BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE plus Breakfast with Wonder Woman

Batman V Superman: Dawn of JusticeIn such a contentious election year, it's no surprise that superheroes, the quintessential American icon, are finally chosen to tackle the age-old grudge-match trope. Not only will fans be treated to a Marvel Civil War, the latest installment of the X-men franchise sees founding members facing off against future members in apocalyptic fashion. Appropriately the first of this year's superhero dust-ups is also the oldest super rivalry. Like Godzilla versus King Kong, or Bruce Lee versus Chuck Norris, Batman versus Superman is one of those greatest martial matches, a super-fight that KungFuMagazine.com just can't resist calling.

Action

The unprecedented success of Action Comics #1 (June 1938) spawned a legion of, mostly forgotten, imitators. Of them, the only comic book contemporary to surpass Superman in popularity and recognition is, of course, Batman. Debuting less than a year after Superman (Detective Comics #27 – May 1939), Batman achieved his iconic status by inverting the formula that gave Superman such appeal; in every way that matters, Batman exists as Superman's polar opposite. He is human rather than superhuman, nocturnal rather than solar powered, a wealthy American, not a working class immigrant, the list goes on. With equally long publishing histories, it's no surprise these characters would often find themselves in some form of opposition. However, the seriousness of that rivalry is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Subscribe to Kung Fu Tai Chi magazineSuperheroes have become serious business. For every affable Ant-Man (2015), there must now be a blood-soaked Deadpool (2016). The surprise success of the latter movie has re-opened the door to R-rated ultra-violence, inspiring producers to promise an R-rating for the as-yet untitled sequel to The Wolverine (2013). Looking to leap-frog the current fad for funny superheroes, Warner Brothers is instead shining the spotlight on the darkest corners of their DC comics universe with the release of Suicide Squad (August 2016) — a team of unrepentant super-villains coerced into tackling worse villains. But first Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice must pit its titular heroes against one another while also providing the modern-day debut for Wonder Woman herself.

Cinematically speaking, all three superheroes started on the small screen, so it’s impossible to discuss their iconic evolution without at least touching on some of the precursor television shows. More television shows followed, especially animated ones, but that is outside the scope of this review.

The Adventures of Superman (1951) started in black-and-white on TV. There, George Reeves donned the cape and fought “a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way.” Fight choreography was simpler back then. Superman don’t need no martial arts. He’s Superman. Why would the Man of Steel need to train Iron Body? Reeves walked through brick walls and twisted gangster revolvers like they were play-doh. Coincidentally, the noir-ish bio-pic Hollywoodland (2006) depicts the rise and fall of George Reeves as portrayed by Ben Affleck, who dons the bat cowl for Batman V Superman.

By 1978, when Director Richard Donner rebooted Superman with Christopher Reeve (no relation to George), Superman’s fights were a spectacle of wirework and green screens. Those special effects are really dated now, but dazzled audiences when they were originally shown, especially the high-flying battle with fellow Kryptonians General Zod, Ursa and Non in Superman II (1980). That incarnation of the franchise went four installments, but really should have stopped at two. And while Reeve retained Superman’s patriotic symbolism, questions about his citizenship began to emerge. In the first film, when Superman states he is “here to fight for truth, and justice, and the American way,” Lois quips “You’re gonna end up fighting every elected official in this country!”

Henry Cavill as Superman in Superman V Batman: Dawn of Justice

It took two post-millennial reboots to get the current incarnation of Superman back up in the air. In this last one, Henry Cavill’s interpretation of the superhero has evolved into an alien threat, a thinly veiled metaphor for immigration issues in America today. While the earlier adaptations focused on the comic relief of bumbling Clark Kent’s awkward romance with Lois Lane in a then contemporary American setting, Cavill’s Man of Steel (2013) spends the first half of the film in flashbacks on Krypton, converting the film into more of a space opera than a patriotic American superhero. The red and blue of his uniform no longer echo the colors of the U.S. flag. They are darker, more alien, more foreign, maybe even terrorist. Coincidentally, the alien terrorist metaphor is carried over back on the boob tube with CBS's current series, Supergirl. Supergirl and her adopted sister work for the Department of Extranormal Operations (DEO), another thinly veiled metaphor, but this time for Homeland Security. And now, CGI dominates the special effects, so Cavill is relieved of having to do any significant fight choreography or wirework. He doesn't even seem to need a stuntman anymore as it's all computer generated.

While Dawn of Justice has returned a brighter blue and red metallic sheen to Superman's look, Zack Snyder remains devoted to the dark grit in aesthetics and philosophy. Replacing Superman's knowing wink with a PTSD-infused grimace, this man of steel fails as much as he succeeds. It is this trait, and the accompanying body count, that seem to have won over audience members who, like many of the movie's political figures, have trouble identifying with a purely iconic altruistic hero. His fights consist of sometimes deadly flying "superman-punches" and genuinely terrifying heat vision.

Zack Snyder & Henry Cavill on the set of BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE

 

Detective

Batman started in black-and-white TV too with a 1943 serial that no one remembers but IMDB. But Batman gets his real bat-break in vivid Technicolor with the campy 1966-68 television series starring Adam West. The fight choreography was cartoonish, highlighted with comic sound bubbles that exclaimed “Pow!” “Sock!” and “Ooof!” Ironically, Bruce Lee himself was even in one of those fight scenes, as the Green Hornet’s scene-stealing valet Kato. When the bat-franchise was rebooted for film in 1989, the tone was more serious, but given Director Tim Burton’s caricature style, there was still an echo of the comic elements of the TV series. Michael Keaton was the first cinematic Batman, a role he would satirize to Oscar-worthy effect in Birdman (2014). Val Kilmer and George Clooney would take over the bat cowl in the following two installments, and those films preserved the glorification of campy villains, much in the spirit of the Adam West TV show. Director Christopher Nolan changed all of that with Batman Begins (2005). The trend-setter for the "gritty reboot," it was a much darker vision of Batman, loosely derived from the Frank Miller and David Mazzuccheli storyline Batman: Year One (1987). It was viewed as the most authentic big screen adaption among comics fans. In keeping with the trend for dark and gritty comics of the late '80s and early 90's, the successive two installments of Bale’s trilogy were titled The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012).

