Tag Archives: Batman v Superman

On Deconstruction, Reconstruction, and Also Batman

A deconstruction takes something apart. Shrek shows how weird fairy tales are by pitting the story from the point of view of an ogre. Suddenly the princess promising herself to whoever rescues her is especially bizarre, as is the idea of there always being a noble prince. The point of a deconstruction is usually to display how tropes and conventions in some narratives don’t work so well when held up to some more stringent logic.

In the same vein, the Batman we meet in at the start of The LEGO Batman Movie (and arguably The LEGO Movie) is a deconstruction of the Batman we got used to in Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. He’s all about darkness and not having parents, singular focused on his mission, and, as we discover, quite a pain in the ass. In essence, we see this singularly focused Batman played out to an amusing end: he’s stuck in a perpetual adolescence and cares for no one but himself (and his desire to fight crime). Of course he’s not well-adjusted, he doesn’t have any friends and doesn’t see daylight. It’s this deconstruction that gives rise to the plot of The LEGO Batman Movie, which lets the movie rebuild Batman into a hero – and leader of the Bat-family.

Thing is, The Dark Knight – and Batman Begins before it – aren’t quite deconstructions; at least not in the way it’s easy to assume they are. Yes, the movies do play out some of the complications of Bruce Wayne’s Batmanning: he has to go on the run, people try to copy him, Bruce Wayne ceases to be much of a person in favor of his alter-ego. And there is the whole darkness-no-parents vibe. Nonetheless, Batman is successful at what he does, and the films make the case that yes, a superhero does work. A dude dressing up as a bat to fight criminals is a patently ridiculous concept, but Christopher Nolan and his team reconstruct Batman into a character and vigilante that makes sense in a realistic center.

Take the scene in Batman Begins where Bruce and Alfred are putting together the Batsuit. They buy the components in bulk from different manufacturers, minimizing a paper trail. Even getting the Batmobile from Wayne Enterprises’ R&D department explains away where he gets those wonderful toys. As a reconstruction it acknowledges the flaws of the Batman narrative but works past them for a fuller, more shaded narrative. A true deconstruction would have played out the final climax with Two Face differently, perhaps having Batman refuse to take the fall or even having both of them be completely vilified. As it is, The Dark Knight lets Batman take his moniker and remain an idealized hero.

There are shades of deconstruction to The Dark Knight — take the Batman-inspired vigilante who gets himself killed — but it’s all in the service of ultimately reconstructing the idea – there needs to be a ‘superhero,’ so Batman will appear the villain so that Harvey Dent can be that person. So it’s easy to mistake the whole movie as an out-and-out Shrekian deconstruction.

Which is arguably what Zack Snyder and team did in Batman v Superman. While Man of Steel wavers, BvS tries its hardest to take apart both Batman and Superman – and superheroes in general. But it doesn’t do so for comedic effect (as in Kick-Ass) or to explore what we take for granted in the genre (see: Watchmen). Instead, it does… Well, nothing. It reads The Dark Knight as a deconstruction and attempts to imitate it, but since the former wasn’t really a deconstruction, the BvS is building with the blocks; it doesn’t take apart The Dark Knight (as LEGO’s Batman does), but tries to use Nolan’s film as a deconstruct-o-lens. The result is a lot of dimly lit scenes and people grunting and growling at each other about big ideas that don’t make much sense. We learn nothing new about Superman and Batman or the conventions that surround them that would warrant it being a deconstruction, nor does it recreate the mythos in a new way that would be a reconstruction. Rather it tells the story straight, just lathered in a murky layer of grit that can’t hide its (many) narrative flaws.

There is room for a solid deconstruction of Batman, Superman ,and superheroes in general – I mean Alan Moore did it in Watchmen thirty-odd years ago. Sometimes it seems there’s a race to take apart beloved genres, and sometimes it works like in Game of Thrones, but there’s room for both, again, Nolan’s The Dark Knight. The trick is to do it for a reason, and not just because you want your story to be about darkness and not having parents.

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Regarding Movies About Two Superheroes Fighting Each Other

If you were to put 2016’s blockbusters in a museum, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War ought to be displayed next to each other. They’re the sort of movies that, when looked at together, take on a whole new dimension. Because one is far more successful than the other.

To understand why Civil War succeeds, you don’t have to look much better than at how BvS fails. Both movies have the same conceit: Two heroes fight each other. Thus, if you want both characters to remain sympathetic, they’d better have a dang good reason to be fighting. Funnily, both movies end up on the topic of collateral damage. In Civil War, Tony Stark/Iron Man and Steve Rogers/Captain America disagree on whether to put the Avengers under UN oversight, something that is complicated when brainwashed assassin Bucky Barnes enters the fray, forcing Steve to go outside the law. Bam, conflict.

In BvS, Batman doesn’t like how Superman is so powerful and causes so much collateral damage, and Superman doesn’t like Batman because he, um, takes the law into his own hands? Right off the bat the difference is clear, Civil War had a clear conflict, BvS was murky at best. Watching BvS, I was never sure why they were fighting, what it was they disagreed on. Furthermore, BvS has no complications in the conflict between Batman and Superman; they don’t like each other in the beginning, and continue to dislike each other the same amount until the fight. In Civil War the accords form the initial conflict, which then get complicated by Bucky’s reappearance and what they uncover about Zemo. Meanwhile, in BvS, the status quo between Batman and Superman doesn’t really change.

