“Batman vs. Superman” is Criminally Underrated

It’s one of the classic debates in comic book circles: if Batman and Superman got into a fight, who would walk away?

image

Copyright belongs to DC Comics and Warner Bros.

A lot is being said about this new movie, and I won’t spoil the outcome, but the critics and “comic book authorities” are certainly losing. That’s because for reasons I cannot understand, they are hating on one of the greatest, most thrilling, best-balanced comic book movies in recent memory.
It’s a long movie, and requires an investment of time and attention. Come to think of it, maybe that’s enough reason for it to not “click” with the Twitter generation. (I doubt even the Lord of the Rings movies would be allowed to run for three hours to tell their own stories, if they were being made today) But the payoff and literally Earth-shattering developments are well worth it. The consequences of the almost-as-underrated Man of Steel are intelligently dealt with, and feed into this one’s storyline naturally. It plays its numerous elements like a rip-roaring symphony, to an effect that reminds us all what the word “epic” actually means.
Both Batman (Ben Affleck) and Superman (Henry Cavill) get the space they need to tell their stories, plus the villains and secondary characters get plenty of time to shine, so I don’t get why people are saying the movie and plot are underdeveloped. Frankly, it’s an absolute miracle this movie gets so much right, considering the fact that it crams in enough plot for three films. In addition to the two title characters, there is Wonder Woman (an undeniably awesome Gal Gadot), Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg, providing the scariest and most deliciously unhinged take on Luthor since Kevin Spacey), Doomsday, and several others beside. If there was anything that didn’t quite work, it was the extra attention given to all the setup for the Justice League to come together. But that setup is still tantalizing and just plain cool, and I say that as someone who’s never read a Justice League comic.
There was always something fishy about the overreaction against Ben Affleck. Sure enough, he makes an entirely believable and human Bruce Wayne, a bitter man with all the trust burned out of him by two decades of fighting “freaks dressed like clowns,” who would be exactly the sort of man to assume the worst in Kal-El/Superman and take a stand against him. He is arguably one of the best incarnations of Batman ever put on screen.
For those who have groused about Superman not being the perfect Boy Scout of the Christopher Reeves movies: remember in Superman II when he gives up his responsibility of saving lives and defending Earth so he can sleep with Lois Lane? Not exactly the spotless paragon everyone talks about. Cavill makes perfect sense as a Superman who struggles with doubt, but is still trying to be an authentic hero in a world that has all but given up on morality, and often looks with suspicion on the exact people who have the courage and conviction to do what we all know to be morally right.
I have been given plenty of reason to distrust the critic community already, but quite honestly, this is also a reason to distrust the comic book crowd as a whole when it comes to appreciating a great story. They’ll love a comic book film just because it’s an exercise in snark and mean-spirited flippancy (exhibit A: Deadpool) and make fun of Ben Affleck for being disappointed at the negative response. It seems nothing else will be good enough for them.
Remember, this is three movies in one. But it works. Do yourself a favor and go see it, and don’t let all the parroted hatred toward this incredible film stand in your way.

Advertisements

What Happens when Pee-Wee Herman Meets Batman…

…is pure hilarity. Jimmy Fallon answers the question everyone and their cousin has asked: “What if Pee-wee Herman dubbed over The Dark Knight Rises?”

My more serious review of the movie is coming soon. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this.

Villains, Punishment, and Fiction

Electric Chair photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

I decided to offer some thoughts closely related to another recent post, about how we view evil and punishment in fiction. Generally we are fine with the bad guy getting what he deserves, except in cases when the villain wins for the purposes of the story and the character development. But there is an opinion I’ve seen floating around pockets of the blogosphere that looks at punishment itself as if it is barbarism, even when a fictional character gets his just desserts.

Everyone’s still reeling from the massacre in Aurora, CO. My prayers go to the families and friends of all the victims. I can’t imagine how hard it will be for them to find comfort and acceptance in the face of this indescribable horror. It’s heartbreaking when we hear of another shooting. We have a hard time contemplating the kind of acidic evil it takes to point a gun at a crowd and shoot indiscriminately, a jolt of recoil ending the life of someone’s daughter or son. We recognize a need for the perpetrator to face justice because of their actions.

