As a fan of mature, developed story lines with depth and characterisation, I am conflicted. You may have already read my thoughts on ‘Batman v Superman’ (and some more thoughts), but I’ve just seen ‘Iron Man’s Avengers 3: Captain America Also Features’ and I feel the way an atheist would presumably feel when witnessing an argument between Pope Francis and Richard Dawkins. On one side is someone who represents an antiquated institution which stands against many of my own beliefs but who is himself trying hard to do good things, and on the other is someone who nominally represents my own preferred view of the world, but who is sadly just stood in the middle of the room shouting bad things about Muslims and occasionally pausing to see who’s paying attention.
See, for all of its flaws, there were parts of ‘Brokeback v Studmagnet’ that were trying to be the superhero movie that I really want to see, such as Batman’s ruthlessly rational mistrust of Superman or the exploration of how the world might respond to the presence a being such as the Kryptonian wonder. But the whole film was so poorly executed that these brief flashes of interest were completely demolished by overly-extravagant special effects and a total lack of narrative focus.
Meanwhile, Marvel’s ‘Stark v Rogers: Dawn of Franchise Entrenchment’ fails to particularly explore any meaningful themes in a satisfactory way – and yet it is executed so competently that it outperforms the DC offering on every metric. Following the previous metaphor, ‘Ballsack v Slowhandjob’ is bitterly tweeting about how religion makes people bad and mean, whilst ‘Captain Bromance: Civil Union’ is out in the world telling its followers to be nicer to gay people and generally trying to make the world a more pleasant place.
‘Capital Punishment: Civil Rights’ (that one was rubbish, I know) is not a perfect film. In fact, it is deeply fucking flawed. The story hangs on Captain Rogers’ conviction that he should be completely beyond oversight on any matter, and it really all seems to come down to the fact that he’s American, and therefore reserves the right to violate international borders in order to get into firefights with other Americans. He also maintains that his friend, Bucky, should be beyond prosecution due to the fact he was brainwashed, a stance which makes less and less sense the more chest cavities Bucky collapses with a single robotic punch.
Oddly for a film titled ‘Captain America’, all of the character development is reserved for everyone who is not called fucking “Captain America”. Iron Man greedily hogs the bulk of it – apparently his own trilogy and a spotlight in both ‘Avengers’ films was not quite enough for Tony Stark, meaning he has now replaced Wolverine as the subject of the phrase “Oh, it’s about him again?” That being said, it’s probably fitting that it’s the capitalist whose earlier successes entitle him to greater rewards later on. Maybe they were expecting the screen time to “trickle down” to the other characters.
That being said, the other characters do all get a decent amount of development. Scarlet Wid… Witch gets plenty of trauma and self-reflection, Black Wit… Widow continues to defy Hollywood tropes by being a sexy female assassin who actually possesses a personality. Newcomer Black Panther gets a fair dose of motivation, Vision shows us some of his vulnerabilities and even Rhodey gets a personal story line – cementing this even more firmly as a re-labeled Iron Man romp.
Indeed, Captain America himself is arguably the weakest bloody part of the whole film. Where he was previously an optimistic if occasionally naive symbol of American independence, he now seems to have transitioned into a block-headed, obtuse and downright arrogant icon of American entitlement. Hell, if I wanted to be really controversial I’d make comparisons between Bucky and Israel, but I’ll leave that nasty little vipers’ nest alone for the time being.
The fact is that previous Captain America outings have come across as celebrations of American idealism, but ‘Civil War’ seems more like a damning criticism of American imperialism – or at least, it would, if it didn’t obliviously frame the title character as the hero of the whole piece. Hell, Tony Stark does a better job as the American paragon, the billionaire innovator who develops his morality and now uses his wealth and expertise to reach out and solve the world’s problems, working with worldwide organisations to put an end to the reckless old-fashioned interventionism embodied by Steve Rogers’ violent exploits. The central conflict of the film is even borne out of a destructive mission on foreign soil to prevent the use of a weapon of mass destruction. It’s difficult to acknowledge these real-world allegories without subsequently viewing Rogers in a somewhat negative light.
And for me, this is the chief failing of the film; the fact that my sympathy is one-sided. The conflict between the two superhero factions is based around a lop-sided difference of opinion, and an unfocused one at that. The main fight between them all, taking place in an airport in GERMANY, I believe (more on locations later) occurs as Iron Man and his team attempt to prevent Captain America and his team from helping Bucky to escape arrest… I think. But it may also have been about the fact that some of them didn’t want to be regulated by the United Nations. I’m not really sure, because the film seems to languidly shuffle from one moral disagreement to another without too much in the way of thought for a more solid narrative. At no particular point was I entirely convinced by the motivations of any one person.
By the end of the film, Iron Man’s motivations have shifted to personal vengeance, and this actually manages to be much more compelling, and serves to highlight the flaccidity of the earlier segments of the story. It is revealed that Bucky, as a brainwashed servant of Hyrda, assassinated Tony Stark’s parents, leading to a surprisingly restrained sequence in which Stark’s fury drives him to bloodily avenge his family. His cool determination makes him nigh-on unstoppable, and it is a sequence so loaded with emotional impact that it truly outclasses a man in a rubber mask screaming “Why did you say that?” whilst a bloke in a cape mumbles “Martha” over and over again.
If ‘Carotid Artery: Bleeding More’ had opened with this personal conflict, the story would have been much more emotionally engaging. By having the other heroes team up with Tony Stark because of their loyalty to him, or because they felt Bucky was a genuine threat that needed to be brought in, whilst the others sided with Steve Rogers because of the loyalty he inspired or because they felt Bucky was being unfairly vilified, then the whole fight would carry more weight, and sympathy could be built on both sides. An exploration could made into the nature of guilt and responsibility: how do you prosecute someone who murdered a person’s parents whilst brain-washed by a Nazi spin-off group? For someone as powerful as Iron Man, how do you reconcile the balance between justice and vengeance? How far can you follow him down the path of revenge?
