Tag Archives: Superman

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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Superhero Overdose

If you haven’t heard, DC recently announced their cinematic plans for the next six years. We’ve got a Justice League movie, a Wonder Woman movie, one with the Flash, one with Aquaman, a Green Lantern movie, and so on. It’s DC’s answer to Marvel’s Avengers. They’re looking to emulate Marvel’s formula, releasing two a year. Not only that, it looks like most of the Justice League roster from the cartoon is getting their own movie (except Martian Manhunter which is its own infuriating can of worms). Between Marvel and DC, we’re looking at four superhero movies a year — and that’s not even counting other studios with rights to Marvel characters, like Fox with X-Men and the Fantastic Four. That’s a lot of superhero movies, a lot of men in proverbial tights (and one woman, so far) running around doing superhero stuff.

Now, with so many superheroes flying around, it’s likely we’re looking to get a glut of that genre. Woohoo, there’s Age of Ultron, Ant Man, and Fantastic Four next year, but after that there’s gonna be Batman v Superman, a new Captain America, a new X-Men movie, and Suicide Squad. And then after that comes Wonder Woman, and Justice League (so far). Genres can become tired, look at how few Westerns there are as opposed to a few decades ago. With all these superhero films coming out, and with superhero movies usually following a specific pattern we could end up watching the same darn movie over and over again. If that happens, then people get tired, people stop watching these movies, and people stop making superhero movies.

Thing is, we’ve seen the superhero movie a hundred times. The hero gets powers, the hero figures out what to do with powers, the hero fights bad guys. Sequels have been playing with the follow up, but we’ve seen the super-powered-hero-fights-evil formula over and over again. Superhero movies as we know them has happened.

So how do we keep it interesting? So far the trick has been genre blending. The Dark Knight was a crime movie with Batman. It was different and it was big (though I’ve heard the argument that it wasn’t a Batman movie, but that’s another issue). More so now than ever, superhero movies have to stand out. The Avengers was a heroes-fighting-villains narrative, but did it better than anyone else and threw in some internal conflict and hints of a war movie for good measure. Unless a new movie surpasses it, doing the same thing will be repetitive.

Marvel Studios, and Joe Quesada, know this. Look at the most recent releases from Marvel. Iron Man 3 was as much Lethal Weapon-y as it was Iron Man, The Dark World was borderline pure fantasy, The Winter Soldier was a spy/espionage movie, and Guardians of the Galaxy was pure space opera. Looking ahead, Ant Man is planned to be a heist movie, which there are never enough of. Marvel’s keeping things varied. In fact, I think one of the reasons Winter Soldier and Guardians were so well received is that they were so unique. Both tapped genres relatively unheard of at the moment, and both executed them incredibly. If Marvel Studios can keep making movies that challenge the idea of a ‘superhero’ movie they’re in good shape.

So the onus is on DC to do the same thing. It’s hard to judge how they’ll do, especially given the kinda mostly alright Man of Steel, but if they can make Aquaman feel very different from The Flash and not just in subject material, then there’s hope. We don’t wanna keep watching the same movie with swapped out details.

But I cannot overstate how freaking excited I am about all of this. In the next two years I’m getting a second Avengers movie, a new Star Wars, a movie with Batman and Superman, and what’s reportedly a movie about Captain American and Iron Man. Heck, they just announced a movie featuring The Lego’s Movie glorious riff on Batman! All this is the twelve-year-old in me’s dream come true. I don’t like not liking things, it’s tiring and it’s not fun to hate everything you watch. I want these movies to happen, I want to like these movies. I just hope these movies are good.

 

Also, I’m making a movie! Help me get it funded!

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With Regards To Capes

In Man Of Steel Superman has lost his usual red underwear. Well, more he never has it in the first place in this adaption. It’s no wonder why, no one, not even Batman, wears their underwear outside anymore.

That said, Superman still has his cape, something that’s seemingly as much an artifact as the underwear thing. Yes, Thor and Loki both have capes, but they’re demigods. Batman’s cape is explained away as serving not only the effect he creates but a utilitarian purpose as well. Hardly anyone wears capes these days. In The Incredibles, the first superhero deconstruction you saw if you’re my age, Edna Mode goes to great lengths to explain the impracticality of capes in a morbidly comedic sequence.

So why does Superman still have his bright red cape? It’s doesn’t make much sense (see Edna Mode’s list for reasons), yet it’s part of his costume and and he doesn’t rip it off. More importantly, why did the filmmakers choose to keep the cape? It’s iconic, sure, but nothing is sacred in adaptions. Here’s the deal: capes are heroic. There’s the image of the kid with the towel tied round his neck pretending to be a superhero. That’s Superman. He’s the Boy Scout, the Kansas-bred all-American hero.

And his cape is an integral part of that. Look at the use of capes in the film. General Zod, when we first see him, is wearing a cape. It doesn’t take long, however, for him to shrug it off and, of course, become the villain he is. When we first see Superman in his outfit we first see his red boots and red cape. When Superman meets the military, we once again focus on his cape. His cape is what sets him apart. Zod doesn’t have a cape, nor do any of his followers; but Jor-El, Superman’s father, does. It’s a beautiful visual cue, one that speaks to the basis of our pop culture mythology: the person wearing the cape is a good guy, a hero.

Such is Superman: he’s the archetypical superhero. The cape-wearing, evil-fighting man in tights. Contrast him to Joel, from The Last of Us (because that game is amazing and bears referencing). Joel is not a hero, he’s not even a good guy. Joel is a desperate man who’s more than willing to do horrible things. Joel is a survivor, he acts solely to survive and protect his own interests. Superman, conversely, simply is good and will protect anyone.

So where do we get a narrative? Joel’s comes from challenging his interests and upsetting his status quo to see how he reacts. The narrative/arc is clear from the onset, though Naughty Dog makes several bold choices with where to take it. Superman has no obvious arc. He’s invincible and infallible; any impending doom or moral dilemma lacks tension because we know Superman can’t be hurt and will always do right. After all, he’s wearing a cape. So where does the narrative tension come from? How does Man of Steel craft a story that doesn’t undermine his character but still delivers an engaging story?

The movie addresses the question of the cape. The story’s primary tension comes not from Superman vs. Zod, but rather within Superman himself. Clark Kent must become Superman… Or must he? The Clark Kent we meet is a Clark Kent divided. He has these powers, but should he use them? How should he use them? There lies the conflict; the tension is the question of should Clark Kent wear the cape or hide in anonymity. Granted, we already know the answer, but it’s a far more interesting arc than “will he survive?”. Once that question is answered, however, a new one arises: to what lengths will Superman go in pursuit of what the cape means? How far will Superman go to protect someone?

Zack Snyder has described Man of Steel as the least ironic movie he’s made. It might be the most honest recent superhero movie besides Captain America, there’s no attempt to give Superman the dark and gritty treatment so common in our era of antiheroes. Where The Last of Us gives us an antihero who rings closer to a villain, Man of Steel presents a hero with no doubt of his goodness. So Superman wears a cape.

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