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What’s going on Alfred? “Um, how best to describe it sir?” – Batman v Superman and the exquisite madness of Zach

Beware, ahead lies spoilers and madness in a sort of defence of gazillian dollar mega-biffage epic Batman v Superman. I’ve probably lost my mind…

I tried to ignore it, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is lumbering monster so gigantic it seems to have been slouching towards the multiplex to be born for eons (actually three years of marketing). Now on screens it has birthed a cottage industry of think pieces (of which this is YET ANOTHER!!! AAARRRRGGHHHH!!!), articles, box office analysis, blogger takedowns, and FAQ’s both anti and pro. In the vast wilderness of social media there has been growing a cacophony. At first a faint crinkling and crunching, then louder and louder until it sounds like the very earth cracking underfoot. The sound of a multitude of comic book fans grinding their teeth in unison. THIS ISN’T OUR SUPERMAN!!!

But like a moth to a flame, I found myself stranded in the Stygian depths of Kingston-upon-Thames of an afternoon with nothing to do. What was that I could see? The swell of an incoming wave of pure cultural zeitgeist? If I ran to the nearest megaplex I might just have time to get in front of this before it breaks.

This isn’t a review, I’m not going to try and describe the plot but to briefly set it up, it is two years after Kal-El and General Zod’s titanic tussle levelled much of down town Metropolis, including a Wayne Industries building. Bruce Wayne has developed a deep distrust of the god-like Superman in the wake of the incident (brilliantly restaged at the beginning of the movie from Wayne’s street level view). Enter Jesse Eisenberg’s manic nightmare boy version of Lex Luthor who manipulates both Bruce Wayne’s misplaced hatred of Superman, and the Big Blue Boy Scout’s devotion to the love of his life Lois Lane to bring the two heroes together in a world title bout that Lex hopes will leave them both dead for reasons that never come into focus at any point in the movies two and a half hour running time.

I am not going to claim that Bunman v Supergran is a great movie, or even a good movie. It is too haphazardly put together, too long (or too short) to develop a coherent narrative, and bizarrely uninterested in exploring the characters that are the movies very title. Were I to draw up a list of pros and cons, the balance would tip firmly in the direction of the later. In fact let’s try it…

Pros:

  • Alfred
  • It looks GREAT (terrific work from DP Larry Fong)
  • The action is terrific
  • As much as it is laughable it is often awe inspiring in its imagery
  • It appears to have been scored by several choirs of angels and half the hordes of hell BWAAAAHHYHHHH!!! (It’s actually credited to Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL. Boring.)
  • The new Batmobile is waaaaaay cool

Cons:

  • Luthor has no motivation whatsoever
  • Jesse Eisenberg is UNBELIEVABLY annoying
  • Wonder Woman is in it for three minutes!!! Get a grip everybody
  • This new/old Batman seems really interesting; why not tell us something about him?
  • The plot element that makes Bats and Supes bond is hilarious
  • Doomsday looks like an angry overcooked baked potato
  • Henry Cavill is given so little to do as Superman he might as well be replaced by a frozen side of beef
  • Not nearly enough Alfred
  • Lois Lane’s retrograde role is solely to make a lot of very poor choices resulting in Superman having to rescue her… over and over again.

As an aside, I don’t know if this belongs in the pro or the con camp, but there is the most hilariously terrifying latex Michael Shannon sex doll in the film.

And yet, I’m not sure I can think of a film with such a shonky narrative structure so consistently full of great bits and as many intriguing ideas as it has really stupid ones. The weird and fractured narrative of Batfink v Supermut seems to approach linear time in a fashion similar to that of Nicholas Roeg. This is never more apparent than when the film cuts jarringly to a post apocalyptic future nightmare. Batman wearing a greatcoat and goggles over his Bat-threads (Why? Because it looks cool!) attempts to lead a resistance against an army of Super-swoosh adorned fascist storm troopers before the flying locusts of hell arrive heralding a demonic version of Superman wearing Sauron’s armour from the beginning of The Lord of the Rings (I promise you I am not making this scene up). [NOTE – I now think this is meant to be Darkseid having read some more think pieces, but I didn’t get this at all watching the movie].

Of course it is a dream sequence, but it goes on so long it includes the dreamer being knocked out and waking up again IN HIS DREAM, and is so randomly inserted that it felt like a reel was missing.

Whatever brickbats you feel like flinging at director Snyder’s approach one that won’t stick is that he is trying to ride on the success of Disney/Marvel’s cinematic omniverse. The Avengers and spin offs are full of quips and humour, and make every effort to sell their heroes with relatable human foibles and dilemmas. In contrast Snyder (and his screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer) want to present a new world of Gods and Monsters. Perhaps this is why there is so little characterisation given to Affleck’s glowering Bruce Wayne and growling Batman. However, Superman could be digitally replaced by the monolith in 2001 so epically fossilised is he in his Jesus Christ Pose.

In fact the controversy over Snyder’s presentation of a ‘killer superman’ by fans who sometimes seem to have a cult-like connection to the character, reminded me of the reception given to Martin Scorsese’s (and bear with me on this) The Last Temptation of Christ. In fact if anything Snyder goes overboard on the Christ allegory at the end of the film. Far from a distant alien murderer, Superman is ultimately a messianic character willing to sacrifice himself for his adopted world (albeit on with the emotive faculties of a giant Easter Island head). In The Last Temptation, Christ was shown to have doubts and even flaws, but at the end of the film, he was still the son of God right? Still a messiah. It is the same here.

I can’t deny this film is all over the place, but it also conjured (subjectively of course) a real sense of awe and I am now very eager to see if the upcoming three hour R rated version may be able to reconfigure the fractured and messy narrative into something more coherent.

 

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