Review – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

bvsBack in 1986, as Superman star Christopher Reeve was prepping work on the ill-fated Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, he approached the writer of Superman I and II, the late, great Tom Mankiewicz, for advice. Reeve pitched Mankiewicz on his idea for Superman to rid the world of nuclear weapons, a parallel to real-world social issues of the time. Mankiewicz replied with this advice:

Don’t ever get involved with something Superman could fix. He could disarm the world in fifteen minutes. He doesn’t have to go to the UN. If he feels that strongly about it, he could get rid of all the missiles. Superman could feed the world if he wanted to. He could establish agricultural fields in outer space. Don’t bring up things like that.

I would like to add an addendum to that. Don’t get Superman directly involved with real-world issues. Do not twist his mission of peace into a political struggle. Do not bog him down with the ugliness of reality, the superfluity of man’s government, or the problems of democracy, especially at the expense of his message of hope, of inspiring the best in humanity.

I write this, because my many concerns over the past few years with director Zack Snyder’s approach to Batman v Superman were finally realized last month. Not only has the filmmaker indulged in all the above missteps, he’s delivered the most vile, morally reprehensible depiction of Superman and DC Comics on film to date. The film is a brutal assault on our senses, on the spirituality and idealism of these characters, on our intelligence as moviegoers, and on the vitality of quality filmmaking in big-budget studio tentpoles. It’s not just a disappointment; it’s a resolute misstep for the future of the DC Universe on film.

The film centers on a middle-aged Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck getting first billing in a long history of big actors being billed before the guy playing Superman) who after witnessing Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod topple one of his company’s buildings at the end of Manbatman-v-superman of Steel two years ago, grows weary of such dangerous forces being left unchecked.  Rather than blaming the indulgences of the director in the previous film, we are to blame Superman for Metropolis’ destruction. Bruce’s fear is shared by a great deal of the public, who endlessly debate Superman’s heroics and the fact that he “answers to nobody.” Bruce returns to Gotham City plotting to neutralize, and kill if necessary, the Man of Steel, despite repeated claims by butler Alfred (Jeremy Irons) that “he is not our enemy.” “That son of a bitch brought the war to us!” replies Bruce. Blah blah post-9/11 themes.

Back in Metropolis, Clark Kent is living comfortably with fellow Daily Planet staffer Lois Lane (Amy Adams). I guess Lois knowing Clark’s secret identity from the get-go at the end of Man of Steel hasn’t yielded any interesting twists on their decades-long will they/won’t they relationship from the comics. Contrastingly, Superman has been entirely anti-social in public, saving the world yet not really interacting with it in any way beyond that for these two years. Meanwhile, wealthy philanthropist Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) plots to acquire the recently-discovered Kryptonite to control Superman, by manipulating a senator (Holly Hunter) and indeed everyone else around him. Oh, and there’s also other DC characters like Wonder Woman (Gal Godot) lying in the wait for the eventual Justice League movie.

It’s an overflowing plot, but there are traces of intrigue. Chris Terrio of Argo fame uses the characters as players in a larger piece about terrorism, power, corruption, and security, the groundwork of an intriguing political thriller. It is critical of heroes like Batman and Superman, examining their failings and the real consequences of their actions. It’s also a huge deviation from the reverence Snyder and his Man of Steel team showed for the universe in that film. In part to blame is perhaps the director’s long-standing love of Frank Miller’s seminal 1986 graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns; Snyder carts over that story’s older, world-wearier Batman, some talking-head-style political commentary, and perhaps intentionally or not, Miller’s own disdain for the Last Son of Krypton.

Indeed, Dawn of Justice continues the tradition of recent Superman media by placing the hero in no-win scenarios that go directly against the winning spirit the character has always been about. There is a scene wherein (avoiding spoilers) Superman enters a building and a bomb goes off, and Superman just watches somberly as everyone around him is vaporized. Uh, Zack? This is Superman. Not Doctor Manhattan.

That’s an issue I had with Man of Steel too, though to a lesser extent. The Superman mythology isn’t about “well, what if he were REAL? What if a humanoid that had all these powers came to earth?” I don’t care how the real world reacts to Superman’s presence. That’s not appealing to me. Superman is about fantasy, he’s an ESCAPE from the real world. He’s a guy flying around in a red cape who makes a difference in his community and inspires those Batman-V-Superman-Trailer-Fight-Heat-Visionaround him to pitch in themselves. Why is there debate about whether or not he’s doing the right thing? We KNOW he’s gonna do the right thing. He’s SUPERMAN. And yet here we are, watching Charlie Rose and Neil DeGrasse-Tyson (both make brief appearances) debate about a Superman that exists and whether or not his power should be checked. But this is a Superman that hasn’t even begun to build bridges with people publically, so he’s clearly failed in his mission. The Superman of the comics won people over with a smile and a wave as he flew above them. Pity Henry Cavill’s Superman isn’t allowed such joy, regulated to stand and mope idly about how people don’t understand him.

As for Ben Affleck’s Batman, he busies himself in these ridiculous, jarring dream sequences reflecting his fear of aliens from the sky. I had hope after one such sequence, wherein a bat-creature bursts from the tomb of Martha Wayne to attack him. It recalls the jump-scares of a horror movie, a cool new twist that might really transport audiences into Bruce’s tortured psyche. Yet the movie never goes anywhere with it, taking us into even more absurd (and immodestly-budgeted) nightmares, one of which is a full, unabashed teaser for the Justice League movie. Pity Affleck, who’s been suckered into this mess with the promise of redemption after the indignity of 2003’s Daredevil. The actor/filmmaker isn’t altogether unfitting in the cape and cowl, but is also far from the finest performer to fill it.

But I digress. After characters have waxed poetic enough, director Snyder yanks the film’s breaks and yells, “less talk, more EXPLOSIONS!” All political discussions or reflections on real-world politics (clumsy as they were) are gone, leaving all its ideas entirely unresolved, lost in Snyder’s blaring self-indulgence and Junkie XL and Hans Zimmer’s blatant, blaring, borderline parodical score. What of Scoot McNairy’s legless homeless guy? Why has Amy Adams’ role been all but reduced to damsel-in-distress? Shouldn’t Clark be getting in trouble every time Perry White (Lawrence Fishburne) passes by his empty desk? No answers here, we only have enough time left in the already bloated two-and-a-half hour runtime for the movie to live up to its namesake – the bout between Batman and Superman.

And…it sucks. Not only does Snyder fail to build up their conflict in any meaningful way, their fisticuffs aren’t satisfying, nor are they really even warranted in the context of the film. It’s seriously the weakest explanation for pitting these two characters against each other. And it was at this point in the movie, after suddenly becoming aware of the intense grimace on my face, I wondered, “aren’t I supposed to be having fun?”

Apparently not. There’s actually a really ugly undercurrent to Dawn of Justice, boasting such brutality, such bloodlust, such hyper-machismo bullshit that makes for the most uncomfortable, punishing experience. That’s not just during the title fight too, that’s the whole movie. Snyder and his cinematographer Larry Fong absolutely do not know when to stop with the hypermasculinity, when enough is enough, to the point where one starts to feel ashamed at being a man at all. It’s more than enough to build a case accusing Snyder, who also shoots the death of Bruce’s parents with all the slow motion and heavy breathing of a sex scene, of using DC Comics characters to work through his own crippling manhood issues.

