Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Can we please stop remaking “The Dark Knight Returns”? The Official Black Owl review of “Superman V. Batman: Dawn of Justice

Just so you know, spoilers ahead!

There are a couple of different ways I want to talk about this film, because like its predecessor, Zach Snyder and Christopher Nolan’s “Man of Steel,” there are some babies here I don’t want to see go out with the bathwater, but man is this a troubled movie.  First though, I want to talk about it just as a movie, the second in a continuous series of films, bringing a specific version of the DC Comics universe to the big screen.  So, I am going to judge it on those merits first. Then we will get around to what this person (now much older) thought of it.

Later on you'll see this kid and his Granddaughter

It’s not an awful film.  The production design is fantastic, and the cast is possibly the best assembled in a long time in any superhero film.  When the “Batfleck” controversy first popped up, I said he would be the best thing about this film—for better or for worse—and I was right.  Cavill completely personifies the look of Superman, even without trunks.  I had a lot of misgivings about Gal Gadot, but she certainly looks the part of Wonder Woman.  And, the best thing about Man of Steel, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, is back for the sequel.  (Though, would have been nice if she didn't have to get saved three times.) Good stuff.

However, it is definitely a Nolan film; bloated, overlong, filled with clunky dialogue, and desperately in need of an editor.  There’s probably a really good 100-120 minute film slogging around in these 150 minutes.  At times this film confuses “convoluted” for “complicated” especially in regard to Lex Luthor’s plan.  I love the idea he’s behind a smear campaign against Superman and has been pushing Batman into darker territory,   However, in trying to show you how cool it is, there’s a lot of extra fluff.  Luthor specifically mentioned at one point some “red ink” and notes to help push Batman over the edge, but as part of the tension building leading up to the capitol explosion, Wayne calls for records on his wounded employee, and upon seeing the notes Luthor is talking about mentions seeing them for the first time.  It’s a non-sequitur in a sea of non-sequiturs.  Scenes don’t play into each other, and the result is a sequence of events rather than a plot. 

What the film really suffers from though is being made in the wrong sequence.  This should not be the second film in a series, but rather the fourth or fifth.  For example, the movie tells us Superman is a trusted hero, and that’s why Lex needs to discredit him; where was Superman a trusted hero?  All we know is the Superman who DIDN’T save Metropolis from Man of Steel, (a fact viscerally driven home again in the beginning of this film).  I need the movie in the middle that shows me Superman gaining the trust of the people.  Batman is 20 years into a career beating up bad guys, and is cynical and brutal, likely lost a sidekick, and not nearly so protective of human life.   Interesting but not if I am supposed to take this series on it’s own merits. It is not an interesting character development if you don’t show me a sane Batman at some point.  Now, Zach Snyder loves telling stories out of sequence, so perhaps this all plays in subsequent films which will fill in the gaps; but I don’t have that yet, I only have Man of Steel and this film.  There is no gravitas when Superman sacrifices himself to stop Doomsday; I haven’t seen a reason to care about this emo alien.  Superman died; so what?  You are TELLING me that’s a big deal, but never SHOW me.  And that is the biggest flaw here.  This movie repeatedly tells and does not show.  The short montage of Supergrim Superman saving people with a look on his face like he’s already tired of all this shit doesn’t show me the hero who is later slandered into people fearing him and Batman wanting to literally kill him; it kind of makes Supes out to be a jerk.

The hints at a larger DC universe are nice, even if brief.  Wonder Woman, who is well presented for the 20 or so minutes of screen time she has, has well, 20 minutes of screen time, and is barely more than a cameo.  The future Flash appearance, tied to the as yet unexplained (but I am willing to wait) vision Bruce Wayne has of the coming of Darkseid is as fast as the speedster himself. The fact there’s an Aquaman action figure in stores for his 9 seconds of footage leaves me scratching my head.

