Monday, 4 April 2016

BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - ***** 5-Star Snyder

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Dir. Zack Snyder
Scr. Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, Scoot McNairy, Callan Mulvey, Tao Okamoto, Kevin Costner, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Soledad O'Brien, Anderson Cooper, Nancy Grace, Charlie Rose

Review By Greg Klymkiw

There is an absolutely breathtaking and dynamically nightmarish sequence about 90 minutes into the 151-minute theatrical version of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice which had me gripping the armrests of my front-row-centre chair as I experienced mega-shocks of joyous gooseflesh. The synaptic charges coursed through me with such acute ferocity, that I gasped repeatedly. There's not a single cut employed here - just superb choreography and dynamic cinematography. I sat there in awe. Once again in this (and so many of his films), director Zack Snyder's virtuosity as a filmmaker battered me senseless into glorious submission.

He is the real thing and then some.

Without spoiling the context of the aforementioned sequence, let's just say that its centrepiece involves one single shot of Batman (Ben Affleck) leaping into action against a veritable army of deadly soldiers adorned in steel helmets and uniforms not unlike those from Nazi Germany, whilst flocks of winged demons descend upon the Earth from the sky. (One can't go wrong with the picture's blend of Totalitarianism and monsters.)

Of course, there was plenty to admire in the picture prior to this gorgeous dazzler of a sequence, plenty! However, it was here where I marvelled how easily Snyder crushes his competition in the action/fantasy sweepstakes. There isn't a single sequence to top it in any of the action films non-directed by the "visionary" poseurs or by-the-numbers hacks who've been assaulting cinema for the past fifteen to twenty years with their supreme mediocrity.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a dazzler! Beginning with a concise and powerful re-imagining of the Batman origins, Snyder offers a stunning evocative shot of Mom and Dad Wayne's coffins being led in a slow procession into the Wayne Estate's crypt (eerily resembling a crumbling family resting place straight out of a Hammer Horror and/or Amicus picture). This is followed by young Bruce's mad dash into the woods, and then, an astonishing "God"-shot flashback of Bruce and his family making a similarly-timed procession on a sidewalk beneath a movie marquee boasting the upcoming opening of John Boorman's Exclalibur. (There are so many gorgeous, breathtaking cuts like this in Snyder's stunningly edited film.)

This dates the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents some 35-years before the events of Snyder's film (happily eradicating/ignoring the existence of Tim Burton's dated, overrated  DC toe-dips into the Batman mythology and Joel Schumacher's subsequent grotesqueries) and places Affleck's (superbly realized) Batman firmly in his mid-40s. Snyder has made this universe all his own with only the tiniest passing nods to the previous efforts of Christopher Nolan.

Though the 1981 date of the murders is not without merit in and of itself (especially given that it's the horrid beginning of Ronald Reagan's presidency and during Margaret Thatcher's fascist rule of UK), what's especially evocative here is how Snyder, with screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, let us know immediately that we're in the realm of myth as it relates to 20th century political realities and beyond. The Batman mythology is as attached to our contemporary consciousness as any of the great historical myths of yore and certainly not excluding those of the Arthurian legends as mediated through John Boorman's great film. The filmmakers cannily choose to invoke this detail in the flashback as it places us firmly in the sword and sorcery world of Sir Thomas Mallory's "Le Morte d'Arthur" which Boorman adapted so stunningly.

We all know what happened in the horrific origin story of Batman, but never have these events been so hauntingly captured as they are here - the horrifying murder of Bruce's mother and father is simply, effectively juxtaposed with Bruce's fall into the mysterious cave of bats who then surround the grieving child who witnessed his parents' snuffing-out on the dirty streets of Gotham City. Even more throat-catching are the images of the bats lifting young Bruce up to the Heavens, arms outstretched like a Holy Christ-child ascending to the glories of eternal life as his bitterness-tinged adult voice intones:

"In the dream, they took me to the light, a beautiful lie."

A beautiful lie, indeed, as the white light of "Heaven" dissolves into the white light of the clouds overlooking Metropolis, the dominion of The Super Man (Henry Cavill), a world in which an older, more grizzled, more pain-infused Bruce Wayne descends from the heavens and we're shuttled back to the closing minutes of Snyder's Man of Steel. During the climax of that tremendously dark and stylish film we witnessed the brutal duel (pas de deux) to the death between Superman and General Zod (Michael Shannon), both beings driven by hatred and vengeance as their deadly battle extended to massive collateral damage of Metropolis and its citizens.

