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Cinema || Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

When Batman begins to believe that God is dead, despite the miracles of a perpetual woman and an all powerful being from space staring him right in the face — THAT is his first step into darkness!

If a timeline of the art of storytelling be catalogued, it would not be very hard to pinpoint that there lies a basic thread – an underlying stream of information and symbolism whose representational success has gone on to define which story stands the test of time and which struggles to find a place of contention beyond its simulated framework and extant timeline.

Layers of simulations have accumulated over this thread through the passage of time. The mystery of the surviving permeations seem to come to the fore as we sit down to figure out how Shakespeare has remained relevant and ‘popular’ even five centuries ahead of his time while a ‘Prufrock’ of T.S.Eliot shall remain an acquired Hamletian taste to be discussed in friendly gatherings and classrooms in bated whispers.

It is natural that a blame should befall the modern age and what follows suit – a century of celebrating knowledge and playing Prince Hamlet with equal certainty and reverence. Hiding ‘it’ in plain sight for it to be realized, therefore, has never been as monumental a challenge – a fact that Eliot’s J. Alfred will happily testify to.

At the end of the day, after all, what matters the most is how one chooses to colour the thread that lies under. It is meant to be a decorative covering – a superhero suit rather than a hijab of protection. It is during times such as these when we seem to forget, in the throes of temporal enlightenment, that truth needs not much of a mask to hide itself. It is then that the princes of darkness, such as a Batman, failing to rest their detecting brains, begin to see the one without the mask as evil. One begins to believe that the fall of THE ‘super’man must occur for the greater good of humanity.

The literal ‘fall’ of Caesar being a symbolic fall for Brutus himself, Batman v Superman is easily the most poignant turn of play for the dark knight. From a primordial dream sequence that shows a young Bruce Wayne being guided into the light by his fears, to the stellar act by Ben Affleck that follows, bringing into existence a brooding, warembittered Bruce Wayne who can effortlessly address Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent as ‘son’.

Affleck’s gloomy, underplayed act stands as a perfect metaphor for the conundrum that often tends to afflict creative minds as they struggle to determine ‘how’ much is too much as far as ‘reveals’ are concerned. Conceal it too much and you’ll be fashionably obtuse – irritatingly so if ‘fans’ see a great detective mind dreaming of army-inspired desert ops. Speak too much – as Snyder does through his symbols – and you’re as shallow as that pulpit priest trying to raise the cost of his midnight wine from his delusional congregation.

‘Movie’ being a business, the economics of filmmaking cannot be ignored in most conversations, especially when it comes to such big budget romps as Batman v Superman. Even the most disappointed and bitter fanboy/critic of Snyder’s latest would agree that his modern epic is doing just fine in that particular department, raking record-breaking figures from the get go.

Batman v Superman marks the first occasion in the illustrative history of Hollywood and superhero  films that two of the most popular and recognizable characters in the DC comicverse share the silver screen. It is no surprise that there remains a sense of ‘must see’ factor attached to the spine of this particular spring offering. Marketed as yet another Spartan war film transposed in a make-believe, supermodern universe, it has rightfully captured the imaginations of millions, and has consequently disappointed as many.

As far as the tropes of supernormal sagas are concerned, Batman v Superman falls short of the ‘Marvel’ standard by quite a distance and may even  seem ‘bland’ when put beside Snyder’s origin story of the ‘Man of Steel’.

It is bereft of the charm that is inherent in the tale of a superalien making Earth its home. Batman v Superman is devoid of the glitzy science, disarming humour or the upright red-blue, black-white fervour of the Marvel crop of superheroes. Batman v Superman even lacks the dark ‘light’ as painted on screen by the genius of Christopher Nolan who will be credited in the annals of film history to revolutionize the art of telling the story
of costumed men in tights.

In fact, largely owing to the differences, Snyder manages to sneak in at least one allusion to Nolan’s trilogy when he revisits the very final image of the story arc (an inconspicuous ‘rise’ of the  elevator from the bat-cave) to distinguish the Bruce Wayne of Batman v Superman from Nolan’s version. If Christian Bale’s bat tells the story of moving from darkness to light, Affleck’s postillumination/disillusioned, older vigilante is a man on the other lane of the ‘two-way street’.

It is a different argument altogether whether superhero films are the best place to introspect and propagate such a ‘far’ philosophy – to showcase the plight of man marked as collateral damage in the conflicting whims of higher powers-to-be; in case of the film, a near-absolute God of endless power. It cannot be easy for admirers of the beloved dark knight to see him at his worst, dreaming surreal nightmares of gunfights gone wrong and living through a 9/11-like early morning apocalypse on Earth which happens to be just another day at work
for the man in red and blue.

Bruce Wayne is the enterprising Prometheus who is relegated to play the part of the hapless Sisyphus
while his Rome – his paradise is lost to the decree of one who appears to be ‘God’.

Redemption at such a time of abject confusion and crisis comes from a source that is as universal in nature as any. Gal Gadot’s ‘referee’ act (as hinted in the promotions for the film) is actually a balancing tether at the end of the day. Her ‘wonder’ woman act is reflected also in the revelatory ‘match’ as far as the names of the two caped crusaders’ mothers are concerned. The peculiar fact that both Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent ‘s (earthly) mothers go by the name Martha, is brought to the fore in a moment of great climax, orchestrated by a tried and tested villain who has hatched the perfect, if over-simplistic, plan to pit an immovable object against an unstoppable force.

The theatrical cut of Batman v Superman has a strange, unfinished feel to it and not merely because of the none too cryptic final frames that hint at a biblical resurrection. Despite the staple of an eccentric villain and aesthetic finesse of an artist at work (aided magnanimously by the efforts of cinematographer Larry Fong), the film seems to lack a good ten minutes of storytelling that should find its way to an extended director’s cut someday.

Perhaps it can be attributed to the makers’ insistence to keep certain aspects of the story under wraps so they can be exposed to a greater effect in later DC films such as ‘Suicide Squad’ or the proposed ‘Justice League’. Especially compelling have been certain images such as one with a battered bat-suit in a showcase with the graffiti ‘The Joke’s on you, Batman’ scribbled in green paint, inside the Bat cave. The knowledge of what other horrors drive Bruce Wayne would certainly make this particular celluloid piece more ‘telling’.

Significantly short of essential sequences where Batman actually ‘fights’ Superman, however, no cut can conceivably save Snyder’s magnum opus from being a disappointing fare for superhero ‘action’ film lovers from around the globe – a disappointing fare that has reappropriated an entire universe to mimic few of the greatest stories of our own – the ones that aid us all, however little, to move in either directions of the aforementioned ‘two-way street’! []

Film: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: Chris Terrio,
David S. Goyer
Released on March 25, 2016

Published: CultureCult Magazine, Issue Four: Spring 2016