Opinion: One year on: Batman V Superman, film criticism and bloggers

batman-v-superman-1.jpg
Source: Trilbee Reviews

Find my new review of Batman V Superman below,

The media reaction to Batman V Superman:

Whether you absolutely loved Batman V Superman, or felt it was a critical dud, there is little denying the film was among the most talked about films of 2016. BvS became symbolic of the war between bloggers and professional film critics, as the relevance of Rotten Tomatoes was scrutinised and the word ‘fun’ became the centre of much debate. The media soon pulled BvS to pieces, debating its coherency, its depiction of character and narrative, while also pulling in the clicks.

The level of aggression and ferocity that critics went after BvS with can be debated, but it should be noted that critics have a responsibility (and a right) to provide their own views on films. Whether they go against the tide and give a critically acclaimed film a negative review, or they have similar thoughts to their colleagues, there is power in thought and opinion.

But what I detest, is group-think. The internet works with the concept of group-think in interesting ways (many of which I will not bore you with). But the overall argument is that while forums like Twitter and Reddit can create discussion and bring ideas together to form a relevant thesis, they also often lack credibility and suffer form homogeneity. Staying within your bubble you only see what you want to see and many people do not broaden their scope to take account of other opinions or the idea that maybe, just maybe, a film you hated is actually perceived differently by others. This creates a uniformity that is promoted as the norm, even when many would oppose such conclusions.

Something emphasised during our contemporary era of fake news, alternative facts and the reality that the internet is infested with lies, is that bloggers and fanboys often lack credibility, creating rumours and misinformed statements to steer the conversation in a different direction. Bloggers may pick up one minor detail, or a small points of semantics and use this for the premise of their argument. In doing so, others jump on the bandwagon, developing a storm out of nothing.

This happens often with reviews, for example with the argument that Batman V Superman is too ‘dark’. One small word is taken and blown into something massive. It then becomes analysed and examined, but without proper debate from different perspectives. All of a sudden, these forums (like Rotten Tomatoes) become dominated by stigmas, where to like a specific film is absurd. This examination occurs within echo chambers of uniformity where only people who agree with the original statement are allowed a voice while others are pointed out as having a lack of taste or understanding. Similar developments often happen when a critics will criticise something, then others will tear them a part, saying that the source material allows for it and that the critics should be more aware of the history of something. Really, a film should stand for itself, but in saying that, so should the critic’s opinion. It shouldn’t compare without concrete reasoning and it shouldn’t be ignorant of different tastes. The power of the public sphere as a democratic forum is destroyed when an idea is raised as the ultimate truth. Any opposition to this statement is met with disdain because it goes against the norm. As more bloggers and critics pile into this forum of group-think, there is little original thought and films are forever influenced and perceived differently because of it.

That might seem like a rather depressing, serious discussion to have when we are only talking about film criticism, but when considering the millions of dollars audiences spend on these films, it is only right that they are given some detail.

To summarise, in my opinion, I would recommend audiences looking at a variety of reviews, from different sources on different mediums. Do not fall into the trap of only looking at reviews from Youtubers, or only from the traditionalists who may not understand the power of the new intellectual blockbuster. Realise that the bias these critics may show is often not purposeful, but it is simply inherent within their status. Whether it be their generation, the environment they spend time in (offline or online) or the type of films they have been influenced by, critics do have differing views of what make a film good. Looking at a range of reviews will allow you to gain the greatest appreciation for a film’s reputation and perception.

If you do not trust the Rotten Tomatoes score, then take a negative and positive review of a film and determine for yourself if you believe either is just going along with group-think or what is cool to criticise at the moment. Their opinions do not need to be original (a lot of people may think one film has poor acting), or even developed or long (mine are not), but they should feel individualistic. That is a difficult thing to determine, and therefore the range of reviews is needed, but it is important to a review being trustworthy. They shouldn’t mention other people’s opinions (unless they provide a balanced argument) and should not compare films to other films for the sake of bashing one. They should leave the reader with a clear understanding of the reviewer’s own individual thoughts.

batman-vs-superman.jpg
Source: Forbes
Context:

Before I begin to discuss my beliefs of Batman V Superman, one year on, it is important to give some context. When I first viewed BvS, it was a few hours before the first slate of negative reviews of the film came out. I had seen a few murmurings online that the film wasn’t very good, and of course there were some demoralising tweets, but overall my perspective was clear and I was getting ready to see a film I hoped I would like. On a sidenote, it has become extremely frustrating seeing moviegoers, even those in the mainstream, go to films with the clear intent of disliking a film. Why can we not just celebrate films and wish for the best?

Ultimately, I didn’t like Batman V Superman. I actually had a really bad experience with the film as I pointed out in my spoiler free review, and my spoiler filled review. Reading these back before I rewatched the film I realised I didn’t like the way I conveyed some messages. Some of the terms and emphasis I had used didn’t sit well with me. But I decided I didn’t want to change them because I wanted to see if there was any change in my immediate response after I rewatched the film.

