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BATMAN vs. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE Trailer & Thoughts (now updated with SUICIDE SQUAD trailer and thoughts)

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I’ve been meaning to do another Trailer Salad post (and will soon), but since this bowed today and was clearly the big movie news of the day, I thought I’d just take care of it pronto.

First, I have to say, I actually enjoyed Man of Steel. Yes, it had its problems, but Henry Cavill was an excellent Superman and there was enough of Zack Snyder’s voice (like that bit with the whales) to give it flavor. And I’m a Snyder defender–Watchmen is one of the most underrated films of the last decade, and Sucker Punch was at least memorably overwrought (at the time I said it was like if Fellini directed a comic-book movie).

This has some elements that, on paper, I’m very on board with, especially Superman being alternately vilified (and testifying before Congress!) and worshipped. That’s the sort of collision of the fantastical and the realistic which I consider one of the most interesting, yet least explored plot elements in superhero cinema.

However, Batman vs. Superman seems to be at least four films sandwiched together. There’s the whole side of the film dealing with Batman (and I won’t say Ben Affleck was an unworkable choice, but placed in humorless circumstances–as I’m afraid these will be–he tends to be flat), and whatever his deal is. There’s Lex Luthor’s side of things–and I like Jesse Eisenberg, and hope he pulls out a good performance, but so far I’m not really buying him as a menace. And there’s the inclusion of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), who, if she’s to have any development whatsoever–and if her role in the film is to make much sense–will push this already overstuffed film to God knows what running time.

And let’s not forget the Joker (Jared Leto), who’ll take center stage in Suicide Squad (which…ugh) but seems to be some of kind of phantom menace here, and the possible reanimation of Zod (Michael Shannon), which would make no sense, but never mind that!

Really, this film will either be grossly long (165 minutes at least), or it’ll be painfully cluttered, and it just might be both. And although I’m sure we won’t get a full Batman origin story, we’ve got some flashbacks to make this fucking thing even longer.

Side rant: are they ever going to bring back intermissions? I don’t get why not. Yeah, a longer film means fewer showings per day, but since theaters get most of their money from concessions, I’d think they’d be all for anything that means more of that sweet overpriced candy/soda/popcorn action. Plus, two climaxes for the price of one, if you do it right!

Someday, old friend.

The basic conflict between Batman and Superman could bear dramatic fruit, but since they’ll obviously come together to fight a common enemy (that is, Luthor), I really don’t know how much mileage they’ll get out of it. Especially when time and money must be devoted to yet more catastrophic urban destruction, which can’t be that thrilling to anyone anymore, not when every superhero film feels obliged to include it.

Basically, I’m not going to predict disaster, but if Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice isn’t the jump-the-shark moment for superhero cinematic universes, if it isn’t the film which is finally too convoluted, too full of characters and connections and too devoid of any meaningful plot or original action to function as an entertainment, it does not mean we’re any less due for that film.

And then there’s Suicide Squad. I’ll be completely honest: I wasn’t too excited for this film based on the first images, which seemed steeped in that overwrought faux-edgy Hot Topic style (especially Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) who seems like she stepped out of Batman and Robin). The trailer hasn’t totally redeemed the film in my eyes, but there are elements I will probably appreciate, even as I shake my head at others.

I’m not totally sold on David Ayer as a filmmaker yet, since I remain unsure as to just what the point of Fury was (to be fair, I haven’t seen End of Watch yet), but this has some decent cinematography and seems well-enough directed–

Side note: I think we’ve passed the age of the over-cut, incoherent action sequence. We’re not on solid footing yet, mind you, but it seems to me that action movies of late are a modicum easier to follow. Mad Max naturally raises the recent average, but even the mediocre Terminator Genisys wasn’t too confounding (in that regard, at least).

–it doesn’t seem to reinvent the genre by any means, but it’s a nice respite from Marvel’s increasingly stale house style. That said, I still find the aesthetic to be heavy on that kind of emo-kitsch which Repo! and Devil’s Carnival have made it impossible for me to take seriously.

On a fundamental level, the premise isn’t all that compelling to me. The idea of a superhero film from the perspective of the villains (or in this case, villains being manipulated into doing right) is promising enough, but I would much rather see a faithful film of the graphic novel of Wanted (not that I didn’t like the movie when I was 18, but I doubt it would hold up) than this. I can also just imagine that the depiction of mental illness is going to cause some controversy, and if it falls too much into romanticizing it (and Harley Quinn seems to be trending in that direction), I’ll be calling it out.

As for the cast, it has potential, but in both directions. I like Robbie all right, and she seems committed to her take on Harley…but if that take is fundamentally misguided, it’ll be damned hard to appreciate her work. I know nothing of the character of Deadshot, but I do know Will Smith has been on shaky ground lately (his cameo in Winter’s Tale was one of the most misguided parts of an epically misguided film). I hope he brings some of his old star quality to the table, but we can only wait. Viola Davis is usually excellent, and her role here could be a great one…if she isn’t reduced to a glorified cameo.

For most of the rest, I have no opinion and the trailer doesn’t give me much to go on. I will say, however, that I am now on board with those baffled by Jai Courtney’s continued A-list status. He has minimal charisma and no real personality; he’s like Armie Hammer without the charm. And I’m hard-pressed to find anything like a breakout role to justify his status! I guess he was supposed to be good on that one Spartacus show, but given the lack of awards attention (not even a bullshit nomination), that seems like pretty thin grounds for stardom.

Of course, I haven’t mentioned perhaps the most controversial element of the film: Jared Leto’s Joker. He too seems to have fallen victim to the film’s more asinine aesthetics, but that’s not necessarily a deal-breaker. He seems to be giving a properly intense performance, but as a friend pointed out, and as this new trailer makes more clear…he’s very much aping Heath Ledger (their voices are nearly identical). His take seems to be more deranged than Ledger’s brutally methodical anarchist, but it’ll be a performance haunted by the memory of a much better one.

That’s not entirely Leto’s fault, but it doesn’t make me more optimistic. I have mixed feelings about Leto as it is–he can be very good, but he’s often overrated and his Oscar was undeserved–so for me, at least, that makes the challenge all the greater. Others will doubtless be kinder; yet others will be far crueler.

Still, I can’t say I expect this to be the worst film of 2016, or even very close; there might be just enough genuine entertainment for me to give it a pass.

And it’s hard for me to hate any film with a packing panda:

I do not own this photo. (But I wish I did.)

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