Review: Ant-Man

640_antman_antfriendIn Robert Altman’s 1992 Hollywood satire The Player, a writer pitches a studio executive a story about a wrongly-accused woman who dies tragically in the gas chamber just before she can be saved. When the executive questions the downer ending, the writer argues it has to end that way, because “that’s reality.”

By the end of the film, we witness the final production – Julia Roberts plays the woman accused, and just before the gas engulfs her, Bruce Willis bursts into the chamber and carries her away in his arms. Gone is the pathos of the writer’s vision, thanks to the corporate overlords presiding over the studio.

I’d say that’s a pretty accurate descriptor of what’s become of Ant-Man, originally scribed by the brilliant Shaun of the Dead writer/director Edgar Wright. Wright was slated to direct Ant-Man too, shepherding the project for a full eight years before finally parting ways with Disney/Marvel over creative differences. The studio has since reworked the film into perhaps the pinnacle of its shamelessly banal, same-y superhero adaptations, sucking out any and all chance it may have had at being special.

During the Cold War, S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) developed a suit which could shrink its wearer down to the size of an ant, and could even command an army of ants themselves. After a tragic incident, Pym retires the Ant-Man, until years later rouge mentee Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) takes over Pym’s company and begins attempting to replicate the shrinking tech for military use. To stop him, Pym and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) take in a new Ant-Man, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a reformed burglar just looking to have a normal life with his young daughter Cassie (adorable newcomer Abby Ryder Fortson).

Based on the classic “To Steal an Ant-Man” from the pages of Marvel Premiere, there is a very cool premise buried in Ant-Man. This idea of a highly stylized, cool-as-ice heist with tiny people, a morally ambiguous criminal element, and superheroes passing their mantle down to a new generation. But after the Mouse’s grubby mitts wiped Wright’s original script clean of its edge, we’ve lost all sense of style and uniqueness. Lang is now a reluctant thief, his comrades all racial stereotypes played for comedic relief (!), and with all embarking on a very generic quest for redemption. What we’re left with is not so much a heist movie as it is Disney’s fluffed-up idea of one.

Replacing Wright in the director’s chair is Bring it On’s Peyton Reed, who adds nothing of value to the material other than bowing to the studio’s desire to cut the balls off the film. One scene sees Lang try on the suit and shrink down, only to have him run from gushing bathtub water, a dance floor of stomping partiers, and finally be swept through the air on a winged ant. It’s the kind of chaotic action Wright would’ve directed brilliantly, but Reed isn’t nearly as skilled, forcing Lang on a clusterfuck of screwball pratfalling that’s neither funny nor engaging.

Poor Paul Rudd, who’s admirably pressing through the motions of this subgenre, like the forced romance with Evangeline Lilly’s character, despite the two having zero chemistry and literally sharing nothing more than interested glances with one another. You’d think Rudd’s brand of dry, self-aware humor would at least prove a draw, in addition to the fact that he himself took part in the rewrites with his Anchorman director Adam McKay. But Rudd’s Lang just comes off as unfunny, and an odd contrast to the solemn gravity of Michael Douglas’ monologues. I’m reminded very much of Green Lantern, another comic book adaptation brimming with potential and starring a very capable comedic male lead, whose talents are utterly wasted in a movie butchered by the studio. At least now Ryan Reynolds can redeem himself with Deadpool; no doubt that Rudd has the chops to do the same eventually.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Marvel movie without a generous helping of commercials for its other properties. Ant-Man is another class offender, inundating its first act with S.H.I.E.L.D. cameos and double entendre about giant hammers and iron suits. I bring it up again, however, because the film actually does do something right in all its commercialism – a sequence when Lang has to go toe-to-toe with an Avenger. I’m fondly reminded of some of the charmingly gimmicky Marvel Team-Up books of old, when heroes would fight each other following a misunderstanding, later to reconcile and acknowledge each other’s strengths. For that brief moment, Ant-Man inadvertently channels the Marvel feeling that’s been sorely missing from these movies lately.

It’s little relief. Ant-Man embodies the entirety of my issues with Marvel Studios, and stands as neither an effective superhero movie, nor a particularly good heist movie. Which is a damn shame, because Ant-Man is the type of niche character that has huge potential to make a big splash in the right, or should I say Wright, pair of hands.