This time, though, we are privy to the collateral damage from the perspective of humanity and Batman himself as the aliens cause thousands of human deaths and the massive destruction of buildings (including that of Wayne Tower in nearby Gotham City - both cities not unlike a bay-separated San Francisco and Berkeley). The reality is that Superman is indeed driven by hate, revenge and the need to rescue his lady love Lois Lane (Amy Adams), but most importantly, he must destroy General Zod at any cost in order to save the Earth. (Perversely, Superman/Clark Kent is obsessed with taking down Batman. He fussily believes the Bat's penchant for branding sexual offenders so their time in prison will be a living Hell, is, to his way of thinking, conduct most unbecoming of a gentlemanly crime fighter.)

This won't change the minds of those caught in the collateral crossfire, nor will it assuage Bruce Wayne's hatred-infused desire to destroy Superman, the entity that's "murdered" so many for reasons Bruce perceives as strictly personal.

And this is what sets Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice apart from any previous film versions of the DC comic book legends. Hatred, in a world already driven by hatred and terrorism, is the wedge driving these entities apart when we desperately need them to be on the same side. From a contemporary standpoint, this film and Snyder's previous foray into the world, not only provide a perfect mirror's eye view into the post-9/11 ennui, terror and the overwhelming sense of New World Order dominance over everything, but will, I suspect, have far more resonance as cinema, not just now, but in future decades. I'd argue this approach does, in fact, encompass the full scope of human-inflicted horrors of the 20th and now 21st centuries and by rooting the comic book legend (albeit subtly) in Arthurian legends, is what brings us smack into the Judeo-Christian realm of Man, God and the Devil - a world where man must battle real monsters, but also the monsters within. (And yes, Snyder eventually delivers a big banana of New Testament imagery much later in the film, invoking the sadness and "joy" of Christ's Passion and extermination upon Calvary/Golgotha.)

Yes, this is a comic book on film, but whoever said comic books could not be infused with depth?

Snyder's film is certainly rich with details and one suspects its 151-minute running time might well be too slight to encompass all the narrative and thematic details it needs. (A much longer version will happily be available when the film is released to the home entertainment market.) That said, everything we need for now, is on-screen, but it's also worth noting that Snyder's immeasurably dense visual style also creates a wholly sumptuous and integral level which, we must ingest, nay: embrace wholeheartedly to see the considerable layers beneath.

For a tentpole studio blockbuster, this is unheard of, yet Snyder has somehow fashioned a multimillion dollar art film - one which offers everything great cinema requires to have lasting, as opposed to, ephemeral value.

Yes, we get all the details a DC film adaptation might need, but ultimately, its heroes are anti-heroes, not unlike those so prevalent in both 40s/50s film noir and American cinema of the 70s. If anything, both Superman and Batman are, to put a fine point on it, presented here as major-league pricks. No matter what their "noble" intentions are, they are still driven by old hatreds and the machismo of vengeance.

It's a beautiful thing, really.

And yes, we get to have our DC cake and eat it too with the inclusion of the megalomaniacal psychopathic villain and New World Order/Bilderbergian represented so delectably in Lex Luthor (as brilliantly, hilariously and creepily rendered by Jesse Eisenberg). For good measure, we get plucky "girl-reporter" Lois Lane and the grimly monstrous Doomsday creature created from the alien DNA of General Zod and the foul, diseased human blood of Luthor. Also on hand is Bruce Wayne's loyal manservant Alfred, delightfully rendered by the dryly witty Jeremy Irons. Hell, we even get Jimmy Olsen, though represented in a completely shocking and unexpected fashion.

However, we also get added elements like middle-eastern arms dealers, dirty Russian mobsters and double-dealing politicians looking to feather their own nests by jumping in the sack with powerful villains like Luthor. "Good" politicians are represented by the well-meaning "Liberal" senator, gorgeously played by Holly Hunter (with her still-sexy overbite/lisp). Of course, those with "good" intentions in the world of the film (as in our own world), are far more doomed than those who are either purely infused with evil or, like our superheroes, pricks muddled with ambiguity.

Another gorgeous touch in the picture is the notion that a race of "super" aliens exist, waiting to rear their heads. Will they be heroes or villains? Or, better yet, both?

Even cooler is that we not only get to meet Wonder Woman (Gal Godot in a perfectly fine rendering of the role) but she is presented within the context of being so "immortal" that she's seen in early photographs from the First World War.

Ultimately, what drives the film in terms of content is its sheer darkness and political context. The narrative exists, but is ultimately a coat hanger by which Snyder and team can dazzle and provoke us. That Superman and Batman are "unlikeable" is a huge point in the film's favour. In fact, who cares if we "like" them or not? What we respond to is their humanity, the Jekyll and Hyde nature of their personae. Hell, even Satan was God's most beloved, then sadly, His most fallen Angel.

