Defending The Grade: Batsoup

70%? That's a passing grade, right?
70%? That’s a passing grade, right?

Yesterday, the last of the Gabbing Geek crew, Ryan, finally saw Batman Vs. Superman Vs. All Common Sense.  He didn’t like it and left a long, often amusing, ever-expanding when he remembers something else list of the film’s flaws.  For my part, I thought it would be fun to write a tongue-in-cheek reply listing everything that was “right” about the movie.  That was rough because I wanted the same number of points as Ryan’s original post, and he has since added a few more.  There may be more by the time I finish typing this and more still when it goes live.  Check in often and make sure.

However, Ryan made note of the fact that the others ’round these parts, either on post or podcast, rated the movie above a five out of ten.  My own grade was a seven out of ten.  I stand by that.  So, in the interest of filling up space, allow me to explain my reasoning a bit.

SPOILERS for the movie after the cut.

See, the problem for me when it comes to Batsoup is that Batsoup is basically a Zach Snyder movie.  I went into the theater knowing I was going to see a Zach Snyder movie.  I saw a Zach Snyder movie.

Snyder as a filmmaker can do a handful of things well.  Mostly that means that there will be some interesting visuals, and Snyder has proven himself more than capable of copying the aesthetics and general look of his source material.  There are some really great recreations of some story moments from Dark Knight Returns sprinkled throughout the movie, and not just the general appearance of Ben Affleck’s Batsuit.

The problem comes when Snyder tries to do more than recreate a look.  He just can’t get the feel of these characters “right”.  I realize that Geeks can have propitiatory feelings towards fictional characters like Batman and Superman, but I don’t expect a slavish devotion to original stories.  I don’t even get too upset when a character isn’t done the same way twice.  Batman and Superman are both characters dating back to the Great Depression, and they’ve been different over time from their creations until now.  But a Superman who feels the need to save lives but always looks at best troubled or bored while doing it is a problem since it doesn’t square with the idea the movie is trying to make the character out to be.  I don’t know if that’s Snyder’s fault, or Henry Cavil’s, or the script, or some combination of factors.  But it’s there.

Snyder had similar issues adapting Watchmen.  He recreated the original story incredibly faithfully.  Some have argued he did it too faithfully, and the best moment in the movie was the opening credits showing the history of that world from World War II to the 1980s, an entirely creative moment that had some visual style to it.  The problem was that the themes of Watchmen, that these heroes were damaged people with psychological problems (yes, all of them) is pushed aside when you get scenes like Nite Owl and Silk Spectre fighting off some muggers.  Instead of looking violent and sick, Snyder made it look like a cool action scene.

Jimmy didn't notice since this woman was the Silk Spectre.
Jimmy didn’t notice since this woman was the Silk Spectre.

But at least Watchmen seemed to have a full narrative story going for it.  Batsoup lacks a good deal of that.  My observation then and now was the movie was about half of a good Batman movie and maybe a third of a good Superman movie.  Had Snyder and screenwriter David Goyer focused more on one or the other of these two characters instead of dividing screentime between them and Lex Luthor, the movie might have been much better.

I actually mean that, by the by.  I didn’t hate the movie.  I’ve seen bad movies.  Batsoup is not a bad movie.  It’s not Manos:  The Hands of Fate or Movie 43 or even Krull.

Yup. I went there again.
Yup. I went there again.

Likewise, Batsoup isn’t exactly a good movie either.  I didn’t sit there hating it, but I wasn’t loving it either.  I probably wouldn’t rush out and see it again, but under the right circumstances, I might not avoid it either.  Flipping channels and find it on HBO when there’s nothing else to do?  OK.  I can see that.

Basically, the movie was pretty much exactly what I thought it would be.  I wasn’t expecting narrative coherence.  I was expecting violent eye candy.  That’s basically what the movie gave me, and that was all the movie gave me.

Snyder has always struck me as a more artistically ambitious version of Michael Bay.  With Bay, everything there is to see is right there on the screen.  Snyder has ideas.  Sucker Punch was apparently Snyder’s idea of a strong, feminist action movie about breaking through male domination or some such.  A more talented filmmaker, say a J.J. Abrams or a Joss Whedon, could have pulled that off, but they probably would have at least known better than to dress the empowered women in schoolgirl fetish outfits.  And that’s not even getting into whether or not Sucker Punch is any good.

Basically, as a director, Snyder often misses the point.  He has a narrative idea in his head, but that idea never quite fleshes itself out onscreen.  The cool visuals and stuff will all be there, but the thematic goals that Snyder himself is looking for will be absent.

I mean, there are some interesting ideas at play here, at least on Batman’s side.  What happened to Wayne Manor and whatever Robin wore that defaced costume?  Has Batman been absent or active all this time?

But then we see things like Batman being stupid.  Why does he want Superman dead?  Superman causes property damage?  OK, but how much of that was Superman’s fault?  Is he blaming Superman for the Senate hearing that blew up?  I would think even some rudimentary detective work (Batman’s forte) would show that Superman had nothing to do with the explosion, and wouldn’t Bruce Wayne be smart enough to know if someone is sending him taunting newspaper clippings that he’s being set up?

And then, on the Superman side, when Clark interferes with Batman taking down that truck convoy, why exactly does he just fly away?  Batman was shooting up a city street and appears to have killed a bunch of guys.  If Superman is really unhappy with how Batman is treating the criminal underworld in Gotham, why not just scoop him up right then and there and fly him off to the local police department?  It’s not like Batman has a prayer of stopping Superman at this point in the movie.

The biggest problem with the movie is that the Snyder signature style is rather dark.  Superman has, in his history, kept a city in a bottle in his sorta hidden Arctic fortress and had a flying dog.  Batman’s enemies include a fat guy with a thing for umbrellas.  These are, on many levels, silly characters.   But silly can be fun.  Marvel has proven that distilling what makes its characters fun into their cinematic equivalents can make for a fun time at the movies.  DC/Warner’s best hope for now is that they do not have a Kevin Feige figure overlooking everything, and are supposedly allowing individual directors a chance to give each of their respective movies their own style and look, whereas Marvel has a housestyle that goes over all their movies.  It’s a fun style, but it is still a housestyle.  If what I understand DC/Warner’s plan to be is true, that could mean DC heroes may be able to compete with a wider range of visual cinematic styles to distinguish them from Marvel.  Such a plan could just as easily crash and burn, but Marvel has its own risks involved with its ongoing plan (like what happens when Feige is no longer in charge of everything).  But if all the DC movies look like a Snyder film, then there will be problems going forward, moreso than were evident in Batsoup.

Basically, Batsoup was what I thought it would be.  There were just enough decent ideas on display for me to give the movie a seven out of ten, but there were far too many flaws for me to call it a particularly good movie.

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