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THE INHERENT POWER OF GENRE - PT. 6:
MARVEL v. D.C. (pg. 2)

REVIEWS:

* The Avengers (5/6/12)  * MEMORIAL DAY 2012 – Red Tails, Memphis Belle, Flyboys, The Blue Max (5/28/12) 
* Prometheus (6/11/12)   * The Amazing Spider-Man (7/9/12)   * 42 (4/17/13)   * Iron Man 3 (5/9/13)  
* Godzilla – 2014 (5/18/14)   * Jurassic World (6/21/15)   * Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2/18/16)
* Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice (6/21/16)   * Captain America: Civil War (5/13/16)

* Kong: Skull Island (3/12/17)


VIEWS ON FILM BY CEJ - 
The GRINDHOUSE: Reviews

______________________________

   Print Version.pdf





Superhero-sized
No Spoilers Review:
 

"BATMAN V. SUPERMAN:  DAWN OF JUSTICE" (2016) -
THE DARING AND CREATIVE WISDOM OF NOT TAKING THE SAFE ROUTE


by CEJ 
(posted 4/11/16)

BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016)
(Warner Bros. / DC Entertainment / RatPac /
Atlas Ent.  / Cruel & Unusual Films ) 

GullCottage rating (***** on a scale of 1 - 5)

Dir. by - Zack Snyder
Screenplay by - David S. Goyer, Chris Terrio
Based on BATMAN characters created by
Bob Kane & Bill Finger
Based on SUPERMAN characters created by
Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster
Prod. by - Charles Roven & Deborah Snyder
Exec. Prods. - Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer, Michael Uslan, Benjamin Melniker,
Emma Thomas, Wesley Coller

Dir. Of Photography  -  Larry Fong
Edited by - David Brenner
Production Design by - Patrick Tatopoulos
Costume Design by - Micheal Wilkinson
Music - Hans Zimmer, Junkie XL
Running Time: 151 mins. 


CAST:

Ben Affleck (Bruce Wayne / Batman), Henry Cavill (Clark Kent / Superman), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Lawrence Fishburne (Perry White), Jeremy Irons (Alfred Pennyworth), Holly Hunter (Senator Finch), Gal Gadot (Diana Prince / Wonder Woman), Michael Shannon (General Zod), Harry Lennix (Secretary Calvin Swanick), Kevin Costner (Jonathan Kent), Jeffry Dean Morgan (Thomas Wayne), Lauren Cohan (Martha Wayne), Ray Fisher (Victor Stone / Cyborg), Jason Momoa (Arthur Curry / Aquaman), Ezra Miller (Barry Allen / The Flash),  Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Soledad O'Brien, Anderson Cooper, Nancy Grace, Charlie Rose (as themselves)



     Few films are as polarizing as the D.C. comics-to-film adaptations – specifically those involving BATMAN and SUPERMAN. Well, except maybe Clint Eastwood’s AMERICAN SNIPER. And this has always been the case. For unlike the Marvel characters (Captain America, Daredevil, Iron Man, Thor, etc.) – who came along in the 1960s, and the origins and evolution of which the vast movie going public only became aware of via the last fifteen or so years of Marvel films, those two D.C. characters have been around for nearly three quarters of a century; that time not only taking them through, but making them an indelible part of such history defining events as The Great Depression, World War II, The McCarthy era, The Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, Woodstock Generation, MTV Generation, 9/11, the dawn of social media and beyond.  

     As such they’ve gone beyond the realm of “characters to be adapted”, and even beyond that of pop-culture icons, to become an imprinted part of each audience member’s individual psyche. Therefore today, certainly more so than in 1978 – when Richard Donner gave us SUPERMAN THE MOVIE, it is pretty much impossible to create a SUPERMAN or BATMAN film which will be universally praised by all as “getting it right”, because what’s “right” or “wrong”, or what is “canon”, as well as that ever sliding scale of what constitutes “heroism”, is today relative to each audience member more than it’s ever been. For that reason, perhaps more than any other, we give kudos to Zack Snyder’s blisteringly entertaining (and rather intelligent) BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE.

   Director Zack Snyder

     First off, to those few thousand people who honestly believe mounting a “Protest.org”-like social media campaign to have Snyder removed from the “D.C. Cinematic Universe”’s slate of upcoming films (JUSTICE LEAGUE, WONDER WOMAN, AQUAMAN, et al) will gain traction with Warner Bros., ... well, then me and Lex Luthor (the Gene Hackman version) have some priceless beachfront property we’d like you to take a look at as well.  When a film rakes in nearly half a billion dollars in three and half days globally, this is someone a studio will usually want to keep at the helm of the ship. So jettison that fanciful notion (for even the famously told story of the STAR TREK letter writing campaign of the 1960s didn't unfold exactly as legend claims) , and welcome to the harsh realities of life in the modern day world, … which incidentally is exactly what’s so special about this new film – it’s daring insistence on doing just that: to a degree jettisoning fanciful notions, and taking the risk of placing D.C.’s two most iconic characters in the midst of a grittingly real post 9/11 existence.  