As I went into rewatching BvS (the theatrical cut), I decided not to read any ‘essays’ on the film or any reviews, good or bad. I obviously can’t go into a viewing in a vacuum, but I wanted to allow myself the experience of sitting back and watching the film like it was my first time. I do read comics sometimes, though I wouldn’t call myself knowledgeable on the character’s lore. For this reason I will not be making mention to any in-depth character stories, but sometimes to more generic character traits that are known by most film-goers. I should also make the point that I don’t believe someones opinion about a film is wrong because their view contradicts something the source material clarifies. A film should stand on its own.

I decided to watch the theatrical cut as I wanted to compare it to the version I saw in theatres. I also do not support extended editions of films being released so quickly after their theatrical cuts. This seems like a cash grab to me, and one of the reasons Batman V Superman’s DVD numbers are so high. If the Ultimate Edition had been released now for example then sure I could understand that. But straight away seems more influenced by the wish to raise sales numbers than any other reason. Also while I understand that Warner Bros interfered with the creative process, influencing which cut of the film was released in theatres, ultimately the producers still signed off on this and supported it in the press. For that reason, I have to believe that Snyder and co. wanted us to see this version of the film and therefore that’s what I will be reviewing.

So here are my thoughts. These are honest, my own, and not influenced by anyone else. It is really sad that I have to explain that…

Review: Batman V Superman (One Year On)

 batman-superman.jpg
Source: The Independent

The experience of watching Batman V Superman  is very similar to the experience of going to a live orchestra. It isn’t something everyone will enjoy, it can be bold and expressive, dazzling and mesmerising, but often sudden and rejecting. If one aspect fails, then slowly everything will run off track.

In a sense, that’s a perfect way to describe the film. It begins with an exceptional opening sequence, a visually stunning look into the frail, darkened mentality of Bruce Wayne as he remembers the experience of losing his parents. It is a narrative we have seen in countless iterations of the Batman story, but this one conjures up the most emotion. It feels central to Wayne and the moment is injected into the film numerous times to remind the audience of the impact it had. With a deathly score, Zack Snyder crafts a delicious sequence that could play on its own as a symbol of the Batman arc; the constant strain and transition between hero and villain, between dark and light and right and wrong. Cinematographer Larry Fong presents an origin story with absolute raw human grit. The shots capturing the experience in slow-motion to replicate the detail in which Wayne remembers the ordeal. The sound editing is exquisite, perfectly forcing the confrontation on the viewer, while the editing interweaves the experience into Wayne’s childhood, moving between the traumatic event and the funeral, an event we are so often told should be a celebration of someone’s life.

I do believe the opening sequence, as I have described, is perfect and should be noted as such. Just like an orchestra, Batman V Superman begins by shaking its audience, gripping them and preparing the viewer for a ride. But unfortunately, Zack Snyder rarely accomplishes anything so great during the rest of the film.

One of my main complaints about Batman V Superman when I first viewed the film was that it just didn’t feel complete. Of course, one could argue that the Ultimate Edition solves that, but I am writing this as if that edition doesn’t exist, because as I note, films should stand on their own. Rewatching the film, I have similar feelings, it jumps around viewpoints with little restraint as the narrative sometimes flows but then suddenly takes a tumble. There are often major leaps in logic taken that serve the story but conflict with the film’s otherwise realistic and ambitious tone. Now, it is a fact that all films do this at some point and I am a supporter of the concept of ‘suspension of belief’, meaning that films often need to break logic in order to realise their theme or message. Yet, when I was thinking back on some of these moments in Batman v Superman I came to the understanding that in this film the breaks in logic work to create emotion. For example, as Bruce Wayne calls the man in the Wayne Building in Metropolis as the city is being destroyed, he orders everyone out. Firstly, it seems odd that no one would have left already (is the lack of job security that bad in America that people are scared they will get fired for leaving in the middle of a major cataclysm), but most significantly, this man stays around and his death is shown to the audience as a representation of the death of many. I hate to nitpick, and I want to avoid that, but it is this sort of illogical leaps, used to create emotion, that I found distracting throughout the film. They often never felt organic or true to the situation. I wouldn’t have such a negative reaction to this if the film itself didn’t promote a number of very human issues. To therefore craft emotion out of contrived circumstances feels odd and conflicted. While I respect Snyder and Terrio’s desire to cement the connection between audience and character, if the film is going to take on a realistic tone, with a lot of political and social ideas, then contrived situations cannot be used to drive emotion.

