Monday, April 18, 2016

Part 2: Batman v Superman v Just Making a Two Hour Trailer

Continued from part 1.

2. Zack Snyder's Best Talent Ruined This Movie

What are Zack Snyder's two best talents? He can make a trailer that stops the world. He is so so good at making action look really good. So darn good. The problem is, entire sequences of the film, and whole scenes, seemed designed more to provide setup for some killer snip that went into the trailer, than for actually being part of a scene that was good as an effective scene. The dream sequence with Trenchcoat Batman. The crayon "You let your family die" on a newspaper clipping (which, misleadingly, resembled the scrawl on Robin's empty uniform in the Batcave... seeming to reference a Joker who did not appear in the film). "The red capes are coming" (a line which didn't even make sense in the context of the scene) "The oldest lie in America is that power can be innocent" (good line, but untrue: it's easier to find records of the idea that the price of liberty is constant vigilance). The trailer-bait took me out of the movie, and frankly, it's hard to pull me out of a movie. I try to get carried away.

The films that got Zack Snyder this job were recreations of Watchmen and 300, which worked exactly insofar as they hewed closely to the original graphic novels. Dawn of the Dead was also a very good remake: it might be my favorite zombie movie. When he takes a story that is already laid out for him, and his only task is to make it look absolutely great, he completely nails it. Ask him to create a believable reality and set a story within it, and you get Sucker Punch.
Read that Critics Consensus summary twice.

Watch the movie again, with an eye for this: every scene in the first half of the movie scans the way you tell a joke: with a setup, and then a punchline. The punchline is either a zinger of a cool line (trailer bait), or a revelation of new information (clumsy plot advancement). Again and again and again. Many of the lines work, and the some reveals make you go "ooh!" ... but that isn't enough to comprise a good scene, and a story with great characters like Batman and Superman needs a good scene writer.

UPDATE: Here is a nice video I found after writing this, that hits exactly on the nose what I'm trying to say here.

What Snyder is doing would probably work on a comic page: the Walking Dead comics I'm reading also have a lot of scenes that seem written as build-ups to a good line or a reveal, but what works on a page doesn't work in film. I just watched Netflix's Daredevil, Season 2, with scenes full of revelations, surprises, and characters at plausible and interesting cross-purposes, with reversals that make sense. Seeing all that great writing just underscored how cheesy the few exchanges between Batman and Superman were.

Terse cheesy tough talk out of an 80s movie is a huge waste of two actors who, I think, could deliver very interesting performances of the characters. But not with Zack Snyder directing them like a movie trailer crossed with an MTV video.

And when he DOES try to write an actual exchange between them...

 It's hilarious. For all the wrong reasons.

I am incapable of watching a movie without noticing the music. Not that it was possible not to notice the music in this one. The entire score here also seemed made for a two-minute trailer. When the action was flying, those dramatic close-ups and slow-motion and ponderous music stuff made it feel like something Important was happening... but that portentious music never let up, to the point that everything was getting "Hey! Pay attention! This is profound!" treatment. As any student studying from a used textbook knows, when everything is underlined, nothing stands out anymore. The whole movie comes off as relentless and exhausting.

What I wouldn't have given for one clever, quiet scene as witty as this one, just for a break from Hans Zimmer launching BWAAMs at me.

One more thing about the music: when Hans Zimmer's overbearing score wasn't playing, for the background music in the mall where Lois got kidnapped, and for Lex Luthor's party, the music was done by a spoof lounge singer called Richard Cheese. Yes. A singer named Dick Cheese provided two songs for the Batman v Superman film. Now, the first time Dick Cheese worked with Zack Snyder it was in Dawn Of The Dead, where the song "Down With The Sickness" was the perfect meltdown song for a montage of claustrophobic people slowly going mad, while the song slowly disintegrated into f-bombs. These are substandard versions of jazz classics: even these would have been a step up. And a character even quotes one of them while threatening Martha Kent, as if they have thematic importance. If Zack Snyder is putting his buddies' crappy songs into the soundtrack, and nobody higher up put the kibosh on his bad choices, not only is Zack Snyder completely the wrong person for this job, but I'm beginning to doubt the whole extended universe's creative oversight. You'd think they'd have learned their lesson after giving Superman maybe a son in Superman Returns. This bodes very ill for the DC Expanded Universe.

Ben Affleck is an actor who is better or worse depending on what kind of writing he is working with. The only case more extreme is Nicholas Cage. So let's get the man an effing writer, and a director who understands how to do a scene, please!

PLEASE find a better show-runner for the DC Expanded Universe. Superman and Batman deserve it! I suggest Brad Bird, but I'm open to other ideas.

Conclusion in part 3 (yes, I get worked up about this)

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