Sunday, March 27, 2016

In defense of Batman v Superman

I may regret this later, but here goes. There may be some spoilers so, as with any review or film discussion, I ask that you watch the movie before reading. Also, possible Daredevil S2 spoilers. Just stay off the internet, ok?

Batman versus Superman (BVS) is finally out in cinemas after around three years of teasing a screen version of one of the most epic fights in comic book history. DC has so far struggled to keep up with the goliath that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Nolan's Batman films not included. Man of Steel (2013), Warner Brothers' second attempt to reboot the Superman franchise, was a critical and creative failure. Financially it wasn't a huge boon either, earning around $66m in profit. However, its stellar opening sequence set on Superman's home planet Krypton, coupled with audiences rabid for superhero films, saw studios greenlight the sequel. 

I had zero hopes for BVS. Perhaps it was my very low expectations generated by the abysmal Man of Steel (MOS), or super hero fatigue, or the collective internet sigh that hovered above this film for weeks. Despite my trepidation, as the movie progressed I began feeling those little, satisfying tinges of 'hell yes' when something truly great happened. "Do you bleed? You will." That Batmobile; actually pulling off Wonder Woman - in her traditional warrior uniform no less; somehow managing to create a climactic finale battle against Doomsday which was beautiful and impressive despite the reliance on CGI; and perhaps best of all, not explaining each scene, frame by frame, with exposition because the filmmakers believed in the mental faculties of the audience.

I'd like to address a few of the main complaints, some of which are a bit ridiculous and disappointing considering critics supposedly enjoy films and have seen a lot of them. I've based some of my points on the Vox review plus conversations on Twitter. Some I won't delve into because they were explained in the film.

Full disclosure, I've read comics since I was around 11 years old, and I subscribed to Superman in the 90s, when a lot of the stuff in this film was written. I've long been a champion of movies standing on their own, but I'll be damned if this didn't enrich my experience. 

Here we go.

1. Martha, my Martha

Supposedly one of the most mocked scenes in the film, because apparently we're all bloodthirsty animals, is when Batman lays down his literal spear as Superman begs him to save his mother, Martha. Oh hey, Batman's Mom is named Martha too! "Ugh, it's so simplistic" you say. "As if", lament others just like Cher in that 90s hit Clueless. Up until this point, Batman has been on a social justice crusade of his own. 

Zod's complete disregard for humanity put Superman in the firing line in Man of Steel, causing Metropolis to be half destroyed leaving thousands dead. One of the biggest complaints from fans after MOS pointed out the film's most glaringly obvious fault - Superman would never fight in a populated area. He just wouldn't put human lives at risk this way, which is why you see the fight take place on an uninhabited island in BVS. Thanks to the poor writing in MOS, Batman now blames Superman for the destruction and death, and is afraid of his power. What if Superman can be corrupted (he can) and what if someone uses him for evil (they do)? It's a fair question, which is reinforced by some crazy (predictive) fever dreams.

Batman makes a plan, gets some tank-like armor and builds kryptonite fused weapons to eliminate this threat from Earth. Batman is on a crusade, his logic clouded by fear and anger, by the mouth-breathing rhetoric of the world's roided bros. But Batman is really just a scared orphan boy who is actually trying to do the right thing deep down, so when faced with Clark Kent - the farm boy who is terrified of his mother dying - Bruce realises the alien's humanity, and a wave of rationality crashes over him. They are on the same side, and Bruce is devastated he didn't see it all along. Lois' presence only serves to reinforce that yes, Superman can love. Batman doesn't do things in half measures. In a move completely aligned with his character, he decides to go the opposite direction and support Superman in any way he can. All or nothing.

I found this scene to be quite powerful. Faced with eating crow, Bruce conquers his own prejudice and fear to follow the righteous path. Satisfyingly, the fight doesn't disappoint. With excellent choreography mixed with clever weaponry and brutal physical attacks, I don't see how anyone could say it wasn't what they were waiting for. Anyone disappointed the fight didn't end in full blown murder knows nothing of either Batman or Superman, and I wonder why such people bothered with BVS at all if this was the case.

2. Why does everybody blame Superman for the massacre in Africa?

Have you ever watched Fox News? Heard of Benghazi? The fearful and ignorant will believe anything if it fits the rules of their bubble. Superman can spit bullets like a machine gun if he wants, and his eyes can cause things to explode. Seems pretty obvious to me that the filmmakers are really taking a poke at the current state of global politics and media sensationalism.