The studio is even prepping an R-rated cut of this movie for home video release. That’s right, your favorite childhood comic book characters have been perverted into a movie that, without certain cuts, was deemed too violent and too intense by anyone under 17 years old. Wow.batman-v-superman-the-complete-guide-to-frank-miller-dark-knight

So inevitably, we know Batman and Superman are to resolve their differences at some point. And after all that thirst for blood, all that shoddy build-up, their altercation is capped off in the most mind-bogglingly stupid, overwhelmingly left-field conclusion, that literally any idea you, the audience, could come up with as to why these characters should stop fighting, will better qualify you to write this movie than the filmmakers being paid hundreds of thousands to do so.

And then they’re friends, as if nothing had happened, teaming up to destroy an even more laughably stupid threat. And if you thought this film would be answering for Man of Steel’s destructive climax, you’d be wrong, wrong, wrong. Batman v Superman doubles down on the needlessly high body count. In fact, in one scene Batman has the big baddie in a totally isolated area, but rather than returning to the city to bring the necessary tools to kill the baddie to him, he actually draws him BACK INTO THE POPULATED CITY to get HIM to the tools. Remember how Christopher Nolan’s Batman had that one rule about killing people? Apparently Zack Snyder doesn’t share that sentiment.

So we finally realize, Batman v Superman is a movie about uncomfortable extremes. Snyder has always been an overwrought mess of a filmmaker, favoring style over substance, but the responsibility of pitting together two beloved DC characters has done nothing to curb his sadist, ear-rapingly obnoxious hard-on for destruction. What the hell? Doesn’t this go against everything DC Comics characters have stood for the past 70 years? You bet. Both Batman and Superman are acting totally out of character here. Batman’s a crazy, single-minded bruiser who brands criminals and wants nothing short of Superman’s death, while Superman is totally willing to bend his own moral code if his family is threatened. In the comics, the two have had their quarrels, occasionally even violent ones, but they have never, ever been pushed to the point of foaming at the mouth, hungering for each other’s head on a spike like in this movie. Pity the children who have to witness such overt brutality by the hands of characters who should, ideally, be serving as their role models.

And again, pretty much all the problems posed by the movie would’ve been solved immediately had Superman simply TALKED OPENLY. A simple, “Bruce, we’re being played!” would’ve stopped the title fight altogether. And every single other problem of the movie could’ve been completely avoided had Superman simply stood up in front of the public after Man of Steel and been like, “Hey guys, my name’s Superman, I’m just here to help out with the problems you can’t solve yourselves and really just help everyone to do better. Sorry about that Zod character, he’s a bad guy on my home planet, and I was just trying to stop him. Next time we face a threat like this, I’ll do it in space or something so there’s not as many casualties. Again sorry, still new to the whole superhero thing. Anyway, up up and away and all that!” *woosh*

Boom. /conflict.

Even the other DC characters teased in this movie lack subtlety; they basically appear in mini-trailers for their upcoming solo movies. It’s a sad day when I’m longing for the more natural, thoughtful teases of Green Lantern.

I haven’t even mentioned Jesse Eisenberg, who gives the most abysmally misguided performance as Lex Luthor. Eisenberg, known for his mousy-yet-charming teenage characters in Adventureland and _1436830197Zombieland, is not only insanely miscast as the powerful billionaire, he’s clearly never even glimpsed a Superman comic long enough to know who this character is supposed to be. So he instead plays Luthor the only way he knows how – by going over-the-top awkward, hammy, and creepy, his hands shaking as he speaks about power at a charity event, stumbling over the girth of his words. There’s even a point at the end where he actually hums the notes of the musical score. It’s just uncomfortable, a lot like…well, Zack Snyder’s id – angry, unrestrained, bratty, unlikable, and sadistic.

And that’s pretty much Batman v Superman too, the Donald Trump of superhero movies – loud, blunt, ugly, stupid, fear-mongering, extremist, tasteless, and bearing several cringe-worthy teases of what’s to come. Zack Snyder was always the wrong architect for the DC Universe on film, merely a loud, annoying kid bashing his action figures together. I don’t think Tom Mankiewicz could’ve envisioned anything like it, but if he could see Dawn of Justice now, there is no doubt he’d be shaking his head, collecting his valuables, and leaving the theater. I’d be right behind him.

3.5/10

 

QUOTE: Rossen, Jake; Millar, Mark (2008-02-01). Superman vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon (Cappella Books) (p. 164). Chicago Review Press. Kindle Edition.

IMAGES: cinemablend.com, mirror.co.uk, screenrant.com, cdn.idigitaltimes.com, i.ytimg.com

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

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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

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

Script Review: Justice League Mortal

justice-league-logo1

Justice League Mortal is one of the more curious entries in the storied history of DC Comics adaptations that never were. Back in 2007, out of seemingly nowhere, Warner had greenlit a script written by Mr. and Mrs. Smith writers Michele and Kieran Mulroney for a live-action movie uniting all of DC’s premiere Leaguers – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and Aquaman. Yet it would reportedly have no connection to Batman Begins, nor Superman Returns, and neither Christian Bale nor Brandon Routh would be joining the proceedings. In their place was a cast of young then-unknowns, people that looked more fitting for a CW drama about high school and dating and locker-side talks about whether or not I’m ready to lose my virginity than the premiere superhero team-up epic for 50 years and counting. Mad Max trilogy helmer George Miller was signed to direct, and production set to begin in Australia. A start date was set, WETA Digital was standing by to do the effects, and the actors had all familiarized themselves with their location and costumes. All that was left was to start shooting.

Then it all went away.

Just as abruptly as it had come, a myriad of complications – the 2007-08 Writer’s Strike, Warner’s Australian tax rebates expiring, a ballooning budget, and overwhelmingly negative reaction from fans – put the project on indefinite hold. Years later, the disenfranchised players would express their disappointment, among them Jay Baruchel, better known as the awkward kid from Knocked Up. Baruchel was set to play the villainous Maxwell Lord, which if you know anything about the character from the comics, illustrates exactly how insanely ill-fitting the casting was. “It would’ve been the coolest thing ever,” enthused Baruchel. “It would have been the neatest vision of Batman and the coolest vision of Superman you’ve ever seen. It would have been dark and fairly brutal and quite gory and just fucking epic.” More recently, on the press circuits for G.I. Joe: Retaliation, would-be Superman actor DJ Contra agreed, “It was a damn shame that we didn’t get to finish that. I promise you that it would have been amazing. It would have been incredible.”

Last year I wrote a scathing blog post about my disgust over the leaked details of the project, which was based on the Tower of Babel arc (see my Justice League Doom review for further details). After reading the script itself (which has since leaked online), I can say without fear of contradiction that it is easily the worst possible treatment I’ve ever seen these characters receive in any medium. There’s just one problem – months after I read the draft, I came across another incomplete draft of the screenplay which I can confirm as legitimate, and its story structure is far different and far removed from the abysmal, seeming fan-fiction senselessness of the first draft. Despite everything contained in this first draft matching up with everything we’ve learned about the production, could this draft be a fake? If it is, I would be very surprised that it took me as long as it did to find it and read it, but if it isn’t, I weep for the state of screenwriting in Hollywood today.