batman-v-superman2
Source: Deadline

In regard to the overall structure of the film, I won’t discuss the third act just yet, but I think the film directs itself in a great way. It is certainly not formulaic and the overall way the narrative unfolds is unique. There is certainly a sense of political manoeuvres and mechanisms at work which reflects current political developments. The tension between Batman and Superman also became clearer to me on this rewatch, as I saw how the conflict between the two was more involved with their ideologies and core beliefs rather than just a physical opposition. But ultimately, the film just doesn’t feel sewn up, with some sequences stopping momentum with unnecessary philosophical dialogue, or others lacking the rawness and power I would have hoped for. The script does well in providing exposition and preparing the audience for the larger plot points but many are rushed over or drawn out for the sake of drama. For example, Batman’s efforts to get the Kryptonite initially fail at the Port, but then he is able to easily steal it from Lex? That just seems at odds with itself. Beyond the narrative flow, I also felt the themes (which stood out a lot more on this rewatch) were nicely stated and alluded to, but not taken to the level of critical discussion. There were some great ideological discussions and symbolic visual messages, but these were often hurt by quick jumps in ideas, as something would be introduced then the film would quickly move on. There wasn’t the sense of development within the thematic thesis. It just seemed as if there were a lot of great ideas packaged in little moments, rather than a greater statement from the film. The amount of content this film tries to discuss and relay is staggering, and while some of it certainly hits home, others are just not given their due credit. This also hurts the film’s urgency, because as I noted, there is simply too many unnecessary tangents the film finds itself on. It is great for a comic book film to attempt to examine these conceptsm ranging from journalistic integrity, to father-son relationships, to political demagogues, but I feel doing one great is better than doing many in an average manner. Again I come back to the orchestra analogy. I would rather hear just the violin play with exceptional precision and interesting techniques, than hear the whole orchestra play in a muted, ineffective way.

So while I discuss this idea that Batman V Superman feels like a collection of nice little moments, I should note that both characters have very interesting arcs. Superman in particular stood out to me a lot more on this rewatch. He seemed to have a heart and a respect for humanity I felt was missing when I first watched the film. Seeing him interact with Lois and his parents really confirmed that. For all the talk of him being an alien, Snyder is able to reveal his humanity, which conflicts nicely with Wayne’s cold, methodical, almost populist approach. Bruce’s transition over the course of this film from angry, critical and intolerant to understanding, accepting and wishful certainly has merit. But again I felt this could have been taken to the next level if a lot of the unnecessary sequences can been cut out. I will stand by my point that I believe Batman should have had a film prior to this one. It would have been great for this to of taken place between the Metropolis sequence at the beginning of this film and the period in which most of Batman V Superman takes place. The examination of how anger influenced his perception on life and his degradation from a man hunting justice to a man wanting revenge, is definitely alluded to here, but I feel a solo film could have given it greater depth. That would have also emphasised how momentous his transition is in Batman V Superman. One problem I did have however, with Wayne’s arc within this actual film, is that it didn’t feel like it really shifted gears or developed until the final act. The first two third really reinforced his current mentality, but little was done to challenge this. While I appreciate the eventual development, this could have been given a better pace throughout the entire film.

In terms of Superman’s arc, it really showcased the perception of him within the public’s mindset, as he was pushed and pulled between hero and villain. The concept of public scrutiny is one idea that this film really delivers on as the character’s reputation is destroyed and eventually restored. My main problem with this however, was that I always felt like I was looking in. Superman felt very reactionary, as if he was always just trying to ‘get on’. Again, this is great in terms of symbolising how public figures are often pushed into an environment where their actions are always judged, where they cannot do anything without it being influenced by an external force like the Press, but for much of this film Superman just didn’t have the wilful nature I wanted him to. He gains that in his final minutes as he helps destroy Doomsday, but while Batman’s story feels driven by the character’s own actions, Superman’s arc, while great in concept, feels driven by others.

