Is DC committing Suicide?

Is DC committing Suicide?

Suicide Squad befell the same fate as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It started strong at the box office before second week drop-offs compounded negative reviews. In an age where everyone is a critic and the professional critics are ignored, it appears the dissenting voices are the loudest. With further doubts raised about the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), is the Warner Bros. led property starting to implode?

Before the cameras even started to roll on Batman v Superman, DC and Warner Bros. had their work cut out. They faced the unenviable task of chasing down rivals Marvel. The Avengers led superhero cinematic universe is a magnet for two things: cash and compliments.

Both of these can be attributed to the accessibility of the Marvel movies. From the opening feature in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Iron Man, they have made no attempt to hide the comic book roots from which they grew. They have been easy going action films, driven by simplicity.

The peak was arguably The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble). It would have been easy to crowd the film with too many main players but Joss Whedon pulled it off using a blend of humour and a clear plot.

This love has allowed Marvel fanboys to escape the negative points within the MCU. Those that were quick to pounce on Suicide Squad are not so quick to discuss Iron Man 2.

Therein lies a fundamental problem: DC haven’t been afforded the time to find their footing or been allowed to develop their own style. They are judged harshly for not being Marvel, but equally derided if any element of the DCEU mimics the MCU.

Historically, DC films have carried a darker tone (we’ll ignore Catwoman) or more recently with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, been grounded in something closer to reality.

Man of Steel and Batman v Superman approached the arrival of superheroes in a more realistic manner than Marvel ever will. When given the chance to explore these themes in Captain America: Civil War, Marvel shied away. Unfortunately for DC, being a superhero flick in a time the market is over saturated, means they aren’t judged on their own merits but compared to the market leader.

And this is where DC seem to be turning the gun on themselves.

A dark tone can be well received, Nolan’s trilogy was hardly a mainstream cartoon like The Avengers, so DC were right to start their movies with a more serious undertone. The problem is, dark for dark’s sake is draining on viewers. Without substance it has a depleting effect rather than become tone setting.

That objectively observed lack of substance isn’t down to DC characters having an inability to explore larger themes, it’s because parent company Warner Bros. are being swayed to the Marvel mainstream.

This leaves them in no man’s land.

DC wants the popular Marvel share while retaining a more meaningful scope. It can’t do both and the cracks are beginning to show.

Suicide Squad was another film that some critics went after in a big way. Most of those observations were unfounded or unfair. It wasn’t a muddled mess nor depressing. It was a simple action flick that ran from start to finish without a hiccup. There were enough laughs, decent action scenes and enough character introduction to allow DC to now use the villains ad hoc.

But average isn’t DC’s aim and Suicide Squad took a big step to selling out.

It was a further step away from a gothic palette and real world influences on fantasy elements. Those things were still there, but delivered with less certainty. Unless it comes across forceful and confident, DC’s vision will be swallowed up by internet trolls and critics that are judging DC based on a rival’s blueprint.

Warner Bros. will point to critics often getting it wrong. Transformers has always reviewed poorly and taken home massive returns. Same with Pirates of the Caribbean. But these films are cash cows that don’t care about artistic acclaim. DC on film should be about satisfying the comic book fans and pioneering new visions for the big screen.

Long after the current superhero phase, Tim Burton’s Batman entries will still stand out as a turning point and The Dark Knight will forever be the benchmark. If DC decides to forgo long standing values to chase down Marvel for their share of cinema revenue, it will fail on all accounts.

Unless it stops worrying about box office returns and market share compared to Marvel, it will march toward a self-induced, slow creative death, in which it may never find resurrection.

First Action Hero

First Action Hero

To say the movie market is over saturated with superhero films is an understatement. When they attempt to add depth, like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, they face a backlash from critics and fans for not following the simple Marvel formula. If too many stick to the tried and tested, people become bored. Deadpool can’t be placed into either pigeon hole. So what is it?

The common line is it’s the R rated violent superhero comedy, that isn’t really a superhero film. All that is true. From the opening credits it’s clear the movie is very self-aware and the jokes are going to be aimed at everyone, including themselves. Having no fears about where the gags fly proves to be very liberating for the makers.

As in the comics, Deadpool breaks the fourth wall. The level as to which he does it here is surprising. When being dragged to the X-Men mansion he asks: “Stewart or McAvoy? I can never keep track of these alternate timelines.” Gags and nods come thick and fast, many leaving Easter eggs for those with knowledge of the character’s history. Others are just for pure laughs, like poking fun at Ryan Reynold’s turn as Green Lantern.

If that was his failed attempt at a superhero franchise, playing Deadpool has been his redemption. Admittedly, he’s had to take it to an adult level. This tone is set very early on. The plot moves along with the present day Deadpool flipping back to his past. There, he was in love with Morena Baccarin’s Vanessa, a prostitute he meets in his local bar.