Either way, Mortal’s production hinged on the idea of rushing out a movie based on six different characters without actually bothering to properly introduce them first. Thankfully it seems WB have realized their mistake and are now taking time to introduce and build a cohesive universe for their characters. As for this forgotten relic of yesteryear, I took a long, beat-for-painful-beat look at this first, hopefully phony draft, which makes the likes of Batman & Robin look like The Dark Knight.

***

We open with the “S” on Superman’s chest, described as “black on black.” How that would even be visible is anyone’s guess. We see the heroes, Superman, the Flash, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, and Green Lantern (no Batman), laying a fellow member of the Justice League to rest. Wonder Woman stands at the podium and delivers a eulogy. Cut to two days earlier, where Barry Allen and his girlfriend Iris are dining at a superhero-themed burger stand called Planet Krypton, Barry’s favorite. Their grumpy waiter approaches dressed like the Flash, introduces himself as such, and asks to take their orders. After taking Barry’s order, Barry quips, “And Flash…make it quick, will you?” following up with a burst of laughter. Hilarious.

Iris tells Barry her nephew Wally is coming in tonight, but Barry’s attention is glued to a nearby TV broadcasting news footage of Wonder Woman, whom he apparently has a thing for, and even says as much in front of Iris, because fuck being a good boyfriend. We are then violently yanked into space to glimpse Brother Eye, a satellite set up by Batman to spy on the other Leaguers and study their weaknesses. The script tells us at least three times during this sequence that Batman is acting paranoid. Perhaps if we were given some kind of, I don’t know, characterization, I might care one way or the other about the fact that Batman is acting paranoid. This is where the original Tower of Babel got into a fascinating freedom vs. security debate, but without any kind of character background, we can’t lend Batman any sympathy or understanding for his actions, because all we know is that he’s removed from humanity and, well…paranoid.

Paranoid

And not the good kind.

Batman changes out of his suit and heads upstairs to his “surprise” birthday party, which apparently he does a lot because the same damn thing happens in Batman Begins. Suddenly, without his knowledge Brother Eye automatically targets Denver policeman John Jones, alias Martian Manhunter, in a scene awkwardly intercut with the birthday party, where rich guy Maxwell Lord is making a big speech about how great it is to be rich. We cut back to John investigating when he finds some kind of murky black goo in a barrel, which attacks and sets him on fire. He reverts back to his Martian form, speeds away in his car, and promptly runs it into a wall. Okay.

Back at Planet Krypton, Iris is talking to Barry about the other members of the Justice League she’d like to fuck. The script reads, “Warm smiles between them, like you only see with two people who’ve been in love a long time.” Dear god, this exposition is terrible. Barry soon has to run to stop a fire nearby as the Flash; upon arriving at the scene, he creates a tornado with his arms to blow it out, but accidentally sucks another firefighter into the blaze. Nice going, fuckwad. Wonder Woman then enters to save the firefighter, leaving Flash completely in awe of her. “THE FLASH sticks out his hand like an idiot.” Well at least these writers are somewhat self-aware.

We see Martian Manhunter approaching from nearby, completely blackened by the fire. Flash, being the idiot he is, says, “Isn’t he supposed to be green?” before Manhunter catches aflame again. Acute observation, Flash. You’re exactly who I want to help me when I’m burning alive right in front of you. Speaking of terrible characterization, what exactly is Wonder Woman’s purpose here anyway? We’re given absolutely no idea of who she is, where she came from, what she’s fighting for, or any other real details about her other than she’s hot, wears a costume, and helps people sometimes. It’s as if the writers are just dangling action figures in our faces and expecting us to think nothing more than, “wow, Wonder Woman! COOL!”

Back at the birthday party, Bruce is now the one standing slack-jawed at the entrance of Talia Al Ghul, while Maxwell provides the exposition that Batman fought and won against “the Demon Head,” which I’m assuming is a tactless reference to the events of Begins. There’s also a brief “one year ago” flashback which shows Talia and Bats making out, before Bats dumps her altogether. Oh, and Maxwell’s nose starts bleeding, because apparently even the characters in this script can’t handle its complete disregard for logic. Where did Talia come from? How does she already have a history with Batman? Did she just randomly show up after Ra’s died and decided she wanted to fuck the man who let her father die? THIS SCRIPT IS HORRIBLE AT EXPLAINING THINGS.

We again cut back to Martian Manhunter and his Earth Band, where he explains that fire is his one great weakness. This is important, because it’s literally the only semblance of character depth we’re going to get from him. The writers have clearly done their homework, looking through Manhunter’s extensive character history on Wikipedia and scribbling down, “Manhunter, fire=bad.” Superman then enters and ponders with Diana over who could’ve done this. Flash wonders if there isn’t something going on between them, remembers the girlfriend he’s currently neglecting, and makes his exit.

Cut to Maxwell Lord in what I’m presuming to be his secret underground lair, where he’s…um…looking at a bunch of giant monitors with dead little boys on them. Feel free to insert your own necro/pedophilic jokes here. Back at their hours, Barry decides to raid Iris’ fridge and makes a mess by tearing the door off the fridge and emptying it. I’m not exactly sure how this character is supposed to be likable in any way. Iris tells him to go downstairs and see Wally, who’s just arrived. Barry does and sees a ping pong ball being hit back and forth across the table with no actual players visible. Barry quickly reaches out and grabs an arm, and we see it’s actually a 17-year-old Wally West. “Embarrassing,” Wally says, “You caught me playing with myself.” Eeww, when has a 17-year-old ever talked like that, much less to his Uncle? You know what, don’t answer that.

We then randomly cut to Superman flying and crashing into the Aegean Sea with the intent of recruiting Aquaman, before returning back to Barry and Wally’s conversation. What is it with these random cuts back and forth between unrelated scenes? Are the writers not satisfied with fucking up the script, they have to fuck things up for the editors as well? Suspecting nanotechnology to be the cause of Manhunter’s accident, Barry asks Wally to do some research into nanotechnology, because Wally is portrayed as one of those clichéd “good with computers” characters. Seriously, shouldn’t everyone under the age of 50 know their way around the fucking internet by now? For that matter, what is Barry Allen, a fucking police detective, doing leaving a top-secret attempted-murder investigation in the hands of a 17-year-old?

But Barry isn’t the only detective-turned-idiot out there trying to solve the mystery – back in the Batcave, Batman is hypothesizing that maybe, just maybe, someone might’ve hacked his Brother Eye system and used the satellite to compromise Manhunter. Cut to Maxwell and Talia, watching Batman ponder on a giant monitor and making evil comments while Talia hints that she’s not quite over the Caped Crusader. I’m wondering exactly where the tension is in all this, because in Tower of Babel we had no idea who or what was attacking the heroes, even hinting that it could’ve been Batman himself. In this script, we’re already told Maxwell and Talia hacked Batman’s system and are now systematically taking down the League. So why am I supposed to care about this story again?