 

4.5/10

 

IMAGE: ETonline

Advertisements

X-citing Changes: Highlights of Comic-Con 2015

ccdp“I’m touching myself tonight,” announces Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool in front of a packed Hall H crowd of over 6,000 people. The Con posits a reminder in front of panelists their audience may be under 18, but that didn’t stop anyone from blowing the roof off the hall with hard language, innuendo, and brutally violent imagery.

And it was beautiful.

It’s the people going against the grain that elevate Comic-Con from a mundane gathering of smelly nerds worshipping at the feet of a bunch of contractually obligated stars, themselves shoved out into the spotlight to recite canned answers to banal questions and collect their paycheck.

Yeah, I’m letting my bitter old fuck side show again, but I did quite enjoy what I saw of this years’ festivities online. And for my annual coverage I’ll be going against the grain myself, limiting myself to a single post recapping the whole of what I got out of the Con, rather than laboriously recounting panels you’ve likely already read about elsewhere. Lots to cover, little time.

Supergirl pilot screening

While San Diego glimpsed the official premiere of CBS’ new superhero series by “Arrow” and “Flash” showrunner Greg Berlanti, I treated myself to the leaked pilot from months prior. “Supergirl” centers on Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist), sent to Earth from the dying planet Krypton just after her cousin Kal-El. But Kara is caught in the Phantom Zone and delayed in her arrival on Earth by 24 years, long enough for baby Kal to have already grown up into the Man of Steel. After some time to grow up herself, Kara now works in National City as a lowly coffee-fetcher, but is slowly beginning to follow in her cousin’s footsteps by using her powers to help others.

“Supergirl” owes a great deal to Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman: the Movie in tone, musical cues, design, and occasionally, cliché. Where the new cinematic Superman in Man of Steel abandoned Clark Kent’s mousy Bringing Up Baby routine, now “Supergirl” picks it up in its stead. Your mileage on that may vary, thoughSupergirl_Promo_SG6F30H_587252_640x360 undisputedly, every player in the pilot gives a pretty solid performance handling the usual clunky pilot writing, complete with Kara doing “woman things” like picking out what to wear on a date with an online match.

In the funny books, Supergirl is an inherently silly Silver-Age spinoff of the Superman mythos. She does all the same things the Man of Steel can do, except she’s a woman. “Supergirl” makes a valiant effort to remove the character from Superman’s world, but comparisons are inevitable. Superman is sorely missed from this series, referred to only as “the big man” or glimpsed briefly as a silhouette in the sun.

I do wonder, with the whole of the internet demanding studios for more female superhero adaptations, would it not be more beneficial for Warners to have picked someone like Zatanna or Power Girl to lead a new series? As an original adaptation not tied to any other male heroes, is that not making an even greater statement, that women don’t need to live in the shadow of men?

Still, this about as good as a Supergirl pilot gets, so if it fails, time to call out the aforementioned rabble-rousers for not supporting the type of quality product they incessantly demand more of.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

mayclylksn2pjygltivcAfter a brief look at Ezra Miller as the Flash (an interesting but highly questionable casting choice) and the Green Lantern Corps reboot, the Batman v Superman panel had a brand new trailer to showcase, released officially online afterward.

A lot of what I wrote in my editorial on the first trailer still stands – it’s all very overwrought, with the Batman/Superman conflict painted as more of a political struggle containing underlying themes of security/taking-the-fight-to-them-type stuff (what snooty critics would tiredly label “post-9/11 subtext”). Substance is always good, but the dark, Christopher Nolan-esque seriousness of the whole thing feels gloomy when it should be thrilling. I miss the fun, winking charm of previous Superman films, the ones where he’s solving things rather than creating more problems. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – Batman is about having problems, Superman is about finding solutions.

We’ll see come March. This is a very important movie for the future of DC Comics on film, and I worry we’ll never again reach the heights of The Dark Knight or Superman: the Movie. Still, kudos to Warner for their filmmaker-driven approach, which should nonetheless deliver more satisfying adaptations than Marvel Studios.

Suicide Squad

Leaked from the con and later officially released by a comic-con-international-2015-warner-bros-presentationgrumbling Warner Bros, footage from David Ayer’s Suicide Squad has been rocking the internet, and for good reason – it looks far better than Zack Snyder’s dour team-up. Uniting some of DC’s more obscure villains to tackle impossible missions is great movie material not just because of its excellent source, but because it looks to be something bold and visionary, something DIFFERENT in the face of the same old superhero shtick Marvel continues to peddle. Even Jared Leto’s Joker looks quite solid, not that there was any doubt in my mind.

