DC and WB Need To Address The Elephant In The Room

I’m going to throw this curveball out there before we even begin. I didn’t hate Batman vs Superman, nor did I dislike it as much or as venomously as many fans and critics. For me, BvS was a classic example of a hot mess, a pizza with all the toppings but with no particular order or sense to them. I attended a screening of BvS with three other people, one of whom shared my particular opinion, another thought it was atrocious, another thought it was great. Whichever way you look at it, for DC and Warner Brothers, BvS has been a little bit of a wet fart. Yes, it started strongly, churning out best ever numbers for a March opener and the opening weekend numbers were ludicrously high, but bad word of mouth and a critical mauling (lower than Paul Blart: Mall Cop would you believe) has seen the second week numbers plummet by a startling 68% in the US, and similar drops can be seen in the international markets (bare in mind here that with marketing costs included, BvS needs to make at least $800million just to break even). It’s all looking a little bit shaky for this beast of a tentpole film, designed in part to usher in the Justice League films from 2017 onwards, and start the mythological DC ball rolling. Zack Snyder is also set, at the moment anyway, to return to the helm for the first Justice League film and therein lies the problem.

 

Zack Snyder is directoral marmite. He frustrates and enthralls in equal measure. Just looking at his filmography you’ll be lucky to find a film that didn’t cause some sort of agitated grumbling, Legend of The Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole aside. Dawn of The Dead irritated zombie purists, Watchmen irritated the beardy comic book guys, Sucker Punch irritated everyone I knew, Man of Steel irritated many Superman fans, 300 irritated the sober and over 30s. And now BvS has caused the kind of constipated consternation amongst the general populace that can end careers. But alas, Snyder is one lucky man, as he has a massive fat contract with DC/WB to have his sinewy finger in pretty much all of their important comic book film production pies until the next start of the next decade, if not beyond.

 

Before you spit out your rice/pasta/carb-based dinner option and accuse me of being a Snyder hater, I will mutter ‘au contraire’. I enjoyed Watchmen (I also like the graphic novel). I was even young enough to revel gleefully in the stupid macho noise that was 300, and I will boldly admit to enjoying parts of Man of Steel (the first 25 minutes mainly). Snyder’s films all show us his eye for a particular aesthetic, that slightly saturated, dark and brooding look, layers of slow motion on action sequences, wide shots morphing into extreme close up, heavy use of shadow and silhouette. There is never any doubt that his films look good and that he has made that aesthetic very much his, however, what Snyder frequently fails to transfer to the screen is the emotional heft or complexity to elevate his films from merely eye catching diversions to something affecting and impassioned.

 

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Watchmen is a perfect example of Snyder getting so close yet so far. There are shots and scenes in Watchmen that are pretty much lifted from the graphic novel itself but in concentrating on the form and presentation, and how good Silk Spectre looked, Snyder muddled the genuinely interesting ‘Who’s Watching The Watchmen’?’ theme under a waves of slo-mo violence and bombastic noise. The whole point in a comic book adaptation is just that, to adapt, to mold the inherent plot and themes into a moving visual form. Snyder had the tools there, the cast were spot on, by goodness he was given a big enough budget to do it with, the screenplay was pretty decent, even if a little heavy handed in parts, but in the end we were left with something that was enjoyable and pleasing to look at but emotionally and thematically hollow. Watchmen the graphic novel had everything to say about twisted motivations of the powerful, the motivations of the superhero and how they fit into a ‘real’ society while Watchmen the film told us that The Comedian fought well for an old man and Patrick Wilson was still a stud even after packing on some beef and wearing Deirdre Barlow glasses.

 

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This method of extensive visual lifting from comic books onto the big screen can on very rare occasions work, 300 being a decent example. Thematically speaking 300 is about as deep as a paddling pool. It’s basically some buff men with large biceps and even larger swords heading off to fight some pierced fellows from the other side of the fence. There’s some eyebrow furrowing, much shouting and excessive violence. The graphic novel has no deep seated political leanings nor anything to say about the history of the Persians or the Spartans, it’s just good old Frank Miller violence. And that’s why Snyder’s film presentation of 300 worked. There was nothing deeper to project than what was on the surface on the screen, so Snyder could go the whole hog visually with the violence, with Gerard Butler’s beard, with the ripped muscular physiques.

 

With BvS we find Snyder struggling again to find that balance between the aesthetic (though he made me fancy Affleck so one point to him there) and the emotional. The resonance just isn’t there. The only time he comes close to managing to portray something emotively is the opening sequence in which we see the close of Man of Steel from Bruce Wayne’s perspective. It was mildly refreshing to see an attempt to show the actual human cost from all that destruction, and if Snyder had continued that theme and stayed true to it throughout the film we may have had an actual thread to cling on to for the next 140 minutes, but alas he dropped it all in favour of more wanton destruction later, crowbarring in an embarrassingly turgid line about the Gotham port being abandoned so NO INNOCENTS CAN DIE (CAN YOU HEAR ME IN THE BACK?!).

 

DC/WB need to take a step back here and look at what they have. In terms of actual characters DC have a roster of delightfully peculiar and wonderfully dark oddballs to choose from. They have made some cracking casting choices for their future films (Will Smith as Deadshot and Jason Momoa as Aquaman spring to mind), and have enough money to get the writers they need and to market the royal shit out of anything they release from their sandbox. Snyder is a producer on most of these future projects (Suicide Squad included) so he is going to be involved in some capacity, but DC/WB needs to make a decision about what kind of superhero films they want to make.

