Miscellaneous Post: Batman v Superman v Captain America
****Spoilers for both Dawn of Justice and Civil War below!***
I love Batman and the Bat-family.
Let me clarify that at the beginning of this little essay.
It’s hard, sometimes, to choose who I like more, out of Bruce, Dick, or Tim, and by extension their associated cohorts (such as Clark Kent, Roy Harper, or Conner Kent).
When I first heard that Ben Affleck was to portray Batman in the sequel to Man of Steel, I was highly skeptical. And I don’t dislike Affleck, like so many people seem to do. I was just… underwhelmed by the casting choice, I suppose.
And then he turned out to be the highlight of the disaster that is Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
…Let me start from the beginning.
I knew that Man of Steel was going to be terrible from the very first trailer that I ever saw for it. It looked gloomy, with a washed-out color scheme. It looked overly dramatic, and not in a superhero movie sort of way. Then of course came the ultimate stamp of impending doom: it was a Nolan/Goyer-written production. The team that brought you a growling Batman in a city that is clearly Chicago despite the wonderful world-building in their first movie, among further travesties to canon, logic, and the passage of time in the third installment of the Nolanverse trilogy. And it was to be directed by Zack Snyder, the man that brought us a fairly faithful rendition of Watchmen, or so I’m told as I’ve never read it, yet had one of the most horrifically awkward sex scenes ever.
Fast forward to actually seeing Man of Steel, and all of my fears–and then some–were realized: it was boring, barely had any Clark in it, had a stupid-useless death of Pa Kent, hideous dialogue (evolution does not always win!), and more “destruction porn” than you can shake a stick at, if you were prone to shaking sticks at ridiculous, over-the-top things.
So, when I heard that the inevitable sequel to Man of Steel was to have Batman in it, I was less than pleased. We had just suffered through Nolan destroying the character; did Snyder really need a chance to do it, too?
And gradually it became much more than just an extension of a personalityless Superman glowering and a potentially miscast Batman arguing with him. The film was to introduce Wonder Woman. And Lex Luthor. And somehow Aquaman and Cyborg. And then the Flash. Most of whom seemed to have questionable casting choices–Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor? A woman I’d never heard of but who is apparently underwhelming for Wonder Woman? Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth?
My fears–or perhaps skepticism is a better word–were realized when the first ten minutes or so of the film were spent on Batman’s origin story. You know, the story that makes up a good chunk of Batman Begins, which came out a mere eleven years ago. The story retold in countless cartoons and books, and previous Batman movies. The story that pretty much EVERYONE going to see the movie is familiar with, and really served no purpose in the overall film, especially considering Batman is not a young man just starting on his quest at the beginning of BvS.
Oh wait, without the retelling of the story, we might not know that Bruce’s mother is named “Martha.” Like the camera doesn’t focus on her gravestone quite obviously when Bruce is moping there.
You know what they could have spent that runtime real estate on? Explaining why Bruce Wayne is living in his guest house, with his mansion burned to the ground. Or perhaps giving Wonder Woman a better introduction; she isn’t even NAMED ON-SCREEN except by a flight attendant. Maybe developing the actual Lex Luthor and not some weird knock-off version of the character? Maybe they could even give Superman–or better yet, Clark–a personality. Or maybe use those precious minutes spliced throughout the film to tie together the next two hours into an actual cohesive narrative, rather than a bunch of unrelated scenes that happened to have Bruce, Superman, or Lex in them?
The viewers were not allowed nice things.
The film began with an unnecessary backstory, and ended with an utterly unconvincing death.
Mixed in were too many dream sequences to count, unearned deaths of canonical characters (I didn’t even realize the photographer at the beginning was Jimmy Olsen until later on), an awkward bathtub scene, needless fighting, the ultimate Superman big bad villain shoehorned in for no conceivable reason other than to facilitate that needless and unconvincing death, and a Lex Luthor that has the same haircut as Black Widow.
All of it overlaid by the color gray, a visual representation of the depression the overly-serious film caused. Canonically Batman and Superman are snarky with each other–Batman isn’t always grim, the same way Superman isn’t always the Boy Scout. There can be a level of humor injected into any film, no matter how serious; there has to be to break the tension. It’s a movie, a comic book movie in fact, not a documentary or breaking news.
And I didn’t even yet mention some of the utterly infuriating parts, like where reporter Clark Kent doesn’t know who businessman Bruce Wayne is (despite the fact Bruce owns the Daily Planet). Or how rather than talk with Superman, Batman just wants to kill him, especially when it’s clear that Superman has something important to say about MARTHA. Or how Superman doesn’t use his powers to find his mother, or find the bomb in the courtroom, or save Jimmy, yet when Lois manages to fall from a building, he’s right there.
