Monday, April 18, 2016

Part 3: Batman v Superman v Prospects for A Successful Expanded Universe

Final installment: continued from part 1 - Zack Snyder vs. Superman, and part 2, Batman Vs. the Two Hour Trailer..

3. Grim and Dour Doesn't Work For Most Superheroes...

Everybody writing a script that breaks the fourth wall, because Deadpool made a lot of money, is going to discover soon that Deadpool didn't make a ton of money because he broke the fourth wall. It made a ton of money because it was exactly the kind of movie a Deadpool movie should be. It was as perfect a fit for that character as Christopher Nolan's films were for Batman. When other heroes who are not Deadpool try to be in a Deadpool movie, they will fail. If you tried to give Spider-man the same treatment Daredevil is getting on Netflix, it would be a train wreck and everyone would hate it.

Grim and dour works with a few superheroes. Batman. A nice, gritty Daredevil film could be really good, though unnecessary with the netflix series on. Ditto for The Punisher, if it's allowed to have an R rating. A gritty Wolverine could be awesome, depending on who plays him. The television Green Arrow is really working. Other superheroes will never fit into that tone. Thor is just too silly. Nobody wants to see a The Flash do an Oldboy-ish hammer fight scene. But for Daredevil, it's completely awesome. Warner had a ton of success, and made a ton of money, and got a ton of acclaim, for those bleak and gloomy and dour Dark Knight films. Because that's the kind of character Batman is. But Superman just isn't, and trying to play him that way was ill-advised at best, and a fatal mistake at worst. A grim Flash won't make it. I'm not sure if Wonder Woman will, but an Aquaman film that isn't even fun will be a really tough sell, because Aquaman's a tough sell to begin with. As Avengers 1 was the proof of concept for "phases," DC's film launching phase one cannot avoid comparisons with Avengers, and people came out of Avengers wanting to watch nine more films like that, thinking they'd probably be entertaining enough, because the actors were fun and watchable enough to fill in the scenes between the action set pieces. Nobody came out of BvS thinking it'd sure be awesome to endure eighteen to twenty more hours of loud, dour, and dumb.

You can make a movie for adults about Batman, because adults get the "he's only human" thing and appreciate the idea of human ability overcoming. Little boys like Superman, because nobody can tell him what to do, but he helps people anyway. To adults, Superman is kind of goofy, and adults are smart enough to recognize that Superman is too powerful, and sucks the drama out of a battle. A Superman aimed at adults is never quite going to work.

...And It's a Terrible Choice in the Long Term

But by making a Superman that doesn't appeal to kids, that I'd hesitate to bring my son to see, Warner Brothers is making a really, really stupid blunder. First, because that's not how Superman works, and they're turning their back on Superman's core demographic, and second, because kids today are the nerds of the future, and frankly, kids are way more loyal than nerds. Nerds are loyal to their characters, but they also have a very clear and specific idea of how their heroes should be portrayed on screen, and if you venture too far from that, they'll abandon you in the time it takes to record a butthurt youtube review. It is really really hard to build up goodwill among nerds (in such a way that general audiences will see your film too), and it is really easy to squander that goodwill. Compare that to kids, who, if you impress them, will beg their parents to bring them out to see the sequel in IMAX 3D, and want the entire set of toys and related merchandise for Christmas, and the halloween costume, and the underpants, and the coloring book, and the birthday cake, and then all that stuff again but slightly different when the sequel comes out.

Yeah, saying "Marvel is fun, DC is dark" is clearly a method of differentiating the two hero brands, and differentiation is good, I guess. But right now, the nerds of the future, with all their future disposable nerd income and future fierce nerd loyalty to their favorite nerd characters... are running around in Iron Masks and Hulk fists and Spider-man t-shirts and swinging Mjolnir hammers and Captain America shields, just like today's adult nerds ran around with toy lightsabers and Darth Vader masks and Superman capes. DC is not just leaving all that money on the table but surrendering it and future dollars to Marvel, by saying they're going to make superhero films for grown-ups. The farther you follow down the timeline, the worse an idea this is.

