Pre-review: Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice

batman vs superman: dawn of justice posterWe had a lot of emotionally charged responses over our review of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens".  Many people complained that we were unfair to the film, and that our expectations of the film were unrealistic.  There was a lot of pushing and pulling over this idea that some of our criticism of the film were simply incorrect and we agonized over some method by which to normalize the review process.  At the end of the day, who likes and dislikes a film is highly subjective.  Most of my criticisms were objective criteria, such as sound design and writing, but we decided to further normalize this process by creating a "pre-review".  For films such as "Star Wars" and franchises from DC and Marvel, there is a significant amount of pre-existing canon to go on, and some of this will play into the pre-review.  The pre-review is an opportunity for us to share our expectations of the upcoming film with you, which will hopefully offer a bit of context to future criticisms and praise.  It is also an opportunity for us to go back and make some determination as to whether or not we are being fair to a film by, possibly, tempering those expectations.  And finally, it offers our audience the opportunity to simply ignore our review altogether if they see that our expectations are not in line with their own.  Expectations can poison a movie experience and in turn poison other people's preconceptions about a film.



Before we get into this current incarnation of the Dark Knight, let us first add a little bit of background to our pre-review.  When I was 20 I was introduced to a fantastic comic artist by the name of Frank Miller, by a guy named Jim Kirkland, who was the proprietor of Dreaming City comics.  The original serialized comic had been published several years before, but he directed me to the compiled graphic novel instead.  I fell immediately in love with the storyline and the art, the idea that Batman and Superman could eventually cross paths as enemies and duke it out.  When you really think about it, this sort of a match up was almost inevitable, despite this "no kill" policy they both subscribed to, their personalities and the ways in which they went about things made it a forgone conclusion.  So one could imagine the sheer glee I felt when, many years later, Chris Nolan announced his "Dark Knight" series.  Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that series of films had nothing to do with the Dark Knight microseries by Miller.  Despite being completely in love with Nolan's cinematic style (so much so I forgave him for his nomenclaturial transgression), I felt a bit let down.  I wanted to see the Miller version adapted for film, and now that the namespace had been coopted by Nolan, what would happen should they ever decide to actually make that film?  I just wanted to put this out there as something that may potentially influence the review process, especially considering that Nolan is an executive producer on "Dawn of Justice".

We inaugurate our pre-reviews with the much anticipated Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice.  The film is directed by Zack Snyder who did an excellent job with "The Watchmen" and "300". In interviews Snyder has come out and said that the film does not strictly follow any canon and drew upons a variety of sources.  This is already somewhat problematic for us.  Despite the obvious relationship to Miller's "Dark Knight" plot line, it seems like a bit of a cop out.  This reminds me of Abrams response to similar questions about "The Force Awakens", and the truth ended up being that the only canon he followed was the one from the original movies... almost to a T.  I find this problematic because it is essentially telling the purists that there were some major changes to the plot or story and we want the freedom to alter the original mythos in any way we see fit without consequence.  Some of them forget, that many of us purists go to see the film because of its purity level.

The trailers make it seem like Batman is spoiling for a fight with Superman because of all of the destruction he caused in "The Man of Steel".  In the original comics, Superman is dispatched to reign Batman in, by the U.S. Government, because of his association with a vigilante group called The Mutants, whose leader he deposed. I feel like this is a bad start.  Granted, Snyder said that he was not strictly adhering to one canon, but if you are going to base the whole thing loosely on Miller's "Dark Knight", then perhaps you should at least consider getting who picked the fight right.  Going back to the comics, it started when the Russians launched nuclear weapons at the U.S. over their ally Corto Maltese, a fictional country in South America.  Superman is called in the destroy the incoming missiles, which he does.  However, one gets close enough that the EMP from the detonation causes a power failure across the US, including Gotham.  The explosion also weakens him considerably which is essential to the story. The resulting chaos from a lack of basic services causes the gang, formerly the mutants, to come under the sway of Batman, who then uses them to restore and maintain order.  The return of Batman also stirs the Joker from his catatonia who further fuels the government's alarm by faking his own murder at Batman's hands,  Granted, I've only seen the trailers, but so far it looks like there is a larger and possibly needless departure from the "original" story.