     After the unholy outcry raised by some against Snyder’s first Superman film, 2013’s MAN OF STEEL, it would have been easier (and safer) for Warner / D.C. to “pull back the reigns a bit” on the post 9/11 realism which that motion picture sought to depict.  And to those who continue to hurl darts at MAN OF STEEL because of the “collateral damage” and death and destruction caused by the climactic battle as Superman attempts to save earth from General Zod’s invasion (something we’d never see in the Christopher Reeve / Richard Donner version) … that was the point of that film! That is also the point of this new one - to dispense with the fancifully stereotypical “comic-booky” aspect of all previous Superman (and some Batman) depictions in it's presentation that a war to save humanity would leave no innocent victims in its wake; that there would be no collateral damage and repercussions stemming from it. Take note that, after turning New York City, Washington D.C., and the fictional nation of Sokovia into battlefields, this same contemporary real world (as opposed to "reel world") concept of "repercussions and responsibility for wartime collateral damage" is used to jumpstart CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR as well.
 
          


     But this notion of violence (oh, we’re sorry, “action”) without repercussions was something which the revisionist comic book era of the 1980s – 90s sought to undo. And the notion that every act of war (even a just war) has long-lasting fallout – both personally and sociologically, was the intent of that revisionist movement (see Alan Moore’s THE WATCHMEN). Remaining faithful to this particular precept of modern comic book canon above the formerly more cheery “Bang! Bang! Shoot ‘em up! It’s Clobberin’ Time, but no one REALLY gets hurt, y’know - kind of like in THE A-TEAM” version, is / was the daring aspect of MAN OF STEEL, and especially is the most daring aspect of BATMAN V. SUPERMAN.
 
         

     “Okay, all pretentiously well and good”, you say, “But the bottom line, ‘Is BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE’ a good film?”. That depends more on you than anything. And that’s not a cop out. It’s the most accurate explanation. If your conception and expectation of Batman / Bruce Wayne and Superman / Clark Kent is traditional … . If you were raised on, and choose not to divert from, the “Big Blue Boy Scout” notion of the Man of Steel – particularly that depiction portrayed in the old George Reeves TV series, Richard Donner film, and animated adventures like Saturday morning’s THE SUPER FRIENDS … . Or if your vision of BATMAN is heroically unassailable, then you’re very likely to despise this film more than you did MAN OF STEEL.

     If however you’re familiar with the dark original Depression era versions of these two icons; and (more importantly) if you’re okay with the post-WATCHMEN era revisionist take on them introduced in the 1980s by writers like Moore and Frank Miller (in graphic novels such as THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and THE KILLING JOKE) then you’re likely (as we did) to find DAWN OF JUSTICE, while not a perfect film, certainly one of the most intelligent and shrewdly realized socio-political genre exercises since the original PLANET OF THE APES. And as such one of the best comic-book-to-film-adaptations ever – right up there with SUPERMAN THE MOVIE, DICK TRACY, SPIDER-MAN 2 and THE AVENGERS.

          
           THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS (pub. 1996)
        

     And no, we haven’t (to use an 1980s era term) been “hittin’ the pipe!”. But we have been “hittin’ the 1980s”, as in revisiting (as does BATMAN V. SUPERMAN) perhaps the most daringly creative era for the artform known as the comic book since its creation three quarters of a century ago.  

     Directly picking up where MAN OF STEEL left off (the beginning of the new film essentially overlaps with the climax of the previous one), and kinda / sorta following in the narrative wake of Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT trilogy conclusion, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, the new DAWN OF JUSTICE begins on an intriguing note - acknowledging and delving into that complaint many had about the first film’s apparent lack of concern for its climactic Dresden Fire Bombing-like collateral damage caused by the superhuman showdown between our Kryptonian hero and General Zod over, across and through the city of Metropolis.

     Owning an office building filled with workers who are killed when the structure (in a harrowing and disturbingly realized analogy to the falling of the World Trade Towers) collapses during the battle, Bruce Wayne – flashing back to the meaningless deaths of his parents years prior, psychologically connects the two incidents, and begins to develop an Ahab-like hatred towards God, expressed - just as it was with the white whale of Melville's MOBY DICK, at the God-like personage of Superman.

    

     Just as to Ahab killing the whale was his way of vengefully spitting in the eye of God / fate, and by extension making the world a more just and fair place in the process, so does Wayne develop a "negative God complex” fixation towards the Man of Steel. When his search for a chink in Superman’s apparently indestructible armor uncovers a plot by scientist / industrialist Lex Luthor to harness the power of a meteorite found at the bottom of the sea – a meteorite which contains Kryptonite, and which Luthor intends to forge into a weapon against Superman, the obsessed Wayne / Batman embarks upon a complex plan to steal the weapon for his own personal (in his mind at least) just and fair agenda.  