 

To stick with Snyder as director is to stick with director slavish to the visual replication of a comic book without much concern for narrative integrity or cohesion. DC/WB have to be bold and plump for another option if they want their universe to come together as beautifully as Marvel’s has done so far. They need someone who can bring the visuals and the narrative otherwise they are going to be left with a lot more to be concerned about than just second weekend number drops.

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Batman v Superman: The Day My Hero Died 

This was a deeply disappointing movie for me to watch. I’m a practically life long DC and Batman fan, I was born in ‘88 so I didn’t get to see the ‘89 movie until it was shown on TV. My earliest memory of the Batman is watching it on a rainy Saturday afternoon at my Grandparent’s house and having so many questions about this mysterious dark knight. 

I was also the perfect age when Batman: The Animated Series started in ‘92 and this excellent portrayal is what I consider to be my Batman. Brought to life by the voice actor Kevin Conroy, this Batman was kind and altruistic but knew when and how to dispatch thugs when he needed to. Batman was a true role model for our generation and he’s been a constant presence in my life. But that’s not the Batman I saw on screen in Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice. What I saw was my childhood hero turned into an unrepentant murderer and that’s not okay with me.

*Spoilers for Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice*
  

Injustice

Batman kills a lot in this movie. Just off the top of my head: he blows up multiple cars full of people with mounted machine guns on the Batmobile, shoots multiple people with pistols and heavy machine guns in a post apocalyptic dream sequence, knocks a thug’s grenade out of his hand and leaves them to explode and shoots another thug’s flamethrower tank with an assault rifle again resulting in a fiery explosion. 

To me this felt like complete betrayal of everything the character stands for and I want to go into a bit more detail on that.

As a character Bruce Wayne’s defining moment is undoubtedly the mugging turned murder of his parents. They were shot and killed in front of him which is what started him down the path to becoming Batman. He wanted to rid the streets of the kind of scum who indiscriminately destroy human lives figuratively and literally. He values human life and is always ready to give people a second chance to leave their life of crime behind. No one man should decide who lives or dies and Batman does everything in his power to ensure criminals are caught and sent to jail alive.

Weapons on the Batmobile aren’t something new, over the many incarnations he has used projectile weapons but they are usually used to disable a vehicle or destroy obstructions. He should never use them to shoot a car until it explodes. 

Fair enough, the post apocalyptic Batman we see is a dream sequence but in my opinion it adds nothing at all to the story. It was a pointless inclusion. There should not be footage of Batman in a major movie gunning down hordes of soldiers with an assault rifle. It’s just not right.

In the final Batman scene he infiltrates a warehouse full of thugs which was their big chance to make it right but again he murders some of them. Now granted the thug with the grenade was mostly responsible for his own death but the Batman I know would have at least tried to minimize the damage caused by that situation. The last guy he comes to is pointing a flamethrower at the hostage Batman’s trying to rescue so it’s a desperate moment but a better Batman would have used his knowledge to disable the weapon hopefully without blowing the guy up.
  

World’s Finest    

Maybe it does sound unrealistic for Batman to dispense vigilante justice without taking a life but that’s the point. Batman is supposed to be the best of all of us. The pinnacle of humanity. A man who over his comic history has faced down god-like beings from other worlds and bested them. He should never even want to pick up a gun in the first place after what happened to his parents. By avoiding killing he can also ensure that he doesn’t orphan anymore of Gotham’s children himself.

This is what happened when my Batman was forced to pick up a gun in desperation:

He quits. Because if he let himself slip down that path there would be no coming back and the symbol of the Batman would lose its meaning.

With Great Power…

Director Zack Snyder not content with just destroying Batman also drags the Man of Steel’s good name through the mud too. 

Superman never shows any remorse in this movie for the events of 2013’s Man of Steel movie. We find out that he never made any statement or public apology for levelling a good chunk of Metropolis in the 18 months between movies. He doesn’t show and remorse or internal conflict over the murder of General Zod on screen.

Superman is another character that famously doesn’t kill because he is basically a god compared to a regular human. He knows that if he kills a human people would be terrified of him because he’s so powerful. So when he snapped Zod’s neck in the climax to Man of Steel a lot of his long time fans felt their character had been betrayed too. They had hoped that in the next film he would take responsibility for his actions and be held accountable but that does not happen.

He just emotionlessly flies through the whole movie and again in the climax a lot of buildings get levelled except this time they cram in some clumsy lines about the areas being after 6pm so nobody is at work in the financial district.

They do set up a scene where Superman is supposed to appear in front of congress to explain himself but just as he’s about to talk a bomb planted by Lex Luthor blows up the entire building. Then Superman just flies away and this is never addressed again! Snyder literally substitutes much needed dialogue for an explosion, it’s ridiculous. 

Doomsday

On top of all of this it was just a mediocre movie for me. It hits nowhere near the highs of Marvel’s Avengers but it’s not as bad/boring as Green Lantern either. All I was feeling was disappointment while watching this. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by Bruce Timm’s excellent animated universe but I don’t think it’s too much to ask to have a good Justice League movie in my lifetime. Sadly Zack Snyder is directing the future DC movies and they’re due to start filming soon so I guess I’ve got a few more years to wait.

Ending on a positive here are some shows I would 100% recommend over this movie if you’re curious about the DC universe: Batman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, Young Justice, Arrow, Flash. 

(Most of these animated shows are on Amazon Prime Video right now)