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April 4, 2016

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice: Clods Among Us (Part 2)

So what’s the weirdest superpower you can think of?

I can’t help but ask, because -- speaking personally -- the vast majority of my characters are created based on what sort of powers I can give them.  Jury’s out on whether or not that’s a good idea, but recently, I’ve been challenging myself to come up with more powers from left field.  The end goal is to take a page from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (sans Stands): take powers that would be seemingly useless and have the characters apply them in ways that turn the “useless” into “incredible”.  Right now I’m focusing on a guy who can always be there to stop a timer -- on a watch, on a clock, on a microwave -- before it goes off…which gives him the power to effectively teleport. 

I’d say more, but chances are high that you’re here for more thoughts on Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.  (Plus that idea’s super rough around the edges.)  But since we’re dealing with superheroes, it’s important to think at least a little bit about their powers/skill set/equipment.  What do they mean for the character, especially in terms of personality?  How do they impact the world around the hero or heroine?  What do they bring to the table? 

I have to ask, because in terms of this movie, the answer is a resounding nothing.

Look!  Up in the sky!  It’s a SPOILER!  It’s a SPOILER!  No, it’s blatant and overwrought symbolism that has no reason being used by a team that’s demonstrated its sheer ability to fail on even basic levels of storytelling and film-making principles!


I’ll go ahead and make a confession: Wonder Woman was my last bastion of hope for this movie.  Historical precedents suggested that Superman probably wouldn’t come out clean in this movie, and I had doubts that Snyder and crew would offer up a good Batman (regardless of Ben Affleck doin’ work for the role).  But Wonder Woman? 

It was another chance to start fresh -- and more importantly, get a leg-up on Marvel by prominently featuring a female superheroine.  Even though Black Widow first showed up in Iron Man 2 back in 2010 and has been a prominent fixture in the universe since, but I guess she doesn’t count because she hasn’t gotten a solo movie yet.

So how does Wonder Woman/Diana Prince fare in this movie? 

How do you think she fares?

People have been saying that Wondy’s good in this movie, and that she steals the show, and all sorts of praise.  I’ll have to respectfully disagree.  Granted, she’s still handled the best of the three heroes, but that’s only because of the asterisks in bold print.  First off, she’s only the best of the three because Bats and Supes are both decidedly terrible.  Second, I’m pretty sure she’d be worse if she had more screen time, considering how the other two members of the Trinity were handled.  Third, her screen time is so piddling that she barely gets to do anything.  And as a corollary, the stuff that she does do is totally insubstantial.  (Also, I personally think her theme song is garbage -- a bunch of Hans Zimmer-style pounding with random guitar notes that make her sound villainous instead of heroic.  It’s still the only memorable part of the soundtrack, but only because of how bad it is.)
I know there have been some controversies over the fact that Gal Gadot doesn’t exactly have the look of an Amazonian warrior -- which is a conflict on the rise again, and will be in the future -- but she seems fine in terms of playing the role.  I didn’t expect her to have such a marked accent, but I’m okay with it.  What I’m not so okay with is the fact that you can count the number of relevant effects she has on the plot (if not her number of scenes) on one hand.

To wit: over the course of a two and a half hour movie, she…

1) Infiltrates Lex Luthor’s party to steal his data -- namely a picture of her in 1918 in full costume.
2) Reads through the files Batman sends her that show off the future Justice League members.
3) Gets ready to leave town via plane.
4) Joins the battle with Doomsday.
5) Agrees to help Batman form the Justice League.

That’s basically it.  And as you can guess, #3 is just as “crucial” a plot point as it gets.  So really, most of Wondy’s time is spent slinking around in improbably stitched-together “dresses”, looking sultry, acting mysterious, and creating some sexual tension with Bats.   (Side note: I wonder if this version of Bruce Wayne would have any problems shacking up with someone at least a hundred years his senior -- and/or could thrust him into solid concrete.)  There’s basically nothing for her to do in this movie, and I almost wish that she didn’t show up at all.  On the one hand, adding more for her would’ve made the movie even more of a slog; on the other hand, it would’ve removed one of the eighty subplots.

I don’t feel like I have a good grasp on the character’s personality.  Obviously, part of that has to do with the fact that she’s barely in the movie; she’s got no stake in the Bats/Supes hypocrisy-fest, and her brief time onscreen means she gets fewer chances to indulge in the vile atmosphere the past two movies in this universe have cultivated.  But by not being an awful (and stupid) person, she doesn’t get to do anything to set her apart.  Well, almost nothing.

