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

Suicide_Squad_SDCC_trailer_-_620_x_400

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

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

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

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

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

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

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:

lexluthor

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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Script Review: Justice League Mortal

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Review: Man of Steel

mosThis review contains minor spoilers.

For years, there has existed a sharp divide between hardcore and casual superhero fans. You’d often hear the latter group complaining that Superman, the first true superhero and arguably the best, was dull, dated, and too powerful to relate to. I can’t entirely fault those with that outlook – 2006’s Superman Returns, intended to re-establish the influence of the classic 1978 Richard Donner Superman, featured a Man of Steel that was indeed dull, dated, and too powerful to relate to. Fans of the comics and TV incarnations, however, knew that America’s greatest modern mythology had evolved well beyond the hackneyed convention of Returns. They knew there existed the potential for a great modern superhero adaptation, an entertaining and enlightening film exhibiting the leaps and bounds (or rather, aerial mileage) the character had covered since the late ‘70s. That film has finally arrived, and has since become perhaps the biggest, most talked-about release of the season. To those Superman fans pre-Man of Steel, give yourselves a hearty pat on the back for predicting right.

I’ll stay out of the group back-pat for now. Those of you who’ve been following my blog for any length of time knew well my severe anxiety towards this film before its release. I’ve said a lot of things to quell my excitement, maintaining reasonable doubt to shield from bitter disappointment. I’ve also said I would be the first to admit I was wrong if the film was actually any good. Today, I’m very happy to be able to do so.

Man of Steel opens with the screams of a woman in labor. This is Lara (Ayelet Zurer), at her side her husband Jor-El (Russell Crowe), newly christened parents of Kal-El, all citizens of Krypton, a planet facing impending destruction. But this is not the subtle, crystalized, Kubrickian Krypton of Donner’s film, but a world of bizarre, advanced alien culture and technology. We quickly cut to Jor-El chastising the planet’s council of elders for their lack of foresight in preventing the planet’s doom. Quicker still, the ruthless General Zod (Michael Shannon) bursts in and announces his plans to take over the government. Even quicker still, we watch Jor-El fly through Krypton on a pterodactyl-like creature, steal a small skull-shaped device called the Codex, which contains the entirety of the planet’s knowledge and culture, and imbue it into his infant son, before rocketing him to Earth to make his own destiny. Meanwhile, Zod’s coup is undone and he is banished to the Phantom Zone, after which the planet is destroyed in a fiery explosion. Enjoying the movie yet? If not, don’t worry. The sequence is ultimately the polar opposite of Donner’s Krypton – a trivial, non-stop CGI lightshow that’s neither emotionally charged nor particularly memorable, an all-too familiar flaw of director Zack Snyder’s past work.

Thankfully and refreshingly, Snyder’s excess takes a backseat as we settle in for the Earth scenes, where an adult Kal-El, raised Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), has been taking odd jobs around the world, each time helping people by using his powers, and every time having to move onto another job for fear of being discovered. It’s a dynamic that mirrors the opening sequences of 2005’s Batman Begins, when Bruce Wayne was also bearded, travelling internationally, and finding himself via flashback. In several of these flashbacks, we see Clark growing up on his adopted family farm in Smallville, Kansas, where he struggles to control his new senses, among them super-hearing and X-Ray vision. The new powers frighten him while he’s in the middle of class, forcing Ma Kent (Diane Lane) to come in and help him learn to control them. It doesn’t help that Pa Kent (Kevin Costner) tells him he has to keep his powers a secret, be the better man, and turn the other cheek until he feels the world is ready for him. These scenes work well to demonstrate not only how Clark gained his moral structure, but the constant sacrifice in keeping such incredible powers at bay.

Indeed, people who aren’t Superman fans often argue that Supes isn’t nearly as compelling as characters like Batman or Wolverine, because the latter two are unpredictable and fallible, mere mortals who bend morality like rubber. With Superman, they argue, there’s no tension, because you always know in the end he’s going to do the right thing. In reality, that’s exactly what makes Superman so compelling  – what does it take for someone to sacrifice their own life every day, just to keep the world safe for complete strangers? What burden does relative infallibility and an undying impulse to save lives carry? Happily, writer David S. Goyer poses these very questions of the character in his script.

Hot on adult Clark’s trail is Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams), who traces the hermit’s footsteps via his old jobs in the hopes of telling his story to the world. It’s a clever change-up to the characters’ expected romantic dynamic, and serves as a great example of how the film shatters many preconceived notions and age-old conventions of the mythology, while still remaining largely faithful to it. Meanwhile, Zod and his cohorts, having escaped from the Phantom Zone, discover Kal-El’s presence on Earth and threaten to destroy the entire planet, in its place building a new Krypton using the codex imbued in Clark. Clark now faces a decision – is it finally time to reveal himself to the rest of the world?

