“Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice”

Saw this last night. It was … okay. I’m not sure how to really evaluate it, because on one hand, it wasn’t terrific. On the other hand, it was better than I had expected. Based on the reviews I read beforehand, I went in expecting it to stink to high heaven. Instead, it was was just an average action movie. Nothing special, but not a bad way to kill a few hours. It’s one of those movies you’d tell your buddies is “not worth seeing in the theater, but worth a rental,” if we still had video rental stores.

Do you even care about the plot? It’s Batman fighting Superman! What more do you want? 🙂

Seriously, though: If you don’t know much about comic book history, the significance of this matchup might escape you. You might ask, why are two good guys fighting each other? And why is this even a contest? Wouldn’t Superman easily crush Batman into paste?

The answers are, A) Because Superman and Batman are the two greatest superheroes ever, and everybody loves to watch two legends go toe-to-toe. It’s the Godzilla vs. King Kong of the comic book world. The elemental appeal is so strong that comic book writers have been dreaming up various excuses to have Batman and Superman fight each other since the 1950s. It’s such a popular plotline that it’s been trotted out dozens of times in the comics. Every few years it gets brought back in one form or another, to great success, and it nearly always ends with the two heroes becoming friends again. In other words, this is nothing new in comic-book land; it merely happens to be the first time this plot has made it to the big screen.

As to question B) Why’s this  a “fair fight?”: Well, remember, this is the comic book world, and Superman and Batman are essentially archetypes of the two paths of superherodom. Superman is the ultimate embodiment of the “gifted hero” — the seemingly-ordinary mortal who has mysteriously been granted immense powers, which he then uses to fight for justice. Batman, by contrast, is the ultimate embodiment of the “self-made hero” — the mortal man who becomes a superior warrior for righteousness entirely through his own strength of character and iron will. He isn’t given any “gifts” — all of his powers and skills are acquired through dedicated study and the sweat of his brow.

These two paths set up the two types of conflicts traditionally faced by superheroes: The gifted hero must struggle with using his powers in a responsible way. The self-made hero, on the other hand, must struggle against his own human limitations just as much as he struggles against his adversaries. In Greek mythology, the Superman archetype would be Hercules; the Batman archetype would be Odysseus.

If you’re wondering why Batman would have a prayer at fighting Superman, the standard comic book answer is that Batman is a genius, so his brains supposedly give him an edge, whereas Superman has to rely entirely on his muscles. It usually comes down to whether Batman can out-think Superman, and in this movie, it’s no different.

As for the final product: As I said, it’s surprisingly not bad. Not great, but not bad. I strongly suspect the real superhero of this production was the film’s editor, David Brenner. This film shows all the signs of having been put through an editing-room Cuisinart — scenes seem oddly truncated, shots feel out of place, and there’s a generous amount of padding with “impressionistic” asides and interludes. All this gives me the feeling that director Zack Snyder — a guy who’s never been accused of subtlety — probably turned in a first cut that was a blazing dumpster fire of awfulness. The studio then told editor Brenner to take a chainsaw to the entire film and cobble together something that was watchable.

I have no behind-the-scenes knowledge here; for all I know, what you see on screen was exactly what Snyder intended. But as someone who’s spent many hours in a film editing suite, I can say that I got a definite “rescued in the editing room” vibe here.

Performance-wise, Henry Cavill was as wooden as the lumber section of Home Depot — but that’s no biggie, as he wasn’t really required to do any serious acting. Mostly he was just there to stand around and look good in a cape. Ben Affleck’s take on Batman was surprisingly restrained and effective — I don’t know who gave him advice, but whatever they told him, it worked. And though I’m apparently in the minority here, I really liked Jesse Eisenberg’s take on Lex Luthor. I think Lex-Luthor-as-Mark-Zuckerberg is a funny and interesting spin on the character, but a lot of folks apparently disagreed.

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