Here’s hoping for a movie that lives up to what Jon Ostrander accomplished with the comics. Provided director Ayer is channeling Fury and not Sabotage, I think he’ll do just fine.

Deadpool

Deadpool-Is-The-Ultimate-Comic-Con-Movie

Before Bryan Singer provided an intriguing, if expected look at X-Men: Apocalypse, it was director Tim Miller, star Ryan Reynolds, and the cast of Deadpool that brought the thunder Saturday night. In a bit of leaked footage from the upcoming film, as Reynolds is being wheeled away on a stretcher on the promise of gaining superpowers, he cries out, “Please don’t make the suit green. Or animated!” I’ve since watched the leaked footage several times over.

Deadpool’s hilarious panel followed suit, providing some uproariously funny commentary about Miller’s occasional on-set crying, cracking jokes about bestiality, and more. The panel proved the sweet irreverence the Con desperately needed; everyone involved appeared genuinely proud of what they’ve accomplished with the film thus far. Vulture wrote it first and I agree wholeheartedly; if Deadpool is as funny and entertaining as it looks, it could prove the most vital superhero movie of 2016.

Honorable Mentions

I’m not a big fan, but Ash vs. Evil Dead looks like a fun return to an old fan-favorite franchise. The Hateful Eight should have an incredible soundtrack now that Ennio Morricone is onboard for the score, and I may just have to travel to catch it in 70 mm from how passionately Tarantino speaks of the format. The ever-funny Bill Murray proved a welcome addition to the Con family appearing for Open Road’s Rock the Kasbah, which if the trailer is any indication, looks to be a great showcase for the actor’s brand of dry, cool-as-fuck humor.bm

Jay Garrick will appear in the second season of The Flash played by Teddy Sears, a welcome addition to a series that I quite enjoyed overall this past fall. But can we all agree that Legends of Tomorrow looks like shit?

People continue to jizz themselves over The Force Awakens. I will say that all involved seem very genuine about making the best movie they can, but I’ve still seen nothing to convince me the film won’t be anything more than ordinary and unessential, not unlike this summer’s Jurassic World.

Victor Frankenstein’s panel featured stars James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe exchanging unintentional innuendo about their character’s sexual proclivities, proving an entertaining break from the norm. And M. Night Shyamalan stopped by to promote his return-to-form of sorts in The Visit. It’s a prime vehicle for the director’s comeback, but I can’t help but feel that prospect is more cosmetic than anything – the first trailer looks just as awkward a mix of creepy and unintentionally hilarious as The Happening. We’ll see come September.

Dishonorable Mention

Quick bone to pick with the rapidly-devolving Arrow, a show which has producer Greg Berlanti claiming that season four will finally feature the hero’s transition from Arrow to Green Arrow. But isn’t that what viewers were promised each summer preceding the last two seasons? Then there’s the eye-rolling decision to turn classic Justice Society character Mr. Terrific gay on the show. I think Stan Lee said it best, why fundamentally change who these characters are when you can just create new ones? Aside from that, I may delve into the specifics of what I hated so much about Season 3 of “Arrow,” but suffice to say, they’ll have one less viewer tuning in this fall.

Reflection

Suicide_Squad_SDCC_trailer_-_620_x_400

We are in the midst of an evolving infrastructure at San Diego Comic-Con. People waiting in line for Hall H for days are now being treated to J.J. Abrams and Zack Snyder bringing them water, t-shirts, a surprise Batmobile appearance, and private invites to a John Williams concert.

And to big money-hungry studios bitching about your trailers leaking – fuck off. People are inevitably going to try to leak your footage, so instead of whining to news outlets about how your footage “wasn’t ready” for public consumption, either be ready to screen it, or don’t screen it at all. Leakage proves thousands of online viewers are interested in your product, and they shouldn’t be excluded just because they didn’t spend thousands to travel to San Diego.

When I started writing these Comic-Con posts, it was difficult to even find footage of the panels themselves. We’ve come a long way since then now that all of this years’ are readily available, however it’s time to take the next step. How about a paid VIP service giving online viewers a live streaming experience of the panels? There’s a huge online audience out there waiting and studios are too busy bitching to realize it.

