FAIR WARNING: Thar be major spoilers ahead.
WHO KNEW a single superhero film could stir quite so much heated debate among its talon-wielding detractors and its die-hard defenders?
“Batman v Superman,” which opened over the weekend to a record global haul (the biggest superhero opening, not adjusted for inflation), seems to have stoked such verbal fires across the media and social-media landscape — which ultimately only serve to draw yet more oxygen to the film like great unpaid promotion.
So now that much of the world has seen “Dawn of Justice,” Comic Riffs can do a fanboy deep-dive into the dream sequences and parademons, the controversial choice of an ending — and the allusions to one of Jack “King” Kirby’s greatest villains.
MICHAEL CAVNA: So now that we’ve had days to digest this, do you think Zack Snyder was wise to go well beyond Frank Miller’s source material for this film’s last dark twist?
DAVID BETANCOURT: I think we all thought “B v S” was going to be heavy on the Frank Miller’s “TDKR” with a dash of Doomsday. Little did any of us know — and kudos to WB for not letting this leak — that the classic Death of Superman story would play such a major role. We all knew Doomsday was there, but no one imagined Doomsday would do what he’s most famous for in the comics: killing Superman. It’s straight off the page of Superman No. 75, with both of them delivering fatal blows at the same time.
Now, was that wise? It truly depends on who you are. This is the most polarizing comic-book-movie experience I’ve ever been a part of. As much as I loved Snyder taking this chance … if I were a WB exec, I might have questioned going this route, because of how the general public and critics might respond. But Snyder, DC and WB have gone hardcore fanboy with this. Not everyone is going to like it, but that’s not stopping the DC universe from trying to grow and stay connected.
MC: That leads to the question: Why not hold the death of Superman like a cinematic ace up your sleeve? Is it because solo Superman films aren’t even on the horizon? Is it because Zack wanted to compel viewers more deeply to be eager for Justice League? Or after whacking Jimmy Olsen near the beginning of the film, did Snyder just want to bookend the film with another killing and [insert sinister snicker!] start icing everyone close to Lois?
DB: With so much going on in “B v S” — introducing a new Batman; Wonder Woman’s first cinematic appearance; Lex; introducing the concept and other members of the Justice League — you would think they would have held off on playing the death card. But the bottom line is that with all the movies they are hoping to spawn from “B v S,” another Superman movie was never in the immediate future. So if you knew you wanted Superman to fall, it was going to have to happen in this film.
MC: Amid all the screaming headlines about “negative reviews,” there seems to be a general consensus that all the actors except perhaps the polarizing Jesse Eisenberg were fair to excellent, and that the effects and action set pieces were visually effective. So that leaves the story as the main area as disagreement. The passions surrounding this film on many sides seem far more divisively intense than one might expect from a simple Spandex tale. Do you think the disagreements are largely about more than just this one film? Is it the larger Hollywood picture that’s stoking all this heated disagreement?
DB: Never have I seen so much disagreement over a superhero film. When it was revealed that Chris Terrio was coming in to polish up the script, well, I can only imagine what they had on their hands in terms of a story before he came onboard and took a stab at David Goyer’s original story.
Most all would say this film is visually spectacular, but many of the disagreements I think come from how the movie was pieced together. No one plot ever took the movie over. World is angry at Superman. Batman trying to take Superman down. Wonder Woman keeping an eye on everything. I think maybe there was just a little too much going on at the same time. Even for a 2 1/2-hour movie.
MC: Speaking of too much going on, what’s your take on the dream sequences? Do you think they provided significant insight into Batman’s state of mind, or did they end up functioning more as red herrings? What’s your take, besides the interesting decision to put bits of them in the trailers as if reflecting reality? And beyond the nightmare, is it possible that Snyder and ole Nolan writer Goyer are “incepting” us with multi-level premonitions — what with Batman’s seeing the Flash and Darkseid and the Parademons. Are these all elements that make far more sense as foretelling of Justice League adventures?
