Friday, April 1, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Eye in the Sky

                           Paranoia Strikes Deep

                                                          Reviews by Ken Burke

 I’ll warn you from the beginning that this will be a LONGGG posting because our 1st subject packs in a hell of a lot of plot while the Superman and Batman characters have meant a lot to me over the years so I make no pretense in trying to restrain my comments as I explore them here with you.  Eye in the Sky’s a lot more direct, though, so hopefully that great film can be dealt with more concisely.
Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
       Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Zack Snyder)
In this continuing reboot of the Superman story we find our man from Krypton still remembered as a savior from the Earth-destructive plans of General Zod but now being cast by certain social leaders as a potentially-dangerous-alien; Batman feels the same way, although Superman distrusts him for being a law-unto-himself-vigilante so inevitably they clash.
What Happens: Much of the plot of this current movie is enhanced for its audience if they come in prepared with at least an awareness of the events of its predecessor, Man of Steel (Snyder, 2013) if not a further background from at least some of the decades of Superman and Batman’s evolutions in various DC Comics pulp-magazines.  I can help you with that 1st one by a link to my own review of this earlier episode (although it’s very embarrassing to me to see how I let those paragraphs run on forever then without shortening them using additional photos and conceptual breaks; I almost succumbed to the temptation to re-edit that older posting before referring you to it but if I start down that road I’d have to revamp a great deal of what I’ve done over the last 4 years so I’ll just have to grin and bear it—not that I write any less in my current work but I do try to not allow each separate paragraph to become so damn long and staggering in its layout); if you want aid in pursuing that latter background option one possibility is this link to extensive details on 100 DC characters (scroll down, click on a name, then read for quite awhile—just like with my reviews).  However, there are enough built-in flashbacks, references, and brief explanations that you can get enough of what you need to understand in most of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice just by watching it, so below is my summary of what plot events you’ll encounter for their own sake as well as laying the foundation for many other DC Universe (possibly Multiverse, but more on that later) movies to be produced over the next few years, including a separate one on Wonder Woman’s origins along with the long-awaited-screen-combine of the full Justice League, both set for 2017.

 As for this current chapter in the ongoing lives of the 2 main DC superheroes (which I saw in 3-D but don’t think that’s an essential choice to appreciate its visual impact, although that may further enhance the bombastic music and consistently-fast-pace as the story unfolds), we start with a scene long repeated in previous Batman movies, the murder of youngster Bruce Wayne’s (Brandon Spink) parents in 1981 by an overly-ambitious-street-thief, when Dad Thomas Wayne (Jeffery Dean Morgan) refuses to cooperate with the holdup; then we jump to 18 months prior to the events of this current story where adult Bruce (Ben Affleck) is driving frantically around downtown Metropolis while up in the sky Superman’s (Henry Cavill) battling with General Zod (Michael Shannon; see my aforementioned summary for details).  Ultimately, the Man of Steel kills his fellow-Kryptonian to prevent further harm to the human race but with a huge amount of collateral damage to people and buildings, including a Wayne Enterprises skyscraper that leaves Bruce in a conflicted mood about Superman (all of this very reminiscent of the actual 9/11/2001 attacks on NYC, with shots of Bruce trying to help pull survivors out of the rubble).  In successive scenes in the present we watch the finding of a hunk of kryptonite in the Indian Ocean (another leftover from Gen. Zod’s plan in the previous movie to reform Earth into a new Krypton, then populate it with new beings generated in his spaceship’s technology from the DNA of Kal-El [Superman]), followed by the arrival of Lois Lane (Amy Adams) to the lair of an African warlord where she’s trying to get an exclusive story (accompanied by a photographer/secret-CIA guy [Michael Cassidy], whom we learn later is Jimmy Olson—"was" actually, he gets killed).  Lois has been unknowingly sent in with a secret tracking device which is discovered, putting her in danger; suddenly, mercenaries among the warlord’s men kill them all, then flee, with Lois about to be executed by the warlord when Superman crashes in to save her; however, reports circulate that he did the killing so suddenly a combination of controversial news and the call for a hearing by Kentucky Senator June Finch (Holly Hunter) leads to divided public opinion about this alien as to whether he’s to be trusted or is the hero he’s assumed to be (echoing current Presidential-campaign-diatribes about not allowing devious or dangerous “aliens” to infiltrate our society).

 Over in nearby Gotham City (which for some reason is more of a hotbed of crime and chaos than Metropolis except when aliens or monsters invade) Batman’s (Wayne) continuing his 20-year-crusade against crime, with the clandestine cooperation of the cops, so that he often captures a crook, then leaves him bound for the police to take in but with a “Bat brand” seared onto his flesh so that once in jail he’s likely to be killed by other inmates (especially with the human-trafficker we see in these early scenes where he’s got a cell-full of scared females under his control).  Wayne’s concerned that Superman needs to be reined-in, as does his fellow-billionaire, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), while Superman, mostly speaking in his secret identity of Clark Kent to live-in-lover-Lois, views Batman as a dangerous vigilante whose crime-fighting-tactics offend Clark’s sense of legal procedure (apparently he’s more direct with the authorities regarding whom he pursues, although he’s no officer of the law himself; still, his goal is to do good so these concerns about his possible sinister motivations are troubling to him).  Meanwhile, Bruce has good reason to believe that Luthor’s involved with a plot to bring a dirty bomb to Metropolis so he accepts an invitation to a big LexCorp event where the self-absorbed, borderline (at best)-insane host introduces our secret-identity-heroes; Bruce sneaks off to plant a device that will copy Luthor’s computer files but when he goes to retrieve it he finds that a woman he doesn’t know, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), has already escaped with it.  Later, he’s haunted by a horrible dream that’s interrupted by a guy in a vision concerning a future crisis (if you’re in the know on this sort of thing, you will recognize him as The Flash [Ezra Miller]).  Duplicity goes on in all directions as Senator Finch blocks Luthor’s attempt to import the kryptonite as well as gain access to Gen. Zod’s spaceship, although Lex works secretly with other government officials to proceed with his plans, but Batman wants to steal the kryptonite for himself in order to attack Superman directly.  In a spectacular car-chase-and-demolition-scene, the Batmobile takes out all opposition but before Batman can grab the booty Superman intercepts him with a warning to keep out of Luthor’s operations (even though he has no concept of what awaits him; however, animosity between the superheroes is very clear).