Instead, we get a ropey and somewhat contrived disagreement over international regulation and oversight, which eventually turns into a more satisfying personal grudge in the final moments, and I’m somewhat disappointed that we didn’t get something more bloody and vicious for the full run of the movie.
With that being said, ‘Cardiac Arrest: Civil Disobedience’ is tremendous fun. I was surprised to learn that it is only five minutes shorter than ‘Baldspot v Screwtop’, and yet it packs in a wealth of more interesting characters, each with a great deal more development. It has great dialogue delivered by a fantastic cast, action scenes that are varied and entertaining and, beyond everything else, it manages to maintain a level of excitement that is simply absent from the DC alternative.
Although I have hammered the movie for its flaws, it triumphs in spite of them. I would not call this the best superhero movie ever; I’d barely call it the best superhero movie this year, but it succeeds precisely where it needs to: it is enjoyable. It doesn’t bore, it doesn’t inspire incredulity, it doesn’t provoke depressive episodes. It’s just a well-rounded cinematic experience, and it uses the charm and charisma of its characters to blind you to its flaws just as the most talented of sex workers use their wiles drive from your mind any concern for the cocktail of contagions that will be the source of future discomfort.
‘Certain Apathy: Terrific Bore’ (these ones are much more difficult) demonstrates quite ably that a film can still succeed as a source of entertainment even if it doesn’t succeed at being a coherent story. Other films aim higher and miss completely; this film sets its sights n the achievable and scores a bull’s eye.
Probably the biggest issue, more so than the story or Captain America’s characterisation, is the use of LOCATION TITLES obnoxiously imprinted across the entire fucking screen in BLOCK CAPITALS that cover MOST OF THE PICTURE. It is so bloody distracting and annoying that it genuinely affected my enjoyment of the film, and I hope whoever came up with the idea gets to spend their life locked in small concrete room as someone with a fucking megaphone screeches the names of RANDOM CITIES at them at full fucking volume.
I said I wouldn’t do this. I said it was pointless. It is pointless. But I’m doing it anyway.
You may have already seen my guide to coping with ‘Batman v Superman’, but I do feel a need to dig deeper. There have already been plenty of reviews doing the rounds, but I want to cover the specific failings of the film. I want to go through, in as much detail as I can manage, the individual components that set this movie apart as being of a lower quality than its peers – and I want to do it as objectively as possible.
1 – The Subjective Stuff
Ignoring my previous assertion, the first thing I want to get out of the way is the subjective, qualitative aspects of the film that led to my dissatisfaction with it. For one thing, it’s just boring. It goes on forever, it suffers from a worse case of “Ending Gore” than ‘Return of the King’, and the action sequences are so overblown and so saturated with special effects that at no point did they feel dramatic or tense.
I genuinely enjoyed Batman’s contributions during the first half, and would have enjoyed the post-apocalyptic dream sequence a lot more if it had been tied into the plot in any way. But I didn’t care for the pacing, which was all over the place, and Snyder has reached a new low in presentation – everything was so dark and moody that I found it to be a visually depressing experience.
The story itself was not particularly compelling, and there were no performances which were actually entertaining in a stand-out way. Jesse Eisenberg did his best but missed the mark drastically in terms of characterisation, and the rest of the cast were perfectly capable but not particularly engaging. It’s too easy to make comparisons between ‘Dawn of Justice’ and any of the Avengers series, but the fact is I genuinely enjoy the performances of Evans, Downey Jr. and Johanssen – they’re not necessarily better on a technical level than Affleck, Cavill or Adams, but they’re just a bit more fun.
Which leads me to my final gripe with ‘Badman v Supertwat’ – Zack Snyder can’t do comedy. Well, maybe he can, but he doesn’t even seem to try. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy defined the current trend of dark and edgy superhero movies, but Nolan was still able to inject little moments of levity and humour into proceedings. Snyder seems to believe that the cities of Metropolis and Gotham are populated exclusively by people who are genetically incapable of lightheartedness.
This is best exemplified by Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s butler-sidekick. When played by Michael Caine, Alfred was a sassy but sensitive character, capable of engaging with the heavy themes of the movies but still able to crack wise. There are some genuinely touching and funny moments between him and Christian Bale’s Caped Crusader. In ‘Batfleck v Henryman’, Alfred is reduced to a muttering old man who makes the occasional quip about Bruce’s lack of progeny. The humour, and consequently the warmth, is gone.
This is true in most of Snyder’s other films, too. Ironically it’s ‘Watchmen’ that has more funny moments, and also happens to be the darkest. Meanwhile the inane ‘Sucker Punch’, the depressing ‘Man of Steel’ and the fairly marvellous ‘300’ (if you’re into that sort of thing) are all played almost entirely straight – depressingly so. In fact, it was his directorial debut (and now that I’ve used that phrase, I think I’m qualified as being a “real critic”) ‘Dawn of the Dead’ that has remained the funniest film he’s done to date.
2 – The Whys and the Wherefores
Now let’s get onto the measurables.
There is exactly one character in this entire film whose motivations are laid bare – Batman. The film opens strongly, with Bruce Wayne witnessing the rampant destruction of Metropolis and the lives lost due to Superman’s callous disregard for collateral damage. Bruce’s fury with Superman’s actions are clear. How could a being of such power, and with a total lack of oversight, possibly claim to serve humanity whilst wreaking that level of catastrophe on a human city? And what happens if even more of them show up?
Every other character, however, fails to present a reason for any of the things they’re doing. Superman seems to float from scene to scene, essentially looking grumpy at every development and never particularly making a decision for himself. I have no idea of what he was trying to achieve throughout the film. There was no revealed villain at any point whose plans he was trying to thwart, I have no idea of whether or not he wanted to be accepted by humanity, or not – he just seemed to angst about it throughout, without ever reaching a conclusion.
Wonder Woman was Doing Things. I’m not sure why. I’m not sure what it is she wanted with the stolen data from Lex Luthor’s house, or indeed why she was even there – did she know Bruce Wayne would be turning up with a data hacker? Was she just waiting for him to attach it? What was she doing for the entire rest of the film? She grudgingly decides to participate in the fight against Doomsday, but why? Maybe it’s to protect the planet, but we don’t know enough about her to make that assumption.
