****WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS!! CONSIDER THIS YOUR OFFICIAL SPOILER ALERT!!****
MY RATING : 2.5 OUT OF 5 STARS
MY RECOMMENDATION: SEE IT IN THE THEATRE, ESPECIALLY IF YOU LIKE SUPER HERO FILMS. IF YOU ARE LUKEWARM ABOUT SUPER HERO FILMS, WATCH IT ON CABLE/NETFLIX.
"LOW EXPECTATIONS ARE THE KEY TO A HAPPY LIFE." - ME…TO EVERY WOMAN I HAVE EVER DATED.
As a general rule I never read movie reviews before I see a film. In fact, I don't even like to see trailers for films because studios so often undermine the power of a film by giving away its content in trailers. When I see a film, I want to see it with as close to virgin eyes as possible. If I don't understand a film, I will take the time to actually see it again. I love film so I don't mind investing time into it in trying to understand the art and craft of it all. I understand that I am an outlier in this area as most people look upon films as consumers looking upon a product they may potentially buy, so they want as much information as they can get before hand, not afterwards. This is why studios reveal so much (too much!!) in trailers, they want to give as much of the film as possible in a two minute movie because they believe that audiences want to know what they are getting. In regards to Batman v. Superman : Dawn of Justice, I found it very difficult to keep my cinematic virginity oath by avoiding news and information about the movie before I saw it. One reason this was such a struggle was that I saw the film just this past week and it was released two months ago, so I am definitely way behind the times. Another reason is that for the last two months my internet homepage has been giving me headlines telling me how awful critics thought the movie, and Ben Affleck were. I never read the articles, but I certainly got the message from the headlines, Batman V. Superman was an epic failure and Ben Affleck was back to his old tricks of ruining movies. And thus…my low expectations were unconsciously inseminated, then gestated for two months and were consciously born this past week.
When you have low expectations, anything good that happens is a pleasant surprise and you find yourself more grateful for things than if you had expected them. And so it was with my experience watching Batman v. Superman. I expected it to be really awful…and it just wasn't. Maybe it isn't as good as I thought it was, but it was certainly better than I ever thought it would be. And guess what…you know what made the film good…I hope you are sitting down for this…it was Ben Affleck's intricate, internally detailed and vibrant performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman. I know you think I am bullshitting you, but It's true, I promise, I am not in any way, shape or form, bullshitting you.
"DO YOU BLEED?" - BATMAN
When I heard that Affleck had taken the role of Batman I thought it was a very bad idea for both him and the film. Affleck had worked so hard to rise up from being a punchline at the nadir of his acting career and reinvented himself as a respectable filmmaker and passable actor. I thought he was squandering all of the good will he had worked so hard to generate by chasing the "movie stardom" dream that had been the cause of his previous great downfall. Chasing stardom and money was what had scuttled Affleck's promising career once before, and I was sure it was going to do the same thing again. But, to his credit, Ben Affleck proved me a fool because he is damn good as Batman. I think it is his best performance…ever. Which, you know, isn't a very high bar, but he brings a brooding gravitas to the role of which I simply didn't believe he was capable. Affleck's performance throughout is solid, but his inner rage and fury during his fight with Superman is absolutely dynamic. Affleck imbues Batman with such a tangible psychological wound that it gives him a visceral and volcanic rage, which erupts during this epic superhero brawl. Affleck's magnetic and potent performance is shocking considering his tepid work in most of his previous films.
Sadly, the "Ben Affleck is dreadful" meme is out there in regards to his work as Batman. Prior to seeing the film, I saw headlines and videos mocking Affleck for having stepped in it again with Batman V. Superman. Maybe it was my exposure to this criticism which lowered my expectations for his work, which is why I was able to appreciate him so much in the role. Who knows? Regardless, if Ben Affleck keeps doing the strong work he did as Batman in future films, the critics will eventually quiet themselves. With all of that said…as much as I disagree with the sentiment, I found this video to be absolutely hysterical.
As much as I enjoyed the film, is Batman v. Superman perfect? Hell no. Director Zack Snyder can be pretty heavy handed at times, the abysmal Man of Steel being a perfect example, and he loses control of this film in the last quarter, but even with all his faults, he has a distinct visual style that works well here. Snyder also does a good job of keeping the storytelling coherent, which is no small accomplishment considering he is juggling multiple important narratives (Superman, Batman, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Wonder Woman etc.) that he must weave together. He does so, not seamlessly, but well enough for the film to make sense both internally and externally.
HELLO DARKNESS MY OLD FRIEND
Another key to the film's success is that it is dark…relentlessly dark. And it never wavers from that dark vision. It is a credit to the filmmaker that, unlike in the recent Captain America movie, Batman v. Superman sets its heavy tone and commits to it, taking its subject matter very seriously. The film is a dark psychological study, and I found it to be authentically compelling. There are no witty one liners to water down the mood, and no winks and nods to the audience that this is all in good fun. Batman v. Superman is not in good fun, it is deadly serious business, which to me is the film's great strength, but may also be its greatest weakness in the eyes of critics and a large part of its audience.
