glenn criddle | cynical celluloid | may 2016
Well, the bombshell film of the year has landed and while it has its defenders, there has been an overwhelmingly huge roar of disapproval that we are assured is only from the critics. Except it's not. It's from some serious fans as well, serious fans who happen to, by virtue of that Hollywood Kryptonite “the Internet," to have a way of talking about this stuff these days. To be fair to the film I'd have to say it's not exactly a complete dog, it manages to be fun and exciting enough to sit through at least once, though the runtime is heavily bloated and the last third is a chore when that should be the best part. There's a more detailed breakdown of most of my grievances with the film on my website (link below), but here I just want to look at the characters.
Firstly Superman. I confess to never being much of a Superman fan, I've always found the character to be a bit limited due to his almighty powers but what was clear from the previous film “Man of Steel" (MoS) was that things were not exactly quite right with this version, at least in my opinion. Superman is big on the collateral damage here and the quite deliberate destruction in MoS is addressed, though I suspect it was grudgingly after the reception of the MoS included heavy criticism of Superman's devil-may-care attitude towards life and property. It's a major 9/11-inspired plot point though astoundingly, Superman is somehow lauded more than he's feared, to the point that a statue of him has been erected where the rubble from his fight had lain. We see this fight again but with Bruce Wayne's perspective as a bystander he watches as the man of steel literally use the architecture of Metropolis as a weapon and although Snyder's direction plays it down a bit, we do see some of the casualties. This would be fine and well, I thought the only way forward from the MoS was to address the fact that Superman is dangerous even when he's trying to act in our best interests, that's a character point that could be worth exploring. The same is true of Batman (and all superheroes) as we should realise that although these people are on our side, though one could be convinced otherwise in this film, they are actually self-appointed judge and jury and that isn't right, safe or legal. This leads us to where Batman has been taken in this iteration.
We have the darkest, cruellest, most psychotic Batman ever here. While Ben Affleck does a good job, it has to be said that the nature of Batman here has stripped him of most of his redeeming characteristics. While he's undoubtedly exciting to watch, he's also become a character with a sadistic streak a mile wide and a tendency to act like a zealot. I'm actually quite the fan of darker edges to the superhero characters, it's interesting to explore the morality of what they do and what they are, but there is almost zero morality in these characters. Batman here has a full on bloodlust for Superman and whether that's justified or not it's something we expect a hero type to be better than and as for Superman criticising Batman for his failings, well, I have to say that was one of cinema's true moments of hypocrisy coming straight from the wrecking ball superhero. Whatever they do, and they have done many things both good and bad throughout their existence, the one thing we were supposed to be able to take away from their stories was that they had a central core of goodness, a desire to do right at any expense and sadly, that's just not the case in “Batman v Superman," it's all about superiority. And it's worth noting that this battle ends not because of right triumphing over wrong but because Batman loses his prejudice for Superman. That's it, he not just an alien, he has a mom. I'm not wanting to beat to heavily on this motivation but it's not a fundamental change in Batman as far as I can tell and Superman's antagonism towards Batman just disappears, maybe it'll be addressed later but he'll team up with the morally corrupt abuser of power for the time being. Pragmatism is an understated virtue in Superman it seems.
Part of the film's problems lie in the whole franchise-building thing, it's terribly rushed and not very good. The film is very long as it is and Wonder Woman is here simply to introduce the forthcoming franchise. Further to this, the problem is that BvS is set up as a challenge match and it's a destination that leads nowhere. When the fight is done the movie has to give us an actual resolution and so in comes the big bad to act as the pay-off for the film where we thought it was supposed to be the fight between the titular characters. We have had to sit through the twisted and bitter versions of the characters, set up as such to allow this conflict to play out, and it's ultimately not the main challenge of the film. By the end of the, film nothing is really resolved between the two, it's just been put aside by circumstance. All that pain and suffering and it really goes nowhere.
At the point of writing this, the movie has had an astounding opening though the follow-up figures seem to suggest a heavy nosedive in progress. Regardless of the profits, it's clear that Warner Bros has some thinking to do. The future of their franchise is dependent not just on that opening weekend but where it goes from here and I suspect there are questions being asked as to how to proceed.
There are ways they can salvage this though, I suspect that a change in director and writer would be an important primary step because frankly, given the opportunities missed in this film to correct MoS's problems, many of which were doubled down on in BvS, and I can't see too much more faith or good will being put in Snyder's direction by a listless fan-base and Warner/DC cannot afford to have a failure with the next installment.
He's British so forgive the extra U's and the use of the letter S instead of Z. If there's one thing that typifies Glenn's writing it's the 'Video Nasties,' a long list of movies that offended all and sunder during the 1980s in the UK. It's those seemingly offensive fringes of cinema that informed his writing on cinema and the more political area of censorship with a more sympathetic approach to those films that push the limits of taste. But don't worry, he does talk about normal stuff too and isn't likely to go off on a horror movie fuelled rampage.
For more of Glenn's work, visit his Youtube channel under the name lampyman101.