Mon. Jan 30th, 2023

As of today, there are two major comic book movies in the theaters that have some serious similarities in that two major heroes fight one another over contrasting ideologies. Fair warning: this is a pretty long post. And yeah, it is very decidedly anti-BvS and Pro-CA:CW.

“Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice” came out first and is a quasi-sequel to “Man of Steel,” a movie that is surprisingly divisive although I personally really enjoyed it (even though I can readily admit it has some major flaws.) The underlying conceit of this latest movie is that a murderous psycho who wears a Batsuit is angry at Superman for being a murderous psycho. And then, they become Super-Friends just in time to fight a crappy-looking cave troll alongside Wonder Woman. In terms of plot, that movie was a horrifying mess. A disaster even. The characterizations were utter garbage – Clark barely spoke, brooded for no reason, and might as well have been called Mopeyman; Lois was there solely to be rescued; Ben Affleck was surprisingly good in the Bruce Wayne role, but his lunatic murderer Batman was just shy of abject parody; and then, there was Lex. Dear God, that was a terrible take on Luthor. No one has yet explained to me what his plan was in any way that makes sense.

Contrast that “Captain America: Civil War” which was superior in every, single way. All of the characterizations made sense, all of their decisions were logical in terms of the information they had at their disposal, and everything in the story made complete sense, both dramatically and in terms of the plot. It was like BvS went out of their way to take every opportunity to make the wrong decision, whereas Civil War did the opposite.

Now, as a fan of both franchises – yes, I’m a major Superman fan but honestly, Spider-Man was my first actual foray into comics so I love(d) them both – I genuinely want both to succeed on every level. I wanted BvS to be the best movie ever made although to be fair, I could see the writing on the wall as soon as they hinted they were going the “Dark Knight Returns” route. Honestly, as much as I enjoyed Frank Miller’s take on the bitter, graying, old and just generally pissy Bruce back in the day, I’ve kind of grown to loath it these days. Everything wrong with Batman can be traced directly to TDKR … and sadly, far too much of what is wrong with Superman can be as well.

So where did BvS go wrong and CA: CW go right?

