briarwood: (BTVS BuffyPain)
Morgan Briarwood ([personal profile] briarwood) wrote2016-03-29 06:32 pm

How I spent my Easter weekend

Thursday: I went to the midnight premiere of Batman v Superman. I didn't have high expectations and wouldn't have bothered with the midnight thing but for two things: this was the only way I could see it as a double-bill and I only saw Man of Steel once so wanted to refresh my memory. Second the next day was a holiday I could sleep late without having to use up my annual leave.

Turns out this movie was the final piece of evidence I needed to prove my personal highly (un)scientific rule of superhero movies: if it's Marvel it will be far better than I expect it to be. If it's DC, the inverse is true. If I think it's gonna be okay, it will suck harder than I ever thought possible.

I spent Easter weekend watching Nolan's Batman Trilogy in order to scrub BvS out of my brain.

I am quite certain my opinion counts for nothing with whomever has power over these movies but on the slim chance someone with influence will read this, please, I beg you do not ever let Zack Snyder direct another movie based on a comic book. Ever. The man is the M.Night Shyamalan of the comic book world: he did okay with one movie but whatever magic he once had has since turned EVIL.

And you know, I really wanted to love these films. I didn't hate Man of Steel. I didn't have an issue with Superman killing Zod which apparently was a huge problem for many fans. The way it was done, the guy needed killing and Superman didn't have another option. There was a lot to like in Man of Steel: Lois Lane, tough, smart, actually had some agency and didn't come across as galactically stupid for failing to see through a pair of glasses because their relationship didn't play out that way. I loved Diane Lane as Martha Kent (then again, I'd love Diane Lane reading the phone book), and I enjoyed the take on Krypton and Superman's origins. I liked Henry Cavil as Clarke Kent/Superman (Dean Cain will forever be "my" Superman, just like Tom Baker is my Doctor Who. But I can accept others in both roles). The overdone CGI world-destroying climax was the first film's main weakness, but that OTT final-act showdown is something all superhero movies do, and rarely do well. It seemed like an okay reboot.

Okay, I've tried to avoid huge spoilers, but the rest discusses the BvS movie, so here's the cut:

Batman v Superman begins with that battle, showing the destruction from Bruce Wayne's perspective. This was actually effective, in spite of the tasteless 9/11 reference, and I thought it laid a decent foundation for some conflict between the two heroes.

And let me be clear: my hatred of this movie is not a hatred of Ben Afleck's Batman. He was great. Yes, his fight scenes were brutal and yes, he killed. Rather a lot. But Batman should be just a little bit, well, psychotic. The man dresses up as a bat to fight crime for fuck's sake! Afleck did good. He was every bit as convincing as Christian Bale. I'm not prepared to say better, but certainly just as good and with much crappier material.

But, after laying a decent foundation in the first 20 minutes, the rest of the movie just...just...makes no freaking sense!

Lex Luthor - he's supposed to be super-smart, a master strategist, a worthy adversary for Superman who, let's face it, is basically a god. In this film he's, um, well, kinda all the villains in the Adam West version of Batman (sans the silly costumes) in one cute and perky little package. He's not remotely threatening. He has no particular reason for wanting Batman and Supes to fight (I guess he just thinks it would be cool?) and his plot appears ridiculously convoluted, especially given that they were at odds before he stuck his oar in. It's convoluted, but also has no evident goal except maybe chaos (and if that's the case, they should have gone with the Joker). There's no master plan to be foiled, no dire consequence should Lex succeed in his diabolical machinations.

And then there's Wonder Woman. She's been getting great reviews, and they are right - she's fabulous. But she's also criminally under-used and has no depth of character. Her role in the film is a lite-version of Selina Kyle in Dark Knight Rises: she shows up at the beginning in her Diana Prince guise (well, presumably - I don't remember anyone actually naming her on screen) to steal something (from Lex, rather than Bruce, though Bruce wants it too). She pops up once more to have an enigmatic conversation with Bruce Wayne and then leaps in to save the day in the final fight. Which I admit, she does awesomely. But outside of the action scenes it's a textbook in how NOT to portray woman superheroes. She's kick-ass and awesome when she finally appears in costume, but otherwise, she's just not interesting. Natasha Romanov has more depth in just one scene of the Avengers. Any of her scenes. Even one where she doesn't talk. And this is Wonder Woman! It's insane. Not that anyone should be shocked by this in a Zack "Sucker Punch" Snyder movie.

Again, nothing against Gal Godot in the role, but there's not enough here for me to say I like her. I am still looking forward to her solo film, though.