4. Setting Up an Entire Expanded Universe In One Film Is Simply Asking the Film to Do Too Much

This film introduced a new Batman, introduced him to Superman, required them to fight AND THEN become allies, introduced a new Lex Luthor, developed three antagonists for Superman - Batman, Lex, and Doomsday, as well as a new ally, Wonder Woman, while consolidating the universe's tone and introducing three new superheroes for future films, and giving Batman a reason to muster the Justice League while killing Superman. No wonder the film was bloated as anything: they gave it way, way, way too much to do. They crammed three or four films' worth of world-building and explaining and plotting into a single film.

Is Marvel's "Phase One" the only way to set up a cinematic universe? It's hard to say. But Marvel used four films -- Iron Mans 1 and 2, Thor and Captain America, to set up The Avengers. Four films of world building and character introductions, so that when Avengers came along, we could enjoy the ride instead of having to sit through reams of exposition. Particularly for characters like Thor, whose origins are kind of goofy, it helped not to have to explain that in the middle of setting up another car chase. Batman and Superman didn't need too much background explanation -- Superman already had his origin story and everybody knows Batman -- but does the casual fan care enough about Aquaman anyway? Or Cyborg? Letting Wonder Woman click through their clips was a clumsy and dumb way to tease future movies. That's the kind of stuff Marvel would have put in a post-credits stinger or a DVD easter egg.

Avengers knew they had something good when Iron Man did well, and Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark left everybody wanting more. Only when Iron Man was a smash did they know they could swing for the fences with Avengers. Who is the insanely watchable sparkplug that will keep Justice League team scenes popping? There'd better be one, because a lot of people only go to films that give them characters they actually want to hang out with. From what I've seen so far, Superman's not that guy.

If I were in charge of the DC universe, there would have been a Batman solo film before BvS to establish Batman. Maybe also either a Wonder Woman or Flash film. There would have been a Batman vs. Superman film where they slugged it out, and gained each others' trust. THEN there would have been a Dawn of Justice film where they meet Wonder Woman, and Lex Luthor starts trying to lead a public backlash against superheroes. Maybe Flash or Green Lantern is the surprise reveal when Doomsday attacks instead of Wonder Woman. IF or AFTER fans have bought into the idea of a justice league film series, maybe Green Lantern (who has SO much backstory about the Green Lantern Corps to cover he's a difficult hero to put on film) gets a film, and if we can find someone who is as fun to watch as Robert Downey Jr. to play The Flash and/or Green Lantern, and send sparks around the room to drive Batfleck nuts the way Iron Man antagonizes Captain America... then we've got the basis for a nice, fun string of films I'd pay money to see. If the Batman solo film is completely huge, then Flash's film goes before BvS instead of after, or between BvS and Dawn of Justice.

Now, I’ll just check off the complaints I’ve read in other places, but I definitely agree with.

