Thursday, March 31, 2016

Dawn of Justice

It's out. Setting aside the big debate of critics vs fans and how much money it made this weekend, I wanted to focus on what I enjoyed in the movie. Too many people are focusing on what was good or bad, or why someone is wrong about their opinion, but... well, it's all opinion. It's just a movie. Relax.

Will contain spoilers, read at your own risk.

First, I loved pretty much everything about this movie. I'm trying to think about something I didn't like, and all I can come up with is that the Aquaman cameo watching him doing nothing very interesting for about 2 - 3 seconds too long. That's it. I'm a huge Aquaman fan, but I felt like they just held the scene a bit too long. I get it though. Aquaman is conflicted, he was just discovered underwater, no breathing equipment.  They aren't attacking him, but he can't let them go further, but if he does anything, it'll cause more interest in the location, but he has to demonstrate power because of Atlantean culture... does he hide or attack, what would that mean, etc... I get it.  I would probably do the same.  But, for the purposes of the movie... just seemed to linger a bit too long. Everything else, I friggin' loved.

Second, there's the tone. It was not an uplifting movie. It was all about consequences, which I thought was great.  You can't just level a city and half a town, then high-five everyone the next day.  Where Man of Steel was about just how destructive a being like that could be in our world, Dawn of Justice deals with the fallout. The world has found out he exists and is questioning everything. Many are looking to lay blame, others are reaching out for help.  The world, like the audience, is split.

The movie opens with a ground perspective of the climax of Man of Steel, and it's devastating. Where the previous movie was astounding visually, exciting and intense, the amount of destruction Zod and Superman inflict on Metropolis in their fight as a regular person caught in the middle is absolutely terrifying.  It really conveys the helplessness of the average person if something like this were to happen.  Something not really covered in comics or comic book movies.  We might get passing glances of the crowd to show they are afraid, but this lingered.  Every direction they turned, the fight was flying around the city too fast and they just couldn't get away.  They were trapped.

It was dark and lets the viewer know from the beginning, this isn't going to be one of those fun movies with oddly placed one-liners to provide comic relief during intense situations. And this isn't to knock Marvel. I love Marvel and what they're doing. It's easily the biggest thing in cinematic history.  I just don't want DC to do that.  We already have Marvel doing that.  I want DC to carve their own nitch. And they are from what I've seen so far. I love the intense, brooding atmosphere Snyder is creating. It's not original, it harkens back to Chris Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. But, let's face it, that's a mood that works with the DC characters.

If you recall, they tried to do something more fun with Ryan Reynolds in Green Lantern. It just didn't hold up. I enjoyed that movie, but the general audience didn't take to it. I mean, there's the whole space cops thing which is a little strange to grasp, the idea of harnessing will power as a weapon which the traditional audience might not get, and the final fight resulting in punching a cloud into the sun.  From a comic perspective, it's all great stuff.  For the basic movie audience, it's a little out there.  For DC, going a darker direction is a good move for the stories they appear to be looking to tell. A Death in the Family. The Dark Knight Returns. The Death of Superman. War. Injustice. The Trench. The Throne of Atlantis. Flashpoint Paradox. Under the Red Hood. Death of a Prince. If we're lucky, Darkest Night. These are inherently darker story lines. 

And it's not as if DC/WB didn't know what they were getting when they brought in Zack Snyder.  He had to pitch his vision to both DC and WB to get the movies to start with.  He has a body of work to refer back to.  You hire a director/producer like him to bring a certain mood.  That's what he's doing. The only people that seem to be surprised by this are critics apparently. 

These stories would not work in a brighter, witty-humored cinematic universe.  It's just not Disney's Marvel Universe.  They aren't going to hold your hand through the movie and reassure you that everything will be ok, cause in DC's world, it may not be.  The hero could die or fail.  There's not a big happy, Hollywood endings that leave you feeling warm and fuzzy because everything turned out ok and the characters won't be affected in the next movie by what happened to them.  There's real consequences and loss, and there should be with DC stories.  They don't get everyone out of the city before a psychotic robot destroys itThat's what DC did best, and that's where they succeed.

Looks like they are shooting additional scenes now to lighten Suicide Squad, which I think is a bad idea unless it's to add more of the dark humor that works so well in the commercials.  But it's a movie about villians. It doesn't need to be more 'fun', whatever that means.  I don't think DC will benefit by caving to a few, really annoying detractors.  They have a plan and a vision mapped out.  They should stick with it.  The box office should tell them what they are doing right or wrong, not some couch potato philosophers at home hurling insults from their mom's basement. 

