The Past, Present and Future of the DC Cinematic Universe Part 4

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice continues…a movie in which the most compelling hero is not Batman or Superman. And is the best thing in spite of have no discernible plot-line of her own.

Marvel and it’s related characters are © 2018 Marvel Entertainment

DC and it’s related characters are © 2018 Warner Brothers.

Part 1- https://youtu.be/D2zovFL1QgQ
Part 2- https://youtu.be/oy51WH3O86o
Part 3- https://youtu.be/1rrpUwYehuI

Social Justice Warriors (Justice League, 2017)

Justice_League_PosterWhen it comes to the movies?  DC has been struggling to  keep up with Marvel.  Part of this is really that DC did not lay out a plan from the start. While Marvel Released films with an aim toward the Avengers, DC was trying to figure out where to start.  The Nolan Batman films were a critical success, but also very much their own universe.  When they made Green Lantern, most attempts to build a larger never made it out of the script.

There was talk for several years starting off the DC Movie Universe with a Justice League film to be be directed by George Miller. This never came to pass, and when Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan began their work on Man of Steel it was decided this could be the start.  They did not do a ton, only lightly seeding references to a larger DC Cinematic Universe.

DC decided on following up Man of Steel not with Wonder Woman or Batman, but Batman V Superman.  Like Man of Steel, the reaction was mixed.  I am not a real big fan of either film, primarily because I feel like they are doing a rush job.  The films try and tackle big notions….but they have not earned it. Suicide Squad followed (troubling that we are meeting villains before the connected heroes). I did not mind Suicide Squad, I found it generally entertaining…but not as solid as Deadpool (whose success they were clearly aiming for).

The DC Cinematic Universe was desperate for an outright hit.  Luckily, Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot delivered that with last summer’s Wonder Woman.  And so, for me, I had a little bit of hope they might look at this success and decide to use it as a template to right the ship.  Earlier this year, Zack Snyder announced he was stepping down for family reasons (His family was dealing with a tragic suicide of one of his children). It was announced that former Marvel architect Joss Whedon was brought in.  Whedon punched up the film with new dialog and reshoots.  And what is the end result?

Superman is still dead. The world is in chaos. Bruce Wayne is actively trying to bring a team together to protect the world from the larger threats. The threat here is from Steppenwolf…he came to earth once before in an attempt to destroy the planet, but was fought off by the Amazons, Atlanteans and human kind. His weapon, three items call Mother Boxes were split among the three groups and hidden away.

Batman also has a plan to bring Superman back, which Wonder Woman is uncomfortable with, but finally agrees to. And so, the team unites and takes on Steppenwolf.

So….is this redemption for DC?  Is this the second most awesome DC Cinematic Universe flick?  The answer is “Yes”. Buuuuuut….

Okay, so, the film opens with a nice little video, kids talking to Superman with there cell phone right after he has saved some people. And then we get Batman stopping a petty crook, except that it is a ruse to catch a creature called a para-demon.  The thief asks Batman if things are getting worse because they know Superman is dead.  This is followed by the film showing the world falling into despair, set to a haunted version of Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows. This is all quite nice.

We also get a rather fun action sequence with Wonder Woman stopping a terror group.  This really is not a plot enhancing moment.  It is just a lot of fun to watch.   And the film has a lot of these.  There is a lot of fun action moments.  Ezra Miller and Jason Momoa clearly are having more fun than Ben Affleck.  Barry Allen has the same backstory of the the TV show (Dad in prison for murder of mom)…this is fine of course.  But it is not a storyline that really leads anywhere. I like the general characterization here though.  Barry is awkward with people in part because how time feels for him.  Admittedly, this is very similar to the comic book version of Marvel’s Quicksilver in which time moves so slow for him, he describes every minute of every day as being like waiting in line at the DMV.  Except, instead of being a jerk, Barry just struggles to slow down his thinking enough to not sound like he has severe ADD.

