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Both the Director *and* the Writer of BvS Don’t Understand Superheroes

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This is a bit of a correction to my earlier piece about Zack Snyder. Not that I think I was inaccurate in anything I said there, but I do think it was a bit unfair of me to put all the problems with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (pronounced buvvis-doge, I think?) on the shoulders of the director. The auteur theory of film criticism is a deeply flawed one, after all. And in addition to having a director who really doesn’t seem to understand the comic books he professes to love, the film also has David Goyer as its screenwriter.

And David Goyer doesn’t understand superheroes. Which I understand is kind of a bold statement, given that David Goyer is responsible for making the modern era of superhero movies possible.

But bear with me.

Background

As I said above, Goyer is the most prolific screenwriter of the modern era of superhero films. He wrote all three of the Blade movies (and directed the last one) in the late 90s, before the modern superhero boom, and their success allowed projects like Singer’s X-Men movies and Raimi’s Spiderman movies to go forward and prove that the public’s appetite for costumed heroes hadn’t been killed off by Joel Schumacher. And before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born, Goyer was writing Batman Begins and the Dark Knight, which at the time were seen as the future of the genre.

On the other hand, few people think of the scripts as the major virtues of any of these projects. Now a largely forgotten franchise with only one decent entry, almost nothing in the Blade movies made sense and the movies largely thrived on Wesley Snipes’ presence and a cheerfully gonzo approach to gore. The Nolan Batman films are called Nolan films for a reason, and there’s a whole cottage industry of Youtube videos and articles pointing out the logical problems in the Joker’s plan in Dark Knight or how there’s no way Batman faking his death in Rises would have worked.

But if there’s one thing these films have in common, they all feature dark anti-heroes. But most superheroes aren’t dark anti-heroes, which might explain why, for all that Goyer’s career has been founded on superheroes, he doesn’t particularly understand the characters or like the people who like them very much:

Goyer: I have a theory about She-Hulk. Which was created by a man, right? And at the time in particular I think 95% of comic book readers were men and certainly almost all of the comic book writers were men. So the Hulk was this classic male power fantasy. It’s like, most of the people reading comic books were these people like me who were just these little kids getting the shit kicked out of them every day… And so then they created She-Huk, right? Who was still smart… I think She-Hulk is the chick that you could fuck if you were Hulk, you know what I’m saying? … She-Hulk was the extension of the male power fantasy. So it’s like if I’m going to be this geek who becomes the Hulk then let’s create a giant green porn star that only the Hulk could fuck.

As many people before me have said, this betrays not just a creepy attitude to sexuality, but a fundamental misconception of both the character’s backstory (She-Hulk and the Hulk have never been romantically linked, because they are first cousins) and thematic import. To quote the Mary Sue, “since her introduction, She-Hulk has been a woman of agency and strength, one who quickly took control of her mutation to become a hero and who has never let herself be held back by sexist double-standards and the expectations of others who can’t handle her power, intelligence and sexual confidence.”

But What About Superman?

Thankfully, however, David Goyer hasn’t been approached to write a She-Hulk movie or TV show (seriously, the character would work wonders as a legal/comedy/action show, what are you waiting for Marvel?). The problem is that he doesn’t understand Superman either and he’s the guy that DC and Warner Brothers approached to write Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman:

“And it occurred to me that it’s one thing if you have super powers to say I’m going to be a good Samaritan and help people. But it’s another entirely, and in fact a little presumptuous to just put on a costume and call yourself Superman, and say I’m going to appoint myself the saviour of mankind.” (source)

If you have a problem with someone putting on a costume and trying to save the world, you probably shouldn’t be writing a movie about the character who created an entire genre around doing just that. And the problem is that, in addition to not liking the basic concept of superheroics, Goyer goes on to explain that he doesn’t get Superman’s  character specifically:

“And so this story was why does he become Superman? And we decided early on that’s not a choice he makes, but a choice that’s imposed on him.”

“The movie is about him deciding am I going to be human, or Kryptonian, to pick which lineage to follow. We wanted to give him this Sophie’s Choice of you can be human, or you can have your Kryptonian world back, but you can’t have both. If you have your Kryptonian world, humanity is going to suffer. He has to decide which world he wants to plant his feet in.”

“The whole raison d’etre of the movie is that choice. It’s nature versus nurture. And that’s why he puts on the glasses and becomes officially Clark Kent at the end of the movie.” (source)

There are a huge number of problems with this. First of all, it’s a terrible writing move for your characters to not make choices but have choices happen to them. It’s lazy Campbellian Chosen One handwaving and it makes your protagonist horribly passive when making choices is what makes them interesting.

Secondly, choosing between his human and Kryptonian nature is antithetical to what it means to be Superman. Our hero is an immigrant refugee who rather than be turned away (Action Comics #1 came out only 14 years after the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924) is welcomed into America’s heartland and is raised to be a good person by the Kents – which is why he chooses to become Superman and save people. But at the same time, Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, adapting the Moses story (not the Christ story, Goyer!) have Superman discover and embrace his alien heritage – hence the Kryptonian baby blanket turning into his iconic cape – without rejecting his adopted culture either. Rather than bowing to the dictates of nativism or assimilation, Superman combines both cultures together: the Last Son of Krypton standing for Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

And finally, let’s talk about the neck-snapping, because man is Goyer defensive about the neck-snapping:

“The way I work, the way Chris works, is you do what’s right for the story. That exists entirely separately from what fans should or shouldn’t think of that character. You have to do what’s right for the story. In that instance, this was a Superman who had only been Superman for like, a week. He wasn’t Superman as we think of him in the DC Comics…or even in a world that conceived of Superman existing,” Goyer said. “He’d only flown for the first time a few days before that. He’d never fought anyone that had super powers before. And so he’s going up against a guy who’s not only super-powered, but has been training since birth to use those super powers, who exists as a superhuman killing machine, who has stated, ‘I will never stop until I destroy all of humanity.”

“If you take Superman out of it, what’s the right way to tell that story?” he continued. “I think the right way to tell that story is if you take this powered alien who says, ‘You can have your race back, but you have to kill your adopted race,’ the moral, horrible situation to be in is to actually be forced to kill, not wanting to, the only other person from your race. Take Superman aside, I think that’s the right way to tell that story.” (source)

To start with a seemingly minor point: Zod isn’t someone “training since birth to use those super powers,” because in Goyer’s own screenplay, Zod only got those powers when he came to Earth. (And then for some reason decided to terraform the planet so that the Kryptonians he’s genetically driven to protect would become weaker, but that’s beside the point.) Superman is the one who’s been training his whole life to use them because he’s the only Kryptonian who grew up on Earth. Which means he should be the one controlling the fight through his better understanding of his superpowers, which would hopefully avoid both the neck-snapping and the destruction of Metropolis (which is what people had more of a problem with).

But I want to circle around to something Goyer said, about Zod posing the choice of “you have to kill your adopted race” or let humanity die. The only reason that killing Zod equates to killing all of Krypton is because Goyer has Superman use his heat-vision to obliterate the “Genesis” ship that was carrying thousands of Kryptonian embryos, making Zod the last. And he doesn’t do it accidentally – Zod tells him what the ship is carrying and Superman says “Krypton had its chance.” And this is is the action of the supposed hero, of whom Goyer said:

“I think the movie is going to be the right movie for the times. I’m happy that movie is coming out in the summer, because I think it’s the kind of movie that the world needs right now.” (source)

Now He’s Gone Too Far

So imagine my surprise when it turns out that, back in 1986, David Goyer turned out to not understand Captain America. As this is my patch, allow me to preach for a moment:

“While reading Captain America, I find myself more interested in the villain and their exploits than in Cap himself. The basic problem stems from the fact that Cap isn’t a very interesting character. He’s a living symbol and aside from the problems of character development in a symbol, the fact that he is a symbol of the American dream creates a number of story problems.”

I’m beginning to see the underlying reason why David Goyer has a problem writing about Superman –  first, he gets distracted by surface issues (like red capes and blue tights) and misses the important character details. Here, the important detail is that it’s Steve Rogers who is the character, and his historical grounding makes him interesting. Second and more importantly, he fundamentally doesn’t grok ideological superheroes, and as a result sees story hooks as story problems:

“First of all, the America that created Cap in the ’40s no longer exists. To make matters worse, Cap was in suspended animation for the better part of two decades. What kind of effect does this have on a man? His “world” is gone. To the children of the 60s, the concept of a living symbol of democracy to boost war morale must have seemed totally outdated.”

Captain America being a Man Out of Time isn’t a story problem, it’s a great source of dramatic tension that Marvel has been using to fuel the comic ever since Lee and Kirby hauled Rogers out of the ice in 1964. And it works in two ways – first, it gives Cap a personal flaw that transforms him from the flawless Golden Age archetype into a properly angsty, interior Marvel-style character. Second, because Cap is an ideological hero, the contrast between his past and the new era automatically acts as a mirror with which we can examine the vices and virtues of both periods:

“Secondly, the Captain probably only appeals to part of the nation today. Most likely, he’s more popular with the conservative side, so his popularity is on the upswing now. but what about the people who resent what he represents? There must be people out there who are even insulted by his uniform. Some people see our country as an atrophied giant whose secretive diplomacy is thinly veiled behind a smile and a handshake. Our government isn’t nearly as upfront or virtuous as our elected officials would have us believe. What exactly does Cap represent? Everything that’s good in America? Does the Captain endorse every president that’s elected? Would he ever speak out against a candidate? Does the Captain acknowledge that there is corruption in the government?”

This really makes me wonder if Goyer ever actually read these comics, because literally every point here was answered in the pages of Captain America. Captain America isn’t a conservative, and in fact sides with the same youth who questioned America’s government in the 1960s. What makes Captain America a radical figure is that he represents America’s ideals and not its government.

As for speaking out against a candidate and acknowledging corruption in government, take the case of Richard Nixon, who in the Marvel Universe ran a smear campaign against Captain America and when the Watergate scandal threatened to unseat him from power tried to overthrow the government of the United States via giant Kirby flying saucer. Captain America stopped his coup and pursued him into the Oval Office to deliver him to justice, where Nixon took his own life rather than answer for his crimes. (For more on this, you’ll have to wait for an upcoming People’s History of the Marvel Universe…)

But as with Superman, David Goyer seems to have a problem with characters who think they’re better than he is, even if that’s not the case:

“On another level, one has to wonder what type of man would have the audacity to proclaim himself a living symbol of America. Was he elected by the common people? Is he a tool of propaganda, invested by the government to promote democracy? Does the Captain unquestioningly accept whatever the current American policy is or does he formulate opinions on his own? What would happen if someone convinced Captain America that socialism was a better way of life? Now, granted, as an Avenger, he’s been sanctioned by the government and given official status as a protector of the peace. Do you honestly expect us to believe that the government would enlist a masked crusader without even knowing his true identity?”

Again, this is basic origin-story stuff. Steve Rogers didn’t proclaim himself anything – he signed up for a dangerous super-science experiment because it was the only way for him to fight fascism. (Which answers the question about his “true identity” – Rogers’ military service is a matter of public record!) and when the experiment worked, the U.S government gave him his costume, his shield, and his rank so that he could be a symbol to boost civilian morale during WWII:

And yes, Captain America makes his own judgement about public policy – which is why he brought down three SHIELD helicarriers in the Potomac River rather than let HYDRA destroy our constitutional rights to due process, and why he’s going to go mano-a-mano with Iron Man in the upcoming movie.

And as for socialism…well, you already know my opinion about that.

Conclusion

So why go on this long rant? Because I love comic books and comic book movies, and I think they can be more than mindless popcorn-fodder and certainly more than the depressing and immoral mess that Goyer has given us.