Actually, the fact there are action figures in stores aimed toward kids at all leaves me scratching my head.  This is a dark, brutal movie.  In the first 15 minutes we get at least three gunshots to the face, a city falling on thousands, a little girl crying at the fire her mom was in, and a slaughtered African village.  I don’t mind “grown up” super tales, but this is a movie that had really earned its PG-13, and still had two hours and fifteen minutes to go.  We see people branded, immolated, crushed, shot, their faces sliced open with spears…and that’s just what Batman’s up to.  There’s also bare knuckle fight club, legs crushed off, mothers going to be flame-throwered, and a suicide bomber.  In a dream, Superman executes prisoners with heat vision and rips Batman’s still beating heart from his chest.  This is not about Batman and Superman punching bad guys, this is a brutal cacophony of violence.   Nothing here should be marketed to kids. I am again not against violence in a superhero film, heck, I really like Snyder’s Watchmen.  But this is Superman and Batman and toys for four years olds are in stores, including dress up gear so YOU can go around your neighborhood and brand your friends or rip out their hearts. Here’s where I have to stop talking about the movie as a movie, and start discussing Superman and Batman.

Here’s everything you need to know about Batman: he’s still a little boy who never ever wants to see anyone die. That’s it, everything else about him is driven by that.  Not here.  Here, like the mistaken Tim Burton before, this Batman racks up a body count.  Here’s everything you need to know about Superman: if he were a human born to the Kents and had no super powers at all, he would still be out there doing the right thing and inspiring others to do that as well.  Here, he is nothing but burdened by his powers.  Henry Cavill, who was amazingly charismatic in “Man from UNCLE” is not allowed to enjoy being Superman for even a moment, and does nothing but question if he’s actually helping.  Now, I don’t need the raw “gee whiz” of Christopher Reeve (though, it would certainly help), but at least give me a reason to like this guy other than I am supposed to because he’s Superman.  This is a deconstruction of Superman and Batman, taking the elements of the mythology and showing how awful they would be in the real world…
…just like “The Dark Knight Returns.”  And here is the fundamental devil in these details.  DKR, which came out in the 80s the same time Watchmen did, like Watchmen, is a deconstruction of the superhero myth.  It shows us why those impossibly good superheroes can’t really be impossibly good. It is a fine literary criticism of the superhero genre for that, just like Watchmen was.  However, rather than leave it in the dystopian future realm of a one-off story, the fact fans like me (and yes, I am guilty) loved it so much meant WB has gone back to that well again and again.  Now, for 30 of Batman’s 77-year history, we’ve been deconstructing the poor psychotic bastard and not let anyone put him back together again.  Both film and comic have now done that with Superman as well.  Here’s a hint, Superman IS the impossibly good hero who can’t exist in the real world.  That’s the point: The aspirations he allows us to imagine, inspiring us to be more (I’ve talked at length about that here).  Man of Steel and this movie are like Watchmen, and I don’t think I need that anymore, I think I’ve had enough.   I know I sure as hell don’t want that out of a Superman movie.  If you’ve made a Superman film that you can’t take a ten-year-old to, you have failed.  If you make a Superman film that doesn’t fill the audience with hope,  you’ve failed.  If you give me  Superman who doesn’t reflect  the best we SHOULD be, rather than mixed bag we are, then you’ve failed.

I know, you’re sitting there saying, “Dan, it’s 2016; George Reeves and Christopher Reeve and heroes who stick happily to their moral code are a thing of the past and can’t be done for a modern audience.  No one wants to see that.”

Cap and I call “bullshit.”

So, for me as a Superman fan, this movie fails.  As a Batman fan, there’s some stuff to like, and Affleck pulls it off.  As a Wonder Woman fan, it leaves me wanting more, which I suppose is success. 

It’s not a terrible movie.  But it’s something I never need to sit through again, unless it’s to edit it myself.  I do hope someone here learns a lesson and when Superman pops out of that coffin (c’mon, can you telegraph THAT any more loudly?) he’s found a sense of humor in the afterlife.  A new respect for truth and justice.  A desire to SHOW me he’s a hero, and that he can inspire us all to do better rather than just TELL me. 

