This movie should have been great. So, what happened? In a word, Marvel happened.
I don’t get why it took so long for this to become a phenomenon. Comic books have been mixing and blending story arcs and character development for more than 60 years. In the many different comics iterations and timelines, these two Justice League teammates have battled at least a dozen times or more. So why has it taken so long for movie studios to grasp the idea that while stand alone superhero movies are great, comic book characters joining forces or engaging in battle is a golden ticket?
I can understand why and I’m personally glad that 60s filmmakers didn’t attempt to create epic superhero battles. The effects were not ready for it. Unless a talented director like Cecil B. DeMille got involved, the film would have likely never been made or would have been terrible. But since the 80s, we have been primed for some epic showdown. Imagine, instead of Batman Returns, we got Michael Keaton’s Batman joining forces with as Wonder Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) to defeat a Superman (George Clooney) who falls under the control of Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman). That would have been crazy. But instead, the studios were content to create their sequels.
Marvel came to understand this first. With the crazy success of Iron Man it was obvious to studio execs that even less popular comic characters could drive a story if given the right material and a chance. Since then, we have seen Marvel bet against the house with properties like Thor, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Ant-Man and they have won big. (However, they have had missteps along the way, but most of those came out of Fox. (I’m talking to you Daredevil, X-Men Origins, and the not-so-Fantastic Four.) They learned who their audience was and they played right into their pocketbooks. Not only can these properties hold their own audience, but we go nuts when you mix them together.
There are just a couple of rules to make sure that this works:
- Stay grounded in reality. I think that Marvel has a distinct edge here because their comics are set in real cities. Spiderman web slings around New York not Gotham and even though Thor is from Asgard he lands in New Mexico instead of Smallville. This connection to the audience is crucial and shouldn’t be downplayed.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously. I hate to quote the Joker, but “Why so serious?” Take Batman and Iron Man as examples. They were both orphaned as teenagers, they both inherited vast sums of money and were thrust to the top of their family’s empire, they are both crazy smart and have major character flaws, they both decide to don suits of their own creation to fight crime (albeit one is for revenge while the other is for redemption). So why is there so much difference between the brooding bat, and the playboy rocketman? Maybe you have to chock it up to their personalities, but I will tell you that moviegoers may appreciate a dark and contemplative movie that wrestles with existential quandries. They may even tolerate that from their superhero movie (Thank you Dark Knight) but if every film is like that, it isn’t as enjoyable. The Marvel films have walked this tightrope brilliantly, and I believe that it has made the difference in the success of their films and the detriment of others. In a word, a comic book movie should be, above all, fun.
- Tell great stories. This is more of a general principle for all movies and it kinda goes hand in hand with staying rooted in reality. As a movie-goer, if you don’t give me a compelling story that I can follow, I don’t care if you are Stanley Kubrick or Michael Bay, I will not care for your movie, because there is nothing to care about. That means that you can’t give me a movie that is so complex that I need to take notes as I go, and it can’t be so vapid that I feel like it has about as much substance as a balloon. When you have a huge film like Spiderman 3 with 3 newly introduced villains and then you waste precious character development time by throwing in a street dancing emo Peter Parker, the audience says nope, not worth it. On the flip side, you can have Captain America: Civil War with 12 Marvel Characters including a handful that we just met and as long as you give me funny dialogue, awesome special effects, and a believable story arc, they will be with you all the way.
I will say this, I didn’t hate Batman vs. Superman. It just left me wanting more and less at the same time, if that makes any sense. I wanted to see more depth of character than brooding and contemplative stares. I wanted the movie to be boiled down to a simple plot without DC getting ahead of itself and setting up a whole range of other movies that are in the pipeline. If the movie I’m watching isn’t great, it makes me much less excited about the future movies in the franchise.
This movie was almost enough to push the viewers into clinical depression. it is extremely dark and foreboding. Where was the fun DC? It left me craving Joel Schumacher Batman. I’m hoping that the DC universe is going to be darkest before the dawn, and now that we are after the dawn they will come out of their moody teenage angst. Tell me what you thought.