I know I’m sometimes out of my depth when it comes to movies. I’m not nearly as knowledgeable about film as I am about games, so I’m often shy about doing long-form analysis. I generally dislike a lot of highbrow stuff that movie buffs love and I often miss subtle messages embedded in framing or set designI missed the satire of Starship Troopers and took the whole thing at face value..
I’ve got a few YouTube creators that I really admire, and I’ve noticed that some people are really well-suited for some kinds of commentary and not so much for others. I’ve seen brilliant analysts turn into atrocious dimwits the moment they stepped out of their area of expertise, and so I’m always wary of making that kind of blunder. But sometimes a movie gets stuck in my craw and I can’t resist taking a swing at it.
Cards on the table: I liked Zack Snyder’s 2009 adaptation of Watchmen. I know opinions on it are mixed, but I think it nailed the tone and worldview of the source material. I don’t generally enjoy pitch-black tales where
the person arguing “the ends justify the means” gets to win in the end. But if you’re into that kind of thing then this is a really good version of it. Like Dark Souls, the story of Watchmen is something I can admire even if I can’t actually enjoy watching it. It’s not my thing, but this is a brilliantly crafted version of Not My Thing. And I freely admit that the movie is a really good adaptation of some fiendishly difficult source material.
So it’s kind of darkly hilarious that Zack Snyder was chosen to adapt modern-day Superman for the big screen. I can’t imagine anyone more ill-suited for the material. You can see the fumbling Hollywood thinking at work behind the decision. “This Snyder guy is really good at making movies about the funnybooks. He directed one a few years ago, so let’s give him this one!” It’s like saying, “This guy who made Snowpiercer did a great job, so let’s give him The Polar Express. I mean, both movies have trains in the snow! He’s a natural fit!”
Anyone capable of successfully adapting Watchmen shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near SupermanOkay, I’m sure SOMEONE out there would be capable of working on both films, but the best directors tend to have a really distinct personal style that shines through. Anyone capable of making both films will probably make very bland films in general.. The two works are opposed on a philosophical level. Superman is profoundly idealistic, and Watchmen has cynicism oozing out of its pores. Watchmen isn’t just a deconstruction of the idealized superhero myth, it’s a controlled demolition. It takes the entire premise of superbeings and says, “Actually, having nearly-indestructible godlings running around would be horrible for the world, because they would still be people and People Are Awful.”
I watched Batman v. Superman and Watchmen back-to-back, which really drove home how Zack Snyder was so much better for one than for the other.
Batman v. Superman: Yawn of Justice
People defend this movie by saying it’s “just a different take on the characters”. Granted. But this is like making a version of Spider-Man where Peter Parker is an arrogant, showboating, devil-may-care bad boyWhich, yeah. People have said that’s what the Amazing Spider-Man movies did. QED.. It’s like a grimdark version of Deadpool where he never tells any self-aware jokes. It’s like a version of Wolverine where where Logan is a stammering bishōnen who’s afraid to pop his claws. Like a Sherlock who’s a dull brute that beats the information out of lowlifes rather than solving mysteriesYes, the Robert Downy Jr. Sherlock movies show him doing fisticuffs, but he’s ALSO doing the deduction thing that the character is known for. That’s the important part.. Sure, it’s “different”. The problem is you’re missing the entire point of the character. If your unique twist on the character doesn’t contain the key elements that drew people to the work in the first place, then what’s the point? Of course that will piss people off. The entire movie will feel like it’s taking the editorial position of, “Yeah? Well I think this character is dumb and if you like it you’re dumb.”
Of course fans will hate it if you turn Superman into a sad brooding mope who wonders if the world is worth saving. Of course people will hate it if you turn the World’s Greatest Detective into a cruel, hateful, rage-fueled murderer. Of course people will hate it if you take the confidence and cunning of Superman’s greatest foe and turn him into a mincing creep with daddy issues. Even if this was a great movie (and it really isn’t) it’s still bending all the characters in ways they were never designed to go.
And even if you dig this dark new take on these iconic characters, and even if you’re willing to overlook the serious structural problems the movie has, in the end the message of the movie just loops back to the nihilism of Watchmen. Superheroes are all dysfunctional children, the world is ruled by corrupt jackasses, the people who look up to supers are dull sheeple and the people who don’t are hateful morons. The movie plays nihilism for depth and tries to pass misanthropy off as “realism”. Some people really do like to see costumed heroes torn down by applying a generous coating of human frailty and moral ambiguity, but there’s not a lot of overlap between those folks and fans of idealistic do-gooders in blue tights.
