Friday, April 01, 2016

859. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Deadpool

Well, shoot.  Zack Snyder's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is about as perfect a superhero movie I've seen since The Dark Knight.

I loved his Watchman, his Man of Steel, and Marc Webb's Amazing Spider-Man 2, but Dawn of Justice is about as escalated as they get in terms of what Christopher Nolan achieved.  (Also in the running?  Oddly enough, Gore Verbinski's Lone Ranger.  Last thing you should ever do is listen to what the critics say.  Unless their name is Roger Ebert.  Which of course is completely impossible these days.)

There were two things about Man of Steel's ending that stuck in the craw of viewers: Superman killing Zod, and the wanton destruction of Metropolis.  Both of these are addressed in Dawn of Justice.  How often has a sequel so directly commented on its predecessor?  Go ahead, I'll wait.

What Snyder obviously hopes to accomplish is recontextualizing superheroes, at least in the movies.  There are plenty of viewers who want Avengers-style faire, obviously, and that's all well and good.  But some of us want something meatier.  Snyder's aim is to discuss superheroes in the grand scheme of history.  And actually, he does it by positing Superman (Republicans) and Batman (Democrats) as emblematic of the political shift post-9/11, as well as the wars of the past, with Lex Luthor boldly comparing Superman to the British (and by extension, Batman to Americans).

It's also a bold piece of psychological profiling.  Snyder is not particularly kind to Batman.  He likens the young Bruce Wayne, and the man he becomes, to someone suffering from PTSD in the wake of his parents' murder, plagued with dreams he sometimes can't differentiate from messianic visions.  He literally can't tell fact from fiction.  Although driven by the best of intentions, he can be easily manipulated by the likes of Lex Luthor, who is his opposite number in much the way Superman is.  What separates them is someone who truly does understand the past, who's been there.  Which is to say, Wonder Woman. 

Snyder's Superman has always been the boy who grew up troubled by his own potential, convinced by his father that he would never be accepted.  And throughout Dawn of Justice, we're reminded just how many angry voices there really are out there.  Superman, in this interpretation, is George W. Bush.  So, yeah.  Critics will hate him, because most voices in the media are liberal (liberals hated Bush, in case you'd forgotten), just as they were lukewarm to Quentin Tarantino's Hateful Eight because he had a Mexican as one of the bad guys in the era of Donald Trump.

The whole thing is a brilliant depiction of what happens when ideologies collide, and are either forced to obliterate each other or compromise, or even discover that they're not enemies after all (in this political climate, it's a truly sensational message).  From the introduction of Tim Burton's specter in 1989's Batman, superheroes lost their ability to exist in a black and white world.  When forced back in, audiences either chafe (Joel Schumacher's Batman) or go along with it (Joss Whedon's Avengers) because of the spectacle.  Because audiences can't refuse spectacle.  That alone will make Dawn of Justice a hit, despite all its nasty complications.  People who hate complicated will hate it.  That's just how it always is.  If they can't ignore it, they'll hate it.  But the spectacle of it will bring in loads of money anyway.

Deadpool is completely different while kind of exactly the same.  It's the logical extension of Burton's Joker, the clown who steals the show because he doesn't take anything seriously while also taking his own life extremely seriously.  Ryan Reynolds is the perfect guy to pull off this kind of role.  (I mean, in both its current cinematic incarnations.)  Deadpool was created to be the logical extension of the wisecracking archetype previously embodied by Robin and Spider-Man, except he never had a story that rooted him into anything of substance until now.  In the comics he's the biggest cult figure around, has been since he burst onto the scene twenty years ago, and is only now being recognized for it.  In the movies?  The only character capable of taking the Marvel approach to its zenith.  You wouldn't have Deadpool without Iron Man, who all but smirks through most of his scenes, but then becomes deadly earnest for whole moments at a time (that's why Iron Man 2 is the best Avengers movie, because it tries the hardest to strike a balance).

Marvel likes to harp on the legacy of the Nazis.  Dawn of Justice sidesteps the villains of 9/11 to reveal how it brought out, in the end, the worst in the good guys.  I mean, it's spelled out so plainly.  Why does Superman have to die and Batman be the one to found the Justice League?  Because that's what happened in the real world, too.

Dawn of Justice is a superhero movie with a big idea at its core.  I'm sure, one day, Superman will revert to being the big blue boy scout again.  But hopefully it won't happen anytime soon.  It's worth noting that this is the first time since Adam West that a live action Batman wears the grey and blue costume.  Snyder's often accused of being too pure to the source material.  This movie cobbles together a number of comic book source materials (Dark Knight Returns, "Death of Superman," Justice League: Origin), but in the end it's his original version of his earlier Watchmen.

Which I consider to be a very good thing.  Deadpool can't touch that.


Pat Dilloway said...

Wait, Batman's costume was blue? I guess it must have been a very dark blue. BvS is far from a perfect movie. It's littered with plot holes and moments like the "Knightmare" sequence that don't serve much point to the current story. But the reason Batman founds the Justice League is that he's more popular and Ben Affleck is better known--though probably more for his girlfriends and wives he cheats on than his actual movies.

Deadpool isn't perfect either but it's a fun movie.

Pat Dilloway said...

BvS dropped 68% this weekend. That should be troubling to DC/WB.

Tony Laplume said...

It may not have been blue, although the greater point that they allowed the grey to be there, and not go all black rubber, stands. The "Knightmare" sequence was the delusion of grandeur I mentioned. Most people are interpreting it as being a literal vision of the future (read: looming Darkseid threat), but it's perfectly in-character with this Batman, and what motivates him, which is half of what the whole movie is about.

As for how much the movie ultimately makes, I think it's kind of beside the point. It won't be the biggest superhero blockbuster, but then that also opens room up for later movies to do better. Historically sequels rarely outgross the origins, with a few exceptions (The Dark Knight, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, The Matrix Reloaded). (No matter how long that list may actually be, it still proves the rule.) Having the later Justice League movie, or even Wonder Woman, be a bigger hit would prove the strength of the concept. WB isn't about to scuttle its lineup because of this. I'm sure the studio knows how people have been reacting to Snyder's work.


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