Tag Archives: DC Comics

Some thoughts about the DCEU

The internet is currently in arms (again) because a movie based on a DC-property didn’t life up to the hype (again) and now everyone is accusing each other of bias (again). I am tired of this sh… And apparently the general audience is too, if the numbers for the opening week-end of Justice League are any indication. And it would be a lie to claim that I am in any way surprised.  In fact, I think the DCEU was pretty much still-born, for multiple reasons.

I’ll be honest: To a certain degree I am satisfied by this development. Not because I hate DC, I really don’t, I cheer whenever they create something I like and I respect them for a lot of movies and shows I don’t like, but in which I see value on a “this is just not for me” basis. No, I am satisfied, because I predicted that this would happen, and like most people, I like to be proven right, even in situations in which I would have preferred to be wrong.  There is a lingering sadness because I would have loved to see a strong and popular Wonder Woman without her being dragged down by the mess which is the DCEU. But I am also glad that Warner Bros. did get the reaction those movies deserved.

So, why did I predict this would happen? Well, let’s go back when The Avengers was released and became an instant phenomenon. What happened back then is exactly what happens every time when a movie is financial successful: Executives from all studios tried to pinpoint the reason why this particular movie resonated with audiences. And as it is often the case, their answer was incomplete.

I suspect their line of thought went something like this: The Avengers has a number of popular IP’s in one movie, this movie is connected with other movies featuring those IP’s so we only need to make movies featuring popular IP’s meeting each other and we will make the big money.  Eh….nope.

They weren’t even the only ones who thought that way. There were a couple of comic book fans which were dead-sure that Justice League was an automatic candidate for a billion dollar box office just because it featured the most well-known DC characters. But the executives and all those fans, they forget one important thing: The general audience doesn’t care about those comic books.

Shocking, I know, but nevertheless the truth. Do you really think that many people even knew who Ironman was back in 2008? Hell, one of the reasons it was so difficult to get Ironman off the ground was because a lot of directors, writers and actors feared for their career taking a project like this about a minor comic book character. The Avengers wasn’t so successful because the audience was full of comic book fans who wanted to see their favourite characters on screen. It was so successful because the general audience had already fallen in love with this particular incarnation of Ironman and Captain America and to a lesser degree Thor and wanted to see more of them on. Plus, it was a great movie. I think it is easy to forget that The Avengers beat all box office predictions and showed true staying power. It wasn’t an automatic success because of the IP’s featured, it was a success because it was the perfect conclusion to a four year long project.

Marvel earned its success with The Avengers, by taking financial and narrative risks, but above all by taking its time to carefully cultivate an audience for their brand. And now Warner Bros. and Universal (and whoever else was suddenly announcing some kind of universe) thought that they could just throw some well-known IP’s together and have the same kind of success? Yeah, I don’t think so. But with Warner Bros. there were a number of additional factors which made a success unlikely.

One is the structure of the studio. Warner Bros. follows traditionally a director driven approach, meaning they look for talents and then allow them to go creative with their own projects. That is very different to Disney/Pixar/Marvel Studios habit to focus on producer-driven projects. Walt Disney, John Lassiter, Kevin Feige, it has served the company very well because it turned the names of the studios into brands. They don’t need name recognition based on directors or actors because the audience trust the studio itself to deliver quality no matter what, and they have a pretty good idea what kind of movie they can expect based on the brand. Warner Bros. doesn’t have that. Usually this has the advantage that it can delve into whatever project strikes them fancy without worrying too much about audience expectations. For an overreaching universe though, there was no way that this would work.

The MCU is basically the principle of a TV series adjusted for the big screen. And every series needs a show runner, someone, who has a clear vision concerning the direction in which the story will go. That doesn’t mean that a series has to be planned out from start to finish, but you need a goal and some bullet points along the way. Most show-runners plan their series from season to season (though the best shows are usually those for which someone thought way further ahead), Marvel plans their movies from phase to phase with a pretty good idea what might be good options for the future. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if they have scripts lying around even for properties they currently don’t own just in case the rights revert back for some reason. But Warner Bros. waited until after the box office disappointment of Batman vs. Superman to create an own division for the DC-based movies. At this point it was too late, because the DCEU had already written itself into a corner.

Another reason why I didn’t think that the DCEU could succeed was Warner Bros. attitude towards Superhero movie. I’ll now say something which will most likely be very controversial: I don’t think that there has been ANY good live-action Superhero movie based on a DC property since the first two Superman movies. And before someone tries to bring up the Batman movies, hear me out: Those are arguably good movies, but they are not good Superhero movies. They are Burton’s take on Batman and Nolan’s take on Batman. And all those takes (and the majority of comic book movies pre-MCU btw) have one thing in common: they are theme driven. None of them are actually about the comics, instead the comics are just the backdrop for whatever theme the director wanted to discuss – or an excuse for nifty set-designs. And don’t get me wrong, a theme driven approach is not necessarily a bad one, but the MCU is entirely character driven. It is way easier to make the audience invested in characters than in themes.

Speaking of audience, I also didn’t think that Warner Bros. had any idea who their audience actually was. That is something I realized when I saw Watchmen. I know I risk even more nerd rage when I say this but: Watchmen will always be a movie with a niche following, because this movie is utterly inaccessible for the general audience. For someone who is not already familiar with comic book lore it is a very uncomfortable movie to watch, partly because Snyder is unable to shot a brutal murder as anything other than a cool event, but above all because there is a constant sense of the movie referencing something without having any idea what this is about. Just the vague feeling of missing something big there.

Nerd culture has taken over the internet and consequently created a bubble in which it seems as if there is a huge community of comic book readers out there. This is not the case, especially not once one bothers to look past the US border. I keep describing myself as a non-comic book reader, but what I am actually mean by that is that I didn’t grew up with specifically Superhero comics. The comics of my childhood were called Asterix, Tintin and Lucky Luke (well, mostly Asterix), with a lot of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck (mostly by Italian or Scandinavian writers) thrown in for good measures. Europe has its own comic culture, as has Asia. And, btw, Mangas are way more accessible for foreigners than Superhero comics are, because they tend to be concluded series instead of a giant construct which makes it practically impossible for an outsider to find a starting point.

Yes, most people in the world has at least an idea who Batman, Superman, Spider-man and to a lesser degree Wonder Woman are. But that has nothing to do with the comics, and everything to do with those characters having been present on TV for decades. Batman fans might hate the Adam West show, but without it, there won’t be any Burton movie, or a ground-breaking animated series. Spiderman had so many cartoon shows, there is one for every generation out there. And thanks to all those adaptations, there is a basic knowledge a studio can expect from the audience, but it is not as extensive than some people might think. How Batman’s parents died, what the deal with Superman is or the fate of Uncle Ben, those are things which are pretty well established by now. But don’t expect the general audience to know about The Killing Joke, the fate of the various Robins or how Gwen Stacy died. Comic book readers know this. People who have just watched a Comic book based TV show once in a while don’t (unless they have observed comic book media related discussions as long as I did). Marvel either understood that or never even thought about it due to using lesser known characters. They build their universe under the assumption that the majority of the audience wouldn’t know anything about their characters, hence making it accessible for everyone.

Marvel understood also that what the nerd soul demands is not necessarily what it needs. It is always important to pay attention to your fans, but that doesn’t mean that you should follow every suggestion they make.

A good studio listens to its fans and then figures out what they actually want.  

To summon this up: I doubted that Warner Bros. would succeed because I thought that the structure of the studio wasn’t suitable for a project like this, because they had already shown that they didn’t really know the audience for Comic book based movies and because their approach to comic books in the past displayed a dismissive attitude towards the source material. And once I saw Man of Steel, I no longer just doubted, I was sure that I was watching a slow moving trainwreck.

Picking Snyder for a Superman movie has to be the most puzzling decision Warner Bros ever made. Oh, I get the thought behind it. Gritty Batman worked, Superman Returns didn’t, so let’s go gritty with Superman. Plus, thanks to 300 and Watchmen, Snyder had a lot of credibility with comic book fans. But, as I pointed out above, comic book fans don’t equal the general audience. Who the hell thought that Snyder’s cynical point of view would be a good fit for Superman, even for a gritty version of him? Though what really turned Man of Steel into a terrible movie – yes, it is terrible, I don’t care that it has its defenders – is not even the tone and the cynicism, though neither help. The main problem with it is that it spends long stretches of the narrative to make clear that this is supposed to be a different Superman, but then throws in scenes and expect them to resonate with the audience based on prior knowledge of those characters. The killing of Zod is the prime example for that. If comic book Superman did that, the “Noooooo” would resonate because Superman usually doesn’t kill. If the Man of Steel does it, it fits perfectly to his actions through the whole movie, leaving the “Nooooo” without any context.