  • Characterization. First and foremost, all of the events in BvS boil down to ‘plot-induced stupidity.’ If Bruce was actually the world’s greatest detective instead of the reckless, murderous lunatic the movie portrayed him as, he would be able to realize that A. Clark seems to be an okay guy, and B. this version of Lex Luthor is actually the Joker. If Clark’s parents hadn’t frankly kind of sucked, he would actually like people and want to run around saving them; honestly, I don’t understand why this version of Supes even wore the suit at all if it such a drag – just retire it and have “Superman” leave the planet in a big show or something. Why was Bats so obsessed with murdering Superman? Because there was a 1% chance he might go evil … and because he had some bad dreams that didn’t make sense. Frankly, if you keep treating something like that and insisting that its a fait accompli that they’re going to go evil, it sort of turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. And then, all of Bruce’s misplaced rage and hate and fear (because really, fear was driving a lot of his actions) just vanishes when Clark inexplicably calls out his mother’s name? Uh … what? I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’ve ever referred to my mother by anything but ‘Mom’ or, when I was a wee little lad, ‘Mommy.’ And what was Superman’s beef with Bats? He was a murderous thug who everyone was afraid of? Look into the mirror, Grimdark Superman, and pull your head out of your ass. Contrast that with Cap and Stark, both of whom had understandable motivations: Cap is a classic liberal (what is honestly closer to libertarian these days) who wants people to take responsibility for their own actions and, after learning Hydra had infiltrated SHIELD, understandably does not trust bureaucracy; meanwhile, Tony is juggling flaming chainsaws of guilt and remorse. He probably still suffers from mild PTSD from IM1 & Avengers; Pepper has left him; he knows that he’s mostly responsible for the deaths of thousands in Sokovia (I don’t care what the on-screen numbers stated – those were ridiculously, absurdly low numbers that frankly made no sense.) And then this woman comes along and personalizes his guilt even more. On top of that, he’s screwing with direct neural implant tech so all of the memories he has of his parents (and that unresolved guilt) is simmering there. Then the Sokovia Accords are announced and he sees a chance to try and fix it all. So yeah, understandable characterizations (and a natural evolution all around from previous movies.) Point: Cap3.
  • Plot: Oh, boy. Yeah. So BvS … it was kind of a mess. In the wake of the mess made by the Kryptonians, I like that Supes is perceived as both a figure of fear and of hope. Clark did not do a great job of containing the destruction in his fight with Zod – ironically, during “Man of Steel”, he actually does try to take the battle out of Smallville numerous times but just doesn’t seem to care while in Metropolis. So that was fine. And seeing Bruce Wayne run into the disaster was awesome. But it all goes downhill from there. Lois is endangered – gasp! Again?! – and Supes straight up murders the terrorist guy who threatens her – this goes to the above characterizations. Supes is not supposed to be a killer and there was any number of ways he could have resolved that without murder. And then, the US government is suddenly holding him responsible for the deaths of people in a nearby village, people who had been shot … wait, what? And Luthor … again, explain to me his master plan in something that makes sense. You can’t. Because it doesn’t. As far as I can tell, it goes like this:
    • He has agents in the Middle East who shoot a bunch of terrorists (and Jimmy Olsen, CIA Agent – WTF, man? An interesting new interpretation of Olsen and he’s a throwaway?), which Supes inexplicably gets the blame for.
    • He found kryptonite so he wants to get it in-country legally (even though he clearly has zero compunction about breaking the law.) Why he would bother going to a senator instead of someone with actual power, like a bureaucrat who could sign off on the waiver that allows entrance of the kryptonite.
    • So, he recruits legless guy to blow up the Capitol, killing the senator and giving Supes some quality brood time in the fire (another absurd character-ruining point).
    • Somehow, this convinces new senator (I think?) to give Lex both the kryptonite and Zod’s body as well as access to the crashed Kryptonian ship.
    • He gains entrance into the ship in an absurdly easy manner.
    • He loses the kryptonite due to an off-screen Bat-strike that probably resulted in another dozen or more fatalities due to bad Bat characterization.
    • He has Lois kidnapped (oh, the surprise) as well as Martha, then uses Lois (off the building. Again) to draw Supes to him to reveal he (Lex) has Martha and is using her as leverage to get Supes to kill the Bat, presumably because he was miffed at losing the kryptonite?
    • When that doesn’t work, he unleashes a Kryptonian cave troll that will … destroy the planet. In fact, the first thing this cave troll does (notice what I’m not calling it) is take a swing at Lex that Supes stops.
    • WHAT IS THE POINT OF ALL OF THIS? Seriously, what does he gain from all of this beyond being Evil? For that matter, why does his hate Supes? There’s no real reason for it shown nor are we even told why.
  • Jumping to CA:CW, the villain – Zemo – also has an elaborate plan but the movie explicitly states in his first appearances that the whacky hijnks are not his preferred method. Using his interrogation of the Hydra guy and the subsequent events, I think most of what happened was, for him, a lucky break. I expect Zemo’s plan went like this:
    • Plan A: Interrogate Hydra guy, get location of Stark file. Gain Stark file, mail a copy to Stark. Observe the chaos when Stark learns Cap’s buddy, Barnes, murdered his parents. Watch the Avengers fall apart.
    • Hydra guy did not cooperate, so Plan A was a partial bust. On the bright side, he gained access to the Winter Soldier’s command codes, so now he needs to flush Barnes out of hiding. Oh, look. The news is all about these Sokovia Accords … cue Plan B. Set a bomb, ensure Barnes is to blame and let Captain America – who the Smithsonian has so conveniently told me is Barnes’ friend since childhood – keep the man alive. Gain access to Barnes, use activation codes, learn location of the Stark file, then turn Barnes loose to cause chaos.
    • Barnes’ survival seems … not really relevant here based on Zemo’s expression when he learns that Barnes, Cap & Falcon are still at large, I lean toward him being disappointed maybe? Still, he had things in play for the big reveal to reach Stark, what with the body in the hotel room.
    • So, on to Plan C which is a modification of Plan B. He’s likely presuming pursuit, probably the Captain, so retrieve the tape, find somewhere that the Captain can’t get to him (maybe set some traps or something) and ensure the tape reaches Stark somehow. If Barnes is with Cap, then all the better. Zemo clearly does not fear death, what with his attempted suicide in front of T’Challa later, so he’s probably okay with dying as long as Stark gets the intel on the presumption that it will drive the man mad.
    • And then … all three of them show up together! Zemo is probably delighted at this turn of events because it means he doesn’t have to waste time with the middle-man. And he had ringside seats to seeing the two most prominent Avengers tearing into each other.
    • So all he wanted was vengeance. Which is fine as a villain’s motivation as long as it has some sort of internal consistency. There is no such thing with BvS.
  • Dialogue: “If we believe there is even a one percent chance that he is our enemy, we have to take it as an absolute certainty.” “Do you bleed? You will.” “The Red Capes are coming.” Seriously? Blech. Here’s an insane fact for you: Spider-Man, who was in CA:CW for like maybe 20 minutes, most of which is a fight scene, spoke more in that movie (47 lines of dialogue) than Superman did in the entirety of BvS (43 lines.) We never got to see Superman actually defend himself! His mom gives the “you don’t owe the world a thing” line and he stares off somberly. He enters the Capitol building, lets the senator pontificate and realize she’s about to die, and then the wheelchair guy blows up so Supes can stand there, untouched, in the flames and brood. W.T.F.
  • Characters: This is different from characterization. That CIA guy at the beginning of BvS who got killed? That was Jimmy Olsen. Why did he die like that? The director, Zack Snyder, said, “And we don’t have room for Jimmy Olsen in our big pantheon of characters.” Even then, BvS felt bloated, with the cameos of Aquaman (who looks like Khal Drogo holding his breath underwater), a terribly miscast Flash, and Cyborg, and all the rest … but CA:CW had even more characters, gave us like four or five different and unique character story arcs, and never once did the characters feel wrong. From that alone, I feel like the CA:CW directors are actually significantly more competent than Mr. Snyder. And I’ve gone on record defending him over and over again.
  • Lack of Fun: This is the big thing, I think. I saw a comment online and it made me nod. Paraphrasing because its been awhile but, ‘how do you tell a 7 year old who loves Batman and Superman that the movie with them in it is not for them? That its too adult (in terms of bleakness and darkness?) CA:CW has the same adult sensibilities but doesn’t seem intent on saying RESPECT US! THIS IS AN ADULT MOVIE ABOUT ADULT SUBJECTS!
Yeah, a lot of this is subjective and yes, I will also admit that my love for the Superman character and my abject loathing of what they did to him in this shitfest of a movie drives my opinion, but I honestly don’t see how anyone can legitimately argue that BvS is anywhere close to CA:CW in terms of quality. I left BvS thinking “Well, that kind of sucked. I have zero interest in seeing it again. Ever.” whereas I left CA:CW thinking “Man, I’ve gotta see that again!” So far, I’ve seen BvS 1x, CA3 twice (and I intend on a third time this weekend.)
Final thought: Saw someone make this comment online as well – again, paraphrasing: ‘People left BvS arguing who would actually win in a fight. They left CA:CW arguing who was right.
‘Nuff Said.