Batman v Superman: A Slow Motion Train Wreck

Batman v Superman suffers from too many ideas competing for attention in the same crowded theater. Too many theses posed, and not enough time to get in depth with any of them, so the plot feels overly “directed” between explosions. Characters do things because the plot demands they do them, rather than because of who they are.

Man, I wanted to like this movie. I’m in the minority that loved Man of Steel. I think Man of Steel is a great movie, and largely unappreciated. I heard the critics panning Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and I thought to myself, “Self, no worries. Their small minds failed to appreciate Man of Steel too. You’ll go and see DoJ and be even more thrilled than last time, if the previews are any indication. It won’t be the first time you enjoyed something others didn’t like.”

And my self said, “Rock on.”

(SPOILERS TO FOLLOW)

So I went to see it. Ugh! Oh, there were some great individual pieces to this movie. But…

PROLOGUE 1: The opening scene is Batman’s prologue. Don’t care. We’ve all seen the cave scene, the parents get shot, etc etc etc. We didn’t need to see it again. This was just a minor annoyance that became major because of how they set up the climactic turn for Batman to decide not to kill Superman later. It all comes down to the fact that … wait for it … have mothers with the same name.

After watching Bruce remember his dad call out “Martha” to his dying mom… we fast forward to where the movie should have started: the JEEP Commercial.

PROLOGUE 2: The Jeep Commercial. Where it should have started: the ending of the Man of Steel… the Superman-Zod fight, but from the ground. Bruce Wayne is darting into the action with long dramatic shots of a Jeep Renegade that looks geared towards a car commercial. I say this tongue in cheek, as this really didn’t bother me. This entire scene, I thought, was great, and set a stage for a great movie. I settled in with my popcorn thinking, “Yeah, critics can suck it. This will be awesome.”

Ugh. And then things start to unravel. You can see it unravel bit by bit, and the more moments I have where I think, “Huh. So that’s how they’re going. Okaaaay …” add up, I start to realize with sinking horror that the critics are right.

Oh, I like DC grimdark. I like the more realistic portrayal of how the world would react to a super alien who doesn’t answer to anyone. At least, I like the premise. By the time that story arc reaches its zenith, I feel like no character grows into nuanced, and the Moral Depth the movie aspires to never gets beyond a sophomore level.

MOVIE START: After we get through the prologue and go 18 years later, we see Superman rescue Lois from an African warlord, without saving or intervening on anyone else’s behalf. It looks childishly fun. Lois calls him on it later, but it was my first moment where I thought, “Huh. They need to show us his heroic and selfless side to counterbalance Bruce’s perception. The audience needs to feel the world’s conflict over Superman, which means seeing the positive too.” We don’t get that, other than a brief montage, until what feels like the middle of the movie.

The rest of this isn’t necessarily in chronological order. I’ll hit on what I think tank the movie for me before getting into the stuff I did like. It can be summarized by: IT LOOKS LIKE THIS MOVIE WAS MADE BY A COMMITTEE, WITH LOTS OF DOWNWARD DIRECTED BITS FORCED IN. They all got in a room and initiate all these cool plots/threads into the movie of how Batman would be pitted against Superman… and then tried to execute them all while not really delivering on them. The whole Bruce-Clark discussion about Batman’s vigilantism could have been given its own movie treatment, instead of a parallel thesis in a crowded theater of competing theses. This is true for many of the great ideas spawned in the first half of the movie.

Dream sequences. These had no place in the movie. Don’t surreal the frack out of scenes if it’s not surreal movie.

The WORST part of the movie: Batman’s vision of the Injustice: Gods Among Us future. Flash warning him not to let Lois die. This has NOTHING to do with the movie, and the ONLY thing that helps me understand that scene (after five minutes of WTF, why is Batman suddenly in the desert fighting Superman Cops?) is drawing upon extended DC lore knowledge. The audience should not have to do that. And it was so hamfisted in there, without any kind of graceful transition in and out of the narrative…

The rest of the movie suffers, essentially, from pacing. It’s as if 22 episodes of a season were crammed into 2 hours. Nothing is earned. The problem, ultimately, boils down to the writing (plot problems mostly, some character problems I could overlook, and minor dialogue issues).

And Batman deciding not to KILL Clark (note: he didn’t go for a containment strategy: he immediately went to murder… I have a hard time with that for Batman) because Clark’s mother’s in danger, and the only reason he cares about that is that she’s named … wait for it … MARTHA!

