Posted in Comics n Stuff, Films

Defending the DCEU Part 2 – Batman vs Superman – Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition

After the flawed but promising start of Man of Steel, Zack Snyder followed it up with Batman vs Superman in an attempt to jump-start a MCU style shared universe. It.. didn’t work out like that.

Starring Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck as Superman and Batman 🦇 respectively with supporting roles by Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg and Gal Gadot as Lois Lane, Lex Luthor and Wonder Woman and is a film bristling with ambition.

The plot is that in the wake of the Kryptonian attack, the world doesn’t really know what to do with Superman. Many fear what he can do and just as many see him as the symbol of hope he can be and he is equally bereft as his rescue of Lois (now his girlfriend) has become this juggernaut of unforeseen consequences. This is both helped and complicated by Lex Luthor who sees Superman as another in a line of abusive authority/father figures and an aging Batman who recognises the threat that Kryptonians pose and can only see Superman as something to get rid of, unable to see the man in the Superman.

Herein lies the films big problem. Its not the different version of Lex Luthor played her as a scares little boy version of Mark Zuckerberg, or ‘Batfleck’ being not what the fan boys wanted. These are interpretations that for the most part work. No, the biggest problem is that this film doesn’t get Superman. They play the isolation of this strange visitor and how people have their doubts about him well enough. But at heart Superman is a well meaning guy who doe the right thing because it’s the right thing and that is oddly missing from this film. It suffers an oft encountered problem with the character which in an inability to find the core idea of humanity’s big brother who wants everyone to be okay and doesn’t need to elevate himself. Whenever you see him silently floating overhead you are missing the point of him and that shot happens a lot.

But this is not Denouncing the DCEU, so I need to point out the positives. The film’s reliance on talking head clips is actually a useful narrative device to show how the world is reacting to Superman and quite a lot of it rings true. Amy Adams gives a degree of weight to the often unlikeable character of Lois Lane without trying to make her more likeable. She’s hardnosed and determined and these are shown as reasons to respect her rather than reasons to like her. It’s the most believable iteration of Lois I can think of, this is a successful reporter for a reason. The visuals are also quite striking, this version of Superman doesn’t hold true but it is beautifully rendered. There’s also a lot of moments that work, Clark Kent investigating the Batman is an interesting look into the Superman movies we could have gotten, his crusading journalist mode being a real person rather than a disguise and Cavill pulls it off, without pulling off the playing different characters thing. Also the scene were Lois has a gun to her head and is scared for her life, becoming calm and relaxed as soon as Superman shows up. This added to the very well executed action set-pieces (including Batfleck’s star turn in the warehouse scene) make this an exciting and engaging film to watch, despite the bum-numbing 3 hours run time (seriously had to split this over 3 nights so that SuperSam could watch it with me) and at time bizarre plot points.

As part of the attempt to do a Marvel, this film includes introductions to Aquaman, Cyborg, Flash and Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman herself appears periodically throughout the first two hours before arriving in the 3rd act to just walk away with the rest of the film as a woman who doesn’t seek to fight, but enjoys the hell out of it when it arrives. Gal Gadot’s smile as she is knocked on her ass is a joy to behold and her blasé remark of “I’ve killed things from another world before.” just shows how overqualified she was as a guest star in this film. Something that can also be said of Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth who is the best live action version of this character I’ve seen to date.

So yes, this film fails to accurately capture the spirit of the title character(s) and fails in it’s goal of launching a successful and coherent shared film universe and this ultimate edition is long. All of these are true and fair criticisms of this film, but it’s well put together, has stakes and ultimate is fun, even when it’s taking itself far to seriously.

It’s a solid 3/5 with some of the wrong lessons learned from Man of Steel, but I was glad to have watched it and am more committed to doing this rewatch than before.

Next Time: Wonder Woman

Posted in TV Stuff

Calling for a Doctor: William Hartnell part 2 of 2

This week I have finished my watching of the first Doctor’s DVD releases. Excepting stories with missing episodes or even completely missing stories I have finished watching this entire character’s journey and I have thoughts.

The series very much falls into three distinct phases which mostly coincides with the different seasons, each showing either different sides of the Doctor, or differing styles in direction and production.

Season 1

Stories : An Unearthly Child, The Daleks, Edge of Destruction, The Keys of Marinus, The Aztecs, The Sensorites and The Reign of Terror.