 Sen. Finch has her hearing about the events in Africa—where Superman arrives voluntarily to testify—however, a bomb goes off, sneaked in by Wallace Keefe (Scoot McNairy), a now-paraplegic-former-Wayne-employee under Lex’s influence so many are killed (including Finch) leaving Superman under further suspicion that he knew of the bomb but did nothing to prevent its explosion (Luthor also sent the mercenaries to Africa to implicate Superman there).  With Finch out of the way, Luther gets all that he wanted—except that Batman breaks into his compound to steal the kryptonite—so we see him in a mysterious scene within Gen. Zod’s ship where he drips his own blood onto the dead body of Zod, despite an A. I. computer-voice warning him not to do such a forbidden act, even as he asks this data-source to explain its knowledge of the universe to him.  Burnt-out-crimefighter Bruce prepares to battle Superman as a last-ditch-strike against those who undermine national stability, even though long-time-Wayne-family-butler/now-security-associate Alfred (Jeremy Irons) warns him not to; cynical Bruce counters with his understanding that a person can be all-good or all-powerful but not both.  Luthor’s certainly not either one but also cynically (and madly) yearns to at least crush those whom he sees as all-powerful, like unto God, because he has no place for God in his worldview as his father was demandingly-belligerent so he denies there could be any sort of a God or even someone who seems to fit the role; accordingly, he captures both Lois and Martha Kent (Diane Lane), Clark’s adoptive mother (the latter still living in Smallville, Kansas; Clark’s visited her for guidance in his confusion and despair about how humans have turned on him [“No one stays good in this world.”]); he also gets advice in his own vision from deceased-adoptive-father-Jonathan Kent [Kevin Costner]).  Lex pushes Lois off of his LexCorp Tower so that Superman will return from self-imposed-isolation to rescue her (he does), then tells Clark (not sure how he knows the secret identity) he’s got only an hour to bring in the head of Batman or else Ma Kent will be burned alive.

 Batman’s already prepared for battle (in an old warehouse, of course) wearing some industrial-strength-armor, also armed with a couple of kryptonite-grenades and a spear with a huge chunk of the radioactive (to Kryptonians) material as its lance. They battle fiercely, although it’s clear that Superman has the advantage until he’s weakened by one of the kryptonite canisters; he recovers but a 2nd shot of that radioactive gas has him beaten enough that Batman’s ready to plunge in the spear just when Lois arrives by helicopter while Superman asks his adversary to “Save Martha.”  Lois explains who Martha is, we get a shot of Wayne’s parents’ headstones to see that his mother was also named Martha, so he has an immediate (?) change of heart, then sets off in his Batplane (under Alfred’s directions) to rescue her while Superman takes after Lex, with Lois throwing the spear into a deep pool partially covered by concrete slabs in the semi-demolished building (they also indicate they know Bruce’s secret, but I’m not clear how that was ever revealed).  Batman manages to fight off more opponents than I’ve seen a single person conquer (many of them had to die in the process but that doesn’t seem to matter anymore in this realm of the DC universe) since the days of Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and … Vol. 2 (Quentin Tarantino; 2003, 2004) to save Martha, while Superman confronts Lex only to find he’s got another powerful weapon in the form of Doomsday, a huge, ungainly monster that resulted from the unnatural-cloning in Zod’s spaceship.  Superman does battle with it but it’s essentially as powerful as he is because of its mostly-Kryptonian-DNA; finally, he flies it into the upper-atmosphere where the military slams them with a couple of nuclear warheads which stun Superman but only serve to further energize Doomsday.  Batman wants to help but none of his human technology is of much good against this creature; suddenly, a new warrior is on the scene, Wonder Woman (Gadot)whom Bruce had seen evidence of in Luthor’s stolen files (returned to him by Ms. Prince, the human identity of this ancient Amazon warrior) along with brief video clips of other metahumans set to emerge in … Dawn of Justice sequels: The Flash, Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher).  Wonder Woman really puzzled him because she was in a 1918 photo from Belgium (just like psychiatrist Dr. Kathryn Railly [Madeleine Stowe] finally accepted James Cole’s [Bruce Willis] story about himself as a time-traveler in 12 Monkeys [Terry Gilliam, 1995] when he also showed up in a WW I-era battlefield shot despite her knowing him in 1990 and 1996).

If you haven’t seen this movie yet or read the Doomsday story in various DC comics, I warn you to heed my Spoiler Alert from the beginning of this posting before reading further.

 Realizing that the kryptonite spear would probably do damage to Doomsday, Lois dives in to retrieve it but then can’t get back out of the concrete obstructions; Superman revives, rescues her (his super-senses are always attuned to Lois, no matter where she is), then gets the spear himself, although it weakens him once again.  He wills himself into revival, flies headlong with the spear into Doomsday (held captive by Wonder Woman’s enchanted, indestructible Golden Lasso) striking the monster with a fatal blow; unfortunately, Doomsday counters at the last second with a bony protrusion willed into existence to replace the hand that Diana chopped off with her sword, pounding into Superman’s chest, leaving a hole where his heart should be, killing him as well.  The public now mourns the death of the man they’ve re-embraced as a savior so that a formal funeral allows the multitudes in Metropolis to honor his casket.  What’s in that box isn’t explained though, because the Daily Planet’s accounts of Superman’s death also note, in a separate article, the death of Clark Kent in Doomsday’s melee of destruction; we then cut to Smallville where he’s buried with Lois, Bruce, Diana, and Martha in attendance; Ma Kent ups the tragedy by giving Lois the engagement ring that Clark had left with her for safekeeping.  Previously in Metropolis, Batman somehow appeared in Lex’s cell (he was held responsible for all of the havoc he engineered; he’s also shaved bald) but smashed the Bat brand into the wall behind him rather than tattooing him with it.  Lex isn’t too worried about that because he’s aware of warnings from the Kryptonian archives that “something wicked this way comes” (to borrow a line from Macbeth) but Batman seems to have an inkling about that as well because he tells Wonder Woman that he’s going to assemble a team to guard the planet now that Superman’s gone—or is he?  The last image we get is of dirt starting to rise off of his coffin even as the cemetery workers are shoveling it in.

