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Review - "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"

A decade ago, Zack Snyder put out 300. It was a flashy movie that was pretty much devoid of substance, filled with hypermachismo, saw women as convienient plot points rather than people, and looked like a video game. I'm not saying I don't like 300, because I do. It's a fun time. But it's a hollow and empty movie, one that doesn't have much of a soul, and seems like something made by a patently immature human being.

Fast-forward ten years, Snyder is 51 years old. But ten years hasn't given him more worldly perspective, nor has it seemed like he's really grown much as a creator. In fact, he still seems to have a middle schooler's idea of what's cool, dark, and edgy. That much was made abundantly clear by the abhorrent trainwreck that was Sucker Punch. And yet, here we are, witnessing the same guy who made that get handed the keys' to DC Comics' kingdom yet again, with three of the most iconic comic characters in history. 

And while Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is basically an awful movie by many standards, it makes me glad that Snyder hasn't grown up, because his immaturity is a blast to see on display.

I say this because, frankly, Batman v. Superman is one of the most hamfisted and clusterfucked takes I've seen on both of the characters to date. I don't say that lightly, either. I've read most of the major writers of both heroes to date, and when I think that your take (plus notoriously joyless David Goyer, and the superhero newcomer Chris Terrio) is more of a ridiculous tonal mess than some of the shit DC's thrown at the wall over the years, that's saying something.

Superman's a big brooding baby whose moral compass is entirely unclear. Batman is a character with a dark history that we don't get to see (Robin's dead, Joker's a thing, he's been fighting crime for 20 years apparently,) resulting in a spiteful, violent take on him that barely makes sense because we only get the smallest inkling of what's pushed him so far. Both of them are buffoonish interpretations of pedigreed characters capable of so much depth. Here, both of them are hilariously the same. Angry, growling musclemen whose motivations are unclear for 90% of the film, not to mention both of them lacking a lick of common sense. Michael Bay's interpretation of the Transformers gang is more faithful.

What I'm trying to say is that Zack Snyder has given us a thorough adaptation of 90's comic books. Grim, violent, dark, and cynical to the point of unintentional self-parody. The entire thing is faithful to the 90's DC aesthetic and tone to a fault. And that fault is this; DC sort of fucking sucked in the 90's. Hypermacho caricatures, absurdly gritty dialogue, nonsensical reasons for conflict, cheap "twists"... The whole industry, DC above all, had drank the Liefeld/Lee Kool-Aid and thrown in Miller's "everything sucks" attitude without any context, and the result was a decade of joyless yet unintentionally hilarious comics that don't really hold up by today's standards.

Batman v. Superman, above all, is about 2.5 hours of that. Fights that could be easily avoided, pedantic dick-waving contests, a thirteen year-old's idea of "dark" and "mature"... it's all here in its infantile glory, and its just as stupid as it was twenty years ago. The excuse for why Batman and Superman square off is one of the single most idiotic things I've witnessed in a major Hollywood release in a while. Superman and Lois Lane's relationship shows a horny teenage boy's idea of what romance is. Lex Luthor's motivations make absolutely no fucking sense. It's a bunch of grimdark sound and fury with no narrative substance behind it. In other words? It's a Zack fucking Snyder movie. It might as well be called Snyder Does DC. The Expendables has more nuance.

And yet? Despite all this? I still had a blast.

I'm not saying that Batman v. Superman is a great movie. It's not. It's pretty much everything wrong with modern Hollywood, rolled up into a single film. And yet every slow-mo sequence, every ounce of CG overkill, and every hamfisted attempt at drama combine to produce a relentlessly entertaining roller coaster ride of a movie. Zack Snyder has thrown everything, plus ten dozen kitchen sinks, at this movie, and because of that, there's a sort of bravado charm to the whole thing. 

It's hard not to laugh with glee as Batman uses a grappling hook to slingshot a crate into a bad guy's head, or when him, Wonder Woman and Superman all team up to wallop on the CG monstrosity that is Doomsday. Bits of dialogue like, "Do you bleed? You will!" and "Nothing stays good in this world" are so laughably "edgy" that one can't help but crack up at how silly they are. Ben Affleck and Jessie Eisenberg's performances are so hammy and overly wrought that they're sort of charming in their absurdity. Because really, that's what Batman v. Superman is: it's absurd to its very core. I'm not sure Snyder and Co. know it, either, which makes it a particularly fun B-Movie. After all, would The Room be as good if Tommy Wiseau knew that it sucked? I'd say not. Same logic applies here.

And the thing is that, beneath how thunderously stupid this all is, there are some legitimately good parts. Affleck, despite chewing scenery, is probably the best take on Batman that we've gotten yet. Gal Gadot absolutely slays as Wonder Woman, bringing an upbeat, fearsome breath of fresh air to the stagnant stench of toxic masculinity. The set-up for exploring Batman's past is novel and makes me excited to see more. There's a lot of cool stuff going on here beneath the non-stop assault on the senses. 

But isn't there a certain validity to an assault on the senses? I'd say so. Because while, as a critic, I recognize that the script, cinematography and filmcraft on display are amateurish, the sheer spectacle of it all is thrilling. I had more fun at Batman v. Superman than I did the last several Marvel films, even if part of that fun was laughing at all the unintentionally funny bits. That's because it's more fun to watch Snyder try to make an adult film than it is to watch a better filmmaker make something for general audiences. Why? Because he can't fucking do it, and what he considers "adult" is more childish than even the most light-hearted bits of the family-friendly Ant-Man. And by consequence, it's a whole lot funnier than most movies that actually try to be funny.
So here's my advice. Go see Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. See it on the biggest goddamned screen you can find. Turn off your brain for a few hours and surrender an eighth of your day to the patent ridiculousness of it all. Because every dumb plot twist, every horrible line, every overblown action sequence contributes to what may be this year's finest popcorn movie. Not finest movie, mind you. Not by a long shot, I'd hazard.

But as far as sheer entertainment value goes? You can't do much better than this.

Grade: B


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