But even though Man of Steel confirmed a lot of my fears, I didn’t expect what followed then. After all, there was still time for Warner Bros. to rethink their strategy, wasn’t it? Instead they doubled down on it!  Why was Snyder kept on the project not just as one director, but as the director who set the tone for the whole universe? Remember what Marvel did? Marvel build on the successful movies which resonated with the audience and quietly shoved The Incredible Hulk into the darkest shadow available.

Marvel also created a baseline for their universe, but it was very careful to not lock the directors too tightly into a specific aesthetic or the writers into a specific storyline. They did the whole setting up the next movie thing exactly once in Phase 1, during the production of Ironman 2, and remember the movie which resulted out of those decisions – a rushed production, an unfocussed script, and a construct in which three Marvel movies were supposed to overlap –  is to this day considered one of the weakest of the MCU. Which is why Warner Bros. approach is so puzzling. Marvel had already demonstrated what worked and what didn’t. Dropping Easter eggs and subtle connections? Works great! Using huge chunks of a movie to advertise the next instalment? Nope, don’t do this! And yet Warner Bros went and created a whole movie which is nothing but set-up with Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

But the biggest mistake in all this might have been the stories Warner Bros. picked for adaptation. Look, I get it, The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman are very popular comic books, but there is a reason why Captain America: Civil War is movie 13 of the MCU and not movie 2. Those kind of stories can only work if the audience has already established a relationship to the characters and the world in question, and, as I already pointed out, a studio shouldn’t just assume that such a relationship automatically exist due to earlier adaptations, especially not if the incarnations shown are so distinctively different from prior versions of them.

While we are at it, Flashpoint won’t work as a first Flash Stand-alone story either. This year a lot of people joked that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. did Flashpoint better than CW’s The Flash did. And the reason why the take of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was so much better received boils down to one word: patience. The Flash did this particular plot point in its second season, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.waited nearly four years before it confronted its characters with a possible alternate existence and had therefore way more material to build on. There is no way that Warner Bros. can do it in the very first instalment of the Flash.

On top of this, Warner Bros. or Snyder or Goyer or whoever else was involved in the mess which was Batman vs. Superman, none of them seem to understand why those comics were so popular in the first place. Even I know that the most iconic moments of The Death of Superman are not whatever happens with Doomsday, it is the images of Lois holding his broken body and the whole Justice League attending his funeral. It is not the death in itself which is interesting, it is how the world reacts to it after having been protected and inspired by Superman for so long. It is the worst story one could pick as follow up of a movie in which Superman wrecks both Smallville and Metropolis in his first big public outing.

So, to recap: On top of the very basic hurdles Warner Bros. was facing, they also made a number of mistakes from the get go. They didn’t took care to avoid the missteps Marvel already made. They picked the wrong director for the wrong reasons and allowed him to dictate the look of the universe even after his first movie ended up controversial. And they didn’t understand why the comic books they picked as inspiration were totally unsuitable for the start of a new universe.

Here is what they should have done: First of all, they needed to discard Man of Steel and instead go for a proper franchise starter. Naturally not Superman, because they had just tried that, and not Batman, because everyone was still salivating over the Nolan trilogy. Plus, DC needed to show that they have more to offer than Batman. What they needed was a hero with name recognition, preferable one with a rich history and a reputation untarnished by bad adaptations. Mmm…which DC hero fits the bill?

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Yeah, you guessed it, they should have started with Wonder Woman, and not just because she is the third part of the Trinity and was decades overdue for a movie of her own. From a marketing point of view, a female lead Superhero movie is something Marvel Studio still hasn’t done, and Warner Bros. had the best known Superheroine in the world at their hands. Wonder Woman might have less outings than her male counterpart, but her TV series raised her to a feminist icon which in turn gave her a staying power even decades of neglect couldn’t destroy. It was crazy not to use this immediately because of the irrational believe that female lead Superhero movies can’t be successful. Obviously they can, even while weighted down by a deeply unpopular cinematic universe. And from a storytelling point of view picking Wonder Woman would have meant starting at the very beginning, laying some groundwork for what will come later on, but without fixing too many aspects to a point of no return due to her origin story being set so far in the past.

For what is worth, I think Warner Bros did a lot of things right with Wonder Woman. I am not as enthusiastic as others about the movie as whole, but I think the basic concept of setting it in WWI instead of WWII and making it a movie about the futility of war was sound. But I won’t go into how this movie could have been improved from “okay” to “outstanding”, the important point is that Warner Bros had a perfectly good option for a strong start and didn’t use it because they stupidly though that the general audience would rather see a second outing of a deeply controversial version of Superman encountering yet another Batman than the first take on Wonder Woman. I think that the box office result for the Wonder Woman movie which they eventually did showed how wrong they were.

Not that I would have kept either Batman or Superman out of the picture, the next step would have been a movie in which Wonder Woman encounters either of them. Because this is the one thing in which the Warner Bros was in principle right: We don’t need another origin movie for Batman – nor did we need one for Superman. One can easily make a movie in which Wonder Woman meets Batman or Superman without the need to explain their whole backstory the same way the MCU can just throw Spider-man into the mix without long explanations. As long as the version on screen follows the core of the various incarnations of the character, the audience will just assume that the basic rules are still intact the same way nobody has to explain “Bond, James Bond” to anyone.

But I keep talking about what Warner Bros. should have done. The more important question is what they should do now that they have burned their most popular characters and stories for a failing franchise. The most popular opinion in the nerd bubble seems to be that Justice League was a step in the right direction and Warner Bros. should double down on those changes in order to eventually win back the audience with better movies. I disagree. Batman vs Superman not only created a confusing mess of a universe, it also blocked practically blocked the writers from a huge chunk of comic book lore by alluding that a number of events already happened at one point in the past. No matter how strong a movie is, if you build it on a foundation that weak, it will always sink at least partly into the mud.

I think it is high time to regroup. They naturally can’t stop Aquaman now, and it might be worth to do a sequel to Wonder Woman, but in the meantime, they should scratch their whole slate, put together a team for some brainstorming and then start anew, but without a big announcement. Just put someone competent in charge (meaning someone who has hands-on experience as producer but a sense for storytelling), hire a team of writers and then create a couple or stand-alone movies with the potential to turn them into a big crossover-event later on – just like Marvel did it.


All this won’t help, though, if Warner Bros. doesn’t make some basic changes – not just in personnel but above all in mind-set. Otherwise they will just run into the same problems. I have therefore decided to put together a couple of ideas how to approach this project. Let’s call it the DCTU . Yep, DCTU. Because DCCU sounds awkward and DCEU just stupid. Extended from what? Therefore DCTU, DC Theatrical Universe.

Step 1: Embrace the Differences

As I pointed out above, Warner Bros. should study Marvel’s approach and learn from their mistakes. But that doesn’t mean that they should just copy the MCU. Marvel and DC are similar in a lot of ways – no wonder, after all even the artists and writers switch from one company to the other once in a while – but there are also some fundamental differences between their respective comic book verses.  Marvel stories are set in the real world, preferable in New York. DC stories are usually set in Gotham, Metropolis or Central City. Marvel stories tend to feature normal humans who suddenly acquire the power to change the world – even the comic book version of Thor spend time as a human, unaware of his godly powers. DC stories on the other hand tend to feature god-like beings who mingle with humanity. Even Batman, maybe the most human of the DC heroes, is still incredible rich and is labelled the “greatest detective”.

As a general rule, it is easier for a writer to make Marvel’s heroes relatable, exactly because they tend to deal with very human struggles. It is way more difficult to make the audience sympathise with someone whose powers are off the charts, though. And no, adding flaws to the character doesn’t help. A flawed human is relatable. But a flawed god is above all terrifying. That doesn’t mean that the characters have to be perfect in every way, but if I had to create the DCTU, I would focus less on flaws and more on the kind of struggles a superpowerful Being faces. For example, how does Superman decide which people he should rescue and which not? Yes, he is faster than a speeding bullet, but even Superman can’t be everywhere at once. So does he decide to block out petty crimes believing that the police can deal with it on its own and only jumps in for the big events? Superman is supposed to be a symbol of hope, and seeing him struggling with this responsibility and how the world reacts to such a paragon of virtue is a way more engaging story than him trying to figuring out what moral actually is.

Wonder Woman is a way more interesting character than most give her credit for. She is a warrior, but the idea is also that she fights for peace. This contradiction alone could deliver material for multiple movies about the battles she picks and the weapon of choice. After all, words are often more effective than a sword to solve a conflict. Especially when the words are forced out by a powerful lasso.

But then, we can’t start the DCTU by focussing on either of them. Or on Batman or any other of the Justice League – if for no other reason than another movie headlining Batman or Superman underperforming might destroy the brand. We need to approach this through the backdoor. So let’s not start with the characters. Or with the themes.