DB: That’s where the dream sequences have weight — if they are connected to the Justice League movie. If they have a deeper meaning, then to me, the best dream sequence was when the Flash appeared trying to warn Bruce Wayne. He appeared to be running so fast that he was traveling though various time periods. That dream had me interested and will clearly lead to something else. That was a dream worth putting in the movie.
MC: They’re so much teased there, almost as if it’s a DC Zapruder film as pull-out piece. Batman’s nightmares seem to be in full oracle/precog mode — right down to the Omega symbol. It only makes sense to me as one huge thread of Justice League foreshadowing. All this could seem cooler, and more coherent, three years from now.
Also, I think that amid all the polarizing criticism of the film, one litmus test for whether you’re really plugged in to the story and the universe — as a critic — is whether you have a credible theory on what Lex is alluding to in his last scene. My guess was that Lex was just a complicit forerunner to Darkseid — “He’s coming!” — and thus all his files on metahumans make more sense in a grander evil scheme of things. Plus, that painting of evil descending from above, as Lex says, becomes a clearer picture going forward. What say you?
DB: It was foreshadowing almost to a cheesy fault, until you take a moment to remember that Lex had access to the ship General Zod had taken over in “Man of Steel,” and therefore was more than likely able to absorb a lot of knowledge about any threats that the universe holds in its faraway darkness.
Darkseid has to be the big bad who is “en route.” He’s the one super-bad in the DC universe who can justify Batman and Wonder Woman going out and trying to find the other metahumans who were in Lex’s secret files. Doomsday was not well-received by everyone. If you’re a big Death of Superman fan, more than likely you were happy, but many people summed him up as more CGI final-act carnage from Zack Snyder.
Darkseid? That’s a whole different kind of bad. Will he be a CGI character? Possibly, similar to the mold of Thanos over in the Avengers movies. But Darkseid is no screaming monster. He’s a thinker. Super-intelligent, super-strong and he adds a level of interest and intrigue to the next Justice League movie that a rage-monster like Doomsday can’t. With “Justice League” being two parts, I wouldn’t be surprised if Darkseid’s presence is felt in the first part, and he arrives for battle in Part 2.
MC: So speaking of all-powerful and all-seeing, just to geek out on the creator-level for a moment: It’s great to see Bill Finger get long-overdue credit in this film, but just think that between Marvel and now Darkseid, the cross-publisher king of all superhero cinema will rightly be Jack Kirby!
DB: It was great seeing Bill Finger’s name. Batfleck is mostly a Frank Miller Batman, but Miller doesn’t get to mold the Dark Knight to his vision without the work of Finger. That credit is deserved.
Funny you should mention the King, Jack Kirby. His artistic version of Darkseid has always been one of my favorites, and one of the things not really talked about that much is that “B v S” had a New Gods feel to it, with the hints of Darkseid and a possible Mother Box appearance during the creation of Cyborg. Kirby’s New Gods influence could be a major untapped creative source for future films if DC and WB can successfully move forward with their connected movie universe. I mean, if I could see Orion [son of Darkseid] in a movie, all is forgiven on my end.
MC: You’re so right about the New Gods feel. And Silas Stone with the apparent Mother Box was a quick thrill. It is funny to think how all the review claims of “incoherent” plotting might pale over the years if we get Darkseid and Orion, and all the solo metahuman movies are stitched in tightly. Not that it absolves a single film like “B v S” from having to make sense as a self-contained entity, but this means the DCEU is aiming for a scale not just like Marvel’s, but also like that of “Star Wars.”
This starts to become a forest-vs.-trees form of franchise storytelling; Zack, Goyer and Dr. Terrio may have muddled the middle of this, but they’re also eyeing such a multi-year obstacle course. It really does feel like an approach that very few directors ever get to attempt — this so different from what, say, a Satyajit Ray or Sergio Leone style of trilogy, or even Nolan, in terms of expansive complexity, for good or ill.
DB: Look, I really enjoyed “B v S,” but two things stuck out to me. One, I knew it wasn’t made for a “general audience.” The minute the last credit rolled, I said to myself: “Ugh. Oh, lots of folks aren’t going to get this.” But I really think you’re onto something with this “new frontier” of movie creativity. This hasn’t been done before.
