Sunday, September 11, 2016
Waiting for Gadot
Well, we just watched Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice this evening, and one of my viewing companions declared that it was the worst movie they'd seen in a long time. Even before the big fiery finale was over with! I said my usual "Really? Worse than My Blue Heaven?" From that same era, I used to think that Robocop 2 was a bit of a punch to the gut, as did my viewing companion who was with me at the time. (he's a bigshot lawyer in New York now!) While I probably won't be able to totally rehabilitate it for modern audiences, I would like to point out that Frank Miller, everyone's favorite dark comic book movie maven, had a hand in it, and it was directed by Irvin Kershner, director of The Empire Strikes Back... I knew that even back then!
What most of these examples have in common, perhaps all, is that when you have a star or a celebrity that you idolize, and then they go and let you down somehow, with a terrible album or movie or blog post... okay, maybe not a blog post, but an album or a movie, that gives the failure a little extra zing to it. I mean, Jim Belushi and Steven Seagal have been making bombs for years! It seems downright cruel to go so far as to single one of them out and call them bad! Judge not, lest ye be judged.
That being said, who makes bad movies? Zack Snyder. He makes bad movies. His 300 seems to think it's an old VCR tape, and that you need to re-watch each stabbing and decapitation again, in slow motion, so the movie does this for you. As for Lena Headey, well... I'm not much of a Feminist, I'll admit, but how did he coax that performance in the bedroom out of her? Very persuasive!
Then there's Watchmen, which may not totally be Zack's fault. It's based on a graphic novel by Alan Moore, who is apparently more unhappy with the big screen adaptations of his work than even Larry Gelbart was. But when you're dealing with a movie in which Richard Nixon has been appointed President for life, and a character who had a hand in assassinating JFK is called "The Comedian," well... something's clearly gone wrong somewhere.
Which is why I'm still a little confused as to why Christopher Nolan, who's now a big shot producer for Warner Bros. and their DC Comics-based movies, why he would look at those two movies and think to himself, "I want in on that movie magic." But what's done is done, and I did enjoy Man of Steel more than most other critics, apparently. The producers did a good job of reining in Snyder's natural instincts about what is cinematically good.
Well, now that the film's initial release is long past, and I was reduced to watching it on a mere Safeway rental DVD (still a few left, people!!! Don't miss out!), the concern over spoiling crucial plot points has passed. Now that we're living in a post-Reeve Superman cinematic universe, the challenge is to find ways to make Superman interesting again. Bryan Singer's 2006 attempt is now generally acknowledged as botched. Man of Steel tried revitalizing Superman's oft-told story with new actors, and a new city-destroying weapon for General Zod and, more cloyingly, by not referring to him as "Superman." I believe at one point Henry Cavill even says "...Superman? What's that?"
I guess I found that more annoying than I cared to admit. A cheap way to give indie film cred to a $225 million studio production... Also, there's "What does the 'S' stand for?" "It's not an 'S'," says Superman... but don't worry, because in the instant case, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, they've fully accepted the name of Superman as normal. On to other topics.
Now there's the problem of Superman's invincibility. Superman II, Donner cut and non, dealt with this when Superman decided to give up his superpowers for Lois. Here, they crib from Superman I's kryptonite angle. Not the kryptonite-tar hybrid from Superman III, mind you... the pure stuff. Lex Luthor, aka Alexander Luthor, manages to procure himself a mother of a load of the big K, thereby giving Batman/Bruce Wayne an opportunity for equanimity against Superman.
So while my viewing companion found no comfort from this zirconia of a cinematic gem, I found more delight than I care to admit. Let's see what all I can recall here... well, Clark Kent expressing interest and concern about Batman, that I did like. I also liked the "Silicon Valley"-like stab that this new Lex Luthor takes at tech billionaires; his company had a bit of a Google vibe to it, didn't it? At first, anyhow.
As for Batman, well... I did like that he was hitting the sauce a little too hard. I think that was about it. The Batmobile's big scene? What was the deal? You could barely see it. At least in The Dark Knight, you could make out its shape and color... a little harder here.
In general, the script doesn't have enough successes, and it tries like hell to have them. It's a PG-13 movie, yet Batman goes after some R-rated actual villains here, like a child molester. As for the attempt in the deserts of Africa to frame Superman for a crime he didn't commit, well... I can understand the United States Senate falling for it, but I don't. They also show Ben Affleck... I mean, Bruce Wayne/Batman lifting a bunch of weights and stuff, and I'll admit that he gets pretty triangluar-shaped and ripped. He's almost fit enough to be in a 300 sequel, but I'm sorry. It's STILL NOT ENOUGH to go up against Superman. Even the doses of kryptonite that Batman uses on Superman don't seem to be enough to make Superman weak enough to get beaten by Batman. But Batman does beat up Superman quite a lot here, and I can appreciate what the screenwriters were attempting to achieve... it's a metaphorical beating! It's all the Jungian symbology all rolled into one big fistfight. It's King Kong! It's Taiwan, it's the whole world wrapped up in a smelly sock. But it didn't work on a metaphorical level, either, and Batman's dialogue in general, and in the big fight scene in particular, was pretty wretched. I mean, he would have been better off saying something like "John Wayne died with five pounds of undigested red meat in his ass"... well, maybe that's going too far.
