Rage Against the Machine (The Dark Knight Rises,2012)

Batman_dark_knight_rises_posterIt was becoming clear that Nolan was planning to form a trilogy.  The Dark Knight ended with Batman on the run, taking the blame for Harvey Dent’s death.  It suggested Batman would be hiding in the shadows in his fight against crime. There were no real casting controversies this time.  Generally, people seemed okay with announcements of Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway.

After the Dark Knight, people seemed to trust the team making these films.  So there was much anticipation when the Dark Knight Rises arrived four years later.

And right from the start?  The film kicks off with a nice little plane hijacking by the villain Bane.  This Bane appears to be a pretty brilliant criminal and Occupy Terrorist.  And yet?  The terrific setup from the Dark Knight is not used at all.  The film picks up eight years later with Bruce Wayne having retired Batman.  The police did their job, so Bruce retired the persona shortly after the events of the Dark Knight.  Apparently, no weird bad guys appeared after the Joker.  Wayne is in rough shape, physically speaking.   The years as Batman took a real toll.  He catches Selina Kyle busting into his safe during a party,  Kyle is a morally ambiguous character.  She is a thief of course, but she is not entirely without conscience.

Commissioner Gordon is deemed a hero, but this is eating away at him…and he keeps a letter on himself at all times confessing what really happened to Harvey Dent.  This certainly could have been a real damning situation.  Admittedly, I felt it would have been better to bring Two Face back as the central villain, out to humiliate and expose (and destroy) Gordon and the Batman.

Bane starts to wreak havoc on Gotham’s social and financial districts.  Forcing Batman out of retirement and into a confrontation, Bane breaks Batman’s back and  tosses him in  hole.  Ultimately Bruce Wayne must climb to the top to get free.  The film is a bit on the nose.

It turns out that Bane is teamed up with another villain, who is revealed to have ties from the first film.  And their plan just makes no sense.  They trap the entire police force underground and plan to blow up a bomb.

What makes the Dark Knight Rises so disappointing as a followup is that it is incredibly sloppy in it’s storytelling.  How and why things occur are not fully thought out.  The film is full of exciting sequences…but they don’t bring the film together.  The film is heavily focused on being a “last Bruce Wayne” story for the Nolan version.  But the villains activities don’t really have a satisfying connecting moment.  There is, technically, an “Ah HA!” moment.  But it still leaves a lot of Bane’s overly elaborate scheming kind of pointless.

As a follow up to the Dark Knight (and Batman Begins) this is a well cast movie full of plot-holes to the point of Swiss Cheese.  Catwoman is a fun character, and Hathaway’s performance is great, without drawing on earlier film versions.  Freeman, Cain and Oldman are great in their roles, vital to the enjoyment of this film.  As a fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, he is always welcome, and his tenacious cop  Blake (in spite of a “groaner” of a name reveal at the end) is likable…he is also pretty obvious the out of they wanted to make a fourth film without Bale, as the Bale Batman seems to have run it’s course.  That Bat Voice starts to grate on a viewer, especially after three movies.

I wish Nolan’s series could have ended on a higher note, but that was not meant to be.  We have a movie with some fine performances, some good action scenes and a rather hard to buy into massive plan by villains even taking into account this is a movie about a guy dressed as a bat.

It Was a Dark and Stormy Knight (the Dark Knight, 2008)

batman-the-dark-knight-posterThe recasting of Rachel Dawes with Maggie Gyllenhaal might have been the biggest casting controversy if not for the announcement of Heath Ledger as the Joker.  Oh, the internet exploded.  And then the movie came out and made a lot of people eat crow.  The late Heath Ledger gave one of the best takes on the Joker.  An anarchist who just wants to watch the world burn, The Joker starts out appearing like he is trying to take over the mob, only for them to be shocked as he proves he does not care about their goals at all.

The Dark Knight improves on the action scenes, showing how much Nolan learned.  The story is mostly quite strong.  They introduce the heroic Harvey Dent, a new DA with no fear of the mob…causing Bruce Wayne to question if Batman will be necessary any more.  Of course, Dent is doomed to be twisted into a brutal caricature of justice.

