Three stars. Rated PG-13, and somewhat generously, for brief sensuality and relentless, soul-crushing violence
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 3.25.16
A perceptive philosophical theme serves as this film’s beating heart, a tenet that — quite sadly — reflects these cynical and despondent times: that, just as we worship our heroes, we’re all too eager to tear them down.
Because we’re also jealous, and more than a little fearful. Because such individuals are different than you and I.
The “Big Blue” standing as the moral centerpiece of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice couldn’t be more different than the cheerful, easily admired boy scout played by Christopher Reeve in his quartet of films, several decades and a tidal shift of public sentiment ago. This 21st century Superman exists in a mutinous, resentful America that mirrors our own today, with a populous eager to be suspicious of any “alien” floating amongst us.
The resulting film is grim, its tone unrelentingly melancholy, its subtext downright depressing: We clearly don’t deserve a Superman.
For longtime comic book fans, the irony is palpable. Back in the early 1960s, DC Comics’ stable of heroes — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman et al — were colorful but simplistic champions who routinely, almost casually, defeated equally flamboyant villains in self-contained storylines that mirrored popular TV dramas that did the same: all problems solved in one quick read (or one quick hour), and then on to the next adventure, perhaps with a quip or two. Nobody ever changed, because nobody had anything approaching an actual personality.
Upstart Marvel Comics upended this one-dimensional formula with its eye-opening roster of angst-laden superheroes. When out of their costumes, Spiderman, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four and their brethren felt like the folks next door, complete with anxieties and ground-level responsibilities. Their clashes with bad guys often occurred over multiple-issue story arcs: the outcomes less definitive, and often tinged with regret.
How interesting, then, that these two companies have switched roles en route to big-screen domination. Even at their most dire, Marvel movies are fun, their cataclysmic events leavened with an engaging layer of droll humor: a wink and nudge established the first time Robert Downey Jr. donned his Iron Man togs.