The most egregious offender on the subject of Motivation. The entire point of including a villain in your story is to offer challenges, obstacles, resistance for your heroes to overcome. In that regard, the motivation of your villain can be as simple or complex as you like, as fantastical or mundane as is needed. This is played with beautifully by ‘Die Hard’s Hans Gruber – his objectives are at first mysterious, but are revealed to be really quite pedestrian – he’s a thief, he wants money, and his actions are in line with his goals. Hence, he is an effective antagonist.
Lex Luthor? Lex Luthor has no goals whatsoever, and certainly none that would be a result of his actions. At first, he seems to want to legalise the importation of the mysterious Kryptonite into the US, and so pressures legislators to do exactly that. Except that when they refuse, he simply smuggles it in anyway – something for which we find out he was preparing all along. It wouldn’t be so bad, except that his battle to legalise the import makes up the entirety of his scenes in the first half of the film.
Later, it turns out he wants the Kryptonite so that it can be stolen by Batman, weaponised, and used to kill Superman. So set is he on killing Superman that he then proceeds to mix his own genetic material with that from the corpse of General Zod to create an indestructible Kryptonian monster – a plan so zany, it might just work. And his intentions for killing Superman?
Well, there’s the rub. It doesn’t seem to be personal, beyond Lex’s declaration that he is an atheist following an abusive relationship with his father. It could be for money, if he wasn’t already so rich as to have apparently limitless resources. Maybe it’s for power – but it’s never explained how killing Superman will achieve that. So, why does Lex do any of the things he does?
The best answer I have is that he does them because they are villainous, and he is a villain. And we know he is a villain because he keeps doing villainous things.
3 – More Than A Sequence Of Plot Points
This one gets down to the very heart of storytelling, because ‘Shitbird v Turbodouche’ is sadly replete with plot points, played in a sequence, and drastically lacking in story.
The most offensive example is the “dream-sequence-within-a-dream-sequence” flash-to-the-future segment, in which we see a duster-wearing Batman gunning down soldiers bearing Superman’s symbol in a grimy dystopian future, before being captured by Superman himself. At first, it might seem like this is a reflection of Batman’s fear, his own vision of what the world will become if Superman isn’t stopped. Except that he snaps out of this dream-prophecy to find a mysterious cybernetic character reaching to him through some kind of time portal.
So, is this film introducing a time-travel plot? FUCK NO! Because Batman then awakes from THAT dream to find himself alone. So, did he dream up the specific characteristics of the mysterious cyborg that he’s never seen before? Did any of that actually happen? Does it have any bearing on the plot? And are these all rhetorical questions? In reverse order: Yes, No, Nobody Knows, Apparently So.
Undoubtedly this scene is a set-up for future films from the Justice League franchise, but it’s loaded with so many problems. For one thing, the whole segment is roughly ten minutes long – or at least feels like that. For another, it adds literally nothing to the film in which it appears – you could remove it entirely without any knock-on effects. Indeed, the movie would arguably be improved by its removal.
And I have to ask, is that what DC movies are all going to be? Just extended trailers for the next release? Naturally, Marvel pulls this off in a much better, if equally clunky fashion – the after-/during-credits sequences in most Marvel films are little more than advertisements for future installments, but it’s key that they A) are entertaining in their own right and B) sit outside of the main feature.
All a sequence such as this is really is an in-joke for audiences of films that have not yet been released, and like all in-jokes, they fall flat for everyone not in on the joke – unless they’re done well. If you want to see in-jokes masterfully implemented, you should go and watch ‘Arrested Development’ twice the whole way through – once in the correct order, once in reverse order. You’ll notice all sorts of little asides and references which are funny for established fans – but in no way affect the flow of an episode for a first-time viewer.
Or, watch ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’. This has a great example of an in-universe in-joke, where Indy and Elsa see a depiction of The Lost Ark, the mcguffin from the first film. They have a brief exchange in which Indy casually identifies it with a simple little line. It’s a moment that’s quick, it adds to the movie for new audiences by further establishing Indy as an expert in his field, but for people familiar with the franchise it’s a great little touch that further adds to the celebratory tone of the trilogy’s final film.
An entire dream sequence that is visually and tonally distinct from the rest of the movie into which it is shoehorned purely as a set-up for films that are yet to even be written is such a poor treatment of this movie’s audience as to be insulting. Maybe in six films’ time we’ll look back and see how “it all came together”, but there isn’t even anything clever about this bit – there’s nothing to “pay off”.
The same goes for the ten-minute sequence in which Wonder Woman checks her email inbox and finds Batman’s note about the other METAHUMANS. We are treated to three cheesey vignettes of The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg, each of sharply declining quality. The Flash’s sequence manages to actually mostly fit with the overall aesthetic of ‘Branston v Pickle’, but the Aquaman bit looks like it was lifted straight from ‘Smallville’, and the ‘Cyborg’ segment is so poorly done it would look more at home in an episode of ‘Lois and Clark’.
And regardless of the quality of these little insertions, once again they contribute NOTHING to the film into which they have been added. They would have made a great after-credits sequence, where Bruce shows Wonder Woman what he’s found, takes her through his plans to build a team, but instead we get this forced sequence where we witness the excitement of a woman in her pyjamas browsing fan-made Youtube videos of the three superheroes that were too boring to be included as a main part of the film. It’s holding the audience in contempt for the sake of advertising a product. I’d rather have seen a BMW badge on the Batmobile.
I’ve just written several hundred words about two sequences, so let’s have a look at some other plot points in this film that exist for no reason. I’ll even do them in list format, for the sake of brevity:
Superman is introduced rescuing Lois from a terrorist cell in which a CIA agent’s identity is revealed, landing her in jeopardy. Neither the terrorist cell nor the CIA feature ever again in the film, so why her capture had to be so convoluted is beyond me.
