Not Your Father’s Superheroes
Why have the powers that be entrusted the DC cinematic universe to a creator who clearly has no understanding of DC characters?
It’s been a few weeks since the opening of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and the critics were mostly harsh while the general public seemed to like it well enough. The juxtaposition of critical reception and public embrace make for an interesting view, especially a few days removed from the initial premier. It seems moviegoers enjoyed this interpretation of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor and the rest of the bunch and the critics wanted a Marvel Studios version.
To be clear, Marvel is not DC and DC is not Marvel. They are not interchangeable. Take Batman for instance, the character has evolved in practically every decade of its existence. The early Batman inhabited a dark world. The 1950s and 60s Batman was all smiles with science fiction themes thrown in and, of course, the campiness of the Adam West TV show. The 70s returned the character to it’s dark avenger theme while the 80s was dominated by Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns. It goes on and on and on from dark to happy and serious to fun. Same character, different interpretation, tone, and sophistication.
Marvel, on the other hand, have not had nearly as many interpretations of their characters in pop culture outside of comics. Spider-Man is probably the only one with any kind of name recognition prior to the Iron Man movie. Maybe the Hulk and his sad, sad music.
The bottom line is there have been a ton of versions of these DC characters in every medium from comics, TV, movies, etc. You may like Batman the Animated Series, but hate Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Both are equally imaginative and worthwhile. I like some interpretations of these characters and others not so much. Which brings us to the Zack Snyder/David S. Goyer version of these characters.
Man or Superman?
Man of Steel bothered me. Zack Snyder made a science fiction movie wrapped in the cloak of a superhero movie and it never quite coalesces into something worthwhile. It’s the only movie I actively yelled back at the screen during my initial viewing at the theater. No, I didn’t yell when Superman breaks Zod’s neck. I yelled when Jonathan Kent tells his son not to save him when the tornado hit. An uncontrollable, spastic “NO!” was exclaimed and my wife had to physically restrain me from crying out more. The writer, David S. Goyer, had completely missed the point of the death of Jonathan Kent and I was pissed at the mischaracterization.
Remember Superman the Movie? Glenn Ford plays Pa Kent who died of a heart attack right after giving Clark some great advice.
“…a man gets older and he thinks very differently and things get very clear and there’s one thing I do know son and that is you are here for a reason…”
“…but I do know one thing. It’s not to score touchdowns.”
This is everything Man of Steel is not. Clark learns the most important lesson: There will be things out of your control despite your powers.
“All those things I can do…all those powers….and I couldn’t even save him.”
In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Martha Kent tells her son the world doesn’t owe him anything. I guess that’s true, but Superman is supposed to love his adopted home and his parents are the ones who instilled that love. I don’t want a Superman who’s indifferent about us puny humans. He walks among us as Clark Kent because he cares. At least that’s what I always thought.
Snyder and Goyer decided the “boy from Kansas” aspect of Clark Kent was worthless. The relatable part of Superman was superseded by a savior/Jesus theme that frankly is so heavy-handed, especially in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, that it becomes tiresome. Snyder is desperate to film an operatic story, but fills the screen with a muted palette and paper thin character motivations. Both Snyder and Goyer want to make “films” not “movies” and while that approach certainly has merit, it doesn’t always translate into critical acclaim.
Snyder and Goyer only want to see the God-like Superman. The Clark Kent-Lois Lane scenes of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice are awkward and forced. The romance of Clark and Lois is never given enough time to feel realistic because the “man” part of Superman isn’t what Snyder and Goyer want to focus on. It makes Superman a detached character that no one truly roots for in the movie. I mean, would it kill to have Henry Cavill at least smile once?
That’s not my Superman. And probably not yours either.
There was much consternation over the casting of Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman. I thought it was fantastic. Affleck portrays a haunted, world-weary Wayne who has become more “Goddamn Batman” than “I’m Batman.” It is a change I like, except when the character uses guns. Batman should never use guns. Ever. Even on the Batmobile.
Watching Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice I got the distinct feeling Snyder would much rather have made a brutal, unflinching Batman film. There are hints of what it would be like everytime he’s on screen. Even though Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman/Diana Prince stole the show in her extended cameo, Affleck as both Bruce Wayne and Batman were a joy to watch. The action scenes moved in a way that felt straight out of the comic. In fact, I was reminded of the Big Daddy scene from Kick-Ass minus the gun and killing.
Affleck and Jeremy Irons, who plays Alfred, had great chemistry which made me want a solo Batman movie all the more. Although to be fair, I certainly liked Michael Caine as Alfred, but the direction started here works well. A few minutes of watching Affleck as both Batman and Bruce Wayne and I had completely forgotten about Christian Bale’s performance in three previous movies.
The script is shite, but Affleck sells every scene he’s in. I especially liked his drunk Bruce Wayne. Going out on a limb here, but I might feel the same way about Jared Leto’s Joker when Suicide Squad hits theaters this summer. I bet it has a better script.
Bullets and Bracelets
The following are my quick hits of good, bad, and ugly:
- The name of this movie is dumb. It’s not a courtroom drama. Either spell out versus or use vs., but don’t use just the letter v.