And because David Goyer is Hollywood’s go-to man for most of these movies, his influence can harm an entire genre. Hence why it was problematic that David Goyer was the man who got the call to adapt Constantine for TV despite not wanting to have Constantine be bi. And why I am deeply depressed that, of all writers working today, David Goyer is the one adapting Sandman…

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  • hey so

    The She-Hulk cringe comedy is a movie I did not know I needed until now.

    • leftwingfox

      “Legally Green”

      • Victor Matheson

        Man, I wish I had written that. Good thing I wasn’t drinking milk at the time I read this.

      • +1 internet to you!

      • hey so

        “Jennifer, I don’t know why you don’t apply yourself more! Your cousin Bruce is finishing his PhD in molecular biology!”

        “Shut up, mom! I can totally make it as a writer!”

        (cut to Jennifer taking the LSAT)

      • grabtharshammer

        All the upvotes.

    • leftwingfox

      Also, thank you for introducing me to the term “cringe comedy”. I now have a name for my enemy.

    • grabtharshammer

      Totally agree. Read “seriously, the character would work wonders as a legal/comedy/action show, what are you waiting for Marvel?” and squeed. Vague recollection of Netflix playing with idea some time back, but no go because they had existing legal procedural, Daredevil (great show). I got the solution: different tone, different city. Entertainment law in Los Angeles. Venice Beach neighborhood. Fun and hijinks ensue contrasting the brilliant and non-narcissistic She-Hulk with her clients and their problems. Legal procedural meets Entourage, kinda. Totally workable, would watch, esp if titled “Legally Green”.

      • Halloween Jack

        There was an April Fool’s joke that was the cruelest one that I can remember in recent history that had She-Hulk being added to the Marvel/Netflix group of series.

  • Philip

    I’ve already promised myself that unless it gets fantastic reviews, I will pretend the Sandman movie was never made. I really don’t think it’s possible to make it into a movie, especially a mainstream audience-targeting movie, without losing the things that make Sandman so good.

    • I’m not sure it will get made now that JGL isn’t attached.

    • L2P

      Remember Constantine? And that’s an easy make compared to Sandman. If they can’t figure out Superman, a literal force of nature is going to be well beyond they’re grasp.

      I have this feeling Sandman is going to be a guy who uses illusion powers to fight crime, falls in love with a dream therapist who learns a Dark Secret, and fights off a demon invasion. And it’ll be 270 minutes long.

      • Murc

        There is a Sandman who fights crime, although Wesley Dodds never had illusion powers.

        Really, the proper venue for a Gaiman Sandman story in a non-comics medium is television, not film. He needs room to breath. It would make an excellent Netflix series, or maybe on HBO.

        • Manny Kant

          Don’t forget the weird Simon & Kirby Sandman from the 70s.

        • Mayur

          Without question. The series is 70% anthology as written anyway. And honestly I don’t think the “main plot”, such as it is (personification of abstract concept returns to his function after long imprisonment, has troubles, decides to “quit”, kinda) would make a film that anyone other than someone like kieslowski or satyajit Ray working across three or four films could manage.

          Sandman as tangential character in others’ lives (the doll house, a game of you, all the historical reference issues) would make a great anthology TV series though.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          So this.

          If there was ever a comic book character who demands longform narrative to get him right (and who wouldn’t benefit from a spectacular, large-scale, cgi-laden bigscreen final action sequence), it’s Morpheus.

          • Murc

            Something it took me a long time to realize is that Gaiman builds up a giant action finale that never happens.

            Morpheus doesn’t fight the Furies. He just… touches his sisters hand and moves on to the undiscovered country. And that’s it. His story ends there. There’s no fight.

            Man, I gotta go read that again.

      • gogiggs

        Will that dream therapist end up in a refrigerator?
        Ha ha! Of course she will! But it will be just a dream, so they can have the cheap shock value and dodge the consequences.

      • Halloween Jack

        I used to be afraid that Tim Burton would end up with Sandman and that it would be unutterably twee; now I have to think that that would be the optimistic scenario.

  • Al M

    Nice argument. Explains why Hollywood directors so badly screw up scripts for what ought to be fantastic movies, even with so much background material.

    And honest to gods, if I have to see another Batman movie take 20 minutes to explain the origin of Batman, I will be very upset. IT’S BEEN DONE. If you don’t know it, don’t see the film prior to reading Wiki.

    • Thanks!

      • kped

        Really enjoyed this. It’s obvious why he keeps getting hired though, he “gets comics” to the studio higher ups, even though he obviously doesn’t get comics.

        Having said that, I really did love the Nolan Batman movies, but I think more due to the acting and directing turning the bad scripts into something watchable (I know people don’t like the third…but I got a kick out of it, especially Hardy’s take on Bane. I love bizarre voice acting choices for some reason…)

        • guthrie

          Your second sentence reminds me of Adam Roberts, an English SF author whois actually a professor of English literature. He seems to have made a writing career on convincing editors and some book critics that he gets SF, when to me, a long time reader of SF, he doesn’t.

          • GeoX

            What the heck is that even supposed to mean? SF is such a broad genre with so many different ways to approach it that saying someone doesn’t “get” it makes no sense. You can not like Roberts’ writing, fine, but “he doesn’t ‘get’ SF” just sounds pointlessly dickish (also obviously untrue, given his copious critical output, but that’s neither here nor there).

        • gmack

          Yeah, I enjoyed reading this too, even though I have literally never read a comic book in my life. Alas, I can’t agree with the liking of the third Nolan Batman movie; about halfway through, I realized it was actually a re-make of Rocky III (seriously, the plot structure is remarkably similar, at least in terms of Batman’s encounters with Bane).

          • kped

            …you say that as if a remake of Rocky III would be a bad thing! I need more Mr T in my life, not less!

            • gmack

              Heh. OK, I can buy that. Bane needed more gold chains, however.

              • Now I’m hearing “Pity da fool” in Tom Hardy’s Bane voice.

                • Halloween Jack

                  “Batman! I weary of your jibber-jabber!”

    • Norrin Radd

      One of the things I don’t like about the Batman v. Superman reviews is that it assumes there’s just 1 way to do super hero films. But that’s not true in reality. I don’t want a superhero-verse where superheroes are all the same. There’s a word for that. Its called cliche. What I like about BvS is that its not The Avengers (which I loved), and its not even close to Deadpool (which I loved). So bring on the Anti-Hero types and tackle themes larger than “Bam-Wham-KaPow”. Diversity is the spice of life.

      • Manny Kant

        The problem is that it’s not a one off exploring a particular view of the characters, like Dark Knight Returns was. It’s supposed to be the tentpole for a super-hero franchise like Marvel has. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Marvel’s approach is a much better way to do that than the approach Snyder and Goyer attempt here.

    • JMP

      But we still need to take another half-hour for the burglar that Peter lets go killing Uncle Ben in the next Spider-Man film reboot, right?

  • Sebastian_h

    Wait, he’s involved with Sandman? This can’t be good. Is Gaiman deeply involved with the project?

    • Philip
    • Mayur

      If Goyer is involved, I can’t see Gaiman’s involvement moving the needle to “decent,” let alone “good enough to justify adapting in the first place.”

      Live-action Sandman strikes me as entirely unfilmable.

    • Philip

      In much better Gaiman-related news, though, he is deeply involved with a TV adaptation of Good Omens.

      • leftwingfox

        *makes whistling teapot noises in joy*

  • Mayur

    The auteur theory of film criticism is a deeply flawed one, after all.

    The Nolan Batman films are called Nolan films for a reason.

    Um…

    So yes, chalk me up as someone who subscribes pretty strongly to the auteur theory, especially because the implications of that theory in film criticism are NOT specifically that great directors always make great films or that mediocre directors are incapable of turning out good films. I will point out that Nolan (and yes; I do love the Dark Knight; to me, the illogic of the Joker’s schemes working out the way they do is part of the point), Bryan Singer, Matthew Vaughn, and Sam Raimi have made some of the best superhero films (IMO only the Winter Soldier is on the same level), and my pessimism at seeing X-Men handed over to Brett (fucking) Ratner and the Superman property to Zack (FUCKING) Snyder has proven justified. Getting good directors really, really matters, IMO especially for these sorts of big-budget blockbusters where only coaxing good performances, visual coherence, and some actual emotion out of the explosions and effects are going to set the films apart from the flood of mediocre-to-unwatchable counterparts.

    • Allow me to clarify – what makes the Nolan Batman films good has a lot to do with how they’re shot, not the script. So maybe it’s a Wally Phister Batman, but it’s not a Goyer Batman.

      • Frankly, unless things have changed an awful lot since the last couple of Batman movies I saw (on airplanes, and therefore—probably mercifully—silent), a Goyer Batman is impossible: Batman is already at Peak Goy.

        • Warren Terra

          I realize that Joel Schumacher’s Batman films gave us the Bat Nipples, but I hadn’t realized you could inspect the costume for signs of a foreskin.

      • Mayur

        The auteur theory usually (rightly,IMO) credits the director with guiding performances, cinematography, and other elements of visual rhetoric; I got that you meant “how the films are shot” but yes I’m giving the director some credit for that, not just the cinematographer and first camera.

    • Murc

      and yes; I do love the Dark Knight; to me, the illogic of the Joker’s schemes working out the way they do is part of the point

      … can you unpack that a bit? Because the Joker’s schemes are just nuts, and I don’t mean “nuts because the Joker is a crazy nihilist” I mean “nuts because they don’t actually seem like they’d work to achieve his goals.”

      The Joker is supposed to actually be smart. Indeed, properly written, the Joker is supposed to have a tiny touch of “he might, in fact, be terrifyingly sane” to him.

    • Manny Kant

      On the other hand, most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies have had rather undistinguished directors (and writers). Shouldn’t we point to Kevin Feige’s role as the key difference between Marvel and DC’s (and Fox’s) film projects? The MCU has yet to produce a genuinely great movie, but it’s so far done an incredibly good job of putting out consistently “pretty good” movies that don’t feel like betrayals of the characters involved. Feige seems to have a very clear idea of what he’s looking to do, and that idea seems to work pretty well for both general audiences and comic book fans (he’s getting diminishing returns from critics at this point, but nothing as yet compared to the slamming of BvS). I don’t think there’s anyone in charge at either Warners or Fox who has any kind of broad or consistent vision except trying things they think will make money.

      Feige actually kind of reminds me of Jim Shooter’s tenure running the comics themselves in the 80s. Neither are brilliant creative minds, and both have a definite tendency towards sanding off any rough edges and creating a kind of generic, consistent product that can make money consistently, which means riding herd pretty hard on the creatives to keep them in line. But they’re also both very good at creating that kind of generic, consistent product.

      • Murc

        The MCU has yet to produce a genuinely great movie

        I will fight you.

        • Manny Kant

          Which one or ones are great in your view? I’ve enjoyed more or less all of them to differing degrees, but not really in a “this is actually a brilliant movie” kind of way. We’re not pretending Joss Whedon is a great film maker, are we?

          • Murc

            Winter Soldier.

            • Warren Terra

              As with most of these movies, the last-act Explosion Extravaganza didn’t really live up to the rest of the film.

              That was perhaps a defining advantage of The Avengers: that instead of ending with Tom Hiddleston getting blown up, it ends with him surrendering. Even if the previous twenty minutes were all-explosions-all-the-time.

            • Manny Kant

              That was a solidly very good film, I thought.

              • I mean, both it and Avengers were fine. But even “very good” seems a bit much. Hishe gets it.

                I’m a bit of a sucker for intertextuality, even when it, upon reflection, doesn’t turn out to be very good, but I think that in the MCU it’s become rather a drag.

