Well, first of all, this is Episode 3. Episode 2? Still in editing.
Given the fact that Criminal, Lionsgate/Summit’s new thriller, features a number of actors prominent in recent comic book movies, it might seem like the kind of film our audience would turn out for.
Ryan Reynolds (Green Lantern, Deadpool, RIPD, Blade Trinity) is joined by Tommy Lee Jones (Batman Forever, Men in Black), Gal Gadot (Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Wonder Woman), Kevin Costner (Man of Steel), Antje Traue (Man of Steel), Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight), Scott Adkins (Doctor Strange), Colin Salmon (Arrow), and more in what is ultimately a movie so bafflingly bad, it’s kind of incredible to watch it unfold.
First of all, Ryan Reynolds has already done this whole brain-swap-in-a-bad-movie thing, so I’m not sure how he fell for that trick twice.
It’s a bizarrely antifeminist movie. Coming at a time when big blockbusters are turning out Katniss, Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Wonder Woman, and more, Criminal delivers us a sequence of Kevin Costner’s character binding and mounting a woman with the clear intent to rape her.
Remember, folks, this is a character we’re supposed to sympathize with.
When he returns to that woman’s house later, she goes from “I’m gonna kill the guy who attacked me” to the poster child for Stockholm Syndrome remarkably quickly. She’s also kind of a terrible mom.
Alice Eve’s character is killed in a scene that means absolutely nothing, and later, Antje Traue’s character gets an incredibly brutal beating. Neither of these felt inherently antifeminist, because male characters got nearly identical treatment in similar story circumstances...but it’s worth mentioning because they both felt...gratuitous? Certainly it wasn’t a comfortable feeling watching those scenes.
All in all, I’d say the violence in this film didn’t really work. They couldn’t seem to decide whether they wanted to play it for laughs, to play it as “video game violence,” or to depict the very real consequences of the kind of violence they depict. The result is a film that does a little of each, and none of them ever feels quite right.
The whole movie feels like it would have been at home in the early to mid-’90s -- which is interesting because the writing team hasn’t had a major motion picture produced since 1999, according to their IMDb pages. Leaving aside that whole Ryan Reynolds/Ben Kingsley thing, this film feels like what would happen if Face/Off and Falling Down had a baby, and that baby couldn’t decide what kind of movie it wanted to be.
I went to see this film with Zach Roberts, a contributing photographer and videographer here at the site. He pointed out something that seems worth mentioning: this whole movie revolves around a small cell of (apparently American?) spies operating out of the U.K. There are Germans, Russians, and Americans having gun battles, car chases, and setting off terrorist attacks throughout London...with no visible presence from the British government at any point in the story. Do they even know what’s going on?
For that matter, does Langley? In the trailer you’re clued in that this is a CIA operation -- but I got through the whole movie and had to really scour my memory for any specific mention of what organization we’re watching this whole time.
You can see my review of both Criminal and Iris, which is referenced in the podcast, over at ComicBook.com.
Next up, we talked about Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Both of us loved the movie, but since it's received mostly negative reviews and is on the receiving end of some truly toxic social media chatter, we spend most of our conversation defending it, or trash-talking some of the arguments against it.
That said, here's a small section of my copious thoughts, still in draft form, dealing with the negatives.
What's wrong with Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice?
This is a two-pronged question. There's a question of what I perceive to be wrong with the film, and there's what is wrong from a big-picture perspective, in terms of public perception, reception from critics and casual moviegoers, and the like.
For me personally, I had no major issues with Batman V Superman. If I had to pick one thing to go after, it would be Clark Kent and his world. Sure, the Daily Planet was fun and it was fairly well-defined, but Martha Kent, like her husband before her, utterly lacked any sense of being an inspirational figure, or raising someone who is capable of being as good as Superman needs to be.
In the comics I read growing up -- the ones on which the world of Batman V Superman are largely based -- Clark Kent was the "real guy," and Superman was a means to an end. Here, we get the opposite: like in the Silver and Bronze Ages, Superman spends a lot of time fixating on Krypton -- a world he never actually lived on. That never sat right with me in the comics, and it doesn't work for me in the film, either. The idea of making Superman a true outsider doesn't work for me: I like him as more a Captain America figure: he may be from somewhere else, but it doesn't get him down.
In this film, Clark's parents are not inspirational. His job is an interesting backdrop but little else. He's not particularly good at his job, and that aloofness and disobedience begs the question of how he would maintain employment at a place like the Daily Planet, effectively undercutting the profoundly "real" and "grounded" world they're trying to build. In short, this isn't John Byrne's Clark Kent, but Elliot S. Maggin's...and in that version, Clark was never all that compelling a character.
This bleeds over into the love story with Lois; it's hard to know what she sees in him as Clark, other than the fact that he's Superman when they're at home. Part of that is the Cavill defies the odds and makes himself the one and only person alive who has no chemistry with Amy Adams -- but most of it is the way the character is written.
All in all, Clark Kent feels like a man completely defined by his other-ness, by his life as Superman. And that's driven home at the end when he's buried in a coffin in Smallville before friends of the family.
Why is the Smallville funeral such a problem for me?
