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

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

Small Rifts, Max-imum Wonder: San Diego Comic-Con 2014 (Day Three)

comic-con_logoHey guys, sorry I’m late with this post. Balancing passion with paid work is never an easy task…very much appreciate the patience!

 

WB Pictures

Getting the surprises out of the way first, Zack Snyder entered to premiere a quick teaser for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and bring out the three primary cast members, Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, and Gal Gadot as Supes, Bats, and Wonder Woman respectively. The footage has already leaked online, featuring a Batman wearing heavy Dark Knight Returns-style armor and Superman flying above, eyes flashing red with heat vision. The look of Wonder Woman was also revealed, pictured left.

The WW costume is about what most of us were picturing, I suppose. Not much left to say other than I’m just as excited as I was before this and very much looking forward to the team-up.

Jupiter Ascending was next, a film which I’m interested in, yet weary over after the Wachowskis’ pretentious, overindulgent Cloud Atlas. Following that film came Mad Max: Fury Road, finally debuting footage after a nearly two-year shooting block and an even longer development period. Director George Miller took the stage for his first Con, describing the film as an, “imaginary friend. Popped into [my] head and wouldn’t leave.” Miller went on to say the film would largely be one big chase sequence with minimal dialogue, and gave him, “a chance to return to simple allegory of first film.” Footage screened at the Con can be viewed below:

That’s a Mad Max movie alright, though I’ve never been particularly passionate about the franchise myself. The first film is my least favorite of the bunch; I find it dark and ugly, almost Grindhouse-esque. I much prefer the  down-to-earth, human, story-driven nature of Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome. Give me story over stunts any day.

Still, check out some fantastic storyboards for the film at BleedingCool, which I’m sure will be published as a comic book or something during the film’s release next year.

I unfortunately had to skimp on The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies panel, moderated by Stephen Colbert. It’s a film I have no doubt will be as epic and emotional a conclusion as director Peter Jackson’s five other Middle-Earth ventures.

 

Legendary Pictures

Ended up missing this panel as well. Still, it was exciting to hear of Chris Hemsworth and director Michael Mann, making his first Con appearance, showcasing Black Hat, previously known as the Untitled Cyber Thriller, which they’ve been working on for a few years now. Guillermo Del Toro was also on call to promote Crimson Peak, the director’s latest R-rated horror venture which sounds for more promising than Pacific Rim. For Warcraft, director Duncan Jones appeared to promote the film, which is reportedly an origin story detailing the origins of battling the Orcs. Also announced was a King Kong spinoff of sorts titled Skull Island. Interesting stuff all around.

 

A Dame to Kill For

While I followed this panel, I don’t really have much to say on the film itself just yet. The film comes out in a month, I’m eagerly awaiting it, however (minor spoilers)…we STILL don’t know if Clive Owen will make a cameo in the third act of the title storyline as Dwight post-face operation. You’d think this would be the sort of thing they’d reveal at Comic-Con, despite the spoiler potential. I want to know, dammit!

 

Marvel Studios

Ant-Man-Comic-Con-2014-Exclusive-Poster

Ironically enough, looming large over Marvel’s festivities this year was the Edgar Wright Ant-Man debacle, yet fans didn’t seem to care much as Marvel played the crowd like a fiddle, showing footage from Phases 1 and 2 to kick off their panel. They certainly do like tooting their own horn, even undeservedly, yet perhaps sadder is the fact that people still eat up even the company’s weakest efforts.

Perhaps wanting to get it out of the way first (and unsurprisingly fielding no fan questions), the cast and new director of Ant-Man took the stage first, revealing as rumored that Evangeline Lily would be playing Hank Pym’s daughter Hope Van Dyne in the film. Attempting to better tie director Peyton Reed to the project, Feige eagerly showcased a hand-drawn promo from an amateur rock band Reed played in in the late 80s. The promo was a riff on the cover of Avengers #1 with band members standing in for the heroes; Reed stood in for Ant-Man, in what is I guess a pretty interesting coincidence. Still, it’s a pretty fleeting way of trying to brush past Edgar Wright’s huge commitment to the project in favor of Reed’s.

