Friday, July 22, 2016

Batman v. Superman - More Thoughts

I picked up the Ultimate Edition of Batman v. Superman from my local Best Buy the day that it came out and I have already watched it multiple times.  The affection I have for this movie runs very deep.

And I know that there are still many detractors out there with whom I respectfully disagree.  But in many ways, this was the comic book movie that I have been waiting to see for my entire life.

So I had a few random thoughts that I would like to share with you.  This will not be a re-review of the movie, but some thoughts that came to me while I watched it again.

Be warned SPOILERS BELOW.  Do not read any further if you have not yet seen the film.

1.  Becoming

I think the thing that most people misunderstood about this movie was this: Batman and Superman are not the heroes we know and love yet.  This can be very confusing especially since Superman had his origin movie in Man of Steel and we witnessed the unconnected but influential Dark Knight Trilogy by Christopher Nolan.  But in this movie Batman kills.  Superman is filled with angst.  These are things that we usually do not find in these icons.  But when the film begins they are not yet icons. They are in the processes of becoming the heroes we know.  This goes against what we've seen in most superhero team ups.  The Avengers is a great film and there is some level of character development.  But the main heroes are already who they are by the time they get together.  But Batman and Superman are not who they should be when the movie begins.  It will be the influence of each other that will teach Superman to be resolute in his convictions and Batman to see hope in a hopeless world.

I give Zack Snyder a lot of credit for taking this journey, because it is much riskier.  I remember watching the first season of Arrow and being disgusted that they had Oliver Queen kill people.  This was antithetical to the character.  But it wasn't until about the middle of the second season that I understood that they were showing how Oliver moves from darkness to the light.  And that is what they are doing with Batman and Superman.

2.  Understanding Luthor.

The biggest holdback for me was the portrayal of Lex Luthor.  In the comics, Lex is strong, domineering alpha-male.  He is a shark in an Armani suit.  He exudes power with the lightest gesture or touch.

But Eisenberg's Lex is a rage-spewing science geek.  It was difficult to understand and accept it.  But once I did, it felt like a wonderful critique of the modern man.  Clark and Bruce are archetypes of traditional masculinity, both physically and in personality.    Those who don't live up to those standards will either idolize or demonize them for it.  Lex has chosen to demonize.

They are everything he is not.  He is the perfect embodiment of the "anti-bully" bully.  These are the people that experience some kind of abuse from someone stronger and so they feel justified in releasing their venom on anyone they think belongs in that group.  You see it in high school when the nerds hate the popular jocks and the perfect cheerleaders for no other reason than they are not like them.  You see it online when the Twitter Inquisition tears down someone who breaks with popular ideology.  These are the people who hate the idea of anyone being happier or better than they are and so must tear them down.

I saw this especially in the scene where Lex taunts Superman with the polaroids of his mother.  There is a triumphant exhilaration at bringing a god to his knees that you can see in his pipsqueak face.  There is a hatred of Superman's heroism, his manliness, and his power because Lex, like so many men today, lacks these qualities.

It's interesting because this is almost the reason Batman hates him as well.  He tells Superman that he isn't brave: "Men are brave."  In Superman he sees someone who hasn't really acted and risked anything.  From Batman's perspective, he is a man with unearned power.  Batman had to train and work and sacrifice to become who he is.  Superman is someone born into his abilities and because he didn't earn his power, he doesn't respect it an therefore cannot be trusted with it.

But Lex will embrace any abomination for his ends.  And once I embraced this movie's version of Lex Luthor, I appreciated it on another level.  He literally plays God by creating new life in his warped image.  He is Dr. Frankenstein, the new Prometheus.

3.  The Role of God

Perhaps I am reading way too much into this small moment, but the scene of the man praying before his death gets me every time.  He doesn't pray to God to rescue him.  He doesn't ask God where He is?  The man even addresses God by the title, "Creator of Heaven and Earth," a very creedal title.  And his one prayer is for mercy on his soul.  This means a lot to me because as someone who is steeped in the pop culture, particularly that of superheroes, this display of Christian spirituality is so very rare.  Yes, there are some references here and there spread throughout comic book movies, but this felt very real to me.  I could see myself praying these words in moments of calamity.

But I like that Snyder uses Superman more as an analogy for religion rather than the direct comparison, which would have way too much baggage.  That isn't to say that he avoids the existential implications of this.  He does not go so far as he did in Watchmen when the arrival of Dr. Manhattan causes someone to say "God is real and he's an American."  But he does show a world that is in upheaval at the revelation of Superman.  Notice how movies like Thor don't deal with the real world implications of a "god" living among the humans and what that would mean for some in our society.

But mainly, what I found so striking was the religious imagery was so strong in pointing out good and evil.  Lex's wild atheism is clearly evil.  And Superman's sacrificial love is purely good.  I love the Pieta shot towards the end.  Not only does this occur after laying down his life, but you can see crosses in the background.  He becomes even more of a Christ figure than in Man of Steel.  His death not only saves everyone from the unkillable Doomsday, it redeems Batman and brings Wonder Woman to the fight.