Man of Steel is the near-perfect Superman for the 21st Century, thanks to Goyer’s strong, action-packed script. It’s a rather brilliant amalgamation of elements from the best Superman stories post-1986, yet still a wholly modern, Goyer-esque take on the character that feels fresh and stands apart from all previous Superman material. As with his script for Batman Begins, Goyer takes the core of the title protagonist – played surprisingly well by Cavill, who not only physically matches Superman but also nails his heroic, down-to-earth persona – and boils him down to a more tangible, cynical universe. For better or worse, this is a more serious, less colorful, and even at times shocking portrayal of the Last Son of Krypton. Kudos also to producer Christopher Nolan, whose footprints all are over the film, for lending the film his stamp of approval. It’s the Batman filmmaker’s ability to keep so much behind the curtain up until a film’s release, and then make even the most predictable outcomes throughout the film feel fresh and exciting, that makes him such a pervasive influence on the industry.

About midway through the film, the US military enters to take control of the alien situation. I’ve criticized their presence in recent Superman comics, mainly because they only exist as antagonists for the hero,MAN OF STEEL treating him as if he were a misunderstood monster like the Hulk, not the humanoid, English-speaking, perfectly normal-looking guy that he is. Man of Steel is the first time I’ve seen them used properly – here, they are not malicious, xenophobic morons who automatically distrust Superman, but are merely cautious of him, only  distrusting him out of need to protect their country. The film ponders the idea of trust between both Superman and the military, neither side knowing whether or not the other will truly do what they say they will. In the end, the film shows that these men and women represent the best of us, the people who, if occasionally mistake-prone, are the core of the fighting spirit and undying desire for justice that America prides itself on. The patriotic philosophy wisely sidesteps cheesy, in-your-face flag-waving, showing rather than telling how Superman appeals to the best of humanity.

In retrospect, it’s easy to see why so many different filmmakers – Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future), Duncan Jones (Source Code), and Guillermo Del Toro (Blade II) among them – passed on directing Man of Steel; they would’ve been executing Goyer’s take, not their own. Any additions these auteurs might’ve wanted to make would’ve entailed a page one rewrite, something Warner was likely unwilling to do given the script’s narrative strengths. Thus, Zack Snyder, far from an auteur, was likely hired in part because his insubstantial style would bring the balls-to-the-wall action fans craved, in addition to adapting the prepackaged Goyer script without unraveling its unique approach. Still, I can’t help but feel a better director, one that perhaps hadn’t directed three flops in a row for the studio, could’ve made an even better film in his own vein and still retained Goyer’s vision.

As it stands, Snyder brings with him an equal share of pluses and minuses. For one, his design for the classic red-and-blue suit and Kryptonian technology work well. Snyder also ably brings the script’s epic, heavyweight conflict to life, with every punch, every insurmountable obstacle realized on a massive scale. Scenes of Clark learning to fly are perhaps the best, most spellbinding sequences of the film; I believed a man could fly more than I ever have before. And from a technical standpoint, there’s little if anything to complain about – we have an excellent score from Hans Zimmer that proves the composer isn’t limited to “dark” films, and easily the best 3D conversion work I’ve seen on a film yet.

But the director’s affinity for handheld shots and almost all medium close-up shots feels claustrophobic compared to the lingering, natural imagery of Donner’s film. And with the director’s over-the-top, CGI-fueled visuals comes an obnoxious sense of self-satisfaction; observe Supes and Zod’s lengthy battle through Metropolis, wherein countless buildings come toppling down in the Kryptonians’ wake, to the point where I’m wondering what exactly Snyder’s got against tall buildings. Luckily, the action occasionally, and only just overextends its boundaries; the director’s trademark indulgence isn’t quite enough to break the film.

teaser-man-of-steel-shannon-e1365999108756Directorial faults aside, Man of Steel is still missing a crucial piece of the puzzle – charm. Fun. Child-like wonder. This Superman doesn’t so much save cats from trees as bellow at his foes and drag them against the dirt. Goyer’s humorlessness robs the Superman universe of its general light-heartedness, keeping the film from truly capturing the full essence of the mythology. And there’s certainly plenty of room for humor here, perhaps more banter between the abrasive Lois and the good-natured Clark. Even Goyer’s own Batman Begins script seemed to have more winking, wry humor than Man of Steel, and when Batman’s having more fun than Supes, it’s a problem.

The film’s darker philosophy follows right through to the film’s shocking conclusion, which for some will shake the very core of their Superman fandom. It’s a Catch-22 scenario, wherein Superman’s final decision is borrowed straight from (spoilers, fans) the classic Exile story arc. This is an ending that proves the stakes were personal, the threat was real, and the after-effects are clearly going to be felt for some time. In the end, it’s what Supes needed to be taken seriously by a modern audience, and to prove that he’ll do anything, anything, to save people, even if it means the scarring of his own soul. Not to mention, Man of Steel is an origin story, portraying a Superman still learning the ropes. With Zod, he received a big lesson that will no doubt shape his moral compass forever.