3.  Why doesn't Superman hear the bomb in the wheelchair?

Semantics. Superman says to Lois that he was so focused on other things that he didn't even consider a threat could be present in the courtroom. His super hearing simply wasn't 'on'. And what if the bomb wasn't 'ticking'? It could have been remotely triggered by Lex. Ticking bombs are so Buster Keaton, guys.

4. What's the point of Clark's dream visit with his dad?

Clark was so tortured by his decisions that he didn't want to make any at all. Clark's Dad explains that no matter what he does, there will always be a negative outcome for someone but that shouldn't mean one must choose inaction. A farm is flooded, so another farm can thrive - you always suffer the guilt of your decisions. Another reason for this scene was to reinforce the fact that Clark's love for Lois, and her love for him, was nothing but a good thing. Clarks' Dad explains that his guilt, and his nightmares, are not forgotten but rather quenched by Martha's love.

5. What was with Batman's crazy dreams?

To be fair, these dreams foreshadowed possible future film plots and referenced existing comic book material much like many Marvel films have done before, to very little complaint. Some might feel the Justice League (2017) set-up shots were heavy handed, which some were - oh hey, let's look at all the secret files that show each new hero! But some were more nuanced, and just plain different from other movies. In a dream within a dream, we see the Flash (Ezra Miller) reinforcing Batman's fear of Superman's power following a post-apocalyptic sequence in which evil Supes appears to be unstoppable. Anyone who has any experience with Superman is aware of the various forms of kryptonite, and the potential for their misuse. Delve deeper and you quickly learn of the multiverse and DC's biggest bad, Darkseid. Think Marvel's Galactus only, uh, darker. Yes, you shouldn't have to know these things to enjoy BVS, but is it so difficult to let a weird sequence be a weird sequence that precludes a hopefully awesome series of films without needing every frame explained? That's what Marvel did, and we all seem to get pretty excited about that. Shut up, and take our money.

The part where I begin to wrap it up

What was great about BVS is that we see complex situations where nothing is as simple as good versus evil, black and white. Just like in real life, our heroes live in the grey. We see a conflicted Superman who is damned if he does, damned if he doesn't. We see a vigilante Batman who doesn't give a fuck, forcing his social justice warrior-ness on all and sundry. Then there's Wonder Woman who has had just about enough of these humans, seemingly bent on self destruction at any cost. Why not just stand by and watch it all burn, while enjoying that first class life? Hope is lost, but just when our heroes are about ready to give up, they find a common enemy and decide that maybe us piddly humans are worth saving after all. Basically the reason most of us even read comic books or invest time in watching super heroes on the big screen - we want to see good guys win, conquer their own self doubt and save the day. 

Zack Snyder is widely criticised for disregarding substance in favour of over the top, expensive action sequences. I don't believe this is the case with BVS. Snyder not only brought to life an incredibly difficult couple of improbable fight scenes but also remedied the errors of MOS, more closely aligning the capes we know so well to their ink-based characters. He did the seemingly impossible and brought two of the best comic book storylines together in one film, all while setting up DC's own cinematic juggernaut. It'll be very interesting to see the direction DC and Warner Brothers go from here, especially if BVS is at the very least the financial success it deserves to be.

The part where I try to make sense of all this

Despite really enjoying BVS, I couldn't help but think: does Superman have a place in this world of ours? A world where everyone is cynical to the point of delusion, where internet trolls ruin lives and threaten rape or murder at the drop of a hat, where all innocence is corrupted and a sad, maniacal jerk with a homemade bomb can take your life because he feels like it? We need Superman now more than ever, but his innocence and brand of justice seems so misplaced in a world where even the people who are elected to protect us can be swayed by a wad of $20s. Perhaps this is why we're looking to shows like Daredevil, where the Punisher mass murders and everyone cheers because, well, he was only killing bad guys anyway, right? *shrug* 

Would you like to be Superman? Like any true geek, I often fantasise about what life would be like if I could dole out justice to garbage human beings. I like to think I'd be the ultimate good guy, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be able to resist killing every human trafficker I came across, or branding them for destruction Batman style. What about the people who hurt children and animals? I doubt they'd make it to court. I wouldn't be like that at first, but after a while I'd become tired, and I'd see so much evil that I wouldn't be able to take it anymore. And it would get expensive. We're not all Bruce Wayne, so why not rob the odd bank here and there, or take a private contract to earn some cash? And what I wouldn't do to Donald Trump! Hey Don, let's go for a little flight, into space, with no space suits... Unfortunately, as I get older and older, I realise morality is not as straightforward as Sunday School led me to believe.