So What? Unless you just don’t care too much about superhero movies (So why are you reading about this one?  Oh, for my brilliant writing, of course!), you should already be aware that this current offering from the Time Warner/Warner Bros. Entertainment/DC Comics conglomerate is their attempt to finally challenge the market-dominance of this type of narrative from the Walt Disney Company/Marvel Studios/Marvel Comics conglomerate which has achieved spectacular success in recent years with the releases of fantasy-hero-stories of The Avengers-collective along with individual tales of those primary characters: Iron Man, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, and Captain America.  The parallel becomes even more obvious with the soon-to-be-released-latest-Marvel-chapter, Captain America: Civil War (Anthony and Joe Russo), on May 6, 2016, where not only will we have various factions of The Avengers battling with each other but also the issue at hand is about politicians enforcing controls over such superheroes (Iron Man supports it, Captain America doesn’t, in an ironic twist of attitudes from these guys), just as Superman and Batman take their mutual antagonism into full-scale-combat in … Dawn of Justice, with much of Superman’s grief coming from antagonists who fear his massive powers while he himself is unsupportive of Batman’s actions—I know that this concept of government-regulation of superheroes was explored in some depth some years back in various Marvel comics but it also came up at times with the DC characters; I have no idea who started that storyline, although it’s indisputable that DC was the seminal force with the whole superhero idea, with Superman’s 1938 debut in Action Comics, Batman’s in 1939’s Detective Comics, while Marvel set the tone for more-personally-conflicted-crimefighters in the post-WW II-era, with the internally-squabbling-Fantastic Four and the troubled-teenage-Spider-Man, in print since 1961 and 1962 respectively.*  

*For that matter, DC gets the prize for 1st appearance of a squad of their popular protagonists, with the Justice Society of America, including Golden Age—1940s—versions of the Flash and Green Lantern (these Earth-Two warriors also co-existed with earlier versions of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) while the later versions of these Justice League superheroes (on Earth-One, if you can keep that straight) initially teamed up in print in 1960, soon followed by the Avengers in 1963.

 As I noted above in this review's opening What Happens? paragraph, I’ve previously stated my long-standing-interest in the major Justice League hero characters, much more than the Marvel ones, so even though I’ve seen every last cinematic manifestation of Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Avengers in recent years I know little of their full backstories nor how what’s on-screen may relate to previous print manifestations.  However, I can bring much better archival-understanding to the various Superman and Batman movies that have presented various origin stories, sequels, and reboots of these characters but even there I can’t begin to know how what’s been filmed regarding Superman relates to TV’s incarnations of his younger years in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (ABC 1993-1997) and Smallville (WB, CW 2001-2011), let alone how this foundational character (along with Batman) has had his history constantly renovated in the various ways DC’s used to refresh their brand with frequent re-creations of their universe (now again a Multiverse of parallel existences, as it has been off and on during these various new beginnings), but at least that model allows us to understand why the earlier Superman movies beginning with Richard Donner’s direction of Christopher Reeve in 1978 (followed by … II [Richard Lester, 1981], … III [Lester, 1983], … IV [Sidney J. Furie, 1987], Superman Returns [Bryan Singer, 2006; starring Brandon Routh]—although that last one is presented as if … III and … IV never existed) leave us with abandoned plot lines when we start anew with Man of Steel, just as the earlier Batman movies beginning with Tim Burton’s direction of Michael Keaton in 1989 (followed by … Returns [Burton, 1992], … Forever [Joel Schumacher, 1995; starring Val Kilmer], … & Robin [Schumacher, 1997; starring George Clooney]) aren’t forced into continuity with either Christopher Nolan’s trilogy starring Christian Bale (Batman Begins [2005], The Dark Knight [2008], The Dark Knight Rises [2012]) nor the current … Dawn of Justice, when all of these older stories can be explained as occurring in alternative universes than this newly-presented-dimension WB will be unveiling to us over the next few years as these Justice League protagonists join their Avenger competitors in staking out individual and group territories when various villains arise on this version of Earth or invade from realms afar.* 

*For all practical purposes, you’d have to assume this is also the justification of the 2 differing-versions of Marvel’s Spider-Man from Sony Pictures in recent years (the 1st  group all directed by Sam Raimi in 2002, 2004, 2007; the 2nd [now titled The Amazing Spider-Man] directed by Marc Webb in 2012, 2014 [reviews of these last 2 in our July 12, 2012 and May 8, 2014 postings]) just as we’re about to get another manifestation when the Webslinger makes his initial appearance in the Disney/Marvel universe in Captain America: Civil War, played by Tom Holland who’ll then reprise the role in yet-another-Sony-reboot of the iconic Wall Crawler scheduled to begin with a 2017 release.

 So, with all of this info in as prelude (but if you want more, you might explore this site which offers the official DC summaries of their characters but with not that much detail, especially given the complexities they’ve all evolved through, although it does contain descriptions of the various Multiverse Earths [45 of them— this movie must take place on Earth 0 whereas we seem to live on Earth 33, also known as Earth Prime; as best I can understand it the Golden Age versions of Batman, Green Lantern, the Flash, and other superheroes have been rebooted {in the latest DC re-creation} on Earth 2 to replace their now-dead Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman], or this one which gives you a fan’s analysis of DC’s top 25 heroes), let me say again—but in a different manner—everything that you might previously have known about Batman or Superman is now subject to reasonable-revision in this current movie because that’s the way it’s been happening to them in their print manifestations for decades; thus, any complaints you might have about something not adhering to “known facts” about any of these folks (such as Clark apparently living with Lois, their implied intercourse in a bathtub having no connection to the insurmountable-human-alien-problems such a coupling presented in Superman II, Lex Luthor now knowing Superman’s secret identity [But seemingly not divulging it?  Maybe that’s a plot-point in the upcoming Justice League movie?], this Batman not having retired to run away with Catwoman as he did in … Rises yet now living in new dwellings near the bombed-out-hulk of the old Wayne Mansion [as it was destroyed in that previous tale], etc.) should not be the focus of whether this current movie works or not.  Instead, we just have to accept that we’re now in a reboot-mode that began with Man of Steel to continue for several years with this long-sought-after-exploration (at least by DC fans, Marvel aficionados might care less) of the various Justice League members, who’ll probably all need to smooth out the rough edges with each other (as did some of the battling Avengers in their 1st meet-up [Joss Whedon, 2012; review in our May 12, 2012 posting]) until they finally found reason to join forces rather than attempting to annihilate each other.

