All right. The first reviews are in for Superman vs. Batman: Dawn of Justice, the much-hyped sequel to Man of Steel that, just there in the title, tells you how little faith Warner Bros. had in their desire for a stand-alone film franchise after making a terrible Superman movie in 2013.
Thanks to Randy, today I've also been thinking about actor Tommy Lee Jones.
How does one wind up with a face like Jones'? There's a lot going on in that mug. A lot of years written in the lines, the burned in look of disappointment. How does one look that tired, that certain he's seen it all, and... yet... still confused how it keeps happening? And, more so, the certainty it's going to happen again etched upon his brow.
Randy sent me a quote from an interview with Howard Stern, discussed in this article at Cinemablend, that detailed how much, apparently, Tommy Lee Jones hated Jim Carrey, who worked with him on Batman Forever. Upon meeting Carrey, with whom he was to work the next day, Jones told Carrey:
"I hate you. I really don't like you…I cannot sanction your buffoonery."
That is a man with nothing left to lose and no time for antics. And that was 20 years ago.
At best that's tangential to why I'm thinking of Jones and his face. But it informs it.
Because I'm also thinking less of Jones himself and more of his character in No Country For Old Men, the Cormac McCarthy adaptation directed by the Coen Bros. Jones plays West Texas lawman Ed Tom Bell, who has been doing his part in the wastelands beyond the Hill Country straight on to New Mexico, and has done a fine job of it. But there comes a horror and crime so great, he can fathom it only in abstraction. After all his good work, there's no place left for what he has done, and the value of that work is left in question if he cannot stop Anton Chigurh.
Superman vs. Batman: Dawn of Justice - a title demonstrating a whiteboard brainstorming session more than conveying meaning, held reviews in embargo until the afternoon of Tuesday, March 22nd for a movie that's probably being released on Thursday sometime, I'd assume. Or, Friday.
The movie has been heavily hyped. Hundreds of millions were spent on production. Hundreds of millions appear to have spent on marketing to the intended demographic of mostly males, 18-25, who respond well to titles like Superman vs. Batman: Dawn of Justice. It's been years since I've seen this many TV, print and internet ads for a movie. WB has clearly hoped to frontload money into getting people invested in their franchise now so they can do less heavy lifting with the upcoming Justice League movies (likely to be super expensive as they film a 2-parter back-to-back). And if I've learned anything about people - they will absolutely do what advertising tells them to do. So, I expect this movie to do quite well despite the negative critical response.
And the critical response has been negative.
At my last check, the movie was clocking about 39% at Rotten Tomatoes with 47 reviews in, and with Top Critics, the numbers are slightly worse (4 of 13 found it "fresh").
The reviews I scanned mostly reflected what I suspected would occur when Zack Snyder took the helm and from what I saw in trailers and read in quotes.
Jake asked me if I felt vindication and if we could expect posts where I said "I told you so", and I said "no, because I won't see the movie." And, because nothing I saw in the reviews or in the trailer was anything I wanted to see, which is insane if you've seen my house and personal collections, I don't want to see this movie. Or, I don't want to pay to see this movie in the theater. I'll watch it on HBO or something when I get to it.
What I grew up liking and the Superman and Batman of my heyday, and even fun superhero movies, aren't part of what DC and WB are up to. I'm not just tired of the relentless advertising for a movie I don't want to see, I'm tired of people asking me if I'm excited. I'm tired of people getting upset and trying to explain to me why I'm wrong to not want to see it. "But I thought for sure YOU would see it the first day!" they say invariably.
"No," I say, "I just don't like what they did with Superman in the last one."
"Oh," they say, smiling, slowing down to explain it to me. "I know it was weird, but he HAD to kill that guy. He had no other option. And, you know, for a modern audience and everything."
"It's a made up story," I say. "I'd have liked to have seen a Superman that found a way to not have to kill anyone. Or crush Metropolis to powder."
This is when they lose patience.
"It's more realistic," they say, starting to look edgy. "Modern audiences can't go back to... ha ha... a guy in red underwear."
And this is where I let it go. Because having that conversation just leads down this odd path where I'm told I don't get modern audiences, and that red underpants over a blue suit is ridiculous, but a blue suit is not ridiculous. And I don't care. Because, really, they totally do not really care. They're repeating what they read online somewhere and I'm tripping that up, cognitive dissonance sucks, and I get that.
And, yes, all of them say, pretty much verbatim, what I said above. I've had that conversation at least 30 times. That is not an exaggeration.
Part B of this whole debacle is a couple weeks later when they start talking to me about the movie again (I'm "the Superman guy", after all) and you can see that flicker when they suddenly remember and say "....ooooh. You didn't like this Superman. You like Old Superman." With that merry, condescending twinkle in their eye.
"Yeah," I say, and smile and nod a bit. And try to change the subject before we repeat or someone else jumps in to hit all the same storybeats in Part A. To help me along, you see.
I'm exhausted from thinking about it.
As I told Jake, I'm getting Tommy Lee Jones face just thinking about this new movie. Thinking about how it doesn't matter how lousy a film is - the audience will come out if you throw the right money at advertising and re-assuring them that Batman is great.
I don't know how everyone became an expert on what modern audiences want and need, but I do know pointing out the success of similar recent films that are more in line with my perspective doesn't go all that well. I don't know how everyone became certain that audiences fifteen, twenty, forty years ago were so unsophisticated. Or nodding in certainty as they're repeating an article from an internet movie site as their own ideas, regurgitating the same points made over and over to them, unexamined. Those ideas, themselves, repeated over and over like a virus across pop culture websites.
It gives me Tommy Lee Jones face.
I cannot sanction their buffonery.
I'm not glad that the movie is getting a bit panned. If the movie does fine, it clearly won't matter, and I assume the media blitz around this thing will paint over the rust and broken parts. I actually was hoping I'd get another Force Awakens experience, wait til the reviews came out, and then rush to get tickets at that point.
I want to see a great Superman movie on the big screen. And a great Batman film. And even a great Superman v. Batman film.
I do not want WB to have their suspicions confirmed that this whole superhero game is bunk and shut down making superhero movies like they threaten to do every time they make another shitty superhero movie (see: Green Lantern).
I believe I do not understand the modern movie industry, or - at least - what I do understand of it seems so fraught with bad ideas and scientific and accounting driven badly concluded group-think that I can't understand how saner heads do not prevail. Moreover, I've come to understand that the audience desires for their media to be deeply unsophisticated but with flashy FX while insisting that as part of the audience, they're some new form of evolution in viewership, all while you can almost see the gears of the works of the studio in every move made around a movie.
I can understand it only in the abstract, this modern age.