On the downside, one of the glaring problems with the film is that in the final quarter of the picture, it sort of goes off the rails when the hybrid villain appears and we get a generic city destroying, knock down, drag out donnybrook. The hybrid monster is supposed to be a hybrid between General Zod and Lex Luthor, but it really looks more like a hybrid between the most recent Godzilla and the Hulk….and not in a good way. The whole fight sequence with the hybrid is dreadful, this is director Snyder at his worst, and should be cut because it feels as if it is from a very different, and very horrible film (like Man of Steel!!). The fight between Batman and Superman, which precedes the hybrid nonsense, feels epic and climactic and should have closed the movie. That said, even the Batman-Superman fight had a flaw, namely that there is a huge emotional turning point for Batman at the end of the struggle that felt rushed, watered down, and ignored, which was not because of Affleck's striking performance, but rather Snyder's weak grasp of dramatic storytelling. It is a shame because there could have been a truly powerful moment captured there, but Snyder was in too much of a rush to get to the hybrid battle to let the audience sit with Batman in the apex of the deep torment that Affleck had so finely crafted from the very beginning of the film.
Another problem with the film is Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. Eisenberg is a good actor (see his work in The Squid and the Whale and The Social Network ), but he is distractingly bad as Luthor. The performance is shallow and showy, and Eisenberg feels small in the part. I understand what Eisenberg was trying to do, he was playing a wounded child, but he wildly misses the mark with his work. A more grounded and energetically focused performance, as opposed to the energetically frantic one he gave, would have given Lex a menace and power that were lacking and sorely needed. When you are walking among giants like Batman and Superman, you better bring a villain who can hold his own…Eisenberg's Lex Luthor fails to do so.
"MORTALS, BORN OF WOMAN, ARE FEW OF DAYS AND FULL OF TROUBLE." - THE BOOK OF JOB
The myths and archetypes on display in Batman v. Superman speak to all of us on some level. In some ways, at its core, Batman v. Superman is a comic book version of the Book of Job, with Batman taking the role of Satan (God's shadow), and Superman the all-powerful God (God's ego) duped into a battle with his darker self at the expense of mankind.
From a psychological perspective, Batman, Superman and even Lex Luthor represents the various masculine wounds that men in our time carry with them and often pass down to their sons. Batman is the psychological shadow, a man, whose sense of self and masculinity is deeply wounded by the martyring (and thus absence) of the mother and father archetype in his life. Superman is the ego/messiah with a mother and father wound of his own, having been adopted by earth parents after his Kryptonian birth parents rejected him. Yes, his Kryptonian parents did it for his own good, but that disconnect with his home planet and parents dwells in Superman's psyche. Superman's struggle with the anima, the feminine, is also on display in the form of his relationship with his mother Martha and his girlfriend Lois Lane, as is Batman's in his absence of any genuine connection to a female in his life, including his late mother Martha. Even Lex Luthor, the tormented little boy, struggles with the masculine wound given to him by his own cruel father. These three men represent the different paths that can be taken when a boy is left to make the journey to manhood with the father archetype being absent because of martyrdom, paternal rejection or the father being wounded himself. All three men live in the shadow of their fathers, Batman/Bruce Wayne runs his father's company and tries to avenge his death, Superman wears an "S" on his chest, the symbol of his father's hope, and Lex Luthor tries to live up to the expectations placed upon him by his own wounded father. These men are all sides of the same multi-dimensional masculine wound coin, expressing their pain in different ways.
The myths of Batman and Superman, and the archetypes that they embody, are the reasons why these comic book stories resonate so deeply with wide swaths of the population. Batman v. Superman has gotten pretty poor reviews yet is on the cusp of making a billion dollars. Captain America : Civil War will no doubt do the same. These super hero stories can be fun to watch and entertaining, but they also speak to us on a deeply unconscious level. These stores also speak to us from our collective unconscious, telling us things we know but struggle to articulate. For instance, is it a coincidence that in an election year we have two superhero movies about internal conflict between superheroes? In Batman v. Superman we have iconic heroes Batman and Superman squaring off, and in Captain America : Civil War we have two groups of "good guy" heroes doing battle. And also notice that these heroes are divided by contrasting color, Batman is blue, Superman red...Captain America blue, Iron Man red. This is not coincidence…for we as a people are at war with ourselves. In the wider world, civilizations are clashing, see the struggle for Islam to come to terms with modernity as an example. And in the west itself, societies are turning on one another…look no further than the rise of nationalist movements and parties of both the right and left in Europe along with the fraying at the seams of the European Union. Here in the U.S. the rise of Donald Trump in the U.S. is an example of that same clashing impulse. These civilizational battles are what are unconsciously on display in this years crop of super hero films. These films are an expression of our collective unconscious, which is explored and discovered by artists (writers, filmmakers etc.), who become artists in the first place because they are inclined to spend so much time in and around the unconscious, both collective and personal. (I have much, much more to say on this topic…trust me...but that is a posting for another day). Regardless, as mindless as these super hero movies may appear to be, and some of them are really mindless, they do have deep mythical and psychological meaning to us, which is why I appreciate it so much when these type of films take their super hero subject matter seriously.
"FOR WE WERE BORN ONLY YESTERDAY AND KNOW NOTHING, AND OUR DAYS ON EARTH ARE BUT A SHADOW." - BOOK OF JOB
In conclusion, much to my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed Batman v. Superman : Dawn of Justice. Call me crazy, but I thought that the film and Ben Affleck's performance were well worth the price of admission. I realize I am in the minority on this one, and as my email inbox constantly reminds me, whether the subject be Chris Kyle, John Oliver or Terence Malick, I am almost always in the minority. It doesn't bother me though, as I myself have unlocked my own super power, a key to eternal happiness…The Power of Low Expectations! Hey, if The Power of Low Expectations can do the unthinkable and make me really like a Ben Affleck/Zack Snyder film, then it really is a super power to be reckoned with!! With a true magic elixir like The Power of Low Expectations, I could be capable of anything!! Or nothing at all!! Either way I'll be happy…and that's all that matters…right?