Regardless, it takes a great panel to remind me why I follow this event in the first place and Deadpool’s was the one to do it. The film was not only the shake-up the convention needed, but that the movie industry will need as well; here’s hoping it delivers as positive an impact as it did in San Diego.

IMAGES: MetroUK, moviepilot, CBSstatic, Wall Street National, altpress, pagesix, flavorwire, nytimes

Review: Terminator Genisys

TERMINATOR-GENISYS If Terminator Genisys were a work of fan fiction, crafted entirely by a group of rag-tag idealists on a nothing budget, it’d be an impressive achievement. The script would be clever, the effects would be stunningly lifelike, and the performances would be nearing professional-level. And we would all gasp in amazement, “How’d they get Schwarzenegger?!”

But Genisys is not a fan film. It is another from the Hollywood machine manufactured by (seeming) professionals. And it is shit.

Perhaps that won’t come as a shock to most of you, but let’s not forget that in an age of Kickstarter and Omaze, modest fan films can be produced for as little as a few million. Compare that to the Terminator series’ own humble beginnings in James Cameron’s seminal 1984 original, shot on a $6.4 million budget (still just $14.6 mil in today’s money, mere pennies to Hollywood). Cameron returned once more to the series to create another sci-fi/action masterpiece and pioneer CGI technology in 1991’s T2; since then, the series has become the poster boy for flagging deceased farm animals with the redundant T3 in 2003 and the bland Terminator Salvation in 2009. Now the fifth of the series, Genisys (budgeted at a whopping $170 mil in case you were wondering) continues in the Cameron-less Terminator sequel tradition of sucking, existing for no reason other than for the Hollywood machine to slip its mechanical fingers back into your wallet.

But fans of this series know well the machine, and not just the real-life one that readily consumes their money. Genisys opens in the year 2029, when A.I. program Skynet brings its army of robot drones called Terminators to war against humanity. The human resistance, led by John Connor (Jason Clarke) is victorious, but before Skynet is destroyed, the program makes one final play: send a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back in time to pre-war 1984 to kill John’s mother Sarah (Emilia Clarke) and prevent him from being born, and in turn leading the human resistance to victory. To save Sarah, John sends right-hand man Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to stop the Terminator. But in a left-turn for fans, when Kyle reaches his destination, he finds he’s stumbled upon a past he hadn’t anticipated, where Sarah is a battle-hardened warrior, new and advanced Terminators are after them, and an aged Terminator itself (also Schwarzenegger) has allied itself with the humans.

Essentially, it’s another prequel/sequel/reboot in the vein of the 2009 Stark Trek and X-Men: Days of Future Past. Yet where those films had real vision and real reason for being, Genisys is merely a series of tired beats and unimpressive twists recycled from its predecessors.

Which explains why Genisys might’ve worked as a fan film rather than a major Hollywood production – it REEKS of amateurism. Its script by Laeta Kalogridis (Shutter Island) and Patrick Lussier (Drive Angry 3D) is alternatively slavishly faithful to and blatantly betraying of Cameron’s original framework regarding time travel and Terminator vitality. Did you know they totally could’ve killed the Terminator from the first movie had they just shot a rocket launcher straight into its cyborg heart? And yes, you can only time travel naked, but you could TOTALLY build a working time machine with 1984 tech, you just need a Terminator CPU to get it working!

In a similarly beginner move, Kalogridis and Lussier think they’ve found the antithesis to T3 and Salvation – give fans the exact same things they liked about the first two movies. The liquid T-1000, Arnold doing more of the thumbs-up/awkward-smile shtick, speeches about “No fate but what we make”, and Terminators walking out of big fires, all copy/pasted into Genisys. Really, the whole film is essentially a mash-up of T1’s Outler Limits-esque twists and T2’s rebels-on-the-run comradery. Producers even managed to rope James Cameron into phoning in an endorsement.

And that’s producers’ biggest mistake, thinking that by pouring over and plucking out elements of Cameron’s formula, they can recreate his success. But Genisys is merely cannibalizing the originals for its own means, rather than existing as a natural complement to them. Even T3 and Salvation served to continue Cameron’s story, and it took the half-hearted imitation of Genisys to make me realize, hey, maybe those movies aren’t that bad after all.