But who cares about any of that deep stuff when we can have Maxwell initiate “phase one” and get an entirely pointless scene of Batman kicking the shit out of a motorcycle gang? “Damn, this was a brand new cape…” says Batman when the motorcycle gang shoots through his cape. I think I’m finally starting to realize what this script actually is. No character, thin veil of a plot, powers/skills used solely as effects sequences, random things happening out of nowhere with no explanation, and all the thoughtful craft of a twelve-year-old’s shameful fan fiction…this is Michael Bay’s Transformers with DC characters. This is literally Michael Bay’s Transformers with DC characters.

justice_league_of_autobots_by_femochko_ferry-d2zgs16

deviantart.net

I’ve made a terrible mistake.

So Superman meets up with Aquaman, who bitches about Earth-dwellers treating his realms like a “toilet.” For some reason Aquaman has a hand made entirely out of water, which I’m not sure would really prove useful to him seeing as how he’s surrounded by water. Aquaman agrees to leave his kingdom and help, but only after confirming Wonder Woman is present. “For her…” he nods. Okay, so everyone’s just gonna be in love with Wonder Woman for no reason then? I mean, aside from the obvious?

Meanwhile, Batman is chasing one of the motorcycle gang members into a theater when he’s suddenly attacked by an OMAC, basically a giant blue robot with a single center eye (pictured below). The OMAC, operated remotely by Maxwell, tears off Batman’s mask and overpowers him. When the OMAC is about to kill him, Talia begs Maxwell to stop, so he…does. Wait, what? Apparently Maxwell was just proving how easy it was to take Batman down and reveal his identity, after which he leaves him completely alive as the OMAC departs. It’s also worth mentioning that the big public revelation that Bruce Wayne is Batman has absolutely zero bearing on the rest of the story. Words fail me.

In another corner of Idiot Land, Aquaman is examining Manhunter while Flash babbles like a five-year-old. “You can call me the Scarlett Speedster. Some do,” to which Aquaman sighs at. I think the person who wrote this script has been permanently cut off from humanity or something, because WHO FUCKING TALKS LIKE THIS. Back at the Batcave, Batman is still trying to figure out how he and the other Leaguers were attacked. He tries searching his system for “OMAC.” The system won’t let him. Batman tries to reset the system. “Access denied.” Batman wonders what’s going on. “There is no fault in the system, creator. No fault in the system.” IT’S BEEN HACKED. THE SYSTEM HAS BEEN HACKED. HOW DOES FUCKING BATMAN NOT UNDERSTAND WHEN HIS GODDAMN COMPUTER GETS HACKED?!

Finally, somebody with a brainstem comes onto the system and transmits the message, “you don’t control it anymore.” You’d think that Batman would have some kind of backup self-destruct to his entire system, but judging by the above scene, I’m guessing this Batman isn’t exactly the kind of forward-thinking guy we once thought.

Cut to Green Lantern John Stewart, in his civilian identity toiling away at a small model of…er…Hal Jordan Memorial Park. So…Hal’s dead? When did this happen? Is it a throwaway reference? A hint at a past we’ve never seen and never will? Stewart uses his ring to create two green little kids swinging on the model swingset, and smiles. O-kay…

Back with the others, Flash childishly gushes over Aquaman’s water hand when a robot mosquito bites Aquaman just as he’s about to return to water. Cut back to Stewart, who bites his pencil and is overcome with the black stuff from before. I’m trying to imagine an actual spy satellite’s detailed files on the Justice League making a note of, “Green Lantern John Stewart – bites his pencils a lot. Possible weakness.” Meanwhile, Aquaman’s eyes grow big at the sight of water and he tosses away his water hand in fear – the nanobots have made him afraid of water. Flash comments helpfully, “Can’t be good for a fish…” and turns to the severed water hand and says, “Now that’s creepy.” The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced Flash isn’t being written like a ten-year-old as many would suspect. He’s being written like how a terrible middle-aged writer would write a ten-year-old. Congratulations writers, you’ve failed on two different levels.

At the Batcave, Batman asks Alfred to bring him the backup computers as he watches all his superhero friends suffer. Great idea, don’t go outside and help them or anything. It’s not like you’re partly the cause of all this. Wait, is Batman even friends with the League in this script? Has he even met them before? Can they even be considered the JLA at all yet? Why does Batman leave Alfred to carry those heavy computers downstairs by himself? I just don’t know what to believe anymore.

The JLA, or whatever they are, each start running through their respective rogues galleries – Scarecrow, Parasite, Mr. Freeze, insert your favorites here –  for an entire page to figure out who might be responsible. Aquaman asks about “The Batman.” Flash says Batman won’t be a target because he’s a hero, but for some reason no one else in the League seems to think so. Back to Batman in the Batcave, where Batman makes the incredible deduction that the satellite is attacking their strengths. Uh, don’t you mean preying on their weaknesses? Batman finally resolves to help…by continuing to sit behind his compromised system and try to fix things. Okay, maybe the rest of the League has a point.

Superman decides to take them all to the Fortress of Solitude where they’ll be safe. Flash bubbles, “Oh, man…Fortress of freakin’ Solitude! I gotta tell Iris…” It’s like if Shia LeBouf, Jake Lloyd, Jar Jar Binks, and the kids from Jurassic Park all fused their worst qualities into the body of a beloved DC comics character.

barry-firstapp

If you don’t want to physically punch this guy, then you’re probably reading something else.

But wait, it gets better….Flash pays a quick visit Wally (yeah good idea to head home to your loved ones when there’s a spy satellite tracking and preparing to compromise you), who’s researching at super-speed, before putting on his own homemade Flash costume. Barry says he doesn’t want Wally in the suit, I guess because it’s dangerous or something. Did this script even bother to explain why Wally has the same powers as Barry? Barry stops off in Iris’ bed and explains the situation to her, then they have sex. Or at least I think it’s sex. Flash starts to vibrate, and the script reads, “HE PASSES THROUGH IRIS’ BODY. She GASPS…feeling him inside her, all of her, inside her very molecules.”

Eeww. No one told me I’d be reading Fifty Shades of Scarlett.

After…whatever that was…we see the heroes get to the Fortress of Solitude, an ice cave which for some reason contains an exact replica of the Kent family farmhouse. “Wow. He’s…homesick,” says Flash. Which would make sense, if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s FUCKING SUPERMAN. If he was truly “homesick,” he could literally just fly back home to Smallville, instead of building a creepy replica of his old farm to occupy all by himself. But hey, apparently things don’t have to make sense anymore.

Meanwhile, Batman’s researching the OMAC project and ponders its connection to the Brother Eye satellite. Hmm, yes, could it be that the someone who compromised him might be the very same someone who’s trying to compromise the other League members? How curious. The satellite starts targeting another hero, so Bats tells Alfred to “keep digging” and speeds away in the Batplane, presumably to finally help out the people being attacked. Hey guys, here’s a thought: start searching for the satellite, blow it out of the sky, then go beat the shit out of Maxwell Lord. Cool?