More promising was Rudd’s physique, clearly just looking at his neck shows he’s been hitting the gym hard for the role of Scott Lang. And Michael Douglas seemed earnestly enjoying his tenure there, speaking of Tales to Astonish and Hank Pym’s background. Marvel also screened some early test footage featuring of Lang running along a table and leaping onto a flying ant.

I shared my thoughts on the new direction of the production a month or so ago, but since then a lot of the anger seems to have cooled based on producer Kevin Feige’s comments that the production really did come down to creative differences. Feige also poked fun at the notion of the “big, bad studio,” and maintained the film in its current state was the, “best version of Ant-Man.” According to who? The studio? More importantly, who’s to say this isn’t complete PR bullshit, the studio’s “official” account of the story, put out there in order to dodge such questions at Comic-Con? If the split between Wright and Marvel was really as amicable as Feige paints it to be, then why did Wright tweet the ultra-somber photo of Buster Keaton, famously cheated by MGM, and title it “selfie?”

There is another side to this story – Wright’s. Feige has said nothing to deconfirm what the trades initially reported, that the studio had gone over Wright’s head and commissioned inferior rewrites of the script. Whether or not Wright “wasn’t used to the collaboration,” is irrelevant, more Feige vindicating of himself and the studio than a subjective recount of the dispute. Regardless, I’m still shaking my head at Marvel, Feige, and all involved who led to Wright divorcing himself from his own work.

There was a bit more fun to be had at the Age of Ultron panel, which included all major players sans Joss Whedon, who’d been undergoing knee surgery. Also introduced was Josh Brolin as Thanos, the sole surprise of the evening after screening some early footage of the film.

 

WB TV

Though I’ve already shared by thoughts on both Flash and Constantine here, the WB TV panel, moderated by Arrow’s Stephen Amell, shared some new details about the four new and current DC shows. For one, an extended trailer revealed that Ra’s Al Ghul will, predictably, be the primary third season villain on Arrow. Fine by me – while Arrow is a show highly derivative of Nolan’s Batman, frequently contains silly plot twists (Sarah’s bisexual?! MY GOD!!), and is generally entirely manufactured drama, at it’s core it’s a solid, entertaining hero’s journey.

I haven’t said a lot about Gotham because there really isn’t much to talk about there. It looks decent, I’m looking forward to seeing where they take the story, but there’s only so many places you can take a series like this without drawing it out and/or deviating heavily from the source material like Smallville did. I’m really just hoping for cameos from past Bat-family like Adam West or Chris O’Donnell.

Check back soon for my final wrap-up of the ceremonies!

Publicity Stunt Casting: The Eisenberg-Luthor Issue

68th Annual Golden Globe Awards Arrivals Kk13rC1WKOulLoading up Bleeding Cool one afternoon last month, I glimpsed the headline, “Jesse Eisenberg cast as Lex Luthor in Batman/Superman movie.” Chuckling, I checked my calendar. Nope, April Fool’s was still months away. Odd. Good joke, though. Wonder how many sites will start circulating the obviously fake story as legitimate. Later, ComingSoon.net did just that, it’s headline reading the same. Then Deadline’s, featuring a press release from director Zack Snyder himself. Journalists, straining to remain as objective as possible, opted for a collective, “Well…didn’t see that one coming.”

Huh, I thought. Well that’s dumb. So…why, exactly, Eisenberg?

You may consider this a rant on the matter if you wish, but these days I don’t take these things nearly as seriously. To think it was a mere four years ago when I was pacing the floor agitatedly upon learning Snyder would direct Man of Steel. I have to think that angry college freshman would’ve flown through the roof upon reading this news. Regardless, such a bizarre announcement practically demands I toss my two cents in.

Since the casting announcement, I’ve largely steering clear of much of the internet’s, say, less informed discussion on the matter. Even so, I’m keenly aware it’s gotten fans riled up like Ben Affleck never could, with most people just curious as to what the flying fuck these filmmakers are thinking. Then you’ve got those anti-haters, the tools of the group discussion who post, “It totally makes sense guys. Eisenberg played Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, he’s a modern-day Luthor, a tech-savvy, self-made businessman. And he’s so mousy, so you’d never expect him to be a threat to the world’s greatest champion.” It’s a lot of flimsy, long-winded, run-around garbage, people trying to justify how these filmmakers couldn’t go wrong. They can’t go wrong. Zack Snyder is a fucking visionary.

