So, I just had one of the worst cinema-going experiences in my life this year, as I walked out of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” a film as overblown, bloated and downright stupid as it’s overblown, bloated and downright stupid title would suggest.
( You can catch my review for the film here: https://theacutecinephile.wordpress.com/2016/03/24/batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justice-spoiler-free-movie-review/ )
This film hurt me. It hurt me very deeply; and the more I thought about it, It hurt me even more.
See, when I was a little kid, Superman: The Movie, with Christopher Reeve playing the iconic, titular character, was one of the first movies that I’d ever witnessed; and I remember being enthralled with what I’d seen. I remember being inspired by the hope that this man in blue tights with an ‘S’ on his chest and a bright red cape imparted, I remember being felled by his charm and wit, I remember rooting for him to win against the bad guys, I remember wanting to read more and more stories about him, which I did through the comics. Reading those comics allowed me to improve my English. I remember wanting to create my own stories of this character through drawing. Drawing this character instilled a love of art in me, and writing those stories instilled a love for storytelling that has gradually evolved into a love for filmmaking.
In short, Superman has inspired and molded my life in more ways than I can even count. This character, as you can see, means a lot to me; and growing up, I remember wanting to be like him.
Having seen Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice though, I’ll be surprised to see even a single kid who gets inspired by Superman. See, we live in such a cynical society where we feel that true-blue, positive and hopeful boy scout superheroes like Superman have no place in our world.
Ask most people out there (except me) who their favorite superhero is, and I can bet you a 1000 bucks that you’re going to get the reply “Batman” (A character that embodies darkness). The disturbing part is, even the filmmakers of this trainwreck have blatantly told us, through this film, and “Man of Steel”, that there’s no place for a hopeful, positive and actually FUN Superman in this world.
How do they impart this message to us?
They do this by making both movies as dull, dark and dreary as possible; in both, visual style and narrative. They make Superman do things that defy the very core of his character in both movies. They make him an object the people react to rather than an actual, well-defined character in both movies. As a lifelong Superman fan, I can only stare in despair as they take one of my most beloved characters and grind him down in a potpourri of “grit”, “darkness” and “Cynicism”.
Enter Marvel Studios.
We all know what Marvel is now right? Now, here’s the thing, Marvel has their very own boy scout character. A character so inherently good, positive and hopeful, that he can pretty much be described as their Superman. Any specific name come to mind?
It’s Captain America.
I think at this point, it’s safe to say that some of Marvel’s best films to date have been either about Captain America or atleast involved him in some capacity (The Avengers 1&2). These movies have been successful and there are plenty of kids that I’ve personally met that actually WANT to be Captain America, although they aren’t Americans themselves. One of my cousins loves the character because he’s constantly inspired by Cap’s unrelenting patriotism and the hope that he imparts. People actually think Captain America is cool.
Why is that though?
Why is that, when there are two very similar character in terms of their ideology, one of them is deemed “Cool” and the other “Uncool”?
It’s pretty simple, actually. You just have to look at their respective movies.
“Man of Steel” which featured a serious, sullen, dull and dark Superman was a movie so inherently serious and grimy, that Superman was reduced to little more than a grunting, shouting and murderous thug in blue underpants; a far cry from who he actually is in the comics.
In Captain America: The First Avenger, We see a Captain America who is simply persistent in fighting for his country and overcomes plenty of obstacles to achieve his goals. We see a character that loses the love of his life and is displaced in time. We see a man who makes the ultimate sacrifice. This is exactly who Cap is in the comics.
“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” features a Superman who’s more of an object that characters react to rather than an actual character with a voice, opinion and personality of his own. We see a character that is time, and again, put onto the sidelines in favor of his darker colleague (Batman). We see a Superman that audiences have no problem in rooting against.
In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, We see a Captain America that’s trying his best to make a place for himself in the modern world, we see a man out of time and most of all, We see a man who’s tested and challenged for the utmost faith and patriotic fervor he shows to his government
Notice a pattern here?
Marvel, while telling Cap’s story, doesn’t shy away from what made him popular in the original source material in the first place. They embrace his true character and try and use his ideals as a magnifying glass to look into the way society and the world works today.
Warner Bros./DC on the other hand, by their own admission (or atleast by director Zack Snyder’s own admission) tried to “grow up” Superman, a character who is in no need of “growing up”. What DC didn’t understand was that people didn’t like Superman for being dull and dreary, they liked him for who he was as a character – an unstoppable force for good and positivity.
This brings me to my final point – Darkness in superhero films.
Now, there is this wild misconception that making a film “darker” and more “grittier” automatically makes it a good film. That it somehow transcends everything else in it’s genre and makes everything more complex.
I can tell you now, that it’s bullshit.
Don’t get me wrong, such a dark and gritty tone works for characters that call for it; and so far the only ones I can think of that actually deserve such a tone are Daredevil, Punisher, Batman and Ghost Rider.
So, when you take a hopeful character like Superman and try and make him as “grim/dark” as possible, it just negates what the character stands for and who that character is essentially. Superman needs to have levity to him, Superman needs to be fun, Superman needs to smile, Superman needs to save people; and that’s not going to happen when we’re left with a Superman that doesn’t save his own father, causes as much as destruction as possible and says lines like, “No one stays good anymore”.
I personally hate it when people (or atleast trolls) disregard Marvel completely, by calling their films “for kids” as though that’s some sort of insult. Marvels films may not be as downright obvious with their messages by making everything super serious and devoid of any fun, but the messages to be found in those films are, more often than not, profound, and imbibed with great meaning. Also, Guess what? Superheroes were originally FOR kids. We love these characters now because we grew up with them FROM CHILDHOOD. If a superhero film isn’t accessible to kids, you can be sure that as time goes by, that film, unless it’s another Dark Knight or Winter Soldier, is going to fade away into obscurity.
Kids are important, and what’s more? Kids need to be inspired by Superman again, not be terrified of him.