These early exchanges between Reynold’s as Wade Wilson and Baccarin teeter on a level of cringe that would lead most movies to fail. Thankfully it lasts for ten minutes before their relationship is advanced and the more natural humour once again litters the scenes.

Having the origin story as a series of flashbacks prevents the script from stalling. It allows the laughs to flow while the heart of the characters slowly takes shape. Wade is diagnosed with cancer and then offered a cure from a man dressed as Agent Smith from The Matrix. What appears like a legitimate superhero programme turns out to be the world’s number one torture destination.

Their method is to inject a serum that stimulates latent mutant genes while exposing the subjects to high degrees of pain. The theory being stress will make the mutant strands activate to protect the host. It’s a case of death or super-powers, whichever comes first.

It’s no spoiler to say Wade Wilson survives, otherwise we’d have no film. He’s left with regeneration powers similar to Wolverine, with the ability to regrow body parts. The bad news is he is scarred to the point he doesn’t think Vanessa would take him back.

What follows is a revenge plot. He wants to find the man that caused the pain and visual damage. What stands in his way is the X-Men. Well, actually just two. Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead. Their interference allows the British bad guy, named Ajax, a chance to realise who is after him and then capture Deadpool’s woman.

It’s all pretty simple but that plays to the film’s strengths. It’s not trying to be a philosophical superhero film and its adult themes means it doesn’t have to pander to the younger Marvel audience. The action sequences benefit from the removal of violent restrictions. And it becomes clear what type of film it really is.

It’s not a grown-up superhero flick. It’s a modern action film.

In the eighties, before the modern craze of super-powers and capes cluttered the box office, action men were kings. Like the westerns before, the niche market found a way to rule. Like the current superhero phase, over saturation became the norm.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kurt Russell, Mel Gibson and Bruce Willis are just some of the big names from an era that stretched into the next decade of film making. After that, more actors took on roles in simple action movies, with varying degrees of success.

Once you realise that Deadpool isn’t a true superhero flick, the category it best falls into is action. The jokes are reminiscent of the cheesy humour people like Schwarzenegger would use. Except the humour here is noteworthy and the action sequences have caught up with the times. Long after superhero films have been shelved again, it’s easy to imagine Deadpool still fighting his way through enemies and cracking off edgy jokes.

The weakest part of the movie is how the X-Men have been shoehorned in. Obviously Wade Wilson is part of that universe, a failure to mention this would have been unthinkable. But Fox, the rights holder to these particular Marvel characters, would have been better advised to make this a standalone affair.

Their desperation to have something akin to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a painful imitation. Deadpool should be allowed to find his place in the movie landscape, freed from the shackles he spends nearly two hours making jokes about.

Yes, he has mutant powers, but we can accept that and move on. Allow him to face foes in standardised action flicks. Leave superheroes, like the X-Men, to deal with their own impending apocalypse.

Batman v Superman: There is a Winner

Batman v Superman: There is a Winner

Note: While care has been taken to not divulge the entirety of the plot or giveaway exciting twists and reveals, the regular tone of The Kinswah Reflective applies, which includes examining certain aspects of the movie. If you haven’t seen Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice yet, then it’s recommended you skip this review for now.

The results are in following “the greatest gladiator battle of all time” and there is a clear winner. But Zack Snyder will also have to acknowledge some have suffered unexpected heavy losses. The reviews so far have been a mixed bag. It isn’t the best superhero movie of all time, as some Twitter users have claimed, nor is it as poor as some critics have stated in early reviews. It’s where it sits between these two poles that will lead to extended debate.

It’s hard to assess the film without listening to all the disenchanted voices. Some have claimed it feels too much like a Man of Steel sequel. This is something that can be categorically wiped out. It is not a Superman film with Batman added. If anything, Snyder has taken the two characters and placed them in a vehicle for the Dark Knight’s benefit.

This is where some of his problems in the storytelling chair start to come to fruition.

Despite starting out in the DC Extended Universe with Superman, Snyder seems more at home with Bruce Wayne and his alter ego. The movie starts with another glimpse at Martha and Thomas Wayne being gunned down in an alleyway. Making this feel fresh is a challenge for any director, he pulls it off with an interesting take during the young Master Bruce’s fall into the bat cave.

Having Bruce narrate the opening sequence, a flashback to Superman’s battle with Zod, enables the viewer to quickly take on Batman’s perspective. Because Ben Affleck is so convincing in the role, it’s hard to balance it out when Superman’s story appears so one dimensional.

And before moving on, if should be noted some idiot on this website (me), had written off Affleck in The Dark Knight Relapses, before he’d even been measured for a cape. Happily, it can be said, these misgivings were wide of the mark. This is a version of Batman comic book fans have been longing for.

