Friday, May 23, 2014

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” will drop the “s” on you

There's been a lot of hullabaloo about David S. Goyer using his "Yakuza" tatted arms to shove both feet and most of his legs into his mouth during the podcast Scriptnotes Episode 144: The Summer Superhero Spectacular. It's funny that should happen on the same day I was planning to respond to the lovely Lissbird's linking to Dan Calnan's Moviepilot article A List of Do's and Don't's for the Justice League movie. Calnan offered a typical wishful thinking piece from a comic nerd about how to keep nerds happy, and Goyer in a roundabout way made clear that no one in power read that stuff, nerds are still held in utter contempt by Hollywood, and that he'd crap out whatever derivative mainstream turds he liked so long as he can continue to convince studios that he's the best bet in guaranteeing their investment in some comic book IP. Well, he didn't literally say any of that, but I'm editorializing. The sad truth is that scrawny, balding, middle-aged Goyer and his face saving tattoos are as much a stereotype of the modern day geek as his frozen in amber Bizarro World bon mot conceptions of them were to the generation before the one raised on Star Wars and the extremely profitable movies of Superman and Batman.

Goyer got his start writing direct-to-video action movies and Full Moon Entertainment horror flicks. His big break came when he took the surprise hit The Crow and wrote a sequel so dismal that it helped shepherd the burgeoning franchise into DTV hell. Goyer's profile was elevated when he co-wrote the well regarded sci-fi bomb Dark City from a story by director Alex Proyas. This led to his breaking Marvel Comics' streak of terrible screen adaptations with Blade, in which the action/horror writer threw out most of the comic book elements of a D-list character and reworked him into a more palatable action/horror character. Goyer rode Blade through three installments, the last and least well received directed by himself, then milked a little more life out of it with one season of a failed TV translation. Goyer then mashed together a bunch of comic book lifts with a weak third act of his own devising for Batman Begins, which he co-wrote with director Christopher Nolan, and joined by Jonathan Nolan they would continue team-drafting the Dark Knight films. Goyer also offered the opening entry of the non-franchise starter Jumper and sounded the death knell for Ghost Rider's, but that wasn't brought up in polite company while he was being handed the keys to Superman, the Justice League, John Constantine, and Neil Gaiman's Sandman.

Let's take this knowledge and look at Calnan's gentle proposals for the Justice League film, though he's already quite certain he'll "like the movie if they do or if they don't listen to this" and that it will spin-off "awesome solo films for the many DC characters that there are."

Calnan asked that they balance out the character focus, as opposed to centering heavily on stars. He uses Marvel's The Avengers as an example, stating that the movie focused on the four main male heroes, and froze out supporting characters Black Widow and Hawkeye. Personally, I though Natasha got plenty of screen time, because I went in not liking the character as portrayed by Scarlett Johansson in Iron Man 2, and came out a fan of her. This misses the point though. Goyer had to sideline Blade to make the prospective spin-off/successor characters (not quite) carry Blade: Trinity. Catwoman and Bane crowded out Batman for a chunk of The Dark Knight Rises. I'd argue that between Jor-El, Zod, Pa Kent and Lois Lane, the character of Clark Kent/Kal-El got short shrift, and I'm still vague on who the new Superman is supposed to be. I think that given this track record, the concern should be that Batman and Superman might be overshadowed by Wonder Woman, Cyborg, and whichever other characters get thrown at this thing. Also, that the plot will take precedence and the heroes will become cyphers going through the motions of a visual spectacle with a gaping emotional & logical vacuum. Probably both.

Click To Enlarge
2009 “Justice League Movie Manip WIP” fan art by “Tim Drake”

Next, Calnan asked that there not be too many Leaguers, certainly less than ten, and preferably six or seven. That's still toyetic, especially once you factor in villains and maybe some alternate costumes/fractal techgear/etc. Never mind that the Avengers officially had six members (I don't think Nick Fury counts) and that there wasn't time to balance the story for all of them. Four probable Justice Leaguers have already been cast, but Goyer gets shaky over three primary protagonists (Spirits of Vengeance, Trinity) and to my mind let the frame drift off Superman and Batman in their last pictures. I'm not even confident Goyer can juggle Batman and Superman in one movie.