The second thing that stuck out to me was that this movie is overwhelmed by the feeling that they are looking so far ahead. They had so much to set up, and it makes the movie suffer a little bit. I still enjoyed it, but it almost feels like “B v S” was a visually stunning sacrificial lamb to get us as quickly as possible to the rest of the DCU on film.
Did it feel a little rushed with all that they tried to stuff in here? Yes. But I really think the prize WB and DC have their eyes on is multi-connected cinematic success. And if “B v S” is the polarizing bridge to a healthy helping of many successful superhero franchises, then so be it.
MC: Since so many people are placing so much weight on this single film — as in: Is this the first sad spasm of superhero-film fatigue setting in? Will this energize or enervate superhero cinema at large? — it’s interesting to think how slyly, even subversively well this all could play out for DC. I mean, if this film can open to $420-plus-million globally, the first Justice League could hit a half-billion in one weekend. Since you and I grew up on comic books, it’s pretty staggering to see the crazy degree to which the onetime outsider underdog now dominates the box office. What do you think: Can superhero movies ever get too big for their own good? And does it feel like DC and Marvel A-list characters are now practically “too big to fail”?
DB: I don’t believe in superhero fatigue at all. That’s just me, but I hate the term. I went most of my lifetime without this era of superhero cinema, and I’m not letting go of it just because some people didn’t like “B v S.” All the critical bashing this movie received isn’t going to stop Disney and Marvel from continuing their plans. Heck, we’re a little over a month away from receiving the Spider-Man we always wanted to see [with Marvel Studios in control] on film. Too big to fail? Like you said: What is Justice League going to do financially? They almost made half a billion globally in a weekend on a movie that half the world didn’t like.
There are too many good things coming — Marvel’s upcoming slate, a solo Wonder Woman movie that we hope will be as fantastic as Wonder Woman’s debut in “B v S” — to think the bubble is close to bursting.
MC: And to your last point, I will definitely give Snyder this: I’m not sure he could have done a better job of setting up Patty Jenkins’s solo Wonder Woman film [set for 2017] — even without a DC version of Marvel Studios [honcho] Kevin Feige looking over his shoulder and helping him clean up the convolution.
DB: They timed it perfectly. First, Wonder Woman’s debut [here] is incredible. And then the same week, WB and Patty Jenkins release the first image from the solo Wonder Woman film — which will serve somewhat as a prequel to show how Diana became a warrior who can look Doomsday in the face with no fear.
I don’t think it would hurt for DC to have a Kevin Feige. Heck, most companies no matter the profession could use a guy like that. Feige is there to make sure the comic-book greatness that fans love translates well on film, and is therefore received well from not just hardcore comics fans, but the all-so-important “general audience.”
DC doesn’t have a guy like that, but I do think DC’s future movie directors will have more freedom to create the worlds they want with these DC icons — more so than the input a director at Marvel could have. Remember, Patty Jenkins was supposed to direct a Thor movie, right? I think she felt the movie had already been made to an extent and turned it down. She won’t have issues like that at DC.
MC: Last question: Which planned metahuman movie do you know most look forward to — and if you could greenlight one still-unslated metahuman movie, what might it be?
DB: For me, it is a push between Aquaman and Wonder Woman. I’m a big “Flash” TV show fan, so I’m interested to see what they can do with a [different] movie Flash, but the success of the current show means I’m in no rush to see it. I’ll see a Flash movie when it is here, but until then, I think Grant Gustin is great.
Wonder Woman is a summer away, and I think with her, DC has a chance to do great things and prove that its characters have weight in their solo franchises as well — it doesn’t always have to be about the Justice League.
If I could greenlight one thing? New Gods. I’m such a fan of that section of DC mythology, and I’m sure we’ll get a taste with the possible pending arrival of Darkseid, but I think the rest of the DCU on film has to form before that could happen.
I wasn’t really hyped for a Cyborg movie… until I saw the Mother Box. That changed everything, especially if Cyborg will be boom tubing all over the place. Aquaman: For right now, we know nothing, but he sure looks cool.
But if I had to pick one: Wonder Woman.
MC: I’ll drink to that.