Is 2016 was anything, it was the year of the superhero movie. Unfortunately, for the most part, they were shit. Somehow superhero movies are sliding backwards towards that dark time when men were men, women were lesser, and they belonged in the kitchen (specifically the fridge). Two and a half plus hours worth of noise and confusion.
It was fittingly enough exemplified by the cinematic adaptation of one of the most critically acclaimed comic books of the modern era.
Batman: The Killing Joke is perhaps the worst movie of the year, for the sheer lack of tact or understanding on display. It is a comic book movie where a strong female character is used as a prop to be crippled, acting as the emotional trigger for the male character to act upon and become a hero. It's a story where the central plot point is a fridging. A death or tragedy that occurs only to propel another character's plot.
In the comic book world women are generally disposable. Luckily for the animated adaptation of a comic classic (which was guided by an editor whose thoughts on the matter boiled down to "cripple the bitch") they added an entire 45 minutes to the front end, developing a story around that female character to ensure she isn't just a throwaway prop in a male's story. They do that by making her Batman's sex toy, unleashing a never ending barrage of rape jokes and threats, and developing her story in such a way that the only purpose she has is to motivate Batman to start his story.
There are three men in Batgirl's life: Batman, who she sleeps with and who treats her like a disposable sidekick; A criminal who is obsessed about raping her to the point of making hookers wear a Batgirl mask; and a camp gay best friend who gossips about other men with her. So basically, they didn't do anything but make an already violently brutalised victim into a worse victim. Go Batman, I guess. Comic books have always been accused of being misogynistic, an argument with strong merit. Instances like this strengthen that argument.
When the only way you can think of making a female character strong is to make her a worse victim than she already was, that's not good writing. That's the laziest writing. It's juvenile to the point of being relegated to the bottom shelf of a magazine rack at a road side corner store.
It feels like a movie written and produced in the 80s. But it wasn't, it was written and produced today. In the same era as feminism, Black Lives Matter, Occupy, and any number of social justice movements. It was made in an era where women aren't just props. Which makes it far worse. If this had come out in the 80s, it could be forgiven. It's a sordid piece of trash, exploitative and bad. But that was the era. It would have dropped on a VHS tape and that would have been that. But for it to come out today, and for the people behind it to think that "Yes, this is an improvement on the original story" is remarkable.
But what of the movie itself? Well, it's terrible. The original comic book is overrated, let's be honest. It's good, but it's not the best thing ever. This adaptation approaches it as though it is the best, meaning instead of setting out to create an excellent adaptation, it expects to be able to glide on another work's quality. The result is an utterly forgettable, flat adaptation that rightly went straight to DVD.
There's also Suicide Squad, a movie that felt like an extended trailer with no real purpose beyond existing. Which makes sense considering that it was edited by people who normally edit trailers. Now, when I say this movie has no purpose beyond existing, I don't mean that in a "this movie was made" type of thing. I mean that this is the equivalent of 90+ minutes of noise. It is a person wearing bright clothes standing in a room shouting nothing for hours on end, for no purpose, and at the end everyone just sort of walks away.
But the whole thing costs tens of millions of dollars to make. And will probably get a sequel. And spin offs. I mean, Harley needs a movie. Joker, well shit, give him a franchise. And low and behold, it ties into the DC cinematic universe. Meaning the whole thing was, like Batman v. Superman (we'll talk about that in a bit), this movie was essentially a trailer for six other movies. This is the major issue with DC films: their films aren't films, they're trailers for films that will be trailers for more films that will be trailers for more films.
I don't think I've ever sighed in exasperation as many times as I did during this movie. The people I saw the movie with noted it once the credits started rolling. There's just nothing to hold on to in this movie. The motivations are inconsistent from scene to scene. Deadshot's daughter is the primary driving force for his actions, but his fantasy involves him shooting Batman dead, not his daughter. What could have been a moment of character and introspection seems like a pointless aside. So much of it is due to the editing, which lends itself to colourful images and not a movie.
An aside: The only Native American character is tricked by white men, is introduced punching a woman in the face, then betrayed by an Australian, and then dies pointlessly. Is the movie smart enough that this is a clever commentary on the tragic history of Aboriginals and Native Americans? No, it's not. It's like everything else in this movie. A waste of whatever it has been given.