This isn’t a Batman still mourning his mother and father with every action; it’s one battle hardened after twenty years of fighting crime. The death of his parents isn’t the sole drive anymore, in this iteration it is merely the building blocks for his anger to sit on.

We see him in close-quarter combat, a merciless devil that appears from the shadows, a high-tech gadget wiz – and best of all – the world’s greatest detective actually does some detective work again.

Affleck will be immediately compared to Michael Keaton and Christian Bale, the two previous standout performers in the role. It’s subjective to say which element of Bat or Bruce each does better but Affleck holds one clear advantage. His predecessors were always portrayed as new to the vigilante game.

It wasn’t until Batman Returns that we are lead to believe Keaton’s Bat has done more than a few hours on the beat. And Bale’s is barely around before going into a lengthy exile following the events of The Dark Knight.

Affleck’s Batman is sold as one that has been in the field for decades, as such, he is grittier and meaner than any seen before on the big screen.

It should be this type of Batman who struggles to fit into a movie universe shared with metahumans, it isn’t, it’s Superman. The brooding Dark Knight somehow stands alongside other costumed heroes far better than the one in the red cape that can fly. It’d be like having Captain America appear in Silence of the Lambs and remark that he’s a better fit than Clarice Starling.

As Snyder flicks from Batman to Superman to Lex and to any blanks we need filling in, it is the Bat that feels more at home. He interacts well with Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince and follows leads for what is revealed to be part of his bigger masterplan.

Taking out hoods and tracking items should feel too ordinary when Superman is making last minute saves in the desert to ensure Lois Lane is safe. This subplot, where people are gunned down because of Superman’s arrival, tries to drive the point home that humans don’t know what to do with Superman.

Sadly, it is just one human – Zack Snyder – that struggles to do anything of worth with him. Cut scenes where he has conversations with Lois, Martha Kent and a dreamy one with Jonathan Kent, prove why storytellers should always show and not tell.

It’s easy to understand Bruce’s rage, even some of Lex Luthor’s monologues have merit (when seen from his point of view), but one struggles to have empathy with a god-like man that is supposed to be a wholesome farmer’s son, who just happens to have extraordinary powers, when he acts like he is God.

Superman or God?

Another issue for some is the pace of the first half of the film. Again, it will divide opinion. It was never an issue from my seat, but the much applauded closing battle (we all know it’s Doomsday from the trailer) doesn’t deserve so much love. It was average at best.

It should be noted, that horrendous trailer, that tried to give away the entirety of the movie in a three-minute period, did keep a few surprises back. Knowing this was a device to set up a Justice League movie meant there had to be a resolution between the two leading men before joining forces.

This is where one should feel sorry for Zack Snyder. He has had his hands tied-up before shooting commenced. He’s been hindered by the studio’s desire to go big from the very inception of its shared universe. Feeling like Marvel has stretched too far into the distance has made Warner Bros. throw everything, including the kitchen sink, at the project rather than carefully nurturing the storytelling.

It is too crammed and it does buckle under this weight.

They will argue the first attempt to start combined movies, Green Lantern, adopted the gentle approach and failed. But to flip from one extreme to the other is equally damaging. Even with the reveals of further metahumans being delivered from secret files, presumably to avoid inexplicable appearances in person, fails dreadfully. They are located in stolen files from LexCorp and for a few minutes you’d be forgiven for thinking it was an episode of Smallville.

It will be under review if Snyder should get a third chance to make people believe in his version of Superman. There are strong arguments for and against. Taking into account the amount of balls he was juggling here, and some surprises that will either make comic book fans love him or serve to antagonise them further, may be his saving grace.

For all his shortfalls, it’s clear he is playing the long game here. The Flash appearance, in a supposed Bruce Wayne dream, reveals a massive storyline further down the road. If Snyder is still part of it, only time will tell.

The decision makers need to stand fast, regardless of any negative reviews, and take a leaf out of the X-Men approach to movie making. They’ve had some duffers along the way but resisted the temptation for a full reboot. Dawn of Justice has too much going for it to be sent to the scrap heap.

Suicide Squad looks like it will add colour to a bleak palette and Wonder Woman has already won fans and critics over before her first solo outing. There is a clear winner in the battle between Superman and Batman on the screen, and from a critical point of view, Batman wins that particular point.

Jesse Eisenberg is good as Lex, another victory for the franchise. His jittery madness is a layer of clothing over evil genius. The only losers are Superman’s representation and the plot points toward to the end (Bruce goes from total distrust to admiration for Superman without much reasoning).

The rest is four star or above.

The DC Extended Universe should chalk this up as experience, learn, and move on.