Year 8, Day 95 - 4/4/16 - Movie #2,295
BEFORE: Laurence Fishburne carries over from "Quicksilver" to play Perry White, and that puts me right where I want to be, going out to the movies on a Monday night. Some bad reviews and a large 2nd-weekend drop-off in ticket sales means that I've waited exactly the right amount of time to see this, the cinema should be fairly empty, and yet the internet hasn't been filled with plot spoilers yet, at least not where I've been looking. So here we go...joining me tonight will be Jim, an animator in from L.A. visiting our studio. My wife didn't see the last Superman film (or the last Batman film for that matter) so she probably won't mind skipping this one either.
FOLLOW-UP TO: "Man of Steel" (Movie #1,490)
THE PLOT: Fearing that the actions of Superman are left unchecked, Batman takes on the Man of Steel, while the world wrestles with what kind of a hero it really needs.
AFTER: It's the age-old question among comic-book fans: "Who would win in a fight?" We do it for Thor vs. Hulk, for Spider-Man vs. Wolverine - heck I once heard some people in a comic-shop debating Big Bird vs. Barney (Barney's a dinosaur, but not a vicious one, and Big Bird's got the height and the reach, but only one good arm. Hey, at least he's got big feet, he can kick. Advantage, Big Bird.) Colbert's been doing "Friday Night Fights" recently, asking fans to weigh in on similarly themed imaginary battles.
But now we know who wins in a fight between Batman and Superman - and it's the audience. I didn't have too many problems with this film (scroll down, I'm sure I'll deal with them later on...) and I haven't read the bad reviews yet, but I know they're out there. But in over 7 years of watching and reviewing films on a near-daily basis, in rating almost 2,300 films, I've given out exactly TWO perfect 10 scores. One was for "Watchmen" (like tonight's film, directed by Zack Snyder) and the other was for "The Dark Knight Rises" (like tonight's film, starring Batman). So to say my expectations were high going in would be a bit of an understatement.
"The Dark Knight Rises" combined three Batman storylines which I was very familiar with - "Knightfall", where Batman first fought Bane, "The Dark Knight Returns", with Batman coming back to Gotham after a long absence, and "No Man's Land", where Gotham City is cut off from the mainland and functions as a near-lawless society. And it combined all three storylines seamlessly, I really liked the way that the pieces fit together, and even though I'd read all of those comic storylines, the film still found a way to surprise me. To me, that's a perfect score.
"BvS:DoJ" similarly tries to combine a number of famous DC comic stories - first is "The Dark Knight Returns", set in the future, but it features a killer fight between the two heroes, an older Batman wearing a special suit and using Kryptonite weapons to take Superman down. Second would be "The Death of Superman", where a character named Doomsday came to Earth and battled all of its heroes, taking the Man of Steel out for a while (death is almost never permanent in comics, don't cha know...) and then let's say the third would be the formation of the Justice League, a story that has been told several times, most recently during the last DC reboot in 2012.
There's a lot of good stuff in this film, especially the philsophical stuff about the role of a god-like hero in society - which does remind me of "Watchmen", the way normal humans in that story reacted to Dr. Manhattan, a character who could control time, see the future and destroy a line of tanks with a mere gesture. At what point does someone with such powers become a weapon? Who controls that weapon, who watches the Watchmen and who makes sure that they fight the good fight? This is addressed in "BvS" by way of congressional hearings about Superman's actions after he flies into a foreign country to rescue Lois Lane. Sure, he took down some terrorists, but on whose authority? He may fight for truth, justice and the American way, but who defines what exactly that entails?
This is further supported by Batman's (or, rather, Bruce Wayne's) witnessing of the actions depicted in the last Superman film, "Man of Steel", where Supes battled General Zod, causing building after building to crumble from the Metropolis skyline. Heck, I felt it was really excessive at the time, and a bit too reminiscent of 9/11, and just because a film CAN destroy building after building with special effects, it doesn't mean that you should. But it turns out that WayneCorp had a building in Metropolis, and there was nothing Bruce could do to save his building or the lives of his employees, so he realizes how dangerous Superman's powers are. (Now, of course, he could blame General Zod for all that destruction rather than Superman, but they needed to set up the motivation for the heroes to fight...)