    
     At this point any semblance to the Adam West BATMAN of the 1960s, and even to Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan’s depiction of the character has been fascinatingly (if disturbingly) jettisoned. In a very real way Batman has slowly but surely become the living embodiment of Harvey Dent’s prophecy in 2008’s THE DARK KNIGHT, that “… you either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain”.  Over the years, during Batman’s originally just (if dark) quest for justice, he has devolved from a just avenger of the innocent, to urban vigilante above the law, to actual villain, … yet he doesn’t realize it.

     When a bulked up Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne unloads his emotional spleen on Alfred (portrayed in wonderfully understated and genuinely endearing fashion by Jeremy Irons), declaring that “He (Superman) has the power to wipe out the entire human race; and If we believe there’s a 1% chance that he’s our enemy we have to take it as an absolute certainty; and we have to destroy him”, one can’t help but hear the ongoing contemporary debate about radical Islam, terrorism (both foreign and domestic), gun control, and the thin line between national security and modern day McCarthy-like paranoia.

    
     Many had a problem with Henry Cavill’s first outing as Kent / Superman in MAN OF STEEL, but we always found his performance filled with an intriguing combination of strength and integrity, mixed with doubt, insecurity, and even a hint of potential violence. And this of course is what many perceived as sacrilegious to the Superman mythos – the fact that Superman could have, and do internal battle with, an emotional / psychological dark side. Some say this is taking the heroism out of heroes. But we’ve always found it to be the exact opposite. As an example …


     A child in the lake is drowning, and a lifeguard dives in to rescue him / her. This is a great act to be sure. But take the same “child drowning” scenario …only without a lifeguard. And the only person on the shore who dives in to save the child is someone with a lifelong crippling fear of the water. The fact that they had this emotional / psychological shortcoming, … but overcame it to commit what could be an act of self-sacrifice in saving the child, … . This is truly heroic! – the conquering of fears, doubts and demons within one’s own heart and mind to do that which is for the greater good. And in BATMAN V. SUPERMAN both iconic characters wrestle (and in the end) overcome their own individual demons, prejudices, doubts, etc. to “save the day”.

     As such the (so-called) darker depiction of these characters becomes one of the most genuinely inspirational in the long on-screen history of both, because they’ve entered the new, cynical, paranoid, violent, fearful and distrusting modern era in which we live, … but in the end, after a few ups and downs, and temptations to conform to the modern norm, they both emerge with their three-quarters of a century integrity firmly intact. In the end the world in which Batman and Superman now live has changed greatly from the one we remember from the George Reeves series and Richard Donner and Tim Burton films, but those two characters themselves really have not.


BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016) - "Don't Believe Everything You Hear"



     A cynical world is a harsh place for those who cling to conscience. And at times the best of men will ironically turn to darkness before they can once again embrace the light within. For those “Joseph Campbell - Hero With A Thousand Faces” and biblical scholars out there, we can’t help but see the plights of both Batman and Superman here quite analogous to the self-doubt which for a time overtook both the figures of Moses and Christ themselves.  


   Co-screenwriter David S. Goyer

     For this kind of mythic depth we give kudos to BATMAN V. SUPERMAN co-screenwriter David S. Goyer. The man behind the scripts to DARK CITY, all three BLADE films (he also directed the third installment), GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGENCE, all three Chris Nolan DARK KNIGHT entries, TV’s CONSTANTINE, along with the upcoming THE SANDMAN (from Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel) and JUSTICE LEAGUE, Goyer, a lifelong comic book aficionado has always insisted upon making the super heroics of iconic characters more plausible by setting them within a realistic world in which the often God-like personalities must learn to effectively interface with everyone else’s daily 9 to 5 drudgery.

     Oh, and while we’re on the “multi-layers of subtext which some feel are too pretentious for a comic book movie” thing, let us warn those perhaps not so inclined that, while every superhero film (and especially Superman film) tends to dip it’s toe into (shall we call it) the wading pool of biblical and mythological references, DAWN OF JUSTICE unapologetically dives headlong into the Pacific Ocean version. All SUPERMAN films have made veiled analogies to the aforementioned Christ and Moses stories. But  BATMAN V. SUPERMAN certainly contains the most blatant references since Marlon Brando proclaimed he was “Sending the world his only begotten son” in Richard Donner’s 1978 film.

 
         

     And Joseph Campbell (maybe even Freud) would have a field day taking notes on this film’s plot and character nods to Homer and ancient Greek mythology. Films like TROY, O’ BROTHER WHERE ART THOU? and others have nothing on DAWN OF JUSTICE in that neck ‘o the woods as Superman essentially takes the role of Zeus from the heavens, Batman becomes his antagonistic brother Hades – ruler of the underworld (y’know, the Batcave and all), and everyone’s comic book favorite – that bad-ass monstrous villain known as Doomsday kinda / sorta fills the role of Cronus imprisoned within Tartarus. Keeping in mind that Tartarus was a “Phantom Zone”-like prison where the souls of criminals and outlaws were judged and punished after death (that idea combined with this film’s version of Doomsday’s genetic origin) the analogy becomes fascinatingly obvious.

