that the script pushed his character in to immediate, persistent unlikability.
I also said that “Superman, on the other hand, reflects who we want to be.” Unfortunately this was forgotten here. Superman remains dedicated to Lois Lane (Amy Adams [IMDB]), of course. This is used to hamfistedly create a major, but dreadfully weak, plot point. There’s also an even weaker subplot pitting him, upset with vigilantism, against Batman, but it never feels anything but forced.
Superman needs to play as an optimistic, idealistic counterpoint to Batman. Batman is the hero we need because our world is dirty, dangerous and beset by evil. Superman is the hero we want because our world is glorious, beautiful and worth saving. Batman truly doesn’t believe that he can win while Superman honestly believes that he can win. Both remain doggedly persistent. How they come to have the same goals with sch wildly varying motivations is where the interest lies.
In this movie, Superman is morose, depressive and uncharacteristically quick to anger. You can count the number of times that he smiles on a leper’s hand. He spends the vast majority of his screen time as little more than a glowering prop. One repeatedly metaphorically compared to Jesus, but a glowering prop nonetheless.
Speaking of props, we’re also introduced to Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot [IMDB]). She spends the first two acts as an aloof, nearly mute, foil for a seemingly confused Bruce Wayne. It’s not offensive, in and of itself, that Wonder Woman might leverage her abundant sexuality, but it does become so when that’s the majority of our introduction to the character.
She is ultimately given a chance to redeem herself (and kick some ass) in the last act. It’s predictably glorious, yet hollow. That said, as with Affleck, I feel that Gadot met the challenge of the character well despite a script that did all it could to sideline her. I remain excited for her upcoming solo movie. furthermore I’m confident predicting that it will be a significantly better film.
The foil is Lex Luthor… Jr? Jesse Eisenberg [IMDB] is cast as the young heir to the Luthor fortune. Meant to play as an eccentric dot-com billionaire, the result is simply creepy and unhinged. The exact opposite of what he needs to be. Luthor is a cold, calculating sociopath. He’s brilliant, charismatic and outwardly warm and inviting. Here he’s nothing more than a bargain-basement Joker.
The movie responded to criticism of “Man of Steel” in the most ham-fisted way possible. At one point, for example, Batman redirects an epic battle back to the city. When questioned, he declares, “this is the old port, it’s abandoned!” This is followed by the same soulless, self-indulgent, FX destruction orgy that alienated so many fans three years ago.
All criticism of this can be rendered down to a sad, simple fact: it’s not fun. It’s loud, dark, gritty, loud, long, confusing and loud, but never, ever fun. What makes this truly surprising is that we know DC can do this. They do it multiple times every week on television.
DC Comics properties are crushing it on television. Arrow [IMDB], The Flash [IMDB], Supergirl [IMDB] and their many siblings capture the essence of their characters, cover dark subjects and yet remain fun. We’ve not even delved into the amazing quality of their animated series and direct-to-video films; any one of which represents their characters better than the tentpole film franchise has been able to.
At least there’s still hope that Suicide Squad [IMDB] can meet the promise of its trailers.