Then you’ve got those people who complain about people who complain about the complainers, evidently Monty Python fans.

My opinion, boiled down to its most basic, obvious truth: this casting blows.

But let’s backtrack. After Ben Affleck was announced to be playing Batman in the new film, the actor says heben-affleck-23 was able to take his criticism on the chin, but that it “seems odd” to judge a film’s cast before even seeing the movie. To an extent I agree, and certainly I’m saving my final judgment of the film for 2016. As with the case of seemingly every major tentpole movie these days, a certain degree of secrecy is required to keep fans from dissecting every element, every frame, every detail before the movie’s even out. So naturally, it makes sense to adopt a “wait and see” attitude without knowing much about what the final film will look like. Fair enough.

But dropping a huge bomb like the Eisenberg announcement, and expecting fans NOT to judge? Expecting fans not to start questioning the difference between Snyder entering a room of casting executives and saying, “Hey guys, let’s be bold and unexpected. Let’s take a chance on this actor and see what he does with the role,” and entering a room saying, “Guys, fuck everything, let’s hit so far into left field, that dude sitting in the nosebleed section will see his car getting hit by the ball in the parking lot.”?

That’s expecting a lot.

Here’s the difference: Ben Affleck is a bold and daring choice. Affleck fits perfectly with the prospect of an older, wiser, yet still handsome and physically fit Bruce Wayne. Performance unseen, his casting defies nothing of the typical, expected image of Bruce Wayne we’ve all come to know and love, nor does it impede any possibilities for Affleck to portray the character accurately and true to the source material. He is sensible left-field. Though there remains the unanswered question, does the actor overshadow the character? Will Affleck’s celebrity status purport not Batman, but Ben Affleck in a cape and cowl? I’m inclined to vote for the former, simply because, as evidenced by Val Kilmer’s charisma-less Dark Knight in Batman Forever, you can pretty much cast most traditional Hollywood leading men in the role and they’ll probably do a solid job at the very least.

Another in the sensible left-field category: Jeremy Irons as Wayne’s butler Alfred Pennyworth. Irons will no doubt put a fresh new spin on the character, and yet the actor still has the acting chops to play the traditional, fatherly Alfred of the comics we all know and love. That’s being faithful to the mythology while still doing something different and exciting that will get people talking.

Let’s say Snyder wants exactly that. Let’s say Eisenberg is exactly who the casting guys are looking for in an antagonist. In the furthest reaches of my logic, the best explanation I can come up with is this: after the (spoilers) neck-breaking climax of Man of Steel, Superman is left to grapple with his moral decision-making and overall code of ethics, to eventually and obviously settle upon a traditional “no-kill” policy. Then here comes “Luthor,” whom screenwriters David Goyer and Chris Terrio have written to be mousy and meek, as a way of better challenging Supes to stay true to his new edict. Here is this absolute weakling, whom Supes knows he could snap in half with a flick of his finger, who nonetheless has power over him. Supes, in all his power, in all his strength, can do nothing when threatened by Luthor. It’s a continuation of the themes of Man of Steel, dealing with Superman’s everyday choice to let loose or exercise restraint.

Maybe this Luthor is designed to play up the contrasts between he and Superman. Maybe Luthor desires Superman’s strength and can’t have it, forced to compensate with his knowledge and technology. Maybe, where Clark earned his powers, Luthor had to work for his own abilities, leading him to hate Superman for his entitlement. All interesting contrasts to potentially be played up.

This all, of course, ignores the reality that Eisenberg’s casting completely flies in the face of who and what Lex Luthor is and always has been as a character. And Eisenberg cannot possibly hope to portray Luthor as written in any other medium, not now or ever.

To illustrate, this is Lex Luthor:

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Note the physical stance in each of these images. Luthor is constantly in command, caught up in his own twisted vision of what society should be. He exudes one crucial element that sets him above not just Superman, but most of humanity – power. Luthor is a commanding presence, ruling LexCorp, Metropolis, and even the free world with an iron fist. He stands toe-to-toe with Superman both mentally, and in his power suit, physically. Luthor is power that can’t be found in a gym, or near a yellow sun, or even in a lifetime of experience. The guy is practically power personified, and suffice to say, power is not something that can be found from the shy, awkward kid from Adventureland.