 
        

     Also, from a parental standpoint, keep in mind that, despite the plethora of BATMAN V. SUPERMAN toys hitting the shelves of local stores, this film very much pushes the limits of its PG-13 rating. Some of the earlier Batman vigilante sequences (with him actually burn-branding the criminals he captures) are visually disturbing. As are some of Bruce Wayne’s nightmare sequences and the climactic battle with Doomsday. These, and a 2 ½ hour running time (the IMAX version three minutes longer than the standard presentation) may make you want to think twice about bringing very young children. Back to David Goyer …

     With Nolan’s debut Batman film, BATMAN BEGINS, the objective of he and Goyer was primarily to make the Bruce Wayne character fascinating and gripping, and able to completely carry his own film, before he donned the cape and cowl.  For this reason – the heartrending yarn of an emotionally smashed man searching the world for the meaning of his soul - BATMAN BEGINS remains our favorite of the Nolan trilogy … with all due respects to everyone else's favorite THE DARK KNIGHT.

 
        

     Goyer does a similar act of narrative and character prestidigitation here. While we’re among the few who actually loved MAN OF STEEL, when we first heard the filmic agenda of DAWN OF JUSTICE – to start bringing together the seven primary JUSTICE LEAGUE characters into their own filmic universe (a’la Marvel’s THE AVENGERS), we felt it was entirely too soon. We thought Superman should have at least one more solo film, as well as Wonder Woman and other JUSTICE LEAGUE-ers. To start to bring them all together in what is essentially only the second film of a rebooted franchise seemed like a desperate attempt to “catch up to” / “cash in on” the now popular Marvel Cinematic Universe concept.

     However, not unlike the first AVENGERS film, DAWN OF JUSTICE works when it has absolutely no reason too. As with THE AVENGERS (and comparisons are inevitable) there are by rights entirely too many characters, plots, subplots, motivations, and seeds to be planted for future films to not become convoluted and (ironically) narratively boring by weighting things down to a degree where the audience begins to mentally check out. But just as with THE AVENGERS, Goyer and co-scenarist Chris Terrio (ARGO) somehow manage the impossible juggling act of making it all come together without it seeming top heavy. For this alone BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE earns our “thumbs up” as one of the best films of the year thus far. 

     From a technical standpoint D.O.J. is a cinematic tour de force. Operatic in scope and execution (from its costume and production design, through its editing and sound mix) this is why, regardless of how awesome your home HDTV and Surround Sound system is, IMAX was invented. The cinematography of Larry Fong (300, WATCHMEN, NOW YOU SEE ME, TV’s LOST) is a darkly shadowed moving painting which, while we’ve heard nothing officially stating such, (as former illustrators) we can’t help but see parallels to the lush dark oil pastels of Turner and Rembrandt.


      (L to R) Cinematographer Larry Fong, Co-composer Hans Zimmer, Co-composer Junkie XL (Tom Holkenborg)
         

       And the film’s music score by the legendary Hans Zimmer (THE LION KING, RAIN MAN, INCEPTION) and Junkie XL (aka – Tom Holkenborg of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD and DEADPOOL) is a deft combination of orchestra and electronics along with tonal and atonal influences. Nicely integrating thematic material from Zimmer’s previous MAN OF STEEL, and the emotional vibe of that same composer’s Chris Nolan DARK KNIGHT scores, this film’s new musical material – including a haunting John Barry-esque “mystery motif”, and a percussively tribal statement for Wonder Woman, integrates the musical DNA of the earlier adventures, but nicely refuses to merely reblock old hat; here using them as a springboard into new thematic wonders, … not to mention a few action-filled moments of atonal musical bad-ass-ed-ness the likes of which would make composer John Corigliano (ALTERED STATES, THE RED VIOLIN) do a straight-up  “WTF!” double take.

    
     Not a perfect film however, BATMAN V. SUPERMAN’s rendition of Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor swings wildly from fascinatingly childlike / super-intelligent sociopathic billionaire inventor (sort of a thematic evil twin to Bruce Wayne) to genuinely irritating-as-all-fu*k spazoid! Obviously there are seeds being planted here to flesh-out / explain in later films Luthor’s own “hatred of fate / God” complex – his mental illness finding release in the MAN WHO WOULD BE KING-like concept of "making Superman bleed", and by extension proving him to be a false god.  So we can maybe let that slide until later. But more importantly in the negative department, the film’s narrative grip (just as happened with MAN OF STEEL) noticeably lessens during the all-important Third Act.

     To this point the narrative has been an intriguing “variation on a theme” within that (at times hackneyed) comics-to-film genre. But once the final battle begins, things unfortunately begin to feel like action movie de rigueur. Even worse, it begins to feel like “comic book action movie de rigueur”. We’ve had the discussion with many over the years about what may very well be the comic book movie genre's greatest “insurmountable?” obstacle in general – the always expected climactic world-destroying WWF-like superhero “Super Slam” smackdown battle sequence.
 