Additional, it seems like there's been some complaints that DC is moving into a multiverse without much in the way of origin stories to build up like Marvel did. But do they need to? We know Batman's story. We know Superman's story. We know Flash's story. We know Green Lantern's thanks to the recent movie.  We're not as familiar with Wonder Woman's, Cyborg's, Shazam's or Aquaman's back story, but those are in the works right now. Marvel would not have been able to pull off an Avenger's story right away, so it made sense for them to build into one. It was the right call for Marvel. I think DC's decisions are showing that they know their material and how to get it across. I would say the box office is reaffirming their decisions. DC can open by with a story that will Unite the Seven (seven seas or seven heros? Clever)

But step back for a second.  Is DC jumping straight into the Justice League?  I've made the argument that they could, but are they?  Marvel did 5 movies of build up before the Avengers. Why is no one acknowledging that DC will have 4 before Justice League?  Man of Steel, Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman. So, while I stand by that they don't need to establish their characters to do a team franchise movie because their characters are so iconic, they are still putting in the leg work just like Marvel did and no one is giving them credit for it.  

They just aren't doing it via stand alone flicks.  It's a different formula.  Instead, they've set up the DC world in Man of Steel, introduced the heroes in Dawn of Justice. They will introduce the villians in Suicide Squad. And in Wonder Woman, we'll get some history and context to launch forward with.  After all, she establishes 'I've killed monsters from other worlds before' during the climax of Dawn of Justice.  It's a pretty safe bet her movie will deal with that in World War 1.  In essence, these are the building blocks for a universe.  Seems fairly straight forward and logical to me.   

It's a similar concept to their New 52 launch. They bring the Justice League together, and then migrate to a bunch of isolated character and team-up stories. DC has opted to grow the multiverse together rather than apart; through team-ups rather than a series of stand alone films.  I don't see a problem with that. It reflects the way DC tells it's stories in their comics.  Superman and Wonder Woman.  Green Lantern and Flash.  Batman and Aquaman.  etc... They do whole runs like that.  Most of the big stories involve multiple heroes and a lot of overlap. It shouldn't be surprising to see Batman show up in Suicide Squad, or Wonder Woman to show up in Metropolis. It's a shared universe.  Haven't you wondered, where the hell was War Machine during the Battle of New York (he was on a mission in the Middle East, btw.  Answered in a comic, but never in a movie, one-shot or TV show.)  Where was Iron Man when Cap was crashing helicarriers into the Triskelion?

Third, one of the biggest wins to me from Dawn of Justice, was just the raw brutality. No kiddy fight scenes. Batman was merciless and unrelenting. He did whatever it took to win.  He simply out-willed his opponents at times.  Wonder Woman was almost gleeful in cutting off limbs. Superman was taught a tough lesson about holding back by Batman, which I think will come into play later and shape the way he views humanity. It was ballsy.  Let's put it this way: They killed friggin' Superman.  Who does that 2 movies into a franchise?  That's a brave move.  

But they also brought Doomsday to life, showcasing the technology to resurrect Superman is on board the ship.  Most of which would echo the actual Death of Superman comic run. It also places the DC universe in an interesting dilemma.  The world discovered Superman existed and he brought hope to some, despair to others.  In the comics, others tried to rise and fill his shoes after his death.  In this new DC cinematic universe, the introduction of Meta-Humans starting to come out of the shadows may gain acceptance with the people mourning the loss of Superman.  In a way, his death is helping build this new multiverse.  It's kind of genius when you consider it.

And that leads into what it set up. So many story lines were hinted at. Flash's message hints at Superman going bad, setting the stage for Injustice. Supported by Superman's comment, 'Nothing stays good in this world', showing his frustration with humanity; the constant references to how important Lois Lane is to him, and the lesson on holding back dealt to him by Batman. It also shows Flash's time travel ability, and combined with the casting of Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Thomas Wayne creates the stage for Flashpoint Paradox. Robin's armor spray painted by Joker implies A Death in the Family, and the rumor is Geoff Johns and Ben Affleck are working on a Under the Red Hood script, which would probably take us back through the events of A Death in the Family and show us why this iteration of Batman believes, 'How many people started off good? How many stayed that way?', echoing Superman's 'nothing stays good' sentiment. There's even rumors the Joker may be Robin, although I doubt it.

Aquaman having the trident; which belongs to the King of Atlantis, opens a few doors. Story lines with The Others. Mamoa has talked about the discussions he's had about what direction they want to go with him; about how conflicted he is between Atlantis and the surface which makes me think Throne of Atlantis. Add to that, the average viewer doesn't really care about Atlantis. Taking the fight to the surface world creates conditions the viewers can relate to because they see people like them in cities they know getting attacked. And then through that, they'd get to know Atlantis and start to care about it as well. 

Director James Wan has talked about monsters in the deep, which creates a great opening for The Trench. However, he's also said he wants his movie to be less serious than Dawn of Justice, which I'm not super thrilled to hear. Leave swashbuckling adventures to Captain Jack Sparrow.  Aquaman is an intense character shaped by unbelievable loss and alienation.  His mother abandoned him.  His father died while he was still trying to figure out who he was.  He was exposed to the world by a doctor seeking fame and alienated.  Banished from his kingdom.  His infant son is murdered.  His wife goes insane and tries to kill him after their son's death.  He loses his hand.  And somehow manages to come back from all that.  I'm a huge Aquaman fan and I can appreciate how the comics take the mockery and ridicule of the character head on.  I don't think you cast Jason Mamoa with the intention to make a 'fun' movie. You cast someone like him to make an intense movie. You cast someone like him when you want a character to be feared and respected by those around him.