 But, speaking of annihilation as I wrap up my comments in this section of the review, you might be wondering why director Snyder uses “v” in the title to indicate the conflict between Batman and Superman, in that this abbreviation of “versus” (from the Latin for “against”)—along with “v.” or “vs.” or other variants—is usually associated with court cases (and is normally pronounced “vee” by lawyers) rather than the full use of “versus,” which normally is used to indicate some form of physical combat.  Was this all an anti-vigilante-lawsuit gone horribly wrong, decaying into a Death Match (not WWE-style but literally, as Luthor wanted Batman’s head in trade for Martha Kent’s life just as Batman was willing to slam the deadly-kryptonite-spear into Superman) by the time the script made it to the soundstage?  You won’t get much clarity on this from Snyder except this little snippet from an interview done back in 2014 when ... Justice was just barely in production: “He explains that having the ‘v’ instead of ‘vs.’ is a way ‘to keep it from being a straight 'versus' movie [which would imply that it’s just about combat between these 2 protagonists], even in the most subtle way.’” If you can make any sense of that explanation on this minor topic, I salute you.

Bottom Line Final Comments: To say that the overall critical response to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has been tepid is to say that Donald Trump is a mildly-controversial Presidential candidate.  With a scant 29% of positive reviews from those surveyed by Rotten Tomatoes, along with a less-than-encouraging- “boost” up to a 44% score averaged from the reviewers in Metacritic, you’d have good reason to doubt my sanity in going as high as 3½ stars of 5 (especially noting the reality that I rarely go above 4 stars for a contemporary offering) and to assume that the box-office-results would be notably impacted.  Well, you can assume whatever you want to about my mental state (of past superhero movies I’ve reviewed a very few of them—the more recent Amazing Spider-Man duo, The Dark Knight Rises—have earned 4 stars, most have also come in at the 3½-star-level, while others haven’t fared as well; you can find links to details in my summary of ratings) but audiences worldwide have so far been quite enthusiastic for this latest DC superheroes tale, with the movie taking in $166 million domestically (U.S. and Canada) in its opening weekend (#7 all time for that measure) along with $256.5 million internationally (#5 all time) for a grand total of $422.5 million (now just over $500 million globally after a few more days on-screen), making it the 4th biggest worldwide opening ever (topped only by Star Wars: The Force Awakens [J.J. Abrams, 2015; review in our December 31, 2105 posting] $529 million, Jurassic World [Colin Trevorrow, 2015; review in our June 17, 2015 posting] $524.9 million, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 [David Yates, 2011] $483.2 million).  How that initial haul will grow or stagnate in coming weeks we’ll have to wait to see, although I doubt that critical opinion will result in much revisionism, as there’s probably too much negative commentary on the bleak, humorless aspects of … Dawn of Justice already swirling around to be able to be overcome in reviewers’ potential reconsiderations, at least in the near run.*

Aquaman, not Mick LaSalle, David Sims, nor Chris Nashawaty
*Mick LaSalle of my local San Francisco Chronicle says (March 24, 2016): “What [Snyder] has crafted is […] a grotesque expression of modern emptiness”; David Sims of The Atlantic says (March 29, 2016): “For the director, ‘fun’ apparently equals shocking violence and death—so perhaps it’s no surprise that Batman v Superman is such an unrelentingly grim affair.  It isn’t the first comic-book property to mistake darkness for quality, but it fails more than its predecessors by not grounding that darkness in anything richer”; Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly, in a slightly-more-positive-manner, says (March 22, 2016): Dawn of Justice starts off as an intriguing meditation about two superheroes turning to an all-too-human emotion: hatred out of fear of the unknown. Two and a half hours later it winds up somewhere very far from that—but at the same time, all too familiar. It’s another numbing smash-and-bash orgy of CGI mayhem with an ending that leaves the door open wide enough to justify the next 10 installments. Is it too late to demand a rematch?”  To help give you fuller context on past responses to movies such as these, though, I'll refer you to the Rotten Tomatoes rankings of all of the previous Superman and Batman films from the lows of 11% for Batman & Robin and 12% for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace—each of which ended the original late-20th-century-franchises begun with Burton’s Batman (72%) and Donner’s Superman—up to the highs for each, the just-mentioned-Superman (93%) and The Dark Knight (94%), while … Dawn of Justice gets that measly 29% from these guys, not their lowest but certainly close to the bottom.

Further, you could take my concept from the above footnote and compare those critical responses to how the involved movies fared financially (using the Domestic Grosses for comparison in that the critics’ summaries we normally use don’t include international critiques) which would again show a general disparity between evaluations and income, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that critics (especially me) are wrong or that audiences (including me) are right; instead, it just shows different motivations are usually in play, although one exhibition industry exec thinks that some of the Batman v Superman boffo-box-office “was a backlash from the consumers to the critics.”

