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March 28, 2016

RE: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

Before we get started, there’s something that’s been on my mind.

(But don’t worry.  There won’t be any spoilers in this post…beyond what’s technically already been spoiled by the trailers, but whatever.)

I’m willing to bet that if you’re reading this post and/or have an internet connection, you’ve come across reviews for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.  Many of them have been unkind.  When I first checked Rotten Tomatoes, the percentage on the Tomatometer hovered at somewhere around 41.  At one point, it dropped as low as 29%.  As of this writing, it’s holding the line (such as it is) at 30%.  Granted there’s no ironclad rule that the percentage is something to take as the gospel; with that said, it’s important to note that A) Rotten Tomatoes will link back to the actual reviews, B) there are still -- as of writing -- double the amount of negative reviews to positive ones, and C) even a number of positive reviews have pointed out problems.

Okay, sure.  Reviews are a suggestion of quality, not a confirmation of it; if they truly were the be-all and end-all, then a pretty large number of AAA games would be true masterpieces…and they’re definitely not.  And ultimately, it’s still a good idea to come to your own conclusions rather than let someone else decide for you.  But reviews exist for a reason.  Two of them, arguably; they’ll tell you if a product is good or bad, and -- maybe more importantly -- they’ll become a work of art unto themselves.  How well can a critic argue a point?  What do they bring to the table?  It depends, but they’re professionals for a reason.  They know what they’re doing.

So why do people act like reviewers, critics, and everything in between is the enemy?

Some of the reactions to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice have been incredibly volatile.  There’s been some hate thrown the critics’ way, particularly if it leads to insults flung like a fastball.  And it tends to end with a common train of thought “I don’t care what the critics think” or its partner in crime “I’ll judge for myself”.  The latter point is important, but let’s be real here: when 178 out of 253 critics are willing to imply that a movie is bad -- and that might be an even higher number, what with reviews via YouTube, blogs, and other unlisted critics -- then that’s what I’d call a warning signDon’t ignore it.

As I’ve said before, I’m a big fan of Bob “MovieBob” Chipman -- and as expected, he did his own review of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.  He didn’t care for it, and that’s putting it lightly.  I would’ve thought that would be the end of the story, but a quick hop over to The Escapist -- the site where MovieBob once produced tons of content -- shows a lot of people taking issue.  Not so much with his opinion (though that’s in there), but with his style…and soon enough, the man himself.

I’ll be fair.  A good number of MovieBob’s recent reviews -- the video ones especially -- have been pretty vitriolic.  He’ll still give praise, and he’ll still speak volumes about movies he likes, but a movie that crosses him brings out the bile.  It’s reflected in his style (and his speech, on occasion), but to me?  It’s an extension of him expressing his opinion.  As he should.  But there are a lot of people that don’t like that style, and it’s mingled with people not liking the man.  The best-case scenario is that people devalue his opinion.  The worst-case scenario is that there are video thumbnails of someone punching him in the face.

I won’t pretend like MovieBob is a saint who’s never, ever done something worth regretting.  And I won’t say that those who take issue with him -- his style, his opinions, or even his general beliefs on life -- do so just because he didn’t like a movie.  But when he has a point, he has a point.  He argues with the evidence to back it up.  And he puts a part of himself, whether it’s his ideologies, his tastes, his insights, or simply his persona, into his reviews.  Then again, that doesn’t make him any different from other critics.  They do the same thing.  Game journalists do it.  Film critics do it.  It’s as much about doing discussing the quality of a product as it is sharing a part of your heart with willing listeners and readers.

So you know what?  I sympathize with critics.  I trust them.  I may not agree with them 100% of the time, but I can still respect what they do (provided they do it well).  Everyone should -- but not everyone does.  Response bias may make comments flood with insults and intents to ignore their words, but there are still people out there that aren’t willing to take even the most well-reasoned, well-meaning piece of text seriously.  But let’s be fair here; even those that say “screw the haters” -- or even those who enjoy/dislike a product -- end up taking heat.  So it’s not as if the spiral down the toilet doesn’t go both ways.

There’s a nexus of hatred that grows stronger with every day -- wars being fought with no reason or reward.  But that’s a topic too big to get into now, especially since I’m already 900 words into this post.  What do I think of Batman v. Superman: Dawn Justice?  Do I think that there’s some glimmer of hope, some gem of quality that reviews have overlooked?

The answer is no.  This is a bad, bad, bad, bad, bad movie, where the most interesting thing that happened is that the lights came on in the theater halfway through.  BUT I must stress: there is a “but” to all of this.

The idea behind it wasn’t wrong.  Man of Steel notoriously ended with Superman destroying Metropolis and costing untold numbers of civilians their lives.  The studio behind it pretty much had no choice but to address that, and they did in this movie.  It’s the backbone of everything.  People have to figure out where they stand on Superman, from the average citizen to the officials in Washington.  Superman himself has to figure out where he stands -- and that’s not helped by the fact that Batman’s got a major grudge against him, partially spurned by the big blue Boy Scout’s failure to prevent Bruce’s employees from biting it.  In the hands of a competent team, this movie could have been incredible, and wash out the bitter taste of Man of Steel.

But it didn’t.  And there’s a part of me that wishes they didn’t even try.

BvS is a disjointed mess of a movie -- a film that somehow manages to feel much too long and much too short at the same time.  The sheer quantity of scenes can’t even begin to compensate for the quality of them; things in the first half or so happen at an almost random order, with durations that range from mere seconds to oh my god what is even the point of this scene minutes.  It would help if there was some substance to what happened, but there isn’t.  The idea is almost always there, but the execution is not.

It’s the same problem that Man of Steel -- and similarly, some of the Christopher Nolan movies -- had back in 2013: there’s a lot of pontification, but it never goes anywhere.  It’s all surface-level stuff that adds nothing (which I’m starting to suspect is definitely the fault of David S. Goyer, who returns once more as a lead writer).  Subtlety and nuance don’t exist in this universe.  The religious symbolism is front and center within every 15-minute block. 

The brooding levels are as high as ever, if not even more so; Batman glowers his way through most of his scenes, while Supes stays indecisive until it’s time to smash something or save Lois.  Speaking of Lois, she continues to be shoehorned into a plot where she doesn’t belong -- and despite putting on airs of being a strong independent woman, she still has to be saved by Supes repeatedly, often thanks to what borders on stupidity.

If and when they do a Justice League movie, I hope there’s more time given to the superheroes than the embodiment of dead weight.

Good news, Jurassic World fans!  There are even MORE improbably-high heels in this movie!

At the very least, the actors are all giving it their very best.  I didn’t get swept up in The Great Batfleck Panic of…Whatever Year That Was, but I didn’t have a problem with him in terms of his performance.  Same goes for Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, and the rest.  Well, I say that, but the one who sticks out like a sore thumb on a broken foot is Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor.  I have no idea if it’s the acting or the directing, but the character on-screen is absurd.  He’s basically a low-rent version of The Joker, or at least a drunk guy at a party doing a Joker impression; it’s embarrassing to watch, and even if it was pitch-perfect, his mere presence is so tonally inconsistent with BvS that I wonder if notes from Suicide Squad got thrown into the mix.

Still, I’m not one to focus on performances (though Jeremy Irons, Laurence Fishburne, and Holly Hunter do some good work).  A core problem with the movie is that these competent, well-established professionals aren’t given anything to work with.  And when they are, it’s almost shameful.  Character motivations don’t make sense, dialogue can hit some serious lows, nobody has anything even remotely resembling an arc, and the themes are completely butchered on every conceivable scale.  Want to know where people stand on caped vigilantes when all’s said and done?  So would I!  Want to know what Lex’s deal is in this brand-new universe?  Too bad!

The ideas are there, and the scenes are there -- but again and again, the movie deflates itself before it can capitalize on the potential.  Since I’m avoiding spoilers here, I won’t go into grave detail -- but what could and should have been a pivotal scene in the movie, and maybe the entire universe WB is trying to set up, ends so abruptly that I pretty much gave up on anything worthwhile happening.  Like I said, it’s the same problem as Man of Steel; none of the action beats matter, because it’s happening with characters that you don’t care about in a world you don’t care about.  Why?  Because the movie doesn’t give you a reason to.  White noise contemplation begets white noise conflict.

I’d comment more on those action scenes, but what is there to say?  There are punches, and gunshots, and explosions, and energy blasts, and CG, and goons getting beat up, but to what end?  Most of that action happens in the back half of the movie -- when it’s far too little, too late -- and done in dim environments with dreary palettes and a hundred CG layers.  Also, I actually managed to keep track of the time; if you’re going into this movie expecting to see a big brawl between Batman and Superman, DON’T.  It takes about an hour and a half, at least, for them to even think about throwing down.

So you’d think that the rest of the movie would be an ideological struggle between two comic book titans.  To which I say:

There’s a lot more that I can say about this movie -- and I will, don’t you worry -- but that ventures into spoiler territory.  So I’ll leave with a couple of thoughts.  For starters?  The question at hand remains: is BvS worthy of its 30-ish percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes?  Yes and no.  I don’t think it’s as quite as apocalyptically bad as that score would suggest.  It didn’t fill me with searing rage or a sense of betrayal.  (Boy, would that make for a good promo quote.)  And once more, I have to stress that Zack Snyder and his crew had the right idea; at the very least, they stared the problems and criticisms in the face instead of playing dumb.  They just went about it in the worst possible way.

So here’s the bigger issue -- not only why I think this movie is bad, but why it is arguably deserving of such low scores.  BvS came out on March 25th, 2016.  That’s almost a full three years from the release of Man of Steel (June 14th, 2013).  I won’t even pretend like I’m impartial, because I hate that movie with a passion -- but the issue here is that this new movie has the same problems, magnified problems, new problems, or a mix of the three.  What this movie tells me is that Snyder and crew either didn’t learn anything from the last movie, or they flat-out ignored everything.  They had three years to reflect and improve, and this is what they come up with?

You know what?  I feel really, really bad for DC fans.

BvS is a movie that fills me with disappointment and disdain -- and with it, a sense of apathy that makes me so numb I almost feel like it’s pointless to even talk about the movie.  But I say that as a guy with minimal exposure to the DC universe.  I don’t know Batman very well.  I don’t know Superman very well.  I sure as hell don’t know Wonder Woman very well.  What does this movie mean to people that have waited their whole lives to see this conflict happen on the big screen?  How are they reacting, given some of the grisly, disheartening, and even baffling events that transpire here?

For the most part, I’ve made my peace with this movie.  So don’t worry about me.  Send your prayers to those that need them.  Send them to those that truly felt burned or betrayed by this movie -- to those who may as well have watched their heroes set aflame before their eyes. 

So.  More to come from me in the future.  Until then?  I don’t know.  Go track down some Wonder Woman comics; something tells me you won’t go wrong.

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