Calnan thinks that "Martian Manhunter is definitely one of the coolest DC heroes," and that he should serve a rough approximation of the same role as Nick Fury in Avengers. Goyer was cagey about whether J'Onn J'Onzz was in his scripts, and I'm afraid it might actually happen. You see, Goyer seems to think the Martian alien Manhunter is Sil from the Species movies (R.I.P.H.R.G.) and openly mocks his very basic understanding of the character's Post-Crisis status quo. I don't want this abrasive, ignorant son of bitch anywhere near a character I care about. I'm already dreading his handling of Wonder Woman, and I'm hoping the early word will be bad enough that I forgo seeing the movie entirely.

Click To Enlarge
2010 Martian Manhunter Minimalist Movie Poster by Nakul

Calnan also asked that the Barry Allen Flash be used before a Wally West one is introduced, which is a can of worms unto itself. The Flash has a TV show coming up this fall on the CW, which ties into the Green Arrow show. I'm not sure that Warner Brothers want either conflicting versions of the same character running simultaneously in live action, or to set their big budget super-movies in the same continuity as their cheap, soapy television programs. Also, we've got two versions of Quicksilver running around separate movie studios' comic book continuums across 2014 and 2015. Much to my chagrin, I think the Martian Manhunter may be in a Justice League movie before any of the Flash family.

Calnan defends the long rumored choice of Darkseid as the best villain to launch the Justice League against in their debut movie, which I think is a lousy idea. The only appreciable difference between Parademons and the Chitauri to the average filmgoer is that one flies with wings and the other flies on speederbikes. My understanding is that Thanos will be appearing more fully in Guardians of the Galaxy and will presumably be the big bad in the third Avengers movie that's projected to be released head-to-head against Justice League. Regardless of who was created first, Thanos looks like Darkseid, operates in a similar fashion, has already appeared in a $1½ billion earning movie, and continues marking his territory in other very good looking movies to come before Justice League. Also, screw it, I'm just going to come right out and say it: the Marvel movies are all going to be better than the DC ones, and everything interesting about the Fourth World was already stolen by Star Wars. David Goyer has never written cosmic sci-fi in his quarter century screen career, preferring street level realism, which is why he was a terrible choice to write Superman, much less the entire JLA. Anyway, Darkseid was created in 1970, over a decade after the JLA, and didn't encounter them for another decade. There's villains from that twenty year gap I think would be more imaginative and appropriate.

Man of Steel was quite the character assassination, and Goyer has already said that negative reaction to Superman would be a springboard for Batman versing him. Calnan, who seems to be mostly versed in the JLA from very recent comics and animation, expressed concern about Superman being a mind-controlled antagonist. While Calnan notes that this was a plot element in Avengers, there's a whole other world of stakes and consequences between it happening to Hawkeye and Superman. Given the damage already done to the character and the heroes coming together under circumstances of suspicion and enormous tragedy, I think a Superman mind-controlled by Lex Luthor or Star Conqueror would be an excellent vehicle for conflict and metacommentary. The nastiness it entails would be right up Goyer's alley. Superman's fight against a malevolent influence to become a truer, purer, more resolute hero could speak to his no longer being a cinematic travesty under Mssrs Singer, Goyer and Snyder.

Character origins were something Calnan wanted brought up in Justice League, and I guess if Avengers could have its first twenty minutes marred by the dull theft of the Tesseract from S.H.I.E.L.D., telling the origin of Cyborg would probably be an improvement. That said, one of my bones of contention with the Justice League cartoon was its stuffing the origin of Wonder Woman into its pilot alongside Martian Manhunter's and the JLA's. Comparatively minor characters like Victor and J'Onn can receive that treatment, but icons deserve their own movies for in-depth development. But, you know, I'd rather that for all the characters. Origin movies are usually the best, except when they make several of them for a given hero (namely ones whose names start with "S" and end with "man.") Even Goyer can do decent origin movies. Put him on the Cyborg movie. I could roll with that.