The Dark Knight is full of twists and turns, as well as challenging questions in regards to spying and information gathering.  How far do you go to stop someone?  Admittedly, the film tries to have it both ways, allowing Batman to go to far, but for it to be a one time deal.

The film also struggles a bit with exactly what it wants to do with Two Face…and it really squanders an opportunity that could have played into the next film.  While the Joker story line seems so carefully plotted, the Two Face story line just feels rushed.  But in the end, the overall film ties together nicely.

As noted, Ledger’s Joker borders on brilliant.  The performance is downright unnerving, helped by musical queues that make it feel all the more disturbing.  The returning cast are all excellent, and Gyllenhaal holds her own (as pretty much the only woman of consequence in the film) with heavyweights like Oldman, Freeman and Caine.

Nolan has shown Great vision for Batman, and only improved on Batman Begins.  It is an intense and  exhilarating ride of a film.

When I Was a Kid (Batman Begins, 2005)

Batman-Begins-posterIt took until 2005 for Batman to return to the big screen.  From the start, we knew this was going to be a more serious take on the character than the previous films.  They were starting over and taking their inspiration from Batman: Year One.  Warner Brothers brought in Christopher Nolan (director of Following and Memento) to craft a Batman for the modern movie age.  They started to announce their cast and people started to get excited.  Christian Bale. Gary Oldman.  Liam Neeson.  Literally the most controversial casting choice was Katie Holmes…and that was more after the film was released.

Batman Begins is a refreshing take on the character.  It followed closely the stories such as Year One.  And instead of going with villains we had already seen, they opted for two that had not been used in film before.  Ra’s Al Ghul was a longstanding comic book Bat Nemesis who ruled over the elite league of assassins.

Young Bruce Wayne struggles to come to terms with the death of his parents at the hands of low level thug Joe Chill.  He plots to kill Chill, but is convinced by Rachel Dawes (Holmes) to not give into the revenge.  So Bruce drops off the grid and wanders the planet  getting into scrapes and apparently lots of prisons…until he meet Ducard, the mysterious emissary to Ra’s Al Ghul.  After training with the league of assassins, Bruce discovers that the League has plans to erase Gotham off the map, believing it is beyond saving.

When Bruce returns to Gotham, he decides that he needs to use his training to combat the decay of the mob and other criminal activity.  The film also focuses on Detective Jim Gordon and his attempts to deal with corruption inside and outside his force.  As Batman, Bruce Wayne realizes he has an ally.  Of course, the League of Assassins has no intention of giving up their plan.

Nolan was not known for being an action film director prior to this, and it shows.  Sometimes things are to tightly framed making the action hard to follow.  There are great action sequences, but there are times where they are not as easy to follow.

The story is not hard to follow, and unlike previous Batman films, the multiple villains  does not ruin the pacing.  And how the villains are tied together makes sense.  Nolan and his time understand how to intertwine the elements of a tale.

The film is also nearly perfectly cast.  Bale sells the notion of a man with a singular purpose.  Michael Caine’s Alfred is a new and unique take on the character in film and television.  He is a bit rougher and has a military background.  You can see he was hired as much for his strength as his support.  He can be tough, wise and gentle when it is called for.

And then there is Gary Oldman’s Detective Gordon.  He is struggling to try and keep things together, but not out of incompetence, but simply because Gotham is falling apart and the seems, and at times, he seems alone in trying to stem the tide.  It is great to see the movies finally elevate his presence.  He is a far more important to the Bat Mythos than Burton or Schumacher ever seemed to realize.

As Ducard, Neeson brings an self righteous arrogance that sees him in a role of dangerous judge and jury.  Lucius Fox is played by Morgan Freeman in one of those Freeman roles where he is wise and underestimated.   Cillian Murphy’s psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Crane is creepy, even before he dons his Scarecrow mask.  Holmes is the weakest link.  It is not that she is terrible, but she is out of her depth with the rest of the cast.

Gotham is no longer a hyper stylized city with crazy architecture.  Instead, it is a rundown city, with a recognizable look that could be the streets of a large metropolis.  It is very effective.