        

     Since 1981’s SUPERMAN II this has become the expected (if tiresomely cliched') climax to all such films from THE INCREDIBLE HULK to THE AVENGERS, to AGE OF ULTRON, to ANT-MAN, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and more.  To its credit however, in its coda DAWN OF JUSTICE saves itself from comic / action movie cliché by remaining surprisingly faithful to one of the most remarked upon SUPERMAN comic book storylines in the character’s entire near 80 year history. It’s another daringly (yet creatively) unexpected move in a movie replete with them.    

     As with so many of this intriguing film’s other components, whether or not one loves or loathes this denouncement will again depend upon one’s familiarity with (and willing acceptance of) some of those earlier mentioned character and narrative arcs introduced into the comics and graphic novels during the revisionist years of the 1980s / 90s. Hey, like BATMAN V. SUPERMAN or don’t like it. That’s up to you. But try to judge it on its own for what it is, and not for how well or not it snugly fits into one’s nostalgic conception of how magical it felt to see Chris Reeve fly for the first time when you were 12 years old.

 
         

     We relish that moment too.  And for us 1978’s SUPERMAN THE MOVIE will always remain the GONE WITH THE WIND of comic book movies. But, just as how - in the real world - GONE WITH THE WIND has been re-examined, debated, dissected and discussed in light of the modern era, so since 9/11 has the entire world (including the comic book one – long a mirror of society’s hopes, fears and more) dramatically changed. But remember, it’s the world which has changed, and not Superman himself in these films. Make that distinction. 

     Generally speaking we all allow for reinventions of Shakespeare – Ian McKellen’s / Richard Lochraine’s RICHARD III (1995), Baz Luhrmann’s ROMEO + JULIET (1996), and Julie Taymor’s TITUS (1999) being amongst the most successfully iconoclastic.  We’ve enjoyed innumerable versions of SHERLOCK HOLMES over the years (from animated to contemporary and everything in between), and we even encourage revisionist tellings of stories concerning Christ, Moses and Muhammad with THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, THE PRINCE OF EGYPT, Salmon Rushdie’s THE SATANIC VERSES and more. Yet when it comes to new twists on STAR TREK, James Bond, STAR WARS or BATMAN and SUPERMAN we raise the battlements in defense of “adherence to classic canon”?


          1990s Shakespeare reduxes: RICHARD III ('95), ROMEO + JULIET ('96), TITUS ('99)
         

     Dislike the film if you wish, but dislike it for what it is, and not for it failing to be emblematic of a personally beloved nostalgic period in one’s childhood. That isn’t this film’s agenda.    

     In the time being, for us at least, “Bring on the JUSTICE LEAGUE in 2017”. Oh, and a little more Gal Gadot as WONDER WOMAN won’t draw any complaints either.

   If these future adaptations can simultaneously remain faithful to (but also cleverly upset the staid apple cart of) the D.C. canon as intriguingly effective as DAWN OF JUSTICE manages to (… and that whole “MetaHuman” research aspect of this film kind of implies it will), then Warner / D.C., and Zack Snyder too! can already add our IMAX 3D ticket admission to what will no doubt be its ever increasing, big-fat-bursting-at-the-seams box office coffers to come.

                          

In case you couldn’t tell by now, we kind of dug the film.


CEJ


ABC NEWS "NIGHTLINE": Affleck, Cavill and Snyder on
"collateral damage", responsibility, older super heroes, ... and advice from Christian Bale
(orig. airdate 3/15/16)




 
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SUPERMAN REBORN / BATMAN BEGINS... AGAIN

SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE (1978) score - "The Penthouse" (J. Williams)    

    
Film historians and cinematic pundits forever argue over what makes one film a timeless classic while another, just as good, is relegated to the “cheapie bin” of historical obscurity. While certainly script, direction and performances have more than a little to do with it, in the end most believe BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID / THE PRINCESS BRIDE screenwriter William Goldman’s assertion that “nobody knows anything” to perhaps be most accurate. Sometimes however certain properties already contain such built-in iconic power, and are so forever ingrained within the public consciousness, … or within the collective societal psyche, that often that property and / or character(s) is / are merely awaiting an adaptation which measures up and taps into to their already “inherent greatness” so to speak.

(L to R) Prod. Pierre Spengler, Dir. Richard Donner, Prod. Ilya Salkind


  
     In the mid 1970s when producer Ilya Salkind brought to his father Alexander the notion of bringing a big budget, widescreen adaptation of SUPERMAN to cinema screens, the elder Salkind (having achieved success with Orson Welles’ THE TRIAL – 1962, and THE THREE MUSKETEERS / THE FOUR MUSKETEERS – 1973 & 1974) was personally unaware of the character, and asked his son if Superman was well known. To which Ilya replied, “He’s as known as Jesus Christ”, … which is true.
 