Was there anything I liked in the film?

  • Lois Lane. Once again, though she has a smaller role to play, she's smart, an equal in her relationship with Clarke/Superman (not an idiot who can't tell they are the same person) and has agency.

  • The sub-plot about Superman's responsibility for the destruction in Man of Steel. He's not directly to blame: the destruction was caused by Zod and the other Kryptonians, and it was deliberate. (Indirectly, yes, since Zod wouldn't have come to Earth if Kal-El weren't here.) But the idea that the question has to be asked, and that this god-like hero should accept his share of the responsibility fits well into the world of the movie. It's a pity that wasn't explored more fully; instead it's just the plot device that kicks off Lex Luthor's incomprehensible not-a-real-plan.

  • The hints of a wider DC universe. While I will not forgive them for excluding the TV version of Flash, I'm genuinely excited for the Aquaman movie and it was really cool to see hints of what might come next. I'd like to see a stand-alone Batman with Ben Afleck. (Something I never thought I'd say.) I'd like to see what he can do with the character going forward. Jeremy Irons as Alfred was brilliant, but I did miss Morgan Freeman.

  • The end. I don't want to spoil it. It's the only part of the movie which really deserves spoiler-protection. But that whole thing about Supes taking responsibility played out in the climax in a way I did find satisfying, if a bit of a weird choice.

  • Wonder Woman - awesome to see her on the big screen at last, unforgivable that it wasn't in Joss Whedon's movie (if anyone can do right by Wonder Woman, come on, that's a no brainer!) jury remains out on whether Gal Godot can carry the character in a solo movie. I sure hope she can.

But none of these things overshadow the sheer horrible mess that is most of the film. What really hurts is how easy it would be to fix most of these things.

If I ruled the world...

1. I'll bet that in an early draft somewhere Lex Luthor's motivation was tied in to his father's death. There was a brief mention of his dead dad that seemed a bit out of left-field. If I were writing the fanfic missing scenes, criminal mastermind Lex Luthor snr would have been killed in the climactic battle of Man of Steel, leaving his son, an unprepared kid, to inherit not just his commercial empire, but also his criminal master plan. The son, Lex Luthor jr, is totally overwhelmed and doing his best to live up to the legacy, and eliminating the two superheroes is the obvious first step for both the criminal enterprise and for revenge. If fact, I'd swap that for the Bruce Wayne POV opening, or maybe intercut them.

2. Diana Prince needed a pre-existing relationship with Bruce Wayne. I don't mean romantic, but they obviously move in the same circles so I'd make it clearer that they are acquainted with each other out of costume. Then I could use each learning the other's secrets to give a bit of depth to both characters. (Actually that sets up a much more interesting potential conflict that BvS, since it's a more even and more morally complex fight.)

3. Less CGI. A lot less CGI. CGI has its place. In big showcase movies like this, it's a lot cheaper than actually building a city to blow up, and it allows the super-heroes to do stuff that's actually, you know, super-human. But it can also get in the way of good storytelling. It doesn't matter how spectacular it is if the audience doesn't give a crap. Every frame of CGI should either advance the plot and character or be left on the cutting room floor.

4. What's the deal with Batman's prophetic visions? You know what, I don't care. Even if that's part of the comics or is setting up some important future stuff, it doesn't work at all. It was laughably ridiculous in fact. Batman needs to be human and grounded in reality, or he just doesn't work as a character. On a similar subject, the final scene with Lex that's obviously setting up some cosmic super-villain for the future wasn't only unnecessary, it felt like a guilty plea on the part of the movie (like they were saying "Okay, I know this sucks, but the next one will be good. Please don't hate me!")

5. I understand why Superman was fighting Batman. He didn't like the Bat anyway (vigilante justice isn't Supe's way) and then Lex forced him into the fight. I didn't really buy why Batman went into a fight where he was so obviously overmatched. Yeah, yeah, stolen Kryptonite, big deal. It actually would have made a lot more sense for him to challenge Superman as Bruce Wayne: see above re. taking responsibility for destroying a city. And if they'd set it up that way, putting Bruce alongside Helen Hunt's senator character, the eventual smackdown and subsequent alliance would have worked so much better.

Lastly, the "Martha" thing. Critics have been making a big deal of this (what stops the fight is the fact that both their mothers have the same name), but actually it worked for me. It fit both characters, because fundamentally they are both heroes. They needed a reason to stop with the boxing match and start talking, to see the humanity in each other. That coincidence and confusion provided it. I would have liked to see a return to that in the final frames, just to round it off.

In short, it's awful. And it shouldn't have been.