Something I'll never forget from my childhood is that the first season of the immortal, long-running "Superman" TV series (starring the doomed George Reeves) was one nasty, post-war noir-infused piece of work and if anything, both Man of Steel and now Batman v Superman invoke the joys inherent in that pitch black of darkness. Curiously, my prime time for discovering and religiously reading comic books was between the mid 60s to mid 70s and while I was primarily a Marvel fan (notably Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, The Silver Surfer and Spiderman) I was occasionally drawn to D.C. I don't recall Superman and Batman being quite as dark as the Marvel material, but they still seem, in retrospect, plenty dark to me.

Speaking of Satan, and via Lex Luthor's character, Batman v Superman portends the greatest darkness of all. He is on His way, along with His minions. The giggling, manic, totally wacko, richie-rich man-boy so gorgeously etched by Eisenberg points out that the Devils and Demons do not come from below, but from the skies, the Heavens above (like aliens/superheroes). I have no problem with this. I accept it wholeheartedly and look forward to more of the same, and then some.

Finally, what I especially love about Snyder and this film, is that he genuinely is a film artist with cinema hard-wired into his very DNA. There are seldom any shots in any of his films which are less than painterly. Best of all, even though he might employ a myriad of shots designed to be cut lighting-quick, they are never boneheaded masses of celluloid Play-Doh mushed together the same way most of Hollywood's current breed of hacks and poseurs slap their pictures together with. The cuts in Snyder's films are always designed and driven by VISUAL cues whereas many of the aforementioned non-filmmakers set up as many shots as possible without even knowing what precisely they're shooting (unlike the bonafide genius inherent in mega-shot, multi-camera masters like Sam Peckinpah or George Miller). The new breed leave their poor editors adrift to create forward movement within the cuts by using sound cues to almost always drive them forward, rather than relying upon the important and far more saliently appropriate elements of visual storytelling.

When Snyder needs to create visual and aural cacophonies, we know he's doing so intentionally. It's not there to hide his lack of filmmaking artistry as in the case of so many of his contemporaries.

Thankfully, one of the upcoming DC pictures will have another real filmmaker at the helm and I'm chomping at the bit to see it. Though I'd be happy if Snyder did ALL the DC movies, one respects he might wish to move on. Suicide Squad, however, is directed by one of America's great contemporary filmmakers, David Ayer, and this is happy news indeed. He's generated some of the most evocative, stylish and deliciously-dark crime pictures of recent years and though I imagine he'll bring his own unique approach to the proceedings, I'm predicting it will have the same power to dazzle us as Snyder has brought to the fore here.

Another thing worth noting about Batman v Superman is that it's available in several different formats in the theatrical marketplace. I've seen them all.

I highly recommend seeing it in the rich 70mm (yes, real FILM) which is happily without 3-D of any kind. Regular 3-D and 2-D digital should be avoided at all costs - especially the Real-D 3-D. The 3-D just gives one a headache and the digital 2-D lacks the obvious richness of the 70mm (whether or not one sees it in the overrated Ultra AVX or the lesser auditoriums).

If you get a chance to see the film in The IMAX Experience, know that the IMAX experience is NOT consistent. In the city of Toronto, for example, the IMAX in the Cineplex Entertainment Scotiabank Theatre is phenomenal and replete with the gorgeous sense of height true IMAX should have, whereas in the Cineplex Entertainment Yonge and Dundas cinema, the IMAX is a pale imitation and barely more watchable than than the Real-D Ultra AVX presentations. Also, though I prefer the IMAX Experience sans 3-D, the IMAX 3-D used in Batman v Superman is not as egregious as I thought it would be.

I have not wasted my time seeing the film in D-Box. I've seen other films in the shake and bake format and all I can say is that it's easily the most moronic cash-grab yet invented for the movies. None of the motions ever seem wired realistically into the action and are little more than a novelty for the feeble-minded.

While writing this piece, I have refused to read any reviews of Batman v Superman. All I know is that the critical consensus is on the lowest possible rung. I'll be curious to read these reviews, if only to bolster my belief that mainstream film criticism is utterly dead.

I also know that the CinemaScore audience response to the picture is extremely low. I'm not sure where or whom or when these paragons of taste are polled, but each public screening in Canada that I've enjoyed has been packed to the rafters and upon the final, exhilarating cut to black at the end, the picture was met with thunderous applause.

As for myself, I've been compelled to applaud each and every time. It's so seldom one sees this degree of craft, artistry and intelligence in contemporary blockbusters - especially in super hero movies, most of which I find intolerable (save for Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films), that I'm completely and utterly without shame in admitting my undying love for this great picture - one I will see many more times and a picture that I strongly suspect will be seen, loved, studied and appreciated, long after all of us are little more than food for maggots.


Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is playing everywhere in the world via Warner Brothers.