Step 2: Start with the World

The DCEU’s approach to world-building has been confusing to say the least. It tries to start at the beginning with Superman, but in medias res with Batman, various villains and Wonder Woman. It destroys Metropolis only to have it rebuilt one scene later. On top of this it keeps alluding to events which I guess happened in the comics, but mean nothing to general audience. I don’t get the impression that Warner Bros actually knows what “res” actually looks like. It is a very confusing hodgepodge of Superman being a revelation for the world, but somehow Batman was already catching villains for decades and there are other Meta-humans around but somehow in hiding, yet their rogues gallery is in prison – nothing fits together smoothly. It is like Warner Bros just assumes that the audience has read every comic which was ever popular and somehow magical knows which pieces of them are part of the DCEU canon and which aren’t.

The MCU solved the world building problem by basically taking our world and then carefully inserting heroes in our history. And it has found an easy solution how to insert heroes before Ironman into the timeline by just claiming that S.h.i.e.l.d. (and others) covered up a lot, and that, aside from Captain America, heroes or powered beings simply worked secret until the Battle of New York revealed their existence (and the existence of aliens) to the world.

This approach wouldn’t work for the DCTU because, as I pointed out above, most heroes operate in fictional cities. Which sounds like a drawback, but is actually a huge advantage. The DCTU needs something which will distinguish it from the MCU and the Fox movies and whoever else finds or invents a Superhero property to adapt. And the thing which sticks out the most is how the city tends to reflect the hero living in them. Or the hero reflects the city. This is especially true regarding Batman and Superman. Nothing expresses this as well as this image:

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The day and the night, the prosperity and the poverty, the art deco and the gothic. One thing which made especially the Burton movies and Batman TAS so appealing was the stylized setting. It is a concept so simple that before the DCEU, it was kind of a given. Even Gotham (the TV show) has a distinctive style and a sense of place. The CW show do the same light vs dark contrast with their take on Central vs Star(ling) City. But in Batman vs Superman there is no obvious difference between Metropolis and Gotham. Most of the time I am not even sure in which part of the city the movie is set.

Focussing on the place has also the advantage that the viewer will actually care if a particular landmark or city block gets destroyed. And it solves a lot of problems, too, because it gives the writers the freedom to write the rules themselves. Who cares if nowadays newspapers are struggling to keep their readership? If the writers decide that the Daily Planet is still the top authority in investigative journalism, than this is the reality of Metropolis. Who cares that the whole concept of Arcum Asylum is kind of silly? In Gotham city it can exist and maybe even function as an exploration of the concept of cities in which the majority of the population is working for the prison system. And that is just Gotham and Metropolis. There is so much a creative mind could do with the various fictional DC locations. Central City for example could be some sort of silicon valley for science, contrasting sharply with the close-bye and distinctively blue collar Keystone city in which what is thought up in Central City is built. Because in the DCTU America still has a strong production base. And Star City could really lean into its status as a port city, where the yachts of the rich are replacing the quaint fisher boats.

But world building is about more than just locations. So the next step which needs to be done for my DCTU to work is:

Step 3: Figure out the timeline

I am not talking about a timeline in the sense of putting definite dates on what is shown on screen. I am talking about the need to actually have an idea at which point in their life your characters are. See, the idea of starting in medias res with Batman was a sound one. Batman has been on screen so many times, nobody needs or wants an origin movie about him. But why starting the universe with him at the very end of his career as a crime fighter while Superman just arrived? That is a puzzling decision, especially when one thinks long-term. It blocks the writers from exploring a number of potential angles regarding Batman and his supporting cast by suggesting that the majority of them are already dead or gone.

I would pick a starting point along the line of: Those heroes have been active for a while already and are established enough that the world has gotten used to their presence. But they haven’t meet each other yet, nor is their support network of allies complete. Basically, no need to do another origin story (most of the DC ones are pretty boring or convoluted anyway), but still enough options to develop a character in one direction or another.

This doesn’t even have to be particularly precise. The MCU went for a tightly knit continuity, but there is no need for the DCTU to copy that method, nor would it make much sense. The cities are fictional anyway, so instead of confusing the audience with the question how this reality fits in our reality, let’s turn the DCTU in the best escapist fantasy possible! There should be a little bit more care put into how the movies relate to each other than Fox bothered to employ with their X-men franchise, but in principle, a looser connection would fit the usual modus operandi in Warner Bros. much better, because this would allow the writers and directors way more freedom. Though there is one important rule they should follow:

Step 4: Start small

It seems like Warner Bros. thinks that a comic book movies needs four things: A hero with some sort of issue to overcome, a flashy villain, an expendable love interest to rescue and a earth-destroying event. It is a template which has been used in countless Superhero movies, and Warner Bros. uses it in every single one of its DCEU movies! But it’s no longer the early 2000s, nowadays the audience expects a little bit more than that. And with more I don’t mean necessarily the flashy elements, I mean moments which draw them in on an emotional level. Ironman didn’t work so well because everyone wanted to see a bunch of metal suits crashing into each other – in fact I think that those kind of fight scenes tend to be the weakest moments in the franchise – it worked because the audience really felt for Tony Stark getting a wake up call and then struggling to make better decisions.

What Warner Bros really needs to understand that a bigger budget doesn’t necessarily make a more successful movie. Sometimes it is necessary – for example if you have to pay a number of highly prolific actors so that they will all appear in the big event movie you plan as finale for a ten-year long saga – but the budget should serve the story instead of the other way around. Plus, if you start your universe with a world destroying event, there is no room for escalation. Which brings me to

Step 5: Move slowly and earn your moments

I have alluded to this multiple times already, but one of the biggest problem with the DCEU is that it feels so rushed. And I get it, Warner Bros. has to keep the shareholders happy, so they need their big success immediately. At the same time there is this fear that Superhero movies will go out of fashion soon. God knows that there are more than enough articles about “Superhero fatigue” and Superhero movies going the way of the Western.

But all of this doesn’t change the fact that you need to earn the success Marvel had with their movies. I am well aware that a lot of the more popular and/or well known DC titles are either event comics or Elseworlds stories. Warner Bros. needs to accept that it shouldn’t do either before establishing a proper baseline for its universe.

In addition, while Marvel had great results with reinterpretations of well-known comic book titles and storylines, some of it biggest successes had no direct comic book counterpart. Guardians of the Galaxy for example is basically a complete rewrite of the original comic books (which used to be very obscure), and if there has been ever a Spider-man comic called Homecoming, this is not a title which is particularly well-known. Even Disney had great success with Big Hero 6, not that the movie bore a lot of resemblance to the comics, which next to nobody read anyway.

The truth is that while it is always a good thing to get the actual comic book fans excited for a movie, the general audience doesn’t care one bit if the costume in the trailer looks exactly like something out of a specific comic book. It is also unlikely to recognize specific title or having knowledge what those titles are about. The general audience only cares about two things: Marketing and Word of Mouth. The marketing is needed to create a basic interest in the movie, the word of mouth convinces people to actually spend the money.

And yes, it is possible that the interest in Superhero movies will eventually fade. But it is on the studios to keep the genre fresh, and so far Warner Bros. is the only studio which hasn’t quite grasped the concept yet. Well, them and maybe Sony, but the judgement is still out on that one.

Step 6: Copy Marvel’s genre approach

Honestly, even Fox has caught on by now. The Superhero genre is incredible versatile. Romance, horror, detective story, everything is possible, there is no need to follow the same patterns again and again and again. Just look at the most successful Comic book movies of the last years: The Winter Soldier is a political thriller, Guardians of the Galaxy is a Space Opera, Civil War is a Revenge Play and Fox managed to tap into this formula by turning Logan into a gritty western and Deadpool into a raunchy romantic comedy. No, I am not kidding, Deadpool has a very basic rom-com plot mixed with Superhero elements and a lot of self-awareness. Meanwhile the movies which follow a more basic hero plot, like X-Men: Apocalypse or Suicide Squad, they don’t really resonate with the audience anymore – if they ever did in the first place.

Marvel has raised the standards of what a Superhero movie has to deliver considerably. But Marvel and Fox have also broadened the definition of what such a movie can look like. The opportunities are countless. What Warner Bros. shouldn’t do, though, is chasing the latest trend.

Step 7: Figure out the draw of the property

One of the biggest problem with the recent DC movies is how they tried to force concept which worked elsewhere on properties which aren’t meant for this kind of story. Granted, that Batman vs. Superman hit plot points which were similar to Civil War, that one was mostly incidental considering that both movies were in production around the same time. But, as I already pointed out, Man of Steel basically used the Nolan approach which worked so well with Batman, even though the main draw of Superman is how different he is from Batman. Green Lantern was a thinly veiled attempt to do a version of Ironman, complete with an irresponsible main character and Amanda Waller taking the role of Nick Fury, even though the property lends itself way more to a crazy space adventure. You know, the kind of movie Marvel did successfully a few years later with Guardians of the Galaxy, so successful that Warner Bros. decided to model Suicide Squad after it, even though Suicide Squad should have been a gritty heist movie. Even Wonder Woman is at its weakest whenever elements of Captain America: The First Avenger creep into it. Hold your horses, I am not saying that Wonder Woman is a copy of Captain America: The First Avenger. But Steve Trevor’s multinational team (which is, as far as I know, not from the comics) is suspiciously similar to the Howling Commandos, and Steve Trevor’s sacrifice is way, way too similar to Steve Roger’s sacrifice.

