Dawn of Justice and Gods & Monsters to keep the tone grim for DC adaptations. Probably the first (and arguably the most valid) argument made, regarding Zack Snyder ‘s take on Superman, was just how dark & dour the whole affair was. No one complained about the tone of the Dark Knight trilogy – Batman is all about the dark, after all – but somehow, those Batman films seemed to have more humor to them (beyond the Joker, anyway) than the Big Blue Boyscout’s vehicle. This prompted many fans, and casual viewers, alike, to worry about a general tone being set for all DC live action films – if only to draw a distinction from Marvel’s more carnival ride approach. Well, whether this idea appeals to you, or not, a pair of trailers – one for make-or-break Justice League lead-in, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the other for the animated Justice League: Gods & Monsters – suggests that dark will definitely be the order of the day, when it comes to DC properties, for the foreseeable future (or until someone actually pulls off what they tried to do with Green Lantern).
First up: DoJ. I’m going to assume that you’ve seen the official trailer release (published by Film-book, here), meant to make up for the blurry leaked one. You might’ve also noticed the comments section, on hosting sites, likely ‘s’ploding into one big flame war, or several smaller ones. Yeah, the Marvel-DC fanboy proxy war will not be getting any more cordial. Now, I can come across as pretty cynical, at times, but I’m actually a devil’s advocate, at heart. While it would be easy to run through a list of reservations, that this trailer has left with me, I reckon there may be enough room to caveat a few of them – after all, we don’t go to the movies to hate on them (we don’t, right?), so we can at least hope for the better.
Much of the background conversation revolves around fear & loathing for the god that fell to Earth. Understandable, given the nature of Superman’s introduction to the World. Unlike more traditional origin tales, where he was revealed through a series of incredible heroics/ good deeds, Snyder’s Man of Steel (Henry Cavill) was outed by Zod, then proved himself during the ensuing super (powered) destructive alien civil war. Snyder also seemed to push the messianic angle, quite a bit; and this trailer indicates a definite double-down, in that regard.
The good news is that the deity double-down explains why a statue to him would be built, for the fear & loathing crowd to vandalize in the first place. Images like a contingent of Nazi stormtrooper types (as I saw them, anyway), kneeling before him, would also provide the right kind of motivation for the Batman to call him out (since the source feud angle wouldn’t apply, here). It could also be considered Snyder holding himself accountable, for having utilized the messiah angle, and being prepared to explore the consequences. If Snyder gets pole position, on the entire DC Joint Cinematic Universe, a sense of accountability would mitigate any blind corners he takes, creatively.
I’m still not all that crazy about Batman being introduced, to this mythology, as coming out of retirement. At the very least, it would impact upon his rogues gallery’s participation, in the developing DCJCU (unless his entire career, up to now, had been Bat-villain free). On the other hand, it does allow the franchise helmers to reverse engineer Bat-history – which could at least bring a new perspective to a well-worn mythology. I also liked the Hulk-buster suit; but that was one detail most source fans have expected as a given – plus built in modulator spares us gravelly Christian Bale impressions (and buys Ben Affleck time to find his own ‘voice.’)
The best take away I got, oddly enough, was recognizing the voice of Neil deGrasse Tyson (I think), taking the neutral fact position of how the very idea of the Superman challenges the Human ego. Snyder could do well to anchor his character/ plot developments on that singular observation.
What I couldn’t get past, however, was the “Do you bleed” line. That was a straight up threat – no way around it – and I found myself thinking that not even the source creator was this agro with the Batman (at first). Unless Supes does something particularly menacing (like leading an army of sturmtruppen), or personally threatening (like breaking up a Bat-bust in a bad way), calling for his blood, up front, really sets a nasty tone. Between Sucker Punch, and Jason Momoa’s recent career choices, it also left me a little concerned with what Snyder had in mind for Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) & Aquaman. I’d hate to think that Mamoa was hired because Snyder wanted Drogo to be the King of Atlantis. Better if he were considered for his turn as a lifeguard (Baywatch! It was a thing!). Gadot’s casting still gives me the Baby Doll vibes, though; but enough on the ancillaries – this is still about the new adventures of Bruce & Clark.
The source characters had a history – were even besties, once – that lent itself to the Frank Miller ‘breakup’ as best friends making the worst of enemies. That context doesn’t apply, here. What’s more, there will be no mitigating sentiment, like Bruce trying to beat some sense into a fallen angel, or Clark agonizing over every blow he deals, to a friend gone off the deep end. Until some common ground is discovered & accepted, this first meeting seems to promise all the glory of establishing prison cred.
If Snyder’s channeling of Frank Miller’s crankiest visions wasn’t enough, Bruce W. Timm is set to mark his return, to DC animated adaptation, with one of the crankiest takes on the entire Justice League. Justice League: Gods & Monsters depicts one of the highlights to DC’s efforts, over the years, to take some of the polish off of its stable of icons (Kingdom Come, Crises on Infinite Earths, Flashpoint Paradox, etc.) by way of alternate reality.
Official trailer for Justice League: Gods & Monsters, plus Bruce W. Timm interview:
This will not be new territory, where Warner Bros. Animation is concerned; but the proximity of the two trailer unveilings just seems to make a definitive statement, about what to expect from upcoming adaptations. The good news is that DC’s animated features have been comparatively lighter hearted, and Timm never beat us over the head, with the properties he managed, from Batman: TAS, to Justice League Unlimited; so at least some distinction can be made between contributing creators, like Timm, and Snyder’s overall stewardship of the DCJCU.
Until such distinctions become clear for DC’s live-action films, however, the emphasis currently seems to be on the DCU’s mean side. I’ve been trying not to read into how being raised by Mexicans contributed to G & M’s Superman being a fascist version of Kansan Clark Kent; but there is a real danger of DC adaptations being dismissed as going dark for going dark’s sake.
I’ve accused Zack Snyder of just trying too hard, to hit us over the head with spectacle & dread, and the last thing I want is for the entire DCJCU going Sucker Punch.
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