The Rock and DC Comics- Tonal Change

Two days ago, The Rock posted to Instagram about a meeting he had with DC Comics concerning the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). The Rock was announced as a lead for the DCEU’s Shazam (yes, the hero is actually called Captain Marvel but due to copyright issues he is just Shazam at the moment) adaptation, playing the role of the villain Black Adam.

However, there has been little word on the project since then. Henry Cavill posted a picture of he and the Rock sharing a drink in late December, fueling speculation that The Rock would make an appearance in the next Superman solo film, especially since Cavill hinted at bright things for the future.

The Rock is one of the few stars who can engage audiences off charisma alone. He is not the greatest actor, but his work on Ballers shows that he is developing. I am excited to see that the project is coming together slowly but The Rock’s summary of the meeting leaves me slightly worried.

“Had a very cool and strategic meeting with the heads of DC about their entire universe. As a hard core DC fan, to get a real sense of the tonal shifts and developments coming in these future movies has me fired up. Something we, as DC fans have all been waiting for for a very long time.

Hope, optimism & FUN.

Even when talking about the the most ruthless villain/anti-hero of all time finally coming to life. Prepare yourselves DC Universe.”

I have discussed the obsession with making comic book films “fun” before and how this belief is founded on nonsensical assumptions.

“I am not anti-fun or anti-humour. I simply do not like it when the device is overused. While some Marvel films have juggled it well, such as The Winter Soldier (2014), the Thor series has been severely brought down by terrible and consistent one-liners imho. While Loki’s humour is handled well, Jane’s (Natalie Portman) and Darcy’s (Kat Dennings) end up being the Jar Jars of the franchise. My problem is not only the overuse of humour, but how Marvel has successfully conditioned people to believe that this humour is the mark of a good comic book movie. Nowadays, any film that lacks the same level of levity is deemed too “dark”, “gritty”, “depressing, “brooding” or “pretentious”. A lot of the criticism levied towards Man of Steel (MOS) before it was even released came from this misconception. The trailers were serious in tone, nothing about them screamed “dark” or “brooding”, but people were so used to Marvel’s marketing by this point. The MOS trailers did not have enough one-liners, enough levity in comparison to Marvel’s trailers, so people were thrown off. Everything is relative, and since the MOS trailers were found to be lacking in humour, they were immediately deemed too dark.

This brings up another issue I have with Marvel’s brainwashing. I often hear people throw around the word “dark” like it is an insult in itself. As if saying a film is dark is as bad as saying the acting was terrible, the writing was terrible etc. A film can be “dark” and also be good… While Marvel has darker material in some of its films, and has Netflix shows with much darker tones (Daredevil, Jessica Jones) it appears that Marvel’s status gives it more room to experiment than any other property has. Marvel’s trailers, films and tv shows can have darker tones without people complaining about them trying to “copy Christopher Nolan”, “not being fun” etc. While Marvel is allowed to experiment, change and adapt, DC is now forced to appeal to Marvel sensibilities in order to be less divisive among audiences.”

You don’t have to tell me that BatmanvSuperman (Bvs) of Suicide Squad (SS) had issues. The villains and third act for both films sucked. Some dialogue was weak, some acting was weak, Eisenberg was a terrible Luthor etc. I am not a DC “fanboy”. I don’t think that DC can do no wrong. I just hate the fact that people believe that the solution to these films is to make them more “fun”. Some of the things added to SS to make it more fun, actually made it worse, such as the overly abundant musical segways. The emphasis on adding more “fun” in could cause the writers, directors, studios etc. to overlook other issues, such as a weak villain or weak storytelling (which is not always tied to tone). Like this writer says, “‘Justice League’ Is Reportedly “A Mess” & That’s Fine, As Long As It’s a Fun Mess.” Words can not describe how much I detest this mentality. Sadly critics and audiences will probably love the film more for its tone even if everything else is terrible.

The Justice League trailer already had me worried that the studio is putting even more pressure on the directors and writers to lighten things up. Bruce Wayne seems completely out of character, and so does Barry Allen. Wally West (Allen’s nephew-in law) is the version of The Flash that is known for being comic-relief. Allen is a more serious character, but it seems like the writers have just changed Allen completely in order to get more room for humour. Wayne can be funny as well, but I find his humour is best when it is done similarly to the dry humour we’re familiar with from Alfred.

One of the best examples of Batman’s humour, in my opinion, comes from the animated film Superman/Batman Apocalypse. After a newly arrived Supergirl damages $50,000 worth of batcave equipment, Superman asks Batman to send him the bill.  Batman then says: “On a reporter’s salary, right.”