Starting with the Unearthly Child, this season was about two unwelcome travellers trapped in the time/space ship of a strange and unfriendly soul who didn’t want them there. The heroes of the story were often the teachers Ian Chesterton & Barbara Wright who were teaching Susan Foreman and tried to investigate her living situation. Then they travel to prehistoric Earth, far future Skaro, the hostile planet Marinus, pre-columbian South America, another alien planet and revolutionary era France. This is not what you think of as Doctor Who, despite most of the perennial elements of Who being there. We have the companions pulled from their regular life, we have the Doctor and his blue box. But here the Doctor is not particularly heroic, to the extent that he considers killing his prisoner to give him and his granddaughter time to get back to his Tardis. Often it’s Ian Chesterton being the hero and dragging the Doctor into it, often quite reluctantly. Most of this season’s plot is the vain attempt to return Ian and Barbara to their original time in the 1960s. By the time the season comes to an end in the French Revolution, this is now more of a ‘traditional’ Doctor Who programme and the formula for how this show could be done is established.

High points include the first episode of An Unearthly Child, the Daleks and the Keys of Marius, which showcases the versatility of the show and the cast by being several mini-stories in service to a larger arc.

Season 2: Planet of Giants, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Rescue, The Romans, The Web Planet, The Space Museum, The Chase, and The Time Meddler.

This is the for me William Hartnell’s best season, It is also the season that shows more variety in story type, length and even tone. We get a return of the Daleks to the show, but an earlier version of the Daleks who are still trying to conquer the galaxy. We get a look at the Earth’s bleak future and the first loss in the cast. We say goodbye to Susan who remains on Earth in 2150 to help rebuild. Then we get Vicky, who is a girl from the further future who the crew rescue from an alien world and reinforces the Doctor’s paternal and nurturing side as he pretty much adopts this teenage girl. We get a comedy story with the Romans as the Tardis crashlands in Nero’s Rome and the crew decide to take a month off. We then get kidnapping, slavery, political assassination and the burning of Rome. After that the Tardis leaves again and we get a couple of more spacey stories before we get the Chase. I think the Chase cements the Daleks as the arch-enemy of the Doctor and ups their threat as they crack time travel and are able to go after the Doctor, no matter where he goes. The Chase has it’s ups, downs and comedy moments before we get to say goodbye to Ian and Barbara who use the Daleks’ time machine to go back to Earth. They miss by a couple of years, landing in 1965, but since they’d been on the show for 2 years, that sort of makes sense. They destroy the Dalek’s time machine and go back to the regular lives, but the story also introduces Steven Taylor, a space pilot who survived alone on an alien world for years and accidentally hitches a ride on the Tardis. The Time Meddler then pits these three relative strangers against the Monk, who is a member of the same race as the Doctor, proved by his owning his own Tardis and trying to alter things as he sees it, not putting things right, but accelerating the development of Great Britain’s history. The Doctor defeats him and we get to see how different a person with the Doctor’s talent and equipment could be. The season ends on a high and to be honest, all of these stories (with the possible exception of the Web Planet) are highlights in my eyes and it solidified that this rewatch was a good idea and encouraged me to carry on with it.

Season 3: Galaxy 4, Mission to the Unknown, The Ark, The Gunfighters, The War Machines and the Tenth Planet.

If season two was the zenith, then 3 is the nadir. Galaxy 4 is an interesting idea that suffers from being reconstructed and very poorly paced making the whole thing a bit boring. Mission to the Unknown did not involve the main cast as was a set up to a story that isn’t all there, the big problem with season 3 is the sheer number of missing stories and the version of Mission to the Unknown I watched was a reconstruction by some University students uploaded to YouTube. The Ark is a good idea that struggles to keep it’s pacing on point and in a missing story we have lost Vicky to ancient Troy and now have Dodo Chaplet a teen girl from the mid 1960’s who is a bit of a shot in the arm for the show as her and Steven bounce off one another well and Steven increases his bristling against the Doctor’s authority. Behind the scenes, things weren’t going well, the who production staff had changed and William Hartnell’s health had begun to decline and whilst he was often difficult, now he was struggling to maintain the schedule and remember his lines. More and more the companions had to do more of the heavy lifting and relegate the Doctor to second fiddle in his own show, which made the actor more irascible. After the amusing Gunfighters, Steven left the show and halfway through the War Machines, so did Dodo, who never really fulfilled the promise she showed in the Ark. The team would try again to inject youth and more of it’s time characters with Ben and Polly who started in the War Machines and left with the Doctor for his final adventure.

The Tenth Planet was memorable for two important reasons, one was the introduction of the Cybermen who did the whole dehumanising cyborg thing 20+ years before Star Trek gave us the Borg. As bargain basement as they looked, they were a body horror delightad in what they represented, a humanity devoid of everything we think of as humanity and only interested in consumption and survival. There’s a reason that they have survived each iteration of the Doctor. The other reason it’s important is that it’s where Hartnell left the show. Health and personal issues were wreaking havoc with the show and it could survive as long as someone else took the starring role. Being an alien, they could just come up with a reason to change the actor, which they did. The Doctor’s body wore out and it changed into the new guy, same name new face, well new everything.