Aquaman has always been a sore spot of a character for DC.  He tends to get mocked endlessly for being able to “talk to fish”.  Here the film compensates a bit by making him a tough and jovial guy.  At one point he looks to Batman, smirks and says, “Dressed as a bat, I dig it.”

Cyborg is in kind of a thankless role.  He fills in the technology blanks. Ray Fischer is really likable in the role.  It just is that he feels like things just happen randomly to him.  At one point, his suit takes over and starts shooting at the newly resurrected Superman.  The idea that the mechanics are in control in such a fashion is interesting, but we do not really get an indication earlier that the mechanical part can go rogue, beyond it apparently making regular upgrades.

Gadot is spot on in her Wonder Woman boots.  The character is again a high point.  Digital mustache issues aside, Cavill is finally getting to be a Superman who likes himself. Superman seems to be more earthling than Kryptonian here.  And this is something that corrects the previous two films.  I understand the arguments about Superman and a connection for people who fall into the category of “Other”.  But Superman’s other status in the films were relegated to him acting like a life he never had was more his identity than the planet on which he grew up.  There are ways to portray the identity of “Other” without sacrificing important parts of the Superman mythos.  In this film, he no longer speaks about “on my planet”.  No, Earth is his home.  Lois is his home. Martha Kent is his home.

The action is pretty solid.  And the humor is there.  The film has bright colors! So, why did I add a “buuuuuuuuut”?

At one point, Aquaman says to the Flash, “So you were struck by lightning?”  Flash responds “Yeah, well that is the condensed version.”  And that is how the movie feels.  Apparently there was a mandate to keep the film at about two hours.  And boy is that apparent.

So many scenes feel cut short, so many conversations feel truncated.  At times, the film moves at “fan montage Youtube video” fast. We get brief glimpses of characters we want more of…and admittedly, Commissioner Gordon and Lois Lane will probably be far more prominent in the Batman and Superman follow-ups.

And then there is Steppenwolf.  A rather uninteresting character.  Remember Ronin from the first Guardians of the Galaxy?  Steppenwolf has the same goal…but without the nuance. The film is incredibly unclear about why this is…but it also does not hint at the notion there is someone behind Steppenwolf. He is a remarkably boring villain. And when you compare unfavorable to a weaker Marvel movie villain?  That has to hurt.

So, what we are left with is a film that is better than Man of Steel, Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad…but nowhere near as strong as Wonder Woman.  But that said? I had a lot of fun watching Justice League.

Rob Schneider in the Apocalypse (Judge Dredd, 1995)

Somebody looked at Sylvester Stallone’s chin and declared him perfect for the role of iconic British comic book character Judge Dredd.  And they were not wrong:
judge_dreddstallone-judge-dredd

(I know I already showed this…but it seems relevant for the review)

Judge_dredd_movie_poster_1995Anyhow, looking for a story, the filmmakers thought the best approach was to tell it through the eyes of SNL alum Rob Schneider.  He is an ex-convict returning home who gets caught in the crossfire between thugs and Judges.  A little background here.  After a nuclear event society is rebuilt in heavily concentrated cities.  In these cities are massive buildings, communities unto themselves. They are known as Megacities.  Outside of the sprawling cities is a desert wasteland populated by outlaws and mutants called the Scorched Earth.  The Society has combined Police Officers with Judges.  You do not go to court, a Judge simply tells you your sentence and that is that.

The most famous Judge is Judge Dredd.  Dredd has no tolerance for lawbreakers.  The comic is a satirical look at fascist societies (the Eagle emblem is not a coincidence, it is meant to acknowledge both America’s national bird as well as the use of the bird as a symbol by fascist societies).  Of course, fans also like the ultraviolence, making Judge Dredd’s popularity complex.  As Neil Gaiman notes, the comic is one of the rare instances where you have something that is both the very thing being commented on and the commentary itself.