See, this is why Marvel is winning. For all the claims that the “play it safe”, they are not afraid to shake things up and allow comic book properties to be something different. They are not afraid to go out in space (at least not anymore…The Dark World is another movie which was tied back to earth for no reason at all) or the mystical world and they are not afraid to do a smaller story which doesn’t involve the fate of the whole world in the climax. Warner Bros keeps chasing after the latest trend, no matter if it actually fits the property they are dealing with, and more often then not they change the direction of the movie mid-production.

What they should do instead is trying to figure out why a particular comic book property resonated. With some of them, this isn’t really that difficult. Ask a random comic book fan what Superman stands for and the answer will most likely be “Hope”. Ask what Wonder Woman stand for and the answer will be either “Truth” or “Peace”. Ask what Batman stands for and the answer will be “Justice”. And everyone who ever bothered to look up Green Lantern knows that the green stands for will as opposed to fear (yellow), rage (red), greed (orange), death (black), live (white), hope (blue), compassion (purple) and love (pink).

Not every hero is helpfully labelled or colour coded, but one really doesn’t need to be a genius to recognize that a Suicide Squad story should be about a gritty wet work suicide mission, and not about a bunch of villains suddenly becoming anti-heroes and rescuing the world from a beam into the sky. One also doesn’t need to be a genius to recognize that beams into the sky as well as evil clouds should be avoided at all cost unless one has a really, really good idea how to utilize them.

Secret identities on the other hand is something most DC heroes should have. Marvel doing away with them was a great idea because for most of them, they were a useless element anyway. But even Marvel allowed Daredevil and Spider-man to keep on their masks, because in their case the secret identity isn’t optional but an important part of their stories. DC heroes tend to be vigilantes, therefore they need their masks, and they should reveal themselves to pretty much every person they know. In fact, the love triangle between Lois, Superman and Clark is one of the most essential themes in the Comic book.

Speaking of which: Nobody really cares why nobody recognizes Superman once he wears a pair of glasses. Yes, there have been jokes about this since pretty much forever, but Christopher Reeves managed to make the notion believable simply by hunching and adjusting the mannerism of Clark Kent. I am sure about this because nobody but me ever seems to wonder how it can be that in Disney’s Aladdin every character is apparently face-blind, because none of them is able to recognize Aladdin just because he changed his clothes. As long as the story enthrals the audience, it doesn’t really matter that a pair of glasses are a very basic disguise. Likewise nobody cares about Batman’s voice either. If anything, the Batman voice should be naturally threatening while Bruce Wayne should sound different simply by being more mild-mannered and speaking less forceful.

But I digress. The point is that while the group of actual comic book readers within the audience is pretty small, they are still serving as a great test group. A concept which resonated with them will most likely resonate on a larger scale, too. The actual difficulty is to figure out what part of the concept resonated. In the case of Superman, it was certainly not the costume or the quality of his disguise, but the notion of someone standing up for ideals and being powerful enough to enforce them.

Step 8: Focus on the villain

While I do think that Marvel’s so called villain problem is grossly overstated, there is no denying that DC has a huge advantage in this regard. Marvel’s most prolific villains are owned by Sony or Fox, while Warner Bros. has full access to all Batman villains, all Flash villains and all Superman villains.

Plus, on a more practical level, if you have a hero who has only limited room for character development, the most obvious solution for that problem is to create a flashy villain. Disney used to do this all the time and one can’t argue with the results. Consider this: What were the best episodes of Batman TAS actually about? Most of them were about the villains. Why do people like The Dark Knight so much? Certainly not because of Batman’s gravely voice but because of Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker.

One of the most frustrating aspects about the DCEU is how shockingly bad the villains have been so far. I am pretty dispassionate when it comes to Lex Luther’s general mannerism or motivations, but there is no excuse whatsoever for him to be stupid enough to follow through with a plan which will result in him ending up either dead or in prison for sure. I admit, I have no idea what Comic book Ares is like, but if there is anything Xena has proven than how engaging the notion of a Being thriving on human unrest can be, plus, everything would have been better than a giant CGI something with a moustache. Suicide Squad has the first depiction of the Joker ever which didn’t resonate with the fans at all, and the less said about Enchantress “hypnotic” dance the better. Zod comes the closest to being a kind of interesting villain except that his motivation for acting the way he does – having been genetically designed that way – isn’t really explained until the very end of the movie, plus, it makes less sense the more you think about the notion.

Granted, a number of the villains in DC’s rogues gallery should be put on the backburner for now. I think the audience really needs a break from the Joker and without him, ushering in a new version of Harley Quinn wouldn’t really work either. There have been already two versions of Two-Face, one of them in the widely acclaimed The Dark Knight, so this is another villain which should be used further down the line. But I do think that the Riddler, Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze all deserve redemption for their depiction in the Schumacher movies and while Batman Begins is a more acclaimed movie, I don’t think that anyone would mind a version of the Ra’s a Ghul or Scarcrow which is less grounded. Or of a the Penguin who doesn’t randomly bites off noses.

There are some other Batman villains which might be worth exploring, but have never graced the big screen. Hush for example is especially interesting, because he is not just an enemy of Batman, but also insanely jealous of Bruce Wayne. Warner Bros. would also have free run (pun intended) of the Flash’s rogue gallery. Yes, most of them have turned up in CW’s The Flash, but, to be frank, the main reason why the various Superhero shows on CW are still on air is because CW is satisfied with way lower ratings than the bigger networks like ABC or CBS expect. Meaning the exposure to the general audience is not as high as some might believe. For the same reason Deathstroke and Sinestro are certainly still an option for a fresh take.

The only property where the villain question is kind of problematic is Superman. Oh, there are quite a few Superman villains which never made it to the big screen, like Brainiac, Bizarro or Vandal Savage. But Metropolis without Lex Luther that just feels wrong on so many levels. But then, the last iteration of him was so terrible, I have the feeling that the fans wouldn’t complain to finally see a take which is closer to the animated version of the character, just to get rid of the lingering bad taste.

All this said, step 7 isn’t really a hard rule, while it is certainly worth remembering that Villains are one of DC’s strength, there are storylines in which the villain should be a background element. Which brings me to what might be the most important element.

Step 9: Pick talented writers

As much credit as directors tend to get for their work, I am convinced that the foundation for a good movie is a solid screenplay. It is not a guarantee for success, because a bad director is perfectly able to ruin a great script, but I can’t think of any movie in which a terrible script was somehow turned into a great movie. And no, Ironman doesn’t count, that was a case of shooting with no fixed script at all, which can work out if the people on set are flexible and creative enough.

Anyway, one should keep in mind that one of the reasons why the Captain America franchise feels way more like a coherent story-arc than the other MCU franchises do is that all three movies have been written by the same writing team (and I certainly look forward to what they will come up with in Infinity war). Case to point between all the DCEU movies so far, there is exactly one in which Goyer wasn’t involved in, which wasn’t written in less than a month or penned by two writers with completely opposite styles, and that is Wonder Woman. That screenplay was written by Allan Heinberg, who also happens to be a comic book writer. Gosh, who would have expected that an actual comic book writer would have an understanding for comic book characters?

I am not quite sure how Marvel picks their writers – apparently they are actively developing new talents – but it works. Well, most of the time. I don’t know what they were thinking when they hired the writers for Doctor Strange. Their record wasn’t exactly stellar.

Anyway, even though Warner Bros. is a director driven studio, they should be aware of the importance of writers and allow them the necessary time to develop a solid script.

Step 10: Change the narrative

And this time I am not talking about the actual plot of the movies, but about the bad press which is surrounding them. And the only way to do this is to hold of any announcements as long as possible and to divorce itself from the DCEU as fast as soon as Aquaman had its run (Wonder Woman 2 will draw the audience in even if it is officially the last outing of the character). I know that a lot of people won’t be happy about the notion. But there is no way that Warner Bros. can satisfy both the “grim and gritty” fans who will defend the DCEU to their last breath as well as those, who desperately want a new direction. Even more important, the general audience will shy away from the DCEU, due to its terrible reputation.

At this point, Warner Bros. needs to show that it has learned its lesson. And that will only work by releasing a few high quality movies which can be marketed as stand alone projects in every sense of the word. None of the Snyder style, none of the grey colours, just a fun looking Superhero movie.