I have seen and heard of many dark things, and still I cannot picture the kind of monstrous transformation I would have to go through before I did something similar to what James Holmes did. Make no mistake: all of us are capable of such evil. All too often I underestimate the darkness that resides in my heart and think I couldn’t possibly become James Holmes or Charles Manson.

It’s not a question of “Can I?” but “Will I?” There but for the grace of God go I, as the saying goes. Even though we have a conscience and can choose good, the potential for evil is always there. It’s not restricted to sociopaths, the mentally disturbed, or people who subscribe to a different worldview. The key lies with human choice.

And since I think good fiction is true to life, I believe we should integrate that understanding into fiction — the realization that tremendous evil can come from anyone. Maybe that realization is why the notion of punishing others makes some people squeamish. Almost no one wants punishment for a crime to catch up with them, after all. By nature, punishment is rough, hard, and always should be treated as a somber affair. Some people are so perturbed by punishment, they start talking as if it shouldn’t even be delivered.

Even with fictional villains, some don’t like the idea of a villain receiving it. I won’t name names, but I know of three or four specific people (though I am sure there are many others) who have a sneering disdain for “good vs. evil” stories when good curb-stomps evil. As if these stories were crafted to appeal to people with anger management issues. They prefer stories where the ideals of forgiveness and mercy are always going to have the last say; good triumphs over evil by mercy, or diplomatic talk, or using something abstract but attractive (like beauty or decency) to entice someone away from dark intentions. They’re very emotionally disturbed every time the side of good throws a fist.

Or a hammer. I just had to use this photo again.

They think beauty can save the world. They can’t imagine a version of the Joker who isn’t just misunderstood and won’t be wiled away from his anarchy by the right painting or poem. Every bad guy becomes Darth Vader, bad on the outside but with a good streak on the inside that will surely enlighten them in the right circumstances.

To their mind, seeking punishment makes you a vengeful, vindictive, even cruel individual. Even when you honestly look for justice and not petty revenge, they can’t tell the difference. Most likely, a lot of these people don’t know what it really means to be the victim of true evil, never knowing what the need for justice tastes like to someone who has been beaten into the ground. I don’t know what it tastes like, either. I haven’t had to face that kind of darkness just yet. But there is more to punishment than getting even.

This romanticized view of human nature, that evil men surely will listen to diplomacy and kindness, crumbles away when we look at the implacable evils in the real world. I can already hear Alfred Pennyworth’s speech from The Dark Knight:

“Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

That’s why punishment is needed. That’s why it has a vital place in fiction. Because some men and women can’t be talked out of their depravity and injustice, and will not seek forgiveness. We should forgive them anyway, but forgiveness is not antithetical to ensuring they are punished.

Of course, not every story needs or benefits from villains. Some have their focus elsewhere. Sometimes it is best to show a villain mercy, or gently lead them away from their evil. And sometimes when there is a villain, they get away with everything. We need those stories as well, of course. But we also need to keep seeing villains punished in some stories, to remind us of the need to punish them in real life. If we keep saying “Oh, how sad,” at every single tragedy, and silence the inner cry for a penalty for a senseless and evil act, we will inevitably look for solutions to human evil in the wrong place.

Again, the need for punishment arises out of human choice. Mercy and forgiveness form a beautiful language, one I wish everyone understood and spoke. But some people refuse to learn it.

A Brief Thought on Superheroes, Justice, and Violence

I’ll just come out and say it: I am irritated. Sorry for the grumpiness; it seems I’m going through a phase right now.

The astounding Avengers movie and the mostly “Amazing” Spider-Man reboot are keeping bright tights and larger-than-life heroics on the silver screen, while Christopher Nolan prepares to unleash the conclusion of his masterful Batman trilogy later this month. So, just about every blogger or critic with an opinion is weighing in on heroes, antiheroes, and supervillains.

