Batman v Superman: Postmortem

04/13/2016  By  Front Row Central     No comments

Critics and audiences have spoken: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a screeching calamity by pretty much every metric. First the critics beat it to a pulp, garnering a 28% RottenTomatoes score. Then, moviegoers sent its second weekend box office take plummeting by nearly 70%. Finally, it lost the top spot in its third weekend to the Melissa McCarthy comedy The Boss. In a word, Batman v Superman sucks.

And yet, for some reason, we can’t stop talking amongst ourselves about it. We’re not here to review the film; we’ve done that already. Today, we at Front Row Central — along with comic book expert/colossal nerd Jeff Martin — are here to pick apart what happens when a giant corporation turns a symbol of hope into a clunky monstrosity with a messiah complex. Beware spoilers!

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For starters, let’s ask the big question:

WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?

MARTIN R. SCHNEIDER: There’s… a lot of answers to that question. People want to point to Zack Snyder as the primary problem and I understand that. But I think the first mistake happened when they went to David Goyer for the script, and then definitely engaging in some corporate fuckery with what they were given. I’m not saying it doesn’t make sense to go with the man who wrote The Dark Knight and Man of Steel, but it was clear that there were too many ideas and ridiculous mandates for “world-building” which came at the expense of logic and storytelling. Man of Steel wasn’t one of my favorite films, but it at least poked at some interesting themes which BvS doesn’t even attempt to expand upon.

We’re explicitly told, over and over again, that Superman = Jesus. But so what? You put forward that statement, but have no follow-through. The film walks this weird tightrope where it clearly wants to be taken more seriously than a spandex punch-a-thon, but when you attempt to dissect it more than that, it completely falls apart. Like the painting that Lex Luthor points at consistently, there are a few great images here and there to unpack, but that’s all they are: a handful of images. Nothing in the story, characterization, or dialogue does anything to push these motifs further, and that’s why the entire first hour or so seems to merely exist, just doing nothing until the fight starts and then ends too quickly.

ASHLEY HERALD: Marty is right, the first thing to look at is the screenplay, which seems to have four different script ideas mashed together like a DJ spinning their first rave.

Thing two is the characterization. The most likeable hero in this film is Wonder Woman, and she’s the hero who shows up the least. The rest of the time we have solipsistic, brooding Superman hallucinating his Kansas dad and generally not appearing to be overly concerned with morality, and Batman, who is so far gone that Alfred has given up, turning to a life of alcoholism and doing whatever Bruce asks. I understand that the DC flicks want very much to differentiate themselves from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and striking a different tone is an excellent way to do that, but not giving your audience a good character they’re invested in, who they want to get behind and see succeed, is a definite misstep. We’re told that Superman does heroic and worthwhile things, but we barely see it; if he had a pointed Save the Cat moment that would have done a lot to redeem his arc.

But, as mentioned above, the screenplay simply has too many irons in the fire. You can’t focus on really building Superman’s character, AND focus on doing the same for Batman, AND spin a mystery around Wonder Woman, AND cover Lois Lane’s career choices, AND follow Lex’s political and corporate schemes. Something has to give, and by choosing to cover it all, what ended up giving was the integrity of the film’s story.

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Lex’s frat throws the worst fucking parties.

MARTY: I also think there was some misunderstanding of what exactly people didn’t like about Man of Steel, and some flip-flopping on how willing they would be to reverse course. That’s understandable, because I don’t think audiences fully understood what was offputting about MoS until much later. We all yelled about the destruction and Superman killing Zod at the end, but I think what the core problem there was that Superman comes across desperate and uncaring, basically unleashing a super-powered temper tantrum with little regard for those around him. (The cheap 9/11 imagery didn’t help, but BvS doubled-down on that one.)  As John D’Amico put it, “Superman without compassion is boring as hell.” I think that’s the real issue people had with it, but instead of correcting that, we get desperate lines of dialogue clarifying “It’s uninhabited!” or “It’s been evacuated!” to assure us of minimal collateral damage. It’s a Band-Aid over the actual problem, and it’s not just in this movie; Age of Ultron does it, too.

