Uncollected Thoughts: Justice League


justice_league_poster_1

The first thing is, getting to East Didsbury from Reddish on a Sunday afternoon. That wasn’t as bad as you might think: the 203 was late, naturally, but I had time to buy the paper and more or less get straight onto the 23A. On the other hand, this Cineworld, being newer, bigger, flasher than dear old comfortable Stockport is an arsehole. You can’t buy your tickets from a human being, it’s got to be a machine and mine is fucked up. Still, the one I am led to for a second go, by a human being, coughs up my ticket and doesn’t even ask for proof of ageĀ  over my senior person concession.

Having said that, Screen 4’s bigger than anything I’ve recently been at in Stockport, plus it has banked seats. I’m about two-thirds of the way up, in an aisle seat. The background music is Take That (one of Mark Owen’s: I am very well-trained) to be followed by Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’. No disrespect to anyone but the leap in quality is immeasurable.

I’m one of five when I sit down, which is a massive improvement on Monday but still a disappointment for a big budget film on a Sunday afternoon on it’s third day. Half an hour of trailers etc. later (yup, Karen Gillan looks just as good and, hey! a new Ardman/Nick Park: one for 2018 already), we have swelled to an unmanageable 28, the unmanageable one being the two-year-old toddler sat almost directly in front of me.

Oddly, for there is literally nothing here to spark such a recollection save the day of the week, I’m transported back to a Sunday morning a great many years ago, when my Dad took me to the Cartoon Cinema for a non-stop round of Warner Brothers cartoons, all Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. They were on a loop. You came in when you arrived, you left when you recognised when you came in. I had a whale of a time, as you can imagine. What on earth’s brought that back I can’t possibly imagine, but I haven’t found that memory for a very long time.

The film? Oh yes, this is supposed to be about the film, isn’t it? By my tally, this is the fifth time I’ve been to the cinema this year, and they’ve all been films based on comics. Four superheroes, two each DC and Marvel. For the life of me, I don’t know how to respond to this film, nor how to rank it even among this year’s quintet.

It really is strange how much I feel nothing about this film, and I the oldest in the cinema, certainly the only one actually on this planet when Brave & Bold 27 was published, somewhere maybe round the time my Dad took me to the Cartoon Cinema. I’ve waited a lifetime to see this film. But, well, no.

Actually, it started slowly, introducing the cast, one-by-one, with special reference to the newcomers: Aquaman, The Flash, Cyborg. It was ponderous to say the least, and in my head i also gad the word ‘portentous’.

But after that, any kind of critical appraisal drained off, and I just sat and watched it. It did not disappoint and it did not enthrall. The performances were decent: no-one stood out as either terribly impressive or terribly awful. It was neither slow-paced nor fast-paced (although the Zack Snyder tradition of ultra-slow motion to show just how clever the CGI stunt is has not merely gotten old, it’s whiskers are completely white).

The story was neither a coherent progression nor a series of disjointed fragments, though it leaned in both directions. It was neither too short nor too long, but that doesn’t mean to imply it was the right length, just that it felt you could have taken scenes out and put other scenes in and the film would have neither suffered nor improved by it.

It was just what it was, a film without any personality whatsoever. I didn’t enjoy it, I didn’t hate it, I wasn’t bored by it, I… got nothing from it, not even the sense of something rotten and malodorous to the core that pervaded Batman vs Superman. It was just bland. And it was still better than Batman vs Superman.

There were a number of things in the film that I could comment upon viz-a-viz their relationship to the original source, but I can’t be bothered, except in one case. The villain, Steppenwolf, was taken from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World series’ (there was even a one-off mention of Darkseid, one of the most awesome characters ever created: guys, when you get to the one that brings him in, you gotta be aiming and reaching a galaxy higher than you’ve been doing to date). The film revolved around one of Kirby’s most potent symbols, Mother Box. But it perverted it, reversing its purpose 180 degrees. Don’t do that again.

And so it was. The film ended up not even being ‘Meh!’ or being a waste of time. Stick to TV, DC, when it comes to films, you have no idea.

Uncollected Thoughts: Batman vs Superman – Dawn of Justice


He’s not in this one, but you sure wish he was.

I spent most of the Easter weekend avoiding specific spoilers for this film, but I’d have needed to lock myself in a monastic cell to have avoided picking up the impression that the general reaction to Batman vs Superman – Dawn of Justice was that it was dull, overlong, tedious and an incomprehensible piece of crap.

Never let consensus, or the critics, get in the way of you enjoying a film, so I took Easter Monday afternoon out to watch it (in 3D, natch) at Grand Central, Stockport. And my take on the film is that it is dull, overlong, tedious and an incomprehensible piece of crap.