Oh, and I forgot to mention that Manhunter has been in some sort of “water cocoon” since his fire accident at the beginning, to keep him from catching aflame again. Because that’s what fans want to see…their favorite DC superheroes completely incapacitated the entire movie. Flash continues babbling about how “homey” the Fortress is and asking if there’s anything to eat, then gets the message that nobody’s really interested in his stupid bullshit. “No, keep talking, it helps, ” says a blinded Green Lantern. Helps what, speed up your death? Flash asks him about his ring, and Green Lantern talks about being chosen and using willpower and all that stuff that isn’t actually insightful into his character at all. “FLASH’s energy is infectious,” the script reads. Yes, just like herpes. Herpes-Flash, everybody.

Thankfully, Maxwell begins targeting Flash as Batman enters and fills everyone in, confessing the satellite is his system and his responsibility. The heroes realize that someone else is controlling his system. Then there’s this gem of an exchange between Superman and Batman:

“Who?”

“I don’t know.”

“Who is it? Who?!

“I don’t know!”

Hmm, do you think he knows who, Supes? Better ask him again. Then this:

“How do we turn it off?”

“I don’t know. I’ve tried.”

“Where is this thing?”

“I don’t know.”

“Tell us!”

“I don’t know!”

It’s a good thing this script is teaching me so much about how actual people communicate. Why, just the other day I decided to try putting its wisdom into practice:

“Hey honey, do we have any more Apple Jacks?”

“I don’t know. Look in the cabinet, dear.”

“Where are they? Where?!

“I don’t know! Check the cabinet!”

“Okay, which cabinet?”

“I don’t know, maybe the lower one?”

“TELL ME!!”

“I DON’T KNOW!!”

*slaps divorce papers on the table and leaves*

So Batman suggests it’d be safer if they all split up. Flash takes a call from Iris on his cell phone, and…um…nanobots enter his ear through the phone receiver. Because that’s how phones fucking work. The bots inside him make him vibrate so hard, he begins vibrating through the Earth altogether, bouncing back and forth between the planet’s poles. Wonder Woman catches him with her lasso, and they begin one of the most thrilling sequences ever conceived for a comic book movie…a surgical procedure! JUSTICE LEAGUE! WORLD’S FINEST HEROES! ACTION! ADVENTURE! E.R. DRAMA!

So Green Lantern, still blinded, uses his ring to envision surgical instruments, which are guided into Flash’s brain via Manhunter’s telepathy. Flash spouts cliches like, “This is gonna leave a mark!” and leave me praying that Lantern just outright lobotomizes him. It’s also worth mentioning that this is all taking place in the goddamn Kent family kitchen inside the house contained within the Fortress, which makes this whole thing seem even less dignified. The procedure works, Flash briefly talks like a retarded Looney Toons character while under Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth, and sadly ends up totally unharmed.

The heroes then go their separate ways – Superman flies into space to find and destroy the satellite he’s obsessed with finding out about, while the rest of the League sans Batman work on removing the rest of the nanobots inside them. In his Batplane, Batman contacts Alfred and asks him to try to access the Brother Eye system. Why it would somehow work now when it hasn’t this entire time is anyone’s guess, but…oh, no wait, it totally fucking works. Cool. Batman asks the system for the data it has on him, including weaknesses. “Just one word, sir…” says Alfred. Are you ready for this? Batman’s weakness is…

LOVE.

Fucking gag me.

Batman flashes back to all the women he’s bonked, including Silver St. Cloud, because anyone who hasn’t read a Batman comic totally knows who that fucking is. Batman realizes Talia is his weakness, flashing back to their fuck-session, which apparently he still had his suit on for. Kinky. The two share some rather uncomfortable bite-filled kisses, which is how Talia transferred the nanobots into Batman’s body and in turn his computer system. Back with the other idiots, the nanobots are surgically extracted from Manhunter and Aquaman, leaving only Green Lantern. How do they get the nanobots out of him? Why, only the most obvious, sensible way, by having him swallow Aquaman’s water hand and letting the water flush the nanobots out through his ears. I would say that I wish I were making this all up, but I would never wish to be that stupid.

Meanwhile, Flash, energy depleted from the surgery, takes Wonder Woman to Krypton Burger so he can load up on carbs and refuel his strength. He offers her food, but she refuses, to which he replies, “Guess that’s why you fit so nicely in that costume…” Wonder Woman says she doesn’t understand the need for males to objectify women. Then Wally West enters and does nothing but stare at her, effectively objectifying her. Wow. Good thing Wonder Woman hasn’t been an inspiration to millions of women for nearly 70 years, or a continuing symbol of female empowerment or anything. Nope. She’s a lasso and a pair of tits. That Michael Bay Transformers comparison is looking more and more on the money.

Megan-Fox-Transformers-Photos-HD-Wallpaper

Objectification of women, check!

Batman finds Talia and sees she’s operating Brother Eye. He suspects she isn’t working alone. Whatever gave you that idea, Batman? Back at Krypton Burger, Wally says he discovered the OMAC project was designed to raise infants to work as one with these special machine suits, but they all died in the process. So go ahead and add child slaughter to the list of abominable things this script purports as storytelling. Then we reveal what we knew all along. The guy behind everything is…gasp, MAXWELL LORD! HE’S AN OMAC! You mean to tell me the villain of the script is also…the villain of the script?! Shock and awe! So Maxwell turns all the people from Bruce Wayne’s party at the beginning into OMACs. No please, not the faceless socialites neither Bruce nor we the audience care anything for! So this new OMAC army starts beating the shit out of Batman, but Talia somehow convinces Lord to stop…again. Lord monologues about how evil he is and how the League are gods, but “imperfect gods.” Riveting. Back with the League, Manhunter detects Batman is in distress and they all fly off to help him.

The last act of the script is pretty much just the shit hitting the fan. OMACs begin attacking, and the heroes all burst into Lord’s lair and try to fight them off. Lois Lane is apparently killed off-screen, and Lord briefly takes control of Superman’s mind to make him think that Wonder Woman was responsible. I’d complain, but at this point I’m so completely indifferent, I just want to power through the rest of this fuck-up with my sanity intact. So Wondie and Supes fight for a while, and at one point they fight on the moon. The only way I could ever possibly be emotionally invested in this entirely insipid conflict is if I had a controller in front of me.

supermanINJ

The only Injustice is this script.

So then Aquaman fights Superman, and then Green Lantern creates a green copy of Superman to fight Superman. Wonder Woman lassos Lord and asks him how to turn it all off. Lord says, “You want to know the truth? The truth is you weren’t there. None of you. Not one of you was there. They were children! And they were dying! And you weren’t there!” Well yeah, no shit they weren’t there, how were they supposed to know the whole OMAC thing was going on? Really, given how young the actors for this piece of shit were going to be, would any of them have even been born at the time these kids were dying?

