Friday, April 1, 2016

Review of Batman v. Superman ~ ♦ The Age of Old-Style Super Heroes is Gone ♦

Image courtesy of Jay Javier's Flickr page - Batman:
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Steven Cateris Follow SUPERMAN MANNEQUIN:
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One of the titles to an article that I provided a link to below asks what happened to super heroes.

So, what did happen to super heroes?

These days, it is all about more. Super heroes have more power, the movies have bigger explosions, and the story lines tend to have more twists and turns.

And yet, I find myself enjoying them less and less. 

It's strange, is it not? My son absolutely loved Batman v. Superman, and on the one hand, I was glad. After all, I went to see it more for his benefit than for mine. So, on that level, it makes sense that he should have liked it.

Yet, on another level, it kind of made me sad. These just are not the super heroes that I remember growing up with, and the two articles that I provide the links for below help to answer why. These super heroes lack the heart that super heroes of old (and I guess that means the ones that were available to kids during my own childhood).

Okay, so they are bigger and stronger, and that is supposed to be more impressive. But truth be told, give me The Incredible Hulk of the old television series with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, or the Hulk of the old cartoons and comic books, and I will take that any day over the CGI, steroids abusing Hulk of recent Marvel movies any day. 

In the old days, I remember feeling quite amazed that Iron Man could be stopped dead in his tracks by a thug wielding a crow bar, like he was in the Secret Wars comics (Issue #9, if I remember correctly). But give me that Iron Man over the one that we see nowadays in the movies, who has seemingly unlimited powers, to the point that he can fly to the most distant regions of the world, or even basically to space, at will. I like Robert Downey, Jr. and his portrayal of Tony Starks, although again, his character seems a bit over the top in all the wrong ways. And a lot of those movies also focus way too much on blowing things up.

Give me the Transformers cartoon and comics that I grew up on, when the novelty of toys that could transform from a robot to a car or plane or cassette player or a gun seemed so incredible as to be a stroke of genius. But these days, I see that many people flock to these Transformers movies and judge it (and too often love it) because of the big explosions and other special effects. After watching the second one, which had so little story line that it did not make sense, and what little story line there was seemed to me an excuse to get to the important business at hand of blowing things up. Of course, Optimus Prime takes a pause in the middle of all of that to reprimand human beings (who made this movie, after all) for destroying their world, which was rather unintentionally ironic. After seeing that second movie, I could not bring myself to see any of the subsequent Transformers movies, because the spirit of the original Transformers seems entirely lost, frankly. 

Give me the Batman of the old comic books, perhaps the Batman of Michael Keaton, over the machine gun wielding Batman that we continuously see these days. The Batman/Bruce Wayne that was portrayed in the most recent movie is not just dark, but in fact, he is downright unlikable, almost a monster. He is a grim and humorless man, more than any other portrayal of Batman that we have ever seen, and he is far darker, more abusive of his power. Plus, 

And perhaps especially, give me the Superman of Christopher Reeves over the Superman that we saw destroy buildings and landscapes, one after the other, in the recent DC movies. As for Wonder Woman? Well, she seemed to almost have the same power of Superman in this recent movie, and she hardly bore any resemblance to the Wonder Woman from my childhood. In fact, people my age might never have placed her as Wonder Woman if it was not clear that this is a DC Comics movie, and the rumors of Wonder Woman made clear to expect her. 

It makes me kind of sad, because I did not find Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman particularly likable in the movie. As this author suggests, they have more power, but they don't care how destructive they are in using it. And indeed, there was absolutely no sense of humor with any of the heroes, and the movie had a decided lack of humor in it. All about special effects, and a lack of real story line. Really sad. Yet, my son absolutely loved it, which made me feel bad about my own lack of enthusiasm. After all, I saw it mostly to take him, because he really wanted to see it. But these super heroes today seem to be all about special effects and more power, and not so much about inspiring people to believe in a better world. A sign of the times, I guess. 

So, when are we finally going to get tired already of our former heroes blowing everything up? Yes, the special effects can be amazing, but when you have too much of anything, it tends to lose it's effect. And nowadays, there seems to be almost an arms race of special effects, with each new movie trying to outdo all others in this department. It is predictable and, frankly, cumbersome, not to mention revealing a decided lack of imagination. 

Also, there is such an emphasis on avoiding predictability, that these comic style movies have become predictably complex, with so many twists and turns that sometimes, the movies are difficult to follow or make sense of. Honestly, that is how I felt about Batman v. Superman. It was difficult to understand why they were fighting, and frankly, difficult to pull for either one. At the risk of sounding repetitive, these simply were not the heroes that I remembered from childhood. Not even remotely close, actually.

