Sunday, July 12, 2015

The New "Superman v. Batman" trailer exists, so here goes

Circa 2002, before Superman Returns, WB really, really wanted to do a Superman vs. Batman movie, and it even got a reference in a billboard in the background of I Am Legend.  This was just after the success of Spider-Man and X-Men, and WB was trying to figure out to jumpstart the DC heroes, something they'd sort of ignored in the wake of the slow death of the Batman franchise under Joel Schumacher.

As I recall, the storyline for the script was that Batman had been around for a while, gotten married, semi-retired, etc... but then along comes Superman who has a super-fight, and in the battle, somehow Bruce's wife is killed as a bystander.  In this version, in order to keep up with Superman, Batman makes a deal with Satan or something and gets magical powers in order to stay toe-to-toe with Superman until, of course, they had someone else to go fight.

Never make a deal with this guy
A script leaked a couple of years ago has a different version, but, again, Bruce loses a spouse but Superman just says "hey, don't kill nobody, okay?" which Batman totally wants to do.  It involves Joker clones and a lot of painting oneself into a corner, narratively

If you're keeping score, even WB - the people who brought us Catwoman, Jonah Hex and Green Lantern - decided against the green light on this script, maybe deciding we first needed to remind America what Superman looked like.

Well, when Man of Steel did pretty well, but word of mouth wasn't all that great and it wasn't clear WB could just roll out a Superman sequel and expect success, they finally went ahead and pulled the trigger on the Batman/ Superman meet-up, and - if nothing else - they hopefully finally got it out of their system and came up with a product that will give everyone the same entirely unsatisfactory match-up that's occurred in every superhero comic, ever, where neither wins and they become friends so they can go off and fight the other threat that was a bigger deal than their little misunderstanding.

Here's the new trailer, by the way.

I dunno.  Nothing about the new DC cinematic universe does much for me, so I'm just a terrible person to ask, and of course I've already received texts from multiple people asking me what I thought.

I think it looks like the same demographically targeted version of Superman we saw in the last installment with a similarly conceived Batman and Wonder Woman thrown in.  The complete cluster@#$% of an ending of the last movie has clearly driven the internal discussion at WB, and now the terrible ending of the movie I'd rather just forget about is the centerpiece of this movie (keep in mind, Zack Snyder and WB seemed taken by surprise at the press reaction to the last movie and the tremendous body count) as it seems that Superman has accidentally killed Bruce's family during that brawl with Zod.

My assumption is that someone at WB dusted off one of those script drafts from 2002 where Superman himself was responsible for Bruce's wife's death and said "hey, remember this?  Let's just do this.  I don't care if it doesn't make sense.  We're doing this."  It may be short any deals with the devil for magical powers, but that newspaper and Bruce freaking out about the fall of Wayne Tower seem like clues that's what we're getting. (blogger's note: this gets challenged in the comments below, and is worth reading a different interpretation of these shots) 

Frankly, it's a little disappointing.  Batman shouldn't need a personal stake to look into Superman, and if the newspaper is a plant from Lex Luthor, Batman also shouldn't be the kind of character who let's that get the best of him.   It works for a largee-scale movie audience because it's a cheap emotional shortcut to get Batman invested, and in a very direct way, but...  none of it feels like Batman.

Speaking of characters who are a bit off...  I'd initially defended the Kevin Costner scenes in the trailers for Man of Steel where he asks Clark to hide his powers, etc...  but that turned out to be a major let down in the movie itself.  This is the first version of Superman I've seen - and I've seen A LOT of versions of Superman - where his parents are, at best, ambivalent about him using his powers for good and basically act like modern parents of young adults, as Martha tells Clark it's cool if he wants to just move home and play video games instead of saving people.  "You don't owe this world a thing.  You never did."  Inspiring words, Ma Kent.

@#$%.  It's Superman for the age of the helicopter-parent.

I'm not sure if what bothers me more is that this is what's in the movie trailer, or that this idea appeals to the movie-going public.  There's an idea of "super" out there, but, man, even after how many of these Marvel and DC movies over the years, we're still really, really struggling with the idea that these are movies about "heroes".  The story of a superhero does not have to be just juvenile power fantasy wish fulfillment, certainly not with Superman.  And I see not one thing in this trailer that suggests they've really grasped that problem and how Superman can answer that question.

Lastly, it looks like they used the 3rd act of Superman: Birthright as some inspiration, so we'll have to see how that plays out.  I recommend buying and reading a copy, because it's pretty good and has a phenomenal take on Lois Lane.