 However, Mark Hughes, at Forbes, offers a different view toward Snyder’s latest superhero exploration with his more nuanced interpretation of the movie's intentions (March 29, 2016): “Bruce meanwhile sees Superman in much the same way as Lex. There was no Superman to save Thomas and Martha Wayne, no Superman to help Batman pull up the weeds overrunning Gotham. Every ‘good’ Bruce saw over the years, every person who supposedly fought for hope and justice, either died or became corrupted, or just gave up. He doesn’t believe in absolute good anymore, and so all he can see in Superman is absolute power that cannot be trusted because it exists in a world too cynical and damaged to allow such power to be good. Superman is a symbol of all of Batman’s failures, of his greatest fears come to life, and if all good has become corrupted eventually, then this absolute symbol of Batman’s helplessness and failure cannot be allowed to exist anymore. Superman will be destroyed, because Batman has become another of the ‘good’ people who couldn’t remain good in a world this bad, even if he doesn’t (yet) realize he is one of those people he was talking about. [¶] Lex and Bruce represent the world itself, a flawed and distrustful place that feels unworthy of absolute good and so cannot let itself dare to hope such good really exists. Idealism has been replaced with cold disillusionment even among the youth who are far too inexperienced and immature to truly feel as faux-jaded and cynical-chic as they pretend to be. Power always, inevitably becomes corrupted and used to perpetuate inequality, violence, oppression, exploitation, and other ills in our world, we say. So we reject hope, we reject the idea of a common good, because it’s not 1938 and apples don’t cost a nickel and the ‘good ol’ days’ were never good for everybody after all.”

To this I’ll add Ramin Setoodeh's take from Variety (March 28, 2016): “Snyder’s blockbuster touched a nerve with the masses in a way that’s similar to the working class appeal of Trump. Or put another way: It was like the press had watched a different movie than the public had. Reviewers seemed to be punishing Affleck for abandoning his A-list director trajectory, so they put him in ‘Gigli’ jail. But for the rest of America, his decision to wear the bat cape proved heroic enough. [¶] The success of ‘Batman v Superman’ is just the latest example of the cultural wars between the press and the public. As reporters sharpened their knives, audiences voted with their wallets, and propelled the movie to break box office records. The only missing voice in this conversation is Donald Trump himself. But you can bet that when he tweets out his review, it’ll be glowing — just to show how wrong the media was about Batman.”  Although here’s one noted conservative critic who’s not so enthralled with what he sees in Batman v Superman …, Fiori Mastracci, although in his case it’s more about lack of concept development, clumsy editing, and an overpacked-plot than failing to honor Red State values (interesting how this term now takes on patriotic-American-overtones connected to the Republican Party rather than the Communist-implications of days-gone-by, but, believe me, I’m not trying to connect GOP-stalwarts to the eternally-hated-Commies or I’d have Trump—and Fiori—kicking down my front door).  As for what I think about all of this, it amounts to a better response than what I read from the negative critics but not as high a level of praise as I’d like to have given this movie, beginning what I hope (from my own DC fanboy days) will be a very successful Justice League flow into the next decade, giving Marvel a run for its money (our money actually, especially for Web-based-critics like me who’re still paying full—OK, senior—price for these fantasy forays).  Overall, I was generally-impressed with … Dawn of Justice, but just like with Man of Steel (and, for that matter, the 2 Avengers sagas [reviews in our May 12, 2012, May 7, 2015 postings]) there's just too much here, even in a movie with a 2½-hour-running-time.
 While I feel quite comfortable with most of the main character actors (especially Affleck, despite all of the pre-release [and after]-moaning about casting him as Batman, even championing George Clooney as a better choice for the role)—although the offbeat choice of Jesse Eisenberg doesn’t carry the expected gravitas of the billionaire-business-titan that we’ve come to expect about Lex Luthor (I’d have been willing to have Donald Trump play the part, especially if it would have kept him out of the Presidential race, although I doubt he’d ever have allowed himself to be shown as bald) but even there I’ve got to credit Snyder for having the guts to try something new in this yet-again-reboot of these iconic superheroes (on whatever Multiverse Earth they inhabit), even as I find this casting choice to be one of the most consistent complaints about the movie (but, don’t forget, this Lex admits that he inherited his business empire from his overbearing father so even if he’s not the type that seems plausible as a commanding capitalist we can still explain his status with history rather than acumen, even as we have to admit that he becomes ballsy by creating Doomsday to conquer Superman; nevertheless, he's still not so brilliant as he thinks he is for not having any sense of how he could control this monster once it’s unleashed but maybe this Lex’s more nihilistic than his predecessors)—in Batman v Superman, I most admire the overpowering special effects that give heart-pounding-life to some of the scenes (especially Batman’s pursuit of the kryptonite-carrying-truck, turning the Batmobile into a 1-vehicle-army in disposing of his obstacles; the hand-to-hand-combat of our 2 main men; and the explosive-collision of those guys, joined by Wonder Woman, in finally putting Doomsday to rest) while I understand why there needed to be so many plot points crammed into this movie so as to prepare us for the upcoming ones but it does get to be overwhelming with narrative elements (although they’re not hard to follow, just a hell of a lot of them that keep racing at you).  I don’t know how much of this is directly inspired by the comic-book-heritage except for the Doomsday subplot, but that took 7 comics to present back in 1992, followed by almost a year’s worth of multiple-titles to finally resurrect the Man of Steel back to action whereas this all happens in just 151 minutes.

 Ultimately, I’ll have to agree somewhat with those … Dawn of Justice naysayers who propose that this specific movie could have been more impactful if we’d just been able to focus on Superman and Batman, even if they must begin in conflict but ultimately find a way to acknowledge common ground without the quick turnaround by Batman (poised to plunge the kryptonite spear into Superman, killing him for the relief of Wayne and the other suspicious anti-alienists), relenting in his hard-won-victory in favor of a slim, melodramatic mother-link between these fierce gladiators that changes everything.  The added, loud clash with Doomsday is a necessary element if we’re to get Wonder Woman into the fray this time around but ideally it's a plot device that could easily have spawned a stand-alone-movie of its own as a means of following up on the new Superman-Batman-alliance, then introducing Diana Prince by bringing her into battle with these guys after establishing her credentials in her own origin-story, as planned anyway for 2017.  But, as others have pointed out, the WB-DC-combine, for whatever creative reasons, faltered after the initial-decades-ago-successful-establishment of the Superman and Batman franchises, fell horribly-far-behind the Marvel (now partnered with Disney) triumphs of bringing prominent superheroes into public acclaim with successful individual tales (not so much with the Incredible Hulk movies but given the easily-powerful-impact of the character’s potential he was bound to succeed somehow at some point), then blending them into the Avengers stories roughly over the past decade—with plenty more of all of those options in constant preparation for ongoing releases—so Snyder was tasked with getting a whole franchise up and running with just 1 film, forcing him to do more than could likely ever work at a level of maximum accomplishment.