Patrick Troughton came in and he had big shoes to fill and a lot of work to do, but the character and the show had regenerated and possibly the best was yet to come.

Posted in Comics n Stuff, Films

Defending the DCEU – Part 1: Man of Steel

I have decided internet people that 2023 is the year I start being positive. Instead of constantly looking at a half empty glass, I will try to view things from a more rose-tinted lens. This came into severe focus yesterday morning as my son SuperSam was failing to find his school tie. Whilst it’s disappearance (and later discovery) brought up some issues to discuss later as a family, I tried to cool him down from getting in a flap with the following 3 questions.

1: But did you die?

2: Was anyone severely hurt?

3: Did you s**t your pants?

Since all three was a no, it wasn’t worth getting so upset.

Now that’s easier said than done, but it showed me that I could look at things in a different way than I used to and that became even clearer when the other night we started watching 2013’s Man of Steel.

Now I have been less than kind to DC’s movie output over the last decade or so as they’ve tried to replicate the success of Disney’s multi-media powerhouse franchise the MCU. Sadly DC haven’t done the work that Marvel did for the first 4 years of it’s existence and so it’s been a series of mixed bags, rather than a shared movie universe full of interconnectivity and multi-layered storytelling.

So lets ignore than comparison, let’s leave the MCU juggernaut to one side and look at DC’s efforts as their own thing. Are the films good? Do they get the spirit of the characters? I thought this is something to look at and decided to start with Man of Steel.

This film had a story by Christopher Nolan and script by David Goyer and the whole thing was directed by Zack Snyder and featured Michael Shannon as Zod, Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Amy Adams as Lois Lane and Henry Cavill as Kal-El/Clark Kent/ Superman.

Rather than take the 1978 movie’s pattern and show the story of Superman in order, the origin of Clark’s life on Earth is given in flashback. The story opens with the destruction of Krypton and the efforts of scientific cassandra Jor-El to save his son and preserve something of his race, his world and culture. We see Clark living on the road, constantly moving as he often uses powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men to save lives. During this part of the film we also see the difficulties in his early life and how his desire to hide was informed by his father, who wanted his son to do good and be great, but recognised the flaws in this world. Eventually he learns of his origins, encounters a villain (Zod) and does everything he can to save this world that adopted him.

Now there are several complaints about the film that whilst valid are understandable and easily explained and they became clearer to me as I watched it this time. Now I’m going to spoil this ten year old film, so be warned and stuff.

The main complaints I see online and from people I know seem threefold:

1: Superman kills Zod. Now for me this was an easy thing to accept. The version of Superman I am most fond of and familiar with is the Post Crisis/John Byrne version. There was a famous story where he had to execute Zod and two other Kryptonians to prevent further atrocities and genocides from just these three. This messes him up for years of stories to come and the audience learns why he has such a code against killing.

2: The massive amount of damage and body count that the Kryptonians cause. Again, this makes sense, when you have a big budget film you need big budget stakes and consequences. These are people with years of combat experience up against a guy raised as a farmhand during his first day fighting anyone. Honestly, I think he did okay.

3: The take on the character and story. Now this is two separate things. Yes the film does have a dour and grim tone. The fear that permeates it does go against the cheerfulness and optimism that the character is based on. Maybe its the times we live in and fear and suspicion would be a much stronger element in this story that it would have been in what we often think of as ‘simpler’ times. That is true. This is a valid and completely understandable criticism. But then we look at the character of Superman himself. He’s a guy who instinctively does the right thing as he is travelling the world trying to stay under the radar. When he learns about his past it’s a lovely moment. He also has a fun and loving relationship with his mother and he puts his faith in humanity in the hopes that it will work out. I mean it doesn’t, they throw him under the bus almost immediately. But he still does the right thing. Trying to keep everyone out of the line of fire, saving lives and when the 3rd act kicks off, he tries to save the world, despite the high level of risk to him. The fact that where he needs to be will drain him of his strength, putting him at risk of death is pointed out to him and his response is simply “I can’t let that stop me trying.” Well at that point, Superman was in the film. His battle with Zod is skill versus determination as the stronger and more skilled fighter is held at bay by a man fighting for the world that has adopted him.

The film ends with a bit of a standoff between Superman and the US Army and establishing the identity of Clark Kent, mild mannered reporter. This is a springboard for a more traditional Superman franchise that acknowledges we don’t live in 1978 anymore but this is a very recognisable Superman. No matter what people think of what happened next, this was a solid story that was let down by some stylistic choices and an uneven tone.

I genuinely enjoyed this film and it’s worth a bit of a reappraisal.

Next Time: Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice – the extended edition.