Friday 25 March 2016

Batman vs Superman review

I don’t think I've ever seen a film as immediately at odds with its own material as Batman vs Superman. It is fundamentally and joyfully a silly premise, but the film appears to be terrified of being labelled in any way silly. And that works against it.

Instead, we have a movie that is so desperate to appear mature that it actually comes across as a teenager trying to make out that the patchy bum-fluff on his upper lip and chin is real stubble. It feels a bit like two and a half hours of Zack Snyder shouting at his mom that comics aren't just for kids. This is why we have tortured dream sequences, references to human trafficking and paedophilia, terrorism, PTSD and Clark Kent having sex with a strangely nipple-less Lois Lane in a bathtub. And it’s why we have a Batman that really likes his guns (and boy, that’s a strange sentence to write) and won’t hesitate to kill if he has to. Because it’s a grown up movie, mom!

What’s frustrating, in a similar way to Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, are the glimpses of the film (or even films) that it could have been. The cast is fantastic throughout - everyone works hard, delivering performances that feel the most perfectly realised versions of these characters that have been around for a long time.

Henry Cavill is the best Superman since Christopher Reeve, and a pretty good Clark Kent as well. Ben Affleck is a really good Bruce Wayne and an even better Batman. Gal Gadot is immediately right as Wonder Woman, leading you to wonder just how studios thought this was a character that couldn't make money for so long. Amy Adams still feels miscast as Lois Lane, but she clearly has her working boots on, and she’s a great actress. Jesse Eisenberg, oddly, appears to play Lex Luthor as Jim Carrey’s Riddler, but he has moments that he hits a level of menace and intelligence that feel more right than any major comic movie villain not played by Michael Fassbender.

The movie looks, in places, perfect. A dream sequence of Batman leading a resistance brigade particularly stands out, where he’s wearing goggles and a heavy coat over his batsuit, in a way that looks ripped out of the comics. That this feels natural, in character and unremarkable is an achievement, considering how ludicrous it actually is when you think about it. In sequences where Superman appears in front of City Hall, you get the same thing - visuals that should appear incongruous enough not to work, yet they’re carried off so well that they bypass that part of your brain in exactly the same way the comics often do. You ignore the ludicrousness of what you’re looking at and just think ‘oh, Batman’s doing this… I'm on board’.

It has moments where the ideas work as well. There's one, in particular, which makes fantastic use of a mild coincidence between Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne that I've somehow never noticed before, and hits exactly the right emotional chord.

Oh, and Hans Zimmer’s score is wonderful - easily his best since The Dark Knight, and it’s not like they've dipped far in quality since then.

All of which makes it a bigger shame that it wasn't a better movie. Because just about everyone involved deserved more. The biggest problem is that it isn't really a movie. It’s a studio checklist of what they think they have to do to compete with the Marvel cinematic universe. So it’s trying to catch up with where Marvel are now, rather than take the time and build the blocks in order. You know how, after 12 movies, the Marvel universe has become a bit too complicated for its own good? The DC cinematic universe has got there in two.

In the space of one movie, it’s trying to be a sequel to Man of Steel, a new Batman movie, a new Wonder Woman movie, the first Justice League movie, the first part of Crisis of Infinite Earths, the first part of Kingdom Come, an adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns and an adaptation of a major mid-nineties DC event that I won’t mention for the sake of spoilers. All at the same time.

It’s exhausting to watch as a result. By the last half hour, I was totally numbed. It wasn't just that I didn't care about what they did - I couldn't. I was just sat there going “Oh. This is happening. And now this is happening. And I see that this is happening as well.”

I've been a comic book fan for a long time. For others that have been as well, I can best sum it up by saying that this is the kind of movie that Wizard Magazine really thought we’d have wanted, and that is actually everything that was wrong with comics in the 1990s.

It used to feel like mainstream comics (and DC in particular) were very aware of their core audience, and aimed everything at them. So you’d get events that only made sense if you’d already been a fan for at least ten years and bought everything.

You may remember how comics used to feel like a more exclusive club. And you may remember how it could make some (and I stress only some) comic book shops feel like a rather unwelcoming place to be if you weren't already a bit obsessed with the right characters, or if you seemed at all like you might not be. Some of them could be the kind of places that attracted the repressed and angry, those who felt marginalised and unfairly treated.

That feels like the exact audience that Batman Vs Superman has been made for and by. Angry adolescents who feel like they've been laughed at too much and want to prove how grown up they are.

For all the good elements in it, I’ve mainly ended up wishing for more silliness. I’ve ended up, instead, wishing for this Batman vs Superman. The one we’ll never see, but could feel perfect in our heads.
"I'm sorry, Mr Bat, but I can't let you do that" 
"Sorry about this, old chum,"