That kind of humour adds levity, without coming across as out of character. Unlike the “more or less” exchange in The Justice League. That is the issue I have with some of the “fun” people insist on, especially because people normally ask for fun because DC is dark relative to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). When there is an insistence on having “fun” in every scene it can just kill dramatic tension. As Jeremy Jahns said in his review of Doctor Strange, “Sometimes I want an epic moment instead of a funny one.”

 

 

 

Batman v Superman Review

Like Star Wars: Episode VII, this was another review where I had to seriously collect my thoughts before putting words to paper. Initially, BvS was my most anticipated comic book film of 2016. The teaser was tense, dramatic and set the film up perfectly. Then the second trailer came, showing more of Luthor and revealing doomsday. I know many people argue that the doomsday reveal wasn’t a spoiler since we knew there would be another villain in the film, but that is no excuse to give away the villain early. There are some reveals that are best saved for the film itself. The doomsday CGI looked sketchy and had me wondering how good the final fight would be.

Then the third trailer came along, showing more of Batfleck, especially the warehouse fight scene. This film became highly anticipated again, below Suicide Squad but above Captain America: Civil War. I saw it one day after its release and the news of the poor reviews was prevalent by then, but since I liked Man of Steel and knew how poorly reviewed that film was I didn’t let the negative reviews bother me. Even the editor of Rotten Tomatoes, was baffled by the poor reviews Man of Steel received and pleaded that it was a good film.

 

With all that said, I simply want to say that I did not let negative reviews of this film affect my perception of it: Especially since a lot of criticism revealed around the film being “too dark”. I have explained why this is simply factually incorrect and is a product of people simply being too used to Marvel films.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRKy226tmCk

 

I explained my argument about darkness in depth in that video but I will go over it again here. 2008 saw The Dark Knight become a critical hit, with its dark and serious tone that contributed to many critics seeing it as the pinnacle of comic book filmmaking. Since then it seems like there has been a huge backlash against darkness in comic book films. With the exception of The Dark Knight Rises, most of the critically revered comic book films that followed were marvel studio properties. Marvel began to establish a dynasty; starting off small with Iron Man and cementing a solid reputation by the time The Avengers (2012) came out. Before I come across as a DC fanboy I want to say that I love both universes and the prospect of a shared universe in the Marvel films made me feel like a kid again.

 

However, as time has gone on I have also noticed a pervasive similarity among the Marvel films: A light tone, with plenty of humour. There is nothing wrong with a light tone or humour. Some Marvel films handled it well, with the best examples being the Captain America films and Guardians of the Galaxy. However, some handle it poorly, with the Thor films being the best example. Loki brings good humour to the stories but then we also get Kat Dennings’s and Natalie Portman’s contributions.
When a comedy writer was brought in to lighten the tone of Thor 3: Ragnarok, it became obvious that the insistence on humour could be a problem sometimes. Marvel studios president Kevin Fiege argued that they didn’t want the film differing too much in tone from the other marvel properties. Therein lies the problem. Ragnarok is a doomsday story; it should be darker than the other properties. The real reason it needs to stay light is so that it stays appealing to Marvel’s audience of kids and families.

 

In the comics, some character stories will have lighter issues than others. The same character may even fluctuate between darker and lighter stories. Good writers are able to handle these tonal shifts and make them feel natural. A great example was the Justice League animated series, which balanced different character personalities, villains and storylines in expert fashion. That is what Marvel studios should strive for as well, instead of trying to turn every character into a comedian who spouts one-liners every five minutes. If every Marvel or DC film had the same tone I think the properties would get stale.

 

Obviously Marvel has darker properties, like Daredevil and Jessica Jones. However, those are Netflix shows, which are cheaper than Hollywood films and target a more mature, niche audience. Marvel can take more risks with the tone since they don’t have to worry as much about scaring away families and kids. If Thor 3 gets rewrites for being too dark, there is no way Marvel would give us the same R-Rated version of The Punisher in a big screen adaptation. The Netflix shows do help to add variety to Marvel’s offerings but I wish we could see a darker property like Blade back on the big screen instead of having to either settle for a Netflix show, or a Disney-fied version of the character on the big screen.

 

Another example of the disneyfication is the character of Tony Stark in Civil War. At the very end of the trailer he calls Spider-Man “underoos” before Spider-Man swings into the mcu for the first time. I do not mean to nitpick or bash the movie for one line. The line is fine. What I want to say is, that line would seem very out of character for the version of Tony Stark we see in the Civil War comics. The comics version of Tony Stark (in these specific comics) is much more quiet and introspective. He does not spout a single one-liner throughout the story arc and might come across as “too dark” “brooding” etc. for people who get their idea of the character from Marvel’s films. That simply illustrates my point about the “Disneyfication” of characters and how audiences can get too used to seeing these versions of the characters and then compare all other adaptations to the same tone. Hence all the talk of MOS and Bvs being “too dark”. Marvel has had time to stamp itself onto the public consciousness, setting themselves up as the benchmark that all other comic book films will be compared to. Everything is relative, and if people are used to Marvel’s tone then obviously a film like Bvs will come across as too dark. That is why I did not pay attention to criticisms of the film being too dark and that is why I don’t personally agree. As soon as someone criticizes Bvs for its “dark” tone it makes it clear that they have very little knowledge of the characters and are simply brainwashed by Marvel’s films.