Lord reveals the only way to stop everything is to kill him, but he knows they won’t do it because they all took an oath not to kill or something. Proving…what exactly? By killing Lord and shutting down all the OMACs, you’re saving millions of civilian lives. If that’s the only way, then there’s really no ethical debate here in killing him. Manhunter tries morphing into Lara-El to calm Superman down, but it doesn’t work. Wonder Woman refuses to kill Lord, and Lord continues asking “Where were you?” to which Batman replies, “Right here,” and snaps his neck. You’d think the script would take a page from when Wonder Woman herself did the same thing to Lord in Infinite Crisis, but no, shock value over logic. Zero fucks given.

Superman lands, cured, and says Batman killing Lord makes him no better than him. Uh, no…idiotic execution aside, just because Batman made the tough call to kill one and save millions, including you, does not automatically make him as bad as a mass murderer. I can see people drawing comparisons between this and the ending of Man of Steel, but let’s be honest, that film properly built up to that climax. Mortal uses it as a gimmick.

So somehow Talia and Lord and…an OMAC, I guess…all transform into an amalgamation of each other. Things transforming, check! Then the whole world’s population turns into OMACs because Lord put nanobots in the food or something. I guess this whole thing is supposed to be from the OMAC Project storyline tying into Infinite Crisis, but I have to imagine the explanation they came up with for people turning into OMACs was better than, “it’s in the food!”

Omac1

Sense. This script makes none.

So being a machine is too much for Talia and she promptly dies in Batman’s arms. Wally West shows up in his makeshift Flash costume to help, but Barry protests again, because the script desperately wants him to be this great father figure without actually putting forth the effort to write him that way. But Barry quickly starts turning into an OMAC himself because of all the Krypton Burgers he ate from before. Which makes the whole “eliminate the heroes via their weaknesses” plot entirely pointless if Lord could’ve just turned them all into OMACs anyway. Thankfully, only 13 pages remain.

Superman starts fighting the Flash OMAC and discovers it can regenerate body parts. Flash is apparently the host OMAC, so he begins vibrating so fast that he bursts free of the OMAC and enters the Speed Force, where time stands still. He goes to visit a frozen Iris for the last time, then runs around the world carrying a mass of OMACs with him in his wake. Wally runs alongside and asks what he’s doing. Barry says, “Tag, you’re it…” hits lightspeed, and destroys them all in a burst of energy. It’s perhaps the only partly redeeming moment in the script, but at this point it’s like finding a silver dollar in a steaming pile of dinosaur feces.

Flash’s costume falls from the sky, just like in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Cut to the funeral from the beginning, where we now see that it’s Barry being laid to rest. Wally West takes up being the Flash, and the heroes agree to officially form the Justice League after convincing a hesitant Batman. Then Superman’s conveniently-placed alien detector detects a weird, starfish-shaped alien creature heading for Earth. GET IT STARRO CUZ HE WAS THE FIRST JUSTICE LEAGUE VILLAIN AND WE HAVE TO MENTION HIM. The heroes jump into action, and the nightmare finally ends.

***

This is without a doubt the single most sour, poorly-written, unpleasant piece of fiction I have ever had the displeasure of reading in full. It’s practically unfathomable, how massive a kick in the groin this script is to  these characters. If there is actually some executive that approved such a ghastly script as a workable template for a film that was mere weeks away from shooting, I fear not only for the state of blockbuster movies, but humanity itself.

Despite most of the traps being taken straight from Tower of Babel, this script executes them without half the thought or urgency, squandering a great setup in favor of a lifeless effects show. Only a fraction of the obligatory team-building dynamic is present, and with no drama, no character, no explanation for anything that happens, and really no purpose for being at all, it’s simply one big clusterfuck that amounts to little more than Michael Bay’s Transformers with DC characters. Check that, it is far worse than Michael Bay’s Transformers with DC characters. It’s just chaos. Shit blowing up. And some people with powers in costumes. It’s no wonder the details of this draft soured me on not merely Justice League as a viable film property, but Justice League in general. It is a pure hellish chore to read through and a shameful, shameful piece of filth.

Luckily the legitimate, incomplete draft I acquired resembles nothing out of this draft, and does in fact use its opening 14 pages to establish each character in his or her respective universe before bringing them together to fight a common enemy. It’s actually pretty well-written, detailing who these heroes are and what they’re fighting for. But the ultimate question, regardless of the former draft’s legitimacy, is this: why, instead of establishing each of the heroes in solo films, would Warner choose to blow its collective load early and give us the team-up first? Why risk tarnishing the names of several heroes in one bad culmination, when the company can reap less risk and greater reward by building them up individually? In the end, it seems Warner agreed, and we can thank heavenly Christ they did.

Right on Target: Thoughts on ‘Arrow’

 

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Contains spoilers for several episodes.

When it comes to comic book adaptations, there are, generally speaking, two methods of approach: the safe route, relying on a set formula and/or sticking close to the source material to tell the story (see The Avengers), or the balls-out, all-or-nothing route, aiming to transcend the property’s pulp roots to potentially varying effect (see The Dark Knight on one end, Ang Lee’s Hulk on the other). The CW’s new superhero show “Arrow” is unique in that it finds a comfortable balance between the two, sticking to an established formula while still, in many ways, deviating from it.

Since its October debut, Arrow has centered on billionaire playboy Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), who washes ashore a mysterious island after a yacht carrying his father and girlfriend’s sister capsizes. Fives years later, he returns to his home town of Starling City alive and well, but things of changed; for one, he’s returned with a mission, adapting his bow-and-arrow survival tactics he learned on the island to oppose the city’s corrupt and criminal. Along the way, family and friends, new and old, including sister Thea (Willa Holland), mother Moira (Susanna Thompson), stepfather and new CEO of Queen Industries Walter (Colin Salmon), former girlfriend Laurel (Katie Cassidy), partner Diggle (David Ramsey), and Detective Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne), present conflict upon Oliver’s return.

There are elements of DC Comics’ Green Arrow mythology here. Queen’s origin is kept largely the same, and the look of the vigilante is a logical update from the classic Robin Hood-esque ensemble. If the series can be traced back to any particular comic incarnation in terms of tone, substance, and overall approach, it’s both Andy Diggle and Jock’s Green Arrow: Year One and the entirety of Mike Grell’s run. The writers have also snuck in several other nods to the mythology, though some work better than others. Case in point, Ollie’s sister Thea is nicknamed “Speedy” because she used to run really fast as a kid. Yeah.

On the whole though, the series closely adheres to a lot of the storytelling methods employed by Christopher Nolan for both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. And by closely, I mean that if the show was produced under a company other than Warner, it’d be accused of plagiarism. In both its style and scripting, the series shamelessly takes cues from the former films, whether it be the protagonist flashing back to his early years, or throwing people off by playing a drunken playboy. Even some of the show’s staging seems to be emulating Begins in particular. It could be argued that the CW’s inability to convince parent company Warner to produce a Bruce Wayne TV show (something the network has wanted since before Smallville over ten years ago), the network settled for a similar hero in Green Arrow and altered much of his mythology to be closer to the Caped Crusader’s. Originality aside, the conceit works.

Arrow’s initial episodes quell concerns that an adaptation of the character might come off as merely a Batman/Iron Man clone, another billionaire-turned-superhero that returns to fight crime after losing his way. By adding a good number of original characters, including the family dynamic, Arrow stands out as something else entirely. Even the show’s pilot in particular is merely the standard hero’s journey, yet it’s executed near-perfectly – Queen is characterized as human and relatable, constantly struggling in the new world he’s faced with.

