Batman V Superman
Batman V Superman
The first superheroes of summer are here. There’s a change in the air. It’s lycra time for everyone. In honour of a new blockbuster season we take a look at the biggest and blockiest of them all. We may not make a habit of it.
Batman V Superman is the longest advertisement for another movie you’ll ever see.
A movie they haven’t made yet, but are dreaming about. And in a clever twist, they built up publicity for this movie by advertising the other movie that isn’t made yet: The trailers and teasers, which are much shared around the world, are based on clips from dream sequences. Clips of how they expect the sequel might look. The images don’t relate to the film in cinemas right now, the very long teaser they want you to go to pay and see.
And not only is the movie effectively a dream of what the sequel might look like, the climax only exists to set up the next movie, with new characters who just appear out of nowhere, because they’re part of the next movie. The only thing that the Batman V Superman film does for itself, for its own sake, is the fight of its title.
Time moves differently for Ben Affleck
The boys, Ben and Henry, have done a lot of hard work, and both really look their respective parts. It’s incredible to think these were the roles played by Michael Keaton and Christopher Reeves in the 80s, these actors look like a different species now.
Affleck’s dedication is particularly noteworthy, for being particularly odd. He signed on to play Batman after directing a film all the way to the Best Picture Oscar. So rather than chilling out over cocktails with Scorsese and Spielberg and the gang, he threw himself into an unlikely role with all of the enthusiasm of a 20-year-old hungry actor, eager to prove himself. That’s definitely noteworthy. Admirable even. Daft, some might say.
But not as daft as Ben’s montage. He meets Superman at a party, realises he has to fight him, so decides to go to the gym. Now, montages are supposed to flash us forward in time. But this one only covers 24 hours. Spending the day killing it in the gym does not prepare you to fight Superman. It prepares you to sit on the couch for the next couple of days, eating chicken and wondering when you’ll be able to walk again. But there’s no rest day for Ben.
Fight, fight, fight
Superman movies are notoriously difficult to write. Because he’s indestructible there’s very little opportunity for dramatic tension. His main weaknesses are the mortal women in his life; his mother and Lois Lane. One of the few things he can’t do is be in two places at once. So only if the two of them get into trouble at the same time is he particularly screwed. This duly happens, when Lex Luther sees through Clark Kent’s clever glasses disguise.
But apart from the kryptonite of women, there is Superman’s particular kryptonite, which is actual kryptonite. And this magic rock enables Ben to beat the living crap out of Cavill while Luther is exploiting his other weakness.
People who hated the violent climax of the first movie might be very happy to see this, happy to see those involved in the original being punished. But one of the honest successes of this sequel is it makes sense of the first movie’s unSuperman-like conclusion. That destruction actually gives rise to Batman’s hatred for Superman, so constructs a narrative arc, and suggests Zack Snyder knew what he was doing all along. Even though it never really feels like it.
But though there is a sense of resolution as the older man ruthlessly breaks down the younger, prettier guy, there’s certainly also something masochistic about all of this, a whiff of Mel Gibson. This is the tone problem Superman always suffers from. As a character he is supposed to be one of the lighter, breezier superheroes. But this hides the fact that unlike most other superheroes, the villains always want to kill Superman. That’s their primary aim.
Batman faces much more famous supervillains, who are in the main colourful bank robbers. Ever since the 60’s The Riddler, Penguin and Catwoman are usually just trying to steal some cash to pay for psychedelic costumes and useless henchmen who go Splat. But the point about Superman is the villain’s end goal is to kill him, which can suddenly jolt the storyline into a very dark place. The template is simple: Kryptonite is used to turn a god into a weak human. Weak human is beaten and humiliated. Weak human is left for dead. This was the template for Superman the Movie in 1978 and Superman Returns in 2006 and is again the focus of this version.
Sure, there’s something a little WWF wrestling about beating up Superman. If the villain turns his back on him, leaves him to die, he’ll suddenly bounce up from the mat cheered on by the crowd, with the villain unaware he has recovered until it’s too late. Sure, it’s sometimes childish like that. But in the main it’s pretty hardcore. Gene Hackman has tried to drown him, Kevin Spacey has tried to gut him and now Ben tries to bludgeon him to death with his bare fists. So in tone Superman has never been able to escape an unsettling ‘Disney does Mad Max’ vibe.
Back to the Ad
But the biggest failing of the film is the same failing of most superhero movies, the slavish devotion to source material. Problems jump off the screen, which perhaps aren’t as clear in comic book form.
Considering they are both billionaires who hate Superman after the events of the first movie, it seems unusual that Lex Luther and Bruce Wayne do not share much storyline. As presented in the film the are incredibly similar characters. But obvious solutions, like making them initially friends or partners, though much more credible, would leave fanboys aghast. So instead they remain comic book drawings. In particular, the reason Lex Luther wants to kill Superman is presented almost as an article of faith, because he’s Lex Luther.
The film is littered with as much storyline debris as actual cityscape debris. Yet there are good parts to it-the origins story for Batman is kept mercifully short, seeming to accept origins stories are useless in a world with wikipedia. (But it’s also full of references to yet another movie they haven’t made yet, which isn’t the sequel the rest of the movie is advertising, it’s another movie entirely, an ad within an ad)
But Ben is good in it. And Cavill is ok, sort of too good looking to hate. And the storyline they start with-stopping to think if Superman was actually real, how would the world really react to such an alien-works well. Until they blow up everyone asking that question, and continue with their ad.