                And, I don’t know, the plot and world building holes sorta get more annoying for me over time. Not to mention the weak character relations and evolution. (The Avengers were particularly bad on that front with Age of Ultron being far far worse.)

                I love me some Whedon, but Much Ado About Nothing is the best of his films (and it is rather good). He clearly was able to handle, technically, complex action films, but 1) the scripts were weak (and c’mon! he could have done better) and 2) the climatic action scenes were poorly done. (Serenity’s action scenes were much better. Particularly River’s hand to hand…even her last fight’s hard-to-followness actually makes sense as part of the movie rather than just being blah).

                So, yesterday, I got pilloried for postulating that uniform, smallish sample based voting would probably be superior to our current voting practices. Today, I pick a fight with Murc :)

                C’mon Murc! Say something nasty about me!

                • ThusBloggedAnderson

                  ” Not to mention the weak character relations and evolution”

                  Uh. What?

                • ” Not to mention the weak character relations and evolution”

                  Uh. What?

                  Take the Avengers. They are pulled together, squabble in some silly ways, pull together for a fake reason, etc. Pairwise relations are quite nonexistent. Thor and Loki who are supposed to have a rich history have pretty much zero chemistry and almost no chance for interaction. (Didn’t Thor think Loki was dead?)

                  There’s some trivial clash of personality, but it’s mostly quip and stereotype based. I guess you could think that Tony evolved to making a self-sacrifice? except….I mean…he was already heroic and self sacrificing.

                  Ultron was worse on that front.

                  Winter Soldier forces the Bucky relationship, but that’s pretty forced. Bucky just doesn’t have any time to well have a personality, much less one that emerges from beneath the conditioning. Maybe Civil War will do something with that relationship, but I’m pretty skeptical.

                • CP

                  They are pulled together, squabble in some silly ways, pull together for a fake reason, etc.

                  Agent Coulson’s death was definitely one of the movie beats that I didn’t feel at all the way I was meant to. Quoting a blogger I like from another corner of the Internets:

                  Nick Fury attends to Agent Phil, who with his dying words says, “It’s okay, boss. This was never gonna work… if they didn’t have something… to…”  To what?  To avenge, presumably.  In which case, uh, seriously?  These superheroes would have just shrugged as Loki and the Chitauri killed seven billion other people — on top of the eighty people we are told Loki has already killed in the past two days — but they’ll fight like devils in memory of Agent Phil?  “He made it personal,” Stark says, looking at the blood stain.  He did no such thing!  Killing Uncle Ben makes it personal.  Killing Gwen Stacy makes it personal.  Killing Agent Phil is a half-step above killing Lentil Merchant, Running Pedestrian, or Faceless Pilot.  (I was going to say “or Man #1” but that turns out to be the script’s code name for Thanos. Whoops.)

                • Roberta

                  I thought Winter Soldier was great, and the character relations between Steve, Nick Fury, Natasha and Sam were particularly so.

                  The Avengers I’d classify as okay, not great. I don’t think the character relations were weak there either. Natasha and Clint, Natasha and Loki, Natasha and Hulk/Bruce, Thor and Loki…I thought all those were good. But the way the team as a whole came together didn’t work for me.

                • I thought Winter Soldier was great, and the character relations between Steve, Nick Fury, Natasha and Sam were particularly so.

                  Really? I mean, Nick barely interacted with anyone. Natasha and Steve just kinda worked together. Sam and Steve basically had the opening scene then “help me”.

                  These few sciences worked to the degree that they do because the actors are pretty good at working together. But the actual character or relation development, or even relations, are pretty thin.

                  The Avengers I’d classify as okay, not great. I don’t think the character relations were weak there either. Natasha and Clint,

                  I mean, most of the movie, Clint was brainwashed and we didn’t really get any reason that Natasha cared about him except “history”. Then she hit him on the head.

                  Natasha and Loki,

                  They had one scene, and it was pretty effective. Fun and well done and it did do more than most bits, but it really was mostly getting Loki to have a hubris moment. Now that is an important aspect of his character. But that bit wasn’t connected up to any other bits. So as a stand alone scence fine, as charting his character, not so much.

                  Natasha and Hulk/Bruce,

                  Again, was there much beyond

                  Thor and Loki…

                  As I said, that was really weak, esp. for the weight it needed to bear. Again, Thor thought Loki was dead but there was almost nothing about finding him alive. Really, there were almost nothing about their interaction but perfunctory posturing when they were together.

                  I thought all those were good. But the way the team as a whole came together didn’t work for me.

                  Indeed.

                  Part of the problem is that the “team coming together” was the point of the movie, so it sacrificed everything else to that. These pretty good bits and bobs are good, but they fail to build in the movie because the movie is shoving them all in there as side lines.

                  ETA: I have to wonder how much various people’s experiences of character development in these movies is because they are informed by long engagement with the characters. If you look at them as allusive (not even just to the movies, but to all the variants and experiences people have with them), it probably is a richer experience. But if you look at the movies alone (even in relation to each other), the character work is fragmented, incoherent, and generally underdeveloped or unmotivated.

                  Cf The farm retreat in Age of Ultron. Or heck, Natasha and Bruces relationship. That crap came out of no where whatsoever. The actors are good enough together that you can almost make it work, but structurally, it’s presented fully formed with no hint from before.

                • Halloween Jack

                  That’s all true about Whedon, and always has been.

                • Roberta

                  Super late response, but…

                  Really? I mean, Nick barely interacted with anyone. Natasha and Steve just kinda worked together. Sam and Steve basically had the opening scene then “help me”.

                  I disagree–Nick’s interactions with Steve were important for fleshing out their ideological conflict (national security apparatus vs. civil liberties, broadly speaking). Natasha and Steve had evidently developed an edgy friendship of sorts, to the point where she’s teasing him, which is a pretty big deal for her. We learn Sam leads a support group of some kind and Steve comes to his place of work, which is important for highlighting that Steve, his superhero status notwithstanding, has the usual traumas you’d expect from a veteran.

                  I mean, most of the movie, Clint was brainwashed and we didn’t really get any reason that Natasha cared about him except “history”. Then she hit him on the head.

                  But we did: the fact that he was supposed to kill her and decided to give her a chance instead, and she feels she’s in debt to him because of it. That’s more than just vague “history”, it tells us that Clint is (weirdly) generous for an assassin, and that Natasha has a fairly transactional but strong sense of obligation.

                  They had one scene, and it was pretty effective. Fun and well done and it did do more than most bits, but it really was mostly getting Loki to have a hubris moment. Now that is an important aspect of his character. But that bit wasn’t connected up to any other bits. So as a stand alone scence fine, as charting his character, not so much.

                  In addition to Loki having a hubris moment, it also highlighted his worldview, which (as his implied threat to rape Jane at the end of Thor also suggests) is an ultra-misogynist one with an obsession with dominating and subjugating others and scorning any sort of emotion as weakness. Hence calling Natasha a “mewling quim,” laughing at her for supposedly being in love (which is why he’ll also laugh at Thor for his “sentiment”), etc.

                  But for me that scene was more important for Natasha than for Loki. It showcases her efficacy as an interrogator and her emotional control. It also explains why she’s even in the movie when, despite her powers, she’s nowhere as strong as many of the others.

                  As I said, that was really weak, esp. for the weight it needed to bear. Again, Thor thought Loki was dead but there was almost nothing about finding him alive. Really, there were almost nothing about their interaction but perfunctory posturing when they were together.

                  As I recall (it’s been a while since I saw it), Thor had already learned Loki was alive before he got to earth, so there was no need for an “omg you’re alive” scene.

                  But they had more than perfunctory posturing. They had Thor repeatedly and confusedly giving Loki chances and just not getting why Loki wouldn’t take them, and putting himself at risk (and getting himself stabbed) in the hopes that Loki would just give in and come home with him. That’s a huge deal, given what Loki did in the first Thor movie.

                  But if you look at the movies alone (even in relation to each other), the character work is fragmented, incoherent, and generally underdeveloped or unmotivated.

                  Cf The farm retreat in Age of Ultron. Or heck, Natasha and Bruces relationship. That crap came out of no where whatsoever. The actors are good enough together that you can almost make it work, but structurally, it’s presented fully formed with no hint from before

                  Yes, I agree the movies sometimes take too much for granted as far as comics backstory is concerned. For me the biggest example of this is the Tony-Steve dynamic. We’re clearly supposed to find it really impactful in the first Avengers, and its rupture in Civil War is obviously meant to be heartbreaking and dramatic and whatever. Except…there’s nothing in the movies to support any sort of strong emotional tie between them. So Civil War will be an anticlimax in that regard. It’s being played like friends turning on each other, when it’s more like tense co-workers turning on each other. The movie writers are relying on the comics, which I haven’t read, to do the emotional work for them.

          • ThusBloggedAnderson

            Whedon is not Antonioni or Truffaut, okay.

            But for the genre? Yeah. The Avengers was & is a great fucking movie. I don’t know what else one could want.

            Agree that Winter Soldier is excellent as well.

            • Manny Kant

              I liked Avengers a lot! But I don’t really feel like it reaches a point beyond “a lot of fun.”

            • Manny Kant

              It’s not that Whedon’s not Antonioni or Truffaut. Whedon’s no Spielberg, which I think is probably still the gold standard for this kind of film-making.

              • The Temporary Name

                Oh, I think The Avengers is as fun as the first Raiders, especially given the obstacle of the how much crazy bullshit you have to swallow (vs. some biblical magic). And it certainly beats the last Spielberg Raiders outing, which was sad and confused.

                • Hmm. It’s been ages since I saw Raiders, but I remember it being better. Avengers is more like the first Star Wars, fun the first time, but ages and weakens rapidly (though the Avengers had less erratic acting (Mark Hamill…ugh) and better dialogue.) Raiders seemed to me to be better constructed, if mostly because “Guy has serial adventures chasing the McGuffin” can work well when executed well. Which it was.

                • Manny Kant

                  Avengers has clever dialogue, courtesy of writer-Whedon, and good acting. It’s a fun movie. But Raiders is perfect for what it is, and is clearly the better directed movie. Notably, aren’t the Avengers fight scenes nearly as incomprehensible as any other contemporary blockbuster? Is that ever true of a Spielberg film?

                  I’d also defend the original Star Wars as being a better movie than Avengers. The script for Star Wars isn’t any good, and Ford is the only tolerable actor of the main three, but Star Wars wins everything else.

                • Notably, aren’t the Avengers fight scenes nearly as incomprehensible as any other contemporary blockbuster?

                  Yes. This is the big problem with so many films and basically all the Marval ones: The fights rather suck. The Avengers climatic battle was as stupid as they come so for Ultron they had to up the stakes on incomprehensible silliness.

                  (Seriously, Ultron is a fucking robot. Why would he set up the trigger for his doomsday device to be a PHYSICAL BUTTON that could be defended by a few people? Why not have 500 triggers. Why not keep the trigger inside him? Why not have a timer? Ok, this might be fine if the fight were cool, but it was horribly dumb and impossible to watch. The robots were hard to distinguish but so were the heroes! And, it was just a whole bunch of “one guy attacks at a time” fights where some robot should have been able to get through if there was even a tiny bit of coordination.)

                  Of course, part of the problem is the source material. The Avengers are just silly. The power differential in the team members is a big part of it, but instead of making them have specialised skills for specialised tasks, you have Black Widow with Teeny Tiny Guns and Hawkeye “keeping a lookout” and shooting things with special arrows. I mean, c’mon. And Captian America is so unevenly powered that it makes the horrible silliness of the shield/weapon seem minor.

                  Actually, it’s impressive that the film is as watchable as it is.