- Larry Fong was the DP of the movie. The fact that he’s a much better DP for other directors tells me Zack Snyder is the reason for all the darkness and muted colors. Please. Stop.
- Why does the plot of this movie have to be so damn complicated? We have an incident in Africa and an explosion at the Capitol. We have Martha Kent and Lois Lane kidnapped. Just do one. This script needed another pass.
- Why couldn’t the person Bruce is talking to during the Superman-Zod fight from Man of Steel be Lucius Fox? At least the audience might remember the character from the Nolan films.
- I still don’t understand why people are upset with Superman about the incident in Africa.
- I refuse to acknowledge the photographer/CIA agent killed was Jimmy Olsen.
- Jesse Eisenberg would’ve done much better as Lex Luthor if he played him more like Mark Zuckerberg than as a twitchy, weirdo.
- I’m guessing the twitchy werido-ness is because of his communication with Apokolips that was cut out of the film. You can watch it here.
- The God stuff with Luthor is just so over the top I can’t take it.
- The piss jar would’ve been taken out of the script with a rewrite. It’s just not needed and adds nothing.
- Luthor’s machinations are more complicated than most Bond villains.
- The fact that Lex kidnaps Martha Kent and calls him “Clark Joseph Kent” means he knows Superman is Clark Kent. This is insanely stupid.
- Does he know Bruce Wayne is Batman?
- Makes that “Don’t pick a fight with this guy” line from the party mean something more now doesn’t it?
- Bruce Wayne is the dumbest character in the movie and he really, really shouldn’t be.
- Lois Lane, as a character, is only in this movie to be saved by Superman.
- She also gets to say, “I’m not a lady, I’m a journalist.” Sigh.
- Why the hell would Perry White not want a story on Batman? Dumb.
- For that matter, why is Clark Kent covering sports and a Lex Luthor party? What kind of reporter is Clark Kent?
- Wonder Woman is trying to steal a digital photo. This makes very little sense.
- Why does Bruce Wayne have to live at the lake house? Are we supposed to ask what happened to Wayne Manor? Why would you make the audience do that when it doesn’t advance the plot?
- Is the Batcave under Wayne Manor? It’s never really explained.
- The Robin suit in the Batcave was a nice Easter egg.
- The Flashpoint-y dream sequence with the Flash was brushed away far too easily.
- I did like the bit where Alfred is talking in the voice modulator. Way better than the affected voice Christian Bale used.
- Do we see some random woman in Bruce Wayne’s bed? What?
- The whole dream sequence with Jonathan Kent makes absolutely zero sense and should’ve been cut.
- Speaking of cuts… I wonder if there’s not a better version of this film with a set of judicious cuts? Maybe?
- The “knightmare” dream sequence should have been cut. It adds nothing but length to the movie. It doesn’t even set up future movies.
- Superman’s inability to save anyone except Lois and a few others in a montage is annoying.
- What is the motivation for Martha Kent telling her son that the world doesn’t owe you a thing? Why is she even in this movie?
- Batman’s fight in the warehouse to save Martha Kent was done ten times better than any of the choreography of the Batman vs. Superman fight. Why?
- Batman’s change of heart at the mere mention of Martha is on par with Anakin Skywalker’s turn in Revenge of the Jedi. The plot demanded it, so it happened.
- I didn’t mind the retelling of the Wayne murders, but we really, really don’t need to see it again.
- My understanding of the Metahuman digital file and the surveillance videos is that Lex has not only named these super humans, but also gave them little icons. This is phenomenally stupid.
- I would’ve added the sequence of Bruce looking at the files and cameos as an end credit sequence with him naming and icon-ing them.
- It’s awfully convenient that Batman lights the bat signal looking to take on Superman at the same time as Luthor has kidnapped Martha Kent and “forcing” Superman to fight Batman.
- The actual fight is really not all that great. I enjoyed Superman falling for the first Kryptonite gas, but falling for two?
- Lois getting trapped and Superman saving her again was about as dumb as you can get with this script. How many times does he save her? Three? Four? Howabout saving everyone in the Capitol?
- Zack Snyder made 300, I should think he would know what you do with spears. You throw them.
- Speaking of which, why don’t you have the Amazon princess with a sword and shield who obviously knows a thing or two about fighting and isn’t affected by the glowing green rock use the damn spear? This script is so poor.
- Just what is Luthor’s plan with Doomsday? What is the end game? I mean what if Doomsday kills Superman? What do you do next?
- Speaking of Superman and dying… its so dumb. You’d expect a huge emotional payoff and what you get is “So, he’s dead? Okay.”
- The floating dirt was a nice touch, but everyone knows he’s coming back for the Justice League movies… soooo… it’s not all that shocking. In fact, some in the screening I was at were confused.
- Snyder has seemingly only read The Death of Superman and The Dark Knight Returns. Might I suggest All-Star Superman, A Superman for All Season, Batman: Strange Apparition, and Batman: The Long Halloween.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a hollow, empty movie with some nice visuals, decent actors trying their damndest, and plot holes the size of trucks. Zack Snyder isn’t a hack or a crappy director. However, he doesn’t make movies that appeal to wide audiences. I hope Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman are better.