Saturday, March 26, 2016

I Have Seen the Future of DC’s Cinematic Universe and It’s…

Scott D. Parker

NOTE: There will be spoilers. I advise you not to read this review of the movie until you’ve seen the film or never plan to.

NOTE 2: This is long, but I have a lot to say.

It took me almost the entire movie of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to figure out what kind of movie it really was: a 1970s Treasury edition comic. Typically, the treasury editions were reserved for reprints of older titles a 1970s kid could never find. But the special editions of these types of comics were reserved for the special titles. Superman vs. Spider-Man (twice). Superman vs. Shazam. Superman vs. Muhammad Ali. Batman vs. the Hulk. Superman vs. Wonder Woman. Events like these were just too big for a regular comic. You needed the space for a story to breath and, with it’s 64 pages and an 10 x 14-inch size, it was the best place for epics like this.

And, in each and every case, there would be some convoluted reason the heroes fight each other. One of my personal favorites is in the second Supes vs. Spidey book where Superman faces the Hulk and, after Hulk knocks Supes across the bay, Big Blue flies back and just stands there while Hulk wails on him. Anyway, the heroes have their fight—and neither side ‘wins’—and then team up against the read bad guys, usually another team up.

That’s what this movie was: a giant Treasury edition of a movie.

Before we start, a word. Look, I understand the need to have Batman and Superman to meet and have disagreements. They have different philosophies. That’s part of the modern way of these characters since John Byrne’s reboot. I know you can’t have them be ‘super friends’ right off the bat.

First of all, there are lots of things to enjoy.

  • In the opening credits, Bill Finger's name is finally given credit as co-creator of Batman. It only took, what, 70 years or so. About dang time!
  • The opening of the movie, where you get the flashback to the end of MAN OF STEEL but from Bruce Wayne’s (and every non-powered person) point of view is gripping and truly harrowing. It gave a great sense of peril. The image of Bruce Wayne running into the destruction. That's what makes this man a hero.
  • The ‘mystery’ plot that takes up the bulk of the first half of the film I enjoyed. I liked how different characters were all searching for something just out of reach and just mysterious enough to move the story forward.
  • I loved the introduction of Wonder Woman/Diana Prince via espionage. Turns out she and Bruce Wayne are after the same thing. It’s information Lex Luthor has on metahumans.
  • Overall, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman is awesome. When she shows up and fights Doomsday, there is almost glee on her face. Reminded me a bit of Legolas and Gimli in The Two Towers charging into battle with grins on their faces. And she’s far from a shrinking violent. She is just badass, whacking off one of Doomsday's arm with her sword, then lassoing him to prepare him for the finale. Her movie, coming out next year, should be golden. Gadot is just the right type of alluring and beguiling. More of her. Please.
  • The sequence with Batman taking on a roomful of goons is truly the comic book of Batman come to life. It’s magnificent to finally—FINALLY!—see this type of Batman on screen. He was using batarangs, ropes, and every non-lethal means at his disposal to take these guys out. And it isn’t easy, but he’s still brutally efficient. Arguably my favorite sequence in the film. Had a goofy grin on my face the entire time.
  • And can I get a high five for Batman finally using a voice modulator?
  • Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne is a great choice, especially as a Batman who has been in the trenches for 20 years. I liked his physical presence in scenes, but he still came off as aloof. Guess that was his “Bruce Wayne” act. Definitely what the modern Wayne in the comics—i.e., Bat-God, the man who is 10 steps ahead of everyone—is like. I tend to prefer my Batman more man than god. Nonetheless, props to Affleck. He did a great job and I look forward to more of his Batman.
  • Jeremy Irons as Alfred. Please give me the Alfred prequel. Heck, I can’t wait for the solo Batman film. Loved Alfred in this film. Much more like the “EARTH ONE” version of the comics. The chemistry between him and Bruce is a wonderful treat.
  • The *visuals* of Superman are almost all great. It was actually kind of shocking when the headlights of the Batmobile shined on Superman's suit and the true blue comes out. I was like "Hey, it's color!"
  • I did like the idea that Lex, using the Kryptonian technology not only builds Doomsday but, it seems, paves the way for Darkseid to come to earth. That’s pretty neat.
  • The visual of Batman atop the huge crane at the pier. A living comic book splash page.
  • The MAN OF STEEL musical cue. I still love this. No, it’s not John Willams’s march, but that’s okay. It’s arguably one of the more joyous things of the film. 
  • Speaking of musical cues, Wondy has one that rumbles along when she shows up. Makes me wonder what a true theme might've been.
  • I like that most everyone knows everyone's secret identity, even Lex. That'll be interesting later on.
  • The cameos! We got glimpses of Aquaman, Cyborg, and the non-Grant Gustin Flash. More than that, we actually got Flash in costume in a completely wonderful vision to Bruce from the future. Loved that part. Obviously we'll have a moment, probably late in Justice League Part I, where something will happen and Flash will have to warn Bruce from the past. Actually, that starts to sound like the Rock of Ages story from JLA by Grant Morrison back in the 1990s. They could do worse.

Okay, so before I get into the bad stuff, let me say this: BvS is all set up for something in the future. That’s all well and good, but the filmmakers’ first responsibility is to tell a good story in *this movie.* They didn’t do as good a job at that with this movie. As a comic book geek, I saw the through line, weak though it was, and was able to follow it. Heck, I even mostly understood it. I think. But it bored my wife. How in the world can you bore people at a SUPERHERO movie? That takes talent.

