Category Archives: Superhero

‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ a disappointment

The X-Men films vary all over the map from very good (Days of Future Past) to okay (The Wolverine) to downright terrible (X-Men Origins: Wolverine). It’s a shame that the latest team entry, “Apocalypse”, teeters more towards the latter.

Set ten years after the events of “X-Men: Days of Future Past”, the film, directed by Bryan Singer, follows a new villain, the dastardly En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), the first mutant, as he awakens for the first time in thousands of years. Disgusted with the world, he sets about recruiting four followers (horseman) to help him “cleanse” the earth, including Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). The only individuals left to stop him are Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his X-Men, including Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters), as well as a reunited Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).

As the first sequel after the terrific “Days of Future Past”, the film is a giant step back. While that film was dramatic, moving and based in science fiction, “Apocalypse” is silly, overstuffed, action-packed nonsense. You almost have to wonder if that was what the filmmakers were aiming for.

The film takes forever to get going, with the only action really at the end of the film. Starting the film right off the bat would have served the story well. Without giving too much away, Apocalypse needs to gather his horsemen in the first fifteen minutes of the film rather than the first forty-five minutes. He needs to introduce himself to Xavier and the X-Men much sooner, gain his foothold as a dangerous opponent and set the stakes for the rest of the film. Since this confrontation is delayed so long, the film loses steam and the emotional engagement in the final battle is only half of what it should be.

In addition to setting the stakes, a clearer protagonist was needed. If “X-Men: First Class” was primarily Magneto’s story and “X-Men: Days of Future Past” was Xavier’s story, I would think that “Apocalypse” would be Mystique’s film. After the events of the previous film, Mystique is balancing the two halves of her consciousness: the desire to do the right thing and her hatred of mankind. When the opportunity arises in “Apocalypse”, she must either follow Charles or Magneto’s way, fight with the X-Men or with Apocalypse. Her decision would fill the film with meaning as she realizes her identity.

Mystique’s arc is briefly mentioned in the film, but it does not carry much emotional weight because of another major flaw; there is simply too much going on. The film simultaneously tries to achieve the following: establish the story of En Sabah Nur and his resurrection and attempt to destroy the world, finish Magneto’s emotional journey reaching back to Auschwitz, conclude the building of the X-Men team as we know it, finish Mystique’s story of self-discovery, show Xavier learning the importance of the X-Men, set-up the next Wolverine movie, introduce younger versions of characters such as Cylcops and Nightcrawler and Jean, bring Quicksilver back and establish a storyline about his patronage and set all this against the backdrop of 1980s Cold War paranoia. There is so much thrown at us that nothing sticks. We can not ride the roller coaster because it is so cluttered.

The story should be focused on a very simple narrative: After centuries trapped underground, a “god” has re-emerged to find that the world is teetering on chaos. He finds disillusioned souls and recruits them to a higher purpose, the need to make a better world. This contrasts starkly with Xavier’s vision of peace and stability, and Mystique is caught in between and must finally make a choice: to save the world or tear it down. She must lead the X-Men, young and full of issues, towards that purpose she cast out long ago.

Everything outside of this plot should be discarded. Magneto, Wolverine and Quicksilver do not need to be in the story. Cyclops, Jean and Nightcrawler could all start at Xavier’s school rather than be recruited, starting the confrontation with Apocalypse sooner. Little things like that cut out five minute scenes that really add more flow to the narrative.

The action at the end makes up for a lot of the doldrums of the beginning, but like most of the film, it is not handled particularly well. There are several enjoyable moments of unintentional comedy mixed in with some interesting action. Seeing the modern X-Men assemble for the first time ties everything together nicely. It’s just a shame it happens in this flimsy, overpacked jumble.

It would certainly appear that Bryan Singer and company, after their fourth film in the franchise, are starved for ideas. New blood in both casting and the creative team should be given a chance to flex their muscles and really explore this world further. “Deadpool” and “Logan” are just reminders that superhero films don’t all have to be cookie-cutter, save-the-world-from-the-evil-mastermind type fare. They can be funny, dramatic, farcical, romantic, action-packed or terrifying. It’s time for the X-Men to establish themselves in a new way. “Apocalypse” is a strong reminder that change is needed.

