Batman v. Superman and the Perpetual Second Act

Even after the 29% Rotten Tomatoes score and the Ben Affleck meme going around, I still managed to fight the crowds of a busy Friday night to see the Bats punch out the Supes.

I really believe there is a bit of critical conspiracy against Zac Snyder and the Nolan-esque grim realism comic book style. I loved Watchmen when it came out and I still regard it highly as one of the best comic book films ever made despite what the internet thigns. I’ll cut right to the chase and say that Batman v. Superman wasn’t a great film but I certainly enjoyed it a lot more than I enjoyed Avengers II: Age of Ultron (which got 75% on the RT meter) and a whole lot more than the disaster film Man of Steel.  If I had five stars to give, I’d hand it three.

Now Kiss!!!

Now Kiss!!!

Still the poor critical reviews haven’t slowed down the box office. Bats v. Supes is now in the record books as having the highest March opening of $170 million domestically and the highest grossing opening weekend of 2016 so far. Internationally, the two DC titans have brought in $424 million, the fourth highest opening for a film ever.

So there seems be a disparity between critics and audiences – it’s cool to be jaded online about all the failings of the film but the DC property is really valuable despite the all the attention (at least in films) being focused on the Marvel universe. Walking around the mall waiting for the show to start, I saw dozens of people donning Batman t-shirts, it didn’t register to me that they were here to see the film till much later.

Truth be told, I am not a comic book geek. I have never read a comic book in my life – but I have watched all the Batman films and much of the television shows. Superman hasn’t been my favorite character but I did have a love affair with Teri Hatcher in sixth grade over the first season of Lois & Clark… unlike the stars who still look great, that show hasn’t aged well.

But I digress… as Marvel and DC push their films from outings into a part of a larger “universe” (here in trying to introduce the members of the Justice League) we run the risk of being stuck in a perpetual 2nd Act.

Plot_Line_Graph_Ver.2

I learned of this term listening to a Kevin Smith podcast as describing the story arc of a comic book hero. Origins stories are your Act One – once those are done, the comic books have to constantly hurl the heroes into new and more troubling low points. It never stops: if you deliver a satisfying ending, comic book sales for the next one stop.

So >MAJOR SPOILER<  that’s why when Superman dies at the end of Batman v. Superman I felt nothing. The funeral scenes, the ceremonial 21 gun salute – it all meant nothing because we know he’s not going to stay dead. He’s Superman you can’t kill Superman. >END SPOILER<

I can see that as a real potential problem facing these large scale comic book franchises. The more connected each film is going to be to the larger universe, the smaller the climax becomes and the less valuable the journey. James Bond has been able to skirt this problem by just avoiding timeline continuity all together. A more recent example is Mad Max: Fury Road which takes a title character from 3 other films and puts him in a completely self contained story with a great climax. Two other Marvel movies Antman and Deadpool (which is easily my favorite Marvel film) don’t have the weight of the big heavy MCU machinery to bear and are allowed to have their own story with achievable stakes. So it’s possible to compelling narrative in the frame work of these comic book universes, but the big tent pole milestones like Captain America: Civil War just feel like yet another grind through another Act 2 – the big draw is to see your friendly neighborhood Spiderman out of the hands of Sony.

What am I ultimately getting at with this post? As DC and Marvel set up these large multi franchise Universes, the general appeal of the films will get lower. We have to have smaller stories with more focus.  In The Dark Knight, the Joker only blew up a hospital – now days every outing is on the brink of armageddon. There’s only so many times you can blow up Metropolis before people start moving away.