Monday, March 28, 2016

Superman vs. Batman

So it’s out there. The long awaited Superman/Batman movie has arrived and it’s a glorious mess. Audiences love it, critics hate it and we get a Wonder Woman who’s done right and steals the show. And in the middle of it all, there’s Ben Affleck, who despite the outcry after his casting as the Dark Knight, does a very apt job in a very tricky role, anchoring the movie.

In fact, Batman vs. Superman has redeemed him -- at least in my eyes. See, I’ve never been a big Affleck fan. To me, he always appeared arrogant and a not very flexible actor. His Daredevil was stiff and I chimed in with other malcontented fans at the news that he was going to be Batman. But after seeing the movie and hearing him talk in recent movie junket interviews, I began to see the value (and the risk) of his performance on BvS.

The role of Batman is complex. It can go from dead serious (Christian Bale) to goofy (Adam West) and everything in between. But Ben didn’t have much room to leave his mark, as he was expected to follow the blueprint left by Bale and keep within a loosely held continuity from the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight movies. That takes humility and dramatic flexibility. Affleck succeeds in being that Batman, but also his own, a more wizened version of the Caped Crusader. He’s an older, broken Batman, who still kicks ass and is still paranoid about everything and everyone around him. There is also a sadness to the character, a melancholy that a younger, more inexperienced Ben Affleck perhaps wouldn’t have been able to deliver.

It was even more risky if we consider that this is not a brash new-name with nothing to lose. This is a two-time Oscar winner -- one of them as best director -- down an established career path, and with a hard-earned prestige that could be damaged depending on the success or failure of yet another reboot of the Batman franchise.

With so many other actors that have played Batman in the past – some with pretty dismal results (take your pick) – why not give Affleck a chance? His stubbly Batman stands with some of the vigilante’s best interpretations on the big screen, despite his bloated costume (can we trim him down for the Justice League movies?) And even if you just don’t like his face, at least it’s covered by a cowl or a metal mask for most of the movie.

And the movie itself? Yes, it was a narrative jumble, but it was also a fun and action-filled ride, especially for a DC Comics fan. And while it tries to condense too many storylines into 2 1/2 hours and feels like it’s bursting at the seams, it does leave us with a surprise finale, a glimpse at new versions of Aquaman and the Flash, and introduces a strong, beautiful and skilled Amazon princess with a mysterious past and a way with a lasso. I know I’m not the only one who can’t wait to see more of her in next year’s movie!


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