  • First half was fragmented and nonsensical
  • Dream sequences didn’t serve the story in any way (I hear it hints at sequels... I don't care. Sequel-hints are only allowed if they also advance this story.)
  • Lex Luthor’s motivation was never made clear
  • Lex Luthor’s entire exploding wheelchair subplot was extraneous: seeing Metropolis in ruins was already plenty motivation for Bruce Wayne to go after Supes. Lex could have vanished from the first half of the movie, and the movie would have been shorter, but not poorer. He could have vanished from the second half and only Doomsday's appearance wouldn't have happened. Which would have been OK, because it's Batman v Superman, not Batman v Superman v Doomsday.
  • Lex Luthor is dumb. Using special bullets that can only be traced to Luthercorp in a move to set up Superman, and then using a special fancy wheelchair that could surely also be traced to him, in his bomb plan, seems to me like a detective skills test for Batman. Which Batman failed.
  • Batman, The World’s Greatest Detective, wouldn't have failed that test. He'd have figured out what Luthor was up to faster than Adam West’s batman figuring out one of The Riddler’s riddles by playing word association with Burt Ward. This is the one big hole in the portrayal of Batman in this film: he's a meathead.
  • The writing on the returned insurance checks resembled the writing on Robin’s costume, which seemed like a connection in the trailer, but wasn’t. I hate misleading trailers. Really hate them.
  • Why did Lois Lane throw the spear in a pool?
  • How did Lois Lane know she had to retrieve the spear...which she had just thrown into the pool?
  • Why would J Jonah Jameson (just kidding I know it was Perry White) refuse Lois Lane a helicopter for a story, but give it to her when she said it was NOT for a story?
  • Why could Batman find Martha Kent, but Superman couldn’t? Especially when he could locate Lois in half the time it takes to fall off a building.
  • When did Lex Luthor figure out Superman was Clark Kent, in order to kidnap his mom?
  • Why does Superman waste 20 seconds smooching Lois Lane while Batman and Wonder Woman are in mortal peril from Doomsday?
  • Many of the scenes in the first half of the film could have been re-edited in any order without changing the movie significantly.
  • Could teasing the upcoming justice league movies have been more clumsy and heavy-handed (click click click)?
  • Why didn’t Superman give the Kryptonite spear to Wonder Woman, who doesn’t get killed by Kryptonite?
  • Why didn’t Batman make something deadlier and easier to handle than a spear out of the kryptonite? Like a brass knuckles knife? Or some bullets?
  • Why did Lex Luthor think making an unstoppable death monster would be a good idea in any way whatsoever? A smart Lex Luthor would have gotten control of that ship and then hidden it, and learned every secret of Kryptonian tech he could from it.
  • If Batman had killed Superman, could Wonder Woman and Batman have beaten Doomsday on their own, and if not, how fucked would the entire planet have been? Lex is way too reckless here to pass as the smartest human alive.
  • Nobody in America says that power can be innocent, or has for long enough that it is the oldest lie in America. Nobody ever says that. Except Lex Luthor, in order to say it is a lie. Zack Snyder or his writer is just writing whatever shit comes into his head.
  • A plot as clumsy, and easy to connect back to Luthor, as kidnapping Martha Kent? The Lex Luthors I love are way more subtle than obvious tricks like this and the exploding wheelchair.
  • Lex Luthor is more frightening if he is more clearly in control of his faculties, more calculating, in my opinion. He'd scare me more if he were together enough to actually deliver a 40 second speech at a gala in his honor.
  • How is it that Superman seems to be finding out just now about the existence of Batman, who appears to have been doing his thing for a long time?
  • Batman is killing people. Nobody could have survived a few of those explosions.
  • What about Superman and his behavior (vanishing, sulking, brooding, wrecking entire city blocks) would make people want to build a giant statue of him after the people looking for him destroyed a whole downtown, instead of, say, a memorial to the thousands of people killed in the battle of Metropolis? That Superman allowed a statue of himself like that to go up and overshadow the dead, explains to me why many people don't like him.
  • Seriously, Superman didn’t even clean up the Kryptonian ships he smashed? No wonder there’s a public backlash against him.
  • This article is on the mark as to how badly the film treated its women.
  • The ways they referenced The Dark Knight Returns did not have enough respect for that piece of comic history. Bruce Wayne tosses off the line "We've always been criminals" as a throwaway rather than as the pivotal moment of the end of the age of costumed heroes. There is no context for the lines he says to Superman about "the world only makes sense if you force it to"... many of the tricks he used to fight Superman were from that series as well, but Zack Snyder just didn't demonstrate that he understood what made that story so good, when he copped its ideas.

We are having some serious fridge logic issues here. You know, as well as those fundamental ones. I’m even going to go as far as to say George-Lucas-misreading-Star-Wars-fans-level problems, where he misunderstands what these heroes are about so badly that fans are going to turn on him.

I've predicted before, and I haven't seen anything to change my mind yet, that I still think when the world gets sick of comic book movies, DC is going to catch the backlash, the same way DiCaprio caught the Titanic backlash, but Kate Winslet didn't. When fans abandon superhero films en masse, it still looks like DC will take the biggest hit. And that'll be a shame, because Batman looks great on film, and Wonder Woman deserves better, and little kids around the world deserve there to be awesome Superman films being made every few years.

OK. It's all out of my system now. Carry on as you were, fellow fans!

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