 

     Over the years certain characters have become so globally well known and loved that they’ve both out-distanced their own creators (everyone knows Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes, but not necessarily the names “Edgar Rice Burroughs” and “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle”), and to a degree become Teflon – nearly impervious to a bad adaptation. Keep in mind that’s nearly impervious. This of course isn’t always the case, as evidenced by other acclaimed literary works turned into not-so-well-received films. Remember Jaqueline Susann’s THE LOVE MACHINE and ONCE IS NOT ENOUGH, F. Paul Wilson’s THE KEEP, Sidney Sheldon’s THE OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT, and even Frank Herbert’s legendary DUNE?  When a film does however measure up to its source material, that source material often then becomes a preexisting  “retroflex” overdrive engine of sorts. 

        
      
    

    
That’s another made up word on our part describing how a popular book can fuel the desire for a film. Then, when the film is made and well received, it conversely becomes fuel which causes more sales of the book; then the combined increasing book and film ticket sales come to feed (and feed upon) one another - with the title becoming a “perpetual motion machine” of sorts: a pop-culture sensation which everyone just has to read and / or see lest they be left out of the conversation of the day.


     LOVE STORY, THE GODFATHER, JAWS, THE EXORCIST and JURASSIC PARK are prime examples of this phenomena -  all enormous international best-sellers before their film versions hit the screen; and the films, living up to the impact of / expectations established by those novels, coming to enjoy the iconic status the novels had already laid down. The superbly realized SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE (1978) and BATMAN (1989) continued this phenomena.


Originally slated to be directed by GOLDFINGER / DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER’s Guy Hamilton, SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE was offered to Richard Donner (at the time primarily known as a TV director who’d just scored a major film hit with THE OMEN) when the film was ultimately set to shoot in England - where Hamilton could not return due to changing national tax laws.

     Appalled by the script’s near BATMAN TV series-like camp humor, Donner brought aboard the project good friend screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz (LIVE AND LET DIE, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN) to bring a sense of “verisimilitude” to the piece - not unlike Stan Lee setting the fanciful FANTASTIC FOUR in the midst of a realistic world with realistic interpersonal situations. Donner and Mankiewicz proceeded on the thematic foundation of “Two kids on a date”, believing that if they could realistically make the love story work, all of the other fanciful elements would fall into place and take care of themselves.



     In leaning more towards the lighter “Big Blue Boy Scout” ideals of the 1950s and 60s over the darker “alien in a hostile world” tone of the character’s comic book origins, Richard Donner’s SUPERMAN THE MOVIE (replete with a stirringly judicial John Williams musical score) became - and remains - what most consider the GONE WITH THE WIND of comic book film adaptations. Over the next decade three SUPERMAN franchise sequels would follow, starting with 1980’s acclaimed SUPERMAN II - released in the U.S. in 1981. But the series began to peter out critically and financially with the less than enthusiastically received SUPERMAN III and SUPERMAN IV.  D.C. was still in good cinematic shape however. For by the time SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE had limped into (and quickly out of) multiplexes in 1987, Warner Bros., (owner of D.C. Comics since 1969), already had in production another epically mounted adaptation of one of the publisher’s most popular properties.

BATMAN (1989) - "Theme"/"Up The Cathedral"/"Descent Into Darkness" (D. Elfman)

                                                  
                                                  





                                                   

BAT-TING A THOUSAND  ... $400 MILLION!!!

     Notwithstanding Richard Donner’s SUPERMAN THE MOVIE in the popularity department, Tim Burton’s BATMAN is widely considered the film which not only launched the superhero film genre as we know it today, but altered the course of the industry (marketing-wise) like no other motion picture since the original STAR WARS (1977). Namely because SUPERMAN, for all of its success, wasn’t really thought of as a “superhero film” per se at the time as much it was conceived then perceived as a cinematic blockbuster, … a positive "filmic freak" if you will, of a kind during its initial staggering run with THE SOUND OF MUSIC, THE GODFATHER or THE EXORCIST. One of those beloved anomalies which came along every few years, gobbled up the box office, left an historic mark, then marched along its merry way.

 
Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, and Dir. Tim Burton on set




     Opening on June 23rd, 1989 BATMAN, however, for better and for worse, was the true industry fulcrum shift point wherein the  “franchised property” could and would become the cornerstone of entire studios. United Artists / MGM had done it with James Bond, and Paramount was presently doing it with STAR TREK. But whereas those were still considered rarities, BATMAN would make the cornerstone “tentpole franchise” the bread and butter concept of the business.

The first film to earn $100 million + in its first ten days of release (this long before beefed-up IMAX and 3D prices existed), BATMAN would also cause an industry wide paradigm shift in the importance of opening weekend box office receipts. It would set another marketing trend when its home video release (which added an additional $150 million to its coffers) came in November, a mere five months after it’s record-breaking big screen debut, and while the film was still playing in some theaters. This is the norm now, but wasn’t so in 1989. In fact so successful was this concept, the window between theatrical releases and their home video debuts would increasingly shorten to the point where it would lead to the death of the second-run and $1.00 movie theater.