                  I’d also defend the original Star Wars as being a better movie than Avengers. The script for Star Wars isn’t any good, and Ford is the only tolerable actor of the main three, but Star Wars wins everything else.

                  Well, I didn’t say it was better, just that I think both Star Wars and the Avengers are in the same space and both much worse than Raiders. (Not that they are particularly bad, and Star Wars was groundbreaking, just that neither is very tight, as a whole.)

          • L2P

            You seem to demand a lot of “great.” If Avengers and Winter Soldier aren’t great films, there can’t be more than, like, 7 of them.

            • Manny Kant

              Seriously? You can’t think of 8 movies that are better than Winter Soldier?

              • Roberta

                I can’t think of a single superhero movie that is.

                • Manny Kant

                  I didn’t think that’s what we were talking about. Do you think L2P thinks that it would be unreasonable if only seven super hero films were clearly better than Winter Soldier?

                  I’m also not sure if there are any genuinely great superhero films, even in the broad context of “big Hollywood action movies”.

                  Like, is there a superhero film that is anywhere near as good as Raiders of the Lost Ark?

                • The Temporary Name

                  The Incredibles.

                • Patick Spens

                  A non-exhaustive list of superhero movies better than Winter Soldier, off the top of my head and in no particular order.

                  Ant-Man
                  Batman Begins
                  The Dark Knight
                  Batman Forever (I’m not kidding even a little bit here)
                  Ant-Man
                  Deadpool
                  Spider-Man 1
                  Spider-Man 2
                  Hulk
                  The Avengers
                  Guardians of the Galaxy
                  The Incredible Hulk
                  Superman Returns

                • Warren Terra

                  @Patrick Spens

                  srsly?

                  At least one of the Hulk movies (I’m not sure I saw both) is terrible, Superman Returns is almost unwatchably bad, Batman Forever is forgivable only for not being Batman And Robin, and I am somewhat unusual in flat hating Batman Begins.

                • Patick Spens

                  @Warren Terra

                  Seriously. Superman Returns manages to be the grown up version of Goyer’s, “Superman with flaws”. Where the flaws are his inability to be a good person rather than be a good Superman.

                  Ang Lee’s Hulk is usually the one that gets the most hate, but it’s a cleanly directed film anchored by a good performance from Eric Bana and a terrifying one from Nick Nolte.

                  Batman Begins is admittedly not as good as Forever. But it’s one of very few movies that got the whole “grim and gritty” take on superheroes right. Namely by still having him fight ninjas and people with “fear gas.”

                  Batman Forever is actually a really good movie you guys. It’s visually delightful, and the actors (particularly Jones and Cary) are incredibly fun to watch. Yeah it’s not “serious” or “realistic,” but comic books are allowed to be brightly coloured and fun sometimes too. And unlike Winter Soldier, it doesn’t completely screw up its message 20 minutes before the end of the movie, and then screw it up again 15 minutes later.

                  In contrast, while Winter Soldier was well shot and casted, and the special effects were impeccably realistic, the actual set pieces were visually boring and predicable, and the plot was thematically and structurally a complete mess.

                • DocAmazing

                  Sorry, The Dark Knight sucked. Tim Burton doesn’t get superheroes, and Jack Nicholson played Jack Nicholson. Don’t even start me talking about Mr. Mom.

                • Halloween Jack

                  Batman Forever (I’m not kidding even a little bit here)

                  …well, I’m very sorry to hear that.

      • Joss Whedon, Kenneth Branaugh, Joe Johnston, Shane Black, James Gunn, et al. are not undistinguished, nor would I call their work generic.

        • Manny Kant

          Prior to Avengers, Whedon had directed some TV episodes and Serenity. Joe Johnston hadn’t directed a movie that anyone thought was any good in twenty years before directing the first Captain America. Shane Black had directed one reasonably well-regarded film. James Gunn was a cult B-horror movie director. Jon Favreau had directed Elf. The Russos had directed You, Me, and Dupree. Alan Taylor was a TV director. Peyton Reed directed some undistinguished romantic comedies.

          Kenneth Branagh I’ll give you, but compare to who the other companies were hiring: Bryan Singer, Sam Raimi, Ang Lee, and Christopher Nolan had a kind of buzz as auteurs that none of these guys save Branagh really had (Whedon was a big deal, but as a writer and TV producer, not a director). So, like it or not, does Zack Snyder. Marvel started their cinematic universe with “that guy from Swingers who directed Elf.” Warner Brothers started theirs with “visionary director Zack Snyder, in consultation with visionary director Christopher Nolan.” That’s a huge difference.

          I’ll take back the idea that their work is necessarily generic, but it seems fairly clear that Feige and Disney view the directors of these movies as basically fungible. Ant-Man showed them that they could fire a genuinely exciting writer/director, replace him with someone nobody had heard of, and still put out a perfectly decent movie that made good money and got good reviews.

          • Whedon had done a bit more than “direct some TV episodes.”

            Also, James Gunn and Sam Raimi were both cult horror directors, so why is one considered an auteur and the other not? Who gives a damn how long it had been between Joe Johnston movies – he was the guy who did Honey I Shrunk the Kids and the Rocketeer! And before Nolan did Batman Begins he was an indie director no different than anyone else.

            And to push back on your list, you might as well throw Brett Ratner and Gavin Hood on the other side of the scale.

            So let’s tote up the “auteurs” – Bryan Singer’s X-Men films are resoundingly mediocre and he’s embarrassed to be making superhero movies and Matthew Vaughn did way better than he did in First Class, Ang Lee’s Hulk flopped, and Sam Raimi still gave us Spiderman 3.

            • Barry Freed

              I’m not into the superhero movie genre and so have no dog in this fight but seconding this:

              Whedon had done a bit more than “direct some TV episodes.”

              In addition to writing and directing many episodes himself Whedon directed at least 2 of the hands-down best and most cinematic episodes of BtVS ever: “Hush” and “Once More, With Feeling”.

              • Manny Kant

                Right, he was known as a good TV director. How many TV directors get hired to direct gigantic would-be blockbusters?

                I’m not trying to diminish Whedon’s talent. But in 2010 he wasn’t known as a film director.

            • Manny Kant

              Whedon: How had Whedon done more than direct some TV episodes? He was a writer and producer. He’d directed Serenity and some TV episodes. He wasn’t known as a director at all when he made Avengers.

              Raimi vs. Gunn: Raimi directed iconic cult horror films that were very well known by the time of Spider-Man. He also had directed a number of reasonably well-regarded mainstream films, like A Simple Plan. I doubt most people could name any movies James Gunn directed before Guardians – certainly none with the caché of the Evil Dead trilogy.

              Nolan: He had a ton of buzz from Memento, and Insomnia was a big budget movie with major Hollywood stars. He certainly was a much more buzzworthy director than anyone Marvel has hired.

              Johnston: Sure, those were two great movies. But, again, this was a guy who hadn’t done anything anyone cared about for twenty years. They were hiring him because they liked him, I’m sure, but also because he was cheap and glad to get the work.

              I’ll concede that non-Marvel studios sometimes hire hacks, but I don’t think that was my point. The hacks are generally also for movies the studio doesn’t really care about or on properties they aren’t sure what to do with.

              And I’ll concede that the results have been mixed when bigger name directors are hired! That was kind of my point! Marvel’s model seems to rely mostly on hiring directors who don’t have gigantic egos and then seriously riding herd on them as part of a very careful brand management strategy. And it has mostly worked to produce entertaining movies!

              I’m not sure that Fox or Sony can be described as having strategies for their superhero films. Warner Brothers, too. They interfere, but not in any coherent way, or to any particular purpose. Sometimes they get big name directors. Sometimes they hire hacks. Sometimes the director takes over and does what he likes. Sometimes the studio forces a bunch of random shit on the directors. But there’s no coherent purpose.

              My argument, I think, is that if we have to ascribe any kind of authorship to the Marvel movies, the obvious candidate is Kevin Feige, rather than any of the directors. That’s clearly not true with BvS – there’s no studio person with any clear vision of what they want these movies to do.

              • My argument, I think, is that if we have to ascribe any kind of authorship to the Marvel movies, the obvious candidate is Kevin Feige, rather than any of the directors.

                This is an excellent point.

                Marvel Studios seems very much a throwback to the old studio system (albeit with a tight focus on particular source material). And it’s working extraordinarily well, esp. in making money but also for turning out reliable material. We’re not getting a ton of inspiration, however.

                It’s interesting to compare with Pixar, which is or was a bit closer to an old time studio, but it was far less constrained. As a result you have a similar level of consistency (Cars 2 and Planes seem to have been a weird detour), but MUCH higher highs and much more amazing innovation and artistic verve. It’s hard to see that, even in genera, we’ll have anything as fundamentally great as Up or Wall-E. They consistently push the boundaries of filmmaking on multiple fronts, from animation technique to storytelling.

  • This is good timing, since I actually saw BvS last night. You guys, it is so bad. I mean, it’s been three weeks, and the reviews have been atrocious, and it had one of the steepest box office drops on the record, especially for a film that broke the bank in its first week. And it’s not as if the trailers or, indeed, Man of Steel had raised any expectations from me. But still I was completely unprepared for how bad it was. After the movie, my brother and I got dinner and sat for an hour coming up with the list of all the ways in which it was bad, and then I woke up this morning and thought of another one. It’s just terrible.

    But having said that, it actually occurs to me that it could have been a coherent (not good, mind you, but coherent) movie if it just had the courage of its convictions. Because for like 90% of its run, BvS seems genuinely to be working on the assumption that superheroes are a terrible idea, just a bunch of dumb, entitled psychopaths who will turn the world into a fascist dystopia if we let them. Which I’m actually totally on board with – I mean, I recognize that that’s not what Superman or Batman or Captain America were meant to be, and that the original stories (not to mention good adaptations of those stories) did other things with them, but especially given the blind spots that some of the recent movies have had, and the mental gymnastics they require from me to accept that a world with superheroes in it isn’t a terrible nightmare realm, I appreciate a movie that is upfront about the fact that no, superheroes are not a good idea.

    So the main problem with BvS, to my mind, isn’t that it doesn’t understand its characters, but that it lacks the courage of its convictions. Ten minutes before the end of the movie I’m suddenly supposed to start rooting for its heroes just because they’ve started behaving marginally less like complete morons, and then there’s an interminable ending scene where the world suddenly loves Superman for reasons that are completely incomprehensible to me. If BvS wanted to be a cynical movie about how both Superman and Batman are terribly people, I would have at least respected the effort. The fact that it won’t go that far because Warner Brothers wants its own MCU means that it’s not only bad, but cowardly.

    (None of the above, by the way, applies to Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman was great, not least because she actually seemed to like the thing she’d chosen to do with her life. Really looking forward to her movie, especially if it’s in color!)

    • Jumping off the fascist thing, you definitely get the sense that Snyder really, really liked Watchmen. Which is funny, given how Moore’s distanced himself from the whole deconstructionist trend.

      • Philip

        And even funnier because, as SEK explained in excruciating detail a couple years ago, Snyder really doesn’t get Watchmen either.

        • Murc

          I’m on the record as loving Snyder’s Watchmen. It was a faithful adaption of the comic, which is what I wanted.

          Really, I love the stuff Snyder has made that he didn’t write. I find him a talented director and cinematographer. A gifted one even!

          But every time he fires up a word processor someone should smack him in the face with a rolled-up newspaper and shout “NO!”

          • Sebastian_h

            He made a hugely foolish choice by revealing who the villain was right at the beginning of the movie.Sucked a huge amount of tension out of the mystery.

            • Warren Terra

              Well, sure, but for someone watching the movie as a fan of the book, this isn’t an issue. If you’re watching the movie as a fan of the book, you just want to see how well the pages can be made flesh. And it turns out Snyder’s really, really good at that.