Well, so far, so good. But naturally this is just a very basic concept, and I am certainly not so arrogant to think that this the one and only solution for Warner Bros. If for no other reason that even the best concept can fail if it isn’t realized with good scripts, the right directors and the fitting actors. Still, to end this article, here some thoughts about which movie Warner Bros. is already considering would be a good fit for the reboot as well as a couple of very vague ideas which might work for the DCTU.

Of all the movies Warner Bros. has currently in planning stages, Shazam and the Green Lantern Corps are the only ones I would keep on the slate. Granted, I am not so sure about what I have heard about Shazam so far, but as a comic book property, it is in a lot of ways perfect for a restart. The notion of a child being able to turn into an adult hero hasn’t been explored in any movie so far, Black Adam is certainly one of the better DC villains (that doesn’t mean that a movie just about him would be a good idea, though) and Fawcett City might not be the worst place to start some world building.

It might be a little bit early to revisit Green Lantern, but then if they start proper pre-production now it will be almost ten years since the last movie, and just keeping it in Space would allow some colourful trailers. Just, please, remove Goyer from the project! Please! His track record for writing Superhero movies is frankly terrible.

But what then? What is the right approach to re-establish Gotham and Metropolis and to create Central City and Star City for the first time on the big screen?

I would start with Gotham. And yes, I am aware that I complained at length about Warner Bros. relying way too much on Batman, but there is one element which has never been properly explored on the big screen, and which would be a perfect draw for the audience: The Bat Family! After all this years the only movies which even tried were the Schumacher ones, and they had zero understanding for why it is interesting to sadly a loner like Batman with a supporting cast.

So let’s start with Robin. I know that some people think that Robin can’t work on the big screen because Batman would look irresponsible if he would allow a child to fight violent criminals. It is a reasonable argument – as a general rule, animation has an easier time to get away with stuff like this – but I still think that this is just a question of the right approach.

First of all, there is no need to make Robin an outright child, just cast an actor who is around 14 (or can pass as being that age). That is just old enough that he has a certain degree of agency, but young enough that he still needs guidance. And I would make the movie about the events surrounding Dick Grayson loosing his parents.

Yes, I am aware that this story has been done multiple times in animation already and once on the big screen. But I don’t think that any of those adaptations have ever taken proper advantage of the notion. Think about it, a boy who grew up in the circus suddenly trapped with a millionaire he barely knows in some giant mansion. The whole movie could be told from his perspective, meaning that the audience would get to know Bruce Wayne and Gotham through the eyes of Dick (or Rich, if the writers are too worried about the immaturity of the audience). The story could focus on him trying to find the murderer of his parents (it was naturally Zucco, but it turns out that he was working for the Penguin), clashing into Batman during his investigation, eventually figuring out that the kind of closed off millionaire he has just started to trust actually is Batman, and eventually convincing Batman that it is better if he allows him to accompany him than risking him to run into danger on his own. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Robin has to be in the thick of things btw. After all, the main reason why Robin was invented for the Comics was that Batman needed someone to talk to, so Robin can just as easily be on look out for Batman instead of personally hitting criminals. At least not until he is older.

There are a number of storylines and conflicts related to Robin and the Bat Family which could be explored. The audience already knows the brooding Batman. But what about a Batman who initially gets used to having Robin around but then had a wake-up call when Robin nearly gets killed on one mission and he has to realize that the villains he has to deal with have become steadily more and more crazy and dangerous? What about a Batman who is suddenly confronted with a second crime-fighter donning a costume very similar to his? What about the whole Court of Owls story-arc? There is so much which has never been explored on film simply because the various directors weren’t really interesting in Batman’s non-romantic relationships and saw Robin at best as an opportunity to sell more toys. Delving into this part of the lore might bring a number of fans back on board, especially casual fans who know Robin mostly from his Teen Titans career.

The same way the Batman movies have never shown much interest in Batman’s supporting cast or detective skills, the Superman movies have always treated the Daily Planet as some sort of backdrop for Clark to hang around waiting for the next catastrophe to happen. Why not start at a point at which Lois Lane is still relatively new reporter, looking for her big break, who sees Clark Kent initially as an annoying rival for the job she seeks? One could build a whole storyline around Lois going undercover to reveal some big scheme while Clark, being aware of the risk she takes, keeps an ear out on her, but eventually doesn’t have to rescue her (for a change), but the people who are in danger because of the scheme. While he is busy, Lois manages to secure proof for the scheme, but since everyone is more interested in the heroics of Superman, Clark and Jimmy Olson are initially getting all the credit for the story. In order to make up for this injustice, Superman offers to give his first press conference ever during which he reveals that he would have never been there on time if not for Lois Lane making him aware of what was going on. And yes, I know, all this sounds like a very simple story and I am sure that the writers would need to embellish this with excuses for additional action scenes, but this way Lois has a reason to be in love with Superman aside from him being so powerful, and he has a reason to feel resentful towards Clark without her looking like a bully. And it would be a good way to cover a lot of Metropolis without destroying buildings left and right. Later instalments could focus on Superman’s status as alien and last of his kind (at least until Supergirl turns up) and him trying to find something to pin on Lex Luther (once he figures out his true nature).

Central City would naturally be introduced with a Flash story. I freely admit that I have no concrete idea for that one,  but just like I would lean onto Batman’s detective skills and Clark being a reporter, I would use the fact that Barry Allen is a forensic scientist. After all, the Flash doesn’t have superhearing, in order to be at the right place he still needs to figure out where the big crime will go down, no matter how fast he is.

And yes, establishing Star City would require the introduction of the Green Arrow, but why not? Even starting with the whole story about him coming back after having been marooned on an island might be a good idea. Yes, the CW show already did that, but I think another take on the same story with a Green Arrow who is less Batman like and more the modern Robin Hood and liberal crusader might be worth it.  Another option would be a movie exploring the Clock King, whose backstory isn’t just truly tragic, but might resonate with an American audience considering how much of a topic health care currently is, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

I even have an idea for a team up movie down the line. Forget the “a world ending danger brings everyone together” storyline. Why not built on the notion of a competition between various powered heroes instead, which serves as a backdrop for a larger plan. See, the whole “who will win in a fight” discussions fans like to have, they are actually not that interesting because the answer to it is obvious: Whoever the writer wants to win. A more interesting question is: Under which circumstances would which hero have an advantage. I can actually imagine a story about a charity event which involves Superman, The Flash and Wonder Woman having to race each other through some sort of obstacle course, with Bruce Wayne and Oliver Queen both being sponsors of the event, which is naturally organized by Lex Luther who wants to figure out the weaknesses of the various heroes and if one of them can challenge Superman. Naturally there is an even larger plan by another villain in play, which leads to the racer having to work together to survive while Batman and Green Arrow figure out and take down the culprit.


But I think it is time to finish this. After all, what started out as some quick thoughts about the predictable downfall of the DCEU ended up in an article with close to 10,000 words. Currently Warner Bros. seems to lean towards blaming Snyder, but, for the record, as much as I dislike the decisions he made for DCEU, it was Warner Bros. who put him in charge, it was Warner Bros. who wanted to rush in the universe and it was Warner Bros. who was overly confident in the draw of the characters they own. Consequently it is Warner Bros. who needs to do better and not Zack Snyder – not that I would want him anywhere near more comic book properties unless they happen to fit his very specific aesthetic. But it is Warner Bros. who needs to rethink its approach, and I really, really hope that this will happen and the executives draw the right conclusion for a change. Because I truly want them to succeed – if they actually put the necessary work in it.

 

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Batman V Superman under watch

I don’t like Man of Steel. I could launch into a long explanation why, but it basically boils down to me not liking Snyder’s work as a director. He is all about visuals, and while I enjoy something impressive to look at, I still need a cohesive story to enjoy a movie – unless it is something along the line of Fantasia or Yellow Submarine. I couldn’t relate to the characters in Man of Steel and since Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was mostly made by the same team, my hopes that I would like the result were not that high. I thought the trailers looked bad (safe for the scene with Affleck watching the buildings crumble) and already spoiled most of the movie. But I honestly didn’t expect that the reaction to the movie would be that negative.

Anyway, I didn’t watch it in theatres. Call me a sheep for listening to critics, but I would rather take the opinions of people with knowledge into consideration than watching a film simply because it is sold as an “event movie”. I also didn’t bother to try keeping away from spoilers. I knew that it wouldn’t be possible to keep myself in the dark until the movie is available anyway.

So, now I do have the opportunity to watch the movie and considering that a lot of people claim that this is for comic book movies, I will do the following: During this first watch I will pause the movie and jot down notes roughly every ten minutes. Then I will watch it again for an overall impression. And then I will watch the uncut version. Let’s see how this movie holds up, and how it relates to the stuff I already heard about it.