Then there was the more obvious Mother Box in Cyborg's cameo; as well as a recently released deleted Luthor scene with Steppenwolf, clearly setting up Darkseid. Further supported by Luthor's slightly unhinged rantings to Batman. Any Darkseid story line is going to be a big one, but using the mother box to make Cyborg is reflective of the new version of his origin, used for the animated feature Justice League: War based on the Justice League: Origin New 52 reboot. Great story line. 

Something else I like on a related note is Zack Snyder has also been fairly plain about Brainiac.  He doesn't understand why; and neither do I, he's never been used in a movie.  Actually, a lot of people have wondered that.  Hopefully we'll gethim in the next Superman movie.  

K, back to Dawn of Justice.  The character castings were questionable at the time, but now that I've seen the movie, I'm completely on board.

Henry Cavill's Superman is revealed to the world.  He's not as unsure of himself as he was, but still trying to understand what and who he is or should be.  All he really knows is that he's trying to do the right thing the best he can.  The problem is, it doesn't always work out in a good way, and innocent people are hurt or killed in the process.  I think, in terms of what he would actually be like, it's a very real interpretation.

I was one of the offenders that ruthlessly mocked the casting of Ben Affleck in the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman.  Having seen it, I owe him an apology because he is hands down, no question, the best at both in movie history.  His Bruce Wayne is cynical, he's curmudgeonly, he's world-weary.  His losses have taken their toll.  His Batman is an actual detective, doing the leg work and chasing down leads.  His action scenes are the most like the comics I've seen on screen so far.  He's brutal and unforgiving.  This is a Batman that has survived for 20 years, fighting crime.  He's fluid, not restricted by his costume. He has tech, but he isn't defined by it.

Gal Gadot's Diana Prince/Wonder Woman won me over.  As Diana, she was secretive and charming; playful and flirtatious.  As Wonder Woman, she was wild and blood thirsty, surprising Superman and Batman with her aggressive fighting and ferocity.  The major selling point for me was when she started to smile while fighting.  She's a warrior and combat is her home.  Where I couldn't give a damn about a solo Wonder Woman movie before Dawn of Justice, I'm excited for it now.  I want to know more about her.

Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor was probably the biggest difference. Supposedly. Where the previous played into their comic persona's, Lex Luthor was a millennial businessman for DoJ.  And there's good reason... it's because he's not actually the Lex Luthor we know.  It's the lesser known Lex Luthor Jr., our much more infamous Lex's son.  Eisenburg states it in the movie, 'my father put the 'Lex' in 'Lexcorp'.  Critics pretending to know something about comic books seem to forget the more well-known Lex Luthor's father's name is Lionel. But, details. They don't matter when you've got a movie to insult.

 Lex Jr has connections to crime syndication and is xenophobic, both of which reflect more sentiments in the comics.  He's also manic.  In a psychotic way, he knows Batman is Bruce Wayne and uses that to push Bruce Wayne with the returned checks of a former employee; sees an opportunity to rid himself of a business adversary, put an end to Batman's interruptions of whatever plans he must be associated with in order to have dealings with criminals, defame Superman and turn the world against him which would remove a potential omnipotent piece from the board of his future plans (largely driven by his xenophobia), and gain further access to alien technology that he can turn to his purposes as a tech entrepreneur and other less legal endeavors in a single stroke.  Only a genius could piece that together, and it was working until Superman said Martha.

Strangely, I hear that he lacks motivation in the movie, but it seems to me like he has the most motivation of all the characters in the film for his actions.  His total development was lacking, but does he need to be?  Do we have to develop everyone right away?  Eisenberg's, straddling the line of insanity and genius in his presentation of Lex was amazing to watch as he bounced from funning, to charming, to manipulative, to angry, to awkward... I thought it was brilliant. 

 I found that many of the complaints about it being shallow are more revealing of the people who made the comments needing to have everything spelled out for them in simple, obvious plot lines, rather than making the connections themselves.  It follows the old saying that people project onto others what they are themselves.  In that, Snyder and Co being subtle geniuses, expecting the audience to also be and may have given critics too much credit in that regard.  I'm sure it's depressing for them to believe their audience was as perceptive as they were, only to find that critics want the story telling dumbed-down.  Thankfully, most fans disagreed, and I hope that adds fuel to moving forward as planned.  Not to mention, the purpose of leaving questions unanswered was to set the stage for the rest of the multiverse.  We weren't supposed to get all the answers wrapped up in a little bow within the confines of a single movie.  

 I think this movie is fantastic, but I understand it won't be everybody's cup of tea.  It's not supposed to be.  The best way to know is to see it for yourself.

And I made a petition, encouraging DC/WB to ignore petitions.  On one hand, I hope they read it.  On the other, I hope they ignore it.