Monday 28 March 2016

Batman v Superman 'review'

I was surprised with the fervency of the defence of the concept of Superman.  I feel like they were taking it personally that I was trying to grow up their character.
- Zack Snyder

That American optimism... I think it does speak to, now that we’re a global family, what it means to police the world and how hard that is. 
- Zack Snyder

I’ve always loved the great tragedies; King Lear, The Poseidon Adventure, Superman 2
- Garth Marenghi

Me:  So, I’ve watched it.

I was too knackered afterwards to write anything.  I’d planned to, but I just couldn’t face it.  There’s been a circus over the last week and I’m conscious that this piece’ll add an ineffectual plop of vomit-covering sawdust to the stampeding media elephants filling your feeds and various screens.  I’m still going to say it though.

The critics are right: this film’s a dog’s breakfast.  Oddly enough, it's not totally Snyder's fault.  DC got the film they wanted, just like Marvel did with their recent Fantastic Four reboot.  Whether they’ll blame someone else for that, remains to be seen. 

This film is based almost entirely on things DC’ve published; it's a slavish, bleak, hagiographical dramatisation of the company’s more recent holy texts.  I tried to like it, I really did.  There’s definitely an interesting film in there, unfortunately, it’s The Dark Knight.1  Irons and Affleck are fine, and so are Eisenberg and Cavill, ignore what you've heard, they do their best to glitter-roll their roles.  The script's an awful Fijian Mermaid and - as usual - the bits that're lifted from comic panels work the best. 

Man of Steel was an attempt to make a Superman film that’d fit in the same universe as Christopher Nolan’s (rather successful) Batman ones.  It’s a loose, loose adaptation of John Byrne’s Man of Steel mini-series, itself a reboot of the character after Alan Moore had wrapped him up in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, which remains the final word in Superman stories.  So, let’s talk about Zod.  I don’t buy the argument that Superman had no choice but to break Zod’s neck for one moment, and that’s because I’m aware that screenplays are what accountants sign off on.  Writers allow characters to make decisions, but typists don’t. 

The references in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Team America (that’s what it’s called) to 1938 and how the world’s become more complicated don’t wash either.  Superman represents light and Batman darkness.  It’s not a particularly profound observation, although the latest film obviously thinks it’s hit on something nobody’s ever noticed.2

I’ve written at length about this before, so I’ll just reiterate that Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is the final Batman story.  It’s not a template.  Having said that, The Dark Knight Returns still stands up today, unlike the Doomsday storyline which crops up in the closing months of Batman v Superman.  DC’s Doomsday storyline, which reached its temporary conclusion in Superman 75, hasn’t aged well.  It’s a fight scene that goes on and on and on and on, culminating in an issue made up entirely of full-page panels.  The film certainly feels faithful to that experience.

Coming back to death and superheroes, yes, it’s fair to say that the characters’ve killed before in both comics and film.  The Doomsday storyline features plenty of civilian casualties – there’s even a visual quote from Watchmen that’s more accurate than Snyder’s yet managed – but there remains a sense of play to it, these are stake-raising storybeats.  A deconstructed comedy death is a hideous thing, but it somewhat misses the point of why jeopardy can make escapism more thrilling.  The real problem is that, despite featuring him, neither Man of Steel or Batman v Superman are really Superman films, being made with everything set to 'Batman'.  Which is a shame, as the children of America could do with a decent hero.

Snyder's all about image, but comics have words too.  Christopher Nolan'd already made The Dark Knight, a film that featured superheroes, rather than a superhero film. Snyder still doesn't understand the difference, having proved this was a personal blindspot with Watchmen.  Also, Neil Gaiman's already written American Gods, but I’m not sure that’s a text that’s being referred to here, largely because it contains an element of cultural criticism and sustained thematic arguments.

I've not been very impressed with America for a while now, and this is a film made only for Americans.  I can't see Suicide Squad being any more interesting or pleasant.  DC should let Snyder make his live-action Justice Team America.  Or All Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder.  

Which, in many ways, he just has.3

Him: If it was called 'Manman v Superbat' I'd watch it.

1.  Which was a method of writing that used to work fine for Alan Moore’s Scottish Tribute Act, right enough.  I’m guessing Snyder’s read Supergods as well as The Fountainhead.

2.  The Excalibur/Arthurian guff is hilarious.  It’s closer to a less-insightful version of Mad’s adaption of Boorman’s film or – Kal save us – the execrable Camelot 3000.  By the time Justice Team America’s out we’ll probably be able to solve the energy crisis simply by hooking Thomas Malory up to a generator.  Still, thanks to Zimmer and Junkie XL for the musical quote.  Knowing that one of them worked on Doctor in Distress and one of them with Rammstein, it’s fair to say that while the score might not be taking the piss as such, it’s certainly having a lot of fun.

3.  And I didn’t mention M*****man once.

Kroll bless Don Martin.

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