Initially, I was worried the familial drama would distract from what should largely be Queen’s story, but over the course of the first season, it’s evolved to a place where I don’t mind it as much. I like a lot of the more intriguing subplots, one of which explores Walter’s investigation into Moira’s position in a criminal organization that recovered the wrecked yacht from the island where Oliver was found, for reasons yet unknown. Despite this, certain episodes do tend to veer too closely into soap opera territory. More curious are the Hamlet allusions with Moira and Walter, Oliver’s father’s former partner. It’s an unnecessary added dynamic that goes nowhere, less an effective literary parallel and more illustrative of how shallow the writers can be.

The vigilante himself, as he’s called in the show (because god forbid they just call him Green Arrow), is actually quite cool, yielding lots of intense, well-shot action, even if the camera shakes a bit much. A stark contrast to many of DC’s heroes strict “no-kill” policies, including Queen’s, the show turns Oliver into a killer, treating casualties in battle as collateral damage. Still, the change isn’t as jarring as one might suspect. It’s not particularly well thought-out – Queen could’ve just as easily been written as a more restrained hero and the story not lose its poignancy – but it isn’t blasphemous. The character did kill criminals for the duration of Mike Grell’s run, so there’s that. Still, you have to wonder when characters like the Huntress (Jessica De Gouw) show up, and Queen begs them to stop recklessly killing people, if his argument isn’t a tad hypocritical.

In his alter-ego, Amell’s Oliver Queen is thoughtful, if a bit stilted, as is the case with most CW actors. His pained, determined brooder is a far breed apart from the outspoken, liberal charmer as written by Denny O’Neill, an incarnation that came to define the character. Again, it’s not so much blasphemous as it is just different. I cannot, sadly, say the same for Katie Cassidy’s “Laurel” Lance, a mere poster girl for CW’s female demographic. In early episodes especially, she plays the stereotypical busy, uptight businesswoman, flat-out cold to all and yet, despite Oliver sleeping with her now-deceased sister, she’s still somehow in love with him. It’s a character begging to evolve, preferably in the form of leather and fishnets.

On its antagonists, the show employs the standard villain-of-the-week angle, which is hit-and-miss. China White, one of the supposed leaders of the city’s underground crime ring, only appears onscreen occasionally. Deadshot gets wasted after a single appearance, and Deathstroke has yet to speak a single line of dialogue. These are some of the best villains of the DC universe, why not use them more conservatively? Wouldn’t spreading them around several seasons draw in more comic readers over a longer period of time? Still, in truth, I’d rather see the series take a page from both O’Neill and Grell’s runs, focusing on more realistic, hard crime or social issues. In those stories, the real villains were the drug dealers, the sexual deviants, the corrupt cops, etc. Some truly great writing could make that a reality; using the iconography of famed DC villains as a crutch will only get you so far.

Most episodes so far have been jam-packed with plot, so there’s very little time for the show to keep a so-called “status quo.” Things are constantly changing up, keeping the show’s pacing fast and loose. I only hope the writers don’t run out of steam before Season 2. One such fast-paced episode features Queen, suspected of being the vigilante, on house arrest, and Diggle being forced to don the green hood to throw people off his trail. I’m reminded of the old 1960s Batman show, when Alfred had to dress up as Batman whenever Adam West’s Bruce Wayne and Batman had to be in the same place at the same time. The silly solution always made me smile – really, people can’t tell the difference between a white guy and a black guy under a hood, or an old guy and a young guy beneath a cowl?

Arrow is my new Wednesday night ritual. It’s a solid, if not excellent start to a series I will hopefully be tuning in to for a long time to come. It’s certainly not any kind of definitive statement on the mythology, but on its own merits, the show works. Now if only Warner could accomplish the same with their silver screen efforts.

Zeroing In: DC Zero Issues Reviewed (Part 2)

 

I sincerely apologize for being so late on these posts, a lot of big things are going on for me right now and it’s with great dissatisfaction that I often end up neglecting the blog for a time. I’ll continue to try to keep the posts coming as quickly as possible, and thanks to everyone for your continuing patience!

DC’s Zero Month continues with three more Issue #0 reviews.

Batman #0

Batman 0A bank robbery at the hands of the ravenous Red Hood gang proceeds as planned…until millionaire Bruce Wayne appears to halt the assault. After making his escape, Bruce returns to the Batcave to continue planning his undying war against crime. Later, Commissioner Gordon pays a visit to Wayne Manor to ask Bruce about the mysterious vigilante known only as the Batman.

What exactly is it about Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s work on Batman that’s so widely hailed? Issue #0 makes the third issue of their New 52 run I’ve picked up, and it’s a middling read to say the least. Sure, we get to see Bruce in action as a ninja-like warrior, blending into his surroundings, seeing him struggle with inexperience and such. We also have a new Red Hood design that looks like the villain’s wearing a big, red plastic condom over his head, coming down just above his mouth.

And as with their other Batman issues, Snyder writes Batman too talky, too social and open about his feelings, not the haunted, brooding creature of the night we’ve come to expect. Capullo’s art feels, on the whole, too much like he’s trying to put his own spin on these characters, to varying levels of cartoonyness. Issue #0 also includes a backup story detailing the origins of all three past Robins, streamlining them into all one time block. It’s more a sad commentary on DC’s pathetic attempts to smooth out the muddled history of its characters than anything.

I continue to fail to see what is so special about Snyder’s run that everyone’s raving about. With all the great Batman runs there’ve been over the years, I have high standards for what constitutes a great Batman story and an incredibly run-of-the-mill one. Snyder falls in with the latter.

Team 7 #0

Team 7 0As superheroes begin to pop up around the globe, the government begins to pull together a team of extraordinary individuals to deal with potential superhuman threats to the US, among them Dinah Lance and her husband, Deathstroke, Grifter, Amanda Waller, and more.

Team 7 #0 is a painfully generic issue that fails to have a real reason for existing. Joining together a lot of C and D-list characters to form an obscure team few have fond memories of isn’t exactly the basis for a great title…where’s the intrigue, the draw, the iconography? I suppose I shouldn’t be chiding Issue #0 for its largely dull exposition being a zero issue and all, but does the setup really have to be so labored? Jordan takes his time with each an every individual character, yet fails to make a case for why any of them are worth following on their own, let alone in a team.

The real draw of the book for me was checking out Jesus Merino’s consistently great artwork. Having done some excellent work on Superman all last year, Merino is definitely an artist to follow, and once again proves his considerable talent on Team 7. Other than that, I just don’t find most of these characters particularly interesting. Let’s hope next month’s Issue #1 cuts to the chase and gives us the real meat of the story.

Justice League #0

JusticeLeague 0Young Billy Batson enters a mysterious realm occupied by a strange wizard who, after an exchange debating Billy’s worthiness, ultimately grants him magical powers based on the teenager’s past good deeds. Billy has other impulses, however, and returns to Earth a new man with new opportunities.