 Along the way, we get plenty of well-scripted-interchanges between various characters, the successful establishment of Jeremy Irons as Bruce Wayne’s butler-as-active-partner (with no Robin in sight except for the quick shot of a costume covered with Joker-graffiti, implying that whoever might have once filled that role is long-dead) to help us accept the replacement of Michael Caine in that role (although Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox was more the needed-techno-wizard in those Nolan-directed Dark Knights), and a lot of satisfyingly-intense-action, but there’s just too much stockpiling for a financially-dictated-future for this individual film to completely find its full potential (just as there are too damn many characters to keep up with, in my opinion, in those bloated-by-necessity-of-adherence-to-the-source-material X-Men movies, with … Days of Future Past [Singer, 2014] being the only one I’ve reviewed, in our June 6, 2014 posting).  Well, I’ve now rambled on for about as long as it takes to watch Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in coming to my honestly-admitted-resolution that I’m too long-invested in these superheroes not to mostly enjoy what Snyder has done with them, with the added-long-awaited-pleasure of finally seeing Wonder Woman on screen where she acquits herself well, even against a monster of Doomsday’s seemingly-unstoppable-proportions.  Still, it’s a shame that Batman and Superman—paragons of justice who simply find different approaches to achieving their goals—have to try to kill each other here, at least before their oddly-quick-peace, so in searching for an appropriate Musical Metaphor I finally come up with Prince’s “When Doves Cry” (from his 1984 Purple Rain album) at* for the simple reason that when superheroes “scream at each other” because they’ve been goaded on by a villain whose father was “just too demanding,” it can leave them wondering “How can you just leave me standing? Alone in a world so cold?”  Ultimately they're forced to collide so “This is what it sounds like When doves cry.” 

*The original music video is presented here in low-def-visual-quality, unfortunately, further magnified if you play it in full-screen-mode but at least that relieves you of all of the other clutter on the screen; I searched for other versions but they’ve been removed due to copyright complaints.  (Regarding these lyrics, at least Martha Kent wasn’t like the singer’s mother, “never satisfied,” as she offered a confused Clark needed comfort, although ultimately he probably preferred it when he could say to Lois, “The sweat of your body covers me” [certainly better than dirt in a coffin]; I’ll leave you with that thought as we prepare to move on to other forms of intense warfare.)

 (Before arriving at another review, though, I didn’t want to clutter up the Batman v Superman … comments any further than they already are with this inclusion so I’ll stick it in as an extended-footnote before moving on to Eye in the Sky, but I couldn’t pass up briefly commenting on another DC-superhero-matchup, the crossover-episode of CBS’ Supergirl [season 1, #18, “World’s Finest,” first aired on March 28, 2016—no coincidence, I’m sure, that it came on the Monday following the debut weekend of … Dawn of Justice; this concept helped the show's ratings as well but, ironically, more so with younger men than younger women, the show’s ultimate target demographic I assume] where Superman’s young-adult-cousin, Kara [Zor-El] Danvers [initially older, she escaped Krypton when he did but through a quirk of fate was caught in suspended animation for awhile while Kal-El grew into the now-older Man of Steel] gets a surprise visit from the CW network’s Barry Allen from The Flash because in testing his speed he accidently crossed the inter-dimensional-barrier separating his Earth from hers [neither of which correspond to any of the Multiverse Earths I’ve already noted in that Flash doesn’t already coexist with the Kryptonians on her planet while they {along with Batman and Wonder Woman, as best I know} don’t exist on his].  Their brief encounter, before thwarting a couple of female villains then her helping him attain enough speed to hurl him back home, is the complete opposite of Batman v Superman …, both in the immediate-mutual-acceptance of these young superheroes, with his willingness to work together to solve Kara’s current antagonist-problems, and in the brighter-hued-visualization of their exploits along with an upbeat, romance-driven character environment more appropriate for an early-evening-broadcast-time featuring content aimed at a younger female audience than what provided the core response for … Dawn of Justice [although Wonder Woman surely helped snag girls for the movie, while not disappointing the lustful-dreams of fanboys either].)
                                         Eye in the Sky (Gavin Hood)
Modern warfare becomes both more intimate and impersonal as an intended British capture of 3 terrorists in Africa, aided by a U.S. armed drone, becomes extremely complicated when the action becomes a potential deadly strike with the weight of military, legal, and public-opinion considerations because of the likely probability of known civilian casualties.
What Happens: The action here takes place simultaneously in various time-zones around the globe (even though the film is entirely shot in Hood’s native South Africa): Nairobi, Kenya where 3 highly-wanted-terrorists are known to be meeting in the same place, allowing the possibility of local troops to capture them; Surry, England where Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) commands a mission to oversee the intended capture; London, England where Col. Powell’s immediate superior, Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) is meeting with some high-ranking-British-government-officials to oversee the Kenyan mission; Creech Air Force Base, near Las Vegas, Nevada U.S.A. where 2nd Lt. Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) and his associate (didn’t catch her rank), Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox), are the remote pilots of a drone to be used in coordination with this British mission but only to provide camera surveillance of the location and the action as it occurs; Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, U.S.A. where military intelligence analysts will provide identity-verification of the terrorists before the mission is put into action.  According to the prior-approved-plan by the British government, when a young man flying into Nairobi joins his 2 wanted-companions at a house where surveillance has revealed their intended whereabouts on this particular day Col. Powell will give the order to the waiting local Kenyan authorities to move in, surround the house, and catch their targets in a swift, surprise action.  However, everything is compromised when the woman of the 3 suddenly leaves the house currently under watch, then is taken by car to another location in a hostile neighborhood of Somalis, living mostly under strict, radical Islamic law, where the Kenyan forces dare not enter because it will result in an automatic firefight where not only will there be high civilian casualties but also the intended targets could easily escape in the midst of the chaos.

