Saturday, April 23, 2016

Batman vs Superman

I finally saw Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice today. I'm a lifelong comic books fan. I was a collector, then an occasional reader, and now basically a nostalgic with internet access. I have volumes to say about DC and Marvel and their respective cinematic universes. It's ironically probably the thing I've written the most draft copies about lately, the reason this blog's getting new posts.

I wanted to love this movie. I really did. I questioned the selections of Zack Snyder and practically every cast member, until I resigned myself to judge the finished product instead of every berry and nut in the recipe. In one nighttime scene in a burned-out vintage stone building in Gotham, there was colored lens flare. There were dream sequences, some of past memories, but some future-telling in great detail with no explanation of how. There were several 300-style slow motion passes for no reason whatsoever. Even the soundtrack invoked tones from 300's battle scenes. Easily a dozen shots were setup specifically to up-sell the 3D glasses, which I did not buy, and their lack didn't affect the story.

More than one trailer reveals the Kryptonian monster, Doomsday, so I'll talk about him freely above the spoiler page break. His creation was completely made-up from scratch, but his depiction was great. Comic Doomsday was engineered to heal, evolving into his regeneration back from death with new resistances to what killed him. Every time movie Doomsday absorbed some devastating impact, he would soon revive like a crackling, smouldering coal, shedding skin and regrowing, larger and more durable than before. It was a subtle one-shot depiction of his centuries of evolution in the comics, one of the smartest long-story-short adaptations I've seen in awhile.

Ezra Miller's dark-haired, emo Barry Allen cameo just confuses and saddens me, but the choice of an Aquaman from Oceana's peoples is genius. Jason Momoa looks the part. If it's possible to wrest the Wayne family chemistry from Bale and Caine, Affleck and Irons did it. Affleck's Wayne was mature and convincing, and physically imposing. One comment I read online applies: "Batman doesn't just fight you, he happens to you". Gal Gadot was a highlight of the movie, in part because her character was understated and only pressed into service when the story finally, absolutely required it. She moved well and her voice was exotic and fierce. She's still smaller than any comic rendition of the character. And not just about comic book boobs; you would never see a Superman this much skinnier than the comic version. But I am still probably more excited for the upcoming WW movie than for the next chapter of this story.

That brings us to this story, and the content below is spoiler-rich.

Usually a comic movie will reflect upon a published comic book story arc. This one scatter-shots a dozen individual elements, and I'm not aware of any story arc where these characters and events ever coincided in a DC universe. I barely know where to begin.

In most iterations of the JL origin, heroes come out of isolation to respond to a common threat and are unified by Superman's realization that he cannot do it all by himself. This is common to the "JL: War" movie with Darkseid and to the JL animated series with a White Martian invasion. The BvS Batman had a dream featuring the Superman police of the "Injustice: Gods Among Us" comic title, with Darkseid's omega symbol burned into the landscape and his parademons attacking the city. These are things he had no conceivable exposure to, but he was dreaming them. And Lex Luthor was aware of Darkseid for some reason. Finally, in all iterations of the JL origin, Batman barely agrees to participate, and only part-time. But in this movie, Batman is the first to feel the need to assemble the known meta-humans after the events of the day.

The event of the day was the death of Superman in a battle with Doomsday, based barely-at-all on the famous "Death of Superman" story arc. Over the several DC Comics universe reboots, the origin stories of Doomsday have consistently begun on ancient Krypton. He is mildly susceptible to kryptonite, though it does not kill him, except in this movie. One animated version of him was an Earth-based cloning project, and that's as close as this movie came to making a reference at all. Having ancient Krypton's Genesis Chamber know that a Kryptonian-Earthling hybrid produces this destructive abomination that's forbidden by law, then agree to create it because Lex said so? That point was completely lost on me.

Movie Lex was crazy, literally mentally unhinged. Comic Lex was brilliant, articulate, and persuasive. A Man's Man, he was once elected President of the USA. Movie Lex was a mumbling adolescent by comparison. Movie Lex was routinely referred to as "Alexander Luthor". He avoided the nickname, saying his father "put the 'Lex' in LexCorp". Comic Lex's father was Lionel Luthor, not Lex, Sr. There was an Alexander Luthor, Jr on DC's Earth-3, who was a powered meta-human and fought for good in the Infinite Crisis story. So, movie Lex wasn't the powered Earth-3 Alexander, but he also wasn't the son of comic father, Lionel Luthor. Movie Lex was made from scratch to be a Silicon Valley whiz kid with power issues.

I need to wrap this up. The concept and iconography of Batman vs Superman were clearly derived from the Frank Miller graphic novel, "The Dark Knight Returns", not to be confused with the Christopher Nolan movie of the same name. In the modern comics, Lex Luthor's reason for being is that Superman represents an insult to humanism, this notion that humanity needs super-powered aliens to save us from ourselves. That resentment becomes Batman's burden in this movie, which makes for a good story but is nowhere based in literature. All this cherry-picking of plot points added up to 2.5 hours of film wrapped around a really good Batman short feature. That the lengthy movie title was abbreviated simply "BATMAN" on my ticket stub seems more than accidental now. I have no idea what the actual JL films will be like.

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