 

‘Wonder Woman’ a fine film, but could have been more

Directed by Patty Jenkins, “Wonder Woman” is by far the best film in DC’s extended universe (though in honesty, that’s not much of a hill to climb). Diana (Gal Gadot) lives on Themiscyra, a hidden Amazonian land. When Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes onto the island, he lets the kingdom know of the great war happening beyond the sea. This appeals to Diana’s sense of duty and she ventures out to save mankind.

Being the most famous superwoman in the world, it’s past due for Diana to get her own film. Gal Gadot has a great balance of strength and earnestness, though a tad too much naivete, but her virtue represents the character well. The action scenes are exciting and it’s refreshing to see a superhero movie tell a superhero story; a hero who really is just trying to save people.

The problem though is that Wonder Woman is a female superhero and her femininity is not pushed for her benefit except in a few brief instances. Her creator, William Moulton Marston, intended for her to be used as a representation of the power of women, and she certainly is in the film by simply kicking ass, but the repressive male world could have been utilized more and in turn boost her message. Perhaps instead of a band of men that go to war with her, she brings together a group of undervalued women and teaches them the ways of combat and of breaking free from their bonds. And the villain could have been accentuated to represent male oppression. Diana’s presence alone carries a lot of weight surely, but her representation as a feminine power symbol could have been far expanded.

The story is rather thin and predictable as well with some on-the-nose language, but the corniness serves the narrative well. After all, when your villain is named Dr. Poison, you shouldn’t take things too seriously. It should be fun.

And as dramatic as the fight scenes sometimes are, the conclusion of the film is another big, dumb, loud battle with lots of explosions and lightning and blah. A simpler conclusion would serve better.

But the character of Wonder Woman is strong and that is the central point. It’s no longer just a boy’s club of superheroes anymore and with the public on her side, pumping millions of dollars into her movie, maybe, finally, female superheroes will be treated with more respect. It’s way past due.

Are the X-Men the new preeminent superhero franchise?

Ever since the proliferation of the superhero genre, sequel-making and universe-building have overtaken movie studios. As rights are sold and potential franchises rise and fall, from the dust, three central pillars have emerged as the tentpoles of the superhero movement: Disney’s Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor), Warner Bros. DC Extended Universe (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman) and Fox’s X-Men (Wolverine, Deadpool, Magneto- they also technically have the Fantastic Four, but no one likes them). There could also still be a case made for Sony, who have the rights to Spider-Man, but they have signed a deal with Marvel, and Spider-Man is now essentially part of the MCU.

It has been widely assumed for years that the MCU was the best that superhero films had to offer. Marvel stuck to a strong formula, building up their heroes in individual films before releasing team features. They utilized strong wit, relatable characters and easy-to-digest narratives to build their brand and it has worked, delivering billions of dollars in sales and strong critical response.

Meanwhile, the DCEU is still trying to get itself together. Attempting to differentiate itself from its Marvel cousin, their films are darker, more intense and full of characters right from the get-go. Unfortunately, audience and critical response has been more tepid. By trying to appeal to so many people while being different, the films are a mess of half-ideas, rushed plotlines and shallow characters. They feel more like board room projections, broken down into audience demographics, rather than singular visions made by committed storytellers, especially in comparison to Christopher Nolan’s preceding Dark Knight trilogy.

And in the background, Fox’s X-Men, one of the first franchises to start the superhero extravaganza, has lingered. Never the biggest in terms of box office, the critical and commercial response has ranged from great (X2: X-Men United (2003)) to terrible (X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)). And yet in the past few years, the landscape has started to change, and it’s worth proposing a new thought: Are the X-Men now the best superhero franchise out there?