I asked earlier if Affleck’s Batman will prove more Affleck than Batman. I pose the same question about Eisenberg: does the actor overshadow the character? In this case, absolutely. I could never see past Eisenberg to see Lex Luthor. He is senseless left-field, and unlike Affleck and Irons, could never hope to portray the Luthor of the source material. Eisenberg has no power. He has very little screen presence. He has no way to be taken seriously in any scenario involving power. He’s a fine actor, but his range is limited to arrested-development teenager roles and smug brats. He is everything that Luthor is not, to the point where suggesting him to play Superman’s greatest nemesis would have you laughed out of any respectable casting agency. Eisenberg is the internet troll’s ironic pick for Luthor in a fantasy casting discussion. And it’s ridiculous that this even has to be said, quite honestly.

I argue not only this, but that Eisenberg’s casting is a thoughtless maneuver designed merely to get people talking about the lore’s huge change in status quo. These days, comic book movies practically demand left-field casting, as anything less would almost surely be met with an indifferent yawn from audiences. But when you’re casting someone so blatantly unfitting for the role, now you’re no longer bringing the world of the comics to life. You’re no longer trying to faithfully adapt a beloved American mythology. You’re defying expectations for the sake of defying them, and spitting in the face of your predecessors’ legacy.

“But wait!” whine certain fans. “Remember how everyone hated the idea of Heath Ledger as Joker? Look how that turned out!” I regret I was among those who championed other actors above Ledger at the time of The Dark Knight, but these fans are missing the point. Nolan cast the left-field Ledger because he had a vision. Even in Man of Steel, Snyder’s cast is filled with big names for its own sake, the director merely aping Nolan’s casting methods on the Dark Knight films (and really, Richard Donner’s on Superman: the Movie). I argue that Snyder is casting Eisenberg not because he has a vision, but because he simply wants to defy expectations.

The casting also illustrates how Hollywood seems more concerned with casting names than complete unknowns. Why not branch out and search for a more fitting Lex Luthor, an actor who has a chance to embody the role? What happened to casting the best actor for the job, not simply going with the most unexpected choice for its own sake?

Imagine this. Back in 1976, both Christopher Reeve and Sylvester Stallone walk into Richard Donner’s office. Both have auditioned for the role of Superman in Richard Donner’s eponymous film. Donner turns to Reeve and says, “Kid, you’ve got all the right stuff, you’re a great actor, but we’ve decided to go with Sly here.”

“What?” says Reeve. “Why?”

“Well kid, he’s got some experience under his belt, that much is certain. And he’s Italian, which we hope will challenge a lot of the expectations that fans have for the character. After all, Superman isn’t just American, he’s a child of the world, right? Who says we can’t cast Sly just because he’s completely ill-fitting to portray the Superman people know and love?”

You get the picture. And because of it, a little bit of excitement for the ultimate DC Comics team-up movie dies inside me. All the same, best of luck to Eisenberg, no doubt the ultimate victim in all this, and destined to receive the tongue-lashing of a lifetime right up until the film’s release and possibly even after.

Still, good joke. Looking forward also to Florence Henderson as Doomsday.

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Marvelous Offerings: San Diego Comic-Con 2013 (Day Three)

ccBursting at the seams with new and exciting announcements, Saturday is always the big day for Comic-Con…which makes for a lot to cover today. Videos and/or liveblogs of each panel are provided.

Warner/Legendary

With Legendary moving to Universal, I can’t imagine organizing this panel with Warner was anything short of awkward. Followed via CS.net, the panel began with Seventh Son, a film seemingly steeped in unoriginality. At least Jeff Bridges proved a fun presence, pumping up the crowd with talk of the film’s mythology.

Next came Godzilla, with director Gareth Edwards and his cast taking the stage. The movie just started shooting, and Edwards talked about how amazed he was at the freedom he’s been granted on the film. He also shared a funny story about how the crew was crossing the border to film in Canada, when they got stopped by border patrol, who immediately realized what the film was and told them, “don’t fuck it up!” Sound advice indeed.

After that came a surprise announcement from Source Code director Duncan Jones, who took the stage to show some brief test footage, described as a “mood piece,” for the upcoming live-action Warcraft, and to announce the adaptation would begin shooting early next year. A nice touch; I’ll be seeing the final film because of Jones, not the actual property.