The trailers also show the appearance of Lex Luthor, who did not appear at all in Miller's "Dark Knight".  Honestly I am having a hard time imagining any scenario where Luthor is not completely superfluous.  To date, I have not seen anyone master the portrayal of Luthor, and it doesn't look like Jesse Eisenberg's will be any different.  In fact, Eisenberg's portrayal looks really wormy and ingratiating.  It looks like he may be one of these people who is trying to stoke the fires between the two, and his only true purpose is in the setting up of a future Justice League film.  I have no aversion to that considering how much I complained about Marvel Studios not using the Henry Pym version of Ant Man in the second "Avengers" movie.  Considering his relationship to Ultron, it would have been a nice tie in.  But DC has another film slated to come out this year; another Snyder film "Suicide Squad" which stars Jared Leto as the Joker.  The Joker could have appeared in "The Dark Knight" as he did in Miller's version and it would have been a great lead in for "Suicide Squad".  But ultimately I am ok with a JLA film setup, though it would be weird since the Miller version of this story took place after JLA disbanded..  However, I am decidedly NOT OK with an Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.  It is something I am willing to give him a chance on though, and this particularly preconception about his performance will be reigned in as I watch.

There is something else that bothered me: Robin was conspicuously absent from the trailer.  Just to verify, I went over to IMDB to see if the Caped Crusader's sidekick makes an appearance.  I didn't expect Joseph Gordon-Levitt, since this story is meant to take place in the future after Batman had retired.  Also, the Robin in Miller's version is a girl.  Yes, I used the term "girl" because she is just that.  Carrie Kelley, the 13 years old her worms her way into Batman's life in the Miller version is a child.  She plays a rather large role in the battle that ensues between Batman and Superman.  While I am at it, Green Arrow plays a role too.  He too is absent from this upcoming film.  I want to reiterate that I do understand Snyder is not making a film according to some strict canon.  However it baffles me that people can borrow so heavily from an incarnation of some story but leave some of the best stuff out.  More importantly, why leave it out when there is no reason to?  Another question that begs to be answered:  Why change something when the original will do?  To my knowledge, Frank Miller does not have the reputation of being a substandard storyteller.  In fact that's what he's a master at.  So why change it?  With budgets and technology are where they are there is very little that can't be done to appease an audience of purists.  

Based on the things I have outlined above, Snyder is going to be walking uphill on this one for me.  Unless he does something truly imaginative and fantastic, I don't see myself liking this film very much.  Eisenberg's sociopathy and unbridled arrogance as Lex Luthor must be on full display in order for me to like the film.  Wonder Woman, though am happy to see her in the film, had also better deliver.  I am not crazy about Affleck, but in all fairness its only because I am partial to Bale as Batman.  I am more than prepared to give Affleck a chance as long as he doesn't end up being the Clooney of the reboots.  The absence of the Joker and Robin is also going to be a tough sell, those were parts of the story I truly enjoyed.  Finally, if the Justice League of America set up is not some thirty second spot during the credits I might be appeased, even given issues of continuity that might arise from the time period in which this is supposed to take place. 

I know this looks more like a gripe sheet than a pre-review.  But that is the point.  I want people to see beforehand what particular things I might dislike before I've seen a film.  That film will either support my pre-judgements, or offer a bit of a surprise. Too often our expectations are inflated by the things others say to us.  And too often those opinons are not informed opinions.  They may not know the history of the Batman franchise beyond the Burton films.  In that case it is completely ok to be enamored with the film.  And even if you are a Batman junkie, maybe you simply found this new take refreshing.  Also totally OK.  I am simply sharing with you the lens through which I am viewing the film so my readers aren't baffled by my reviews bad or good.  Regardless of how you feel about my treatment of the film, I hope everyone goes to check it out this Friday, and enjoys it!  Myself included.  Check back with us and read "Review: Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice" to see how we felt about the film after watching it!