 

Review
The Good

 

Firstly, Batfleck was awesome. I was on the fence about his casting, but he killed the role as Bruce Wayne and Batman. The suit was the best we’ve seen on the big screen so far in terms of its aesthetics and functionality. The batman voice is created by a microphone in the cowl and is the best one we’ve heard yet.

 

This version of Bruce Wayne is an older Batman who routinely suffers from nightmares and is pessimistic about human nature and his significance in the fight against crime, which factors heavily into his conflict with Superman. The nightmare scene in the film may cause confusion for viewers who are not familiar with the character of Darkseid and the injustice comics. Although the references to these characters and storylines were a treat for me, I can see why they would be confusing for other viewers.

 

Jeremy Irons was great as Alfred, which was expected since he was the only casting decision I had no reservations about. I wish we could have seen more of his Alfred, but that is probably an indicator of his success with the role. This version of Alfred has a more hands-on role in Batman’s crusade but is also a figure that makes it clear he would rather see Wayne hang up the suit permanently.

 

Henry Cavill exceeds his performance in the first film (which was decent) with his portrayal of a Superman who is now the center of controversy and criticism from the public, the media and the government. More than ever, he questions his role in the world and his doubts have led some viewers to consider him “too moody” “too dark” etc. However, I think the character’s outlook fits the story and the events he goes through. However, I do hope that in the next installments, we start to see more of the optimism people typically associate with the character. Superman is not a lighter character than Batman because bad things never happen to him, he is lighter because of his attitude about human nature and the future.

 

Gal Gadot was a pleasant surprise as Wonder Woman and leaves me more excited for the solo film, although carrying a solo film is obviously a much bigger task. Aside from a line or two that seemed wooden, I thought Gadot had great screen presence and brought amazing strength and appeal to the character.

 

I have heard some people say that the set up for the Justice League could have used more than one film, and I can agree with that. All the news of cameos had me worried the film would be far too packed. Ultimately, the cameos were worked in well.

 

Minor Spoiler

 

The cameos are archived footage that Luthor has been collecting on metahumans. In total, the clips are less than five minutes but give us our first glimpse of some of the Justice League. I thought this was a great way to introduce the characters that took little screen time and also did not come across as too tacked on. There is some criticism that the cameos were too short, or seemed like the type of footage you would get on a dvd extra. Yet some of these same people also complain that the film tried to do too much. BvS simply can’t win sometimes.

 

The Bad

 

When Jesse Eisenberg was cast as Luthor, many hopeful fans said that he would surprise us with a great performance, just like Heath Ledger did as the joker. People forgot tat Ledger was an exception to the rule. Eisenberg proves that a questionable casting decision does not work out well. Batfleck impressed but it seems like we asked for too much with Eisenberg.

 

The version of Luthor we see here is Lex Luthor’s son, which just begs the question of why we don’t get Lex instead. The character could have been interesting. The writing implied that he did not have a good relationship with his father but is still trying to fill his father’s shoes. The writing itself was actually pretty good, in terms of dialogue at least. The issue is Eisenberg’s acting. In terms of Luthor’s behaviour and mannerisms it seems like Snyder was aiming for a character like Jake Gyllenhaal’s in Nightcrawler.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18ZDiRsbEZA

 

Instead we get a hyperactive spaz who brings a level of campiness to the movie whenever he is on screen. Since Luthor has a decent chunk of screen time and sets up the third act conflict his presence greatly contributed to the 6.5/10.

 

Speaking of the third act, the trailers showed that Doomsday would be the villain for a final fight with The Trinity (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman). This fight was also one of the weaker parts of the film for me. It had great elements, such as Wonder Woman and her contribution. However, it also had spotty CGI. Doomsday does not look any better than the footage we saw from the trailer and the CGI detracts from the tension and enjoyment of the fight. The Batman warehouse fight (partly shown in the third trailer) was far more enjoyable and memorable in my opinion.

 

Overall, the film sets up the Justice League pretty well but I do not want to give it extra points just for that. A movie ultimately needs to stand on its own. Of course, a film can hint at events to come but there also needs to be a solid foundation that makes the film enjoyable as a solo piece. BvS is not amazing, but it is also not the cinematic abomination that many people label it as.