300: Rise of an Empire was next, which I all but tuned out for. I disliked the first film and it’s unlikely I’ll get much out of its entirely unnecessary follow-up, which stands as further proof of author Frank Miller’s growing senility.

Following that was Gravity by Children of Men director Alfonso Cuaron, also joined by star Sandra Bullock onstage. Seems as though Cuaron is getting a lot more continuous shots this time around, an exciting prospect for film fans. Bullock said she was encased in a glass cube in her space suit while the camera moved around her to get the space shots, which look brilliant. The film comes out this October in 3D.

Next was The Lego Movie, directed by 21 Jump Street helmers Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Described as, “the weirdest kids movie ever,” the directors brought out some of their cast and showed some footage from the part stop-motion, part CGI film, which the pair exuded a wealth of passion about. I was pretty indifferent to the recently-released trailer, and I don’t see this being any more than a glorified toy commercial myself, and that’s from someone who was obsessed with Legos as a kid.

The last panel was Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow, starring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, and Bill Paxton, and scripted by Christopher McQuarrie, all in attendance. Formerly titled All You Need is Kill, the film will follow Cruise’s character as a military operative stuck in some sort of time loop, reliving the same day over and over and learning new things each day. Cruise did a mini-duet with Blunt from Rock of Ages, and exchanged Aliens quotes with Paxton, after which footage from the film was screened. Also present was the original author of the comic which the film is based on.

Finally, in the panel’s most publicized event, director Zack Snyder took the stage to announce, “some shit’s going to happen here,” and brought out actor Harry Lennix to read a passage from The Dark Knight Returns, wherein Batman monologues about Superman remembering who put a stop to him. After which, this logo appeared onscreen, to insane screams from the crowd:

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Thanks to Outhousers

Despite the announcement being spoiled by several other sources just before the panel, I’m cautiously optimistic. I’ve seen how WB has mishandled the teaming of its DC characters in script form before, and I’m not quite certain they’ve learned their lesson yet. Not to mention, especially considering the recent dark, unpleasant, Batman-centric comic by Greg Pak teaming the two heroes, I can’t see the film going in the lighter, more optimistic, colorful direction that I’d hoped for the DC Universe on film. I guess, all things considered, it’s better than jumping headfirst into Justice League. The as-yet untitled Superman/Batman film will be written by Snyder and David S. Goyer, with a mind to start production next year.

Lionsgate – I, Frankenstein

Director Stuart Beattie and stars Aaron Eckhart and Yvonne Strahovski dropped in to show some footage of their new film, taking place after the original Mary Shelley novel ends and featuring a monster struggling to find himself. The sizzle reel was described by the CS liveblog team as, “Blade-like,” and I’ve also heard comparisons to the Underworld series. The panel was asked about Aaron Eckhart’s appearance in the film, which looks less like Frankenstein and more like a really ripped Aaron Eckhart:

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On his appearance, the panel joked that there’s, “only so much you can do to make Aaron look ugly,” further explaining that the scars and wounds on the monster at first heal over time into what you see above. Interesting, if a bit of a flimsy excuse to bring make the monster more appealing to the female demographic. Eckhart said it took him a year-and-a-half training 3-4 hours a day to get his body in shape for the role. Hopefully it pays off this February.

20th Century Fox

CS’ liveblog detailed Fox’s panel, which opened with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and featured director Matt Reeves and stars Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, and Andy Serkis. The team came onstage briefly to talk about how it’s eight years since the events of 2011’s Rise, and that the apes and humans are co-existing and slowly starting to war with each other. It takes 10-12 weeks to animate a single ape, according to the panel, but they were able to show a brief teaser featuring an older Caesar, with an army of apes behind him. Rise was surprisingly enjoyable and I’m looking forward to its sequel, but sadly this team’s MTV Live interview proved far more entertaining than their panel on my end.