Batman is tracking down and interrogating and branding a band of people-smugglers in a one-man crusade against dickery. It turns out the people smugglers are working for Lex Luthor, but not as people smugglers, he’s just using their boat. The people-smuggling plot does not feature again.
Lex Luthor has been keeping tabs on METAHUMANS and has a collection of data files on them. Since none of them actually appear in the film, this proves irrelevant, as already discussed.
There is a series of scenes revolving around the need to legislate Superman and his abilities. The committee tasked with investigating the matter is blown up in the first half of the film – the matter is not subsequently revisited.
The committee’s destruction, and that of the US Capitol building, is the result of Lex Luthor’s manipulation of a man wounded in the climactic fight of the previous movie. Several scenes are dedicated to Luthor’s manipulation of this man, apparently to make the explosion look like the work of Superman; however, Superman is not subsequently blamed for the bombing, and this plot thread is never revisited. The actual reason for planting a bomb in the wounded man’s wheelchair is never given.
Clark Kent wants to write a story about Batman, but his editor shouts at him for not writing about a local sports game. This occurs over multiple scenes, with no pay-off.
As previously mentioned, there are multiple discussions in which Lex Luthor tries to convince legislators to allow him to import Kryptonite to the US for research. When they refuse, he smuggles the substance in, but according to information given by Batman earlier in the film, this had been his plan all along. The legal importation of Kryptonite is not relevant to any aspect of the story.
Over the course of three scenes, Lois Lane travels to Washington DC on a hunch to find the origin of a mysterious bullet fired when she was captured by the terrorists. The bullet is an advanced prototype produced by Lex Luthor’s company. His reasons for equipping mercenaries with a unique, special bullet are never revealed, and the information is never passed on by Lois to any other character in such a way that it affects any decisions that are made.
Wonder Woman steals Bruce Wayne’s data-hacking device, only to return it to him a few days later claiming she could not break decryption. Her purpose for stealing it is never explained, and the data device itself serves only to reveal the existence of other METAHUMANS – who do not feature in the film.
Again, I know it’s bad to make continuous comparisons to Marvel, but in ‘Avengers Assemble’ just about every scene follows on from previous scenes and advances the story. From Loki’s initial heist of personnel and materiel from the SHIELD research lab, through to the final battle scene, everything revolves around the main story, and leads to consequences further down the line. There are still missteps, don’t get me wrong, but in general the narrative is focused.
In contrast, ‘Blahblah v Oopsiedear’ features over a dozen distinct plot threads, none of which interact with one another. This makes it difficult to follow, forces its audience to sit through scenes which are ultimately redundant and which – crucially – just aren’t that entertaining. If a film is going to make its audience sit quietly for two-and-a-half hours of their time without any humour or real drama, it had better not be packed with filler.
4 – Self-Cannibalisation
You’re crafting a story. You spend a lot of time building up the main conflict in this story. You manage to create a compelling narrative for one of your lead characters, shape his motivation to something that the audience can understand, with which they can empathise. Despite all of the chaff you throw into the rest of the story, you manage to get your two leads together into a climactic conflict, leaving the audience to guess at how these two incredibly powerful beings will resolve their differences.
Then they become best friends because their mothers both had the same first name.
Look, let’s get one thing straight: if you’re going to tug on Batman’s heartstrings, if you’re going to tickle his empathy organ, you’re going to do it via parental trauma. That much is obvious. But here, in this film, Superman gasps his own mother’s name as Batman prepares to deliver the killing blow – he pants about saving “Martha” – which just happens to be the name of Batman’s mother, the late Mrs Wayne.
Okay, sure. This is set up previously in the film, so I won’t slap it with the old “Deus Ex Machina” badge of shame. But Batman suddenly relents in his hate- and anger-fueled quest of vengeance against Superman because their mothers share a name. You take the most compelling and relatable piece of characterisation in the film, and the ONLY comprehensible element of motivation, and dismiss it all with a simple coincidence.
I mentioned in my previous article my issues with Batman’s willingness to casually slaughter his enemies via grapple-hook-induced road traffic collisions, and the truth is that I am less annoyed that his “One Rule” has been ignored and more frustrated that it wasn’t used as a character point.
One of the things this film really gets right is its characterisation of Batman – of a grizzled, weary vigilante, consumed by his quest for “justice”. He’s cruder, more brutal, almost barbaric at times, and it’s fantastic. He’s been fighting evil for so long that he has become twisted. Hell, he comes across as someone who’s emotionally void, except for the smouldering core of anger that throbs in the dark cavity of his chest.
So, imagine this. Imagine if, as Batman renders Superman helpless, as he prepares to land the fatal strike to the heart, Superman simply tells him “I’m not afraid to die doing what I know to be right.” Or, maybe he says “If you kill me, you’re no better than the people you fight every day.” Or maybe even simply “I thought you were better than this.”
Or SOMETHING. I’m not a scriptwriter. Blow me. But have that challenge from Superman. Make it something inspiring, something defiant, hopeful. Something fitting the icon of inspiration that Superman is meant to be. Then have Batman actually realise what he’s done, what he has been doing, what he is about to do. Make Batman’s descent into darkness an actual plot point in the film, hell, make it THE plot point of the film. Everything’s set up for it to be that way.
Instead, they went with the cheap option. The easy option, the least satisfying. In the space of two minutes, Batman and Superman suddenly shift from being mortal adversaries to “friends”, fighting evil together like “bros”. All because their mothers have the same name. The fact is, nothing about Superman has changed, he’s still just as powerful and dangerous as he was before. And the fact he has a mother doesn’t exactly distinguish him from the countless other thugs Batman has fought – and killed – already. It’s just a convenient way to resolve a difficult conflict between two characters, and it selfishly devours the best parts of the film.
5 – Uninspiring
Throughout the film, we are informed that Superman is some kind of god-like figure to the denizens of Earth – a hated beacon of fear for some, but a loved icon of hope for others. And, as with so many other elements of this film, Superman’s status amongst the humans is handled as cack-handedly as possible.