Diehard MCU fans would likely guffaw at such a notion, but something is starting to seep into the MCU that wasn’t there before: blandness. While the quality of the films has not deteriorated, innovation has not been present either. “Doctor Strange” was far too similar to “Iron Man.” “Captain America: Civil War” was equally similar to being an Avengers film, which are also growing more and more alike. And the lack of stakes is starting to decrease the interest in the characters. Marvel is never going to kill Tony Stark or Steve Rogers. So putting them in more and more dangerous adventures is not really keeping us emotionally involved. It’s becoming more and more a case of been-there, done-that, and it’s starting to seem that while Marvel continues to excel at making decent movies, they are just making the same movie over and over again.

Meanwhile, Fox’s X-Men have been changing the formula towards what the DCEU was presumably trying to do: darker and edgier. But where the DCEU failed by trying to appeal to the same demographics, the X-Men have decided to ignore the “traditional” superhero audience. Here, they may have discovered something very interesting; while other studios continue to view the superhero audience as kids and parents, the kids who grew up watching the original “X-Men” (2000) and “Spider-Man” (2002) have actually grown up. They have stayed fans of superherodom, but being in their twenties and thirties, their palettes have evolved and mature films with mature themes are no longer a detractor for them. As one of those kids, I have witnessed the effects myself.

What started with “X-Men: First Class” in 2011, which featured spy drama and Nazi hunting continued with “The Wolverine” in 2013, which was set in a non-Western locale and bared the weight of the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki. And 2014’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past” delivered a thoroughly satisfying sci-fi rumination on genocide and transformational hope. But what really blew up the formula was last year’s “Deadpool.” Here was a hard R-rated flick complete with cursing, violence and sexuality. And not only did critics love it, audiences made it the highest grossing R-rated movie of all-time. This was definitive proof that superhero movies did not need to be “fun-for-the-whole-family” type of affairs; they could be badass, violent, mature films as well.

Sure, “X-Men: Apocalypse” was a bit of a disappointment following such a run of success, but a fall every now and then is inevitable. Just this year, the X-Men have dialed up the ante even more, delivering another massive, mature success with “Logan”, a film that carries more visceral emotion than any superhero film ever made. It is violent, it is dour, and yet it is a beautiful story harkening back to the Western, a true innovation for the genre.

And appearing alongside “Logan” is the equally surprising TV series “Legion.” The first TV show based on the X-Men since the various animated series back in the 1990s and early 2000s, “Legion” is confusing, disturbing and wonderfully strange. The viewer has no real idea of what is real, what is fake, who is a friend or enemy, even what is happening at any given moment. There’s never been a TV show like it. It seems to belong more in the real of student surrealist exploration and yet here it is, presented on basic cable, with millions of dollars backing it and a second season already confirmed. Marvel’s TV series, “Agents of S.H.E.L.D.”, on the other hand is a far inferior, kind of bland experience.

And down the pipeline, the X-Men are looking at a second Deadpool film, an X-Force film, another live-action TV show and a rumored X-Men film with the younger cast featuring Dark Phoenix, a bizarre, cataclysmic character given poor treatment in “X-Men 3.” With confirmation that future X-Men projects will stray away from the Xavier-Magneto relationship and with castmembers Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and presumably Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender calling it quits, the X-Men are literally transforming in front of our eyes. It is very exciting to see the franchise adapt towards something new, something interesting, something beyond just the standard “family-adventure” type of affair.

So have the X-Men become the preeminent superhero franchise today? That is up for debate. The MCU continues to be the biggest box office draw, and the DCEU may somehow pull themselves up and deliver on the promise of the Justice League (I’m not holding my breath on that one though).

But when it comes to the MCU versus X-Men, you really have to ask yourself; is it better to settle for standard fare that hits just enough of the right notes or is the occasional risk that sometimes falters, but really tries to be more than its genre, more deserving of your love?

‘Logan’ a haunting ending for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine

To call “Logan” different from any other superhero movie would be a disservice. It shouldn’t even be considered a superhero movie at all. A tale this sorrowful and this bone-deep can only be considered a Western and set across the backdrop of the American West, that is exactly what it is.