But on a very basic level, what happens when someone with Superman's powers starts appearing in the news? He appears to do only good deeds, but what if someone were to take control of his mind? What if his powers got out of control, or he just had a bad day and got mad or something? And if he's saving this person over here, what about that person over THERE? He always seems to be there when Lois Lane needs him, but does that cause a conflict of interest? If he's saving her (again), then who is he not saving at the same time? And what gives him the right to make those choices, which might have unforeseen consequences? A vision from Clark Kent's father reinforces this concept, telling a story about saving one family farm from a flood, but by diverting the river to destroy another family's farm.
I'm making this sound like a real thinking-man's film, and it sort of is, but there's plenty of action too. Batman shows that he's a one-man force, going up against a warehouse of armed bad guys by himself, something similar to what I've seen recently in two other films: "Kingsman" (Colin Firth vs. a church full of crazy killers) and "John Wick" (Keanu Reeves vs. a nightclub full of Russian mobsters). I could get all nitpicky and point out that Batman never uses guns in the comic books, but who cares, really - watching him in action, fist-fighting, shooting, breaking through walls, using gadgets all at the same time, it's action-film ballet, and it's a hot trend right now, with each new action film raising the stakes.
But if I've got any beef with this film it's those typical franchise problems - where does this fit in with the three Christopher Nolan Batman films? And if it doesn't take place in-between "The Dark Knight" and "The Dark Knight Rises", then when does this occur? (I know, the simple answer is "whenever the story needs to occur", but I want more specifics.) I'd like to think that for every franchise out there - from Aliens to X-Men, that there's someone in charge, someone with a brain who respects all of the material that has come before. Sadly, that's not usually the case. I might as well ask where this fits in with the Michael Keaton Batman, or the George Clooney one - and that's the problem, every franchise all the way down to "Robocop" gets re-booted every few years, whenever Hollywood thinks a new generation is ready to buy a ticket for that ride again.
It's not just Superman, who had a reboot after "Superman Returns", or Batman, who's had more reboots than I can count, it's James Bond, who had a soft reboot every time a new actor played him, and a hard reboot with "Casino Royale" a few years ago. It's the Spider-Man franchise which rebooted after three films, released another two, and now has a new actor playing Spidey in the upcoming "Captain America" film. These things are starting to happen more and more often. They rebooted "Robocop", "Planet of the Apes", "Mad Max", "Terminator" - where does it end?
Even in the comic-books themselves, the reboots are happening more frequently. I understand that you can't keep telling the same stories, and that characters have to change over time, and every so often they have to do something to get the new readers involved, but criminy, it's getting ridiculous. We had the Golden Age Superman, then the Silver Age Superman, and for a while there were even TWO Supermen, from parallel Earths, just to explain how he could have been part of one super-team in the 1940's and another team in the 1960's. Then they started over with a new Superman in 1983 (that's when I started reading), and that one lasted until "Flashpoint" in 2011, when time-travel allowed them to start over with a new origin story, and change the character to make him more accessible to current readers (again). Now there's talk of rebooting the comic-book Superman AGAIN this year.
Of course, it's all explainable as a multiverse - this Superman lives in this universe, that Superman lives in THAT universe, and you can just read about the one you like best. But I bet it's probably confusing to some people if Clark's dating Lois Lane in the movies, but not in the comic books. In the recent comics he was dating Wonder Woman for a while, which kind of worked, I think, they certainly have a lot in common - but the previous Superman was married to Lois, and then that all went away, only it really didn't, because that Superman and Lois recently made an appearance in the NEW DC universe, so instead of things getting simpler, they're only getting more and more complicated. Again, I want to see every franchise run by someone with a brain, who can tell writers and directors what they can and can't do, so these stories don't all conflict with each other.