I don’t need funny, I don’t need corny, but I sure do need Superman.

And so do we all.

Friday, March 18, 2016

I may have been wrong about some Star Wars.

I tweeted about this the other day, but felt I wanted to play with the concept a little more in depth.  Let me start out by saying that I don’t hate Episodes I-III the way a lot of my generation does.  When I say my generation, I am talking about people who saw at least one Episode of the OT first run in a theater.  We have a tendency to express a lot of displeasure with the Prequels.  Though I enjoy them, I recognize issues (though, don’t forget there are plenty of issues with the OT), and one of the ones I hated the most was the absolutely horrendous performances by Hayden Christiansen and Natalie Portman in portraying Anakin and Padme’s relationship.  Bad dialogue, cardboard performances; I even recently posited they should do a cut of II and III where they actually replace the live-action Anakin with the animated version from The Clone Wars.
More believable.

But, I had a thought the other day that makes me wonder if perhaps I—and many other critics—have missed the point all along.  There might be something much deeper going on that makes both the dialogue and the performances exactly what they should be, and improve the quality of the prequels in its acceptance. 

And if there are younger other fans out there saying, “well of course!” please pardon my ignorance and allow me to proselytize to others.

Let’s take a look at Anakin Skywalker.  Here’s a kid who was a slave.  The only person he was ever really able to get close to was his Mother, and though granted certain autonomy, lives under the constant threat of a violent death if he displeases his exploitative master.  From this socially isolated environment, he is taken in by a group of Warrior Monks where he spends the majority of his time in meditation, combat training. Add to this he is constantly reminded by people around him that he’s different for starting the training late, only around because Yoda wanted to help Obi-Wan fulfill a promise, and oh MIGHT be the person who will fulfill some ambiguous prophecy from the distant past.  Aside from his friendship with Obi-Wan, the only person who has really shown him true kindness aside from his month and Qui-Gon is Padme.  However, the Jedi have spend a decade telling him he CANNOT have that connection, that those links and relationships are forbidden. 

How could he possibly pursue romance like a normal human being?  He must be emotionally stunted, completely unpracticed in dealing with the opposite gender, and still fixated on this one girl who was a pre-pubescent crush who over a decade has probably been promoted in his mind to an impossible reality.  Of course he’s awkward, wooden, obsessive, and immature.  He has no idea how to be anything else.

Then there’s Padme.  Here’s a girl who when she should have been finishing an education and hanging out at the local Naboo Boy-Band Concerts was actually in a position requiring her to rule a planet.  Ruling a planet that was already suffering racial discord (humans versus gunguns) and then suffers invasion and war.  After liberating her world, she becomes a Senator to the Republic, likely to replace that nice Senator Palpatine who is now Chancellor.  She never has a childhood.  She’s spent her life a target enough to need look-alike hand maidens who act as secret service and decoys.  Those would be the people with whom she is closest, virtual twins who she sees die in her place periodically.  What does she know about actually carrying on a romance?  Ascension guns up the side of Theed Palace do not prepare a 15 year old girl for having a normal relationship. 

Along comes Anakin, and Padme sees he’s clumsy in his approach to her, and here finally is someone she does not have to put on airs for, or act like a Senator, Queen, or Liberator.  She can just be Padme, and even she isn’t really sure who that is. 

Finally in Episode III, they know it must all come to an end.  Padme is pregnant, and huge gowns and clever waistlines will not hide that fact forever.  Eventually someone is going to ask who the other parent is.  Eventually, either Padme or Anakin are going to have to give up everything they have and are and make a choice.  And that terrifying change is gestating in Padme with every minute.

So, Padme and Anakin’s conversations and romance are clumsy and poorly worded.  Their love seems to be aping what real romance would be; perfect, that is perhaps exactly what it should be.  How else should we really expect two people who must be completely socially retarded (in the literal, clinical sense) to be?

Maybe this was exactly right all along.

And I don't think I can blame Lucas for this Lazer Boner.