  • It’s a long, long film. To be honest, I am okay with it. We’ve waited this long to have Bats and Supes in a feature film together, just bring on more minutes. But do it in a good way. Some of this stuff could have been trimmed. Do we need yet another flashback sequence to Wayne’s parents being murdered? Not really, although I *did* appreciate the connective tissue between the two Marthas. [How did I read comics for 40 years and never realize Bruce’s mom and Clark’s mom both were named ‘Martha’?]
  • Superman/Clark Kent. Henry Cavill looks stellar as Superman and even Clark Kent. But it’s okay for him to smile once in a while. Most of the time, he just stands there or hovers there and scowls. I understand Clark having a crisis of conscience, but he’s kinda had one for two movies now. Get over it already. Remember the scene in MAN OF STEEL when he learns to fly and he laughs? More of that. He can do things no one else can. To borrow a theme from THE DARK KNIGHT, Superman needs to show the world, by his example, that he's good. He can take the worst of the world and not be deterred, just like Batman took the rap for Harvey Dent's death.
  • Humor: frankly, it’s so out of place in this movie that it jolted me out of the movie. You’ve heard one in the trailer when Bats and Supes comments on Wondy. The only other one—not kidding here—that I can remember is when Bats saves Martha Kent. It felt weird. If you're going to make a serious movie and, in your world, "serious movie" means grimdark, then go all in. Don't try and shoehorn in jokes. By comparison, the Marvel movies have high stakes and funny lines from day one. Heck, even in Avengers 1 when NYC is being pummeled there was room for lightheartedness. It’s a comic book movie. Lighten up.
  • Okay, sure, the filmmakers say they want to get serious. I’m okay with that. I was a teenager just when The Dark Knight Returns comic was released. I was ready for it, being more mature and all. But that story was forty years in the making. It had earned the fight between Supes and Bats. BvS didn’t.
  • And the Big Fight. At lunch afterward, I asked my wife “Okay, so Lex’s plan was to blackmail (using Martha Kent as bait) Superman to fight Batman and kill him so that Supes could be exposed to the world as a fraud that Lex thought he was? Or was it that Lex hated Batman for some odd reason? The aliens from Superman vs. Muhammed Ali (1979) has a better storyline than this. Beside, Lex had already created Doomsday. Why?
  • Moreover, when Supes lands, he *immediately* tries to talk to Bruce into helping him. But Bats doesn’t listen. He won’t listen. He’s too friggin’ blinded by his insane desire to kill Superman. Really? The World’s Greatest Detective doesn’t have time for chit-chat? Come on. That’s not Batman. If the filmmakers are going to make a Bat-God version of Batman, give him the brains as well as the brawn. On the other hand, Supes might've gotten less angry so fast. He should have kept talking, trying to reason with Bats.
  • Superman’s death. Way too soon. Yeah, he ain’t dead, but still: way too soon. I understand now that director Zack Snyder is helping the world love Superman by having him sacrifice himself. I guess all the saving of other people throughout the world wasn’t enough.
  • Oh, and Batman kills. WTH? What is it with comic book Bats hardly ever killing and movie Bats (1989-2016) blowing stuff up with goons inside. Yeah, they’re goons, but still. I *think* what the filmmakers are trying to infer, as voiced via Alfred in his “…make good men cruel” line, is that the arrival of Superman made Batman darker. Not sure why, but whatever. Even my wife commented on that.

I think I’ve gone on long enough. A few more stray thoughts.

  • Just three short months ago, the doorway to my childhood was opened again with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. That was a joyous film, even with the downbeat ending. I was hoping for a second helping of that. Didn’t get it.
  • As a diehard DC guy, I enjoyed—and caught—most of the references. This movie will likely not work for the general audiences. It’s a real shame, too.
  • I’ve said before seeing this movie while enjoying the wonderful DC shows on TV that I’m looking forward to the next generation of DC movies after all this grimdark stuff. Still am.
  • My wife is a good barometer as a general audience person. She’s not a huge fan of superhero films, but enjoyed BATMAN BEGINS and really loved THE DARK KNIGHT. Loved IRON MAN, too, but that was because of Robert Downey, Jr. She had two quotes that I literally wrote down they were so good.
  • “I don’t like a movie that makes me not like Batman.” [To her, heroes fighting each other is stupid. They’re good guys. Good guys don’t fight each other. When I pointed out that they often do in comics, she was nonplussed.]
  • “This is not the blockbuster it pretends to be.” [Sheesh!]

So, I Have Seen the Future of DC’s Cinematic Universe and It’s…

Worrisome. Is this how all the movies are going to be? Is it too late to change the tone of some of these future films, maybe lighten it up a tad?

But, fear not. Happiness is on the horizon, and it's only three days away! All you have to do is turn on your television. This Monday, tune in to Supergirl on CBS for the crossover with The Flash. It’ll make you smile, it’ll show you a couple of heroes who don’t fight each other, and you’ll be reminded of how much fun live-action superheroes can be.

Here’s a little video of the cast talking about it. Key phrase from Supergirl herself: “…they have such good chemistry because there’s such joy about them, and humor, and lightheartedness.

Superhero films do not have to be all happy happy, bright and shiny, but it sure as heck shouldn’t all the other either. A blend is what makes this stuff work. And the blend of BvS was too much of grimdark dour and none of the joy. To borrow a phrase from the Star Wars prequels, there's no Han Solo in this film. Perhaps that's Flash's job?

Don’t be saddened by my thoughts. I saw BvS on a regular screen. I will still go see it again on IMAX. And I’ll buy the DVD later this year mainly to see the extra 30 (!) minutes and how those new scenes fit in the movie. But I’m officially a little nervous about Justice League. Not Wonder Woman solo or Batman solo, but Justice League. 

Yes, it is good finally to see Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman on screen together. Yes, there really are lots of little nuggets that are really, really neat, especially for a comic book guy (DC in particular) like me.

I wanted to love this film. In the end, I like it a lot despite all the issues. 

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