9:46

This was both better and worse than I expected. Better because some reviewers said that the dying scene of Bruce parents is incredible stupid staged. I don’t think that it is. It works fine (aside from the fact that real pearls are not connected on a string and would therefore never fall apart like that, but that’s really a nitpick). But what is the deal with young Bruce floating in the bats? They could get away with it if they cut after this to Bruce waking from a nightmare, but they go to what happened in Metropolis. Which, imho, should have been how they started the movie, with the first time Batman saw Superman, to set the tone of this movie. By starting with Batman, they made it from the get go a Barman movie in which Superman happened to be in it. I already know that the scene with the parents dying will become important later on, but this could certainly have been put as a dream sequence of flashback later on in the movie (preferable parallel to a defining moment Clark remembers from his childhood, to show the differences between the two characters). The scene in Metropolis itself, well, I still liked the bits and pieces we saw in the trailer, but more or less everything else is so much worse than I imagined. So the employees of Wayne industries are too stupid to leave the building when the world is falling apart around them? I also can’t get behind Bruce driving like a maniac through the city, it is a wonder that he didn’t kill any of the people trying to flee from the destruction.

15:10

Oooookay, the ten minutes are not over yet, but let the record show that I am confused. Why are we suddenly 18 months later? Why is this alien stuff somewhere in the ocean and not recovered by some government or Superman himself? Who is this guy looking happy because of the green stuff? Is this supposed to be Kryptonite? If yes, how does this guy know that it is important? And what is the deal with Lois and the terrorist? First the CIA is involved, and then suddenly another group starts to shoot, and the Superman rescues Lois and apparently something went really wrong because some sort of committee holds him responsible for…whatever. We are barely 15 minutes into this movie and I already feel totally lost. It’s like I have seen pieces of at least five different movies so far.

20:45

The movie looses points for unnecessary nudity. Otherwise…I think I might have liked the discussion between Lois and Clark if I had known what the f… happened in Africa. And why do we keep discussing an event we didn’t even see but during which apparently a few people died through unintended consequences and not the big event we actually did see during which countless people died because Superman was carelessly crushing into buildings? Also, the editing in this movie is awful! The cut to Batman being a vigilante which is so brutal that even the victims he rescues are terrified of him came out of nowhere.

25:32

Hallelujah, two cuts in a row which made sense. But you know what would have made even more sense? If Clark watching the news about the Batman would transition into a proper scene instead of just a moment of him seeing that Batman exists (because apparently that is news to him after all this years? I don’t get it). After all those self-important dialogues between Bruce and Alfred, it would have made sense to contrast Clark’s point of view immediately after. This would have  been the right place for the “I don’t care about the effect of my actions as long as you are safe” talk.
Also we get our first scene with Lex Luther. I am not sure if we actually get his motivation in this scene, but the argument that humans should be prepared just in case that the “gods among us” act out is actually a good one (especially since it is basically Batman’s reasoning). It become apparent though that the scene with the kryptonite earlier was pointless. Back then it didn’t have any meaning (even less if you are not comic book nerd enough to know that green stuff in a superman movie usually means kryptonite), and we get the important explanations now. But why does Lex need an import licence? Nobody knows what this stuff is, so shouldn’t he be able to import it as much as he wants? And what is the Metahuman thesis?

27:45

Okay, I have to pause again…what was this with the wall of crazy? Whose work was this? Also, what is the deal with the Daily Planet? You don’t just give one reporter “sports” for a day, journalists are usually specialized on specific topics they have a broad background knowledge about. I also don’t see how some graffiti on a statue (really, that was the priority of the city after all the destruction?) is a bigger end of the “love affair” with Superman than him actually being accused by a committee of being responsible for countless deaths.

29:55

I now understand what some critics meant by the overblown soundtrack. The score when Lex walks to the alien ship (without safety suit for some reason) is positive obnoxious, which becomes even more evident since it is multiple times interrupted to show the talk with the white-haired guy – whoever that is. Why do we need to see this? Why can’t we simply shown that Lex has access to the stuff and be done with it? Why is it so important who gave him access?

33:13

Can this movie stick with one story-arc for more than a minute? It has been barely more than 4 minutes and in this time we saw Bruce conducting his terrorist investigation (I don’t care about), Clark acting like a douche by telling Perry White what the paper he is working for a just a little bit more than a year is standing for as well as Lois’ bullet investigation (I also don’t care about) and finally the import discussion between Lex and the Senator (which is equally boring). Can we perhaps go back to either Batman v Superman or the question of accountability for Superman? Please?

47:33

Thank god there is actually something like coherent storytelling for a few minutes. More or less. The cuts make sense for a change and the movie stops jumping around like a bunny on a sugar rush for at least a few minutes during the party. But next to nothing in this works. If Wayne Manor is destroyed, where is Bruce actually living? Does Lex know who Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne are in their spare time? It seems that way. And why Clark attacking a random millionaire whose name he didn’t even know a few minutes earlier (worst reporter ever) over batman? I am also not into the montage which follows. It looks beautiful, but the idea of a family which is about to drown taking the time to write the superman symbol on their roof and he is hovering dramatically over them instead of starting to rescue all those people before it is too late ruins it for me. It’s just…so stupid. Beautiful, but stupid. (and yes, I am aware of the underlying symbolism…I like the Jesus imaginary even less here than I did in Man of Steel. And there I already felt that it was too on the nose).

51:35

I feel lost again. I guess that Lex would use leg-less guy to make trouble for Superman makes sense, but what is this whole thing about mysterious woman (well, Wonder Woman I guess, but that hasn’t been revealed yet) stealing the hard-drive just to give it immediately back? That is kind of a pointless detour, isn’t it?

56:00

WTF was that? I mean I dislike dream sequences on principle, but this was one of the most confusing things I have ever seen. The Mad Max part apparently only exists because someone realized that it has been already too long since the last action beat, but what really threw me off is the moment in the end. Who is this guy screaming at Bruce? Is that the Flash cameo everyone is talking about? But Bruce doesn’t know the Flash yet, does he? So how can he dream about him? Or alternative futures? I don’t get it.

59:13

Finally the whole things with Bruce’s investigation makes sense. But the editing has gotten even worse. What is the point of Perry asking where Clark is (and why he hasn’t fired him yet is beyond me, it is one thing to insist on a story but another thing not to do the work which was assigned to you), only to cut then to Lois who is apparently working on uncovering what the audience already knows, that there is a weapon which would hurt Superman.

1:04:30

Oh, great the movie has finally remembered that it is called Batman v Superman, and not Lex Luther v the Senator or Lois Lane, investigative reporter. Took only one freaking hour! And now we got a confrontation with next to no built-up. It is odd, I have at this point a pretty good idea what the public thinks about Superman, but not why he is so obsessed with Batman’s action. On the other hand I have no idea what the public thinks about Batman, but I know exactly why he is so obsessed over Superman.

1:13:32

I know I repeat myself, but I don’t get it. How could anyone know that Superman would come to rescue Lois? Did leg-less guy send the messages, or did Lex ensure that he never got his money and send those himself? What is the point of those messages anyway? And how does one conclude from a jar of piss that something terrible might happen in the next moments? But you know what, the biggest problem I have in all this is that Superman finally had the chance to declare himself – and the movie didn’t let him. What a waste! And what was the point of the whole Committee story then if it leads to nowhere? I mean we already have what happened in Metropolis to make humanity angry with Superman. Than we have this mysterious Africa incident. But no, we need to set-up a third incident to justify…whatever. Can’t we just get to the fight? Please?

1:21:04

So…I guess Batman stole the Kryptonite off-screen? And Superman now believes that he can’t be a hero because he didn’t notice the bomb? I think this was the gist of his speech, but I am not sure if I follow the logic there. The training montage is useless filler which could have worked if parallel to it we would have seen Superman preparing himself for his battle with Batman but, well, at this point Superman doesn’t even worry about Batman any longer, does he? And what is Lex doing now? Making strange experiences? Why? I thought his plan was to pit Batman against Superman in the hope that Batman is somehow strong enough to destroy him? Wouldn’t it have been way easier to plant a kryptonite bomb instead of a regular one?

1:25:53

I really hate to interrupt again, but the movie is jumping around yet again. So apparently he population is totally okay with Superman destroying a city by fighting people from his planet, but when a bomb goes off beside him he is somehow responsible, even though everyone thinks that wheelchair guy did it? On the upside, the movie finally does what it should have done all along, parallel Superman and Batman to each other by showing both of them having a talk with their father figure (at this point I don’t even worry why Superman sees dead people…I just roll with it). I guess Superman was raised by farmers and Batman by hunters? This is a thought which is certainly worth exploring. Too bad that nothing in the movie beforehand built up this distinction between the characters, and muddles it by throwing in some strange story which seems to boil down to “if someone dies because of Superman’s actions it is never his fault”.  And why we go from that to Superman’s mother getting kidnapped, I have no idea.