 

BATMAN’s success would also create the “kiddie spin-off market” which, especially with comic book-based films, is also today’s norm. And not just “kiddie market” in terms of toys and merchandised tie-ins, but in terms of fully realized spin-off programming - such as Warner Bros. Animation’s critically acclaimed BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES - and entire networks dedicated to them. One of today’s most popular and profitable successes, owing its existence to the “kiddie crossover” programming paradigm which BATMAN created, is the Disney XD network which, ironically, is home base to today’s “Marvel Animated Universe”.

     In 2004, BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES co-creator Bruce Timm (largely responsible for what we know today as D.C.’s “animated universe”) credited the neo deco art design of Tim Burton’s BATMAN as a primary influence on the present day look of his show in particular, and D.C.’s animated universe in general, he going so far as to acknowledge  our show would never have gotten made if it hadn't been for that first Batman movie."

BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES (1992 - 1995)


And, oh yes, the movie itself is pretty damned good, still holding up today (almost 30 years later!!!) when rewatched alongside Christopher Nolan’s own DARK KNIGHT trilogy – which itself owes a great deal to Burton’s dark original. But BATMAN didn’t have an easy path to the screen, mostly because of die-hard comic book devotees.

BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM - Feature Length Animated Film (1993)

 

     While Warner Bros. lighter take on SUPERMAN proved a box office success throughout the 1980s, in the actual comic book world itself things had become considerably more dark, with a group of young up and coming artistic rebels more fond of the harder-edged origins of iconic characters than they were of the more “family friendly” take popularized over the last twenty-odd years. Under the pen of this “New Wave” of writers and artists, old favorites would (as SIN CITY / 300’s Frank Miller once said) “Get their balls back”, and a series of new works would bring mainstream and critical cred to the term “graphic novel” – for the first time making it mean more than a “comic book for grown ups”.






    
     Vietnam war vet Frank Castle (created by Gerry Conway & John Romita, Jr. ) first appeared as THE PUNISHER in SPIDER-MAN #129 (Feb.’74), and even had his own comic book series. But it wasn’t until the more cynical and violent mid – late 1980s, when filmic heroes such as Stallone, Norris, Segal and Schwarzenegger were all the rage, that his character – a vigilante using military tactics against the mob in vengeance for the death of his family, became a bonafied success. The same with GHOST RIDER (created by Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich and Mike Ploog) - who originally debuted in 1974, and THE WOLVERINE (cr. by Len Wein & John Romita, Jr.) – who first showed up in THE INCREDIBLE HULK #s 180 – 181 (Nov. ’74). It wasn’t until writers such as Chris Claremont and Frank Miller brought “Wolverine / Logan” into the 1980s that his “
I'm the best there is at what I do, but what I do best isn't very nice" attitude found a proper fit with audiences.

This mid – late 1980s comic book Renaissance was arguably the industry’s most successful time since the WW2 era. And four signature publications, all of them dark, provided the greatest fuel for said boom in particular and for the later comic-books-to-film phenomena in general.  They were Art Spiegelman’s MAUS, Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, and Alan Moore’s WATCHMEN and THE KILLING JOKE.

    
     MAUS was based on American cartoonist Spiegelman’s interviews with his father regarding his experiences as a Polish Jewish Holocaust survivor. These recollections were then filtered through the postmodern WATERSHIP DOWN-like lens of telling the story via the anthropomorphic device of depicting the Jews as mice, and Germans and Poles as cats and pigs.  For the brilliantly realized manner in which Spiegelman encouraged an entire new generation not to repeat the sins of the past, the stunningly realized

MAUS became the first graphic novel to claim the honor of the Pulitzer Prize.


MAUS (1980 -'91)/THE KILLING JOKE (1988) / WATCHMEN (1986 - '87)

   

Moore’s WATCHMEN – a borderline nihilistic Cold War saga about the all too humanistic shortcomings of a group of former AVENGERS / JUSTICE LEAGUE-like superheroes, revolutionized the industry in finally allowing a more realistic (some would say “cynical”) and very adult depiction and discussion of the concept of heroism, with its sometimes attendant irony and hypocrisy. Grappling with issues from impotence to homosexuality, and featuring a disturbingly graphic climax involving a citywide genocide, WATCHMEN was absolutely not for kids. And it would singlehandedly and instantly cause the term “Graphic Novel” to be taken seriously.
Alan Moore's JUDGE DREDD run (circa 1980 - '84)

     Moore, based in the U.K. - where his work appeared in such publications as 2000 A.D. (the magazine which introduced the JUDGE DREDD character) and WARRIOR (where Moore’s V FOR VENDETTA first debuted), initially came to the attention of American comic book aficionados with his critically acclaimed reworking of Marvel’s THE SAGA OF SWAMP THING (1983). When his WATCHMEN debuted (serialized between 1986 – ’87 / collected as one volume in ’87), then was followed immediately by the New York Times best-selling (and more-than-a-little disturbing) THE KILLING JOKE – wherein both the Joker and Batman / Bruce Wayne are depicted as psychologically scared figures, the “family friendly” Adam West version of the Caped Crusader (at least in film) was erased forever.