On a side note, Man of Steel poses some interesting questions about the future of Superman on film. Certainly the film’s final scene, which had me holding back a big, geeky grin, promises an interesting change-up, effectively eradicating the trademark love triangle between Lois, Clark, and Superman. I’ll miss that dynamic of the mythology, but I’m very interested to see where they take the new one. But does the decision to ground the character in pseudo-reality bode ill for bringing some of the character’s more cartoony antagonists, among them Bizarro, the Prankster, and Mr. Mxyzptlk, to this new screen universe? There’s also the much-discussed prospect of Goyer and Snyder being ported over to WB’s long-gestating, likely ill-fated Justice League adaptation. Personally, I’d rather the studio hire different talent to helm individual Flash and Wonder Woman adaptations first. Besides, I’m not exactly clamoring to see an entire DC Universe through Goyer’s super-serious eyes, especially when you consider how much color and fun are going into many of Marvel’s films. These are, after all, comic book movies.

Man of Steel is an epic, thrilling film that packs far more punch than any other comic book adaptation in half a decade. And with Man of Steel comes proof that studio Warner Brothers, opting for a balls-out approach in all aspects of production, is finally treating their comic book adaptations not like cartoony toy commercials, but actual films, legitimate epics that are just as viable enterprises as artsier fare. Even if Goyer’s isn’t the end-all-be-all interpretation of the character, the weight he and Snyder bring to the proceedings works as a much-needed update of a character that audiences will hopefully now be taking far more seriously. It’s proof to modern audiences that Superman isn’t just some dull, dated relic of yesteryear, and proof that the character can still be relate to people today. But you fans out there knew that, didn’t you?

 

Film Review Man of Steel

 

8.5/10

Justice League on Film: Then and Now

 

The-Justice-League

With Christopher Nolan’s Bat-films ending and the seeming new beginning of the Superman franchise picking up steam, there’s been a lot of talk in recent months about Warner’s plans for a live action Justice League film. Bringing together both Superman and Batman, along with Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter, the Justice League has been DC’s premiere superhero team since its inception in the pages of The Brave and the Bold #28 back in 1960. And given the recent success of the Marvel’s Avengers, not to mention the stagnant development on solo films for each of the aforementioned teammates sans Supes and Bats, it’s safe to assume Justice League will be the company’s next foray into the superhero subgenre.

But by going for the big bucks of the team-up without familiarizing audiences with its individual characters and building a cohesive universe for them to occupy as Marvel did, does WB risk tarnishing its most beloved brands? More importantly, will they repeat the same mistakes as they did the last time they pursued a team-up film following successful Batman and Superman films? What we do know at this stage is that a script from Will Beal, writer of the studio’s upcoming Gangster Squad, is being shopped around, and was rumored to have been offered to Argo director and Daredevil actor Ben Affleck. It’s an ill-fitting choice of course, and one which I noted the director would obviously turn down. Still, it’s yet another testament to WB’s sheepish trend of seeking talent within its own doors before branching out and looking for the best man for the job.

But that’s of little consequence, considering the company’s last attempt at joining up its heroes. Back in 2007, after thrilling to the prospects of sequels to Batman Begins and Superman Returns (convinced anything would be an improvement on the latter). After a quick search, I learned that Mad Max trilogy director George Miller would be helming an ambitious Justice League film, subtitled Mortal, and would be gearing up for production in Australia very soon. Then I got a glimpse of the film’s cast list on IMDB, and saw not Christian Bale, not Brandon Routh, but a group of woefully miscast, overly young unknowns, among them a kid seemingly named after a baking soda as Batman, and one of the nerdy guys from Knocked Up playing the villainous Maxwell Lord. All hope was lost.

Worse yet, unbeknownst to me at the time, the script for Mortal by the husband-and-wife team of Michele and Kieran Mulroney (Mr. and Mrs. Smith) was reportedly abysmal. I read a breakdown of the steaming pile here, a thoroughly nauseating prospect made barely readable by the writer’s snide commentary. Described by the script holder as what “would’ve been the new Batman & Robin”, Justice League Mortal chronicles the systematic takedown of the superhero team at the hands of the evil Talia al Ghul and Maxwell Lord, using Batman’s own spy tech. Loosely based on Mark Waid’s Tower of Babel comic and borrowing the ending of 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths miniseries, as well as elements from the animated Justice League Unlimited cartoon (on air at the time), the script contains bizarre moments such as a surgical procedure involving a blind John Stewart using his Green Lantern constructs, in conjunction with Martian Manhunter’s telepathy, to extract nanobots from an incapacitated Flash. Later, Stewart’s blindness is cured by swallowing Aquaman’s water-based prosthetic hand, which subsequently spurts out his ears. Just to reiterate, this is a script WB was literally weeks away from commencing production on.