One of the criteria I use to analyze action movies for this site is “M is for… Motivation.” Most of the time the villains want money, or power, or revenge, while the hero wants revenge, or to save a loved one, or to stop the destruction of a particular region or group of people. One of the biggest problems in BvS is that the characters’ motivations are unclear. Why is Lex building a Kryptonian monster (that, yes, turned out to be Doomsday, but why is he doing that?)? Why was Batman just SO ANGRY with Superman that he saw murder as the only way out, considering they’re barely shown interacting the entire film? Why didn’t Superman do anything to make himself memorable or interesting in his own movie, so that he wasn’t overshadowed by the weirdo villain(s) and his…nemesis? Was Batman even Batmanning at all during Superman’s Supermanning? Do they know each other well enough to hate each other the way they do?
It was all just a mess, and not one where I think, “Well, I should see it again so it’ll make more sense.”
Please, don’t make me sit through the travesty that is Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice again.
It’s as if the sole purpose of the movie was to get the Justice League started so DC could finally compete with Marvel on the silver screen, a goal for which DC is so woefully unprepared it would be funny if it weren’t so sad.
Actually, it’s still pretty funny, transparently shoving a handful of extraneous characters into what should be a Superman movie in order to launch a team. Why not just… do a movie that develops the team? Just do a live action version of the first episode of Justice League, or something similar. The cartoon is proof that it works.
I know that once upon a time, BvS was supposed to open the same day as Captain America 3: Civil War. The powers that be wisely chose to not have that happen. Instead, BvS opened first, to lackluster reviews (my favorite of which makes me laugh out loud at a particular line), and a precipitously dropping box office. Confirming with Box Office Mojo, the total box office haul as of May 12th for BvS is $868,185,193. That’s an impressive total for a movie that hasn’t even been out for two months, right?
Sure, until it’s understood that in less than a week, Cap 3 has grossed $765,868,509.
I don’t normally care about box office, considering the way ticket prices are highway robbery and sales don’t at all reflect the quality of a movie, but I thought it an interesting comparison here, with similar movies with presumably nearly identical audiences coming out only a few weeks apart. People aren’t seeing BvS for a second time. I’m going to see Cap 3 again tomorrow.
In almost any category, at least in my opinion, Cap trumps Supes. It’s not fair to discuss casting, because everyone in Cap 3 was already established, but that’s related to one of the strong points in the film–all of the characters exist, and the film develops them even more than they were already. The film successfully juggles 10 existing heroes and a new villain, while introducing two new heroes, and also moving the overall universe’s story, while also having a coherent plot and a villain with clear motivation.
In Cap 3, my heart went out to everyone–Cap, Tony, Bucky, all of the former friends fighting each other. Towards the end, when Tony watches his life flash before his eyes, if you know what I mean… Ouch. He really thinks Cap is going to smash his face in with that shield.
In BvS, I was bored by Supes’s death (especially knowing there’s no way he was going to stay dead for keeps), and still confused by what Doomsday was doing in a movie where the main draw–Batman fighting Superman–was so poorly written that the whole “Martha” thing was just hilariously awful, and awfully hilarious. Why not do a better job writing the actual story, and spend less time shoving a major villain into the last fifteen minutes? Was it just to give Wonder Woman something to do? Didn’t anyone learn from the franchise-ruining catastrophe that was The Amazing Spider-Man 2?
Also, if I were a Superman fan, I’d be pissed that Batman clearly won their fight. Especially considering it was theoretically Superman’s movie.
I seem to be digressing again.
Cap 3 has heart, and agony, and a hell of a lot of humor that is in no way misplaced despite the gravitas of the main storyline. The characters’ motivations are clear, and there aren’t any obfuscating dream sequences or oppressive gloom.
It’s a film that can be watched many times and enjoyed for what it is: a solid superhero movie that delivers on its promises, without raising major questions about simple things like the plot.
It’s actually almost unfair to compare and contrast Dawn of Justice and Civil War, considering the former is the second film in a seemingly forced multi-movie universe, and the latter is the thirteenth film in a giant universe that just keeps expanding. But how does Cap 3 balance all of those characters and history, while BvS can barely keep interest in the handful of characters it has and doesn’t have to worry about continuity across a dozen other films?
All of the special effects and gimmicks in the world can’t compensate for the basic foundation of a film: its story. It needs a cogent plot, well-developed characters, and a reason to care about them, and BvS just doesn’t have enough of any of them.
I love Batman.
But Batman v Superman simply can’t compete with Captain America 3, other than illustrating that being an orphan is the first step to becoming a superhero.
The lack of ability for comparison really is almost embarrassing.
Maybe they should let Affleck direct the rest of the Batman/Superman/Justice League movies. I think everyone can agree he’s a much better director than he is an actor.
Just think of that when remembering that his Bruce Wayne is the highlight of BvS…