Which is weird; you’d think that with Lex Luthor running around with Kryponite and Zod’s corpse he’d be in a good place to incite some tension between the two. However, he doesn’t have any direct bearing on the plot until he kidnaps and threatens Superman’s mom well into the second hour (blowing up the Capitol sends Superman into exile and doesn’t directly escalate the conflict between the two heroes). Compare this to Civil War, where Zemo (who fulfills the same role as Luthor) blows up the UN (and frames Bucky), thereby setting Cap on a path that’ll put him at total odds against Tony. That’s before he sets Bucky on the other Avengers too, by the way. In other words, Civil War escalates the animosity between its two heroes. By the time they come to blows, we totally get why.

The coming to blows bit is where we see another divide. In BvS, Batman and Superman’s fight is just a skirmish before their big brawl against Doomsday. Civil War has a big airport fight with all the heroes happen before Steve and Tony’s one-on-one. This ordering shows where the priorities of each movie lie. See, you save the best, biggest, and most important climax for last. Rey and Kylo fight after Poe blows up Starkiller base. Frodo climbs Mount Doom after the battle of the Pelennor Fields. If the fight against Doomsday is the Biggest Moment of BvS, then the “Dawn of Justice” subtitle becomes the most important part. Which is weird, because the whole movie up to that point has been ploddingly trying to excite us to watch the heroes fight, only for the big thing to be them teaming up. Despite Batman versus Superman being the dang title, the ending tells us we’re not supposed to be interested in watching them fight. In Civil War, however, Steve and Tony throw down comes at the very end and proves a catharsis for the entire movie.

Okay, so, there’s actually a lot more about these movies. Both of them have a third party who joins them in the climax, though where Wonder Woman gives interesting looks throughout, Black Panther brings an additional point of view to the plot and ends up being the only true hero. Both have heroes manipulated into fighting, but while Lex kidnaps Superman’s mom, Tony finds out Steve’s best friend kill his parents (and so Tony fights Bucky [and Steve] because he wants to, while Superman is doing it because he has to). Then there’s also BvS contorting Batman and Superman into being funhouse mirrors of their accepted selves to fit the plot, while Civil War sees Steve and Tony’s own flaws orchestrate their undoing.

But I’m at my word limit and it’s getting late here, so I’m ending this here. Point of all this? Sometimes it’s worth watching a lesser movie to appreciate one that does the same thing better.

Except for Fant4stic. That movie just tells you what not to do.

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A (Civil) War of Flaws

Civil War came out. This post it about that. Yes, that’s all the intro I’m giving.

Marvel’s done a fantastic job of giving their characters major flaws. Look at the original (cinematic) Avengers: Iron Man’s selfish, Captain America’s noble to a fault, Thor’s proud, The Hulk’s, er, angry, Black Widow doesn’t trust anyone, and Hawkeye’s just the archer (okay, so he’s more the cynic). It’s these clearly defined character defects that make them clash so well, something made overt in the first Avengers when Loki’s scepter has them arguing in the lab. Flaws make characters interesting. The Avengers wouldn’t be half as fun if everyone got along like sunshine and rainbows, instead they spend half their time arguing and trying to get over themselves.

It’s because it builds on that central tenet that Captain America: Civil War succeeds so well. The question posed to the Avengers in the film is simple: should they report to a higher authority? It’s a question of authority and also who’s responsible for the Avengers’ actions. The creative team behind Civil War deserve major credit for making the question, herein rendered as the Sokovia Accords, feel nuanced, with no side feeling altogether right or wrong.

But that’s all plot stuff, and, as the last eight years of Marvel Cinematic Movies have proven, the best of part of these movies are the characters.

And so the divide of the Avengers falls firmly along character based lines. Tony Stark, who’s selfishness has given way to guilt and paranoia, sees the Accords as a safeguard. Furthermore, they’re a way for him to further absolve himself of guilt; he can be part of a tool to make things right, going where the majority feel he and the Avengers are most needed. Conversely, Steve Rogers’ nobility and idealism has him see the Avengers as guardians. They’re there to fight threats no one else can and they need the freedom to use their own judgement. Where Tony wants approval, Steve believes that they’ll do the right thing no matter what. It all fits into their established characters, characters which, for good measure, get set up again quickly in the film’s opening.

Thus, Civil War’s divide is one built on flaws. Many characters’ allegiances comes out of fears and flaws. War Machine and Falcon are loyal to Iron Man and Cap and so will follow them. Black Widow and Vision see the Accords as an insurance against an unknown danger; Scarlet Witch fears control. Black Panther is nursing a grudge. Even Cap’s idealism is tempered with asking “what if they send us somewhere we don’t want to go?” The battle lines develop naturally rather than arbitrarily. The combatants have a horse in their fight and it becomes personal.

To see this done wrong, you don’t have to look much further than Batman v Superman. There the central question is one guy going “I don’t like the way you’re above it all and cause massive collateral damage” and the other saying “I don’t like the way you’re above it all and brand people.” That Batman and Superman’s eventual fight isn’t born out of an escalation of tensions and faults makes it pointless at best and arbitrary at worst. They start out not liking each other and spend the movie prepping for a fight until they’re manipulated into coming to blows.

Civil War has Steve and Tony start out amicable before the Accords cause an ideological split. It’s the reappearance of the Winter Soldier driving a wedge deeper between them, plus a couple other turns that happen so that by the time they really come to blows it is an inevitable extension of their (flawed) characters. Civil War led it’s hero-fighting-hero with character, Batman v Superman relied on a contrived plot; so while the audience feels apathetic watching Batman fight Superman, the fight between Captain America and Iron Man is brutally tragic.

And so we’ve come full circle. Tragedy is born out of flaws. Creon’s pride is his downfall in Antigone. Othello’s jealousy costs him everything. And in Civil War, it divides Captain America and Iron Man.

Man, aren’t character flaws great?

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