After that came director James Mangold and star Hugh Jackman to talk about next week’s The Wolverine, a panel which you can watch for yourself here. Jackman promised that fans will finally get see the character’s trademark berserker rage, and Mangold stressed the inherent anger within the character that drove filming. Jackman even saluted Wolverine co-creator Len Wein onstage, a nice touch. Can’t wait to review the movie next week; Fox is positioning the film as their Iron Man, a launching pad for their rebuilt future of Marvel adaptations in competition with Marvel Studios themselves

Further targeting the company, the panel, which can be seen here, brought out its surprise guests – the entire headlining cast of X-Men: Days of Future Past, in a move mirroring Marvel’s own Avengers cast appearance at the Con three years ago. Director Bryan Singer first screened some reportedly “goosebump-inducing” 3D footage for the film, which reveals that the film will see all the old X-Men players facing a dark, mutant-outlawed future, and sending Wolverine back in time to his 70s-era body, where he meets the new X-Men from 2011’s First Class and must gain their trust to help prevent a future war from ever happening.

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Questions about the use of Quicksilver by both Fox and Marvel naturally came up – Singer maintained that the character was always part of the story, and will be present in the 70s portion of the film. Which begs the question…as Magneto’s son, why wasn’t he mentioned in the old movies if he was around in the 70s? I recommend watching the panel for yourself, there are quite a few funny moments of the cast interacting with one another.

Personally, for all the acclaim Singer gets for revitalizing the comic book movie with the first X-Men, I’ve never really been a fan of his take on the material. As noted in this excellent opinion piece,  I think my biggest issue is how Singer defines the characters by their powers, not by their actual character. In my mind, it’s far more important we see the mutant’s personalities over their powers, playing up their similarities rather than their differences to humanity, so that we might better relate to them. Really, when all the films show about Storm is that she can summon potentially fatal storms, is the mutant registration for security’s sake portrayed in the films really a bad thing after all?

But I digress. First Class was a step in the right direction for bringing a more colorful, team/character-driven experience to the fold, and with the Sentinels finally making their live-action debut, all I can hear is the old X-Men arcade song chanting “X-MEN!” over and over again. This is one of biggest and best X-Men stories finally being adapted for the big screen, and I can’t fucking wait.

 

Marvel Studios

In another parallel to 2010’s Con, Marvel Studios brought out their latest Thor and Captain America movies to talk about for their panel, which you can watch here. The panel surprised audience members when Tom Hiddleston in-character and in-costume as Loki, riled up the crowd by asking them over and over to, “say my name!” to ear-piercing screams, and finally introduced a new trailer for Thor: the Dark World.

Afterward, the cast of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and its directors Anthony and Joe Russo came onstage to discuss the April release. Apparently Cap (Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) “share the movie in a big way” (read: sex). Anthony Mackie shared his enthusiasm for playing the Falcon, while Sebastian Stan talked about being back as the Winter Soldier. Producer Kevin Feige chimed in to stress the reveal that Cap’s old sidekick Bucky is the Winter Soldier, which by this point is a secret to no one, will be played as a surprise only to Cap, if not the audience. The panel also screened some early footage, which apparently looks fantastic, showing Cap fighting Crossbones (Frank Grillo) and his men in an elevator. The Russo brothers discussed their aim for a 70s political thriller-feel, and I have high hopes their movie will be better than the first.

Marvel also brought out its “surprise,” the cast of Guardians of the Galaxy and director James Gunn, who are two weeks into filming, but still nonetheless prepared some footage for the audience, which has been getting some pretty amazing buzz. The panel talked in very little detail about each of their characters, barred from revealing too much other than, “uh, they’re guys…in space.” One of the female cast members also revealed she was wearing a wig at the panel, taking it and throwing it into the audience. Weird.

I still really, really don’t see the appeal of this movie on a mainstream level. Talking raccoons in a semi-serious space thriller goes beyond suspension of disbelief, crossing into painful obscurity, of which director James Gunn, the man who had Ellen Page rape Rainn Wilson in Super, is certainly no stranger to. I fear for Marvel, as this is probably the worst possible box office climate to experiment in, with even solid movies like After Earth and The Lone Ranger tanking hard in earnings. The panel did nothing to convince me of seeing the final product come August, but perhaps some footage might change that.

And finally, Joss Whedon came onstage to announce the official title for the Avengers sequel:

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That explains Vin Diesel’s Vision, who as fans know, was created by Ultron and later joined the superhero team. Still, Feige maintains that “there’s nothing to announce with Vin,” but come on, is anyone seriously doubting he’ll be the first newcomer to be announced when casting is officially underway?

To be concluded…