JEFF MARTIN: The baffling decisions they made in this movie are demystified when you look at its source material, and that story’s impact on how DC has moved forward their line in general (and Batman in particular) since 1986. Dark Knight Returns is a super famous Batman story about Batman coming out of retirement, putting on a sweet suit of armor, and punching Superman in the face, because Superman is basically a god who has sold out to the system. There’s a lot of dope subtext about how Batman needs to be allowed to grow, change, and evolve. DC looked at the success of Dark Knight Returns, decided “we need to emulate this!” and then completely failed to convey the lesson of the source material by failing to maintain the integrity of that material’s subtext. They aped the superficial elements: old Batman, sweet armor, punching Superman, generally grim, and downbeat tone, and that’s all that made it from the comic to the film.

If it sounds like they pulled the superficial elements from one story and mashed them up with the superficial elements of another, slightly less famous story (Death of Superman), hoping that combining elements of two successful things would make a bigger, more successful thing (and a buttload of money), that’s because that’s exactly what happened. Slavish dedication to text without recognizing the subtext defeats the point, and and as a result you get all these visual references and signifiers from the comic that mean nothing in the film, because they’re devoid of the things that gave them meaning.

It sucks real bad.

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Except for… y’know.

WAS THERE ANYTHING TO ENJOY?

ASH: Wonder Woman was great, of course, but if you saw the trailers, you essentially saw everything she did in the movie.

JOSEPH WADE: I realize this is the “what was good” section, and Wonder Woman was definitely the brightest spot in the film, but I still have a question about her role in this story. So the first time we meet her, she shows up at Lex Luthor’s house party, sneaks up on Bruce Wayne, burgles his little flash drive right out from under him and then flees the scene. Is this supposed to make us think she’s Catwoman? The way Gal Gadot is introduced in this film seems like a deliberate fakeout for the final reveal for when Wonder Woman arrives in the third act. Then again, the reason I’m raising this question at all is because it’s never made clear why she’s after what’s on that drive or even what she’s doing in the film in the first place.

But I’m willing to put that aside, because yes, Wonder Woman was awesome.

JEFF: Aquaman. The fact that a ten second clip of Aquaman was the highlight of the movie means this is the movie equivalent of the parallel universe where Hitler won the war. 

 

CAN THIS FRANCHISE BE SAVED?

MARTY: Who cares?

JOE: James Wan cares. Wan says he’s gonna bring some fun to his Aquaman movie, and I genuinely think he can do that. I believe in him. Hey, wait a minute. Is this… Is this what hope feels like? Wow, I’d forgotten!

ASH: Theoretically, yes? But they would probably have to give the creative reigns to a different set of people, and we all know that’s not gonna happen.

JEFF: Ash is right. Theoretically, you could save this franchise by handing it over to people who want to make movies about superheroes having adventures and not being miserable. But the two Detective Comics Comics Cinematic Universe movies that we’ve seen so far are grim, downbeat movies that are unfortunately in line with the product the parent company has been presenting for the last 25 years, so the odds of that are basically nil.

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But they’re gonna keep on tryin’, that’s for damn sure.

FINAL QUESTION: BEST/WORST MOMENT?

JEFF: The two godlike beings settling their differences in an instant when they find out their moms have the same name. If all our moms had the same name, maybe there would be no wars. Really makes you think…

MARTY: Jar of piss aside, I actually kind of liked the “Luthor bombs the Capitol” scene, I really loved the exasperated “oh goddammit” look on Cavill’s face, and I think if you want a harsher look at the “Superman can’t save everyone” ideal, that’s a pretty inventive way to do it.

JOE: For me, it’s every moment Jeremy Irons is onscreen. His take on Alfred is so broken and worn down from years of trying to reason with Bruce that he’s completely given up, hit the bottle and playing co-pilot to Batman because his fucking pension depends on it. He’s a senior employee trapped in a dead-end job and at this point I realize I’m just describing Jeremy Irons on the set of this movie. You deserve so much better than this, Jeremy.

Come back tomorrow for the second part of our postmortem!

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