Directed by James Mangold, “Logan” begins with the titular character (Hugh Jackman) in a rut. No mutants have been born in years. He works as an limo driver just to make small change. He cares for Charles Xavier who is ancient and suffering from some sort of mental deterioration. When a young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), comes to him for help, Logan takes Charles’ advice and tries to deliver her to safety from a group of thugs known as the Reavers.

Both Jackman and Stewart have stated that this is their last hurrah in their famous roles and it’s easy to see why, as it gives both characters closure in highly dramatic ways. With a relationship that started in 2000’s original “X-Men”, the film completes the complex arc between them: teacher and student, captain and soldier and father and son. Charles has been trying to find Logan’s humanity throughout the course of nearly ten films and to help him feel joy and completeness once again. Is Logan more animal or man and can he ever recover from a lifetime of pain? The film finally answers that question. Indeed, the finale shows Logan literally fighting  with “himself.”

Filled with despair and longing, “Logan” is radically different than previous X-Men films, so much so that it is a tad disorienting. It is welcome in one way because it offers closure, something so few superhero films do anymore. This is definitively the end of the modern-day X-Men as we know them, a blistering monologue on the value of life in old age and the pain of regret. It is incredibly heavy stuff.

And it is incredibly well-timed. It is a film about inclusion, about accepting hope in a bleak world. Logan has to save the last remnants of mutantkind as they search to cross a border to a better world, eerily evoking current times and our need to be a haven for those struggling.

It is not a perfect movie, with some of the violence taken a bit too far and even drawing a few laughs for its over-the-topness. And the lack of any hope really drags on the viewer as I checked my watch a couple of times with just a few too many look-at-the-valley shots. It seems to revel in its misery too much.

I personally enjoy a bit of humor and fun in my X-Man movie, but there’s no denying the emotional power and beautiful story that Mangold and crew have made here.  It is a haunting journey of finding retribution in a world of despair, one that will linger with you for long after. Knowing the X-Men universe, death is never really permanent, but for Jackman and Stewart, their journey with these characters ends here, and it is solemnly graceful.

‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ a mediocre adventure

After the first Avengers (2012) film, expectations for the second outing by director and writer Joss Whedon were sky-high. There was no way anyone could fulfill such promises. And Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) does not. That does not detract from a fun movie-going experience, but the film suffers from an overabundance of character obligations and franchise building.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), eager to disband the Avengers and create a weapon that will truly save the world forever more, rashly builds the artificial intelligence system known as Ultron (voiced by James Spader). However, the design is flawed, and the now-sentient being seeks to destroy the world in order to save it from the scourge known as humanity. Fashioning himself a new metallic body and allying himself with newcomers Quicksilver (Aaron-Taylor Johnson) and Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), he begins on a quest to destroy the Avengers and complete his mission. Only Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Iron Man can stop him.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe will never rival Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005-2012) for artistic grandeur or the X-Men film’s sociological themes, but it does create very sympathetic, internally flawed characters that audiences latch onto. No one goes to a Marvel film for the plot. They go to see their favorite heroes like Iron Man, Thor, Hulk or Black Widow. It is the joy of watching those characters interact with each other and work through their dilemmas, both internally and externally, that brings people to the theater and then combining that with some great action scenes.

But in looking at the whole of the film, there are a great number of flaws. The character of Ultron feels rushed and more emphasis could have been given to him over the course of the story. Handling so many characters each with their own story arc proves to be problematic at times. You can’t really relate to them since so much is going on. No sooner do you start to have a Captain America scene then we are rushed to an Quicksilver scene. The film is too similar to the original Avengers movie and needed to go deeper into the characters rather than repeat the lessons of a previous adventure.

If watching a film by Godard is the equivalent of eating fine French cuisine, watching a Marvel film is the equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet at a chain restaurant. It fills you up, tastes good, is very familiar and gives you a communal experience with friends and family. These films are not meant to be cinematic masterpieces, but high-concept escapism, and Age of Ultron delivers that. The formula needs to change for future adventures however, before things start to feel stale.