 Complications reach an even-higher-level of concern when a hidden camera contained in what appears to be a flying beetle, controlled by local undercover-operative Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi, who so successfully played the Somali pirate commander Abduwali Muse in Captain Phillips [Paul Greengrass, 2013; review in our October 16, 2013 posting] that he was nominated for Oscar’s Best Supporting Actor [along with that same honor for the Screen Actors Guild, the Golden Globes, and the British Academy of Film and Television—BAFTA—awards, winning the latter] despite the role being his film debut), flies into the 2nd house to inspect the occupants but discovers not only the 3 intended targets but also 2 suicide-bombers being prepared for a mission after they’ve made a video to document and celebrate their efforts.  Col. Powell immediately wants to shift the operation into a kill (there are Hellfire missiles on the American drone ready to fire upon command) but she needs authority from Lt. Gen. Benson who finds that he’s getting no cooperation from his political and legal associates because of the changed nature of the operation along with the distinct problem of likely civilian casualties, especially a young girl (Alia Mo’Allim, played by Aisha Takow) who’s just settled into a bread-vending-table right outside the outer wall surrounding the targeted house.  The concern among the non-military-personnel involved in this venture is that if it becomes known that even this 1 girl dies in the process of killing the terrorists, with the understood probability of the operation-commanders that she’d be “collateral damage” then the anti-Western-propaganda would be more destructive than allowing these terrorist leaders to go free, carrying out their own bombing mission that very day that will likely kill dozens of innocent civilians.  The further complication is that firing on the targeted house will occur in a friendly country not currently in a state of war with these Western allies where the targets actually hold British or U.S. citizenship, which carries additional reason for international condemnation and retaliation.  Finally, there’s the stated objection of 2nd Lt. Watts that he won’t fire the missiles until he gets a new estimate of collateral damage that will help him justify participating in this attack.

 Once this constantly-building-situation of gut-wrenching-tension has been established most of the rest of the film's 102 thought-provoking-minutes are spent on what could either be understood as a dramatic conflict of dire-yet-silly-circumstances as various officials keep kicking the strike decision to higher-ups (so that finally both the British Foreign Secretary, James Willett [Lain Glen], and the U.S. Secretary of State [played by an actor who looks more like Jeb Bush than John Kerry, if that makes any difference to anyone] are pulled into the decision) or a needless-delay in “the clearance to prosecute the target” because action still hinges on trying to get the girl out of harm’s way for those who have to actually fulfill the dreaded task.  At one point Farah makes an attempt to buy up all of Alia’s bread so that she’ll simply go home but he’s recognized by a member of the neighborhood militia as some sort of undesirable, resulting in his quick escape, then hiding under a car.  Eventually, the girl sells her bread and starts to go, even as Powell and Benson have become frantic about the missile launch before their desired targets leave the house, so with seconds to spare it’s bombed but closeup-camera-images show that one of the targets seems to be alive so another missile is ordered to finish the job.  Despite a slight adjustment in the explosion-location, so as to reduce the girl’s danger zone to an acceptable 45% possibility, she’s still hit so her parents, with the help of the militia, rush her to the local hospital but she dies while under medical care.  Back in Nevada, Watts and Gershon are terribly shaken by the events of the day (although they don’t know the girl’s fate) while in London Lt. Gen. Benson’s being lectured to by one of the government officials about the need to take all precautions when making such hostile acts to which he replies, “Never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of war.”

So What? The first thing we see is a screen graphic with a quote from the wise Classic Greek playwright Aeschylus: 
“In war, truth is the first casualty.”  What this very-relevant-film is forcing us to consider is what constitutes the “truth” in this situation.  The military commanders—as represented by high-ranking-British-officers—see their intended 3 targets, along with the recruited suicide bombers, as being a tangible enemy with a concrete purpose, set on copying countless-prior-deadly-disruptions of civilian life so they have no hesitation that these killers need to be terminated immediately before they can take the lives of even more innocent bystanders.  The American government officials are immediately supportive of this action, with seemingly no deep concern for what they see as “minor” collateral damage—probably just the 1 little girl—whose demise while tragic has to be considered within the context of stopping a much bigger tragedy if these suicide-bombers are allowed to leave a location where the drone’s firepower can almost guarantee their termination.  Yet, the British bureaucrats are consistently hesitant to authorize the strike, seemingly from a combined concern of not wanting to blow up someone—a child, no less—who’s unconnected to these criminals that need to pay dearly for their past deeds as well as not bring down the wrath of other nations who will argue that they’d never make such a heinous decision.  (Just as those of us far-removed from the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict may have felt justified in condemning Israel for overreaction in the number of civilians killed by rocket attacks on Gaza in retaliation for hostile fire into Israel, but without knowing what the circumstances are in each missile-firing on both sides who can truly be the arbiter of what’s a justifiable action against known combatants and what’s a careless use of force likely to cause unnecessary death?)

 The number of civilian casualties in that just-cited-Middle Eastern-circumstance certainly seems too high to me but what do I know about each decision to launch a deadly weapon?  How much “intel” does it take before an act of war can be justified, especially when such information is ambiguous, as was the case in Eye in the Sky where the battery ran out on the beetle camera so that the operation’s commanders no longer even knew if their targets were still in the hostile, contested-neighborhood house, thereby making a strike-decision even riskier because maybe their intended victims were long-gone (although the wider-angle-surveillance from the drone hadn’t shown anything definitive about that, so whatever the outcome of a Hellfire launch couldn’t be anything more that an educated guess, further raising the risk of a propaganda nightmare).  These are the kinds of questions we’re constantly bombarded with in Eye in the Sky where on the one hand we know that confirmed killers are in a location where they can be forced to atone for their previous atrocious deeds but on the other we know how wrong it is to participate in the killing of yet another civilian, even with the intended “higher purpose” of preventing future deaths, a dilemma actual attempted-peacekeepers face all over the globe on a daily basis as terrorist attacks escalate in our real world, but it’s a cluster of probing questions that resonate even in the fantasy-movie-environments of Batman v Superman … where this current incarnation of the Caped Crusader has no hesitation in decimating a villain’s henchmen when they prevent him from a noble deed (saving Martha Kent from being murdered) but is he just as justified when he also kills Luthor’s henchmen simply because they’re trying to keep him from stealing their essentially-illegal-kryptonite?  Even more challenging, is Superman justified in destroying everything around him (including buildings full of workers likely to die as their surrounding structures collapse) in the cause of stopping a monster on the loose whose rampages would likely be responsible for just as many collateral deaths?  