Batman Begin’s is a solid start to a new series of films.  It is the path I wish Bryan Singer had followed with Superman.  We are introduced to an exciting world with much potential (as hinted in the final moments of the film).

Last Laugh (Batman, 1989)

batman-poster1989 saw the release of the most controversial Batman casting until Batfleck.  Michael Keaton, known almost entirely for comedies such as Mr. Mom, Johnny Dangerously and Gung Ho was cast as Batman…oh the horror and oh the wailing.  A long tradition of freaking out over casting began right here.  People were a bit more open to Jack Nicholson playing the Joker.

As it turned out, Keaton was okay in the role.  His Batman was appropriately serious, while his take on Bruce Wayne was an interesting approach.  His Bruce Wayne seems to be constantly distracted.  After the 1960’s series, Batman’s comics had returned to a darker version of the character.  A dark soul, haunted by his parents’ deaths at the hands of a low level criminal.  People feared Keaton would make this more 60’s Batman, rather than the Dark Knight Returns.

With Tim Burton at the helm, the film was a dark and gothic affair filled with crime bosses and corrupt police officers.  And the fabled Batman haunting the city.  In a attempt to thwart a mob crime, Batman knocks aspiring Crime Boss Jack Napier into a vat of chemicals.  He emerges with a chalk white complexion and a new smile.  He goes off and takes over the Grissom (Carl Grissom, played by Jack Palance) criminal Empire.  This leads to an ongoing battle with Batman.

The film has a great cast, headlined by Keaton, Nicholson and Kim Basinger.  They are supported by a crew of character  actors and well known faces.  You have Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent, Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon and the glue that held the franchise together?  Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth, Batman’s trusted butler and aide.

While the visuals are grand, the Joker’s motives seem supremely mundane.  He wants to be a mobster.  And woo Vicki Vale.  He may be cruel and ruthless, but so are lots of mob bosses in the movies.  Take away the grin and face-paint? He would not stand out.  Batman’s greatest weakness is not Keaton, but the fact that he cannot even turn his head.  The costumes look good in still shots, but seem goofy when Keaton is having to turn his whole body to look around.

In addition, Commissioner Gordon and Harvey Dent feel more like set decorations than characters.  They are almost entirely inconsequential to the story.  They seem to be there because they have to…it is a Batman movie.  Gough is the bright spot in the film.  His Alfred is kind and wise.  He is not as involved in the day to day support of Batman, he is more there to support Bruce Wayne.

While 1989’s Batman is not terrible, it does not quite stand the test of time.  It is still enjoyable, but it does not live up to the character’s full potential.

The Most Ultimate Edition

Batman_V_Superman_ultimate_edition_coverSo, I took the time to watch the Ultimate Cut of Batman V Superman.  And you know what?  It is a great improvement.  It was enough for me to consider the film enjoyable.

The added footage really enhances the story filling in the blanks.  We now understand why Superman misses something that results in major death and destruction, and to cap it off, we see him helping locate survivors.  Also, while I already thought Bruce Wayne’s introduction was one of the best sequences in the film, we get extra seconds to show Bruce’s dedication to helping survivors.  This version also explains why Batman’s branding of criminals “results in a death sentence”.  It is part of Luthor’s plan to manipulate Superman’s perspective on the Batman.

On top of that, while we got evidence of Lois Lane’s dedication to find answers, finally we see Clark actively doing investigative reporting into Batman, as well as the discover of Luthor’s reach in influencing public opinion towards some of Superman’s actions.

This is not to say all my concerns and criticisms are alleviated.  For one, I really wish they would have Superman talk less like Earth is not his home.  He has spent 99.9% of his life on Earth.  Raise by citizens of earth.  He sees them as mom and pa.  He loves Lois.  He still talks about Krypton as “My world” as if Earth is not also his world.  Batman is a great detective, except where Luthor’s plan comes into play.  Superman gives up trying to convince Batman to help him a little to quickly and goes into fight mode faster than Superman really should.  Superman is not a dumb brute.  And honestly, I cannot help but find the thing that gets Batman to pause is…their mothers are both named Martha.  While that is certainly an interesting coincidence…but that that is the only thing that causes Batman to question his view on Superman seconds before killing him…oi.