This from a comics geek who has known these characters for a lifetime, who is a DC fan who desperately wants to see his age-old favourites soar on film the way that Marvel’s lot do. I confess that I was bored after thirty minutes of this two-and-a-half hour long film, yes, bored, complete lack of interest in the story, would have switched it off had I been sat at home and gone and done something more interesting instead: the pots need washing, for one thing.

What makes this film suck so? There are several factors: in no particular order it’s the acting, the direction, the dialogue, the story: no, it’s unfair to drag the story in on this, since there was none, just a never-ending succession of scenes with no logical succession, interplay or sense of cohesion, no more so than in the ending, which never came because the film didn’t have one, and kept coming up with more and dumber scenes to try and hide the fact that it had no idea, not one, about how to stop without the actors having to band together and back off-set, shuffling their feet and whistling to conceal the absence of an end-line, like a sketch in a Spike Milligan Q series, except that he was making a deliberate point.

Let’s try to make some sense of this, though if I do, it’s more than Director Zack Snyder ever tried. His is the bold, dominant supervening vision for the entire DC Cinematic Universe, which suggests the whole of it is going to be shitty, dark, uninspired splodge.

The story is as I said: no story at all, just a collection of scenes in some form of sequence, but without connection or progression. It starts during an extended sequence set in Man of Steel, which I did not watch, where Bruce Wayne goes tearing around Metropolis, trying unsuccessfully to rescue his employees from the Wayne Building. This makes him very much not-friends with Superman, who he leaves alone forĀ  eighteen months because he’s so concerned about the danger a Kryptonian could be to the world.

Then he decides to go after him by stealing the kryptonite that Lex Luthor intends to use against Superman, and for exactly the same reason. It takes forever to get to in the film, and when it finally happens, long after the point when it was getting hard to take how this thing was being dragged out by jerky shit and stupid dream sequences, Batman whups Superman’s kryptonite-weakened ass and is all set to stab him through the heart when – and everybody has pointed out just how risible this is so I won’t go on about it – Supes happens to mention that his mother is called Martha.

Batman staggers back in shock. “That was my mother’s name” he cries, a la Rupert Holmes in the deliberately silly song, ‘Our National Pastime’ and just like that they’re pals and best buddies.

Which is when Luthor scares up a Kryptonian monster out of nothing and Snyder, having made a ham-fisted attempt to do ‘The Dark Knight’, now crosses over into a ludicrously inept retread of the ‘Death of Superman’. Wonder Woman appears out of nowhere to help take down the bad guy, but it doesn’t stop Superman getting killed (though with Henry Cavill’s ‘acting’, who can possibly tell?)

That’s about as much logical sense as the movie contains, to be frank. Superman’s death is the cue for Batman to enlist Wonder Woman in putting together the future Justice League: because he has ‘a feeling’. It’s going to be an utter disaster, I know it.

It’s a sludgy, horribly slow film with no narrative direction, it’s murky in nearly ever scene and the CGI is so OTT that in any vaguely realistic estimate, there should be no more than about 4% of Metropolis and Gotham collectively left with one brick on top of the other.

Cavill is a bust as Superman and Clark Kent. He can’t act: neither character has any life in him and Superman’s habit of just standing there, letting destruction go on around him until he feels he’s given his pose enough burn time is stupid. Gal Gadot does an efficient job as Wonder Woman in the climactic fight but everywhere else is wooden and artificial. Jesse Eisenberg, as Luthor, is no Luthor I ever saw in my lifetime, and I will need to do a hell of a lot of work to remove that performance from my memory: it was the single biggest idiocy in the film and believe me, that’s saying a lot.

In contrast, Ben Affleck gave a perfectly good performance as Bruce Wayne. I was less impressed with him as Batman, but then Batman was an old car crash and the costume was nearly as bad as Adam West’s.

I refused to watch Man of Steel three years ago, for what seemed to me to be very good reasons, and the same reasons applied to this film. To paraphrase what I paraphrased then, characters like Superman and Batman have been around for decades. They have been interpreted in many different ways as the world develops about them, ways that are mutually contradictory in multiple ways. We each of us, mostly unconsciously, pick out certain aspects of the characters that form our acceptance of them, a core that we us to decide if a performance ‘is’ or ‘is not’ Superman.

‘My’ Superman does not kill, deliberately. He is too conscious of the extent of his powers and he eternally believes that there is a better way, to win without killing. That’s why I didn’t watch Man of Steel.