There is a point where Genisys gives up trying to recreate the 1980s setting and jumps forward to the more modern (and modestly-budgeted) 2017. The new year sees the world prepping for the launch of Genisys, a new app that will collate all of your information in one place, or something. I don’t think I’ll be ruining anyone’s experience if I reveal that Genisys is really just a cover for Skynet to continue plotting its annihilation of human civilization. Which makes it all the more painful when an announcer gleefully promotes Genisys as a “killer app.” No joke.

Genisys doesn’t even prove satisfactory eye candy – as the first series installment missing the vision of the late and legendary Stan Winston, the film’s quick-and-dirty effects are easily the worst of all its predecessors. Observe for yourself the botched attempt at recreating a 1984-era Arnie, and its uncanny resemblance to Mario 64’s face-warping title screen.

Leads Jai Courtney and Emilia, again, might be considered passable imitations of Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton in a fan film. But on the same big screen as their predecessors, they play as hollow imitations at worst, wooden and chemistry-deficient at best. For his part, Arnold is regulated to comic relief duty, squandering much of his potential and missing the entire point behind his casting in the first film. And director Alan Taylor, fresh off the Marvel machine’s Thor: the Dark World, helms with a similarly bored hand. Genisys even borrows from the Marvel tradition of tacking-on a mid-credits tease for the next movie, though in this case it’s doubtful they’ll ever get there.

There is a recurring line in Terminator Genisys when Arnold’s Terminator answers for his declining appearance – “Old, but not obsolete.” The line may well apply to Arnold himself, who’s more than capable of continuing to headline bombastic popcorn flicks. But for Genisys itself, the line is brimming with irony. And unless you’re expecting little more than fan fiction, it’s time to put this machine down for good. You’re terminated, fucker.

 

4.5/10

 

Image: Huffington Post

Review: Tomorrowland

Disney's TOMORROWLAND Casey (Britt Robertson)  Ph: Film Frame ©Disney 2015 Walt Disney’s storied career was never limited to the creation of a mouse. The man shepherded a multitude of ideas, worlds, and new ways of thinking, and inspired so many others to do the same, all in the hope of making a better tomorrow. This is no more evident than in one of the great classic Disney themes, heard throughout Disney theme parks’ Carousel of Progress:

There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow

Shining at the end of every day.

There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow,

And tomorrow is just a dream away.

The Carousel wowed audiences at the 1964 New York World’s Fair during an era when the imaginations of a generation ran wild. A mere five years later, NASA put a man on the moon. What next? Anything was possible. Anything we could dream, we could do.

We’ve since lost that sense of hope and optimism. Flying cars and jetpacks are fun little commodities for the rich. We don’t dream of those kinds of things anymore because reality doesn’t let us. We’re far too busy caught up in what we can’t do. Even NASA has all but faded from the public consciousness.

Casey (Britt Robertson) is a teenage troublemaker dreaming big in a world full of barricades. She’s approached by Athena (Raffey Cassidy), a small, freckled girl with a British accent not unlike one of the kids from Mary Poppins. Athena sneaks Casey a small ‘T’ pin as an invitation to Tomorrowland, a place of progress and innovation where politics, violence, and ill-will are nonexistent. Disney scholars will be reminded of Walt’s vision for an Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow, or…you know, that one Disney park with the big, white ball.

After getting a brief glimpse of epcot-1Tomorrowland, Casey makes it her mission to get there, but a mysterious gang of audio-animatronic robots start after her to keep her from doing so. In many ways, these sequences channel the same spirit one might feel while riding a ride at Disney World – exhilaration, followed by an overwhelming feeling of limitless possibility. It’s a feat thus far only accomplished by the first two Pirates of the Caribbean films, and Tomorrowland proves itself the perfect showcase of that same sense of wonder Disney fosters in its theme park guests.

After several surprisingly close calls for a kid’s flick, Casey is led to Frank (George Clooney), a bitter former resident of Tomorrowland who’s convinced it isn’t real anymore, that the world of potential he’d been introduced to as a child could never be what it once was. Frank is a reflection of us as we move from childhood to adulthood – we might resent our loved ones for making colorful idealists of us, after the grey reality of life sinks in and blots out our fantasies completely.