              Unfortunately, if you are watching the movie as a fan of the book, I think you probably can’t judge how well the movie works without being a fan of the book. My understanding from what I’ve heard is that it doesn’t.

              • Philip

                This is where I think SEK’s post about it is helpful. It works if you know what the story is supposed to be saying already. But if you’re coming to it fresh, the movie doesn’t actually tell the same story because it misunderstands what the details were saying in the book.

              • rm

                He “made flesh” of some of the still images of the comic, while betraying every theme and all the characters — so that flesh is a soulless zombie version of the story. Any meanings it promotes are the opposite of the book’s. The only way I can imagine it being watchable is if I knew nothing at all of the source material.

                It’s an abomination.

          • Rob in CT

            Or rub his face in the finished product?

          • Aaron Morrow

            On the one hand I want to quibble with what a “faithful adaption” of Dan Drieberg would be, but Snyder as a cinematographer is brilliant.

            Seriously, I wish I thought of that.

          • Sly

            Yeah. If you’re going to do a dark and brooding meditation on the nature of the “superior” individual alone on a sea of mediocrity and corruption – which I think is Snyder’s hobby-horse – you can use The Watchmen to do that. That’s not what The Watchmen is really about, but it’s not hard to repurpose it for that story.

            But it doesn’t work for Batman, and it sure as fucking shit doesn’t work for Superman. Batman isn’t Rorschach and Superman isn’t Doctor Manhattan.

            • rm

              Exactly — you can miss that Watchmen is a bitter exploration of the viciousness of that aspect of the superhero myth, and pretend that the Objectivist hero is actually really cool and not an insane serial killer (who in the book can only be redeemed at all by abandoning this insane ideal). It works, and movies betray their books all the time.

              And yes also, it just can’t be done for the iconic mythic characters who stand for less ironic ideas.

          • it was a faithful adaption of the comic

            There’s no part in the comic where Adrian Veidt lets Dan Dreiberg punch him in the face repeatedly while shouting out his objections to Veidt’s plan.

            In the comic I read, Dan and Laurie almost immediately conclude that Veidt’s plan was a success. They’re too busy fucking to react in any way to Dr. Manhattan murdering Rorschach. The epilogue shows them having assumed new, false identities and having the times of their lives.

            The only person in the comic who actually shows any uncertainty about Veidt’s plan is Veidt.

            That said, you can blame that particular change on David Hayter, whose original draft of the script was even dumber than the one filmed. He actually had Dan fight and kill Veidt.

          • rm

            **NO.** A thousand times no.

            It was NOT a faithful adaptation of the comic. No.

          • Halloween Jack

            It was faithful in the wrong ways. It aped many of the scenes directly, which doesn’t always work very well since (as Alan Moore has said repeatedly) they were written to work well as a comic book, not a movie. And a lot of the changes don’t work because they’re just kind of dumb.

    • Murc

      BvS’s worst sin in my mind is the way Batman murders a whole bunch of people using guns.

      And not in the last extremity, either. The Batmobile and the Batwing both pack military grade ordinance and Batman coolly lines up shots and cuts people in half with machine-gun fire, and aims shots into fuel tanks so they blow up and immolate folks and he can jump his death car through the flames and look awesome.

      This isn’t like the Nolan movies, where you can maybe pretend people didn’t die when he was flipping cop cars like a kid playing with Hot Wheels. This is Batman grabbing an assault rifle, firing off a quip, and then pegging a round into a guy.

      There are a lot of people who think Batman would be a lot cooler if he were more like the Punisher. Apparently Snyder is one.

      • You know, I’m not a huge comics fan, so I’m not so bothered by things like Batman using guns. And as for killing people, one might argue that it’s better to be upfront and honest about that. I really appreciated the scene where Batman tells Alfred “We’re criminals. We’ve always been criminals.” In fact I’d argue that the film gets Batman a lot better than Superman, perhaps because it depicts him as someone who has been doing this for decades and has lost all of his illusions.

        The Superman bits, on the other hand, are a complete disaster. He’s depicted as someone who seems genuinely to dislike people, and to be saving them (when he deigns to) out of a sense of aggrieved obligation.

        • Murc

          And as for killing people, one might argue that it’s better to be upfront and honest about that.

          … upfront and honest about completely fucking missing the point of Batman?

          Batman is a profoundly humanistic character. At his core, he is someone who doesn’t want anyone to die. There have been a ludicrous number of stories in which he moves heaven and earth to prevent some complete shitheel from being executed, or exposes himself to risk to save others who patently do not deserve saving.

          Any portrayal of him as a murderous thug in a mask who likes to mutilate people is wrong. Full stop.

          I really appreciated the scene where Batman tells Alfred “We’re criminals. We’ve always been criminals.”

          This is a line from Miller’s Dark Knight Returns. In fact, BvS lifts a lot of lines directly from DKR. It divorces them from their original context and completely misses the fucking point, however.

          Of course Batman is a criminal. So is Superman. They’re vigilantes. Batman just prefers to confront that fact directly and assume the moral responsibility, rather than pretending he’s some sort of lawman.

          He’s depicted as someone who seems genuinely to dislike people, and to be saving them (when he deigns to) out of a sense of aggrieved obligation.

          Yes. This. He seems… profoundly alien in a way Superman isn’t supposed to.

          • Batman is a profoundly humanistic character.

            You know, I keep hearing this, and I’m willing to believe that it’s true of (some of) the comics. But I’ve been seeing Batman movies for twenty years, and I simply don’t recognize this character. The Batman I’ve seen is, at best, working through his mommy-and-daddy issues by beating up poor criminals, and at worst, as bad as the villains he fights.

            • medrawt

              I like several Batman movies – the two Burtons and the first Nolan, basically – but in truth the best non-comics presentation of the character I’ve ever seen, and many people who are much more deeply in the comics weeds than I am seem to concur, is the series of Batman and Justice League cartoons made from about the mid-90s to the mid-00s. They are, absolutely, for kids, but I consider that a point in their favor, and generally quite watchable for sympathetic adults.

              • Mayur

                I was going to say this. Abigail: since you seem to like opening about this stuff a lot, you really should consider watching some of the DCAU shows. They do superman well too.

                I disagree with some folks here, apparently, but I *do* think Nolan gets Batman, right up until the first minute of the dark knight rises.He is fundamentally a character who doesn’t want anyone to die; he does actually do a fair amount of institutional good work as Bruce Wayne, and in fact the critical and tragic focus of the dark knight is the tension between batman’s desire to protect and his willingness to flout the law. Harvey’s destruction is basically what breaks him and sends batman outside the limits of heroism.

                • Bruce B.

                  I agree a lot about the DC TV animation. Some genuinely great work in there.

              • Sly

                I’d really like to live in a world where I get a lot less puzzled looks after I say the name “Kevin Conroy” whenever I’m asked the question “Who played the best Batman?”

                • CP

                  Substitute “Timothy Dalton” for “Kevin Conroy” and “James Bond” for “Batman,” and that’s me.

                  (I’m sorry to say that Kevin Conroy draws the same puzzled look from me that it does from so many others).

                • Gregor Sansa

                  Will Arnett.

                • Also, the best Joker is Mark Hamill.

        • medrawt

          This is where half baked notions about making superheroes “realistic” start foundering.

          Plenty of superheroes don’t shy away from killing their enemies (including Wonder Woman) if necessary. Batman treats it as an inviolable rule. Not in every comics appearance, not right at the character’s inception, but for the vast majority of his canonical history. It’s not “upfront and honest” to say otherwise, it’s distorting what the genre is. Superhero stories are not “upfront and honest” about violence, full stop, and making them so turns them into moral nightmares. If that’s what you want to do, cool, but DC, WB, Goyer, Snyder, et al., don’t think thoughts like “let’s use the two most famously beloved and inspirational characters in superhero history to critique the genre,” they think “let’s make something ‘cool’ that millions will buy tickets for.”

          Snyder apparently (no interest in seeing this movie) coopts elements from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, because literally every Batman series made in my lifetime says “we need to go darker than the previous ones, so we’re going to draw inspiration from TDKR” – this was the reaction of Burton to the 60s TV show, this was the reaction of Nolan to Burton/Schumacher, this is the apparent reaction of Snyder to Nolan. (TDKR has an ambigious panel of Batman firing a gun he takes off an opponent in a 1 vs. many fight, and it’s possible he kills someone there, but it also has him breaking a rifle in front of a crowd of would-be-followers and shouting “This is the weapon of the enemy! We do not need it! We will not use it!” and it has him refusing to kill the Joker, whose eventual death is blamed on him and treated by people sympathetic to him as crossing a moral event horizon.) But TDKR is a walled off box designed to generate that particular story [and an awful sequel]; it’s not “the end state” for Batman, it’s a look at a dystopian future where everything turned out terribly, and DC’s official position is not that as the Justice League ages everything’s going to go to shit, and all our favorite heroes are going to suffer corruption and moral failure. Even if DC’s plan is to swiftly pivot Affleck-Batman into a mentor figure for a new generation of heroes (including some sort of replacement BatmenRobins), I have no idea why you’d take THAT characterization as a starting point for the reintroduction of a flagship character in what’s intended to be a continuing storytelling universe, anymore than you’d do what they’ve done with Superman in their first two opportunities.

          It takes a certain amount of hubris for me to say this, because they’re professionals, and because they’re experiencing enough financial success that they’re going to keep going, but these are not people who understand storytelling very well, at least in terms of the storytelling potential of the intellectual property they want to muck around with.

          • including some sort of replacement BatmenRobins

            in 31 flavors?

          • rm

            Yes — the fantasy foundations of the genre have something inherently childish in them, and any good version (that is not a satire) is going to understand that deep down that’s how the genre works. It’s fantasy about how our adult-powered selves are shaped by our childish needs, wishes, and traumas. It seems to me Snyder wants us to understand real hard that he’s a serious, grownup, super powerful man and not in any way childish at all.

        • Bruce B.

          Abigail, hoping this doesn’t come off as ranting at you or anything – let me know if it does, because I try to calibrate my style for such things.

          For a lot of us vintage comics readers, Batman actually is that humanistic character. Here are scans of two pages of a story that many of us feel got it just right, Warren Ellis & John Cassady’s Planetary/Batman: Night On Earth. Planetary is a group of a different universe of their own, who get tangled into a mysterious dimension shifting affecting a whole city. They keep encountering different versions of Gotham City – its 30s look, the animated series, the Tim Burton films’ look, and so on – and also different versions of Batman, who’s also investigating the mystery. The characters meet a very early Batman, the ’60s TV one, and a bunch more.

          The climax brings together Batman, Planetary, and the man responsible for the shifting. His parents were experimented on the ’50s and ’60s by…well, it’s complicated to explain, but suffice it to say that the bad guys involved were selling out Earth to alien invaders and were American Nazis more Nazi than a bunch of the Operation Paperclip guys. His parents, along with many others, died. He survived, but couldn’t control his dimension-mixing power, which has been getting stronger. What settles it is not another fight, but Batman listening, particularly after the guy shares a flashback of Batman’s parents dying and asks him how he deals with it.

          Batman’s answer, page one

          Batman’s answer, page two

          That is, in some sense, “the” point of Batman for a lot of us.

          • Manny Kant

            His parents were experimented on by the evil Nazi serial numbers filed off Fantastic Four, no?

            • Bruce B.

              Yup. But once you start talking about the Four, it’s hard to stop, and I wasn’t out to plug Planetary in general just right now. :)

              • Kerans

                Zack Snyder’s Planetary. Please no. No. NOOOOOO!