Accordingly, the fight choreography got much more interesting. It showcased a Jeet Kune Do derivation called the Keysi Fighting Method, and for a short time it was all the rage in martial arts circles. We don't hear much about it now, though, do we? As Paul Bowman so elegantly distilled in his cutting-edge work, Martial Arts Studies, the founders of Keysi had a bad divorce. Justo Dieguez and Andy Norman split after The Dark Knight Rises, apparently over issues of marketing and pedagogical approach. Though Keysi propounded itself as “real,” in the wake of its surge in popularity following Keaton's Batman, it found itself growing increasingly institutionalized in an attempt to capitalize on that opportunity, and soon grew to become a commodity-driven style just like so many styles that it initially opposed. It's a shame really. Few martial arts styles get the benefit of extensive exposure in the DVD extras of a blockbuster film like Keysi did. As Bowman states, “Keysi Fighting Method came and went very quickly.”

Ben Afflick as a heavily armored Dark Knight in BATMAN v SUPERMAN:DAWN OF JUSTICE

Now that Batman must face off against Superman, no amount of Ninja training or Jeet Kune Do will suffice. Instead, Snyder rips many pages out of one of DC comics bestselling Batman comic, The Dark Knight Returns (1986), also by Frank Miller. In casting Ben Affleck as a Dark Knight in semi-retirement, Snyder engages in a bit of deft meta-casting; he tacitly acknowledges Affleck's failed role as Daredevil (2003) while allowing nearly 30 years of Bat-films to act as backstory for the current iteration. Batman's backstory is told quickly, contained within the opening credits. As a delightful Jeremy Irons points out (as Alfred), "Even you got too old to die young, not for lack of trying."

Pumped for the cross-fit generation, this stealth reboot of the Batman franchise comes heavily armed and armored. Willing to engage in a bit of corporate espionage, he has no problem calling himself a criminal. Granted, it's against a deranged Lex Luther who seems like the dark spawn of Erik Prince and Mark Zuckerberg. Nevertheless, this Batman looks and moves exactly like the Frank Miller drawings brought to life.

Ben Afflick as Batman confers with Director Zack Snyder on the set of BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE

The fight choreographers for Batman V Superman have moved away from Keysi. Snyder's films are known for their bombastic sense of fight choreography as seen in his previous sword-swingers Sucker Punch(2011) and 300: Rise of an Empire (2014).  His fight choreographers were Guillermo Grispo and his partner Ryan Watson. Grispo is a practitioner of Taekwondo, Aikido, Sambo, Brazilian Jiu Jitsuand traditional Japanese sword among other styles. He was the choreographer behind the surprisingly good single-shot church fight scene in Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014). It was CGI-enhanced, but a masterful example of cutting-edge cinematic fight choreography. With Batman in armor, most of the Batman versus Superman fight is CGI-driven, but Grispo and Watson deliver another spectacular single-shot CGI-enhanced scene for Batman's first big fight against some baddies. “Pow!” “Sock!” and “Ooof!” are taken to a whole new level.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE

 

Wonder

The first attempt at a Wonder Woman show occurred on the heels of the success of the 1967 Batman show and featured Linda Harrison, who played Nova in the original Planet of the Apes (1968), in the titular role. No more than five minutes of that version was filmed. In 1974, a television movie cast Cathy Lee Crosby as a sort of star-spangled super spy. With blonde hair and a motorcycle, she was more likely to be mistaken for a bland Americanized Emma Peel of the British spy series The Avengers. The following year, producers got the formula right and created the iconic television series starring Linda Carter.

Over the intervening years producers would continue to attempt a Wonder Woman adaptation for either the small or big screen. Joss Whedon was hired to develop a film in 2005 but would go on to direct The Avengers (2012) instead. Meanwhile, a failed TV pilot starred Adrianne Palicki, who would instead go on to have roles in G.I. Joe: Retaliation, John Wick, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Eager to catch up to the juggernaut that is Marvel Studios, Warner Bros announced a slate of DC comics adaptations and have tasked Zack Snyder with overseeing the production of the extended universe franchise. That starts here. The loose adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns, which is also a sequel to Man of Steel, also serves as a teaser for next year's Wonder Woman. Gal Gadot is glorious in her role as the iconic Amazon, armed with a sword and shield to accompany her lasso. Her appearance should be overshadowed by the main event, with Wonder Woman’s backstory saved for next year. And yet, she manages to steal the show finale.

In keeping with his oeuvre, Snyder remains devoted to the source material when there are specific sources to draw from. Excising the viciousness that made Sucker Punch (2011) fall flat, he expresses an earnest devotion to comic books' excesses. Rather than characters, he populates his movie with icons, which makes for a disjointed almost two-dimensional first half. Broken up by dream sequences, it's like a long-box of comic books turned over and poured out to random pages.

On approaching its big brawl, the movie fills with the operatic bombast of a boy stuffing his action figures with firecrackers, only now it's in IMAX. There is some vague commentary on the nature of money and political power, privatized warfare, or government oversight versus black budgets and unilateral actions, but the real interest is in cranking the bad-assed-ness up, up and away. Dawn of Justice's strongest theme is buried in the movie's release date, Good Friday, and beyond its many Easter Eggs.

(L-R) Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot & Ben Afflick as Superman, Wonder Woman & Batman in BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE

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