Marvel Comics has similar problems - the "Avengers" movie really took off, but they had to explain that the movie Avengers live in a different universe from the comic-book Avengers, for many reasons. Hawkeye's married to a normal woman in the movies, but a notorious Don Juan in the comics, bedding nearly every female Avenger in sight. Captain America spent 18 years frozen in ice in the comics, but in the movies it was more like 60 or 65 years. And don't get me started on Quicksilver.... But the X-Men movie franchise maybe got things right, after fans pointed out discrepancies between the first three "X-Men" movies and the prequel "X-Men: First Class", they just had Wolverine time-travel in "Days of Future Past", and with him changing the timeline, they can now move forward and tell whatever story they want. Dead characters can be alive again, just like with the "Secret Wars" reboot.
But let's get back to "Batman v Superman". I didn't like the new Lex Luthor at first, because he seemed like some cross between a rich hipster douchebag and someone with manic autism or ADHD - admittedly, if that's what they were going for, they cast the absolute perfect actor for that. The new Lex is definitely somewhere on the spectrum, plus he's got daddy issues (NITPICK POINT: LexCorp can't be named after Lex's father, because "Smallville" established his name was Lionel Luthor, right?). But Luthor should see himself as a hero - heck, all the best villains should see themselves as heroes - because he's someone trying to defend the world from the threat of Superman. But if he appears this addled and this manic, then Luthor starts to resemble the Joker, and he's just not anything like that.
Again, this brings us back to the Superman as Jesus metaphor, but Lex Luthor doesn't see it that way. He believes that an alien isn't necessarily an angel, just because he comes from the sky. Luthor should be portrayed more like Donald Trump, just replace "Mexicans" and "Muslims" with "Kryptonians" - and don't forget, there was a storyline before the reboot of 2011 where Lex Luthor DID get elected President on an anti-alien platform.
But let's face it, it wasn't all this meta-physical stuff that made us go see this movie, it was the big fight between Batman and Superman. Can the world's greatest detective and combat fighter take down the most powerful man in the world? Maybe with a little help from a green rock? That battle did not disappoint, even though there was a long build-up to the event. (It's a 2 1/2 hour film, so get the refillable popcorn tub, and the small soda, so you can plan your bathroom breaks accordingly.)
A pivotal point in the film is based on something that both heroes have in common in their origin stories - and it's been sitting there the whole time, right in front of my eyes, I've been reading about these characters for over 30 years, it's so simple and I never noticed it, never made the connection. Kudos for that.
But the main goal here is still to introduce Wonder Woman and set up the formation of the Justice League, which does get done, though perhaps not the way you might have thought. Batman gets a strange warning from the future about how important it is to do this, which (as a friend has already pointed out to me) seems an awful lot like a time paradox. It's a bit like if you invent a time machine, then at some point you use that machine to go back and give yourself the plans to build the time machine. Then who really invented it?
Also starring Ben Affleck (last seen in "Gone Girl"), Henry Cavill (last seen in "Whatever Works"), Amy Adams (last seen in "Her"), Jesse Eisenberg (last seen in "Zombieland"), Diane Lane (last seen in "Murder at 1600"), Jeremy Irons (last seen in "The Words"), Holly Hunter (last seen in "Copycat"), Gal Gadot, Scoot McNairy (also last seen in "Gone Girl"), Callan Mulvey, Tao Okamoto, Michael Shannon (last seen in "They Came Together"), with cameos from Kevin Costner (last seen in "Dragonfly"), Ezra Miller (last seen in "Trainwreck"), Jason Momoa, Jeffrey Dean Morgan (also last seen in "They Came Together"), Joe Morton (last seen in "Bounce"), Charlie Rose, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Soledad O'Brien, Anderson Cooper, Nancy Grace, and the voices of Patrick Wilson (last seen in "Little Children"), Carla Gugino (last seen in "Miami Rhapsody").
RATING: 8 out of 10 uncashed checks