Since we’re (very likely) about to get something really good from the DC Extended Universe for the first time, I figure, why not give its predecessor one last mention, aka some parting shots, as we all move on, eh?
It is no secret that I found Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to be more than a little disappointing. There are all sorts of reasons, though I personally find How It Should Have Ended summed it up pretty well. It’s not as bad as Fantastic Four, but it’s still a case study in what you should not do when making a superhero movie.
As wise men have said, it is good to learn from your mistakes, and better to learn from other people’s mistakes before you make them yourself. It’s why we learn from history, to try to avoid repeating it.
So, in no particular order, here are a few random thoughts I’ve had about Dawn of Justice.
The Impact of Killing is Real
First and foremost, the DCEU has strayed very far from its source material. I forget who it was who came up with this, but it’s like Snyder’s dark fan fiction of the DC comics universe. You may recall my unfavorable opinion about that sort of thing, but I digress. As HISHE puts it, what’s wrong can be summed up very simply: Superman doesn’t smile and Batman kills people.
Man of Steel showed us a Superman who, when push comes to shove, will kill his most powerful enemies in order to stem the slaughter and save lives. It’s difficult to argue with that, though it departs from the classic Superman, not only because of the expedient necessity of the act, but also because he, the mightiest person on Earth, immediately felt a crushing, emotional weight. In the same instant, it shows us how he needs Lois, who supported him in his lowest moment.
Batman, by contrast, kills people left, right, and center. His original version’s entire shtick is not killing people, not letting anyone die at all, no matter the circumstances. But Snyder’s version is not only brutal in his methods, he leaves bodies everywhere in his wake without so much as a glance behind him. That kind of cavalierly homicidal behavior, not to mention the whole branding of people, tends to be more monstrous than heroic. Taking life is supposed to be difficult! It’s supposed have a high cost, both personally and to society as a whole! But this Batman kills far too easily. That is what makes him dangerous, worth arresting and imprisoning, unlike every other version of the character!
And since this Batman kills people, rather than saving them, as a first alternative, it’s small wonder he goes straight for the idea of killing Superman, a genuine hero who happened have a world-shaking debut. Yeah, real heroic, that.
Speaking of, that actually leads into my next thought:
The Ordinary and Extraordinary, Side-by-Side
Part of what makes the extraordinary, the fantastic, and the unbelievable so fun to see and be around is seeing it mixed together with the normal, the mundane, and the accepted.
Batman and Lex Luthor, for instance, are both basically your garden variety human, albeit with skills, resources, and strength of will which set them somewhat apart. Yet they stand on even ground with the mightiest beings of the entire DC universe, true equals, colleagues, and adversaries. Other, even more normal humans, have proven to be every bit as formidable as they, and possibly even more fearsome. Many normal humans have proven to be the difference between life and death for their super-powered friends. We see this, as the audience, and we like it. Why is that?
My personal theory: because we often see the people around us being somehow greater than ourselves, more perfect somehow, more capable, more powerful, yet we also crave equality with our peers. We know we can’t do everything that everyone else can do, so we push to excel in our own way. This is how humanity became so rich and varied in the first place, with everyone doing what they do best, rather than imitating everyone else.
It is a simple truth: we are all remarkable, each in our own way.
That simply gets magnified in our entertainment. Luthor and Batman are equals to Superman and Darkseid. Hawkeye, Black Widow, and the Falcon back up and rescue their fellow Avengers. Humans and vampires are enemies or allies or lovers or some combination of all of the above. Somehow, some way, we pair the ordinary and extraordinary, knowing that the “ordinary” is also “extraordinary” too, just in a different way.
Which, as I mentioned before, is part of what Snyder got so very wrong, turning Batman and Luthor both into inferiors of the all-powerful aliens. Batman would have lost the fight if Superman hadn’t been holding back, and Luthor is just Darkseid’s pawn. It really sucks, ya know?
Concerning the Overarching Plot
I think we can all agree, there was way too much setup in Dawn of Justice for the rest of the DCEU. Those snippets introducing the other members of the Justice League, the entire, prolonged future-dream sequence, the ham-handed handling of the metahuman theory, the dire warning at the end, the Flash showing up to warn Bruce… it was all too much, and yielded next to nothing within the movie itself.
I’m reminded of other series, including comics, novels, television series, and, of course, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. TV shows, in particular, can take their overarching plots pretty slow, across multiple episodes and even multiple seasons. Things that were relevant at the very beginning can still be so at the very end, after years and years of tidbits and twists and intros and exits and foreshadowing and fulfilling of promises.
But movies can feel crowded and stilted if everything major within it isn’t wrapped up by the end. That was one of the points Age of Ultron, for instance, as it alluded to too much from both the past and especially the future films of the MCU. By and large, the MCU has kept the overarching plot sprinkled lightly within each movie. And Dawn of Justice is so saturated with such that it drowns itself. Yes, it was based on comic books and is part of an ongoing series, but there were only three hours to work with, not a dozen or more!
Between negating the impact of killing, making humans lesser than other beings, and stuffing the movie full of irrelevant material, it’s small wonder Dawn of Justice was so poorly received, and that’s besides everything else that was wrong with it.
So, I look at the trailers for Suicide Squad, and what do I see? I see that the act of taking life is going to have some sort of consequence, I believe, as the squad are all killers who are trying to stay alive. I see the normal and abnormal beside each other, with that ensemble cast of freaks and normal people. I can’t say anything about the overarching plot before seeing the movie, but that’s at least two points in its favor.
Oh, and humor.
There looks to be so much quality humor!
I am looking forward to this! 🙂
(sheesh, Superman, crack a smile once in while!)
What do y’all think?