In short: Zack Snyder was wrong for this material.
Like every other English-speaking person in the western world, I soaked in the backlash and anti-hype surrounding the release of this movie. I saw a year and a half of negative headlines, sour forum topics, and angry YouTube thumbnails regarding BvS before I finally got around to seeing the movie for myself. After so much negativity I went in expecting a disaster on every level, but then it turned out it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d been led to believe. It’s far better than the tedious sound & fury of Transformers or the embarrassing awfulness of Spawn. I haven’t watched Green Lantern all the way through, but BvS is pretty far above that mess.
The domino effect of bad decisions that led to this movie are actually kind of understandable. Hollywood didn’t understand that while Watchmen and Superman are both comics about costumed crimefighters, the works are profoundly different and require different creative leads. Zack Snyder, being a fan of Watchmen and not so much a fan of idealistic Superman, thought he could “fix” Superman by (in his own words) “trying to grow up [the] character”. You could see that he really wanted to please fans, because he built his movie out of two of the most well-known stories of these two characters: The Death of Superman and Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns. Those stories are popular,right? The fans should like that! But these stories aren’t really beloved as core parts of the mythology of the given characters. These stories are attention-grabbing and well-known, sure. But they were also controversial and somewhat polarizing.
More importantly, both Death of Superman and Dark Knight Returns were part of an effort to shake up the status quo after decades of stagnation. Dark Knight Returns was told as a one-off standalone story, and wasn’t intended to be a part of the ongoing Batman continuity. The Death of Superman was part of an effort to redesign the character. (Mostly unsuccessful, I might add.) These are the kinds of things you do at the end of a long run when you’re running out of stories to tell and the existing setting is starting to feel like it’s in a rut. It’s how you end a long-running series. The problem is that this isn’t the end of the DC Cinematic Universe. This is the beginning. You can’t blow up the status quo when you haven’t finished establishing a status quo.
Another problem is that Dark Knight Returns is a full movie worth of story. So is the Death of Superman. Introducing the new Lex Luthor, setting up his character, and explaining how and why he created Doomsday (assuming you decide that’s something Lex should do) is about half a movie. So now we have two and a half movies we need to cram into one.
On top of that there was the unfortunate business that this movie needed to set up things for Aquaman, the Flash, and Cyborg. Or at least, the bigwigs at Warner Brothers thought it did. Marvel built its universe a little at a time, and did so using brief cameos and post-credits scenes, but WB is in a hurry to catch up to Marvel, so they decided to take all of the setup that Marvel spread out over five movies and cram all of it into this already overstuffed film. And finally, this movie needed to introduce Wonder Woman without a handy origin movie to build on, further adding to the bloat.
Basically everything wrong with the movie can be traced back to these three decisions: 1) Zack Snyder. 2) Combine Death of Superman and Dark Knight Returns. 3) Catch up to Marvel’s worldbuilding with this one movie.
Yes, Lex’s plan is stupid, his motivations are all over the place, and he seems to be enacting two conflicting plans at the same timeSeriously, how did he think things were going to go? After Batman killed Superman or vice versa, was he just going to release Doomsday to destroy the world anyway?. But if he wasn’t fighting for screen time with four other stories then maybe he could have been a more interesting villain with a more coherent plan. Yes, Perry White is a terrible cynic and Pa Kent is a muddled dunce with no wisdom, but that’s what you get when you take broad character archetypes and drop them into a gritty world of moral ambiguity. You either become a cynic (White) or you become a fool (Pa Kent) because you can’t believe the good guys always win if you live in a world without any good guys.
Having said all that, I actually like parts of this movie.
Ben Affleck as Batman. Yeah. I like him. I think Affleck gets a lot of unfair hateContext: This article was written back in July. Since then Affleck has been accused of groping someone and I haven’t followed up on that story to know what’s really going on. So when I say “unfair hate” I’m talking about his work as an actor, and not this business.. Sure, he’s made some bad movies. Who hasn’t? He looks the part, and he acts the part. Sure, the violent paranoid dialog doesn’t fit the versions of the character most of us are familiar with, but that’s a problem with the screenplay. He looks good in the suit and he’s good at playing both Bruce Wayne and Batman. I actually like him better than Christian BaleI always found the Bale “death metal” Batman voice to be kind of off-putting..