Despite the sad state the world is in, "Man is good." I like to think that, as time goes on, we get smarter, better, kinder and more intelligent despite the morning news telling us the opposite. Right now, the world seems more like Hell's Kitchen than Metropolis on a good day. The Lex Luthor's of the world run for president, instead of ending up in maximum security for their insanity-led misdeeds. The Lois Lane's get doxxed and end up in hiding because they put their opinion online, or wrote an expose on someone who deserved it. The Bruce Wayne's are too busy making AIDS medication grotesquely expensive in order to maximise profit leaving no time for crime fighting. Senator Sassy Pants is probably being paid off by Super PACs instead of doing her job: serving the people. Real life is pretty shitty, but what movies like BVS remind us of is that no matter how many Trumps, gamer gaters, terrorists or other awful people exist, there are more who are normal, salt of the earth, law abiding, pie baking*, good guys. And we're going to win, damn it.

Anyway, I enjoyed BVS and readily admit it wasn't a perfect movie. What it comes down to is, how did this movie make you feel? You shouldn't have to read a long review or the source material to change your mind. A movie should captivate you while your butt is in a sticky cinema seat. It's a shame BVS didn't do this for many.

However, as Baffleman (Ben Affleck) said recently, "This is a film for the fans." And it is.

*The author of this article does not bake. The pie is a lie.

For more on BVS, I recommend Grace from Beyond the Trailer's special report on the vitriolic response this film has received. I particularly like how she pointed out that the reactions may be based on people not receiving what they personally desired for the film, rather than looking at the film itself. Her review is quite good too, where she actually looks at the film critically instead of simply dismissing it.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Magic*

Granny on the far right, Daddy behind.
In pink, cousin Shaina, her brother Troy then
their Mom Jackie, my 1st cousin, in back.
Slowly, I stirred from sleep. My sister and I had rolled to the centre of the bed, the old mattress having given up a long time ago. The Green Room of my Grandmother's house was still mostly dark, the slight hint of crisp autumn light diffused through the carefully appointed curtains of a woman who lived through the Great Depression. It wasn't a green room like behind the scenes of The Late Show or the Really Late Show or the Extremely Late Show. Everything was green, and all the furniture belonged to a matching set. There against the wall was my Pawpaw's desk, filled with wonderful treasures that captivate me even now that I'm a fully-grown, travelled adult. Nestled in the neat middle drawer that in modern desks now houses keyboards: his Police Department cuff links, his brother's Purple Heart, his sunglasses, and the faintest whiff of him. The side drawers were crammed with other memories and old calendars. The bed frame was the same green, a shade from the 1950s or 60s, it looked like peas and you could see brush strokes on its surface. The side tables too. The only closet in the room was filled with my Granny's off-season clothes, old coats and a simple suitcase she used on the rare occasions she travelled. Crammed on the top shelf were Christmas decorations and sitting there, staring at you every time you opened the door, was the vintage light-up Santa, waist high, his beaming face more Norman Rockwell than Stephen King. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

On mortality and Roger Ebert

Film Critic, author and brand, Roger Ebert
 "Quick it's almost on" my Mom shouted from the living room. We were playing nearby after changing into our pajamas. "Hurry!" We ran as fast as we could, the slick bottoms of our onesie jim jams sliding on the carpet. We could hear the music, signifying the start of the show. It was 1985 and we were watching what we called Siskel and Ebert though it wouldn't be official for another year.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Faves 2012

I saw a lot of films in 2012 and many of them were great. I also have a little "Yet to Watch" list. I'll get there.

Here are my faves from last year, keeping in mind that some films that seem absent from the list may not have come out until 2013 here in Australia.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

An Open Letter to Martin Scorsese

Dear Mr Scorsese,

I recently went to see your film Hugo. I knew very little of George Melies. I knew nothing of the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Now, thanks to you, I know a lot about both.

I guess I wanted to write and say thank you. I'm 33 years old and, though I have a great appreciation for childish things, very few films make me feel that true sense of wonder as yours did.

The film was perfectly cast, wonderfully directed and shot. The visuals were astounding. While the story was quite sad, I received a great amount of joy from watching your work.

When it was over, I turned to my sister (also a very big fan of the motion picture) and said "A movie made by people who love movies, about people who love movies, for people who love movies".

One thing's for certain, you and your films won't ever be forgotten. 

Your fan for always,