I'll go ahead and say the following:  I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about Superman, in particular, and less so Wonder Woman and Batman.  I've read not just their comics, but supporting material, histories of the characters, DC Comics histories, etc...  Whether any of it has been worth it or not I will only find out when I go to claim my final reward.

But, all of this just makes me feel tired.  This is what DC Entertainment wants Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman to be, and, I suspect, this will do very, very well at the theater thanks to the sheer novelty of seeing these iconic characters together to the non-comic-reading movie-going public.  And people will like it, and that'll be a thing.  The likelihood that this movie will surprise and delight me has always been exceedingly low.  The work the movie would have to do to be very different from the last installment while also being much better than what I think I'm seeing in the trailer is just as unlikely, but stranger things have happened.

We get the movies we want and what we deserve, and it is a mass medium.  No one is making a Superman movie just for me.  Nor a Batman nor a Wonder Woman movie.  This is the sort of thing that is going to do great, but it's just not my bag, and so I'm handing it all over to the kids.  It's their turn.

Right now, I'm not planning to see this movie in the theater (and, for the love of Mike, please do not say anything as goofy as "but you have to!").  I just don't want to deal with the cognitive dissonance and disappointment.  I'll wait the three months til it shows up on Netflix or 5 til it shows up on HBO.


Stuart said...

Huh. I did not interpret the "they killed your family" thing literally. I thought it was in reference to the Wayne building being destroyed, ie his family legacy. I thought he was rushing into the falling debris to help people because he's Batman and there were people in danger, not because they were related to him.

The League said...

Well, maybe. The headline of the paper was "Wayne Tower Devastated" and then the scrawl said "You Let Your Family Die" rather than "Parents", and maybe my understanding of this as a Batman who comes back out of retirement and my knowledge of the other scripts colored it. But we'll see. It'll be simple enough to find out. Snyder and Co are pretty concrete thinkers, so maybe it's poetic phrasing, but I'm taking it literally for now.

Stuart said...

The image of Bruce rushing into those collapsing buildings was the best part of the trailer for me. He ran into where everyone was running away, or dying, and he did it basically naked and vulnerable, with no armor or supersuit, no gadgets. And he did it (in my reading) with nothing personal at stake. He did it because he's Batman, and when you're Batman and there are people in trouble, you fucking help them. It gave me some hope that maybe there's a little of that stuff you said you were looking for in there: heroes being heroes.

Also, it seems like a news story about the destruction of Wayne Tower would lead with the Wayne family being among the casualties. So, not just "Dozens Killed," but "Wayne Family Among Dozens Killed," etc. (Which, by the way, good job on the evacuation if that's the extent of the body count from a skyscraper coming down!)

Anyway, it's easy to be cynical old guy with this stuff. I'm trying not to be that guy.

The League said...

After however many years of WB-produced sub-par superhero movies and Man of Steel under my belt, I don't know how not to be that guy. Maybe it'll be great. Maybe it'll be another Man of Steel and be somehow even worse than my basement level expectations. Somehow Zack Snyder has managed to be worse than I expected with every movie of his I've seen since 300, so maybe he's due for a win.

Jake Shore said...

Yeah, I guess I'm kinda with you. My reaction to Ma Kent's remarks was pretty close to the look on Clark's face -- "Are you f'ing kidding me?"

This franchise's take on the Kents is a far cry from:

"You've got a great responsibility to the world, Clark. You've got to accept it. Make use of your great powers."


"And there's one thing I do know, son. And that is, you are here for a reason. I don't know whose reason it is, or whatever the reason... maybe it's... I don't know.... but I do know one thing: it's not to score touchdowns."

Superman is hero because he's good. He's compassionate, courageous, honest, etc. But that doesn't happen in a vacuum. His parents are the reason he's the guy he is. If Ma and Pa Kent were like the Costner/Lane incarnations, Clark would be Wolverine, or worse.

It's too bad because as cynical as I am, I cannot help but get a thrill watching these characters on screen in such epic scale. And I have to admit, although you make some good points about Batman's involvement, Affleck's take on Batman looks intriguing to me. I also agree with Stuart - that scene of Bruce Wayne running toward the tumbling building was visually inspired.

The League said...

I'm going to have to find out if he's running blindly in there for his loved ones or not. I mean, I get that it's heroic in either case, but it's unfiltered heroism and pure Batman if it's just to save the day.