All these wordy words having been written, the points are mostly moot, because nobody is going to listen to Dan Calnan or myself while David "S" Goyer will keep writing rotten super-hero movies until they stop making money. Don't think I turned on the guy recently, either. The two Blade movies I've seen weren't well written and had third act problems, but were salvaged by Wesley Snipes' commitment to the title role and stylish direction. A lot of people disliked The Dark Knight Rises, but I didn't think much of Batman Begins the one time I was able to stay awake and attentive for its full running time. Goyer isn't a good writer, and as usual his stuff will be filtered through the sensibilities of others, though in this case we get the added dubious instincts of Zack Snyder. All sympathies to Chris Terrio, the screenwriter who is going to either fix this thing or burn with it. I'm fine with Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck, and I can deal with Gal Gadot's epic failure to get remotely buff during her gym sentence. I like the upcoming Batman costume and Batmobile better than most that have preceded it. I can overlook a lot, but my gut tells me that Goyer is way out of his comfort zone on these features, my brain tells me he wasn't much to begin with, and my heart isn't in seeing this thing.

My greatest hope and strangest bedfellow is the money men. Since Marvel Studios launched in 2008, they have put out nine movies, the exact same number as Warner Brothers has put out for their DC properties (including Watchmen and The Losers. To date, Marvel Studios have earned $6.375B, averaging $708M per movie, to DC's $3.2B, or $356M per feature. Now there's the heated super-hero versus match that's seriously worth following.

Wednesday Is Any Day For All I Care by Diabolu Frank


LissBirds said...

It is ironic that I found that article on the same day. Taken with the Goyer comments, it's like two poles of a magnet.

You're paraphrase Mr. Plinkett of Red Letter Media: it's better for J'onn not to show up in a Goyer Justice League movie, because then he can't be ruined.

I'm still trying to figure out the "versus" part of Batman vs. Superman, and I think you offer a plausible explanation. Superheroes vs. superheroes never really seemed like a DC kind of thing to me, though. (Not to mention that dropping the "s" in "vs." makes it look like this movie is about a court case...)

I never saw the earnings broken down like that, but it's quite telling. Marketing and merchandising can only take you so far; people really do want a good story. I don't know what kind of wake-up call beyond dismal earnings is needed for DC to get its act together...

I'm going to watch Man of Steel this weekend. There's no way I'm going to like it based on what I already know about it, but I want to see what Goyer is all about.

Also, today I found out that Joss Whedon almost wrote a Wonder Woman movie. I wonder how that would've turned out?

Diabolu Frank said...

Batman was aggrieved that Man of Steel was diluting the earning potential of the DC brand after he pulled in billions of dollars to wash the stink of Green Lantern and Jonah Hex away. He successfully sued for inclusion and top-billing in the no-longer-Superman-sequel.

Sadly, Marvel Studios has made so much money for so long, Disney executives are now sticking their filthy fingers in the pie. Edgar Wright quit Ant-Man after developing it for eight years, and the showrunner of the Netflix Daredevil series just jumped ship. Looks like bad times ahead.

Man of Steel isn't a bad movie. It treats Clark Kent like a young X-Man, and the cluster of CGI destruction in the third act burns off most goodwill, but I liked much of the first three-quarters of the flick. Hollywood wisdom is that you can get away with a lot if you end well, but a lousy ending will ruin you, and Man of Steel took a lot of time to end poorly.

Joss Whedon did write a Wonder Woman movie, across multiple completed drafts. By his own admission, it needed another draft or two, but he instead quit once the writing was on the wall that Joel Silver never intended to produce anything Whedon had written. I understand that there are numerous quality filmable scripts spanning a good many writers and decades just collecting dust. It's an outright sin, in my book.

LissBirds said...

Haha...what if there really *is* a court case...I wouldn't put it past them.

I heard about the Ant-Man debacle. Not a character I have any particular interest in, but, man, that sounds bad. I had a feeling Disney would start messing things up. Just when I started watching Marvel movies, now it's all going to go downhill. I knew it.

I still have MoS sitting here from the library but I haven't yet mustered the will to watch it. Eventually.

It's too bad when good scripts never go anywhere. Especially when you hear things like Wonder Woman is going to wear that silly pre-N52 jacket in her film debut...