Henry Cavill as a guy who looks a lot like Superman. Those big shoulders and square jaw? That’s perfect. Visually, I think he’s the best live-action Superman we’ve ever seen. And yes, even better than Saint Reeve. It’s hard to see the resemblance when he’s moping his way through another scene of anguish and doubt, but once in a while Cavill will smile and say something comforting suddenly it’s like OH WOW GUYS SUPERMAN IS HERE! Again, this guy could be giving us a Superman performance for the ages if the screenwriter would put Superman into the script. It’s like Cavill has to smuggle Superman moments into the film when the writers aren’t looking.
Wonder Woman was pretty awesome. Yes, this would have been much better if the Wonder Woman movie had come out before BvS. Still, she’s the most fun of any of the heroes. In fact, she’s the only explicitly heroic figure among the good guys. Everyone else is constantly being degraded by doubt, hatred, fear, anger, and pride, but Wonder Woman shows up and acts like a proper superhero. Also, I really like how they handled her in motion. There was something really exciting about those powerful forward leaps that felt like it came right out of the comics.
Batman saves MARTHA! from the bad guys. Okay, Batman probably did some murders in this fight and I’m not a fan of that, but this was probably the best action scene in the movie. Batman tracked down someone who’d been kidnapped, took the bad guys by surprise using fear and misdirection, and took out the villains with his fists rather than bullets. Yay Batman!
Superman’s cape. That looked fantastic. True, it’s not clear why it floats gently behind him like gossamer when he’s hovering but hangs like cotton when he’s on the ground, but shut up. That’s the way it’s depicted in the comics and I really like it.
Jeremy Irons is cool. He just is, okay? He’s a good choice for alternate-universe brilliant inventor Alfred. They basically combined the Lucius Fox character with Alfred, and that’s fine. This movie was already crowded enough, so I’d rather Alfred did double-duty than have them stuff yet another neglected character into the margins.
Dramatic shots. Even though I’m pretty miffed at Snyder and what he did with these characters, I grudgingly admit that he’s really good at framing striking shots that capture the weight and emotional thrust of a scene. You know the big shot in the Avengers where the team finally assembles and the camera orbits them and suddenly you realize you’ve been holding your breath because you’d been caught in this amazing moment? Snyder does that kind of thing several times in this movie. They don’t have the same emotional weight because the script has a lot of internal dissonance, but still. There are some spectacular shots here.
So that’s what I thought of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Warner Brothers Q3 Earnings Report. I don’t mind that WB decided they didn’t want to make a Marvel-style action comedy. There’s lots of room for more serious comic book movies. Heck, the Marvel Movies are often based on comic books that contain almost no jokes at all. WB doesn’t need to mindlessly copy what Marvel is doing. But they do still need to make coherent stories that contain characters we can relate to, and BvS is not that.
Here’s hoping the DC Cinematic Universe finds its voice.
 I missed the satire of Starship Troopers and took the whole thing at face value.
 Okay, I’m sure SOMEONE out there would be capable of working on both films, but the best directors tend to have a really distinct personal style that shines through. Anyone capable of making both films will probably make very bland films in general.
 Which, yeah. People have said that’s what the Amazing Spider-Man movies did. QED.
 Yes, the Robert Downy Jr. Sherlock movies show him doing fisticuffs, but he’s ALSO doing the deduction thing that the character is known for. That’s the important part.
 Seriously, how did he think things were going to go? After Batman killed Superman or vice versa, was he just going to release Doomsday to destroy the world anyway?
 Context: This article was written back in July. Since then Affleck has been accused of groping someone and I haven’t followed up on that story to know what’s really going on. So when I say “unfair hate” I’m talking about his work as an actor, and not this business.
 I always found the Bale “death metal” Batman voice to be kind of off-putting.
What is this silly word, why did some people get so irritated by it, and why did it fall out of use?
Quakecon 2011 Keynote Annotated
An interesting but technically dense talk about gaming technology. I translate it for the non-coders.
The Best of 2013
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2013.
The Opportunity Crunch
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The Middle Ages
Would you have survived in the middle ages?