But still, the Ultimate Version has made this a much better film, one I feel more confident in.  If this had been the theatrical version, the list of my negative feelings would not be nearly as long.  In addition, after watching the promo trailer for the upcoming Justice League, I am actually looking forward to seeing it.  The preview has an interesting take on Aquaman, Flash looks like a brighter heroic addition to the DCU.  Even Batman and Wonder Woman have some fun banter.

It is to early to state as fact of course, but the Wonder Woman trailer looks exciting and fun.  It looks like the Wonder Woman movie people have been wanting for a long time.  And if Suicide Squad is as fun as it looks…well, DC might have three winning films in a row.  Four if you include the Ultimate cut, though “winning” might be a slight overstatement.  But the future is showing a brighter potential for DC films.

Kevin Smith Was Right

No, really.  Smith recently commented on Batman v Superman.  He had the following to say:

“The movie I felt like didn’t really have a heart. It was certainly f—–’ humorless, there was nothing funny going on in that world whatsoever.”

And you know what?  He is right.*

Batman_Vs_Superman_MovieI get what Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan were trying to do.  They were trying to make this major hard edged epic film.  They were trying to make something that “transcended” popcorn and super-hero movies.  When asked why there was no post credit scene in Man of Steel like Marvel does, Nolan scoffed and stated that real films do not do that.  He walked it back a bit, but I suspect he meant it when he said it.  And of course, Snyder can be endlessly quoted about the epic tone and nature he is trying to create for the DC Movie universe.  That tone is big, full of grim consequence (though it is dishonest to pretend Marvel’s world lacks consequences, as the films are often having results that impact other films as well as their various television shows).  This, of course makes it rather hilarious that Warner Brothers defended the critical reaction to the film by claiming it is just fun.

While I tried to remain spoiler free in my review?  This is not going to avoid them. At. All.  If you want to see the movie (or Man of Steel for that matter) yet, and do not want anything-including the end of the film-ruined?  Stop reading.

Man of Steel was pretty problematic in how it set up Superman.  First there was the whole troubling Johnathan Kent stuff.  Johnathan had some genuinely great moments of fatherly kindness.  When Clark asks if he can just keep pretending to be Johnathan and Martha’s son, and Johnathan responds with “You are my son.”  That is a perfect moment.  Yet, just moments before, Pa Kent suggests that maybe Clark should have let his fellow students die in a bus crash, rather than risk exposure.  Rather than be saved by Clark, Johnathan lets himself be engulfed by a tornado.  Clark could have saved him and they could have explained it to the towns folk in Smallville as…well, an amazing story of survival.

Clark does not appear in costume to the world until after Zod arrives.  You might not think it matters, but trust me, it creates a problem for Batman v Superman.  It would have helped the story immensely if Superman had some heroics before Zod arrived.  It would build Superman up in the eyes of the public.

In Batman v Superman, we are first introduced to Bruce Wayne during the Superman and Zod fight.  And this is, in fact a great scene.  Wayne is shown as aggressively, passionately devoted to protecting his employees.  He helps a man pinned by a beam, he saves a child from falling debris.  This does set up an understandable distrust of Superman and Superman’s power.  But when we meet his alter Batman…well, Batman has hit hard times.  Batman has become bitter and vicious, now branding criminals with his batarangs.  He is mired in bitterness and anger.  Batman is kind of at odds with Bruce Wayne.  Bruce is a man we see saving people.  Batman is a guy brutalizing people and marking them for death.

This is not necessarily an entirely invalid presentation of the character.  A lot of critics note how he shows little regard for killing people.  And this is true, but the idea that he is to busy trying to fend off a whole lot of guys who are trying to kill him is pretty fair.  It is kind of like asking why a soldier shot a bunch of guys shooting at him.  Batman actually is mostly a fighter.  And the scene where he saves Martha Kent?  Awesome.  When he tells Martha “I’m a friend of your son’s”?  That is something I wanted to see in a movie featuring Batman and Superman.

But I digress, the problem with introducing us to this Batman as the entry into the new DC Cinematic Universe?  We get hints of a backstory that implies Batman has been through hell and lost a whole lot.  And yet, we are never introduced to the hero that Batman was, which would open doors to juxtapose with the hero he is now.  It has no weight to simply hint that he has “gone through hell”.  We needed to know Batman for this to resonate.