While attempting to hide in a robot to avoid death by gang members or a Judge, Fergie (Schneider) is caught and sentenced for tampering with the robot.  In the meantime, Judge Dredd is framed for murdering a critic of the Judges.  He is sent to the Scorched Earth, where he runs into Fergie.  They return to stop a conspiracy to destroy the Judges and establish a new regime.

Judge Dredd is not very good in its story.  It tries to give some emotional depth to Dredd that ends up feeling odd.  Family angst is not something that drives the character and is an unnecessary addition.  The film also tries to hint at a romantic tension between Dredd and Judge Hershey (Diane Lane) who plays the role of the angel on Dredd’s soldier, pressuring him to be less harsh.

There are some notable things about the film.  The costumes look great.  They feel like they are ripped from the pages of 2000AD.  The sets are also like the strip come to life.  The cities and the Megacity blocks are appropriately broken down and seedy looking and the Scorched Earth barren and unforgiving.  Visually, the film is pretty impressive looking.  There are some nice nods to other 2000AD characters (most notably the use of the ABC Warriors robots).  Mean Angel (a cyborg and member of a cannibal outlaw family) stands out.

The cast includes Max Von Sydow, Diane Lane, and Armand Assante.  Most of these choices are good choices.  Rob Schneider is there as comedic relief, but it is not very organic in the story.  There is one amusing moment where Schneider looks over to Dredd on the prison transport and tries to figure out why he recognizes him…Schneider uses his hand to cover the top of Dredd’s head and recognizes him based on the chin.

No, where the film fails is not in its look.  It’s the story.  Trying to create an origin for Judge Dredd makes all sort of unnecessary explorations of his character.  Dredd does not question the Law.  The Law is his life.  You can have Judge Dredd question the application of the Law, but the character loses meaning if he questions the Law itself.

The biggest issue here is that ultimately, they did not hire Sylvester Stallone to bring Judge Dredd to life.  They hired him to be a stock Stallone Action Hero.  And Stallone delivers his lines as such.  It is not that Dredd does not make jokes…but he does not deliver them as one-liners.  He should always sound deathly serious.  Also? Dredd does not smile.  And most importantly…remember that gag I mentioned with Schneider recognizing Dredd?  That scene should simply not happen.  Judge Dredd is never seen in comics without his helmet.  Never.  I mean NEVER.  And yet, in this film?  He is seen far more without the helmet than in it.  This is because it is a star vehicle for Sylvester Stallone, rather than Stalone making a character live on screen.

Judge Dredd pretty much killed other 2000AD film deals, and frankly, it is obvious why.  The film fails in all the areas where it needs to succeed.  Character and Story.

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.

Better, But Still Not Quite…There…

So San Diego Comic Con saw the release of a new trailer for next year’s Batman vs Superman and…

Well, I am a little more hopeful…but not yet excited.

The trailer is unclear if Batman has been active for years or if he retired, though there seems to be indications he is returning to his cowl.

While I am a bit bummed that we will not have an established friendship, they are clearly coming at this with the heroes fight, realize they are wrong, join forces model.  This is, certainly, a classic comic book story.  But Superman and Batman have a long history as close friends.  I would hope they can do it as effectively as John Byrne did in 1986’s Man of Steel mini-series.

bats_supesThey cannot, of course, give us a long established relationship, as Man of Steel established the very first time people saw Superman was his battle with Zod.  And the Man of Steel is our introduction to the DC Cinematic Universe.  It is off to a grim start.  I have expressed in discussions with friends that I am bothered by the literal hero worship aspect because I felt it had not yet been earned.  Granted, the film is likely set a few months after the previous film…and I can appreciate that they are trying to address all the destruction in Man of Steel.

So what makes me feel more hopeful?

Lex-LuthorThe Man of Steel Returning cast.  Getting to see Clark Kent active as a reporter.  Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is intriguing to me right now.  Jeremy Iron’s Alfred seems to nail the idea that Alfred is Batman’s needed conscience.  It looks pretty exciting.  Wonder Woman looks tough.

wonder-woman1So, I am still cautious and not yet at optimistic.

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