Wondy cracks one of the few smiles in the entire movie.  Why?  Because she’s in a fight with Doomsday, and apparently she’s having the time of her life.  It’s a far cry from her stoic and composed affect while posing as Diana Prince, and in some ways it’s appreciable; maybe there’s someone in this universe who actually enjoys being a hero, instead of seeing their powers and responsibilities as a burden.  In an ideal world, that aspect of her personality would be explored in more than just a few minutes in the movie’s climactic battle.

But there are two issues I have with the character.  First off, her most defining moment comes from a big dumb action scene -- and I stress dumb, because it’s a mass of brown and orange CG tossed into a rock tumbler -- that adds nothing except a chance for her to look cool.  And sure, she gets in some nice hits with her sword, bracelets, and lasso, but it doesn’t add anything even remotely substantial.  As noted elsewhere, the Trinity doesn’t bother to talk with one another once the trailer shot is done and the action resumes; Superman barely says anything to Wonder Woman throughout the entire movie, period.  So yeah, she may be fast, strong, well-equipped, and basically able to fly (or jump really well, at least), but how does that set her apart from a hodgepodge of Bats and Supes?  What does the battle say about her besides “she’s a good fighter” and “she likes to fight”? 

As a reminder: a “strong female character” should have more going for her than “can kick a lot of ass”.  As you know.

I mean…Zack Snyder likes comics and anime and stuff, right?  He has to, considering what’s on his IMDB page -- 300, Watchmen, and Sucker Punch, just to name a few.  So he should understand that there are ways to weave characterization into fights.  The most immediate example I can think of is Street Fighter; with each passing game, the devs manage to make Ryu and Ken more divergent from one another, so that the latter’s a serious fighter with hard-hitting fundamentals, and the latter’s a flashy brawler who strings a ton of hits together. 

Alternatively, look at something like Naruto; there’s a huge range of abilities there, and each character applies those movies in accordance with their strategies, their ability to adapt, and their personalities.  Granted something like Naruto (and others) suffers from some serious growing pains thanks to constantly-increased power levels, but strategists fight like strategists, wild men fight like wild men, and creepy guys fight like creepy guys.   We learn more about who they are in the absence of a nice long chat at the local café.

What do we learn about Wondy?  She enjoys fights and cuts off big dumb monster limbs.  So I’m inclined to believe that if given the chance, she’d prove that she’s just like Bats and Supes…i.e. a stupid hypocritical jackass.

I’ve staunchly refused going “Where are the other Avengers” when it comes to the solo Marvel movies, because having them show up for every instance -- especially when they’re busy, like Thor playing a multi-dimensional ambassador -- would make the inevitable team-ups less special.  I’m tempted to ask where Wondy was during the battle of Metropolis, but I can live without it.  With that said, I have to take issue with her explanation. 

It’s revealed that she’s lived among humans for generations, and was apparently a key player in World War I (which will probably be explained in greater detail in her solo movie).  The whole reason she’s in this movie is because she wants to keep her presence a secret …though I’m not sure how well she’d be able to do that if she fought in a war and appeared in a photo -- and perhaps newspaper -- that potentially ended up well-circulated, but whatever.  She mentions offhandedly that she withdrew from the world because she witnessed the evils of man, and how they did harm to one another, and whatever.

I have a lot of problems with that.

Okay, sure.  World War I caused a then-unprecedented amount of damage and casualties thanks to emerging technologies like machine guns and mustard gas, and the conditions of warfare (like fighting in the trenches) didn’t help matters.  And yes, wars that followed only helped escalate the problem; you don’t have to be a history buff to know about the atomic bomb.  The evils of men are well-documented, and they’ll keep being documented for as long as the written word exists.

So here’s my question: what about the good of men?

Clearly Wondy saw something in men that made her want to leave the island of Themyscira -- or if not that, then she may have wanted to see what lied beyond the borders of her lush paradise.  I would think that she joined in the war to fight for peace and a better world.  But when she saw something go wrong, she quit and went into hiding?  She hung up the tiara and bracelets, and devoted herself to…a life of personal luxury?  Wherein she can get invited to fancy parties by business moguls, wear glamorous dresses, and be chauffeured at her leisure?