My final disappointment: Hans Zimmer! You dialed this one in! I’m a huge fan of Zimmer, and love the Man of Steel soundtrack. This soundtrack is awful, jarring, and doesn’t feel cohesive between the themes. The Wonder Woman theme made me snigger. No, I laughed at its cheese. Which is sad, because the movie wasn’t inherently cheesy. I get he was going for an ethnic feel, but it was the CONTRAST with the rest of the score, and the sudden shift from “Oh shit serious dark dark dark nihilism” to “exotic fight cheer let’s go have some fun it’s smack-down time” that threw me right out of immersion (for the umpteenth time in the movie).

THE LIKES: I liked all the actors. I really liked this depiction of Lex. He was scary. I liked both Batman and Superman, and of course Wonder Woman. OTOH, everyone talks about how great she was like this was the single best heroine depiction we’ve seen. Sure, she was good, but she wasn’t on screen enough to be great (no fault of the actress). What audiences are reacting to is the contrast with the rest of the movie.

I liked the Batman v Superman fight. I didn’t like the plot surrounding it, or the dialogue, but I liked the fight itself. It did both heroes “realistic” justice. Batman won, because Superman didn’t go all out from the start. (dammit. Except Superman could have used his speed to dodge the second kryptonite mist grenade).

I liked Superman’s use of powers, and I like that by the end he was, mostly, a good guy. I don’t like his statement “no one stays good in this world.” Superman has too many doubts in this movie.

The bottom line thesis of this movie is “There are good people in this world.” The problem is, it doesn’t come across as inspiring hope when the characters say it. It comes across as the writers don’t believe it themselves, and are trying to protest actual reality by creating a fiction. Nihilism is not what I expect from Superman.

Still… I had fun watching it. I didn’t get bored. It’s probably one of those movies I should never watch again, because I think if I start to notice even more, I’ll get angry with it. Like I did with the Hobbit movies.

Hmm… the Hobbit scale. I’d say this movie was better than the third Hobbit Movie, but worse than the 2nd Hobbit movie.

I wanted to like this, but my enthusiasm for Justice League wasn’t stoked in any way. 🙁

 

 

The Great Superhero Movie Slugout of 2012

(SPOILER ALERTs:  “The Amazing Spiderman”, “Batman: The Dark Knight Rises”, and “The Avengers”)

2012 was quite the summer for super-hero movies.  It had three wins, although I feel a little sorry for “The Amazing Spiderman”.

The Avengers

What a fun ride!  This was Joss Whedon at his best: a large cast of characters who believably pull off snarky humorous dialogue, interwoven with high action scenes.  (Conversely, Joss Whedon at his worst was “Alien: Resurrection” where his talent wasn’t well matched to that series’ dark, serious tone.)

The Marvel universe has a different tone from the DC universe.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but to me, Marvel seems a bit more intricate, sophisticated, and light-hearted all at the same time.  The Marvel power hits in the movie world have been the Avengers and the X-Men, groups of heroes that are a tad bit more down to Earth than Superman, and a tad bit more well rounded (they get happy sometime) than Bruce Wayne.  Not that I don’t like Superman or Batman–I do.

The Avengers movie certainly shows that the marketing strategy of a series of individual prequels culminating in one shared finale capstone can work.  Boy, can it work!  The Avenger’s lead-up movies: Iron Man, Thor (yes, Thor.  All you haters, zip it.), and Captain American were all outstanding.  The Hulk with Ed Norton also did not suck.  (I’ve never been a huge fan of the Hulk).

Joss Whedon not only pulled off each hero of the Avengers maintaining their character, playing a key role, and feeling special enough to please fans of each, he also made the Black Widow awesome.  I’m pretty sure everyone was skeptical of her role leading up to the movie; the previews made her feel like she was going to be the token chick with a gun, outclassed by the dudes with superpowers (or supertoys).  She ended up having a power (a real cool one, I might add), and held her own in badassery.  And the villain was hella awesome.  Not in a Bane or Joker kinda way, but he pulled off Loki quite well.

Hell, I even liked the Hulk (which finally made him *feel* like Jekyll and Hyde, one of my favorite vintage sci-fi books).  I loved the line, “Wanna know my secret?  I’m always angry.” (or something close to that)  Made me go, “Ooooo!  Nice.”

All in all, a fun action-fest roller coaster ride that kept me interested even though I’m at a stage in my life where I tend to want to want shorter actions scenes so I can get back to the drama.

The Amazing Spiderman: Better Than Expected

I was skeptical of this one.  I didn’t like the look of the new Peter Parker from the previews, and I liked the original ones (all three) with Toby McGuire.  Ok, the third Spiderman movie was the weakest and maybe only enjoyed by forgiving fanboys, but I’m a forgiving fanboy.  It wasn’t a great movie, but I enjoyed it.  The first one, however, I thought was fantastic when it came out.