 

Could it Have Been Saved?- Man of Steel and Batman V Superman

Goodness gracious, where to begin? The tone is stone-cold dread, the characters are uninteresting and the camerawork and action are shoddy and incoherent. But this is Batman and Superman. The material is there for something great.

Looking at the implications of a standalone modern Superman film and a Batman versus Superman film, some fans will say that DC is rushing the story, and while that may be true, it does not mean two strong films could not have been made from their concepts. So how could Man of Steel and Batman V Superman have been saved? Let’s start with Man of Steel:

Man of Steel

  1. Make Clark Kent the central protagonist with real stakes and with deliberate choices in the film

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This is screenwriting 101, but was sorely lacking in the film. Basically, Clark Kent has too little to do with the actual narrative of the film. The events of the plot are initiated by his father, his adopted father, Lois Lane and Zod, leaving Clark pretty much as a puppet.

Taking away all the clutter, the narrative should focus on him, his character and his choices and should simply be this: Unsure of who he is, young Clark Kent, brimming with powers beyond his comprehension, wanders the world, searching for purpose, until he discovers a clue to his past that leads him to discover that he is the last descendant of an alien race. Listening to the guidance of the hologram of his father, Clark witnesses for himself firsthand the suffering of man and the need for a savior. He takes it upon himself to serve his adopted homeworld as a symbol of hope against evil.

Many complain about the tone being too dark in the film, and granted, that may indeed be a detriment, but it is not a film-killer. You can have a dark Superman film and have it be good, but you have to handle it well. What Snyder gave us in Man of Steel was simply darkness; you also need the light. You need ying to balance out yang in order to feel anything. Clark should see a world devastated by war and conflict, see people losing hope, and that could inspire him to give his very soul and identity towards a higher goal. That is a powerful sacrifice that should be examined, and it should start with Clark being the center of attention, driving the action and choosing his own destiny.

2. Themes: Establish the Idea of Gods and Make the Villain Essential to the Story

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The theme of Man of Steel is a little murky. Is it that mankind needs a protector (the destruction of Metropolis and Superman stopping Zod)? Is it that violent measures are sometimes necessary in a dangerous world (Superman killing Zod)? Is it that people are wary of a superpowered individual (arresting Superman and gaining the people’s trust)? What is the point of it all?

The focus should be on Superman and his relationship to Earth. Since it is established early on that Clark is an outcast looking to find his way, his quest should be fulfillment, finding a purpose. Everything that influences the plot should reflect that goal of his. For an example, look to the plot of the animated Hercules.

The theme would then be accepting the potential power of yourself to make your world better despite the road that got you there.

In act one, we would meet a young Clark Kent, raised by his parents in Smallville. He begins to show powers beyond what others believe possible, and he feels shunned. His father and mother tell him the truth: they discovered him in a strange ship no one has ever seen before.

At the beginning of act two, we find Clark traveling the world, from Kansas to Brazil to India to Russia, trying to find his place. Every now and then, he is forced to do something extraordinary, such as saving a family from a falling building, but in so doing, he has to keep moving because of other’s fear of him. His exploits draw the attention of a reporter, Lois Lane, who chronicles this “man of steel.” This is pretty similar to the film.

Also on his journey, he learns of the cruelty of man, meeting warlords and terrorists, stopping them when he can. Clark eventually discovers a clue to the Fortress of Solitude where he learns about his true nature and consults the hologram of his father. He wrestles with the realization that he will always be different from everyone else and the loneliness that comes with it, unsure of what to do.

In the background, sinister forces are at work, perhaps led by Lex Luthor with his own subplot. He is representative of the evil that man has in its midst.

At the midpoint, Clark finally meets and falls in love with Lois Lane, never letting on that he is the subject of her journalism piece. When he is forced to save her from something (a drug cartel, terrorists, etc.), he understands his purpose. Even though he is not of man, he is bound to them and will sacrifice his life for them if need be. He dons the cape and becomes Superman.