The worst part of all this is that David Ayer is one of my favourite writer/directors out there. He hasn't made a single movie I don't like. Everything he has done is layered thick with a strongly worded "fuck you" of grit and posture and it backs it up every step of the way. Fury is one of the best modern day war films, and his previous film Sabotage is not only the best thing Arnold Shwarzenegger has done in damn near decades, it's a better Suicide Squad movie. To the point where you could easily substitute the squad in and the movie would still work. But it would work BETTER. Because it wasn't butchered by a studio looking to make money six movies down the road.
Yet for all its faults, it feels like a great movie is in there. Genuinely. If they'd cast someone with a smaller name as the key players, focused on the entire team instead of building it around one or two, and just cut out the Joker entirely, this could have been an awesome film. Maybe not a good film, but an awesome film at least. Which feels even more infuriating. It not only did the job bad, it wasted a potentially good job. All because Warner Bros is desperate to create a cinematic universe, instead of making good films that occupy the same universe. This is where the DC films fail.
But let's not forget the grand daddy of them all. The one that everyone was waiting for, that we finally got, and that let us down so very, very hard.
Batman v Superman.
A film that had every resource at its disposal and still managed to fail on just about every possible level, serving not as a solid film in its own right but a failed attempt at launching at least half a dozen other films in an attempt at one-shotting the process of cinematic universe world building into a single film. Where Marvel built the universe through films, DC sought to build the universe, filling it with films it saw as commercially viable, rather than creating films and having them fit into the grand scheme.
It fails on just about every possible level, dragging on and on beyond the point of relevance (I FELL ASLEEP IN THE THEATRE FOR GOD SAKE). It is genuinely everything that is wrong with this movie. The plot is uneven, featuring multiple key moments that are just horribly done. The motivations range from nonexistent to out of character. Established comic book canon is ignored and twisted, which is fine except when it also goes against your film's established canon.
Also there is a scene where Bruce Wayne (or Superman, I can't remember) browses a folder featuring what amounts to trailers for future DC movies, complete with files of their logos. Because naturally, that's... what is that even? Imagine if Iron Man had a scene where Thor and Doctor Strange and Black Widow all had movie trailers and logos in a folder at Stark Industries. It'd be the stupidest thing ever.
And yet here it is.
The whole movie feels designed by committee, very carefully constructed to ensure maximum potential coverage of their future cinematic properties. It's not a film that was made with the driving principle of "Let's make a good Batman versus Superman movie." It's a film that was made with the studio note "Ensure it ties in to the rest of the cinematic universe." But which films? Well considering how much they keep shuffling and rearranging their plans for future films,
BUT, and this is a critical but, I think the DC films are better than the Marvel movies on a cinematic level.
That's right. I said it. I think that in terms of the composition, the style, and the basic visual language, these films are superior to Marvel.
And that is because while they are part of the same universe, they have just enough uniqueness to their style. You might not like the style, but they're approached differently. If you watch Batman v. Superman then Suicide Squad, they look different. They FEEL different. This is in some ways more loyal to the comic book source than Marvel. Think about all New 52 relaunch. Different books had VASTLY different styles. That's part of why comic books are what they are, different writers and artists coming together and putting their unique mark on the same source material.
Warner Bros. may not make the best movies, but they allow each film to have its own language. They accept a bit of variance, understanding that different styles are what give a comic book universe the flavor it needs. With Marvel, everything is the same. A shot from Iron Man and The Avengers looks exactly the same, despite two different directors. A movie from nearly a decade ago looks no different than a film released today, despite dozens of films and directors in between. There's almost no growth or development or creativity at the core level. That's why I adored Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man (still haven't seen Dr. Strange), it felt like they were allowed to run wild and make something colourful and fun and that didn't fit into the universe at all. Yet it still fit.
Unfortunately, they still can't make the actual movie good. In a perfect world, the DC creative team would be the cinematographers of the Marvel world. But as is, we have one set of movies that are good but boring to watch, and one set that is fun to watch but terrible in literally every other way.
I think that's why Batman v. Superman was such a disappointment to me. Despite having just about every resource and every ounce of potential, it wasted it all.