First of all, the only heroics of Superman’s that we witness occur in a 30-second montage in which he rescues some astronauts from a launchpad, pulls a ship through some ice, and then saves a little girl from a fire – after which the locals reach out to him to stroke his beautiful muscles. And sure, these are nice moments, I suppose, but that’s all we get of the “inspiring” side of Supes – half a minute of dialogue-less cutaways.
We do, however, get several minutes of screen time in which Clark Kent pointlessly argues with his boss. Oh yeah. Superman wants to write about Batman, but Perry White wants him to write about some random game from some low-key local sports team, it’s all terribly thrilling. Oh, and, again, adds nothing to the overall story.
This is a post that has recently been doing the rounds on social media. I will be honest, I wouldn’t be very interested in it normally, but it does an incredible job of demonstrating exactly how Superman can be a hopeful figure, even in the context of a very dark narrative. Superman’s value is not his ability to punch invincible villains for hours on end – it’s his messianic ability to do whatever needs to be done to help humanity.
And once again, this all ties into some of the best aspects of the movie. My favourite line from the entire two-and-a-half hours is when Bruce Wayne justifies to Alfred his intentions to kill Superman. “He has the power to wipe out the ENTIRE human race, and if we believe that there is even a one percent chance that he is our enemy, we have to treat it as an absolute certainty.” It’s a cold, ruthless perspective, and it makes absolute rational sense. Superman is en entity of extreme destructive capability, and no earthly weapon can stop him – the danger he poses is absolute and undeniable.
What’s even better is that the argument doesn’t change. If we had seen more of Superman doing heroic things, saving people, acting for humanity, then at every turn Batman could have broadcast the same footage from the destruction of Metropolis, of the collapsing buildings and of victims falling thirty storeys to their deaths. And as Superman does ever more heroic things, pulls off ever more dramatic stunts to save people, uses more and more of his power to do good, Batman’s message gets stronger: “But what if he turns? That power which right now helps humanity could just as easily destroy it.”
And as I explored in my previous segment, when it then came to that climactic fight between the two of them, when it came to that brutal contest of ideologies – hope versus vigilance, inspiration versus independence – you can make that fight mean something. Give it more significance than a fist-fest which gets resolved by maternal insecurity. You could have fully half the human race cheering on Superman whilst the other half call for his destruction.
The fact is that Batman wins the fight. Man defeated God, and he always will. And Superman should be defeated because, as I said above, his value is not derived from his own strength, but the strength he gives to other people. Render him helpless and vulnerable, put him at Batman’s mercy – hell, have Batman crucify him if you really want to hammer the point home. And then, maybe have him simply ask Batman to take care of the world. Maybe Superman tells Batman that the people don’t just need someone to defeat the bad guys – they also need someone to help the good guys, to protect the innocent. That it isn’t enough to destroy evil, you must inspire good in people – do things that nobody else can, that others might try to do the same.
Maybe Batman will ask why so many people think that Superman is on their side, and Superman will answer “Because they have faith.” I mean, this whole thing is about Superman being a god, right? That’s what the film keeps telling us. So whack us round the head with the religious aspect. In a godless time of danger and instability, Superman is the omnipotent protector that the world needs, that the world deserves.
Why not get cheesey with it? Why not have Superman’s supporters try to help him, try to save him, regardless of how helpless it is. Have them display a level of kindness and compassion that this Batman hasn’t seen in a long, long time. Maybe the two heroes are fighting in a burning building, surrounded by fire and smoke and brimstone, and Batman watches Superman’s believers throw themselves into the flames, work together despite the danger to preserve the life of someone they believe to be good and righteous. Have it mirror a scene from earlier in the film, where Superman instructs people to work together to save an imperiled family. Maybe make some of them previous enemies – cops and robbers working together, rich people and poor people, sworn enemies united by their own faith in something good.
Make that the thing that convinces Batman. Make it meaningful, relevant to the story, and relevant to the things these two heroes represent. Batman, the one who would sacrifice his own safety every day to prove that humanity at its base level is more than an evolved pack of animals. Superman, the one who lifts humanity from its base level to something greater. Batman, the violent thug who justifies his brutality with antiquated notions of justice. Superman, the demon with the face of an angel, who at any given moment might enslave all of humanity.
Instead, we get a ten-minute fight scene in a dingy ruin, isolated from any onlookers, which is resolved by a ten-second moment of realisation that Superman cares about at least some people, I guess.
The thing is, you can still have darkness and grit in a hopeful tale. I get that everyone ejaculates uncontrollably every time they see a film that is “dark” and “gritty”, but those things alone aren’t indicators of quality. They’re elements that can be used well to make a story more compelling, or believable, or relatable, but that’s all they are – storytelling devices. In the same way that a kid’s film can be sad and upsetting whilst still being colourful and bright, you can have a more mature film that can be positive and uplifting whilst still being dark and gritty.
6 – Show, Don’t Tell
There’s one final element of this mess of a movie that I would like to call out, and that is its refusal to adhere to perhaps the one unbreakable rule of film-making: show, don’t tell.
This ties into my previous segment, where Superman’s heroism and inspiration is never visible to the audience. We are told that he is inspiring people, but we never really see how. Simlarly, we are told that Batman is executing, by proxy, those villains that he brands. That when those people reach prison, they are murdered by other inmates, but we are never shown this, only told it through news reports.
An actual depiction of one of these incidents would not only be more interesting, but might also give us an insight into why these inmates are murdering Batman’s targets, why they are doing his bidding. It would go a long way to defining how Batman is seen by the population, by the people it has locked up. Instead, we get a few seconds of news footage before being whisked back to more random wittering by Lex Luthor.
Lois Lane travels to Washington to discover the origin of the special bullet used to kill terrorists, and she is told that it was made by Lex Luthor’s company. Yet another plot thread that goes nowhere, but I have to ask: why not show this? Why not have a scene where, instead of Lex Luthor trying to convince a minor politician to change import laws, he briefs his own mercenary squad, gives them the special ammunition, explains some of his motivations? It’s not as though his villainous nature is a secret to anyone by this point, so why even bother with the cloak-and-dagger stuff?
