Monday, 22 May 2017

[ Zack, we need to talk ]


Over three days, I watched the epic behemoth that is Batman v Superman; Dawn of Justice. The film is 151 minutes long (just over 2 and a half hours, for those whose math isn't great), and covers a lot of ground in that time.

The critics panned it horribly. And I'm not exaggerating, they really hated it, calling it everything from contemptuous and overblown, to idiotic and overly slapdash*.

I'm an old-school Batman and Superman fan from way back. Michael Keaton and Christopher Reeve will always be the penultimate actors, respectively, for me.

That being said, Christian Bale and Ben Affleck have certainly given Batman a lovely, serious and edgy feel. Dean Cain made Superman fun, while Henry Cavill is bringing sexy back (a la Reeve-style).

Despite the reviews (surely, it can't be that bad, right...?), I had reasonable hopes for BvS. The rather convincing magic of both Affleck and Cavill, whom at worst get described as bland and double bland, would inevitably conquer the misgivings I had about this film...

For those of you in the know, you are well aware how my enlightenment turned out; Dawn of Justice, without a doubt, sucked the joy right out of a superhero film. It left me feeling vaguely unsatisfied and largely confused. Hopeful, but still depressed - but we'll get to that in a minute.

Before we go in depth as to why I was rather frustrated with the whole BvS experience, let me make something clear; Ben Affleck did an alright job. Henry Cavill is matched by no one in his concerned-superhero face. Amy Smart is a delight, and even Gal Gadot (whom I wasn't that keen on as the new Wonder Woman anyway), did a pretty schmick job with what she had to work with**.

So who do I blame for this farce of a film? That's right, you guessed it; Zack Bloody Snyder. In order to truly understand my depth of displeasure, we need to go back a way and look at the most recent films before BvS and examine why this was always going to be a car crash.

We won't go in depth as far back as the nineties, but look more closely as the noughties films which remade the universe again and shaped the way Batman v Superman (should have) turned out.

Christopher Nolan has gone a long way in making me feel like my childhood hasn't completely been crushed beneath the Snyder cosmos. With edgy characters who got to develop some personality over time, a comicbook-like script, and some truly glorious scenic panorama, Batman Begins (2005) felt like the start of something wonderful. The start of a new adventure.

You are treated to an exceptional cast; Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Rutger Hauer, and, last but certainly not least, the unsurpassed Morgan Freeman.

BB harks directly back to the comics with Neeson as Ra's al Ghul, and Murphy as the truly creepy Scarecrow. The storyline is tight and a little moody, and does the origin story concept proud. Bale as the new Bruce Wayne was rather a stroke of genius, and Nolan should consistently pat himself on the back for that one.

The Dark Knight (2008) took the tale further, developing the character of Bale's Batman, introducing the surprising and well-formed villain of Two-Face, played wonderfully by Aaron Eckhart. Though this part of the story deviates from the comics somewhat, Nolan again wove a good yarn that fans could follow and feel involved with.
 
Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman returned to reprise their roles, like the stalwart and amazing professionals that they are. Then joined by Gary Oldman and Maggie Gyllenhaal,as 'Jim' Gordon and Rachel Dawes respectively, the latter having replaced Katie Holmes perhaps not entirely seamlessly, but convincingly enough that the film didn't suffer.

Let us not leave this piece without mentioning the late great Heath Ledger, for which TDK was his second-to-last film. With so many reasons to love Ledger, his portrayal of The Joker wasn't just another notch in the post, it was an almighty great smash.

Initially, and in some ways still, Ledger's death tainted the release of TDK. But fans rallied around the idea that something glorious had been created with The Joker here and, to this day, there is still the feeling that we got a better class of criminal

Completing the Nolan-made trilogy was The Dark Knight Rises in 2012. All your old favourites are back for another hurrah, and it introduces the slinky and sexy Selina Kyle played by the gorgeous Anne Hathaway (haters gonna hate), and Bane portrayed by the irresistible, brooding goodness that is Tom Hardy.

Another all-round adventure with depth, TDK rounded out the trilogy and made for some wonderful viewing. The caped crusader had returned!

***

In a parallel life, Superman Returns was a strangely hammy beast. Released not long after the first new Batman film of the noughties in 2006, Bryan Singer created a universe reminiscent of the campness of his 60's counterpart.

The film stars Brandon Routh as Clark Kent/Superman, Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane, Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor, with James Marsden, Frank Langella, and Parker Posey.

