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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

BY SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE

Directed by Zack Snyder

Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter and Gal Gadot

So the wait is over. For the hordes of comic book fans and the millions that will swarm multiplexes this weekend, the movie has a lot to offer but perhaps a little too much. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is sheer, unapologetic entertainment, and a lot of effort has gone into making it a crowd-pleaser. Since so much of the directorial and technical input has gone into the action and technique, the viewer’s really don’t get close to any of the characters. The makers thought it was going to be easy to top the last film, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised that this $250 million flick is something of a letdown. A little less ostentation and a little more attention to plot and characterization, would have made an interesting difference. Expectedly this is a bigger, louder, and more action-packed sequel.

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Image source: Official Facebook page

Man of Steel (2013) introduced us to an alien with a Kryptonian lineage and an Earth family. He dealt with isolation and the possibility of living among us. Martha Kent and Lois Lane are his only connection to humanity in a world where, “…people are afraid of what they do not understand…” according to his father. Director Jack Snyder, working from a script by Chris Terrio and David Goyer establishes an array of events here that doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts. Picking up with the events that shaped the last film, Batman takes on the man of steel, fearing that his actions are left unchecked, while the world wrestles with what kind of a hero it really needs.

“He has the power to wipe out the entire human race,” Bruce Wayne grumbles. “If we believe there’s even a 1 percent chance that he’s our enemy, we have to take it as an absolute certainty.”

This film states why Superman wants to validate the faith, belief and sacrifices that his family had made so that he could be the ‘hope’ and light to the people on Earth. Superman struggles with the consequences and reactions of his powers all around the world. For every good he does, there is collateral damage and there is effect and cause. The dichotomy Superman / Batman, is perfectly built in the course of the plot.

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Image source: Official Facebook page

Setting Wayne up as the film’s initial conscience is one of Snyder’s most interesting gambles, especially as his Batman quickly evolves into the most morally ambiguous iteration of the character yet seen on film. More than willing to shoot, brutalize and kill if the need arises, this Batman is still a figure of mystery in Gotham, and the director refrains from showing us the character in full cowl until surprisingly late in the game. Despite all the complaining over Ben Affleck’s casting, he does admirably as BATMAN. Buried under a mound of grim countenance, Affleck succeeds in conveying the character’s true anguish and tenacity. Aided by Snyder’s visual verve, its an extremely faithful take on the character, and, alone, he’s responsible for many of the film’s best moments: from taking on a roomful of goons in a hand-to-hand scrap, to an explosive Batmobile chase. The Bat-armour suit was phenomenal as well. Affleck pulls off the action with spectacle and enthusiasm. There’s a nice dynamic between Bruce and Jeremy Irons’ Alfred who spouts out Shakespearean lines about the nature of justice and muttering about his boss never settling down and starting a family.

Compared to Henry Cavill’s performance in Man of Steel and though the film’s machinations force Batman and Superman to devolve into ideological incoherence, both Cavill and Affleck anchor their characters in finely calibrated emotional turmoil. (Cavill, in particular, is unexpectedly tender and charismatic as Clark, and by extension Superman, grapples with incompatible notions of moral good.)

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Image source: Official Facebook page

It’s quite a lineup, and not one of them goes unwasted. All are sacrificed to the plot—the usual farrago of childhood trauma, lumps of kryptonite, and panic in the streets—or, rather, to the very loud noises that the plot creates. What we’re ultimately left with, in Dawn of Justice and beyond, are two sturdy characters left to languish in another greedily compromised, grotesquely distended narrative.

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Image source: Official Facebook page

Jesse Eisenberg delivers moments of pure menace, in a “psychotic” characterization of Lex Luthor. Amy Adams isn’t any more interesting as Lois Lane, though her relationship with Clark feels more natural than it did before.  As the trailers previously hinted, Gal Gadot while only just being introduced in the movie as Wonder Woman, manages to show enough of her character to intrigue the audience for her upcoming solo film next year. The actor’s eyes anticipate mystery in ordinary scenes and pick on unspoken torment around a narrative stoked by ambiguity, thus lending the character a frightening authenticity.

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Image source: Official Facebook page

Scripters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer provide kernels of philosophical and theological quandaries throughout, while their nods toward contemporary political debates are more complex than the scattered visual gags (such as an anti-Superman protester waving an “Aliens Are Un-American” placard) might seem to imply. Yet the essential clash of ideologies promised by the central conflict — vigilante justice vs. self-sacrificing restraint, night vs. day, Dionysus vs. Apollo — never develops quite as forcefully as it should, and the life-or-death battle between the two icons ultimately comes down to a series of misunderstandings. Strewn in understated symbolism, the film provides artistic dimensions and emotional nuance to the complexities of the characters.

To be fair, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is a perfectly watchable film, and possibly better than a lot of action movies. The problem is, it doesn’t feel like a game-changer, or even particularly memorable in the manner that so many Marvel films tend to be. With DC and Warner Brothers trying to make this movie the bedrock of a franchise, it’s missing that sense of irreverent fun that should have oozed out on a stable ground.

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Image source: Official Facebook page

As a pure visual spectacle, however, “Batman v Superman” ably blows the hinges off the multiplex doors, and editor David Brenner does excellent work to comprehensibly streamline the chaos, capably captured by cinematographer Larry Fong. Zack Snyder borrows heavily from about 3-4 different comic story lines and squishes them together in this thematic follow up to Man of Steel. Moreover, the entire climax is hinged on a plot contrivance that sticks out in an otherwise compelling film. The film has interesting ideas scattered throughout, but it’s just such a bloated, overlong ordeal. And the no context “dream” sequences for Bruce Wayne detract from the experience. The entire cast does well, the effects are well done, but the screenplay remains weak throughout. The movie however, sticks faithfully to Snyder’s well-oiled formula, and yet there is no question that it’s a courageous venture.  Go in with modest expectations, and you won’t be too disappointed.

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