1:33:44

I just realized that Lex knows more than he should. Not only did he apparently know the true identities of Batman and Superman all along, he also knew that it was time to kidnap Martha before the bat signal turned up in the sky. And he somehow knows that Superman will be there to rescue Lois no matter where she is, but is unable to realize that his mother is in danger.

1:37:37

Okay, those are the infamous Justice League tie-ins. And let me tell you: Nothing about this works. For one, the nature of the scene. Having a character look at footage is the laziest thing I have ever seen. Two, the placement. It’s like those TV shows when the big fight starts, but no, we go on an advertising break first. It’s ruining all the tension. And three, the snippets itself might make sense for the comic book fans, but for the general audience? I was barely able to piece together what the first two are about, but the third one, which I guess is about Cyborg, means nothing to me. And if I didn’t know that a Cyborg movie is scheduled, it would mean even less. Because I know nothing about this character, I had never heard that he even existed before DC made their announcements. So, after this useless detour, can we finally go to the fight? Which will be pretty one-sided if Superman only wants to ask for help, because…Batman is somehow better suited to find Martha?

1:54:07

Is it just me or is the fight somewhat disappointing? I am not sure what I expected, but certainly not Batman dicking around the whole time, throwing literally a kitchen sink at Superman, instead of simply grabbing the spear and doing what he came to do.
The solution of the fight has already become a meme. I think I am not quite as down on the idea in itself as everyone else seems to be. Granted, it is strange that Superman would call his mother “Martha” instead of “mom” but let’s imagine that the scene was set up in a way that it looks more similar to the scenes of the murder of Bruce’s parents. Than the use of the world “Martha” might cause him flashing back to the moment and realizing that he now has taken the position of their killer in the scenario. But the way it actually is set-up, it’s really very stupid.
Batman freeing Martha (and I am still not sure why Batman and Superman don’t work together on this one. It would be a great bonding exercise), looks somewhat cool. Over-the-top violent but it is at least a better action scene than the title fight.

2:03:30

I liked the fight in space. I would have loved to see more of this. I am not sure, though, what to think about humanity literally nuking their messiah-figure. Also, this should be a very emotional moment, having to make a decision like this. But no one in this control room actually knows Superman and last time I checked the world was on a “we hate Superman”-trip.

2:09:02

Wait a minute…how do Batman and Lois both know that they would need the spear? Neither of them were present when Superman discovered what Lex had done. And even if I assume that they have both incredible good deduction abilities, how does Superman know that Lois threw the spear into the water for no reason?
Speaking of the spear, wouldn’t it have been a better plan for Batman to leave the monster on the thankfully abandoned island and fetch the spear instead of leading it closer to the city? I question his strategy there.
And speaking of strategy, shouldn’t Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman agree on one? They are standing together, but they aren’t really fighting together. They just happen to fight the same monster at the same time.

2:14:35

I think I would have loved those scenes, if they were part of another movie. One in which Superman is such a compelling character that I actually care if he dies or not. But Wonder Woman, Batman and Lois standing around Superman’s fallen body, this is some really beautiful imaginary (lifted from religious paintings, but in this case, I can ignore this fact).

2:23:40

And they ruined it by cutting from a perfectly staged scene to Lex getting his head shaved. Who the f.. cares? Why not go directly to the two funerals. Which, at the very least, work for me in a sense that they pay tribute to Superman’s dual existence – only that we never really saw him being either Clark Kent or Superman all that much and let’s be honest here, Perry White just lost the worst reporter he ever had on payroll.
Also, Batman waxing poetically about how he failed him feels false considering that he is talking about a guy he hated for nearly two years to a woman who never even talked to him.
And finally, what is the whole scene in prison about? Is that another dream? Is everyone in this movie a pre-cog? I just don’t get it.

 


 

Honestly, this was exhausting. But I am glad that I decided to watch the movie piece by piece, because I have the feeling that without pausing in-between in order to put the puzzle pieces  together, I would have been even more lost than I already was. Also, it was a good thing that I spoiled myself, because I don’t think that I would have recognized the Flash otherwise.

I originally wanted to watch the movie without interruptions immediately after, but I think it is better to let this sink in and rewatch the movie tomorrow, with a clear mind. Supposedly it is better the second time around.

 


 

So, I rewatched it. It is better? Well, kind of. It is less confusing if you actually know what is going on, that Lex knows the whole time who Batman and Superman really are, and the second time around I realized that Clark maybe heard Bruce talking with Alfred over the intercom during the party and confronted him because of that. But this is not a “I understand this movie now better because I see new connections” experience. It is a combination of not expecting the characters to behave in any logical manner and filling the gaps in the movie through a lot of research. I shouldn’t need to research anything to understand a movie. And if I had trouble with what the movie expected me to know, I honestly have no idea how someone who has no idea what “The Killing Joke” or “Under the Red Hood” is about is supposed to deal. Apparently the Chinese audience was confused about Wonder Woman, and I can certainly imagine this. If you don’t know about her, her whole subplot makes no sense whatsoever. I would have most likely thought initially that she is supposed to be cat woman.

But before I go into plot points, I want to discuss the technical side of the movie. The editing is atrocious. I can’t think of another movie which does such a bad job stringing scenes together. There are three aspects to it which combined make for a very unpleasant viewing experience: The lack of establishing shots, the length of the scenes and the sudden transition between them.

See, usually a movie is edited in a way that there is some kind of connection between the scenes. There are a lot of way to do this, but the most basic methods are either visual or verbal cues. For example, a character does an upward motion and then the next scene, even though it is set elsewhere, this motion is either continued or mirrored. There is nothing of this kind in this movie. It just jumps from one scene to the next and to add to the confusion, it sometimes gives verbal cues which makes you expect a cut to a certain character which then doesn’t turn up (the Perry White scene I mentioned is an example of that). Since there is neither a proper transition nor an establishing shot, I always needed a few seconds to figure out where the movie went and what is going on in the scene in question, but due to the scenes being so short, I got pulled out of the movie again just when I settled into a situation. One of the reasons why Batman works so much better than the other characters in the movie is because he gets more scenes which have a proper length (he also tends to get better dialogue in general). I think you could have done the movie a lot of good by simply rearranging some scenes. The scene with Wonder Woman looking at all those files should have been the end of the second act and not somewhere in the middle of the third, Lex Luther in prison shouldn’t cut into the funeral scenes, those scenes belong to the very end of the movie (or even better into a mid-credit scene).

Then there is the sound design. Now, I don’t have an issue with the score itself, but I hate the way it is used. In some scenes it is so overbearingly loud and obnoxious that it comes off more like a laughing track. Yes, a score should influence our emotions, but it shouldn’t practically scream at the audience “see how badass this character is! Be impressed!”. Especially not if said character is simply walking down a hallway!

And finally the action scenes. When they are good, they are really good, but at times they feel more like they were lifted from a computer game. I can’t exactly pin down why, but it makes it hard to be invested in them. And what is with all the lens flares during the chase scene? I was barely able to figure out what was happening on screen.

Well, I guess this is enough about the technical aspect (and really, those are film making 101 problems), let’s talk about structure and narrative. I am pretty much a “plot and character” kind of gal. That doesn’t mean that I nitpick every detail in a movie, there is always room for suspension of disbelief. But I need to like the people on screen, I need to know why they do what they do and the narration should work towards a specific point. This movie, though, has no less than five different story-lines which barely connects with each other.

Let’s take it from the top. There is Batman. And I certainly know why so many consider him the best part of the movie. Because he is the only one who has a storyline which actually has something to do with the advertised title fight. He has a reason to be angry with Superman, and most of his activities are about obtaining a weapon against him. There are only four issues with his storyline: For one it is never really addressed how the public sees him opposed to Superman, two, I am not sure if he was retired and now returned or had been around all the time but got harder all the time (in general the movie assumes that the audience will reach the right conclusions over his past just from a destroyed suit, but the only thing we have are fan theories) three, he is a hypocrite because he actually does exactly what he accuses Superman of and fourth his arc is unnecessarily complicated and isolated. Wouldn’t it have more sense if he had worked with Lex in order to find a weapon, instead of tracking the work of someone else? How did he even know that Lex had discovered said weapon?

