Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A spoiler-filled discussion of BATMAN V. SUPERMAN

Because at least one person demanded* it! My spoiler discussion of Batman v. Superman!

*asked politely

I don't want to repeat too many points from my original review, so if there's something here you're disappointed I didn't touch on, you might want to check the older post out. You've been warned - venture beyond here and you're gonna get spoiled.

The Senate explosion - I already talked about how confusing the whole Africa subplot was, and that storyline comes to an abrupt halt with the explosion in the Senate chamber. It felt completely false that there was zero fallout in the rest of the story. It feels like there's not any urgency at all to finding out who blew up the legislative branch of the government. At a minimum, a dozen Senators and a whole mess of spectators had to have been killed there. You mean to tell me no one cares? Why isn't Batman trying to piece together what happened? Why isn't Clark Kent, investigative reporter on the trail?

Superman's inaction after the blast really bugs me too. I can accept him being caught flatfooted by the bomb, but why isn't he zooming through the wreckage, rushing to help survivors? Or maybe he could at least put out the fire? Check to make sure there's not another bomb?

"Martha" - This is already becoming a much-mocked point in the film. Batman is about to kill Superman with a kryptonite spear when Superman starts begging him to save his mother, Martha. This gives Bruce pause, and several critics have mocked the idea that Batman can't kill him just because their mothers share the same name. I'm a little torn on this point. It does feel a little like the writer is impressed with their own cleverness in noting that the characters have mothers of the same name.

But stepping back, I think the real intent here is that Batman is surprised that this alien has a mother with a human name. It's the first real indication he has that this all-powerful being has some kind of genuine tie to humanity. It's a beat that would have worked better if we sensed real conflict in him about taking another life. Batman's moral code is usually against killing. In this film, he's faced with a threat that he believes MUST be killed or else the entire human race is at stake. (Really, it parallels the same dilemma that Superman was faced with in the earlier film when it came to stopping Zod.) But if he really believes there's no other way to save mankind, what else can he do?

If we believe he can only rationalize this by seeing Superman as some kind of otherworldly being, then the moment that humanizes Superman would complicate that. It might even make him see Superman for what he really is rather than what he fears him to be. All the pieces are there for this, but the execution is only about 50% successful.

The Justice League files - This didn't bug me as much as it did some viewers, but it's still annoying that the film stops dead for three minutes so that Wonder Woman can watch video files that amount to being short teasers for other DC films. Within the context of the film, the idea that Luthor has been gathering intel on other super beings isn't a bad idea, it's the execution that's lacking. I don't think this ties enough back into the main plot, but the greater sin is that none of these teasers are especially interesting.

Too many dreams! - I struggle to see what purpose was served by the nightmare Bruce has inside his parents tomb. Was someone afraid we'd forget his parents were murdered.

That Flash scene -  You know that guy who appears to Bruce in the Bat Cave in what appears to be a dream? That's the Flash. I know he doesn't look much like any version who's appeared before, but the scene itself is a riff on a similar moment in Crisis on Infinite Earths. That moment was a case where Flash - in his final moments of life - is running so fast that he starts popping in and out of the timeline. He appears to Batman at a point just before the crisis starts and offers a warning of what's to come.

So why would they cast this moment as a dream inside the film? It might have been more straight-forward to make it clear to the audience that we're dealing with some kind of time travel. Of course, there's also the problem that this beat doesn't have any relevance beyond teasing JUSTICE LEAGUE. At the very least, Flash's warning should have had some bearing on Batman's actions within this film. As it stands now, it's completely gratuitous and it has the benefit of being incomprehensible to any of the audience not familiar with the comics.

Batman's nightmare - Here's the big one. At first blush, it seems to just be a paranoid nightmare about what Bruce fears Superman could become unchecked. That's a point that's made so many places elsewhere that we don't really need to burn valuable screentime on it here. However, there are indications something MUCH more is going on with this dream. The Omega symbol Batman sees is an icon often used to represent the villainous New God Darkseid, and the flying creatures that attack Bruce bear a not inconsiderable resemblance to Darkseid's parademons. All of this relies on information Bruce doesn't have, so it's likely some kind of premonition.

I don't like the concept of giving Batman psychic dreams, no matter how artfully shot. It seems like an easy way to give him information he couldn't get otherwise. It's even more annoying since this thread isn't really resolved in this film. It's the "Thor takes a bath" sequence from AGE OF ULTRON. It looks great on screen, but it's also kind of a momentum killer.

This is also the sequence that gives me serious misgivings about JUSTICE LEAGUE. One of the very first Darkseid stories I read involved him capturing Superman and attempting to brainwash him into being one of his minions. It's a storyline that's been revisited a number of times, including a storyline on the animated series where Darkseid actually succeeded and a mind-controlled Superman led his conquest of Earth. I really, really hope that we're not teed up to get a JUSTICE LEAGUE movie where Superman is the bad guy. BvS already gives Superman short-shrift, and turning him evil, even temporarily would be an even more gross mishandling of the character.

The Death of Superman - *sigh* Ever since the comic book storyline of Superman's death and return broke sales records, WB has had an itch to retell it onscreen somehow. The death and return of Superman was central to the aborted SUPERMAN LIVES (the 90s project that had Tim Burton, Nicholas Cage and Kevin Smith attached), it was an element in the J.J. Abrams script that was killed to make room for Superman Returns, and it was the first DC Animated film.