It is similar with Superman.  We get brief shots of him coming in to save people in disasters.  But we have not known Superman as Superman long enough for the questions about his “godhood” to come into play.  And his alien nature is more heavily focused, how distant he is.  Clark seems to have little humanity of his own, with Lois practically his sole tether to humanity.  Although Snyder suggested killing Zod was to show why Superman abhors killing, one of our first acts of Superman in the present is to save Lois from a warlord by slamming into him at full speed pushing him through multiple walls, an act that most certainly would have killed the man.  This was a terrific opportunity for the filmmakers to be creative in saving Lois from the guy in a non-lethal way, but they opted to have him casually take the guy out.  So, killing Zod did not cause Superman to take preserving life all that seriously.But that is not what the scene is for.  It is set to show Superman being setup as dangerous.

By giving us very little Superman time as hero?  It pulls the rug from the potential emotion and ethical questions being posed.  These are big questions, but we do not see enough of Superman as heroic savior to truly sell the hero worship that some people are supposedly rebelling against.  We know there is distrust because the film makes a point of telling us there is.  Superman does not seem to enjoy helping people in this universe.  He seems to almost do it begrudgingly.  He always looks so serious in the moments we see him saving anyone.  Superman barely cracks a smile.  There should be a juxtaposition between Superman and Batman in attitude.  Superman should be questioning the methods of Batman.  In an early John Byrne comic, there was a story where Batman and Superman first meet.  In the comic, Batman forces Superman to help him by suggesting that he planted a bomb on an innocent person in the city.  Superman is bothered by this…until he discovers that the innocent person was Batman himself.  It was a really good moment in establishing their overall nobility and where they were ultimately on the same side.  Superman is the beaming hope, Batman is the hero needed to deal with the darkness in life.

And yet, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman give us a Superman who is every bit as grim as Batman.  One of the things that might have helped is if, in Superman and Batman’s first meeting, Superman had been less the authoritarian and more friendly guy trying to reason with Batman.  Superman trying to reach out, being rebuffed by Batman would encourage Superman to be frustrated, as he cannot get through to Batman.  Batman, of course, so distrustful that he has no time for what he misinterprets as a false piety.

Also, it would have been better, story-wise, for Superman to bristle at the God talk.  He should have refuted that point, but whenever anyone calls him a God? He seems totally indifferent.

But there is nothing really separating Superman and Batman besides powers.  Both are angry.  Both are insolent and self centered.  In fact, Batman (the greatest detective) and Clark Kent (the great investigative journalist) both are easily manipulated by Lex Luthor.  Both are easily goaded into fighting.  Superman at least has a decent reason, Luthor is threatening to kill his mom.  Batman is sent off the edge by a package that pokes at his personal pain (the loss of his parents).  He does not question it, he just assumes that it is time to take Superman out.  Frankly, the inciting incident makes no damn sense.  Luther sends in a guy to testify against Superman and the guy is basically a powerful bomb.  This would appear like an assassination attempt on Superman, not like Superman acting as terrorist.  But in Batman’s mind the right thing to do is not to try and determine who blew up the court room killing a countless number of people…it is, “Superman must be stopped.”  This is a messy story point at best.  It makes no damn sense for Batman to fall for this at worst.

Luthor is more than a bit of a mess.  They were clearly trying to re-invent him as a new character we have never seen before…but it never comes together…he is to much the petty child, bitter and oblivious.  They try and give him lines that make him sound like he has motivation, but the truth is?  It all feels hollow.  One bit of inspiration would have helped the character was to really invest him with a sense of nobility.  A belief that he was really doing this to protect people from alien threats.  That he distrusts aliens and therefor distrusts Superman.  And that is not effectively done here.  Eisenberg’s jittery performance leaves him feeling a lot less ominous.  And he stoops to kidnapping and willing to kill Martha Kent (in a pretty clear nod to the Killing Joke, but substituting Martha Kent for Barbara Gordon and Lex for the Joker).  It just makes Luthor seem cheap.  I am not saying Luthor would not kidnap Martha.  I am saying a strong Lex Luthor would not allow the kidnapping to be traced to him.