There was something absolutely heartbreaking about Jonathan and Martha Kent in "Funeral For a Friend." They had to bury a box of their son's toys and childhood things, alone in a cornfield, because they couldn't gain access to their son's body. Superman, after all, belonged to the world.
There was an upside, though: When Superman came back, Clark's body had never been found. This meant it was plausible enough for him to ave been trapped under rubble, only to be "discovered" and rescued a few days after Superman's return.
Once you put that pine box in the ground in Smallville, you're declaring that you have nothing more to say about Clark Kent. And that's a huge loss.
I liken it to one of my big problems with recent comic books. They're so event-driven, so preocuppied with world-building, that it's rare for a superhero's supporting cast to get much, if any, attention. More often than not, superheroes surround themselves only with other superheroes, which makes the Marvel and DC Comics Universes fairly one-note a lot of the time.
So, that's me. What's wrong with the film from the perspective of others?
There are a lot of answers to this; it's a deeply divisive film. Because so much focus right now has been on the box office numbers and its seeming inability to reach the $1 billion mark as the studio had reportedly hoped, I'll focus on that and maybe touch on some other points as I go.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is having a hard time connecting with casual moviegoers, which is likely at least in part because of the critical response and lukewarm word-of-mouth. Fans turned out in force on opening weekend, and then a significant number of them are buying another ticket (per presale retailer Fandango) -- but if you have a high volume of repeat buyers AND a huge drop, it means Joe Public isn't going.
That's borne out, anecdotally, by the fact that I haven't spoken with nearly as many people who feel like they have to see this as I did when Deadpool was in theaters, or Star Wars: The Force Awakens. My wife, who saw and enjoyed the movie, is and was exponentially more excited for Suicide Squad. Somehow, the fanboy wet dream that blew up Hall H when it was announced has become something that appeals to fewer everyday people than Guardians of the Galaxy.
There are also incredibly high expectations at play for this movie, based on the performance of the Marvel franchise and the Batman franchise over the last ten years. It's not really an apples to apples comparison to try and pick something in that vein to compare it to -- let's say Iron Man or The Incredible Hulk, Marvel's first couple of movies. In fact, I'd argue that there isn't an apples to apples comparison when you're trying to look at any two films in a constantly-changing landscape. In the last ten years, Iron Man changed the game; then The Dark Knight; then The Avengers; then Guardians of the Galaxy; and now Deadpool. All along the way, Warners has been trying to figure out how to make a Superman movie that appeals to an audience that for years said loudly and often that Superman Returns was a disappointment.
Where the piece is right is that director Zack Snyder uses this film -- as he did Man of Steel -- to make a statement about the nature of superheroes. What would the real world -- our world -- be like if Superman were to suddenly appear? What would Donald Trump's America be like if we woke up one morning and not only were there strange visitors from another planet, but they come to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men? The world would go apeshit.
Where the piece goes wrong is that it maligns other approaches to superhero fiction, as if Guardians of the Galaxy or Deadpool were somehow not excellent films because they elected (not failed, by the way -- elected) not to address such issues. It's an asinine argument that undercuts the seriousness of the arguments the piece makes in favor of Snyder and his approach, and guaranteed that the comments thread would become a shitstorm of Marvel fanboys and DC fanboys yelling at each other in ALL CAPS. It was not only wrong and wrong-headed but actively self-sabotaging.
All that said, it was about a month before the movie came out that people started talking about how it might not perform at the level Warner Bros. hoped at the box office. While the first reports came out basically saying "test audiences didn't like it," soon thereafter follow-up reports said that the movie was very similar to Man of Steel: that it was challenging, philosophical, political, and ultimately divisive.
That second batch of impressions turned out to be true, of course, and that's why it was unlikely that this film was ever realistically going to make Dark Knight or Avengers kind of money.
While excellent films, those movies were narratively straightforward and morally unambiguous. They asked relatively little of their audience and provided a great deal of entertainment in return.
They also didn't ask anyone to take too much of a leap of faith in terms of worldbuilding. The Dark Knight was the sixth Batman movie in 20 years at that point and the second in a franchise, with the Gotham City of Christopher Nolan's movies already established. The Avengers was the culmination of a half-dozen prior narratively-straightforward, morally-unambiguous Marvel films.
While there isn't anything inherently superior about movies that are challenging, narratively complicated, and morally ambiguous, those sorts of films are rarely rewarded at the box office. Putting that kind of baggage onto a movie you hoped to make a billion dollars was likely a poor idea.
That said, the movie will end up making more money than the first installments of almost any Marvel franchise. That might not be a fair basis for comparison, since technically it's Man of Steel
that was the first of these films, but certainly this is the first appearance of Affleck's Batman and, as DC Entertainment Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns told me on the red carpet
, the first true DC Universe film. The expectations of a billion-dollar film were set by The Dark Knight
and The Avengers
, but this movie will outgross Batman Begins
and most or all of the pre-Avengers
Marvel Studios films.
That isn't to say the box office won't be a disappointment to people at Warner who had imagined this would do Avengers-level numbers. It's just to say that it's also not the total fiasco people are making it out to be. It's almost certain to turn a modest profit even before the merchandising and home video numbers that fans like to flaunt so much, and using any comparable film as a basis for comparison, Batman V Superman comes out looking pretty good.