Chief among the script’s travesties was its horrifying misrepresentation of first Flash Barry Allen. Comparing him to Jar-Jar Binks, the script holder described the character’s demeanor as annoying, citing several inappropriately-timed wisecracks at his fellow teammates’ expense. There’s even some sort of screwy, twisted love scene involving the character and his wife, which for the life of me, I can’t bring myself to type out here. Add to that an incoherent, overblown clusterfuck of an ending I couldn’t picture anyone over the age of ten actually penning, and in short, Mortal looks to haven been nothing short of vomit-inducing. Even with some reported changes made by Miller himself, it’s hard to imagine anything worthwhile coming from such an awful, thoughtless template.

No doubt like Batman & Robin, in accordance with WB’s notorious demands, the script presented a multitude of opportunities for selling toys. Still, had this utterly trashy slap in the face to DC’s iconic characters been given the go-ahead to begin filming, again like Batman & Robin, it would’ve surely shot the the slowly reviving comic book movie in the foot. Luckily, with the 2007 writer’s strike preventing WB from commissioning further rewrites, a whopping estimated $300+ million budget, the loss of valuable tax breaks for filming in Australia, and an uproar of fan dissent, the production was mercifully shut down. Mortal stands as yet another example of WB’s cluelessness as to how its DC properties should be handled, and a huge bullet dodged for the continued credibility of comic book movies. As a fitting postscript to Mortal’s reviled history, I distinctly remember reading a rumor or posting of some sort at the time claiming Christopher Nolan had read the script and promptly threw it in the trash. I tried my damnest to find the original source to no end, but if the story’s legit, who can blame him?

Bearing all that in mind, you can understand my skepticism over WB’s next attempt to unite its heroes. Many of the missteps of Mortal can still be easily avoided at this point, so consider the following an open letter to WB on how to properly approach this beast. Objectively, what’s most important is to get the build-up right. The Avengers was such a huge box office success in part because it took its time developing its characters in solo films, giving audience plenty justification why even goofier characters like Thor could be badass. By the time the actual film rolled around, the marketing was practically in the bag. Sure, WB may want to jump straight to the team-up and, if successful, produce spin-offs with the same actors, but it’s an entirely unnecessary gamble. When the company botched last summer’s Green Lantern, the damage was limited to that one character. With JLA, they risk tarnishing multiple potentially profitable properties, and killing off any chance of further films featuring these characters.

Also, it should go without saying that Justice League demands to be part of a shared universe of characters. Creating a stand-alone film featuring different actors than the solo films as Mortal would have is not only insanely lazy, but only serves to confuse audiences. Taking time to plan out each film, its unique place in a larger universe, and being smart about continuity is a must. Thus, if Man of Steel is successful, they’ve got to sign Henry Cavill for Superman. Though I’m sure people will be happy to look the other way if the company were to let Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern contract lapse.

Still, if WB is adamant about moving straight on into Justice League, it’s important they don’t jump right into storylines like Tower of Babel that require prior knowledge of the characters. Something like JLA Year One, giving us ample backstory into who each of these guys are and how they come together would be preferable. And there’s something to be said about using the New 52 for inspiration on the new film. Namely, don’t use the New 52 for inspiration on the new film. Replacing Martian Manhunter with Cyborg, among other alterations in the new comics, is just a flat-out bad idea.

Most importantly, WB needs to get the script right. Lazy storytelling will no longer fly in today’s superhero films; it’s vital they find an accomplished writer, not some in-house brown-noser, who’s passionate enough about the DC Universe to commit him/herself to upholding its established legacy. If the company is dead-set on looking for talent within its own doors, why not turn to Bruce Timm and the animation department? Timm’s team have been creating faithful adaptations of DC comics for twenty years now, surely those guys know a thing or two about how to handle these characters, if not theatrically, then thematically.

At the end of the day, a Justice League film should be a colorful, fun movie that entertains and inspires its audience. As DC’s premiere property, the team requires the same, if not more care and attention than Marvel lent to Avengers. I’ve seen far too many people, writers even, who are convinced Justice League wouldn’t work on film, an admittedly extreme and rather ignorant opinion, given the countless comics and aforementioned Justice League Unlimited cartoon that prove otherwise. It’s up to WB to convince them they’re wrong with a fantastic adaptation that could, in fact, easily blow Iron Man and Co. out of the water. It’s a massive undertaking, WB. Don’t fuck it up. Or worse, bring about another Justice League Mortal.