Monday, April 4, 2016

MovieMonday: Batman V Superman

Below is Metacritic's description of this new movie:

Fearing the actions of a god-like superhero left unchecked, Gotham City’s own formidable, 
forceful vigilante takes on Metropolis’s most revered, modern-day savior, while 
the world wrestles with what sort of hero it really needs. 

Theoretically, this sounds great.  The reality is less fully realized.

I went to the movie last week and puzzled for days afterward about what the heck I had seen.  I did some reading around and found myself reassured by Robbie Collin's review in the Telegraph.  

       No major blockbuster in years has been this incoherently structured, this seemingly 
       uninterested in telling a story with clarity and purpose. It grumbles along for what feels 
       like forever, jinking from subplot to subplot, until two shatteringly expensive-looking 
       fights happen back to back, and the whole thing crunches to a halt. 
               That Wagnerian final brawl . . . doesn’t come close to compensating for the blithering 
       chaos that preceded it. The first hour in particular is so haphazardly assembled, I honestly 
       wondered if a reel had gone missing from the projection booth.


Before seeing Batman V Superman, I assumed that I understood the general stories of these two guys.  After all, I spent many happy childhood afternoons at my friend Nancy's house reading comic books. (Her parents were perfectly happy for Nancy's older brothers to assemble a fine collection; my own mother, who really should have been a librarian, believed comic books were the devil's spawn.)

It turns out I didn't know squat about the lead characters.  If you decide to see this movie, I recommend some preparation.  

First thing you should do is read the "Man of Steel Plot Summary" helpfully posted on  It tells the story of the 2013 Superman movie, which was well received but which I did not see.  (In retrospect, I think I dodged a bullet.  The summary alone is exhausting.)

In the final scene of that earlier movie, Superman and General Zod battle in the skies above Metropolis (or is it Gotham?), an event that rains exploding debris on the city center.  

This new movie takes a ground view, Batman's ground view, of the same battle.  His own Wayne Tower is hit by explosive material and collapses, killing many and making Batman very angry with Superman.  (The scene explicitly recalls the collapse of the World Trade Center in 2001, which can be seen as an homage or very poor taste; your call.) 

Also before you go, you should read (or read about) a 1986 alternate Batman comic book series in which an older Bruce Wayne/Batman has become an embittered and potentially unsavory vigilante.  Plus, he owns a big corporation -- in early iterations, Bruce Wayne's wealth was inherited and informed his attitude of noblesse oblige.

This background will help you understand the movie's subtheme of normal people and their politicians questioning whether superheroes are good for democracy.  I have no point of view on this, but if you are going to have arch-enemy Lex Luthor (another evil capitalist, natch) dialing up big nasty golems with their own superpowers, well, the whole discussion is rather beside the point.  

Personally, I think it's unrealistic to expect moviegoers to conduct research before going to see a blockbuster movie, especially in a country where a significant minority of citizens believe that Judge Judy is a member of the U.S. Supreme Court.  But maybe I am the only one.

The Experience

As might be expected, watching this movie is bewildering.  After about 20 minutes, I found myself drifting off to sleep, partly because I was in one of those newly renovated theaters with big, soft reclining seats.  I stepped out of the theater for a peppy walk around the lobby.  When I returned I found I had missed nothing.

The Facts

Critics agree.  This movie is a mess.  The people who made the movie knew it was a mess.  They also knew there was money to be made by pitting their two biggest superheroes against each other in a single movie.

It worked.  Batman V Superman took in $770 million in its first two weekends.  It set up story questions and another DC character, Wonder Woman in a small part, for future movies.  The same group also is planning other movies, each featuring two or more members from its League of Justice stable of comic book stars.

The comic superhero blockbuster movie style, patented by Disney's Marvel Films, is now being imitated by Warner Bros. (Batman V Superman) and 20th Century Fox (Deadpool) because it's just so darned lucrative.  It has leaped out of the summer-movie corral and become a year-round genre.

I only hope the coming movies are a little more entertaining.

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