          • CassandraLeo

            Thanks for posting this. I feel like I need to follow it up with this obligatory deservedly famous scene from Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman, just to drive home how badly Superman has been disserviced as well:

            Superman stops to help a suicidal teen

            I have never seen either of these characters on the big screen. I will give some of the earlier directors (Bryan Singer, etc.) credit for trying to make films about them, but thus far they have yet to appear in a feature film. Goyer and Snyder certainly didn’t even try.

            • Bruce B.

              Morrison has his downs, to put it mildly, but when he’s up, he can get all the way up. Love that moment.

          • Hogan

            And if you can do that you can stop the world from making more people like us.

            That just fucking kills me. Every time.

            • Bruce B.

              Me too. There have been times it made me cry, when I was down with the weight of the world and the disabled life and all. But cry in a good way.

    • CP

      But still I was completely unprepared for how bad it was.

      I may have to see it now, just to see if even I can be shocked at how bad it is; the trailers have fully led me to expect it to be the worst superhero movie in decades and, to quote another reviewer, “153 minutes of a grown man whacking two dolls together.”

      • Alex.S

        It’s not even at the level of a stupid action movie with stupid fighting. Sadly, that’s the portion of the movie that’s the best part.

        I don’t want to get into spoilers territory… but I think it’s safe to say that a large portion of the movie is about obtaining an import license.

    • Manny Kant

      Of course Warners wasn’t going to let them make that movie, though! So why are Goyer and Snyder trying to make half that movie and then weaseling out, instead of, you know, making a good non-revisionist take that Warners could actually build a franchise out of?

  • Bootsie

    The next Cap movie should be about Richard Nixon’s Jack Kirby UFO.

    • It would be pretty awesome. Can’t wait to cover that on People’s History of the Marvel Universe.

      • Manny Kant

        Nixon commits suicide in the White House! That’s amazing. Been reading Avengers Forever, which features Rick Jones and the Supreme Intelligence of the Kree (and Kang the Conqueror and Libra, I guess? I don’t exactly understand what happened there) summoning various Avengers from different points in time, and one of them is Captain America right after that, but described in a super vague way. I assume this is some combination of the sliding Timescale and Marvel not wanting to make Englehart’s political narrative explicit.

        • It was extremely 70s.

          • Manny Kant

            I wish I had more patience for Silver Age/early Bronze Age comics. So much punching and dialogue in which the characters narrate what they are doing! Because some of the 70s stuff seems delightfully bonkers.

            Although I do think a lot of the charm comes from seeing modern writers try to contextualize all the bonkers back story in stories that are ostensibly more psychologically realistic and nuanced.

            Although the Busiek Avengers stories are weird because they really feel like 80s throwbacks.

  • I enjoy superhero movies but, at the end of the day, its just grown men wacking dolls together (to paraphrase Lindy West).

    • Philip

      No more so than any other genre, imo.

    • Robert M.

      Superhero movies can be that, sure. There’s no reason they have to be, though, and that’s part of what’s so frustrating about movies like Man of Steel and Batman v Superman.

      • True, but I think they get into trouble when they take themselves too seriously.

        This is not just a problem with superhero movies, but any genre. I was watching “Grimm” the other day and wondering why it got so serious. Star Wars was arguably at its best before it got all serious about The Force, imho.

        • UserGoogol

          Well, a movie can “not take itself too seriously” without being focused on the base mechanics of combat. Just watching charismatic actors interacting with each other is a big part of the fun of some of the Marvel movies.

    • L2P

      You could say that about any movie. Pride and Prejudice is just playing house with Barbies, right?

    • ThusBloggedAnderson

      In context, Lindy was writing that as a criticism of BvS, not of superhero flicks in general – that’s *all* BvS was.

      (Haven’t seen it; I will redbox it for the Wonder Woman scenes.)

  • By the way, Steven, is there a master list of the People’s History posts anywhere? I mentioned them to some friends, and I’d love to be able to just point them to a single link.

  • CP

    Secondly, the Captain probably only appeals to part of the nation today. Most likely, he’s more popular with the conservative side

    This really, really, really makes me want to tear my hair out every time I see it.

    Cap is a liberal. A New Deal, World War Two era, liberal. It’s who he is. It’s who he always was. If you want a right wing hero, well, there’s several possible candidates out there, but Cap isn’t one of them. The only way this incessant “Captain America must be conservative” shit works is if you 1) have literally never read the comics and 2) have bought wholesale into the conservative canard that only they are patriots and that everyone who disagrees with them just hate America. Neither of which makes me think very highly of this guy’s qualification to comment on this.

    I’d add that even with little familiarity with the character, this should still be fucking obvious. Cap is a man from the 1940s – a time when the New Dealers were running and radically transforming America, while the country’s main foreign enemy was an extreme right wing movement. Even if Cap really was nothing but a generically patriotic icon, “generically patriotic” in that context comes with liberal overtones whether it means to or not. If Cap had come from, say, the 1980s – when it was the Reaganites who were being given a mandate to remake the country in their image, and an extreme left wing movement that was America’s main foreign enemy – I’d have few problems with the “Cap must be conservative” reading. From the 1940s? Not a chance in hell.

    • Philip

      I’d add that even with little familiarity with the character, this should still be fucking obvious. Cap is a man from the 1940s – a time when the New Dealers were running and radically transforming America, while the country’s main foreign enemy was an extreme right wing movement.

      Cap was created to fight the people whose rhetoric conservative candidates keep copying.

    • Rob in CT

      Yeah, that’s like, WTF? Cap is so clearly a liberal it’s not even funny. He’s an idealist who’s all about doing the right thing, not following orders if they’re bad, questioning power…

      If Conservatives like the character, I guess that’s a good thing b/c some of cap’s liberalism may rub off.

      Also:

      Most likely, he’s more popular with the conservative side, so his popularity is on the upswing now.

      Huh?

    • Murc

      Cap is a liberal. A New Deal, World War Two era, liberal. It’s who he is. It’s who he always was.

      To be fair, this doesn’t automatically translate to progressive views on things like race, gender, and sexuality. It would be entirely possible to write a Cap story where he has some retrograde attitudes alongside those lines and needs to address them after having been translated into the modern world.

      But he was never going to be a commie-smasher.

      • Doesn’t automatically, but it has historically in the comics, thanks to his learning from Sam Wilson and Sharon Carter and standing up for Arnie Roth.

        And according to Historically Accurate Steve Rogers, Steve and Bucky’s neighborhood in the MCU used to be a gay neighborhood back in the 30s.

        • Murc

          This is true. I’m just saying, Cap is a white guy from the forties. Even knowing he’s a New Dealer, if you haven’t made an in-depth study of the character it isn’t a big stretch to assume he’s going to be problematic in some ways.

          • Roberta

            Right. But it’s a mistake to assume the things we’d find problematic about him would match up with modern conservatism to any significant degree. It’s more like, he’d have a pre-2nd wave understanding of women’s issues, his ideas of sexuality might be progressive-for-his-era but not up to date in ours, the concept of same-gender marriage would be pretty strange to him initially, that kind of thing.

            • Warren Terra

              In this context (that you’d expect him to have some sexual and racial equality problems) it’s notable that the recent Marvel films with Captain America have done a bit (though maybe not a lot) more to team their titular hero up with strong women and with African-American action heroes than have the Iron Man or Thor films.

              • Roberta

                Yes. And he has no problem with it, nor would I expect him to. I think any problems he’d have would be more on the level of generalities than interpersonal dealings with individuals.

              • Lurker

                Yeah,

                you might get a few pretty good scenes about this kind of dissonance by having Captain America saying somethig like “President Obama truly is a credit to his race, a truly upstanding negro”, which would be a commendably progressive sentiment for 1940’s, while being simultaneously racist and patronising.

                And of course, it would be a good opportunity for character growth.

      • CP

        1) What Steve said.

        2) Right, and in the same way, being a Reagan-era conservative wouldn’t automatically map onto all the right wing viewpoints of today – parties and movements evolve and change. But the knee jerk reaction to a patriotic icon from that era really shouldn’t be “he can only be a conservative.”

        I think it’s just that so so many people have drunk the kool-aid of “patriotism is a patented conservative” product that they simply can’t wrap their heads around the notion of someone with a name as in your face as “Captain America” not conforming to expectations. It’s Pavlovian at this point.

      • JMP

        There was an issue of Jon Ostrander and Tom Mandrake’s mid 90s The Spectre that dealt with this; Jim Corrigan is also a man from the 40s today, (in his case because he’s a ghost bonded to the wrath of god) is forced to confront his own homophobia and ends up admitting that he was wrong, although he’s still not totally over it.

    • If you want a right wing hero, well, there’s several possible candidates out there

      You mean like Tony Stark? Or, for that matter, Bruce Wayne?

      • Murc

        Bruce Wayne isn’t right-wing except to the extent he’s a rich white guy who punches muggers, and by that logic nearly all of’em are right wing.

        • Warren Terra

          Where does one put vigilantism on the left/right spectrum? It’s problematic from a due-process perspective, not to mention unlawful-search-and-seizure, but then left-wing authoritarianism is a thing.

          • Roberta

            As is left-wing anarchism.

            I’d say Batman’s version is right-wing, though, focusing as exclusively as it does on blue-collar crime and ignoring (as far as I know? I’m not a Batman aficionado) white-collar issues.

            Left-wing vigilantism looks like the Leverage crew.

          • CP

            I think vigilantes have become so widespread in pop culture that at this point they’re beyond labeling as one or the other. It depends on who’s writing them and what overtones they put into the story – they can be either Dirty Harry, or Robin Hood.

            In fact, a thing I’ve noticed about several modern/recent TV shows is that they take the “vigilante/cowboy cop fights the gangsters the ineffective law won’t touch!” genre that became so popular in the seventies/eighties… and recycles them as “social justice warrior fights the rich and powerful that the corrupt law won’t touch!” “Leverage” clearly owes a lot to “The A-Team,” but its heroes tend to target white collar criminals, instead of the mobsters and small time thugs the A-Team favored. “Daredevil” takes a character who was the Lucky Luciano of the Marvel Universe, and reinvents him as the Michael Bloomberg of the MCU. “Arrow” has a lot of “Batman Begins” in it, the lone hero trying to save a city being strangled by a corrupt aristocracy – but the corrupt aristocracy in Starling City tends to be in the Wall Street/Chamber of Commerce vein, instead of Gotham’s world of organized crime and machine politics.

            Given that it’s that easy to transfer the tropes from one political alignment to another, I’d hesitate to qualify the genre as either right wing or left wing.

            • Funny you should say that about Daredevil…I have a future announcement about an e-book you might find interesting.

              • CP

                I look forward to it.

            • JL

              I didn’t see all of the A-Team, but I saw quite a bit, and it seemed like they did quite a bit of fighting crooked cops, crooked corrections officers…sometimes on behalf of immigrants, prisoners, other marginalized folks. There were ways in which it wasn’t quite implemented progressively (lack/poor treatment of women characters, for instance), but the themes struck me as mostly pretty progressive. The A-Team did a lot of fighting unjust authority. That was a big part of its appeal for me – I was basically mainlining it for a few months after a traumatizing experience with policing.

              • CP

                True, and to be fair, most of the shows I cited aren’t as simple as “liberal” or “conservative” (as you’re seeing here, there’s quite a bit of argument over whether Batman is really conservative). I’m talking more about a general shift from stories about violent crime and organized crime to stories more about white collar crime and abuse. I still think that the former caters more to right wing narratives (even if plenty of liberals hate criminals too) and the latter to left wing narratives (even if plenty of conservatives hate banksters too). Individual shows won’t necessarily stick to a particular ideological line.