In my second viewing of the film, I found myself frustrated with Perry White.  On the one hand, Fishburne has a lot of fun with the role.  His reactions when he cannot find Clark Kent is some of the few times you get to laugh.  But at the same time, Perry White being absolutely uninterested in hard news seems…wrong.

Honestly, there was no need to have flashbacks to Martha and Thomas Wayne being killed.  That was so hammered into us in previous films and television…and nobody has found a way to make it feel like a necessary sequence.

Please understand, I wanted to totally be wrong about this movie.  I wanted to believe maybe they cracked the code.  And for a few moments at the beginning (aside from the unnecessary showing of the Waynes getting killed)? I thought we were on our way there.  People have actually suggested the lack of humor is a good thing.  It is taking the themes seriously.  Except, humor is not only something we turn to in good times.  In fact, we often turn to humor in tragic times.

As I have said, I do not think the film was an absolute disaster.  I think the 29% Rotten Tomatoes rating is a bit overdoing it.  And I do not have quite the hate for Snyder that some do.  The visuals are nice.  There are shots that, yes, inspire excitement.  Cool shots of Superman and Batman…and Wonder Woman?  She is great.  She comes out of this unscathed.  Part of that is the film barely develops her.  But she is cool in the big fight with Doomsday.

Some critics, such as Kyle Smith of the New York Post claims that Batman v Superman is to smart for Marvel fans.  Except, I am a Batman fan.  I am a Superman fan. I am a Wonder Woman fan.  I like these characters.  But attempting to suggest that this film is just to heady for folks because it deals with big themes?  Well, that ignores that it does not deal with the big themes very well.  And Marvel films are constantly addressing the end results of what their heroes do.  The attack in New York (from Avengers) was addressed in other Marvel Films and TV shows.  The heroes constantly question what they have done.  Age of Ultron was all about how far is to far to protect the world.  Civil War is all about how people are afraid…the results of heroes running around without supervision.  And we have seen Tony and Steve enough that we know those characters.  We have gotten to know them.  There is emotional punch to seeing them in conflict.

And in the end, that is what Frustrates me here.  We have a Superman who does not really consider earth his home until the last moments of the film-right before he dies at Doomsday’s hands.  And this Superman?  We have barely known him as an audience.  And we have known this Batman even less.  If WB had been building up to this over the course of several films?  Do you realize what a gut punch this movie might have been?  We had Man of Steel and he is killed one movie later because Zack Snyder wanted him out of the way to allow Batman to build the Justice League.  And it all feels far too calculated, there is no power to the beats of the film.  If Ben Affleck’s Batman was one we were connected to prior to this film?  It might have been very powerful.  The film skates over this by giving fans iconic imagery to fall back on.  Those great moments are not great because the film earns them, but rather the film cheats by expecting the audience to fill in the blanks with an excited reaction to “Scenes We Always Wanted to see!”

I wish that Batman v Superman was smarter than the Marvel movies.  I wish it was as epic in it’s storytelling as it is in it’s visual representations of famous comic book panels and covers.  I wanted the movie to be great.  It thrilled me when early reports were that this was an awesome film, not anything like we feared.  But when you can say “It is not as terrible as people say, but it was not that great” and it is a defense? Well, that is how folks defend a movie like God’s Not Dead.  My first viewing of the film, I told someone that Marvel has nothing to fear at this point.  My second viewing did not really change that.

I want WB to start making movies at least as Strong as the Avengers or Captain America: the Winter Soldier.  This movie is not it.  Maybe the extended cut Blu-ray will change my mind a bit…but I am not holding my breath at this point.

 

*Since I started writing this?  Smith saw the film a second time and basically said he found the film’s heart…it was in the audience.  And I am sorry…No.  That is a terrible defense.  The audience should not have to bring the heart to the film.