So I went into the new Spiderman with a little trepidation.  However, I came out of it thinking it was the best Spiderman so far.  The new Peter Parker pulls off a different kind of geek.  Sometimes he’s annoying, sometimes not.  But the key difference between him and Toby is that Toby’s Peter was always just sad.  And pining.  Pining and sad.  The new Peter is a bit surly at times, awkward at times, and happy.  Sometimes all three at once.

What I like about the new Peter is that he’s a scientist.  This is true to the comic books–he develops his own web spinners, for crying out loud.  Ok, in the move he steels the tech from the Osbourne lab, but he’s still scientifically brilliant.  The first Spiderman movie seemed to miss that fact, making him just the photographer.  Anyway, his web spinners were quite cool, and I found them visually interesting to watch.

I’ve been a fan of the Lizard villain–I collected the comics when I was in high school and grade school.  Another Jekyll and Hyde story.  Although, as my wife points out, Spiderman vs. the Mad Scientist is getting repetitive.  Ok, fair enough.

But know what makes this movie really shine?  Not Spiderman.  The fact that he’s good is awesome–a bad Spiderman would make a bad Spiderman movie.  But the really awesome part is Gwen.  She’s actually an interesting, strong female character.  Not like Mary Jane was, who was, at the end of the day, whiny and mundane with a gloss of cuteness.  OMG.  Maybe she was Spiderman’s Bella.  Ok, not that bad.  I actually like Kirsten Dunst.  (I also liked the movie Antoinette, which I hear didn’t go over as well).  The other great thing about Gwen… they didn’t drag out the whole “you can’t know who I am thing.”  Screw that.  And I’m glad he reneged on his promise to her dad.  Screw that too.  (I mentioned there were spoilers, right).

Not the best movie I ever saw, but certainly worth the price of a ticket.  I left the theater with no regrets.  The only thing that really hurt it was coming out in the same summer between the Avengers and Batman: the Dark Knight Rises.

Batman: The Dark Knight Rises

Wow.  I mean, wow.  So this guy at CNN didn’t like it.  This guy must have bad software on the brain with extra DLC addons of cynicism.  Don’t let this fool you.  This is a fitting end to the series, and I’m not upset about the (again, SPOILER) happy ending.  I had my fill of artistically appropriate tragedies playing Mass-Effect 3, and my heart couldn’t take another one this season I guess.

First off, Bane.  Bane was fantastic.  It’s hard to compare him to Joker, and I’m not sure it’s appropriate.  They’re two different villains, representing two different kinds of evil.  Bane brings the series back to full circle from Batman Begins, and I love his gentle British accent coming from the physical monster he is.  I read the Dark Knight graphic novel where he defeats Batman way back when, and I think this on-screen rendition of him was even better than in the comics.  (Actually, all of Christopher Nolan’s batman memes were better than they were in the comics, which is really hard to pull off for a Batman movie.  This is why I’m pretty excited about “The Man of Steel“, which he is producing).

Batman was still cool as ever, and his kit was cooler yet again.  Loved the motorcycle with the side-turning wheels.

And Catwoman.  I was skeptical of Anne Hathaway (too much of a good-girl look?), but damn she pulled it off!  I liked the idea of Catwoman’s character before, but I have not liked either of the two on-screen renditions (Michelle Pfeiffer or Halley Berry).  Anne Hathaway, you are amazing.  And sexy.  Amazingly sexy.  I have a crush on Catwoman.  I particularly loved the “ears”… glasses/goggles that were down when she was doing her work, and then when she flipped the visor up on top of her head, they gave the silhouette of ears.  Again, Nolan makes the comic book thing on screen without making it a stupid comic book thing on screen.

There are two disconnects in the movie, however.  The first is when Bruce is in the prison hole.  At one point, he says, “the child was Bane!”  And then later (maybe 20 or 40 minutes or so?  hard to tell), he says “the child was Bane!” as if he’s figuring it out for the first time.  I thought, “Huh.  Didn’t he already have this realization?”  The second was his escape at the end.  The way they shot the film, he tells Catwoman, “I have to go, there is no autopilot.”  Then you see him fly out with the bomb.  The bomb goes off… there’s no way he’s getting out and away in time.  Then we find out later the autopilot was installed 6 months ago and he survives.  Then why did he tell Catwoman this?  LOLWUT.  That was just silly and felt gimmicky.  I still liked the movie.

The Verdict

This is tough.  Spiderman is not in the running between the other two (I give it a 7.5/10), but it’s hard to pick a front-runner between the Avengers and Batman.  Both are fitting finales to their prequels, and both had a very different angle.  Batman had more emotional depth, but the Great Nuclear Escape of 2012 vexes me.  I think the Avengers was a slightly tighter movie, so I give the edge to Joss Whedon:  9.6 to Avengers and 9.5 to Batman.