                I’m very fond of the A-Team, too, and actually have a minor version of my Captain America freakout when conservative fans try to “claim” the show. I’d say it was mostly generically populist and on the side of anyone who’d fallen through the cracks (which in this country would de facto put them on the progressive side more often than not). But IIRC the archetypical A-Team villain was still a mob boss or associate (including a lot of the “legitimate” crooks).

            • Manny Kant

              Leverage was a shitty moralizing American version of the much superior Hustle. Leave it to an American show about con-men to require that they all have hearts of gold and never take any money for themselves.

              • Warren Terra

                Hustle was more fun, and didn’t have the vigilante con-men for hire aspect, but especially as the series went on the team didn’t seem to be keeping much of the money for themselves.

              • The Leverage crew took loads of money for themselves (particularly in the pilot, but consistently though less ostentatiously thereafter).

              • CP

                Leverage was exactly what superhero comics were when they started out in the Depression years, before they ballooned into this huge phenomenon – the thing you tuned into if you wanted to watch the kind of people who broke the world get the just desserts in fiction that they’d never get in real life. Never claimed to be more sophisticated than that, but unsurprisingly, it found a market for about five Great Recession years there.

                And yeah, not sure what show you were watching: they absolutely take money for themselves. The pilot episode alone makes them all gajillionaires, not to mention that most of them have fantastic nest eggs from their pre-Leverage thieving days.

        • He’s a rich white guy whose idea of saving his city begins and ends with the kind of law and order obsession that prioritizes back-alley criminals and gangsters and seems mostly to ignore corporate crime and corruption, and whose vigilantism weakens democratic institutions. Not to mention that the prevailing assumption in most of the Batman films I’ve seen is that government is good for nothing except policing (and even then, the police only acts as backup to Batman) and being helpless in the face of supervillains.

          • Murc

            He’s a rich white guy whose idea of saving his city begins and ends with the kind of law and order obsession that prioritizes back-alley criminals and gangsters and seems mostly to ignore corporate crime and corruption, and whose vigilantism weakens democratic institutions.

            … you are massively wrong about Batman.

            Bruce Wayne spends millions of dollars a year through his various companies trying to attack poverty and crime in Gotham on a systemic level. Most of his time isn’t spent dealing with back-alley criminals, although he does of course patrol the city and kick knives out of muggers hands because that’s the sort of damage he has.

            But Batman’s first crusade was against the organized criminal elements that were choking the life out of Gotham, rich men with power and influence. After that, he basically functioned as an oppositional force to the crazed supervillains who came crawling out of the woodwork. He’s also in the Justice League. He fights world-destroying threats.

            It is a bit contrived, yes. Gotham as a set piece is specifically assembled to justify the presence of Batman. But, well… so what? All the settings are like that. Hell’s Kitchen has to be perpetually crime-ridden instead of a redeveloped area full of artisanal food shops and tony apartments in order to justify the existence of Daredevil.

            Not to mention that the prevailing assumption in most of the Batman films I’ve seen is that government is good for nothing except policing (and even then, the police only acts as backup to Batman) and being helpless in the face of supervillains.

            This is the premise of every superhero comic book and film ever. If the government weren’t helpless in the face of supervillains, there’d be no need for superheroes. The Avengers is a pretty shitty movie if the entire USAF descends on the Chitauri and blows them to hell, and then they lob a few nukes through the portal and take out their mothership, no muss no fuss.

            • John F

              Yes at the end of Avengers I had 2 main thoughts:
              1: Where the hell is the USAF?
              2: The NYPD has quite few members who are quite a bit more heavily armed than what was being shown on screen, where are the effing SWATs?

              • 1. Trying to nuke NYC if I recall correctly?

                2. Good point!

                • Murc

                  1. Trying to nuke NYC if I recall correctly?

                  That was SHIELD, an independent quasi-military task force under the auspices of the World Security Council. Not the USAF.

                  … thinking about it, the fact that the Helicarrier had multiple nuclear warheads on it is actually pretty fucking terrifying. What if the damn thing had crashed?

                  Christ, the MCU is just a treasure trove of materiel for New World Order conspiracy theorists, isn’t it? I mean… a shadowy global organization really can try and nuke NYC and the response of the USA is to… not do much, even though SHIELD’s HQ is within spitting distance of the White House.

                  And also conspicuously, grievously violates the DC height bans. That can’t have been an accident when they were building the Triskelion. That’s like a big “fuck you” to Congress.

                • CP

                  Christ, the MCU is just a treasure trove of materiel for New World Order conspiracy theorists, isn’t it?

                  Even more so when you realize a couple of movies later that… the people who were actually controlling SHIELD at the time it decided to nuke NYC? HYDRA.

                  And also conspicuously, grievously violates the DC height bans.

                  As a long term resident of the DC area, I was annoyed by that in the trailers (though no more so than for most movies set in DC – most people really don’t know about the height bans).

                  But as the movie clarified, the Triskelion is actually in Northern Virginia, not the District. So it works out. It’s also an entirely appropriate location for the Triskelion, seeing as the Northern Virginia is the beating heart of the military-industrial complex.

                • JMP

                  Hell, the main shadowy guy behind the decision to nuke NYC is now the leader of the remainder of Hydra, though he’s losing control to the mutant Apocalypse Inhuman Hive.

              • ThusBloggedAnderson

                As I recall, 9/11 reminded us that it takes a while for USAF to get its crap together.

                But I have always wondered how Loki’s invasion plays out with no Avengers.

                • Murc

                  But I have always wondered how Loki’s invasion plays out with no Avengers.

                  Realistically? Loki wins, conquers the Earth, claims the tesseract.

                  Then he tries to double-cross Thanos and it really doesn’t fucking work. Loki would have to be at the top of his game to manage that and in Avengers he is manifestly not. Thanos probably destroys the planet in the course of teaching Loki a lesson about getting clever with him.

                  There may or may not be an Asgardian counter-invasion depending on what sort of mood Odin is in. Asgard has protected Earth from extradimensional alien invasion in the past and generally acts as a sort of peacekeeper when it comes to “higher forms of war,” and there’s some evidence that it views Earth as a sort of protectorate.

            • CP

              But Batman’s first crusade was against the organized criminal elements that were choking the life out of Gotham, rich men with power and influence.

              One of the things that hooked me into the Dark Knight trilogy early on was that Batman was going for a systemic fix, of sorts. He doesn’t go into vigilantism simply to punch random street criminals in the face: he’s trying to bring down the crookocracy running Gotham and, hopefully, enable something better to take over. It’s why he works with a good cop and the DA’s office from the start, and especially why he’s so hopeful when Harvey Dent comes along in the second movie: it’s a sign that the system is righting itself and that soon, he’ll be able to retire and leave Gotham’s safety in the hands of the people who should always have been responsible for it. In that story, Batman is supposed to be a temporary solution in an exceptionally bad situation, not a long term replacement for the police.

              Of course, it isn’t that kind of series… which is probably a big part of the reason I lose interest over the course of it. But I’d really love a superhero/vigilante movie that actually told that kind of story. “Yes, things can sometimes be so bad that vigilantism is the least bad option, and this is one of these times, but the happy ending will be when they’re no longer necessary, and this is the story of how they try to bring about that ending.”

      • CP

        Actually, the best candidate I had in mind was the Punisher.

        • Murc

          Punisher is less traditionally right-win than Tony Stark, but yes.

          • CP

            I mean, I was thinking of Punisher mostly because he’s the one who seems to belong the most in the grimdark, 24/Dirty-Harry-ish, right wing worldview about the importance of badass killers Doing What Must Be Done, in contrast to the many Marvel heroes who, silly naive weak-kneed fools, are all still running on “Thou Shalt Not Kill” morality.

            Tony Stark was always the Cold War conservative to Cap’s World War Two liberal, a military-industrial tycoon and Cold Warrior, especially when initially written. But I’d qualify that with the observation that he’s mellowed out at least a little, in the comics and elsewhere. Oftentimes he’s portrayed as having toned down his arms dealing quite a bit; he rarely gets into as blatantly political a situation as he did in the original comics; and he probably spends more time fighting rival military-industrial tycoons at this point than he does any foreign enemy.

            • Murc

              But I’d qualify that with the observation that he’s mellowed out at least a little, in the comics and elsewhere.

              Only because of the backlash to Civil War, where he started running gulags and saying shit to Spider-Man like “We’ve informed the Supreme Court that if they fuckin’ know what’s good for them, they won’t make any due process rulings about what happens here. Now let me show you the rooms where we have people strapped down and subjected to psychological reprogramming.”

              (I’m paraphrasing, but this was basically what happened. Tony was very proud of the concentration camp he and Reed Richards had built.)

              Matt Fraction had to kill Tony and restore his brain from backups to get him out from under the fact that he had, basically, become a supervillain. After that he re-founded his company as a pure tech outfit, no arms dealing or heavy industry at all.

              • CP

                Huh. I thought the mellowing out had been underway before that, but apparently not. (Didn’t Vietnam eventually force them to scale back on the “Iron Man, Cold Warrior” thing that he started out doing in the early to mid sixties?)

                • Murc

                  He transitioned from a cold warrior to a more modern and, frankly, more terrifying form of conservative for a while there.

              • Manny Kant

                Ugh, Civil War. Where everyone acts like an out of character asshole. Thanks Mark Millar!

                Best to pretend that Civil War never happened, really. It’s weird – the aftermath of Civil War as depicted in the Bendis comics – with most heroes registered, and Luke Cage leading an underground resistance that Tony kind of half-heartedly tries to arrest but mostly ignores to focus on other things – could have basically happened without the Civil War at all. And kind of makes more sense as how various characters would have responded to registration than a giant super-hero civil war, anyway.

    • DEJL

      Circa 1986 when Goyer said this, Captain America, as written by Mark Gruenwald, was probably as bland and apolitical as he has ever been, but he didn’t seem particularly conservative. He was portrayed as an establishment figure, and since Reagan was the establishment at the time, you could maybe make that argument, but it’d be pretty weak.

    • kped

      The same people who see “American flag army man” and say he must be a conservative are the same people who think “Born in the USA” is a patriotic song about how awesome ‘Murrica is.

      • Excellent comparison.

        • so-in-so

          Wasn’t this a sixties – seventies trope, that anyone in the military or waving the flag was a right winger?

          • CP

            I think it’s more a right wing caricature of a sixties/seventies trope.

            Yes, there was genuine (justified) resentment for a militarism and nationalism that had spun completely out of control. As with most of their mythology about this era, right wingers choose to reinvent this and pretend that the resentment was really aimed at the nation and at “anyone in the military.” (See also “the hippies spit on the troops!”)

    • Mayur

      Dude, Martin Luther King hisself is popular with conservatives! This limitless capacity for deception AND self-deception is why I’ve always had the native moral failing of being utterly unable to treat cons with anything other than sheer contempt.

    • Bruce B.

      And created by a crew of whom a lot of went to serve in the war and all of whom, as nearly as I can tell, lost relatives in the Holocaust. After the war, they were living in neighborhoods where every block, probably every apartment building, had Holocaust survivors, where you couldn’t go a week without a reminder of it in lost connections, lost plans, and all the rest. They really, seriously weren’t fucking around about America as the Land Of Doesn’t Do That. Even when various of them would go on to back a hash of other civil struggles, that was their constant intent, well worth honoring as a goal right up until today.

  • Ransom Stoddard

    The Nolan Batman films are called Nolan films for a reason

    Actually, “reasons” might be more appropriate because both Jonathan and Christopher Nolan wrote the screenplays for Rises and Knight, and Christopher Nolan co-wrote Begins with Goyer. (Goyer gets a story credit on all of them, though).

    And for what it’s worth, I think all the Nolan Batman films are quite well scripted—certainly better than the Raimi Spiderman ones, for instance.