 

 

 

Super Pals In Conflict (Batman V Superman:Dawn of Justice, 2016)

batman_vs_superman_pop_art_postersThis film has been both hotly anticipated and less than interesting depending on who you ask.  In fact, the talk at the beginning of the week was that people had seen the movie and loved it.  It was starting to look like Deadpool all over again.  The early reaction made me wonder if my preconceptions were fair.  Then, as the week progressed and more official reviews started to come out?  It started to suggest my low expectations were warranted.  Of course, I still felt I needed to see the film before declaring it a dud or success.

I am inclined to say it is better than the (at the last time I checked) 30% Rotten Tomato rating.  But it is not truly great either.  Clocking in at two hours and forty minutes, it is reaching for a standard of epic.  Snyder and Nolan have emphasized that their films are different than those of Marvel.  And it is true…the Marvel films, to a large extent, combine humor, adventure and suspense.  Sure, some do it better than others.  But they are lively fun films.  Snyder has describe wanting his DC Cinematic Universe to be more epic Greek Myth.

Affleck actually works well in the role.  There was plenty of online hemming and hawing…but Affleck’s Batman was pretty strong.  Jeremy Iron’s Alfred worked very effectively for me.  I enjoyed the larger screen time to Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White.  He seems to be having a lot of fun as the tough Editor in Chief of the Daily Planet.  I liked Amy Adam’s Lois Lane in Man of Steel, and she is just as good here.  In spite of criticisms of the Man of Steel, I like Henry Cavill and feel he gives us the best Superman we can hope for given the material.  I also liked when they focused on Lois and Clark’s relationship.  I also enjoyed the brief time given to Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and find myself looking to her solo film now.

The weakest link of the characters was Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor.  The character never feels as brilliant or as menacing as he should.  Instead he just comes across as weird and quirky.

I can appreciate that they tried to make the destruction of Man of Steel a real sticking point that Superman has to face.  That his heroics can even see negative results.  This does really give a plausible motivation to Batman.  The Batman we get in the film is cynical and has given up hope, rather than seeing Superman as that hope, he becomes determined to stop Superman.  When Lex Luthor manipulates events, Batman falls over the edge.  This actually works pretty well.  It is an old comic book trope where two heroes meet, not realizing they are on the same side and fight, before realizing they are on the same side.  The first Avengers film did this in very entertaining fashion in about five minutes.  Here, Superman and Batman spend a majority of the film in distrust.

However, the film is just so packed with advance planning for the cinematic universe, they start forcing stuff into the film to prepare us.  This also becomes confusing on telling apart dreams from memories from possible future events…at one point I was trying to determine if Bruce Wayne was having a potential prophetic vision.  The film also lacks a strong central antagonist, and the introduction of Doomsday for the final battle just makes the film feel overloaded.  The film feels bloated and confusing, and could use some streamlining.

It is also obvious that the criticisms of the Man of Steel’s massive destruction really stung Snyder.  At points a general points out that they cleared an area, a newscast points out that the workday is over and everyone had gone home…Batman explains he chose a particular area for a fight because it was abandoned…the filmmakers really want you to know just how many people are not getting killed.

The movie is full of iconic visuals of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, and that is what they feel like.  “Remember this panel from Dark Knight Returns?!”  But they do not enhance the story.  And Snyder’s cynical approach infects even the color grading.  It is almost a dull and faded world.  I am missing vibrant color in the DC Universe.

In the end, like Man of Steel…there are things I really did like.  There are things I really did not care for.  The film just misses the mark in a way that bums me out.  I want to leave a movie starring Superman feeling hopeful and happy.  I cannot say that here.  The film never earns it’s deeper questions of hero worship and power, or the repercussions of Superman’s actions.  I appreciate that they tried to aim for depth…it just is not as deep as they would like us to think it is.

Suicidal Glee

Folks are talking about the new Suicide Squad Posters…and drawing comparisons to the Superman V Batman posters.

Here is the new trailer:

Uh…and here is the most recent Batman v Superman:

Notice anything?  Like the posters?  The trailer for the Suicide Squad suggest an energetic and fun film.  I was not sure how well the Suicide Squad would translate, after all, it is comprised of established bad guys from the DC Universe.  There is a sense of goofiness amid the grit and violence.  The attitude coming across is not grim.

Batman V Superman?  It seems like a dour and angry affair.  Nobody cracks a smile (aside from Lex Luthor).  It is trying so hard to scream “Epic”, it misses that there should be cheer.  It should be inspiring.