The comic book storyline is actually a trilogy and it's pretty great. "Doomsday" is mostly a slugfest that culminates in Superman's death, but the next chapter, "Funeral for a Friend" is a well-crafted, emotional series of stories about how the world copes with Superman's death. It's a high point of that era of comics and it leads into "Reign of the Superman," where four Supermen show up, each one claiming to be the real deal.

Those are some my favorite Superman stories, but they're virtually unadaptable. The animated movie makes the problems abundantly clear. Killing Superman is a major climax. If you put it at the end of a film, with the intent to follow up in the next chapter, your movie ends on a major downer. But if you place it earlier in the story, you run the risk of creating an anticlimax. On top of that, for his death to have ANY weight at all, you're now stuck with a story where your lead character has to be inert for a decent amount of time so you can build up to his return. And if you want to give his return the same kind of triumphant buildup as in the comic storyline, you'll have to jam a lot of story into a two-hour period.

But this is the situation that JUSTICE LEAGUE now has to deal with. We open with a dead Superman, probably who will be resurrected by Darkseid to act as his herald on Earth. Batman v. Superman closes with a funeral (and a small hint of resurrection), thereby killing any feel-good buzz that might have drawn audiences back to theatres for a second viewing.

Worse, they don't just kill Superman - they kill Clark Kent. In the comics, Clark was merely missing and presumed dead during the period Superman was deceased. It forced Clark to be creative in explaining his absence once he was revived, but ultimately it was no real problem for him to resume his life. Right now, the world not only knows Clark is dead, but they've seen the body! It completely screws over any solo Superman stories in the franchise later.

Reporter Clark Kent didn't emerge until the final scene of MAN OF STEEL, and even in BVS, it feels like the script doesn't have much to give Clark to do in his day job. The scenes of him at the Daily Planet feel perfunctory, and Cavill seems robbed of the chance to create a true alter ego in the way that Christopher Reeve did. Clark Kent is a vital part of the mythos and I can't imagine a Superman film where he's a full-time Superhero, with no day job for Kent.

If we're being brutally honest here, even if I focus on the positive elements in Batman v. Superman, almost every moment that was there to set up later films made me actively dread what awaits us down the line. The sole exception to this is Wonder Woman. I don't think that's the reaction WB was trying to foster with all the franchise foreshadowing.


  1. Was anyone else as immensely disappointed as I was that we didn't get to see Superman stand trial? The explosion was a decent callback and twist (particular praise to Holly Hunter- whose shift in expression really sells the scene), but I can't help but feel angry that they took a potentially interesting plot development and tossed it away for a decent twist that ultimately amounts to very little.

    This could have been the moment we- and the story world - finally got to know this Superman. I defended Man of Steel not taking the time to develop the character, this was supposed to be his time in the sun (pun intended), but no, we needed an explosion.

    Further, I find it absurd that this Superman cries out in horror after killing Zod, yet all we get when people literally *burst into flames* around him is "light sad face". Not him dropping to his knees, no horror, just "well... didn't see that coming".

    If I seem angry, it's just because I am. I had to watch in disgust as the children in my theater saw a character who, in many ways, is a children's icon, bastardized and mishandled by people who simply don't understand his character, and continue to try their damndest to "make him cool" (I.E make him Batman).

    1. Yeah, that one shot of him just standing there in the flames felt so wrong. Superman's inaction there is one of those things I just find very difficult to defend. It's wrong for the character, and it's one I can't even rationalize for this particular version of the character.

      At the very least, it would have been nice to let Supes speak in that scene before the big boom. If you're gonna burn all that screen time in the Senate at least make it pay off in terms of his character.

  2. I think killing off Clark Kent actually solves the problem of how no one sees Superman as Clark Kent. If Kent is dead, he can't possibly be Superman.

    As to his inaction in Congress, I took that to mean he was just so disappointed in humanity. This is punctuated by his line, "There is no good in this world." I may have misheard the line as he flies away from Lois. He's tried to do good, but all it has brought is resentment

  3. Thanks! It's almost like I brought a small piece of civility to the internet. Almost.

    It's too bad the flaws in BvS overshadow what it achieves. I guess that comes with the territory of any film but especially something like this.

    There were moments when I thought that someone like the Wayans brothers or the National Lampoon staff would have a parody of this thing written in their heads from the time they left their seats to when they arrived in the theater parking lot. I didn't like that I had that thought of that DURING the movie.

    I also couldn't help but think this: my mother's name is Buanna. If I ever develop superpowers and end up fighting another meta-human to the death, if our survival and that of the planet's hinges on the other superhero having the same last name as MY mom, then the world is SCREWED!

    You've had a few tweets about THE PEOPLE vs OJ, so I'm hoping we get post with your takes on that soon. (might as well ask - I'm on a roll)

  4. "I really, really hope that we're not teed up to get a JUSTICE LEAGUE movie where Superman is the bad guy." This is exactly what they're going for, because Zack Snyder hates Superman.

    1. I've seen this crop up as a talking point elsewhere and I don't really buy that argument at all. "Misunderstands him?" Definitely. "Bases his conception of the character on an interpretation that was deliberately out of character," ABSOLUTELY.

      Hates him? No. If he hated Superman, he'd have never given nearly three years of his life over to MAN OF STEEL, nor would he likely have stuck around for several sequels.

      He wouldn't be the first creator to take entirely the wrong lessons from THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, though.