And Frank, like much of the world today, has grown complacent, accepting of a grimy state of affairs rather than actively working to make things better. Everyone always seems to talk about what’s video-undefined-267AFA2600000578-493_636x358wrong without actually doing anything to improve it. It’s  here that Tomorrowland not only proves itself to be enchanting escapism in its own right, but also commenting on that escapism. We need people to dream big, to make the impossible possible, and to help us fly again. Otherwise, we are doomed to die in the dirt with the rest of humanity, itself also resigned to its own demise. It’s all a very apt metaphor for society I hadn’t expected – kudos to screenwriter Damon Lindelof for lending enough subtext for the adults of the audience to chew on.

In the end, Tomorrowland carves its own niche in the coming-of-age tradition, recalling The Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, or any number of Disney’s own live-action classics. It is steeped in old-school Disneydom, though never beholden to it, using the company’s tradition as the launch pad to rocket into its own world of inspiration. And it’s a great antithesis to all the doom-and-gloom of today’s gritty, real-world blockbusters.

Director Brad Bird stated in an interview that he turned down the chance to direct Star Wars Episode VII, Disney’s relaunch of the stagnant Star Wars franchise, in favor10708782_776116329101352_815945830373561427_o of Tomorrowland, recalling that the latter film would never have been made had he jumped ship. Bird proudly puts his own, original stamp on Tomorrowland, and it’s fitting when a scene in the film sees a memorabilia store filled with predominantly Star Wars merchandise destroyed in an explosive scuffle. You can imagine Bird standing behind the camera with a little smile on his face, nodding in satisfaction.

No, Tomorrowland isn’t another corporate blockbuster with a brand to promote. Bird practices what he preaches, creating a charming, transporting blockbuster rather than sitting around complaining about why everyone else’s movies don’t work. And while the film overreaches a bit, doesn’t sufficiently answer all of its questions, suffers from slightly awkward pacing, and gets a bit heavy-handed in its call to action, that’s not the point. There’s a streak of greatness to Tomorrowland in how it speaks to the creative drive in all of us. It reinstates the old, idealist Disney doctrine, compelling us to dream up new ideas, new worlds, and new ways of thinking, just as Walt did. We could all stand to be reminded of that better tomorrow, myself included. Fortunately, it’s just a dream away.

7.5/10

Images: designingdisney.com, idigitaltimes.com, dailymail.co.uk, tomorrowland-movie.com

Dragged to Earth: How the ‘Batman v Superman’ Trailer Loses the ‘Super’

batman-v-superman-02It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s a bleak social commentary!

I don’t usually write posts based on pre-release material anymore. More often than not, I’d rather give the movies a chance to speak for themselves, only tossing my two cents in when they can be properly judged in their final form. But my followers know well my adoration for Superman and DC Comics, so perhaps it was inevitable I’d be writing about the Batman v Superman trailer that rocked the internet this month after the new Force Awakens trailer already kind of did that.

Suffice to say, I’m a bit irked.

But before I begin, I highly recommend reading both SlashFilm and ScreenRant’s excellent analyses, which dive deeper into a trailer that seems to entirely lose the point of one-half of its principle protagonists.

I’m referring of course to the distinct anti-Superman attitude throughout the trailer, with actual commentators like Charlie Rose and Neil deGrasse Tyson debating his heroics, set over creepy images of zombie-like followers (pictured above), in one shot reaching out to him in an uncomfortably blinding light. Like its predecessor Man of Steel, Batman v Superman seems to be exploring the possibility that someone like Superman could exist in the real world, analyzing his every move, its implications for humanity, and commenting on society’s rather disturbing messiah complex.

This trailer hugely defies expectations of what a Superman movie is. I tried justifying this radical visage at first, thinking, “Well, lots of Superman comics have delved into his perceived negative effect on the populace, like the classic Elliot S. Maggin/Curt Swan ‘Must There Be a Superman?’, and this is like a darker version of that.” But in the end, I kept returning to the same conclusion. I’m tired of a dark DC Universe. I don’t want any darker a Superman.

Lights up, please.

Director Zack Snyder’s blinding visual flair is perhaps what lent viewers such strong reactions to the footage. It’s incredibly overwhelming, filling each and every frame batman-v-superman-05with vomit-inducing lighting and effects, and making an already dark, ugly color palette feel even darker and uglier. For a production supposedly seeking to answer critics of Man of Steel’s destruction-porn climax, Batman v Superman doesn’t seem to be letting up on the same overwrought approach that led to such miscalculations.