Suicide Squad (like Deadpool) is showing a gritty violent side paired with a wink and a smirk.  A bit of joy, almost.  Batman v Superman?  It pairs gritty and dark violence with a joyless intensity.  And I wonder how that can be.  How is it that the band of bad guys forced to be heroic looks way more fun than Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman???

Direct Sequel vs Kinda a Sequel

Zack Snyder has commented that in his mind, Batman V Superman is actually the Man of Steel Sequel.  There is a Man of Steel 2 on the Warner Brothers slate-with talk of George Miller directing (which would be exciting)-but Zak really feels this is the true follow-up.

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And this feels like it is becoming an issue with both Marvel and DC films.

In the early days, the Marvel stand alone films were allowed to focus on the hero.  There might be a cameo, or a supporting role (Black Widow in Iron Man 2 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier).  But the films were primarily focused on the hero’s journey, while the larger Avengers story-line might be lightly hinted at.

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But Captain America: Civil War seems to be suffering the same problem as Batman v Superman… so stuffed with heroes, it feels more like “Avengers: Infinity War-Prologue”.  They are feeling less like proper films in a franchise and more like the setup films.  Adding Spider-Man to Civil War only enhances that.

I kind of get what they are doing with Batman v Superman, because Warner Bros has been playing catch-up after trying to determine how to get that Avengers cash without totally looking like they are trying to copy the the actual Avengers formula.

So we are getting long movies full of heroes, all while they give less and less room for the title character.  Part of what I enjoyed about both Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy was they had connections to the greater shared universe they inhabit without losing their own spirit.

I worry both DC and Marvel will be making it near impossible to allow even their solo movies to be focused on the hero whose name occupies the Title Card.

Spider-Man Swings Past the Origin

The site Collider has a discussion with the writers (though, the actual interview occurred on the Andy Greenwald Podcast) of the rebooted Spider-Man franchise.

comics-spider-man_00426012Much talk has been given about Spider-Man’s second reboot and his entering the the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The hype is getting so ridiculous that an article appeared in my Facebook feed *confirming* Spider-Man would appear in Civil War.  People are so desperate for angles that they are confirming stories confirmed months ago.

The more interesting part is the address the most common concern people seem to have about the reboot.  Are we getting stuck with another origin story?  The fact that Spider-Man is appearing in Civil War would indicate the answer to be no.  The MCU has been fairly good at not jumping backwards.  The timeline appears as if they will be jumping into a story with an active Spider-Man.

This interview suggests that, currently, they are not writing an origin movie:

“I think that everybody feels like you know he got bit by a spider and you know Uncle Ben died, and we probably don’t need to revisit that.”

“We want to explore the fact that just because you get superpowers doesn’t make you into a really sophisticated, successful adult. He’s still a kid and he’s clumsy and he’s a geek and he’s a bit of an outcast, and in many ways the superpowers amplify that and exacerbate his trying to fit in.”

This is good to see.  Truthfully, the origin movie is rarely needed.  I get that there are all sorts of fun that can occur with someone learning their powers.  But a simple solution is set the story early in the hero’s career.  This allows for amusing and dramatic stumbles  due to inexperience.  You can still set up the rivalries.

affleck_batmanIn that sense, I get the idea that DC is working with.  It seems like Batman v Superman will be introducing characters who are already active.  I am not fully behind the “older Batman” approach…but in a way, I appreciate the way they seem to be avoiding another Batman origin story.  Sure, it appears we will see some flashbacks, but comics have always reflected on characters origins in their storytelling.  But Warner Brothers and DC seem to be realizing they can start the story later in the career of the character.  Really, I think it would have helped Man of Steel to start in his early career, instead of the introduction to his world as fighting a massive and destructive battle with Zod.

To be fair, Marvel has not just given us origin films.  The Incredible Hulk was not an origin tale and really, Thor was an established Asgardian Warrior.  But Marvel really has leaned heavily on origin films.  And it certainly worked for the best with Captain America.  So it is good to see that Marvel and their screenwriters understand that it is just not necessary to retell the Spider-Origin all over again.

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