There are pieces of this sprinkled throughout Man of Steel, but they feel rushed so that the big fight at the end can occur or the excruciatingly long introductory Krypton sequence (all of which can simply go- it is not important to Clark’s journey). The importance is Superman’s journey into discovering his purpose and why he chooses to be that hero.

Once the world discovers him, people may fear him and his powers, unsure what to make of him. Luthor’s scheme of some kind of dastardliness gives Superman the chance to save the day, giving mankind a savior they have not seen in a millenia (there are plenty of Jesus references in the film and that is fine, but they can be less overt).

The biggest problem with Man of Steel is Zod and his entire storyline. Man of Steel never needed huge action set pieces and gigantic space battles. Zod hijacks the story away from Superman and his journey. Clark is trying to find himself, someone so different, the last of his kind, and at the end of the film, he has found himself. Zod as a villain is too complicated, attention-diverting and not a proper villain for an introduction to Superman. Luthor may not even need to be in there as he is also capable of stealing Superman’s thunder. Imagine if Superman simply tried to save the world we have now. Imagine if he tried to defeat terrorists or warlords and tried to give hope in a global sense.

From then, his entrance onto the world stage could invite all sorts of other super-powered individuals such as Wonder Woman, Darkseid and Aquaman. Perhaps Superman’s entrance changes the global dynamics of world power, elevating other superheroes who had been hiding out into the open.

I think Warner Bros. was confused as to how to make a Superman film that would appeal to modern audiences, much more jaded today than they were in the Christopher Reeves-era. They decided to go gritty and edgy and darker. Again, that does not equate a bad film, but they forgot or neglected to include the core of what has made Superman special for over 70 years: as spectators, we marvel at his powers as Superman, but as Clark Kent, we empathize with his inner loneliness. That dichotomy between man of steel and man of fears is endlessly fascinating, how one man so powerful could feel so weak. Man of Steel never attempted to go that deep, substituting action for heart. A laugh in a superhero movie never hurt anyone.

3. Make Everything Coherent and Build to Finale

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One last rebuke of Man of Steel that has somewhat been mentioned is its insistence on grandiose explosions and destruction. Zack Snyder seems to have an explosion fetish of some kind for the last 45 minutes of the film are non-stop action and devastation.

It is unfortunate that action is used to replace drama and heart. The greatest action battles and fight scenes are all pretty meaningless unless they are accompanied by real stakes in the character’s life. When Batman tries to save Gotham at the end of Batman Begins, he is not just trying to save a city, he is staking his ideal of the world, a world that can still be saved, against that of a militant organization. The fact that he was once a member of the same League of Shadows and allowed them to rise up again fuels the rage that drives him to stop Ra’s al Ghul. And the fight at the end lasts at most ten minutes, delivering just what is needed for the emotional punch to land.

Man of Steel on the other hand features Superman trying to save the world against a villain he has never really met. To top it off, he never actually saves any people other than Lois Lane, and their relationship is underdeveloped. To top it off, the battle lasts so long that it is the equivalent of a short bald man driving a fancy car as if to reassure himself that he’s something special, even though just about everyone can see that he’s lacking self-esteem. It’s not the length nor the intensity of fighting and explosions that creates audience empathy but the character’s journey to that point and his or her emotional stakes in the action. Man of Steel flashes brilliant nothingness at us for an obscene amount of time.

The climax should be heartfelt, with Superman’s quest of discovery in the balance, his need to be mankind’s savior the emotional crux. This moment should be built up to to achieve full dramatic value and should only last as long as it needs to.

Really, I could go on and on about everything wrong with Man of Steel because the list is nearly limitless. It is almost a perfect representation of everything wrong with the modern blockbuster. But let’s move on to another mess, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (right from the title, you knew something was wrong).

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

  1. Establish the Protagonist and Whose Story You Want to Tell

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Even buddy cop movies have a leading man. There is always a protagonist unless your film is a true-team movie (i.e. “The Battleship Potemkin”, “The Avengers”- though an argument can be made that Tony Stark is still the protagonist of a “The Avengers”). So it is that BvS needs a main character. The question the film never answers is; is it Batman or Superman?

