25 March 2016

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Stuff

Well folks, today sees the release of one of the most anticipated films of all time that became one of the most meh movies of all time as soon as the director was announced. Nevertheless, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) is finally upon us after an insane deluge of marketing that in many ways started with I Am Legend (2007). Seriously, that fake poster has a May 15th, 2010 release date. So let's discuss the anticipation of this thing along with its commercial, critical, and cultural prospects:

To get this out of the way, I believe that the general gripes about Zack Synder in general and Man of Steel (2013) in particular have been dissected on the Internet ad nauseum. To sum up Snyder's skillset, he really is a fantastic visual director who has no idea how to tactfully handle the big concepts he seems to love to take on. He works better creating a facsimile of concepts rather than actually creating notable works of art. He's almost like as if Michael Bay was directing scripts and concepts by Christopher Nolan.
You know, if he's not ionized by a nuclear blast like in TDKR
this is totally impossible.

Despite this, he's actually worse than Michael Bay, because even though his direction can be baffling, one of his biggest insistences is the need for real-world filming locations, explosions, and stunt work. Snyder is very comfortable in the George Lucas all green-screen mode of things, which is as detrimental for its weightlessness as it is exhilarating in his endless possibilities. Still, I said this before, Snyder is a visually acute director who is really good at framing shots, capturing action, and perhaps most importantly, taking whatever's on a comic book page and putting it on screen.

That last bit is hard to do. We're finally getting to the point where we're starting to see an evolution in comic book movies, which I touched on in my Daredevil post a few days ago. It's funny to watch a film like X-Men (2000) which seems awkward now, trying to get away from its campy / pulpy origins while maintaining this high brow conceit through intelligent tête–à–têtes juxtaposed with classically corny CGI action. There's also this remarkable move towards more strictly faithful adaptations, which is part due to a now sizable build-up of fan demand and a shift in film creators - we're actually reaching the moment where these people grew up with superhero films rather than action films, and there's a desire to render the comic medium accurately on screen rather than just imprint it onto the latter.

This is an important note when discussing Zack Snyder. There is no better director out there at taking what's on a page and putting it on screen. This is most emblematic with Watchmen (2009), which is just about as good as we're ever going to get with an adaptation of Alan Moore's brilliant superhero deconstruction. I'm even okay with the slight story changes, because even though a giant vagina monster attacking New York City is an impressive visual feat, Snyder's version is a little bit more concise and equally as successful in the post-modern sense.

The key criticism, therefore, is whether or not simple emulation of a previous medium is actually worth watching on the big screen or not. Watchmen actually predates this blog by about three months, which is stunning to me how long ago that was. All this is to say that in 2006, when we were within a year of both a new Batman film and a new Superman film and really excited to see them either fight or team-up or do something, it's insane that all that anticipation has been largely middled by the mere announcement of an incompetent director.

Needless to say, though, this is the biggest film of the Spring. It'll ride at least until Captain America: Civil War (2016), which as I've said before, is not coincidentally coming out and pitting a rival studio's two big studs against each other. The marketing for this one has been astounding, and it feels like a cultural event for sure. To some extent, though, it's been overwhelming. Did we really need Turkish Airline ads? The cross-promotion has served a little bit to cheapen the brand. Then again, I otherwise wouldn't even know what Turkish Airlines is, so I suppose that's a successful strategy.
I'll reiterate again that this is totally not an exciting shot
because you know that Batman might as well be a fly
to Kal-El unless that fist is full of Kryptonite.

If you compare this with Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), most of that film's promotion worked because everyone else wanted to cash in on it. The articles, videos, and fever you saw online were mostly third-party cats trying to ride the wave. Bv.S:DoJ seems to stem more for the studio trying as hard as it can to establish a giant cultural force rather than it happening naturally because the people choose to flow that way. This is an important distinction in its long-term prospects, even if it will almost assuredly make some money.

Critically it seems like a sort of mixed bag right now. After some cautious first reviews, then really positive ones, it now seems to be settling on a general meh. Mostly people just seem really up and down. I'm in a weird position, I guess, considering I actually like Ben Affleck, enjoyed Henry Cavill in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) last year, and am pretty steeped in the man against god mythos that the film seems to be going for, being a big fan of everything from Kingdom Come to Lex Luthor: Man of Steel that the flick seems to be drawing from. My confidence in Snyder bungling the whole affair is my largest hurdle right now. I'm not sure I actually care about watching it in theaters, but I'm sure you will.

What do you think? Do you care about the vacuous nature of Snyder's previous films? Are you content staring in awe at the catchy visuals (not an inherently detrimental statement - his clarity of visual storytelling is generally very good, which is a prized commodity amongst filmmakers)? Leave a comment below!

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