So what about the goodness in the world in the time since World War I?  What about the civil rights movement and efforts to secure equality that go on to this day?  What about advances in technology that have pushed mankind to land on the moon and scour the stars?  What about cultural gains that threaten to make the Library of Congress burst wide open -- or failing that, the books, music, art, and more that delight even the simplest Jill and Joe? 

And on that note, what about the good of women?  Do you just not care about the struggle for suffrage and various equal rights?  Have you turned a blind eye to all of it, from the women who have found success in industries small and large to the victims still oppressed at this very moment?  Does the presence of a furious campaign for a female president on multiple occasions not strike you as something worth celebrating?

I guess not.  I guess none of it matters.  “Men were bad a hundred years ago, so I’ll wash my hands of them and only care about myself.”  I mean…Christ, even in the context of this universe that’s a terrible attitude.  When you’ve got people building statues to celebrate Superman’s efforts -- and the man of steel himself is willing to swoop in and save a little girl on the other side of the world -- then shouldn’t that be an emblem of the good in the world?  Shouldn’t you be inspired to use your powers more than not at all?  Shouldn’t you do more than randomly help kill a random rock monster?

I love how I already gave up on this movie, but now I’m giving up on it even more.

It’s like…I tend to do this thing with my movie posts where I point out flaws to the tune of Groose’s theme.  But I don’t even feel like doing that here.  That’s partly because I can think of other things I’d rather be doing (like working on my superheroes), and partly because I don’t see a point in highlighting the problems with this movie.  Do you really need me to tell you that Lex’s plan is way too complicated and nonsensical (and built on zero motivations) yet it still goes just according to keikaku because he’s basically the Joker an evil genius?  Do you really need me to tell you that Lois still ends up playing the damsel, and even when she’s trying to be strong she proves how much of an idiot she can be? 

I will say this about Lois: there’s a moment in there where she says something along the lines of “I’m not a lady.  I’m a journalist.”  And it’s just like…can’t you be both?  Okay, sure, you can put more emphasis on your profession and credentials, and not be hampered by your gender.  But to actively ignore or even shun that gender just to prove how tough you are comes off as misguided.  I’d say I’m reaching here, but there’s a scene where another government guy applauds her for having the balls to approach him for the truth (in the men’s bathroom, no less).  I’m not saying that Snyder and crew hate women, but something tells me that their approach to them is wrongheaded.

Then again, that extends to the whole movie, and one of its greatest overall problems: it has no heart.

I’m not saying that the movie is worse off for not having more colors or more any jokes.  If DC and Warner Bros. want to make movies that are serious and thoughtful rather than the cheery and straightforward Marvel movies, then fine.  (Granted the Marvel movies aren’t afraid to get meaningful, serious, and/or dark either, but DC’s willing to slot them into a stereotype, so I guess I will too for now.)  They can chase after the Christopher Nolan movies/Dark Knight Trilogy as much as they want, and that’s fine.  But they have to do it well.  And so far, they’re not.

I’m no ironclad defender of Nolan or the Dark Knight Trilogy, but it’s not like I have a problem with either as a whole.  Nolan’s got some weaknesses, but he’s got some undeniable strengths.  And even though I didn’t care for The Dark Knight Rises, I’ve got no problems admitting that The Dark Knight is pretty strong.  So why can’t these guys figure out how to make their recent movies great instead of just trying and failing to be The Dark Knight?  How have they not figured out that one of DC’s most bankable movies had more than just grandiose statements -- that it had better visuals, better characters, better themes, better writing, better villains, and even better jokes despite being called THE DARK KNIGHT? 

Snyder and crew either didn’t understand the DC heroes (and their universe at large), or they didn’t care. They substituted their own meanings in place of the typical ones.  Really, that would be fine in some ways; this is a new universe separate from the comics, with the ability to firmly establish a new -- if non-essential -- set of guidelines as to what the world is all about.  But virtually everything that appears in this movie flies in the face of everything that’s generally obvious.  I’m not just talking about them making Batman a killer; I’m talking about them completely failing to grasp the concept of heroism.

Nothing about superheroes was enough for these people.  Nothing.  So instead of what could be -- and should be -- a thoughtful exploration of a hero living in a modern world, we get a confused treatise that has a sloth’s understanding of what religion, politics, history, and even society as a whole entails.  There is no grand statement here.  There is no through line, logical or emotional, to follow.  How could there be when Lex decides to create a big dumb rock monster for no reason, and would’ve been smeared all over its knuckles five seconds after his “son’s” birth if not for Superman stopping the punch?