The answer doesn’t come down to screentime or how many fight scenes there are, but to who drives the action of the story and who undergoes the emotional change through the course of the telling. Two characters can have journeys over the course of one story, but one should be the audience’s heart along the way.

But much like Man of Steel, we are left with nothing to really care for during the film. Neither Batman nor Superman is relatable. Neither of them has a true emotional arc. For all the fighting, talking of gods and whatnot, you still need the basic heart of a hero somewhere in here.

I would think that the protagonist would be Batman. Ben Affleck does a fine role as Bruce Wayne (though I can’t look at the screen and see ‘Bruce Wayne’, I see ‘Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne’) and he seems actively concerned about the power of Superman. His desire to keep power in check is admirable and the fact that he is a little crazy (as Batman is) works. So the story should focus on him.

Superman can still be in it, but he should serve as a secondary character, an antagonist to Batman’s goals. Especially with the Man of Steel already having his own film, he could play second-fiddle in the narrative to Bruce Wayne. Bruce would then go through the emotional journey of not trusting Superman, to trusting him to perhaps saving his life at the near-expense of his own at the end. Their relationship can build. The climax should not be Batman V Superman, but it should be the act two climax. The confrontation could leave them both broken in some form (Superman by kryptonite, perhaps Bruce’s suit out of juice and stuck in it). This would then give them the opportunity to bond before saving the world from some other catastrophe (i.e. not Doomsday- that’s a whole other storyline for an entirely different film).

The execution of the relationship between the two characters in the film is pathetic. There needs to be development, they need to go from hating to liking back to hating etc. A good example of how something like this is done would be Toy Story. The foundation between Woody and Buzz starts off rocky, they are forced together towards a common goal, drift apart again and finally gain true friendship. They need to save each other, learn a bit about each other, stick up for one another. It’s development that Batman V Superman is missing, and it should be the heart of the film.

2. Stop With the Sequel-Bait

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Wonder Woman is here. So is Aquaman for a second. Flash? Green Lantern? They might appear at some point. It’s hard to keep track anymore with all the sequel-bait.

It’s become an epidemic in the Hollywood blockbuster. One film is never enough anymore. Each film is a prelude to another film which is a prelude to ten other films. The result are mediocre films bogged down by less dramatic plot points and subplots that do not serve the main story other than to advance a future film down the line (“Avengers: Age of Ultron” is very guilty of this).

Wonder Woman does not need to be in this movie. Nor really does Lex Luthor. Nor any of those other cameos. The story should only have as many characters as necessary to its plot. The Dark Knight Rises has many characters, but they all solve a purpose (mostly). X-Men Origins: Wolverine has many characters, but almost none of them serve a purpose. Batman V Superman has many characters, and most of them serve a purpose, but many don’t, and the film feels less because of it. It’s less impactful because it is cluttered in purpose. Batman should have a storyline. Superman should have a storyline. Characters that contribute to each of their storylines should be included. Anyone else should be excluded.

3. Focus on a Simple Story

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So now that we’ve cut away all the unnecessary bits and pieces and added an emotional arc between Batman and Superman, all you need now is a simple story to tie them together. It has to be more than Batman hates Superman because he’s dangerous. One of them actually has to be at fault for something so that that person can learn something over the course of the story.

If Batman is your protagonist, perhaps he views Superman as a dangerous weapon, tries to reason with him to no avail, has kryptonite developed just in case, but after repeated efforts, feels he has to take Superman down for the good of the planet. He has to view the situation as any of us would. We would try to handle the situation peacefully, try harder when that doesn’t work and then work towards drastic measures.