Frank Miller came to the attention of many upon taking over writing duties on the DAREDEVIL comic book series from the late 1970s - early ‘80s. During that same time he’d also create the spin-off character ELEKTRA. Years later he’d receive fame for the graphic novels SIN CITY (1991) and 300 (1998) – both of which would be adapted into popular films. But perhaps his greatest claim to fame remains in the fact that he preceded Alan Moore’s THE KILLING JOKE with two of his own back to back (now influential) additions to the darker 80s era comic milieu – THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS (1986) and BATMAN: YEAR ONE (1987). YEAR ONE was a reboot / reimagining of sorts (along the lines of the film version of CASINO ROYALE) wherein Batman’s origin story is fleshed out in detail. In fact in so much psychologically valid detail, that elements of that graphic novel would be integrated / adapted into the critically acclaimed animated feature BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM (1993), all three films of Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT trilogy (2005 – 2012), and even Joel Schumacher’s BATMAN FOREVER (1995).


Alan Moore's V FOR VENDETTA (1988 - '89)  

Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS is essentially a “one shot” alternate timeline story wherein Bruce Wayne, now in his mid 50s, comes out of retirement to battle crime, and surprisingly finds as multi-antagonists the Gotham City Police force, the U.S. government, and even Superman himself - the story climaxing with a battle royale between the two icons. Sound familiar? Now, back to Tim Burton’s BATMAN ...

     Back in the 1980s, “darker comic book story”-enamored fans were at first thrilled upon learning that the upcoming cinematic incarnation of Gotham’s most famous vigilante bad-ass was going to integrate elements from THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, YEAR ONE and THE KILLING JOKE. But they were very soon outraged upon discovering that the supposedly darker Batman / Bruce Wayne would be portrayed by Michael Keaton - at the time best known as a comedic actor in films such as NIGHT SHIFT and (of course) Tim Burton’s BEETLEJUICE.

     With the combination of Burton and Keaton many feared a comedic camp fest more akin to the Adam West TV series rather than the “emotionally scarred warrior” depiction of Moore and Miller. BATMAN film producer Jon Peters stuck to his casting guns, however, convinced that Keaton possessed an “edgy, tormented quality” after he saw him opposite Kathy Baker and Morgan Freeman in the drama CLEAN AND SOBER (1988) where Keaton was galvanizing as a successful Philadelphia real estate broker battling a crippling cocaine addiction.





     On the other hand, upon the release of Burton’s BATMAN, many casual film goers (and some critics) - unaware of the darker psychological metamorphosis the Batman character had undergone in the last ten years in print, were shocked and appalled at what they perceived to be a violent bastardization of the hero they’d known and loved primarily from the live action and animated TV series. The debate would reach an even higher crescendo with Burton’s 1992 follow-up, BATMAN RETURNS. Originally uninterested in the sequel, Burton returned upon the promise of greater creative freedom. And the second film really is much more of a quintessential Burton-esque cinematic ride than the first. Co-starring Michelle Pfeiffer as the Catwoman, Danny DeVito as the Penguin, and Christopher Walken as ethically challenged corporate magnate Max Shreck, BATMAN RETURNS was a critical and financial hit, … even though it took in a little more than half the box office of the first film.

Many credited this to the harsh parental backlash the film received, which, among other things, lead to  McDonald’s dumping their proposed BATMAN RETURNS Happy Meal promotion. And while we don’t necessarily agree with Roger Ebert’s assessment of the film in particular (and super hero films in general), his comments perhaps best sums up the still ongoing debate of “Darker Vs. Lighter”, and by extension “Marvel Vs. D.C.” …

     “I give the movie (BATMAN RETURNS) a negative review, and yet I don't think it's a bad movie; it's more misguided, made with great creativity, but denying us what we more or less deserve from a Batman story. No matter how hard you try, superheroes and film noir don't go together; the very essence of noir is that there are no more heroes.”

BATMAN RETURNS (1992)

    
     While this same complaint was leveled by some at the first three Daniel Craig James Bond films, many fans of the Ian Fleming novels (us included) have never viewed Bond
as a “classic” hero, but rather as a severely flawed and tarnished one; his character (regardless of the immensely entertaining but lightweight depiction in the Roger Moore films) less a debonair spit and polish “Clublands Hero”, and cut more from the rough and tumble (if stylish) cloth of Raymond Chandler. The same with the so-called darker depictions of Batman and, in recent years Superman. Mainly because, in actuality, with the exceptions of the Adam West and animated series (SUPER FRIENDS, et al) the Batman and Superman characters really haven’t changed all that much since their inceptions, … though the world around them, and their reactions to it, very much has.




BATMAN v. SUPERMAN - "Who Would Win"
(the cast of THE FLASH)








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