Welcome to Part three, where I continue my discussion of Man of Steel and begin talking about Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Superman the Movie and Superman II were filmed back to back, but director Richard Lester came in when there was friction between the Salkinds and Donner. He threw out a lot of what Donner filmed and started over. Remember Zod and his Cronies? They are still floating through space in the Phantom Zone. When Superman thwarts a terrorist plot by launching a bomb into space, they are set free and make their way to earth.
Superman 2 is often held up as a standard of great sequels and a great super-hero film. Unfortunately, it is not. The film has Superman (and Zod, Ursa and Non) developing random powers and weapons. Their heat vision suddenly can be used as tractor beams, Superman’s logo can turn is a giant cellophane bag, they can shoot beams from their fingers.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some good points. The Villains are frightening at times. Terrance Stamp is menacing and arrogant, while Douglas plays Ursa with a disinterested flair. She is slightly amused by earthlings, but she could never care, she lacks all compassion.
There is a story in which Lois and Clark must pose as newlyweds. This leads to the reveal of Clark’s secret to Lois, which leads to them running off for romance. Superman and Lois hide away in the Fortress of Solitude, completely unaware of the arrival of the Kryptonian criminals. Superman realizes that to be with Lois, he must give up his power. He consults with his Mother Lara (well, a hologram of her and she shows him a machine that will bath him in the light of a red sun and make him human. You can see where this is going. When Lois and Clark start to make their way home, Clark tries to defend Lois at a cafe. A trucker beats the crap out of him. This moment is actually really well handled, Reeve really sells Clark’s startling realization that he is no longer the strongest man alive. But then Clark learns of Zod.
So, Superman’s human life is a short lived one. Even though the Fortress was damaged and he was told the process was irreversible… Clark gets his powers back off screen. This leads to a dramatic fight in the city. You know, for all the criticism Man of Steel gets for it’s destruction, Superman II has Superman carelessly throwing the criminals through building, the character beating each other into the ground and so on. There is little concern for the city.
One of the other good points is the duplicitous nature of Lex Luthor. Towards the beginning he breaks out of prison and then runs off to the Fortress of Solitude. He starts listening to the information from Lara…considering Lara can hold conversations with Superman, I am not sure why she cannot react to Lex. Luthor helps the Kryptonians attempt to take over the world (they promise to give him Australia). But when things look tough, he is quick to side with Superman (for Survival).
One of the big problems is the film has a Superkiss that robs Lois of her memories of who Superman is…and he also goes back to the cafe to humiliate the trucker. This is not Superman. And his character is tarnished for a joke. Superman II does not hold up, and is actually a weaker film than it’s predecessor. And more recent Super-hero films are vastly superior.
Richard Donner’s Superman is often presented as a more upbeat and hopeful film than more recent Superhero efforts. And, in a lot of ways, it is a brighter view overall. Donner opens the film with life on Krypton. His version of Krypton has influenced countless versions of Superman. It became a ruling vision. And I get it…it is a society and world at it’s end. But the severely antiseptic frozen tundra look is actually unpleasant and does not really speak of an advanced society. Jor-El is introduced presiding over the trial of General Zod and his army. Well, him, Ursa and Non. Not really an army. What stands out was that in the middle of this trial, Zod tries to convince Jor-El to join him. And then they are zapped by a giant reflective record sleeve. Then, they never appear in the rest of the film.
Jor-El declare the planet is soon to die and is mocked by his fellow scientists who make him commit to staying on the planet. We all know the story, found by the Kents, young Kal El is raised as a typical Kansas kid. These moments are great. They show the thought the Kents have tried to install in their son. Clark’s struggle to not use his powers for only his gain is evident. Clark wants to be the football star and get dates with cheerleaders. But he also knows it would be a cheat to use his powers to succeed in that fashion. And when Pa Kent dies? Glenn Ford is barely on screen for any meaningful amount of time…and yet it is a real gut punch.
The Fortress of Solitude used to be a giant cave with a giant door. Now it is a spiky crystal building with no doors. Here he learns from holograms of his father. When he enters the world, he is ready to be Superman. One of the things Donner did right is that he fills the film with Superman…an it is Superman saving people over and over again. Sure, he stops crime as well, but saving people is his main gig.
Lois Lane is shown as a tough reporter (who cannot spell) who has little notice of new Reporter Clark Kent, but then swoons when Superman appears on the screen. This is not a negative, for one thing, she still follows her instincts when Superman shows up for an interview, clearly smitten with her. Kidder and Reeve have terrific chemistry in the film and Lois is fun and daring.
We are introduced to Lex Luthor via his bumbling lackey Otis. Ned Beatty is entertaining, though a bit over the top in his mindlessness. Hackman’s Luthor is a change from the comics of the time. He is still brilliant, but instead of super armor, he is simply a criminal mastermind. It is a bit over the top, but Hackman makes it work. The third spoke in the wheel is Valerie Perrine’s Miss Tessmacher. I am unsure exactly what her purpose is. I mean, Perrine is undeniably sexy in the role and appears in a variety of revealing outfits. But she seems distant for a girlfriend, and yet a lot of what she does is lounge around. She does play the role of “distraction”in part of Luthor’s plan. Oh, and that plan…
Luthor is planning to make a land grab…this becomes a running thing for him in the movies. He plans to blow California off the map and sell land. I do not see how this really would be an effective plan. Seriously, the guy who stole two missiles from the army and used them to blow up a sizeable chunk of land is going to be able to own and sell land?
Superman is a pretty fun movie with a really impressive cast. The weakest moment is the weird “Superman spins the earth to Fix Things. This was actually meant for the sequel, which Donner was already filming alongside this film. But the studio wanted him to use it to give this a big bang of an ending.
But all in all, Superman the Movie is a fun film for kids of all ages.
So, 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.
This 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.