Perhaps Superman is recruited by the US government as a pawn to destroy rival governments (as in the graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns and this would also carry over themes from Man of Steel) and Batman hates that Superman can be used as a weapon of corrupt government officials. As he himself tries to clean up Gotham using whatever means necessary, it is rumored that the mayor of Gotham may call in Superman to deal with the bat menace. The two heroes can meet and have that pivotal conversation where they let each other know they won’t stop their duty. Perhaps Superman is plagued by self-doubt about confronting his friend Batman. Perhaps Batman feels the same way.

There needs to be something internal between the two characters that makes their choices have greater meaning. Two friends, pitted against each other, against the theme of devotion to the greater cause and godhood in the modern world. If only more of that was imbued into the narrative.

Summary

In conclusion, it’s hard to overstate just how much is wrong with Man of Steel and Batman V Superman. Character over action, internal growth, a commitment to story principles and climaxing drama… All of these things are necessary to create an engaging story. Zack Snyder’s films are superficial, uninteresting and nauseating. Warner Bros. is going down a poor road to generate profit and has sacrificed a great story.

superman-crying-like-a-bitch-131964

 

A ‘fantastic’ failure

I did not see Fox’s recently opened Fantastic Four this weekend. More than likely, you did not either. That’s all right. Most everyone didn’t. As soon as the first reviews started coming in late last week, signs pointed towards a disaster. Not only were they negative, they were downright cruel. Peter Travers of The Rolling Stones said, “The latest reboot of the Fantastic Four – the cinematic equivalent of malware – is worse than worthless. It not only scrapes the bottom of the barrel; it knocks out the floor and sucks audiences into a black hole of soul-crushing, coma-inducing dullness.” A.O. Scott of the The New York Times similarly reported, “Ms. Mara disappears. Her character also has the power to make other things vanish. I would say she should have exercised it on this movie, but in a week or two that should take care of itself.”

What went wrong? How could Marvel Comic’s original flagship superhero team flounder so poorly again cinematically (the 1994 and 2005 films are similarly awful)? It is the classic story of Hollywood greed and incompetence.

20th Century Fox was about to lose the rights to the Fantastic Four franchise unless they released another film, and, rather than lose them for nothing back to Marvel, they rushed into production on a stopgap film. Suffice it to say, a rushed production for purely financial reasons is never a strong way to create a good movie.

There was hope in the beginning though. Director Josh Trank was hired, he of the indie hit Chronicle (2012). Up and coming actors such as Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell were cast in the lead roles. With that talent brought together, a hit seemed assured. The first trailer promised a darker tone and teen angst. This was a new version of the beloved superhero team, one that seemed to take them seriously. And then the rumors about the shoot started to creep up online.

The Hollywood Reporter reported that Trank was aloof on set, often isolated. It was rumored that he was in over his head, often unsure of his decisions and unable to answer questions to cast and crew. It was even rumored that things got so bad that producers Simon Kinberg and Hutch Parker were forced to step in and finish the film, with reshoots as recently as just three months ago. Trank had been rumored to be a frontrunner for one of the upcoming Star Wars films. He has since been removed from consideration.

As the first awful reviews started coming in, Trank took to Twitter, posting that, “A year ago I had a fantastic version of this. And it would’ve received great reviews. You’ll probably never see it. That’s reality though.” The tweet has since been removed.

Josh Trank tweet
Josh Trank tweet

Whether Trank was in over his head or the studio interfered too much, it doesn’t really matter. The final product is apparently a Frankenstein-esque bore.

Early estimates for the weekend indicate that the film made $26.2 million for the weekend, a pathetic showing compared to the $191.2 million that Avengers: Age of Ultron opened to or the $57.2 million that Ant-Man earned. Even audiences who saw the movie gave it a measley C- cinemascore (for comparison, Pixels, a widely panned Adam Sandler film, received a B from audiences). It is highly unlikely, even with the international box office, that Fantastic Four will earn any profit, and a planned sequel and mashup film with the X-Men will almost surely never happen.

Hopefully, Fox will come to their senses the next go around and just let the Fantastic Four movie rights lapse back to Marvel. After their third failed attempt to jumpstart a  ‘Fantastic’ franchise, Marvel fans deserve better.