Batman V Superman and the Pleasures of Excess

Posted: March 29, 2016 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

I was 19 when the first issue of The Dark Knight Returns appeared. That same year, Watchmen also began its run. My 19-year-old self, then at the height of his comic-collecting years, devoured those series, and waited breathlessly for each subsequent (and increasingly delayed) issue. These were thunderbolt stories for me (along with Alan Moore’s still-ongoing run of Swamp Thing). All this is by way of saying that 19-year-old me would have been rendered over-the-moon ecstatic by Batman V. Superman. He would have grooved like hell over all the direct Frank Miller quotations (the death of Bruce’s parents, many of Alfred’s mutterings, big chunks of the fight itself, and so on). Yeah, past-me would have love this.

That doesn’t mean it’s a good film. I can’t really disagree with anything my Skiffy and Fanty cohort Rachael Acks says here. So, yeah, with regards to what’s wrong with the movie, what she said.

HOWEVER.

I also enjoyed the hell out of it.

For one thing, I also agree with Matthew Monagle that the film has a crazy kind of internal coherence. It is consistently true to itself, no matter how grandiose and grotesque that truth is.

To get at my other reasons for liking it, let me first talk about my experience of the director’s prior work.

I remember walking out of 300 feeling a bit disappointed. My problem: it was insufficiently excessive. Given all its rampant stupidities of varying degrees of offensiveness, the least the movie could do was sail completely over the top. And I know what this sounds like, but I don’t think it did. Not enough.

I wasn’t enamoured of Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake for different reasons: it gutted the satirical point of the original. What was left was an entertaining but empty-headed film. And while I did enjoy Watchmen (moreso on a second viewing than on a first), my overall sense of Snyder’s work was that he tended towards overly literal adaptations of comic books (sometimes forgetting, with all his slow motion, that the reason comic book frames don’t move is that they can’t – movies, on the other hand, should move), and that any actual ideas that showed up (good or bad) were inherited from the source material.

As for Man of Steel, I’ve already written that I didn’t think much of it or its thudding approach to ideas.

But with Batman V. Superman, I feel that a miraculous alchemy has been achieved. Finally, we have absolute excess. This is the most METAL superhero movie I have ever seen. The score’s volume knob is set to 12 and snapped off. Dream sequences go on so long, one begins to doubt they are dream sequences, given that they’re not shot any differently from the rest of the film. I didn’t like this interpretation of Lex Luthor, whom Jesse Eisenberg plays as if the film is actually The Social Network 2: VENGEANCE IS MINE! – but even that is consistent with everything everything EVERYTHING being so over the top, escape velocity is surpassed and we have left orbit.

And the fight scenes. Oh, the fight scenes. What felt wrong in Man of Steel feels right here, because BvS has recognized that restraint is the enemy and gone full kaiju. It still doesn’t quite have the brutal, bloody honesty of something like Gamera 3: The Reveng of Iris. Have look at one of that film’s fight scenes here, especially the bit from 6:00–7:00. BvS still wants to have its destruction cake and eat it too, as far as casualties are concerned (dealing with the thousands who died in Man of Steel and then giving us one deserted downtown core after another for the climax – I see what you did there, movie!) but what the hell. The climax, with its multiple kilometer-wide explosions, is straight out of the most spectacular of the Japanese monster clashes, and I revelled in it.

The film’s incredible excess also makes it into the anti-Age of Ultron. That film is the most extreme example of a trend in a number of the Marvel films toward a hermetic state of meaninglessness. Age of Ultron tries very hard to avoid being about anything, evacuating its city destruction of any resonance, any true sense of stakes (and, frankly, any interest, as far as I was concerned). In BvS, by contrast, EVERYTHING MEANS EVERYTHING. Every scene, shot and line of dialogue is loaded with MAXIMUM PORTENTOUSNESS. 9/11, War on Terror, surveillance society, the nature of justice, class divisions, etc etc etc – it’s all here. It’s all rather half-baked and incoherent, but hell, that’s METAL too, and the ideas are SO MUCH LOUDER than in Man of Steel, so now I can bang my head to them. \m/ \m/

And let’s face it – it would be hypocritical of me to pretend I didn’t enjoy the excess. After all, I nuked the Hamptons in The Valedictorians. My body count for the Black Library is in the tens of billions by now. Of course I enjoyed BvS. Here, Zack Snyder has finally achieved his apotheosis, abandoning the last, vestigial, futile traces of subtlety and crossing the line where excess turns into the ridiculously sublime. This is a Dimmu Borgir album made into a film, and I’ll take it.

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