                                                                    Kneel before…Superman, apparently.

Indeed, the trailer goes far beyond the “dark, gritty, realistic” trend in comic book movies of late and extends to pure blackness, hopelessness, and dread. You could make the argument this trailer is presented from the viewpoint of humanity, and indeed its central representative Bruce Wayne, to set the stage for why Wayne might come into conflict with Superman. People are misinterpreting Superman’s mission of peace.

And my answer to all that is simple – it’s a fucking comic book movie.

I don’t go to see a comic book movie for a reflection of the real world, for an exposé on the flaws of society. An allegory maybe, but not a reflection. And I especially don’t go to see a Superman movie to glimpse the batman-v-superman-08ugliness of humanity. That’s not what the character is or has ever been about. I read, watch and consume Superman media to ESCAPE reality, to glimpse a fantasy world that society should be STRIVING towards. The character rarely brings out the worst in humanity; indeed, if anything, the mythology is centered around how Superman’s message of peace is very rarely misinterpreted by the populace, and how people of every creed, nation, and race can rally behind the idea that, hey, let’s all try to be like that guy and help each other out. Superman transcends those kinds of boundaries very quickly.

This idea that humanity could become uglier in his presence is about as far away from Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster as we could possibly get.

I gave Man of Steel a pass on its darker moments under the pretense that that film was the first of a new series. The character needed a grittier, edgier portrayal to be taken seriously by audiences left rolling their eyes at the dated, mundane heroics of Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns. Even within the context of the film, Superman is just beginning his career and entering a whole world of problems. It stands to reason the world is dull and gray without him actively serving it, and that after he’s established as a superhero, sequels would gladly brighten things up.

Yet the trailer for Dawn of Justice shows no such brightness. This is a sordid reality better served by a violent, armor-clad vigilante than a bright and friendly idealistbatman-v-superman-18 swooping in to save the day. But Batman and Superman have always proved a very organic combination in the past, paired together to compare and contrast each other’s respective strengths and ideals. So then shouldn’t this trailer be setting up that contrast? Why the one-sidedness? For shock value? Or just because Snyder has a hard-on for Frank Miller’s ‘The Dark Knight Returns’?

For that matter, why is it that Superman media of the past five years seems to be all about stacking the character with the weight of the world in terms of problems? Why is it that even the solutions Superman finds, he just ends up causing more problems? Can’t he just WIN at some point? Isn’t that the satisfaction of the character, seeing him WIN against impossible odds?

Batman is about having PROBLEMS. Superman is about finding SOLUTIONS.

Teaming these two shouldn’t prove bleak or dark. It should pay off our investment in their adventures. It should balance their differing viewpoints. And above all, it should be FUN. batman-v-superman-09And that’s what Man of Steel, hell, even to an extent the Chistopher Nolan Batman trilogy, lacked – a sense of fun and wonder and joy and escapism that defines these movies.

Some might argue this is a natural maturation of the subgenre. If that’s the case, the subgenre is maturing right out of its core audience – kids. There is a timelessness to these characters; even as we grow old, they and their ideals never do. I’ll take Superman saving a cat from a tree over yet another existential crisis about the burden of wearing a mask any day of the week.

To its credit, Batman v Superman looks surprisingly sophisticated in its underlying power-struggle theme. I like Jeremy Irons’ Alfred monologue, drawing comparisons between the powerlessness Wayne felt witnessing the death of his parents to the powerlessness he might feel at the arrival of a figure like Superman. But there are ways to explore those kinds of ideas and still be FUN. Don’t believe me? Read the Andrew Kevin Walker/Akiva Goldsman Batman vs. Superman script from over a decade ago, which does a great job taking both heroes seriously while still balancing their strengths.

I will of course be reserving final judgment on Dawn of Justice for opening night. This is mere marketing, and clearly designed to elicit a range of responses. But Warner would be wise to re-evaluate their formula for superhero movies if they care to continue making them. I won’t keep paying to see Superman, much less the likes of Green Lantern and Shazam, being scribbled over with a sharpie on an already blackened canvas.

Because keeping Superman grounded just doesn’t fly.

Images: ComingSoon.net