Written by Kate McCabe

Arts

Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Our self-professed comic book nerd Kate McCabe wasn’t sure how to feel about Zack Snyder’s latest DC adaptation.

“Who mentioned Adam West?” All photos: Warner Bros.

It must be difficult to select the right tone. If you’re a comic book movie director, it has to be especially tricky. There are so many directions you can go, so many filters you might apply. Consider the lengthy list of recent successful comic adaptations; they include R-rated satire (Deadpool), kid-friendly adventures (Guardians of the Galaxy) and a 70s-style political thriller (Captain America: The Winter Soldier).

You also have to contend with the hordes of hard-to-please fans who will likely groan, “Worst movie ever”, regardless of your final product. Regarding Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, there is some merit in the whinges of geekdom.

What so many of us nerd soldiers have been braying about in the run up to this film – a film which is a launch pad for a whole new slate of DC superhero films – is that Zack Snyder is the wrong man for the job. Of course DC/Warner Bros hasn’t had much call to question his credentials, given that his last THREE comic book adaptations have been blockbusters (that’d be 300, Watchmen, and Man of Steel).

But they’ve also been humourless. Snyder is guilty of overdosing on gravitas. Applied sparingly, gravitas can help elevate the fantasy of superheroes from childish diversion to mythic allegory. It can take the fanciful punch-ups of men in capes and help us to see universal truths about our own behaviour.

“The first half of the film could have been them swapping increasingly close-up dick pics with each other for all the excitement there was. That’s sort of what they were doing anyway. Metaphorically.”

But the film needs to have at least a bit of lightness so that you might see the dark moments more clearly. Perhaps the most jarring juxtaposition of tone and property was his recent Superman reboot, Man of Steel.

Superman –  here played by Henry Cavill – can (and has) been accused of being a bit bland. He’s a slice of apple pie, a boy scout in primary colours, a spit-curled do-gooder. He’s rarely accused of being grim. Yet that’s precisely what Snyder delivered in Man of Steel.

If you’d hoped he’d vary the tone for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, keep hoping, because this is a film where even the big skies over Kansas are grey. It’s full of dream sequences, speechifying, and an unnecessary amount of time dedicated to Batman’s origin story (honestly, if you don’t know how Bruce Wayne became Batman, what are you doing at this movie? Also, what is your life?).

Superman looking superThe film is a brute of a thing, stomping about in big boots for 153 minutes; I felt bad for the children in the screening who were fidgeting their wee faces off. It took about an hour for the film to get to the first thrill. Let’s remember, these films are introducing The Justice League, a band of heroes once known as The Super Friends. Be more fun.

The first half of the film could have been them swapping increasingly close-up dick pics with each other for all the excitement there was. That’s sort of what they were doing anyway. Metaphorically. Then they fight. Then they’re friends. This isn’t a spoiler, by the way. If you’ve ever come near a comic you’ll know the formula when two heroes fight is:

1. Heroes meet, sniff butts, and decide they don’t like each other because reasons.

2. They throw shapes.

3. They stop being complete morons when they are forced to team up against a big bad.

And seriously, the moment they stop pounding on each other in Batman v Superman is so ludicrous that I almost stopped being a comic book fan.

Another problem lies with the film’s version of Lex Luthor. Jesse Eisenberg, playing the role as an overly manic, entitled and petulant wunderkind seems to be forgetting that The Joker already exists. For once, where gravitas is needed, it’s missing.

Snyder’s comic book films have been critically divisive. Most agree that he does a sterling job at bringing the look of the source material to the page. His Batman, while looking different to other movie Batmen is a fine mashup of Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s styles. There’s even a sequence where we get an aviator-goggled Batman fresh out of an Elseworlds book.

Unfortunately, he just doesn’t deliver as a storyteller. He’s more the comic book equivalent of a civil war re-enactor, obsessing over tiny details and missing the bigger picture.

“I WANT Warner Bros to be as good at making movie magic out of DC’s superheroes as Marvel is at theirs. I love Batman. I love Superman. I love The Justice League.”

Knowing that I might have some difficult demands, I thought it only fair that, as with my review of Deadpool, I bring an impartial second opinion. My friend-wife Karey actually enjoyed Man of Steel much more than I did, so I wondered if she’d feel the same with this newest effort.

I wasn’t hopeful – mostly because she REALLY did not want to see this film. I convinced her that it was super important and that her opinion might help thousands of readers and maybe even save lives. Here are some things that Karey had to say:

• I don’t remember Man of Steel. What was it even about?

• It’s a bit long.

• I rolled my eyes when that big guy came.

• Batman comes off like a bully.

• I had to ask you about who people were quite a bit. (That’s true, she did.)

Some of you may also be pleased to read that there ARE some redeeming features within the film which we both agreed on.

• Ben Affleck makes a good Batman. I didn’t have any doubt that he would. In fact, Ben Affleck, we’ve all enjoyed the videos of you looking sad on the promo tour for this thing but I want you to know, it’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.

• It’s made me excited for the upcoming Wonder Woman film. I wish I’d seen more of her, but Snyder was probably wise to exercise restraint in this area.

• We like Holly Hunter.

• I’m 99 per cent sure I saw a character called Senator Purrington and that’s a great name for my next cat.

I don’t relish being right about Zack Snyder. I WANT Warner Bros to be as good at making movie magic out of DC’s superheroes as Marvel is at theirs. I love Batman. I love Superman. I love The Justice League.

Besides, Batman v Superman is ALREADY on the way to becoming a financial success, having had a rip-roaring opening weekend. Therefore, will a single line of criticism matter? Warner Bros will have a monetary victory. Does anything speak louder than that?

Yet, unlike a Zack Snyder film, it’s not all gloom and doom. There is hope. The next two releases are helmed by different people. Suicide Squad is directed by David Ayer and Wonder Woman by Patty Jenkins, two new voices in the DC film universe.

And then there’s always The Lego Batman Movie. The trailer is charming, self-aware, and a crowd-pleaser; it looks like the DC comics film we need and deserve.

@katemccabesays

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Written by Kate McCabe

Kate McCabe is an American comic living in Manchester. When not gigging as a standup, she improvises with ComedySportz Manchester, and contributes to local TV and radio including The Gay Agenda on Fab Radio.

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