The reason for my griping, in a nutshell: There is an increasing trend in commentary on superheroes, the trend of ascribing the laws made by (and for) normal humans, and using them to indict comic book characters.

More and more of this commentary looks at classic heroes, no matter how noble or selfless, with a suspicious and sour eye. It’s starting to sound like the prologue from Pixar’s The Incredibles, where an increasingly litigious society contends that heroes are causing more harm than they prevent. Anthony Lane, from The New Yorker, has weighed in on this fashionable sport of taking potshots at the heroism of fictional characters, in a shoddy Avengers review. (My guess is that the New Yorker crowd is starting to realize they can’t spend all their time staring at abstract art and chuckling dryly over glasses of wine at dinner parties) If you’re not already a diehard fan of the Avengers and therefore biased in their favor, Lane waves off the film as an experience where the audience gets “mugged by a gang of rowdy sociopaths with high muscle tone.”

No, sure, let’s just let the UN get into a bureaucratic nightmare debating how to deal with an alien invasion. After all, heroes who save the world are no better than the villains threatening it! (See above — he actually implies that) Or let the NYPD deal with the Lizard (despite their repeated failures to do so) as he’s killing people. Peter Parker can’t just swing around a few skyscrapers and subdue him, because that would be recklessly disregarding the law.

In one especially insane online discussion, a certain…gentleman asserted to me that there is no real difference between Captain America and the Punisher, and that their actions and motives don’t look all that different.

What? All right, let’s do a little comparison. If you have read tons of comics and you can note moments where Punisher or Cap acted differently, let me know — I’m generalizing here.

Captain America, doing double-duty as a soldier and a patriotic symbol. Kills enemy combatants while defending others from unprovoked harm.

Versus…

The Punisher, antihero and vigilante who fights urban crime through many unsavory practices, including torture, murder, and extortion. Vents his anger on criminals by maiming and killing them.

I will go out on a limb here — I’m not quite seeing double.

And going back to The Avengers…what was the UN going to tell the Avengers? “Sorry, but this isn’t authorized under the Geneva Convention. You can’t just go firing weapons at assailants and throw the city into chaos.”

Yes, they can. The aliens were trying to kill innocents. When you just found out there is an alien invasion about to arrive in New York City, and you have at your disposal some assassins, a technological genius, a giant green rage monster, a Norse god, and a supersoldier, all of whom are willing to help, you get them between the incoming enemy and the civilian population. Forget about the question of whether the statutes of conventional warfare would, theoretically, apply to an alien race. When civilians are being targeted, you get in the way and throw the biggest hammer you’ve got.

This hammer, to be exact.

There are these little things in life called “emergencies,” when certain legal issues need to be put aside for the moment. Even though most comic books are fantastical, larger-than-life, and just plain wacky, they depict events that I would think qualify as “emergencies.” Regular cops and soldiers can be trusted to deal with the more familiar forms of crime and evil. Generally, superheroes are for super-threats.

When it comes to Batman…ah, now that might be a different matter. Certainly in the Nolan trilogy there are legal consequences to Bruce Wayne becoming the Caped Crusader, even though everyone with half a brain stem was glad Batman was there when Ra’s al Ghul or the Joker set their sights on Gotham. But that is probably best left for another rant, another time. This particular rant is, I think, finished.

Have your own thoughts? Agree? Disagree? Want to yell at me that I’m full of it? There’s the comment window. Use it as you please.

Of Hobbits and Dark Knights

This week has been a thrilling one for movie fans, to say the least. Now we have the trailers for both The Dark Knight Rises and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It’s a genuine delight to at last see hints of the films which people have been talking about for the past year. Both trailers are, simply put, awe-inspiring.

 

 

If you see a grown man jumping up and down and giggling like a very amused infant at the midnight showing of either movie, it will probably be me. No, I don’t usually act like that, but I’ll make an exception for these movies.

Catch you at the cinema!