 

Spoilers

 

The Martha Scene

 

This scene has already spawned heated criticism and memes. I just want to add a quick note on why I actually liked it and that all the criticism seems to miss the point of the scene. Batman does not spare Superman’s life because “Your mom has the same name! Besties!” Although people like to rant about how movies spoon-feed them too much, this seems like a case where people need to be spoon-fed. The scene isn’t about Superman’s mom having the same name. It is about a terrifying god-like figure (in Batman’s eyes) being reduced to a man that wants to save his mom. The common desire to protect their families is what makes Batman spare Superman’s life. If you can’t understand that scene, then I think that is your problem and not the film’s.

 

 

Batman is Not Fat- and Neither is Ben Afleck

Maybe I am still just wasting breath writing this, but I need to vent.

 

Yesterday, Empire revealed its latest issue, with Batfleck gracing the cover. To myself, and many others, the picture looks amazing. However, I soon got sucked into the idiotic online comments concerning Ben Afleck’s weight. On Empire’s Instagram most of the comments (at the time) pictured laughing emoticons and statements like “RIP DC” or “Why’s Batman fat lol”.

 

Now, I generally hate to give idiots online too much attention. However, I cannot believe that all of these comments come from online trolls. Last year’s first picture of Batman was also subjected to the same criticism by tabloids, news outlets and supposed fans of the comics. The large bat logo and the short ears were seen as a stupid change, despite the fact that those were pulled straight from Frank Miller’s batman design. I understand that everyone isn’t a comic book fan, but I have a hard time understanding why people cannot use the Internet to look up information for themselves. Ever seen someone post a question online, in a comment section or on yahoo answers, that they could easily Google themselves?

 

Making a comic book film is always a tough balance of appealing to comic book fans and the general public, and sadly it seems that a comic book film must pay more attention to the general public. Not only for financial reasons, but also because the general public will be the most likely to go into a film with an inaccurate conception of a character, and then use online outlets to spread bad word of mouth. It is a fact that people tend to get attached to whatever comes first. For many people, their first live-action, Hollywood batman was Michael Keaton. Once they saw him on screen many said that no one would ever top him. For others, they saw Christian Bale first, then many said no one would ever top him. When the next adaption of Batman graces the screen there will be people saying no one will ever top Ben Afleck.

 

Until that time, we have the people attached to Bale and Christopher Nolan’s depiction of Batman. I loved Nolan’s work as well and I loved Bale as Batman (except for the bat voice), but I have the ability to judge other takes impartially, instead of letting bias overpower reason and objectivity. I wish I didn’t have to brag about that, but it seems like it is a dying art in this day and age.

 

The depiction of Batman’s personality and struggle in Nolan’s series was exceptional (more so in the first two), but Nolan’s series had some differences and weaknesses in comparison to this version.

 

Firstly, Batman is usually depicted around 210 pounds in the comics. I realize that I posted it as 240 in my Instagram post yesterday. My mistake, one episode of DCAU’s Justice League had it listed as that but I figure it is better to go off of the wider canon of the comics. Bale was around 190 pounds throughout Nolan’s series so it looks like Afleck is actually the closest in size to a comic book version of Batman. Many comics depict Batman and Superman as being around the same size and it looks like Afleck is around the same size as Cavill in this role. Would you consider Henry Cavill fat? The costume and Afleck’s size look heavily inspired by the critically revered Arkham video games as well, which are in turn inspired by the comics. Then again, people are not looking at this objectively. They like Nolan and Bale, they want to see more of Nolan and Bale and they will hate anything else. Then there are also people who struggle to like both DC and Marvel films because they have been brainwashed to think they can only like on or the other. I’ll be doing a blog post on Saturday about that as well.

 

Some may think that Afleck’s size makes Batman too bulky, too slow, but let’s try to be objective again. Although Bale was smaller, he was stiff and slow in the suit. I understand the actor struggled with movement, but the character should not and perhaps some editing could have helped to make the fights more convincing. Afleck’s speed should not be a concern if we are mindlessly comparing everything to Nolan’s interpretation. There is a clip from the comic con trailer, at 2:40, where we see Batman gliding from one opponent to another as he delivers a beat down. From that clip, it looks like we have a faster, more agile Batman than the one we had in Nolan’s trilogy.

 

When the costume was revealed, and appeared to be similar to the Arkham games (a grey, flexible, Kevlar-like material), I was hoping that we would see a faster and more agile Batman. It looks like Snyder will deliver that. People may have a hard time believing someone as big as this Batman will also be quick and stealthy, but if we can suspend disbelief about an alien with heat vision maybe we can suspend disbelief about this too. Bruce Wayne has trained his body to peak condition for the pursuit of justice. He is not your typical gym meathead. He is muscular, powerful, agile, acrobatic and flexible.

 

We have two more months to see what Ben Afleck’s batman will offer, but I think the facts show that there is a good chance I’m right when I say that we will not have a fat batman.