Then there is Superman. Who is just there. I guess he has a hang-up about Batman’s brutality, but this is hard to buy when he himself is smashing humans through walls. Nothing about Superman really worked. I hate to rag on actors when they are trapped in such a clearly ill-advised movie, but Superman looks constantly constipated. He is a horrible reporter, a questionable saviour, but what it is even worse, none of the stuff which was set up in Man of Steel was picked up again in this movie. The killing of Zod isn’t even mentioned, the destruction of Metropolis serves as a motivator for Batman, but in order for the public to question Superman, the movie (or Lex) feels the need to set up not one but two unrelated incidents (because people totally care about the death of some terrorist on the other side of the world more than the fact that their city got destroyed in a 9/11 event). Shouldn’t it be the other way around, that Superman has to sway the opinion of those people who hold him responsible? But then it is perhaps a good thing that Snyder blew up congress before Superman could declare himself, because he apparently never understood why so many people had issues with the destruction in Man of Steel. It was never the fact that there was a perceived death toll, but that it felt like destruction for the sake of destruction, with no deeper meaning behind it, caused by a Superman who didn’t seem to care. I don’t need a “there are no people around” disclaimer, it is frankly insulting. What I needed was an exploration what the destruction of Metropolis meant for Superman. Even the one person who has a good reason to accuse Superman isn’t allowed to act in their own volition, but is manipulated by a villain. But you know what, Superman is a dick in this one. The only time he actually voices some sort of opinion is when he says that he doesn’t care how many people die as long as Lois is safe. He freaking should care!

Speaking of Lois, her arc is the most coherent one, but also the most useless one. Her motivations are clear, her actions make mostly sense, but what is the point in her looking into those bullets when what she discovers has no impact on the plot whatsoever? For all the screen-time she gets, the only time she is relevant is when Superman has to rescue her. Which he has to do no less than three times, the third time being a totally useless detour which does nothing but add running time to an already way too long movie. As a general rule, the movie treats female characters terrible. They are only there to look sexy, be in danger or getting killed off. Even Wonder Woman doesn’t escape unscathed.

Don’t get me wrong, there are moments in which I genuinely liked Wonder Wonder. I am one of those who doubted Gal Gadot’s casting, not because of some nonsense like her built, but because I wasn’t sure if she is a good enough actress to carry a movie and able to sell the confidence I expect of the character. Well, I am still not sure about her line-delivery, but in the battle scenes, she shined. And I don’t mean her looking impressive while holding a shield, this moment was actually very corny. No, I mean the way she smiles before attacking Doomsday even harder, and the moment at the very end, when she is standing beside Superman’s body and looks toward the sky. There is something about it which worked really well, even though I like Wonder Woman better as ambassador of peace than as warrior. But she somehow managed to sell her actions as “I enjoy this, but I don’t necessarily like it”, if that makes any sense. Thus said, her arc in the movie is terrible. She seems to be only there to set up the Justice League and nothing of this makes sense. If she wants the photo, she needs more than just a copy, she has to destroy every exemplar available of it. Why should she first steal the data from Batman and then give it back to him because she…couldn’t crack the encryption? Honestly, that’s just stupid.

But the actual main plot of the movie is neither of those arcs. At the end of the day this movie is not Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it is Lex v Holly Hunter: Dawn of Doomsday. There is way more time spend on Lex’s shenanigans than on anything else. I count no less that six different plots he has going on: He sets up Superman getting blamed for Africa, the bomb at the congress, is sending both Superman and Batman letters, imports the Kryptonite, kidnaps the people who are closest to Superman in order to force him to fight and is experimenting with alien technology. All this his needlessly complicated and his main opponent in all this is neither Batman or Superman, not even Lois Lane by investigating him, no, it is a random Senator who gets blown up halfway through the movie.

None of those arcs I just mentioned  work on their own all that way. But they also barely connect with each other. If we assume that Batman and Superman are the heroes of this piece (yeah, I have to assume this, I don’t think that this is obvious) and Lex is the villain, I would expect one of two things: Either that the heroes spend a lot of screen-time with each other, so that the movie can built up to the conflict between them escalating (or them teaming up, whatever the movie in question is going for), or that they spend a lot of screen-time with the villain, so that we can see two opponents seizing each other up. But instead those characters share exactly one scene before the third act, two if you count the brief encounter between Batman and Superman. That’s it. The first time you watch the movie, it is as if you are watching three different ones which got shoehorned together somehow (with some tie-ins for future movies thrown in). During the second watch you at least know that a lot of what happens is orchestrated by Lex somehow off-screen, but that makes the experience barely better.


 

So, I have discussed the technical aspects and the plot, but what is with the actual themes? After all, a movie so stuffed with Jesus references and quotes should have something to say, right? Well, not really. I think that Dawn of Justice tries to say something, but whatever it is, it gets lost because most of the references are just that, meaningless imaginary which don’t really figure into a large theme, and the little bit the movie has to offer in this direction is undercut by the movie itself.

One example: Lex “reasoning” for creating doomsday is that if man (meaning Batman) can’t win against god (meaning Superman), the devil has to do it. Well, for one this goes against something he says earlier about the devil coming from the sky, but the bigger problem in this is that the very first thing the movie does is lifting Batman into the air, making him more than man.

Another example: As I said, I am not as down on the Martha scene as other people are, but I don’t think it works. What I think the writers is going for is that Batman suddenly realizes that Superman has a human element to it, that he does have a family he cares about and that he himself shouldn’t be the judge, jury and executioner for someone else. This whole idea is undercut twice, first by Batman making a sarcastic remark about Superman’s parents before the word Martha is uttered and then by Batman going to safe Martha by acting as judge, jury and executioner for a bunch of people. I guess he has learned his lesson about killing just as well as Superman did when he killed Zod, meaning not at all.

If this movie has a theme at all, then that fascism is a great thing. Now, all Superhero stories have a fascist element to it. After all, they tend to be about people with special abilities who use the power they have in order to enforce their will on other people, and they do so outside of any written law, but following their own set of rules. This context is not escapable, and the only way to deal with it, is to question the actions of the hero once in a while. The Senator actually has a point that Superman flying around the world doing whatever he wants is a problem. But this is a point of view which gets literally blown up in the movie and is replaced by Pa Kent’s not so uplifting story about rescuing the own farm on the expense of another one. Sure, actions often have unintended consequences. But that doesn’t mean that one should dismiss said consequences. But that is exactly what the movie ask the audience to do. Dismiss this guy in the wheelchair. Dismiss the question what a Superhero should be allowed to get away with. Dismiss all those people Batman killed or endangered. All this isn’t important, as long we can watch a long, manly brawl.


 

You might have noticed that I didn’t really address the “should Batman kill” question so far aside from pointing out that him doing so by the end of the movie undercuts the arc he kind of is supposed to have. Because that isn’t really important. Now, if I would write those movies, neither Batman nor Superman would kill. Superman wouldn’t smash people through two walls, he would show his superiority by solving problems like this without hurting anyone. And Batman would be the last person I would pick to assemble the Justice League, because I consider him a loner who is not keen of working with anyone, unless it is an impressionable teenager he can form after his own ideals. But all this is not really important for the question if this is a good movie or not. It would be important if the question were if this is a good adaptation, but since everything about it already fails on the most basic level, it is not a question I even have to consider. But then, perhaps the extended cut improves on the movie.


Later:  Well, it does in some regards, but not in others. The editing is a little bit more fluid, which makes this way less of a headache to watch, and I actually like Clark a little bit more in this version because he has some scenes which explain why he is so zoomed in on Batman. Him staying after the explosion makes a big difference in how I see his character. It is also helpful to know that the wheelchair had lead in it, even though this is yet another instance of the movie assuming that the audience is aware of a Superman weakness which never got established in this particular movie-verse.

On the other hand, though, Lex schemes just multiplied, because he is apparently also paying people in prison to kill criminals with the bat brand, and he sets up the home of wheelchair guy to make him look more guilty (though why he should go through all this effort makes no sense to me, isn’t the idea to frame Superman?).

Also, this cut officially kills of Jimmy Olsen. Why? It is a pointless event which does nothing but prevent any other writer from ever using one of the most important characters of the Superman stories.

All in all the extended cut makes the movie more watchable, but that’s it. It is still a horrible movie. I might even go so far to say that this is the worst Superhero movie of all time along with last years Fantfourstic and Catwoman. Oh, there are a lot of other movies with a lower production value, worse acting and more problems overall. But you know what those movies didn’t do? They didn’t try to lie to the audience. They didn’t pretend to have anything to say just to waste the time of the viewer with meaningless references. They didn’t advertise for the sequel in the middle of the third act. They didn’t spend an insane amount of money conning the audience into the belief that they will see a big event movie. And they are bad on a very simple level. I can easily sum up the problems with those movies in a few sentences. With Dawn of Justice I just wrote a long article, and I haven’t even touched some of the aspects I hate about it, like the toxic masculinity it idealises or the way Snyder rips off the work of famous artists for his praised cinematography. Dawn of Justice got a lot of attention, but the only attention it deserves is imho as an example how not to construct a script and put together a movie.

The good news is that I haven’t quite given up on the DCEU yet. I still hope that I might at least get a decent Wonder Woman movie out of this, if nothing else. Those movies which have different screenwriters and directors than Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice might end up being worth the watch. Hopefully.