The reason this is so refreshing is that I usually have my defenses up when God is brought up in the pop culture.  Usually he referenced in order to sucker punch the faith.  But here, the view that is on the side of traditional religious sentiment is on the side of goodness.

4.  Visual Beauty

I have Zack Snyder ranked as the 19th greatest director of all time.  I may have to move him up a few notches.  His flayer for kinetic, dynamic visual storytelling has been known for a long time.  But I was struck by how well he was able to tell the story and get the emotions with the visuals.  This was the first time I noticed the visual symmetry of the first shot of the film with the last.  And movie is filled with great visual parallelism between Bruce, Clark, and Lex.

I read some complaints about the retelling of the origin story of Batman.  But this scene was actually incredibly short and important: it set the emotional reality for Bruce Wayne.  His world is literally turned upside down and he falls into a pit from which the only escape is the bat.  And I have never seen the death of Martha and Thomas Wayne done with such tragically poetic cinematography.

I found I could not take my eyes off of this movie.  Everything in it was fascinating to watch.

5.  My Favorite Alfred

Jeremy Irons' Alfred Pennyworth gets very little screen time.  But he is now my favorite movie Alfred.  Michael Caine was fantastic as the paternal stalwart companion.  But Irons' Alfred is filled with sarcastic bite that constantly pulls at Bruce to get out of his death spiral but you never question that Alfred will follow him into the jaws of death.

6.  Not Very Ultimate

I bought the Ultimate Edition of the movie.  The Lord of the Rings has spoiled me for extended versions of films.  In that trilogy, the extended cuts add so much more character, story, and excitement to the story.  But most extended cuts only give you a little more texture to the characters and fill in small story gaps.

The Ultimate Edition of Batman v. Superman is the latter.

The restored scenes were interesting enough, but it did not make the movie remarkably better or different.

I also wish there were better bonus features that took you deeper in to the filmmaking process.  And the documentary about Wonder Woman's history is kinda awful.  I understand them ignoring some of the less than savory aspects of life of Wonder Woman's creator, but the documentary was almost hagiographic.  And they kept shoehorning Wonder Woman into the role of feminist and social justice icon.  This wouldn't be bad except it seemed to be her ONLY role in the pop culture.  The people they interviewed were strangely chosen and served more to pull me away from the character than draw me towards her.  I like that in the end, Geoff Johns says that you want to move away from only this narrow point of view and show how she is universally archetypal.  But the documentary does nothing to bolster Johns' point.

7.  Primal Emotions

This movie is about primal things.  I think if we an understand that it will unlock a lot of the character keys.  Notice the shot of Bruce holding the orphan child as he looks at Superman.  Bruce became an orphan and was powerless to save his parents.  But when he holds that child, orphaned like him, you can see him project that rage onto Superman.  The murder of his parents created the primal rage and fear and understanding that makes his hatred of Superman make so much emotional sense.

Lex is the child of abuse.  He will always be the boy who was hurt by his father, the original bully.  That pain broke him and he projected his rage onto Superman too.

Clark's love is also primal.  Lex knows that the first love of his life is his mother.  Superman is reduced to a helpless child when his mother is in danger because of that primal love.

And this is where the key turning point rings hollow for many people but not for me.  Many believed the use of the name "Martha" was a cheesy cop out.  I disagree.  Remember, Bruce became Batman because of his failure to save Martha and Thomas.  The mention of saving Martha would obviously give him pause.  But when he learns that Martha is the name of Clark's mother, he is able to make an emotional connection he had not even considered.  Remember, he said that Superman wasn't brave because "Men are brave."  That means that he does not see Superman as a man.  He is an alien threat like the invaders from Independence Day.  But the moment he realizes that in his last moments, all Superman wants to do is save his mother Martha, Batman cannot help but see him as a man.  And not just a man: he is a son trying to save his mommy.

That is the primal connection between Batman and Superman and that works perfectly for me.

8.  Action Fatigue.

As much as I love this film, it is very much like many of the blockbusters in the last few years that fill the third act with long, epic action sequences.  And as good as they are, there is a pacing issue at work.  Movies can only keep going full throttle for so long before even the most intense action sequences become a bit fatiguing.  You should always leave them wanting more, but it is difficult to do that when you stay on stage so long.  This is not a specific criticism of this movie, but of a general problem that this film exemplifies.

9.  Great Dialogue

I love the dialogue of this movie.  I found it witty, philosophical, evocative, and provocative.  The characters raise questions that your mind chews on like "Must there be a Superman?"  The conversation between Clark and Bruce when they first meet has such wonderfully delicious subtext and Bruce begins to peel back the facade the angrier he gets.  I love it when he calls Clark "son" in such an emasculating tone.

Anyway, those are some of my thoughts.  What are yours?  Please share in the comments section.

No comments:

Post a Comment