I’m not asking for the DC Cinematic Universe to be a sun-soaked utopia, but I AM asking for it to not be this ugly, exhaustive wasteland that shovels cold gruel into every orifice.  Batman is the only one in this movie that has the right to act like he’s old, tired, and busted, but the symbols of hope and peace are just as world-weary -- just as resentful of the world and people they’re supposed to protect.  So according to the scorecard: Batman’s a murderer who chases after his personal demons more often than he solves crimes or stops bad guys in his home of Gotham.  Superman is still an idiot who can’t think for himself, and would rather beg the people in his life for advice than take a single step toward being the symbol of hope he’s supposed to be. 

Wonder Woman has basically taken Ma Kent’s words to heart for reasons another movie years from now will have to explain -- and even then it probably won’t, so we’re stuck with the feminine icon getting her jollies from monster murder and adopting a “too cool for this planet” mentality until the last five minutes of the movie.  Because hey, she’s a part of the Justice League, too.

And what’s it all in service of?  Borderline zealots who build up above-average individuals as divine beings?  Mindless naysayers who blather on about how “good” men and women are threats to national security despite there being no need for it?  Is it too much to ask to just have people that want to do good because people are in trouble, or it’s the right thing to do -- and then not act like it’s some herculean effort that pushes them to the breaking point?  Can we not just have heroes being heroes, villains being villains, and people being people?  Can we not have even the slightest recognition of goodness in this universe?

Maybe not.  If DC and Warner Bros. are so hell-bent on not being Marvel, then I guess they need more than just a “no jokes policy”.  They need a “no humanity policy”, too.  And given this movie, I’m inclined to say that they’ve got that shit on a plaque somewhere at HQ.  Their loss.  Literally.

One of the most telling scenes in the entire movie is near its ending.  Superman takes on Doomsday, and puts up a pretty convincing fight.  You’d think that he would create another Metropolis fiasco, but you’d be wrong.  I was sitting in the theater watching the fight, and I thought to myself, “Why are you bothering to punch him?  Just carry him into space, launch him into orbit, and eject him from the planet.  Problem solved.”  And you know what?  Superman actually did that.  I was awestruck.  Someone acting intelligently in the movie?  How unprecedented!

But then I was awestruck for an entirely different reason.  The US government decides that even though Superman is handling the situation competently -- even though he’s basically seconds away from solving the problem, having carried Doomsday well above the planet -- they should launch a nuke and kill both of them simultaneously.  Because “Superman’s a threat to society, lol”.  It doesn’t work.  They just brought Doomsday back to Earth (stronger than ever, no less), stunned Superman, and made the movie last longer than it needed to.

I’ve heard that introducing Doomsday into this movie means that BvS is aping The Death of Superman -- which, as far as I can tell, is actually pretty bad.  But I guess they figured that they had to kill off Superman somehow for that cheap attempt at tugging at the heartstrings.  They had to show people mourning, and holding candlelight vigils, and building new monuments, and burying him, even though that shit’s going to be reversed in a couple of years at most.  But hey, he died for their sins, so I guess now the Christ metaphor is more complete than ever -- especially with his resurrection waiting in the wings.

And since BvS is done, I’m done too.

I don’t want to say I’m done with the DC movies in general, because there’s still the potential to salvage it with the other three heroes (four if we include Green Lantern, which the DCCU probably will).  But if Snyder, Goyer, and the rest of his cabal are involved, then I’m out.  I don’t want more overwrought symbolism.  I don’t want more go-nowhere commentary.  I don’t want to see a bunch of assholes in tights alternate between moping around, blaming their problems on everyone else, and destroying the worlds they’re supposed to protect.  I don’t want to see more idiocy become an inevitable part of the plot, as if ordered by some divine decree.  And it might as well be, since Flash says that Lois is the key to everything (and fuck that noise with a splintered 2x4).

I wanted to see superheroes.  I didn’t.  And that’s exactly why I’m putting Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice right around HERE on my SmartChart™ -- where it belongs.

There.   It’s over.  I’m free.  And you’re free, too.  So if you want some real heroes, go watch some of the DC animated movies.  There are plenty of them, and you won’t be left wanting.  (I recommend All-Star Superman -- comic or movie, take your pick -- and Justice League: Doom.)

Failing that?  Look up World’s Finest -- and laugh over the fact that people figured out how to do a team-up two decades ago in half the time for a fraction of the price.

*mic drop* *exit stage left*

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