Instead, we focus on Lois Lane’s exciting quest to ask questions of a minor character from the previous film in such glamorous locations as a men’s toilet and a park bench. And as soon as she finds out, the thread gets dropped anyway. It’s baffling to me that they would include scenes like this, but not a scene that actually works to strengthen the film’s antagonist.
Despite Superman’s mother being used to bait him into fighting Batman, they only actually share a single scene together. In it, they stand in a field, in the dark, and Superman’s mother tells him that he can either be the hero he could be, or he could not – basically, a repeat of the themes from ‘Man of Steel’, almost verbatim. It’s a scene that exists primarily to remind us that Superman has a mother before she is kidnapped and used against him.
Maybe, instead of the stupid mother thread, you could have shown what happens when Superman stops being Superman? Show people calling out for him, even praying for him to come help them. There’s an entire sequence in which he hallucinates the ghost of his father on top of a mountain, and his father does even MORE “telling”, relaying a lovely story about digging ditches and drowning horses. Why not show the impact Superman’s absence is having? Why not show him watching from afar, weighing up his choice of not getting involved against the suffering he now sees occurring? Why do we need a scene from Kevin Dead-ner talking about farming and pie, when we could have some actual characterisation for one of our two main protagonists?
Wonder Woman steals Batman’s data thingy. Later on she returns it to him, telling him that she couldn’t access it because it was encrypted. Again, WHY would you not show that? Why wouldn’t you show her trying to access it? Give us an idea of the resources at her disposal and, more importantly, give us a hint at what she might be up to? Once again a character with no motivation is denied valuable development for the sake of expositing a minor plot point.
We have a brutal car-chase where Batman attempts to retrieve a supply of Kryptonite from Lex Luthor’s thugs. It ends abruptly when Superman stops his car and tells him to fuck off. First of all, there is no reason for Superman to pick this particular moment to talk to Batman, he seems to just do it for the sake of it. Secondly, Batman later actually steals the Kryptonite from Lex Luthor’s secure research lab – and it happens off-screen! Again, I am left baffled – we are shown the failed attempt that happens to involve the Batmobile (and its immediate destruction), but denied what would have been a fun display of Batman in action actually infiltrating and fighting. We get dark and murky special effects when we could have had an interesting heist scene that actually shows of Batman’s capabilities.
So much of this film is done in such a backwards fashion that it strains my suspension of disbelief. I have an easier time accepting the existence of a bullet-proof, flying God-hero than I do the fact that people were actually paid to come up with this story, and the way in which it is told. There are so many missed opportunities to make this film good that I actually wonder if it’s not a post-modern experimental piece that got a bit out of hand after an accounting error put a couple of extra zeroes on the end of its budget.
7 – In Summary
So, if you enjoyed this film, that’s fine. I’m glad you enjoyed it, and I hope you go on happy with your life. But when you really break it down, there’s a lot here that’s just awful from a story-telling perspective. I have only seen the film once, and have no intention of doing so again – I personally found it boring, dull, monotonous, bland and absurd. I will be very interested to see the thoughts of people who watch it a second time – and wonder if it will match up to their initial positive assessment.
I think what really galls me is not what this film is, but what it could have been. Marvel’s ‘Avengers Assemble’ was a joyous romp with a lot of fun characters and silly moments. It was not particularly deep or meaningful – indeed, you might almost call it shallow, lacking substance. But it at least entertains, and that in itself is a quality all of its own.
‘Batcock v Supernips’ fails to entertain – or at least, it did for me. And what’s more, it missed out on a key opportunity to appeal to those who tire of Marvel’s unrelenting action-comedy. ‘Beatnik v Uberdriver’ could have loaded itself with a weighty plot about godhood, social responsibility, faith and optimism. Instead, it abandons a strong developing story for the sake of angry punching and ludicrous CGI. It dips its toes into the water of meaningful narrative but loses its nerve, running back to the warm safety of greenscreen and people shouting.
What I really hope comes out of this, and I’m sorry to say it, is that Zack Snyder gets his arse fired and they bring in a director more capable of depth and subtlety. Snyder can create a visually stunning film. ‘300’ is a classic for me because of how aesthetically revolutionary it was and, to an extent, of how “pure” it was – it stuck to its simplistic premise like glue, and was all the better for it.
But ‘Man of Steel’, ‘Sucker Punch’ and now ‘Bloodbath v Seasonal-Affective-Disorder: Bored of Just This’ have really shown Snyder’s limitations as a story-teller. He did a fine job with ‘Watchmen’, but that was a beat-for-beat recreation of the original graphic novel. As soon as he tries to tell an original tale, Snyder’s reliance on special effects, shadows and slowing things down and then speeding them up again really starts to hold him back.
Somethings in life catch you off-guard. Like when you’re driving safely down the motorway, and a tyre blows. When you get a phone-call from a sobbing relative, and you can hear the hospital announcements in the background. When your boss calls you in to tell you that there’s been another complaint, and this time Legal’s involved. Actually, I should probably have seen that last one coming.
Other things, though, don’t surprise you. Like when the vet tells you that it would be the kindest thing to do. Or when you get the letter through the door with the big red “Final Notice” stamped on the front. Or when your wife books in an appointment with her gynaecologist after her work trip to Las Vegas with that rock-climbing guy from her office.
And the weird thing is that the unsurprising moment can be just as hard to deal with as the shocking events. Sometimes more so. The fact you had time to emotionally prepare doesn’t make life any easier when it hits that critical point.
The truth is, we all knew that ‘Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice’ would be the cinematic equivalent of cot death. To review it normally would be to perform an autopsy on a pet cat that had been run over by a sixteen-ton earth-mover – and the cat itself had always been an asshole that would piss all over your laundry pile and scratch any guests who foolishly tried to stroke it. The fact is that you know it’s dead, the cause of death is pretty straight-forward, and its loss isn’t actually that big of an inconvenience to you in the long run.