As for the bomb in our nation's capital, well... I guess I'm just not liberal enough anymore, for as I watched the capital dome go up in smoke, "You can't show that!" flashed through my mind. Incidentally, they seemed to crib a scene from The Dark Knight in which a judge finds the Joker's card in amongst her papers before she gets whacked. Holly Hunter looks over to find a jar of piss on her table, from an earlier conversation with Lex Luthor. In the fiery center of the explosion, we see Superman standing there, eyes closed, fed up with himself. Does not Superman possess superior speed? Can't he slow down an explosion? Here, he can shoot lasers from his eyes... thick, fiery lasers like Cyclops, but what about his icy breath? No love for ice here?
Now, say what you will about Ghostbusters II (1989)... I think it's the first sequel to deal with the collateral damage from the previous installment. Now it's standard procedure. In this case, Bruce Wayne is pissed off because a Wayne Enterprise skyscraper was destroyed in the final battle sequence of Man of Steel. Also, Superman seems to be losing face in the crooked media that Trump always complains about... damn. Can't get through a review without mentioning the Orange One these days. And, if I remember Man of Steel at all, there was a lot of collateral damage in that one. I don't know how much of the city was leveled at the end of that one, but it seemed like a lot. Almost makes me want to go back and compare... maybe later.
To cut to the chase with BvS:DoJ, Lex Luthor creates a Kryptonian creature to do battle with Superman, despite the protestations of General Zod's ship. I believe this creature is called Doomsday, and it's a bit like the big final creature from Ivan Reitman's Evolution, which somehow thrives off of the energy from big explosions. The only way to destroy it is with selenium, if memory serves, preferably from Head and Shoulders Shampoo. No one I know uses Selsun Blue... I don't know anyone who goes to church that regularly. But Doomsday is as fearsome and as surrounded by hellfire as the Devil, and he delivers some mean punches to Superman, who goes rolling far away, smashing into the remnants of broken buildings... incidentally, I thought Superman had a little more self-control than that. I mean... he's Superman, for God's sake! Why does he roll so far when the right thing punches him hard enough? Don't do it for my benefit, dude! Get back over there and fight! The point being, I'm still not sure which caused more collateral damage! Is it Zod's machine in Man of Steel? Or Doomsday in BvS:DoJ? It seems like Doomsday's the more damaging, if only because the battle took place at night.
Gal Gadot... oh, she's the new Natalie Portman, no question. And with none of this not-serving-in-the-Israeli-army nonsense, either! Of course, she might have a little trouble winning an Oscar. I don't see the Academy honoring any of the Fast and Furious movies any time soon.
One last complaint before I wrap this up. The film starts with the death of Bruce Wayne's parents, Thomas and Martha. Now, I've seen this in the 1989 Batman, we've dealt with it in the "Gotham" TV show at quite some length, and it was also featured in 2005's Batman Begins, if memory serves. Here, director Zack Snyder puts a new dress on the old gal by fetishizing the assailant's gun. We see the gun firing, we follow the bullet down to the ground. We see the gun wrapped around Martha's pearl necklace, so we can watch as a bunch of individual pearls fall to the ground, and one bounces into the bat cave with young Bruce Wayne... see how they did that? It's brought full circle at the end when a 21 gun salute of sorts is given to Superman, thought to be dead. A cannon is fired, and we watch in slow motion as the spent cannon shell falls to the ground. I've never shed so many tears in my life. While it's a different approach, certainly, it's just one of the reasons I can't take Snyder's choices as a director. Too heavy-handed, too ham-fisted, that kind of thing.
Now we've got Freddy vs. Jason, and we've got Alien vs. Predator. While it may take a couple of generations for the winners of those contests to go against either Superman or Batman in the semi-finals, when Hollywood's really run out of ideas, I keep going back to Saturday Night Live in my mind, and that one time the Superfans had their own game show. The final question of that show, if you recall, was "Bears vs. Bulls." Now, Pat and Carl weren't able to answer the question, surprisingly. But Todd O'Connor, said... and I probably have this wrong... "The pitting of these two forces of nature against each other would be a tragedy, not only for the teams involved, but for our planet. All nations must band together to insure that such a conflagration could never take place." Same goes for this thing.
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan