Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ★★★★

Here's the thing about the new superhero movie: it's weird. Batman v Superman is weird. At one point, fictional U.S. Senator June Finch (Holly Hunter!) is asked by non-fictional television personality Charlie Rose, "Must there be a Superman?" Finch's response: "There is." That's a weird answer to an equally weird question, both capable of inspiring thought and ponderous debate while being sort of empty in themselves (some might consider that an apt metaphor for the film, but I would disagree). Charlie Rose is not the only overt cameo in the film, lots of real-life TV journalists and noteworthy experts appear as themselves here (ranging from Neil DeGrasse Tyson to Nancy Grace), in their natural environment discussing the latest controversies, only with an additional layer of wacky science fiction. That's nothing new for a movie like this, but there's a noticeable excess of these recognizable people going on in BvS, almost as if director Zack Snyder is trying very hard to plant his vision of Metropolis and Gotham and spacemen and masked vigilantes plainly in our real world, aiming his morals and messages, for better or worse, directly upon our society.

Say what you want about Snyder's vision here, but he's putting in some very real effort to say something meaningful with this movie. It of course stems from the conflict between two different heroes, too blind to see the hypocrisy of their disagreements with each other, much less the common ground they share in their mission to protect the innocent. Bruce Wayne sees the destruction Superman is capable of and vows to prevent that power from causing any harm. But in his first real action scene, Wayne's alter ego uses his Batmobile to cause very similar damage - on a smaller scale, of course - filling Gotham with huge explosions and fiery death. Superman learns of Batman's methods and sees him as a violent criminal who needs to be dealt with, but his irresponsible methods have already been put on display, and he admits to not caring about the consequences of his actions when those he cares about are in peril. But the consequences matter, and BvS is intent on exploring the moral question of the outcome of superheroics, and examining some unpleasant implications about, ahem, justice.

This movie is challenging in its depiction of these iconic characters, and by that I mean it is aggressively antagonistic to an extent that I can only describe as hilarious. Rather than course-correcting after the backlash Man of Steel inspired, Snyder and co. have doubled down on their cynical interpretation of the origins of this incarnation of the Justice League (yes, this is a franchise opener and expander, so expect a few minutes spent exclusively on sequel setup). The Superman offered by writers Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer here is far from selfless, and continues to question humanity's worthiness as he did in Man of Steel. Their Batman is a killer, whether passively by burning a brand into those he deems truly evil with a Bat-mark seen as a prison death sentence, or actively by the aforementioned blowing up of anonymous henchmen with his Batmobile (Ben Affleck is great as this jaded and tired Bruce Wayne, worn down by decades of futile crime-fighting in a place like Gotham). Ask any DC Comics enthusiast: this is not what these characters are supposed to be, but I'm much less interested in this take's accuracy to the source material than I am in how it's used to explore the heavy ideas it presents (mighty effectively, I'd say).

I'm probably making BvS sound like a dull, laborious chore (plenty of people probably think that's an accurate description), but I need to get back to my original point: this movie is weird. Beyond being packed with characters and plot and ethical disputes, Dawn of Justice is also loaded with strange and delightful eccentricities that add a layer of the absurd to every second of the 152-minute experience. Surreal dream sequences, hallucinatory time travel (maybe?), a jar of urine used to signify immediate danger; this movie is kooky! It's grim and grandiose and bombastic, but don't mistake that for humorlessness. The biggest jolt of bizarre personality comes from Jesse Eisenberg's unsettling, high-energy Lex Luthor, but BvS is loaded with a perfect amount of weirdness that kept me fully entertained. Batman v Superman - which, as the title promises, leads to a badass brawl between god and bat - is not without problems; the storytelling is shaky and rambly, especially in the first half, and, with the exception of the spectacular introduction of Wonder Woman, this movie has no idea what to do with its female characters so it just turns them into damsels in distress constantly. I can acknowledge those issues and still be absolutely wowed by BvS's thematic ambition, visual majesty, and general wackiness. This movie is certainly a mess but I am a big fan of it.

Steve liked this review