It still hurts, though.
It’s still difficult to deal with.
As such, I’m not going to review ‘Murderer vs. Moron: Other Stuff Happens Too’, and instead I’m going to try and help. I want to help the people who saw this movie, like I did. Those people who thought maybe, just maybe, this film would surprise them. That it might have possessed hidden genius, that it would exceed the expectations set by its own trailer and produce an actual worthwhile viewing experience. People who knew it would be bad, but still held out hope, because hope is at the very heart of human nature.
I can’t make this film good for you. All I can do is help you through it.
As with other forms of grief, there are a few stages to getting through Zack Snyder’s latest release, and I’m going to take you through them sequentially. This isn’t going to be easy, but we’ll get there – together.
1 – Delayed Acknowledgement
The film has started.
You’re half-an-hour in and there are already eight different plot lines going, seemingly in different directions. You don’t have an emotional response yet, because you haven’t had time to form one.
Like with sudden, enormous catastrophes, all you’re doing right now is watch it happen whilst your mind tries to wrap itself around the awful metaphors and clumsy set-ups and sporadic pacing. Like a spectator to the Hindenburg, you only barely register that something bad is happening, because the scale of the awfulness is beyond your brain’s emotional capacity.
This is the calm before the storm. Your brain races to anticipate each story arc, tries to figure out how it all might tie together, how this sequence of seemingly unconnected events will build into one climactic resolution – but there’s so many trails to follow, so many threads that need tying that your primitive intelligence can’t envisage any kind of solution, so you calmly rest on the assumption that the director knows what he’s doing.
2 – Confused Vexation
The film’s been running for what feels like the last three hours. You’re pretty sure you’ve followed most of it, but there’s now twice as many story threads as there were a few scenes ago, and that entire bit with all of the visions and dreams completely – wait, was that a time travel plot? He was just dreaming? So was he actually visited by a time traveler or… what the hell’s going on?
Right now, the critical-thinking part of your brain is taking a hammering. You want to keep on top of everything that’s going on, you reckon it might be building up to something big, but there’s been a few sequences now that defy explanation. The main villain is definitely up to something, but it’s difficult to determine what that might be because he doesn’t actually seem to want anything.
Just try and maintain your composure through this step. The better you cope here, the smoother the ride will be later on. Stay strong, because the worst is yet to come.
3 – Stunned Disbelief
You’re still going. You’ve made it over the initial hurdles. But now Batman has just out-right murdered about six people by crushing their cars into each other, using some startlingly improbably physics to do so. Hell, he just machine-gunned the back of a car he was chasing, and whilst you don’t explicitly see the mangled corpses of his victims, you’re pretty sure nobody lived through that. And you can’t accept it.
You can’t accept that the film is this cretinous, that it is so disloyal to its source material, but worse, that it’s just stripped away the most interesting aspect of its chief protagonist. You can’t, and indeed won’t, believe it, because nobody could get it this wrong. Superman just stopped Batman in his pursuit of deadly criminals, allowing the criminals to escape with a weapon that could specifically be used to kill Superman. Lois Lane is pursuing the origin of a mystery bullet, but it’s taken three scenes and half an hour for us to reach the revelation that it was made by Lex Luthor, surprising nobody and adding nothing to the story.
You’re stunned. Things are happening without explanation. Characters are acting without any clear motivation. You are asked to accept developments in the story – indeed, that the film even possesses a story – and your brain is rebelling. It is rejecting this particular sequence of events, refusing to process them, to make sense of them. You can’t believe that such an experienced and talented production crew could have allowed such a flawed product to be released.
My advice is to pinch the skin on the back of your hand, or clench the arm-rests of your chair, or just slap yourself around the face a few times. Tell yourself that this is real through actual solid interactions and stimuli. Remind yourself that you are sat in a cinema, watching a film that was actually made and released to the public. Maintain your grip on reality.
4 – Mental Collapse
You’ve seen Superman allow the entire U.S. Capitol Building be destroyed along with everyone inside it because he failed to perform even a cursory examination of the room. You’ve found out that the whole business with the mystery bullet amounted to nothing, and worse, so have about half of the other plot lines so far revealed, including that stuff with the people smugglers and everything Lex Luther has so far done in the entire movie. You can’t figure out why he needed to get permission to bring the Kryptonite into the U.S. if he was just going to smuggle it in anyway, and every interaction he had with Helen Hunt’s senator has led to nought after he simply blew her up.
Batman keeps having confusing visions which tell us less about his character and more about the fact that Zack Snyder has some kind of weird directorial ADHD, incapable of making a film with a single setting and insisting on using overly-long dream sequences to wedge in scenes that look like they’re from a different film entirely. Lois Lane continues to do nothing of significance but is apparently very important, and Wonder Woman is around, too. By which you mean, she’s there. She’s present. Her appearance has been noted.
You’re now no longer sure if your incomprehension of what’s going on is because the film has failed to explain itself properly, or if your brain is simply shutting down. Your cognitive abilities are becoming weak, strained. Like a marathon runner, you’ve hit the wall: it would be so much easier right now to just switch your brain off entirely and sit out the rest of the film quietly dribbling into your popcorn tub. But you’re better than that. Stay strong. Stay with me. We can do this.
5 – Self-Destruction
You’re past the point where you can cope solely with your own resources. Drink, drugs and other forms of escapism are the lifelines you now need to maintain a grip on sanity. Lex Luthor sets Superman up to fight Batman, so that he can – well, you’re never really sure what Luthor’s getting out of any of this, he just seems to be doing things because the actions themselves are inherently villainous.
You want to like this version of Luthor, you’re desperate for a credible enemy for the two most famous superheroes of all time – but he is so completely unlikable that you spend every minute of his screentime waiting for him to leave. You’re reminded of Kevin Spacey, Gene Hackman, and their intense, charismatic portrayals. Of how they seemed to have goals, objectives, motivations. You’re saddened, because Jesse Eisenberg is doing a fine job as an unpleasant psychopath, but at no point do you feel like you’re witnessing the machinations of a fiendish and calculating intellect. You rather more feel like you’re watching a failed pilot for a show about a time-travelling Joffrey Baratheon in the modern world – but with much less charisma.