To be fair though, it was bloody good fun in a schmaltzy way. Routh was dreamy as our hero, what with his so-very-white teeth and his floppy hair. And the way he talks so earnestly to his sleeping son -  *Swoon!*

Spacey is one of my all-time favourite actors, so it's very hard to say a bad word about any of his performances. Though a little cringe-worthy, he plays it up with the best of them as the evil villain trying to build a new world, and in doing so makes you enjoy watching him being the baddie to Routh's goodie.

Bosworth didn't do much for me, but then again, she never has. You can't fault her for trying however, and she made a good complement to both Marsden and Routh. Especially if you ignore the weird vibe between the three of them that doesn't quite make a love triangle.

One did wonder what Parker Posey was doing in this film at all. Queen of the Indies, as she has been dubbed, portrayed Luthor's ditzy love interest, who turned out to have rather more compassion than anyone could have foreseen.

Again though, the hamminess of the role suited the film and you kind of just roll with it. Further to that, if you take the entire film and just enjoy it for what it is, it really isn't too bad; not the adventures of Superman of old, but certainly not a bad effort in the DC universe.

***

It's hard to say if Man of Steel (2013) began the downfall of the franchise via the Snyder ego, or he just took on too much.

MoS wasn't actually a dreadful film. In fact, it had a few rather decent moments and a pretty stellar cast; Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Antje Traue, Ayelet Zurer, Christopher Meloni, and Russell Crowe.

A certain amount of suspension of belief was required, partly around Crowe and Costner as our hero's biological and foster fathers, respectively; not actors fans necessarily would have chosen for the roles.

All the same, the acting was authentic enough and the story was reasonably tight. Here again, we see the reinvention of the origin story, perhaps a little too complicated considering the past efforts, but not a complete failure.

The real issue for me was the combinations; of actors, of stories, of situations. Individually, or even just a few together, and you can see how the story may have panned out. But the ultimate consolidation of all the various elements made MoS a little too epic, a little too unbelievable, a little too much.

***

Which is basically what happened with Batman v Superman; the whole film feels like a series of disparate events sandwiched together to make a whole. Kind of like Frankenstein's monster, except this scientist hasn't got the skills and has no idea what the finished product will look like.

Plus, it was hours and hours and HOURS long (it felt like)...

To be fair, I'm sure some of the blame lies with David S. Goyer, screenwriter on the Dark Knight trilogy, Man of Steel, and BvS. But it's hard to heap too much furore in this direction considering the former on that list, as well as Goyer's contribution to the brilliant and dark sci-fi classic, Dark City.

Perhaps some of the criticism should even be thrown Charles Roven's way, seeing as he produced this mockery, and has such a list of legends behind him. Not limited to, but including, the Batman trilogy, 12 Monkeys, Fallen, and City of Angels.

We could even suggest Deborah Snyder had something to do with it, having also been a producer on the film, but at this point we're just throwing shade at whomever happens to be nearby.

Dare I suggest that even Snyder doesn't deserve my entire ire, in consideration of Sucker Punch alone - though here he was Director, Producer, AND Writer, which may go some way to explaining things.

***

In the end, BvS sucked and there's no two ways about it.

Whomever is to blame (oh alright, it's not all Zack's fault), things do not bode well for the DC universe, especially in competition with the box-office hits churning out from the Marvel universe.

And even if we're all getting a little sick of said churning, they hit the mark way more often than not; Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, and my personal favourite Deadpool. Though, to be fair, these are all standalone-but-attached-to-the-universe Marvel films, so I'm making broad generalisations here.

In a truly telling move, Affleck has now pulled out of directing the new DC installment, The Batman. Does he fear the same backlash of BvS? Does he see the iceberg coming and he's jumped into the lifeboat already? Because nobody is buying that he can't act and direct at the same time.

Whatever the case, I'm not feeling awfully excited by any new installments from DC. Marvel may be wearing us thin with colossal feats but they still have our attention, so clearly they're doing something right.

If it comes right down to it, and there's the choice between epic, hilarious, and a little silly, or brooding, serious, and jarringly explosive, I'm pretty sure I know which I'm going to pick.

Sorry Zack, but maybe you got in with the wrong crowd, hmm?

~*LTM*~



*Rotten Tomatoes reviews


**As an addendum, at the time of writing this piece, Wonder Woman hadn't been released yet. Now that it has - and I haven't seen it yet - I'm coming back to hopeful. I hear it's a knockout!!