"Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" Review[Date: April 4, 2016]
Reviewed by: T.A. Ewart (aka liheibao)
Every film, pure, perfect, or poor, starts with a story, and that, ultimately is the failure of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice; it is an extremely poor chronicle, but to make matters worse, it uses two of the most well-know and well-liked characters in fiction. The idea that audiences won't accept different approaches to established characters is fallacious, and a sort of judo to place responsibility for "not getting it" on viewers, rather than own up to what was given to witness what was created. We are still the children who painted dazzling escapades in our minds, based on the words strung together of an impromptu bedtime story, and those words can bring great fun, sublime thought, or somnolence and skepticism. Tell a good story, and the world is yours. Tell a mediocre tale, and you may be invited to try again. Render onto the people a poor narrative, and you will be shown the door... regardless of the time it takes to get there.
The greatest query to Zack Synder's latest offering, is why does he struggle with characters that should be easy for a director of his abilities to master? Synder has no problem establishing lush visuals, and has an undeniably rich imagination for setting up shots, and energetic action scenes. However, the aforesaid aren't enough to give in what Synder is about. He wants to create mythology and sprawling epic in the vein of classic films so momentous, they demanded an intermission as much as their audience did. However, what Synder is after is not within his scope of ability. He's best when the story needs his talents and not the other way around. Dawn of Dead added a jolt of energy to how zombies films could be achieved, and many have liberally stolen from Synder's handiwork there. 300 saw Synder bring sequential art to life, almost in the form of a flip-book, that audiences believed they controlled. Watchmen, his greatest attempt at what he's after now, succeeds on many levels, and if not for the fact that Watchmen's craftsmanship is almost presciently resistant to the limitation of a film, it may have been his magnum opus. Synder has left the pedigree he established to search for the white whale that eludes him, not that it's in his power to capture it, and his offerings have become progressively worse each outing.
Batman v Superman places Batman in not only the position of antagonist for Superman, but for Synder as well. Batman is the audience that rejected Synder's vision of Superman, the group refuses to see how heroic he was in Man of Steel. That group can only see the destruction, death, and despair the film offered, and refuses to budge an inch, regardless of impassioned plea. Synder's response is The Batman, who sees Superman as they do, a destructive implement of an alien world i.e. Synder's idea of what Superman can be. In other hands, this may have worked, though surely Chris Terrio and David Goyer are at the very least capable, but Batman's position reveals mostly that the concerns about Man of Steel were taken as insult, and not comments to be used for self-instruction. There's no counter given to Batman's perception; Superman is a destructive force, and death and pain follows him wherever he goes. In Africa, in Mexico, in Washington, DC, there is a trail of wreck that follows him, but this because Synder has focused on that destruction, and never places Superman in a position to solve a problem, but merely react to it.
In their first costumed meeting, Superman allows the Batmobile to careen off of him, dismembers it, then threatens Batman before flying off. How different if Superman presented Batman with a choice. How different if Superman had stopped the violence that Batman had caused in the scene, and tried to talk to him. There's no reason for Batman to listen to Superman, even in the penultimate moment when he does, as the franchise demands it, for Superman has given him no reason to believe otherwise. Batman is the cathartic hero, the symbol of pain and tragedy mastered for a better purpose, yet even he isn't beyond inspiration, which a Batman "true to the comics" would tell you Superman provides, even to the Dark Knight. Superman is aware of Batman's identity, and much of the enmity that Batman feels towards him could have been resolved with a phone call. However, if Batman is the audience, the big bully that seeks to force Synder into submission and make him craft Superman to their liking, then Zack Synder, is Superman.
Superman is the aspirational, inspirational hero, who reminds us that we are stronger than we could ever hope to imagine, so long as we believe it so. However, knowingly or not, has sought to square the circle and make the Man of Tomorrow, cathartic. It is a catharsis that is never achieved, as Synder doesn't seem to believe in his own aspirations. Superman is a dour and unhappy figure. He leaves a wake of destruction. He says little and when he does speak, the words are so much air. Superman reflects Synder's inability to use his talents without causing destruction, polarizing the people, and wondering why he's doing this at all. He is always struggling with the greatest foe he can imagine, himself, and if he could step out of his own way, to quote the sage, Balboa, he might yet find that balance needed... and the accolades that come with it. On some level, it seems that Synder doesn't believe a man like Superman can exist, that no one can want to help others simply for that reason. There must be a self-centered drive behind it. History has given examples of the Superman archetype, the Tulpa Superman, and it's the individual that inspires the symbol, not the converse. That person, those people have been of each gender, every age, ethnicity, culture, and belief. They left it all on the field for us, because it was right, it was just, and that was enough. Superman's road is a much harder one, and we don't traverse it in Batman v Superman, as time is spent solely beating on him verbally, physically, and symbolically, if only to show that he can take.
The final battle between Batman and Superman is an ugly affair. It's not a fight between two heroes, champions, or even gladiators, but a bully and a victim. Superman could stop the fight at any time, and he could do so without harming Batman. Lives hang in balance while duo contend with other, and there is a moment, brief but enough, where Superman could have rendered the point needed and ceased the conflict, but Superman will not speak at length, not even for the sake of one he loves. Superman's great sacrifice is nearly suicidal, in that we should regret his loss because we drove him to it, but bullies don't get to know to their victims. No, only friends mourn the passing of one another, people we have made a connection to, and Superman, as rendered by Synder, has a wall around him greater than his impenetrable skin.
What should have been a great landmark in not only superhero films, but film itself, much as Superman: The Movie was able to, is left to a uncertain legacy, if any. Make a fun film, make a serious work, but above all, make a good one. Play to your strengths and know where you need assistance. Don't be led by the crowd, but do listen and heed what is worthwhile. Or do none of it, in the end, Synder owes nothing to the world, which has been aptly demonstrated in Batman v Superman.