None of which particularly matters as you tighten the belt around your arm and tap the inside of your elbow to locate a vein, desperate to detach your mind from your body and so seek a new reality where any of the characters have any kind of motivation. Where Superman doesn’t just wander from scene to scene, occasionally talking about how the Batman is a vigilante and consequently ripping the doors off of the Batmobile so he can make vague threats to the Caped Crusader before fucking off back to… somewhere.
I can’t stop you from turning to narcotics and alcohol by this point, but I can implore you to keep a friend close by, to turn you onto your side and safety-pin your tongue to your cheek. You’re most of the way through this ordeal now, there isn’t much further to –
Two and a half hours? I – I’m sorry. You’d better have another drink. We had all better have another drink.
6 – Inevitable Despair
In your final moments your head is filled with thoughts like sparks in the air above a bonfire. Thoughts such as “This cost $250 MILLION to make?” and “How did they fail to explain the story when they had 150 minutes to play with?” and “Seriously, what the shit was up with that time-travel bit?” You realise that this film is so irrevocably flawed that there is no way out – except one.
As you press the solitary brass casing into the chamber, confident that you will at last find release from this particular horror show of melodrama and ineptitude, you struggle to figure out what went wrong, but deep down, you know the answer.
Fucking Nearly Everything.
You know the acting wasn’t terrible. You know the effects were fine, but you also know that they always are these days. You felt the pacing was sporadic at best, especially in the final few scenes. The script was obtuse to the point of being baffling – Batman remarks that he “failed [Superman] in life, he won’t fail him in death” – but how he failed him is a mystery you will never solve.
The story itself is bizarre, the action scenes go far beyond the limits of your suspension of disbelief. For a moment you wonder how it occurred that Batman in a cloth costume could survive a fight that took the life of the invincible Superman, but that wonder is quickly swamped by all of the other nonsensical elements of the plot. You’re still not sure what Lex Luthor was trying to achieve – or indeed Wonder Woman.
Lois Lane never contributed to the story in any way, beyond saving Superman from Batman’s wrath – and even that scene was absurd, as Superman whispers his mother’s name, which just happens to be the same as Batman’s dead mother’s. And so you wonder – did Batman spare Superman’s life purely because their mothers shared a name? Is that honestly enough to quench two years of burning anger and hateful reason?
But it doesn’t matter. None of it matters anymore. Zack Snyder won’t be able to hurt you ever again. You’re past that. It’s clear now that there will never be a good Superman movie ever again. ‘Man of Steel’ failed, ‘Dawn of Justice’ has failed. Whilst Marvel romps on with its colourful, over-the-top exploits, you know that DC have put the final nail in their own coffin.
7 – Ultimate Acceptance
It’s easier this way. There will be people around you who haven’t seen the film, who won’t understand. But I do. I know your pain. You sat through two and a half hours of dreary tedium, of meaningless action, forced emotional drama. You endured, you persisted, but now you know that the only true solace will be found in that great undiscovered country. Only there will you be free of the overwhelmingly depressive nature of Zack Snyder’s particular brand of “entertainment”.
Depressing not because of its subject matter, but because of its execution. Lazy writing, ridiculous plot development, despairingly shallow characterisation. You want to call it stupid, you want to brand it dull. You want to excoriate it for its lack of loyalty to the source material, but that would ultimately do it too much credit.
No, there is one simple solution. A narrow but safe path to release ahead of you. Walk that path. Walk it with me. Do the sensible thing.
I was not particularly fond of ‘Man of Steel’ – indeed, I felt it was one of the worst things since sliced bread buttered with salmonella. However, I am aware that it was fairly successful, so I was surprised wen its sequel, ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’, came out with so little aplomb – just a couple of teaser trailers before widespread release at the beginning of the month.
I should confess, I didn’t exactly watch this film legitimately – indeed, I watched it on Youtube.com. I’m not proud of this, but it was the only place I could find it to watch it – none of the local cinemas were showing it, which was also baffling given how big a budget it must have had – I would have expected at least one or two major cities to be showing it somewhere.
Anyway, if you do get a chance to watch it on the big screen, I would recommend it. The Youtube upload I watched has likely been taken down by now, and the special effects are definitely worthy of the
Look, fuck it. You get the joke by now. Warner Brothers and DC have, in their wisdom, released the entire fucking film in the form of a two-minute trailer. From start to finish, they have revealed every key scene and plot development that the audience is going to find interesting.
The only thing we don’t see is the climax, but given it’s called “Superman v Batman’ and the only other character revealed only arrives in the final fight scene, and that this is the beginning of DC’s own fucking ‘Justice League’ franchise, we can be pretty fucking sure that they’re not going to pull off anything bold like having the good guys lose this one.
Seriously, go and watch the ‘Dawn of Justice’ trailer and try to pretend, with a straight face, that you now don’t understand in very specific terms the plot of the movie. I’m actually going to hold myself above the publishers here and NOT describe it all, because fuck it, there ought to be some fucking mystery left in the world.
Y’know, J. J. Abrams managed to convince himself that he’d convinced us that we had no idea who Benedict Cumberbatch’s character really was in ‘Star Trek: Into Darkness’, at least he was bloody trying to hold something back, unlike Mr. Zack “Slow It Down, Now Speed It Up Again” Snyder.
If J. J. Abrams were being interrogated for state secrets, you can bet you could run 10,000 volts between his gonads before he’d even confirm his name – sat next to him, Zack “My Movies Empower Women” Snyder would be blubbering uncontrollably whilst writing down the names and addresses of every allied agent East of Paris as soon as a guard lit a cigarette.
I mean, movie trailers are meant to tease and excite you, get you eager to see what’s still hidden from view – they’re the opening act of a striptease. You don’t start a striptease by dropping all your clothes in the first ten seconds and then slapping your client around the face with your genitals.