When it comes to this film, ‘my’ Batman doesn’t kill either, especially not indiscriminately, and he does NOT pick up guns. And ‘my’ Alfred never – never, never, never – appears unshaven. And no Lex Luthor under the sun behaves like this one.

Put it all together, the film sucked. For once, the critics who turned up their noses and sniffed got it dead right. I’m one of us, I’m on the inside, these films speak my language, I get them, I’m not missing the point. And I thought it was shite, it was a waste of my money and of the hours I have remaining to me, and if Zack Snyder is to stay in charge of the DC Cinematic Universe, if this is what it’s going to be like, then every one of them lined up to come, all down the line, are going to be wastelands, disasters, horrendous mistakes.

I will never again, except under the most strict of duress, not even with a promise of extraordinary sexual reward, watch this heap of crap again.

Man of Steel – The Non-Review


This is Superman

As a long-time DC fan, who has been known to read Superman from time to time, I’d been looking forward to the new film, Man of Steel for several months.

I have good memories of seeing the first Christopher Reeve film in the kind of old-fashioned big screen cinema that was perfect for the scale of the film, and which just doesn’t exist any longer. I have good memories of Superman II, a poor opinion of Superman III and I can console myself with the fact that I was on a date when I went to see Superman IV – The Quest for Peace and can at least look back on several long periods of snogging instead of following the film.

Superman Returns was better than that one, but we are still drawing a veil over it.

Following the success of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and the increasing darkening of DC’s comics that has beaten any residual interest in superheroes out of me, I admit to misgivings about what direction Man of Steel would take. It’s a cliche to say this, and like all cliches it might not represent the whole of the story but it gets close enough to the core of things to stick, but Superman is Light where Batman is Dark. Superman works in the open, in the daylight, he appears in primary colours, he is dedicated to Truth and Justice (we’ll forget the outmoded part of that line, thank you). Superman saves, Superman is Good. He’s the Big Blue Boy Scout and just as he is unreal and impossible, so he can be purer of heart than the rest of us. Batman is his opposite, in every aspect.

Don’t forget, this year, Superman will have been around for 75 years. And no cultural icon, no matter how low the culture, gets to stick around for that length of time whilst being only one thing to everyone all the time. But some things, some parts of the concept have to remain inviolate, no matter what else responds to the changing world, or how else do we know who we are speaking of?

That Man of Steel would try to drag Superman as far over into Batman’s psychological territory as possible was a given. That a large part of the audience would not just applaud this but would regard it as the only thing that makes Kal-El interesting to them, was only to be expected. So I wasn’t exactly expecting my kind of Superman film to begin with.

The early reviews were fairly equivocal, focussing mainly on the apparant absence of any chemistry between Clark Kent/Superman and Lois Lane. I don’t let reviews influence me – the Guardian ordered, commanded and screamed at me to hate the Tintin film The Secret of the Unicorn seven or eight times over, but I still enjoyed it immensely – not unless they come from someone with an unimpeachable record of being on my wavelength, so I wasn’t bothered even when my Team Leader at work warned us all off it because his lodger had gone to see it first night, and said it was absolute crap.

But I still read some comics sites, even if I don’t read the comics, and so I learned of Mark Waid’s blog on his visit to the cinema. Now Waid, if you don’t know him, is a lifelong Superman fan who’s also written the character (his version of Superman’s origins, Birthright, was the authorised version in the pre-New 52 universe, and some of the material in Man of Steel is based on his work). He’s also one of the most consistently entertaining, thoughtful and fresh comics writers of the past two decades, so his is a voice I’m prepared to listen to.

And when he explained how the film broke his heart, how it portrayed a Superman that he couldn’t believe in, that wasn’t Superman in any incarnation that he could recognise, I realised that my own thoughts of Superman, of who and what he was, and what he could do and be in order for me to be able to recognise him as Superman meshed in this respect. I won’t relate what Waid was talking about, for the benefit of those who do intend to watch the film, and who are entitled to allow the story to present itself, but it is as much a breach of what i can accept as the character as if Jeeves were to extricate Master Wooster from another of those unsought entanglements, not by the ingenuity of his superior brain but by having the girl kidnapped and sold into white slavery.

Here’s a link to Waid’s piece, and here’s a link to a very interesting piece by Greg Hatcher on the process of identifying what is ‘your’ Superman, your core image of what the character cannot abandon or forego or ignore and still be the Man of Steel, the Man of Tomorrow, the Big Blue Boy Scout.

The Man of Steel of Man of Steel goes beyond what I, like Mark Waid, and many others, can concieve of in Superman. So I won’t be going to see the film after all, and I won’t be blogging what I think of it. Although I seem to have done that, after all.