    • L2P

      Agree to disagree.

      The Nolan films are well PACED, and have good moments and dialog, but the plots don’t hold together while we watch them, let alone make it to the parking lot. The villain’s plans are borderline incomprehensible when they aren’t counterproductive or pointless. The Dark Knight works so well only because the Joker is literally insane and isn’t really trying to do much of anything other than cause trouble for Batman. Nolan at least understands the characters and paces the movies well. So they work, but “well-scripted” seems like a lot more than it earns.

      Spiderman might have problems with pacing, and you might not buy the character motivations, but the characters all do things for reasons that make sense to them. There aren’t obvious problems in how the story plays out. The later Spiderman movies are more problematic, but Spiderman at least is pretty tight.

      • ThusBloggedAnderson

        Rewatching, I skip to all the Joker scenes in Nolan # 2, and all the Catwoman scenes in Nolan # 3. The rest are a trudge.

  • DEJL

    Goyer really does seem clueless. It’s funny, his comics work with James Robinson and later Geoff Johns on Starman and JSA, while far from great, wasn’t nearly as horrible as BvS or MoS. I wonder what the extent of his contribution was.

    • Murc

      James Robinson also went off the rails, I’d note. Anyone else remember Cry for Justice?

      • Aaron Morrow

        Ah, but this was right at the end of Starman, which I recall as being pretty good.

        Given his and Johns’ solo work with the Justice Society, I tended to praise them for most of the results on JSA.

        Has Goyer ever written a solo book?

      • JMP

        It really was hard to believe that crap came from the same writer responsible for Starman, that’s for sure; although this was a period where the Justice League plots were practivcally being dictated by editorial, as the late Dwayne McDuffie was fired for discussing at about the same time.

  • DWD

    Goyer created Da Vinci’s Demons, which turned actual historical person Leonardo Da Vinci, who was probably gay and may have been celibate for most of his life, into a horny mostly straight guy. So it’s not surprising that he wasn’t prepared to address Constantine’s sexuality from the comics.

    • wjts

      Except Constantine’s alleged bisexuality rests, from what I remember, on a single throw-away line from a single guest-written issue, something along the lines of “Former lovers – almost all women, one or two guys”. I stopped reading Hellblazer regularly sometime in the early 2000s, but he never had an “on-screen” romantic or sexual relationship with another man. Bisexuality was never a plot point or even so much as mentioned apart from that single issue. So portraying Constantine as straight in a TV show doesn’t ignore his sexuality as depicted in the comics, it’s exactly in line with it apart from four or five words that were never referred to again.

      (Obviously, if they gave him a boyfriend or male lover after I stopped reading, which is entirely possible, then everything I wrote is wrong.)

      • Manny Kant

        Even if he did actually have a male lover in the 2000s, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the first season of a show about a character who was revealed to be bisexual like 15 years into his existence not deal with that.

      • He’s had a couple boyfriends in the comics by this point, and is currently kind of dating a guy in the current run.

        • wjts

          Oh, well, never mind.

    • Manny Kant

      Is Constantine’s bisexuality actually a central part of the character? It’s definitely not in Moore’s original version or the Delano Hellblazer comics I’ve read, and my understanding is that it wasn’t present in the Ennis or Jenkins or Ellis runs, either, and really shows up for the first time at the end of the Azzarello run in 2002. Is not dealing with that really at all surprising?

  • royko

    At least he didn’t have Brainiac wrasslin’ with polar bears.

    (It’s a long video, but so worth it. One of the best Hollywood stories ever.)

    • wjts

      Neil Gaiman has a story about that same producer trying to get a giant spider into the climax of a Sandman movie.

  • Warren Terra

    It sounds like Goyer really should have worked on Hancock rather than playing with Jor-El’s boy.

    • Murc

      Hancock is a terribly underrated movie.

      • The Temporary Name

        The first half, not so much after the big reveal.

  • Alex.S

    The neck-snapping scene from “Man of Steel” could have worked. It’s not inherently wrong by itself. But it failed miserably within the movie.

    1. The scene, internally, was built up as a dramatic moment. Superman is out of options, Zod is threatening innocents, and he’s left with only one choice. After killing Zod, he then dramatically “NOOOOOOOOOoooooooooos” and we’re supposed to feel a huge emotional beat.

    2. However… nothing builds up to this. Superman and Zod were fighting earlier, and neither seemed to care about civilians or the collateral damage. Why does Zod think Superman should care? Why does Zod care? Why is Zod trying to kill people for the lolz instead of trying to escape Superman? The entire scene is built around the idea that Zod is trying to get revenge on Superman by attacking individuals directly, but we’ve never seen Superman care enough about individuals for Zod to think that this is a plan.

    3. And then, fade to black and Superman is making jokes about punching drones. Was Superman dramatically impacted by having killed the last of his species? What was the culmination of his arc? Was he even conflicted about his actions? Eh, who cares. The scene ended. Time for him to put on his glasses and become a journalist somehow.

    • Sly

      “Superman reluctantly kills Zod and is immediately horrified by it” works if his primary role model in life wasn’t the kind of guy who told him it might not be a bad idea if he let a busload of kids drown in a lake.

      The reason why Superman is a goody two-shoes isn’t because he’s an alien with some innate superior morality that is challenged by the apathy and corruption of the mundane masses. It’s because he grew up in Wholesome Heartland Goodness America. Being from Krypton doesn’t make him a superhero; being raised by Jonathan and Martha Kent does. And because Jonathan and Martha Kent are assholes in Man of Steel, we get broody conflicted Superman.

      • LifeOntheFallLine

        In the hands of a more deft writer and a more human director the internal conflict you describe would be an interesting commentary on where we are today.

        The Kents as FYIGM Sam Brownback supporting Kansans. Clark as the outsider kid who has lived the limitations of that worldview, but not quite sure what to do with how he feels. Moves from Smallville to the Big City, starts trying to make a difference, struggles against the way his parents raised him.

        I’d watch that.

        • connorboone

          There’s a dystopian horror story that has never been explored, in which Superman is raised by the Kents to be a Brownback supporting anti-abortion crusader, fighting for the ‘persecuted’ Evangelical Christians in Kansas and America.

          Doubt you could ever sell that pitch to DC, though.

          • LifeOntheFallLine

            One more casualty of our copyright laws.

            • CassandraLeo

              You could always simply write this story with a thinly-veiled parody of Superman that is different enough to avoid plagiarism charges but similar enough to be clearly recognisable to comics fans. Worked well enough for Alan Moore with Watchmen.

              • LifeOntheFallLine

                And Supreme for that matter. Still, there’s a different emotional punch that comes when using real Superman compared to ersatz Superman.

      • One of the amazing things about BvS is that it actually manages to make Jonathan Kent seem like even more of a miserable bastard than he was in MoS. Like, to the extent that I’m actually starting to think we’re meant to see the character as suffering from serious depression, and Clark’s problems as the result of having dealt with his bleak worldview his whole life.

        Also, today I discovered the horrifying fact that there are people online who will go to bat for Snyder’s take on Jonathan, trying to justify, for example, the “maybe you should have let them drown” line because Jonathan was just trying to keep his son safe.

      • snarkout

        I thought this piece of fanfic, on Ma Kent’s work in raising Clark, was kind of shockingly great: http://unpretty.tumblr.com/post/142158892973/unpretty-villain-attempts-to-go-back-in-time

        • NBarnes

          Sometimes the internet provides one with the things they need, but didn’t know they needed. Thanks.

  • Domino

    Out of curiosity, which Blade film is considered good?

    Also, the Dark Knight being critiqued by (can’t remember his name) pointing out that Noaln has no idea how to film action sequences. The clip was about how confusing the Harvey Dent getting attacked by the Joker in a 18-wheeler scene was, and didn’t touch how utterly confusing the fight in the building under construction is.

    • medrawt

      Me, broken record: one of the virtues of Batman Begins is that it covers for Nolan’s shortcomings when it comes to shooting clear action sequences by making it thematic. In The Dark Knight, when deception, confusion, and theatricality are no longer foregrounded in the text as important themes, Nolan’s* inability to clearly indicate who’s where at what time in an action sequence stops feeling like an artistic choice.

      * I have this complaint about action scenes in a LOT of Hollywood movies, and while it can apply just as well to vehicle chases, I do wonder if any of it has to do with our more modern expectation that the billed actors are going to do a lot of their own rather flashy fight choreography, but just aren’t good enough at it to stand up to clear camera work with minimal cutting.

    • Manny Kant

      I’ve not seen any of them, but my sense was that Blade 2 was the “good” one?

      • Bruce B.

        Blade 2 certainly has the best director’s commentary track. At a couple of points, del Toro talks about the specific Roadrunner/Coyote moments he used to pace some fights shots. He’s having incredibly infectious fun.

    • The first two, I guess.

  • The Temporary Name

    This is a bit of a correction to my earlier piece about Zack Snyder. Not that I think I was inaccurate in anything I said there, but I do think it was a bit unfair of me to put all the problems with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (pronounced buvvis-doge, I think?) on the shoulders of the director.

    Nevertheless, Zack Snyder’s deal is to make movies in which things get wrecked. That is his major concern.

  • Mike in DC

    I haven’t seen Sucker Punch 2: Orphan Fight yet, and likely won’t until it’s free on tv. My hope is that Warner either yanks Snyder from the Justice League films, or assigns him a sitter, preferably an actual DC writer/editor. Otherwise the end product will be equally execrable.

  • bob333

    As per Superman Stories I’ve always been partial to Kingdom Come were he does try to take over everything and ends up going completely off the rails. The point made there and I think badly missed in Superman and BvS (which I always looked like is some sort of court case title – a Robin custody hearing or something) is that his greatest strength is not being able to bend steel with his bare hands but his humanity. As well pointed out here – the creative team of this current film have missed that point.

    • Murc

      As per Superman Stories I’ve always been partial to Kingdom Come were he does try to take over everything and ends up going completely off the rails.

      … that didn’t happen in Kingdom Come.

      • Angry Warthog Breath

        I remember Red Son coming close to that, with Wonder Woman telling him that people don’t fasten their seat belts because they know he’ll save them if they crash. …I enjoyed-with-flaws Red Son about twelve years ago and think it was an interesting comic well made, but I suspect if I went back to it now I might start shouting.

      • bob333

        I would think where the governments of the world decide dropping atomic weapons on rioting metahuman prisoners who are in a prison built by Superman was a good idea follwed by Superman coming within an inch of pulling the the United Nations building down around the delegates is a good example of things going ‘off the rails’

  • cleek

    that makes three of us

  • Gareth

    First of all, it’s a terrible writing move for your characters to not make choices but have choices happen to them. It’s lazy Campbellian Chosen One handwaving and it makes your protagonist horribly passive when making choices is what makes them interesting.

    Couldn’t agree more. I always think about the Hunger Games movies when this comes up: the first trailer has the protagonist screaming “I volunteer! I volunteer!” into the camera.

    Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, adapting the Moses story (not the Christ story, Goyer!) have Superman discover and embrace his alien heritage – hence the Kryptonian baby blanket turning into his iconic cape – without rejecting his adopted culture either.

    This part of the Superman mythos has always bothered me. I’d prefer that dressing up in a red and blue costume and fighting crime would seem even more bizarre to Kryptonians than it does to us, that “Superman” is an entirely human creation. Just like making a living drawing comic books for children would seem bizarre to Jews in the Russian Empire. It’s mostly just personal preference, but I believe Siegel and Schuster didn’t use Kryptonian culture that much. Their Superman wore a circus strongman outfit with an “S” for Superman, and it took him 11 years to find out he was an alien.

  • Downpuppy

    Superman is at his best fighting Gilbert Gottfried.

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