 The soldiers in Eye in the Sky have clear responses to these conundrums based on harsh battlefield experience (if they’ve had such; Lt. Watts had never fired on a drone target before so he was devastated after the fact of his actions that day) but they rarely have to face the judgment of the public the way that elected officials do where everyone’s hair-trigger-anxious to hold officials accountable for decisions they’d never even be in a position to have to seriously consider.

Bottom Line Final Comments: 
By chance, what really made Eye in the Sky relevant to me was finding out just after the screening from one of my companions that on the very day (March 25, 2016) that we saw Hood's grim film we also learned of the irony that news was released about the killing of Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) “top financier” via a drone strike even though the “plan to land Special Operations fighters, seize Mr. Qaduli and return him to the helicopter changed for unknown reasons, and they fired on the vehicle instead, killing him.”  In principle, this is exactly the situation being shown in the film regarding kill rather than capture, although the reported story makes it sound like the assassination didn’t threaten anyone else in the near vicinity (I don’t have better details on what happened).  This really hits home to me for 2 reasons in further thinking about Eye in the Sky: (1) The conversation among those who saw this film with me centered on how likely it is that such serious-minded, lengthy discussions go on among legal, political, and military experts when decisions like this need to be made about taking such drastic action; our conclusion was that we can only hope that life-and-death-consequences such as these are subject to such intense scrutiny but our (cynical?) consensus is that it’s probably not very likely, that decisions to fire before the opportunity vanishes are probably all too likely, no matter the related cost; (2) I must own my uneasiness in how quickly I was of the opinion that the Hellfire needed to slam into that house to prevent any further deaths caused by these committed terrorists (I’m deeply saddened, sickened every time I heard of any such attack anywhere so I'm easily swayed toward retaliation for these atrocities), even though I’d very likely be sacrificing this sweet little girl (victim surely chosen to make the drama of this film as gruesomely-awful as possible; the only way to have increased the trauma would have been for her to have a basket of kittens on the table next to her bread), a feeling that I had to seriously question in myself after the screening in that it made me feel like a kneejerk-Donald Trump-supporter, ready to put up barriers to keep “undesirables” out of my sanctuary while telling Ted Cruz to fire up those bombers that would blast our enemies back to the stone age.

 The mere fact that all of this came up as a response to watching Eye in the Sky just makes me appreciate the film all the more, as something that takes us out of the realm of fictional superheroes into the conjunction of art and life where what we experience in our aesthetic realms helps us navigate the minefields of positions, commitments, and actions that collectively define us as a society, one based more on self-preservation or one more concerned with negotiating the collective good.  It’s difficult to always know what to do, why to do it, what the reactions may be to positions taken, so anything that helps us better understand who we are, why we act, what we hope to gain is a valuable asset in taking our lives to a higher level.  That’s why I highly recommend this film as it offers insightful understandings about the constantly-changing “rules of engagement” that always involve us, even when pressing the activation-button for a drone’s bomb is the farthest thing from what we’re actually having to commit to or not (this time I’m even in line with the collective critical consensus, as the Rotten Tomatoes score is 92%, Metacritic’s is 73%).  Of course, while you’re waiting for the chance to track down Eye in the Sky (it’s only playing in 123 theaters so far after 3 weeks in release) you might want to sing along with my chosen Musical Metaphor, the Alan Parsons Project’s tune of the same name as the film (from their 1982 album, also called Eye in the Sky) at https://, a video from a 1995 concert (with the helicopter—or helicopter footage [?]—seemingly as part of the event [anyway, I’ve chosen this video over a couple of other live-performance-possibilities because that chopper inclusion gets us more into the content-realm of the film under review]), with the intended song preceded by the instrumental “Sirius” as is done on the album (although this video’s audio is a little muddy at times so you might prefer the vocal quality on this one as I float off into that watchful sky until next time we meet).
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Here’s more information about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: (Top 20 Easter Eggs within this movie, presenting some explanations of quick aspects of the current script and allusions to upcoming DC Comics’ movies using these various Justice League characters)

Here’s more information about Eye in the Sky: (10:55 report on the complexities of contemporary drone warfare, including the more personal responsibility that drone pilots face in having to view close images of the aftermath of a strike compared to pilots who release their payloads from great heights and don’t have to witness the immediate results of the bombing)

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P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.


  1. I am nicely aligned with you on these two. Eye in the Sky was much better than expected although I too wonder how realistic the self-doubt is among those commanding or engaging the drone weapons from the safety of their bases in the United States. If anything would unify a group against the west, it would seem this kind of anonymous killing guarantees future generations of hate.

    Batman v Superman? I would love to see one of these $250 million special effects productions fail miserably so that even a fraction of the money might become available for more interesting projects. Talk about mindless use of action sequences and random insertions of Superheros and monsters! The title telegraphs one of the most banal portions of the storyline, a fight of Titans for no real reason and with no real result. Even the "dramatic teaser conclusion" with the death(s) of Superman and Clark Kent was ridiculous, unconvincing and anti-climatic. The production values were excellent but the storytelling and casting was more than questionable.

    Honestly the producers could have picked up screenwriters and actors from the TV series Gotham and had a far better result. Gotham's villains and their Alfred are far superior as are their screenwriters. Oh well.

  2. Hi rj, Thanks as always for your contributions (sorry it took me so long to get back to you; I've had a busy week, mostly watching losing efforts from the Golden State Warriors and Oakland Athletics--I think I'm going to switch my allegiance to junior-high soccer). If it weren't for having just enough TV on my weekly schedule as it is I'd be a regular viewer of Gotham (watched a couple of episodes early on, really enjoyed them) so you're probably right about who should be taking over the cinematic franchises. Ken