Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Batman V Superman V Captain America

For those of us who still haven't tired of watching superpowered (and not so superpowered, though Hawkeye has his uses) individuals boil down complex moral, social, and philosophical issues into basically a  case of who can punch harder, then the past decade or so has been a godsend. The future looks to be equally as fruitful, as heralded by the arrival of two trailers, one apiece for the upcoming Captain America: Civil War and Batman V Superman.

Ever since Iron Man blasted his way onto the silver screen all the way back in 2008, Marvel has slowly but surely been establishing its onscreen brand with a series of calculated moves like a well-played game of three-dimensional chess. Their path to cinematic superhero dominance is a carefully concocted sort of alchemy brewed by Marvel and Disney that involved slowly cultivating a cast of characters from over 75 years of source material, carefully and strategically translating it to the strange, new medium of motion pictures while developing a shared movie universe unlike anything that's come before. DC hired Christopher Nolan to make some Batman movies.

While it can't be denied that Nolan produced not just some pretty damn fine Batman movies that set the bar for all comic book-inspired movies from now until the end of time but just fucking great movies in general, there was no end game on DC's part. DC's primary oversight, however, was one of branding. Everybody now knows that the next film that stars Captain America, or Ant-Man, or Thor, God of Thunder and Random Shirtlessness belongs to Marvel's pantheon of mostly white, male superheroes, the Dark Knight Trilogy will forever be associated with Nolan and not DC.

DC is now trying to jump start its own cinematic universe, embracing the age-old philosophy that while imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, flat out stealing somebody else's idea tends to be more profitable in the long run. This is not to point any fingers at DC as this sort of blatant creative theft is basically the grease that makes the Hollywood wheel go round and the substance that the wheel itself is made out of. The question then becomes not whether one should capitalize on the ideas of another but how and when. Like any good heist, it's more a matter of putting together the right team with the right plan and the right timing, and then Inceptioning the shit out of the thing.

I'm not sure what the intent of DC was when they pushed out Man of Steel a few years ago. It turned out to be my favourite Superman movie of all time (which isn't saying much, but still). While I and enough of my fellow audience members took a liking to Zach Snyder's new interpretation of the iconic hero, it was hardly a runaway hit like The Dark Knight or The Avengers. And unlike Marvel, DC skipped the pesky character- and world-building thing and just went straight to Superman and Batman in a film together with Batman V Superman. Oh, and I guess Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Odin knows who the fuck else.

Is it weird that I have a massive erection right now?
But the key ingredient the DC is missing is anticipation. Marvel carefully built the hype train leading up to The Avengers with a series of films that each ratcheted up anticipation until finally blowing their wad with the team up. This long-form also gave the heroes more time to develop and introduce themselves to the audience. Marvel also showed what DC has not: that, much like the Cylons, they have a plan. Whether you like the MCU movies or not, you have to admit that there is a cohesiveness in the way that they have been carefully developed in an interconnected world.

DC is trying to jump ahead, banking on the fact that their headliners are still perhaps the two best-known, most iconic comic book characters of all time. Some sort of welcome the fact that we'll be getting an experienced Bruce Wayne/Batman in the latter part of his career, and won't have to go through silly stuff like his origins and his general motivations for why he behaves the way he does, you know like that thing that good storytellers do, the whatchamacallit, oh yeah, characterization. First of all, the argument that everybody knows how the story begins so you don't need to tell it is just as shitty an idea as it sounded when you just read it. Why watch movies at all and not just skip to the final scene every time? By that logic, why the fuck tell any story at all? Also, second of all, it's completely condescending and utterly counterproductive to simply assume that all other human beings know all the things you know.

And though I've definitely enjoyed Marvel's array of films, and am actually enjoying them more and more upon repeat viewings (except for Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World), the reason I feel trepidation about DC copying their model is because, for all of the benefits and bounty that it provides, it does have a few glaring problems.
Listen, after Iron Man 3 I had no choice
but to help save your franchise too for
the good of humankind.
You're welcome, by the way.

The first problem is that now that it's been thoroughly established that A) a number of superpowered and/or highly trained individuals exist simultaneously in the universe and B) a bunch of them know each other and, in fact, have teamed up together to save the world, it gets more and more difficult to explain why the fuck none of them show up to help each other in their solo movies. A lot of the movies simply ignore this issue, and at best they only deal with it tangentially. But, just like any porn star will tell you, the deeper you go, the harder it gets. Eventually, if the creative team behind Marvel's cinematic juggernaut (no, not that Juggernaut, thankfully) are going to have to address the issue or risk ripping a hole in the space-time continuum right through the middle of one or more movies, fucking with the already delicately balanced suspension of disbelief their genre requires.

The second issue with the MCU is the Sitcom Problem. Every sitcom is based on the fundamental narrative principal that at the end of the episode, everything stays exactly the same. Upholding the status quo has been the core of a lot of long-term storytelling both on the small and big screens, and unless you've got something like Seinfeld that defies convention,  it can lead to extreme stagnation of both character and plot and take away from any narrative impact that might have been on the table. Storytelling in perpetuity, the route it looks like the MCU is going, comes with its own set of pitfalls.

If only there were some modern analogue, some sort of historic storytelling medium where this sort of perpetual storytelling format and market saturation has been tested to its very limits almost causing a longstanding company to implode. Oh yeah, the very comic books upon which Marvel built its cinematic universe. In fact, one of the reasons that Marvel went ahead and made the push to develop Iron Man independently was because of a rather spiritually and financially tumultuous period in their history.

I'm not saying that what Marvel has created won't work in the long run. Hell, whatever subtle, Hydra-style, subliminal, mind control techniques they employ when producing their films are slowly but surely winning me over wholesale (except for Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World). The key is not to repeat the sins of the father. The longer Marvel's reach exceeds the more at risk their cinematic universe will be from stupid shit like really blatant retconning on a galactic scale. And I mean, nobody's getting any younger here. Eventually, they're going to have to think about recasting Iron Man et al. for continuing adventures down the line. Then there are the pitfalls of the reboot, and just a whole bunch of ugly shit that it's best not to think about.

Honestly, I hold no ill will to either Marvel or DC, and I hope for my own sake that when I go to see one of their movies that it's good. I don't want to have my time or money wasted. And superheroes are fucking awesome, and watching them on the big screen can be a shitload of fun, and in some cases, even inspiring. Superheroes are meant to represent the best of what humanity (And Kryptonians and Asgardian, I guess?) has to offer: nobility, self-sacrifice, a willingness to act in the face of injustice, and killer abs.

My current outlook right now after the latest round of trailers is complete and total hype for Captain America: Civil War and a creeping feeling of dread for Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Like most things in life, only time and drugs will tell, though.

Hail Hydra.

Captain America: Civil War

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice


Post a Comment