three-batman-superman-145913
Source: Comicbook.com

The key manipulator throughout this film, Lex Luthor, was arguably one of the worst characters I witnessed last year. I absolutely detested him from the moment he is introduced until the very last-minute. Fortunately, while I still dislike the character and Jesse Eisenberg’s performance, his intentions and goals became clearer on this rewatch. Lex is designed to be extremely arrogant and forward thinking, stumbling on his words as he tries to get to the next point or the next part of his plan. While I like this from a thematic perspective, I felt Eisenberg went too far, and instead of having elements of delusion, the character simply came across as a nut job. That would have been fine if it was The Joker or another villain, but for Lex to be the CEO of a company, have the attention of government officials and be a well know philanthropist, he didn’t feel grounded enough. A lot of the ‘mad geniuses’ of literature are successful and do have a similar level of delusion as Lex as here, but most of them work isolated from society, whereas this character was always positioned within society’s grasps and therefore it felt implausible. His plan is rather ridiculous, and relies upon a number of circumstantial developments, but I can get past that. The tension he crafts between Batman and Superman is great and the film does take lengths to really showcase this. His perspective on power is interesting and his consistent reference to his father often delved into some brilliant, but rushed, analysis of father-son relationships. This also gave basis for his intentions to destroy Superman and his overall agenda. The eventual battle between Batman and Superman is exquisitely well-directed, as the brutal punches the film imposes on the viewer is well felt and praise must be given to the sound team who really nailed the effects. Yet, I do wish we had gotten a little more of this and the battle hadn’t ended with a predictable ‘coming together’. Furthermore, I will continue to suggest that the ‘Martha’ moment is excellent in idea but was poorly executed. I am not sure if this is more the writers fault, and bringing up ‘Martha’ could have occurred in a less obvious, sudden way, or if it was simply in Henry Cavil’s performance. But while I can respect the way this influenced Batman and affirmed both character’s humanity and heart, the overall direction of this moment just didn’t seem fluent. It succeeds in being a landmark moment, but due to the overall delivery, it doesn’t have the raw impact it could have. Ultimately though, the wider battle sequence was very well crafted, and acted a great accumulation to what had been set out over the course of the film with Lex’s plan.

By the point the ‘Martha’ moment came around I began to consider whether I was ‘liking’ or ‘disliking’ this film. I knew I was enjoying it more than on my first watch, but whether I could definitively say I liked the film was up in the air. Unfortunately, this was the moment where the wheels started to come off the carriage, or the composer fell over and the orchestra became a shambles. I really, really hate the final Doomsday battle. Other than introducing Wonder Woman (who is sensational, with a delightful performance from Gal Gadot), there is nothing in this battle that I thought was necessary or even entertaining. It simply felt like an obligatory development needed to end Superman’s arc and renew his heroic reputation. Everything from the visual effects, to the direction, to the overly robustious score, to the character interactions, just annoyed me. Batman V Superman forgot its previous unique, political undertones and went for the explosions and destruction. While I do believe that without this sequence the film would have lacked action, I would have much preferred a much more smaller intimate fight than the one delivered. Obviously Lex was never going to be able to fight physically with Batman and Superman (as well as Wonder Woman), but he could have competed intellectually, drafting a more sophisticated way of conflict. I would have even preferred having Superman save someone from Lex and this be showcased to the public, redeeming him. I know that sounds formulaic and clichéd but anything really would have been better than the Doomsday sequence.

104085.gif
Source: Radio Times

So no, I am not going to say that I liked the film as a whole. I certainly enjoyed it more than my first viewing and it is definitely not the sack of potatoes that I first believed it was, but the lack of restraint in the third act really did hurt my overall view of the film. Would I have ‘liked’ the film if the third act didn’t exist? Well I am not sure if I would have put it that way. I do believe in a far more nuanced and complex approach to film criticism, but I will say that the film’s ambition would have made up for the moments of incoherency and some minor falters I had with characters and their arcs. In terms of tone, I don’t understand the argument that this film is not ‘fun’ or is too dark. It finds a great balance, exploring (to an extent) extremely interesting political ideas, while also providing a visual feast and new renditions of characters.  Ultimately, while Batman V Superman shows that comic book films can have greater intellectual undertones, unique suggestions on how to deal with historic characters and wonderful cinematography, it just couldn’t masterfully put all these pieces together. Zack Snyder’s aspirations are clear, but his direction lacks thought, too concerned with the individual elements to recognise the wider issues. The screenplay is certainly not bad, but it attempts to introduce too much material, and should realise that sometimes less is more. I think this also contributed to why the film made more sense more on my second viewing. Instead of having to listen for all the general plot points and developments, on my second viewing I knew the general story and could instead be more in tune with the deeper elements. That frightens me though. Are filmmakers going to begin making films that require repeat viewings? Is this influenced by the desire to increase profit by having viewers need to return to the theatre? A film shouldn’t need repeat vieweings for it to make sense. One should understand the general narrative and thematic undertones without seeing it twice. The second viewing really should only focus these ideas and give them greater weight.

Will I revisit this film again one day? Probably. Will I watch the Ultimate Edition? Most likely. Would I recommend it to someone who has yet to see it? If they can stop before the final battle and dream up an alternative ending, then sure.

2.5/5

To provide some context on how close I came to giving this a 3/5 (a rating I use to suggest I ‘like’ a film): On my list of all the films I have ranked, this sits, on the date of the 21/3/2017, one film below the films with 3/5. That film is Rogue One. You can find that list HERE)

Thanks for reading this article!

I know I haven’t covered every single aspect, and I do have more thoughts so send me your feedback either below in the comments section or on Twitter @DreamOfOpinions.

I might start doing these sort of revisits more often, especially on films I enjoyed less. So let me know what you think!

Fingers crossed for Wonder Woman being excellent!

Marvel-vs-DC-10

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s