Let’s be clear about this: Justice League has been an awful, awful book since the New 52, but I’ve been following it in recent months for Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s much-needed revamp of the Shazam characters. Sadly, Issue #0 is not all that it could be.

To start, Billy’s interactions with this supposedly wise, all-knowing wizard are borderline ridiculous at times, with some of the laziest dialogue I’ve read from Johns yet. Billy doesn’t even receive his powers because he’s special – literally, his receives them because the wizard had already rejected several other potentially worthy candidates simply because they were flawed, and Billy was the first to point out that everyone has flaws. It’s a cheapening of the mythology; Billy doesn’t have any special qualities about him, he’s chosen merely because Black Adam is free and there’s no time left.

This miniseries has gotten a lot of criticism over the fact that Billy is kind of an awful kid, but I didn’t see it until this issue’s ending. Really, the way Billy chooses to use his powers is legitimately awful. You’d think he’d at least have some inkling of, you know, what being responsible means. Gary Frank’s artwork is also a bit off. Here’s he’s trying to draw a balance of both Billy and the original Captain Marvel into a single person, to wildly inconsistent effect panel to panel. I appreciate the attempt, but it’s useless when the seams are showing so conspicuously.

It’s all topped off with a pretty unremarkable cliffhanger hinting at the fate of another member of Trinity of Sin, who already seems to be going through some rather uncharacteristic changes. Either way, Justice League #0 is brought down a lot by lazy storytelling and unbalanced artwork, but I still find it more readable than the “Holy Moly!” incarnation of yesteryear. Despite its flaws, a lot of the way Billy is treated more like how an actual kid might act works really well. I can’t give Issue #0 a recommendation, but I do insist checking out the overall arc to see what further awaits in the change-up.

Review: Batman Earth One

 

batman-earth-one

Back in July, as I read Batman: Earth One, the latest in DC’s series of alternate-Earth hardbacks a la Marvel’s Ultimate universe, I jotted down one thing that struck me as the book’s most standout feature – you can see Batman’s eyes through his mask. In most Batman comics, the eyeholes of the mask are filled with nothing more than vacant white space. In Earth One, artist Gary Frank details the eyes behind the mask, so that we’re no longer looking at Batman, but Bruce Wayne in a mask. It’s an ingenious change, one I’d thought I’d be able to pinpoint before anyone else…until I read the back cover, where author Brad Meltzer notes the same thing. Damn it, Meltzer!

Still, it’s an important alteration. No doubt influenced by director Christopher Nolan’s Bruce-centered Batman Begins, Batman Earth One is not so much about the fear-based Batman persona, the mask, as many mainstream Batman comics are, but the man inside it. And while, like its predecessor Superman Earth One, the book has its flaws, it’s still a solid retelling of one of the greatest superhero origins ever told.

Batman Earth One begins with a look at an inexperienced Batman learning the ropes, good-intentioned, but uncoordinated. In a series of flashbacks, we glimpse Bruce’s childhood at the Wayne residence, with local politician Thomas Wayne hosting a party celebrating his candidacy for the upcoming Gotham City mayoral election. With the security of him and his family now at risk, Wayne invites his old war buddy Alfred over and asks him to serve as their bodyguard. Alfred refuses, but advises Wayne to cease his weekly family outings for his and his family’s safety. Wayne declines, maintaining that his family comes first above all. Taking wife Martha and son Bruce to a movie theater, we learn that Bruce is spoiled as all hell; coming from a rich family, he takes everything for granted and even taunts a thug with his status when the family leaves through an alleyway. Recognizing them, the thug holds a gun to Bruce’s head and demands money, ending with Bruce’s parents being shot. Alfred, seeing the guilt in Bruce, reluctantly takes it upon himself to raise and train him. Fast-forwarding back to the present, a now aged Alfred warns Bruce of the dangers of vigilantism. Bruce is convinced he must become Batman, but only until he’s able to solve the mystery surrounding his parents’ death and avenge them, after which he’ll be able to live a normal life. Among the ensemble are also muzzled police officer James Gordon, along with his partner and TV star Harvey Bullock, and the twisted Mayor Oswald Cobblepot, alias the Penguin.

Johns is doing some solid storytelling here, if a bit crammed and expository. I liked the greater emphasis on the guilt Bruce feels over his parents death – here, he’s even more responsible for their deaths than ever, an even greater driving force in his decision to don the cape and cowl. I also liked the change in the Wayne’s familial history, where it’s revealed that Martha Wayne was once Martha Arkham, belonging to the family that owned the eponymous insane asylum. It poses further questions about Bruce’s psychological state than most in-continuity Batman stories, and adds a bit more dimension to his constant inner struggle. It’s also fascinating watching Bruce struggle with his two personas, trying to hone his rage – in his first meeting with Gordon, he accidentally punches the old man out. The art is also some of Gary Frank’s best work, made up of beautifully dark, haunting imagery. He imagines Batman’s costume as a makeshift leather, a great idea for the character’s first appearances and another cool break from the spandex and/or armor-clad norm.

At its most basic level, this is a story of family tragedy, and Johns turns the focus closer to Bruce, his parents, and Alfred than any author ever before. Alfred and Bruce’s relationship is especially interesting; as a grizzled, bearded war veteran, the father-figure isn’t so much a butler as he is a hard-ass drill instructor, even coming to blows with Bruce at one point. But perhaps the biggest change Earth One presents is the character of James Gordon. Over the years, the character has consistently been the unwavering hero cop, fighting hard against corruption within the department. In Earth One, he’s jaded, compliant, even unlikable at times, playing by the rules of Gotham and leaving those who’ve paid them up alone. The city pushed him too far over the edge, and he’s forced to put his daughter Barbara before his own self-righteousness. It’s an ingenious change, especially with the character’s portrayal in Frank Miller’s Year One having been the standard for so long.

In fact, there are many huge changes among some of the more minor characters, with varying degrees of success. Harvey Bullock is now a detective and a TV personality, something which feels a bit too much like change for the sake of change. Underneath that, in a lot of ways, the book doesn’t really feel as bold as it should. Johns has never been one to tell particularly daring stories, so ultimately Earth One doesn’t do anything groundbreaking or newsworthy with the mythology. Still, better to play closer to home than radically revise a beloved legacy.

On a side note, I can’t help but feel that this book should’ve been out a long time ago, riding off the coattails of Superman Earth One’s success back in Fall 2010. With a year’s worth of New 52 stories in regular DC continuity in the bag, the Earth One line feels like old news, and Batman Earth One in particular seems to have been released to significantly lower fanfare than its predecessor. Even worse, the actual book was announced all the way back at the end of 2009, almost three years ago now. If they’d been able to deliver this a year ago at the very least, it’d have probably turned a few more heads than it has already.

In the end, Earth One is the same old Batman with a new coat of paint, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It does get closer to the heart of Bruce’s character than most other Batman comics before it, and while Batman didn’t really need the reintroduction, it’s still a damn good Batman origin and a solid beginning for the character’s alternate universe debut. Here’s hoping more DC characters get the Earth One treatment…provided Mr. Meltzer doesn’t get to the heart of them first.

Recommended.