It seems that, these days, the heroes all have a disturbing background, and they really make a big issue of this in Batman v. Superman. Both heroes have very troubled pasts that trouble them well into adulthood. Without trying to sound cliché about it, both of them have "issues" that are not all dissimilar to similar such issues that we hear about regularly in other, more serious films. The only thing is that this really is not meant to be an overly serious film. These are the types of movies that you go to in order to escape those grim, dark realities of the modern world, not to be reminded of them, and certainly not to get a semi-serious attempt at addressing such issues in order to make heroes more believable, or modern. Or perhaps, they were trying to make the heroes less predictable and corny?

Which brings me again to why a lot of people - mostly guys, if we are honest - go to these movies. I know a guy who has no interest in any movies unless they are super hero movies, or other action-oriented movies. He means that literally, and indeed, I have never seen him watch anything else, nor discuss any other movies. And the thing is, he is a few years older than me, in his mid-40's. To limit yourself to that particular genre at that age, and never open yourself up to any other types of movies whatsoever just seems silly, frankly. What he seems to be saying, or dare I suggest, admitting, is that he has a ridiculously short attention span, and needs breathtaking actions scenes and for things to get blown up every five minutes in order to remain entertained, to stay with the story. Frankly, it was depressing to hear him say that he was only into movies like that, because there is far more to life, and far more to art (let us remember that movies are art, after all) than that.  

He can take it to an extreme. There are action movies that I know of that he found boring, because he felt they lacked action. Too much story. Seriously, that was what he suggested about a few movies, which surprised me each time. Still, everyone has different tastes, and he is entitled to his preferences. It just seems that these kinds of movies are becoming so commonplace, and they tend to dazzle people with their big budgets and special effects, that they steal the spotlight from films with more serious story lines, and in that regard, it hardly seems a stretch to suggest that they are contributing to the dumbing down of a society that already is overly obsessed with youth culture. Is it really that shocking, then, that super hero movies seem to dominate, to the point that every major Hollywood studio wants it's own super hero franchise? 

This movie surely would please him. After all, there are numerous fight scenes, and there are a lot of explosions. There is a lot of action. The problem for me is that there hardly seems to be a real story line leading up to it, which gives me the impression much of the consideration for a serious story was brushed aside, in order to get to the important business of special effects and blowing things up. I have never seen either a Superman or Batman movie where so much gets destroyed so easily, so recklessly. It reached the point where you kind of scratch your head if you are following it, or you try and stifle a yawn if you are not. To say that the makers of this movie were relying far too heavily on amazing special effects would be a massive understatement. 

What I find amazing is that many people feel that this movie was great (although it certainly has it's share of detractors, as well). Some people simply found the movie amazing, and I am not talking about my 10 year old son, or other kids. There are plenty of adults that I met who felt this way about the movie. Some of them similarly loved that second Transformers movie that I seriously felt was a serious contender for the worst storyline of any major movie production, at least one that I am aware of. 

These versions of Superman and Batman were, frankly, downright unlikable. There was little to no evidence of the innocence of being plain old good guys, of being heroes, like the comic books of days of yore. Both of them tended to be extremely violent, with little to no thought of how much destruction they wrought, particularly Batman/Bruce Wayne. And Superman/Clark Kent seemed to be weighed down entirely too much with self-doubts, because people did not automatically view him as a hero, as they do in the comic books, and all other Superman movies that I know of prior to this particular franchise. That much was original, and an interesting twist, as Superman finds himself in our modern world, where everyone questions everything. That is at least the basis of Batman's suspicion of Superman, that he has Godlike powers, and cannot be trusted not to abuse those powers, while acknowledging that there is nothing anyone can do about it if he so chose to do so.

There could have been a bit of comic relief with the character of Lex Luthor, like there was in the classic movies of the 1980's. But this Luthor is truly disturbing in how transparently mentally unbalanced he is. Also, quite frankly, he is more annoying than Lex Luthor has been in past portrayals. It is difficult to take him seriously, when he sounds more like a whiny teenager arguing with his parents, rather than a truly demonic and powerful supervillain. 

All in all, it felt like this film lacked any real cohesion, and there was a decided lack of continuity with the Superman and Batman characters that we have seen before, and that even included Christian Bale's depiction of the Caped Crusader in the recent franchise. The most important thing to me is that my son loved it, and so it cannot be all bad. Yet, this is not one of those movies that necessarily translates well to adults, and that could be a problem. The story line is weak, and this film suffers from a lack of direction and focus, although the special effects perhaps make up for that, if that is all that you are looking for.

If not, than you might want to at least wait until this one can be seen from your home. It just is not all that good, and feels more like promotions for future DC Comics films, than a quality film in it's own right.

What happened to superheroes? MATTHEW ARNOLD STERN ♦ MARCH 28, 2016  

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