Friday, 25 March 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - Where It Went Wrong

Shortly before Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was released, I wrote about the massive financial gamble Warner Bros had taken to kick off this DC movie universe. You can read about it here.

Did it pay off? It's looking unlikely. While pre-release ticket sales will take a big chunk out of the costs, the reviews have been less than flattering. Some fans have come out whole heartedly in support of it but to wipe out the $250 million budget and nearly similar marketing costs, BvS needs to rack up a billion to be considered a proper success. I'll take this post down if it does. I don't think it will happen and when the scores are racked up, a fairly unknown superhero film made on a comparatively tiny budget called Deadpool will be ahead (on overall profit made). No disrespect to Wade Wilson but that shouldn't happen. We are talking about the two biggest names in comics, Batman and Superman. Marvel have plenty of great characters but for followings, recognition and pure superstar status, these two are the legends of the industry. And bringing them together is on the path to relatively failure.

First, let's clear up some parts that went right:

Ben Affleck was slated as the choice for the Dark Knight but the criticism and petitions were proved to be unfair. He was a perfectly decent Batman and arguably a better Bruce Wayne than most who have played him.

Eisenberg's performance will be divisive but I like that they went with something different. It is a brave actor that changes things. Vincent D'Onoforio did it with Wilson Fisk in Daredevil and gave us one of the most compelling villains of our generation. If the franchise is to last, one of the long serving bad guys will need an evolution. So love it or hate it, Eisenberg was right to give it a fresh spin, rather than be the scheming car salesman of the previous films or the cold, calculating megalomaniac of the cartoons.

Gal Gadot looks the part as Wonder Woman. Finally, we will get a female superhero film and hopefully one to shout about.

The opening was superb. The action sequences that didn't involve Superman were excellent. Some of the twists were genuinely unexpected and it was willing to ask the viability of the superheroes involved. Were they just loose cannon criminals or vigilantes that could do the things no one else could?

Where did it go wrong?

The primary blame has to lie with Zack Snyder. Man of Steel did split audiences but provided such a box office that adding Batman to the mix seemed a safe bet. Snyder's critics, however, will rightly cite his struggles with style over substance. 300 was designed for such story telling. Watchmen wasn't and neither was BvS. The fact that Warner Bros have trusted him with the Justice League films is sitting on the knife edge between immense faith and blind foolishness.

The script has clearly been through alterations it couldn't sustain. Chris Terrio and David Goyer have both done work worthy of praise. But it feels like Goyer wrote Batman v Superman and Terrio tried to turn it into Justice League: The Prologue. It didn't work. Mainly because it tried to tell two major character stories from both perspectives. Some films have pulled it off but not many (Heat would be one of the few exceptions). They should have picked one and made it primarily about them in the build up to this major showdown. Either that or keep Doomsday out of it completely.

It is that keenness/desperation to set up a multi-movie universe that crippled it. I reckon there probably is a good 90 minute film somewhere in the 151 minute mess that has been made. Spending so much time trying to set up other stuff slows the pace somewhat. Unless the next few films justify those moments, they were damaging easter eggs that could have been saved for a director's cut, which we already know we are getting.

What should they do next?

It's Warner Bros's money, so it is their call but I think entrusting Snyder with the Justice League films will be a mistake. With Affleck already on the project, I'd be tempted to throw it to him but that won't happen. Filming on Justice League starts next month with Snyder having already done all the pre-production. Changes now would be costly and the box office slump coming Warner Bros way will have to be taken on the chin.

Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman might repair some of the damage but DC has burst and tripped out of the blocks. Marvel's only concern from this film will be whether it is the comic book movie bubble bursting.

Affleck's promising performance does lend itself to the idea that standalone Batman films should be pursued. The Dark Knight has been DC's most bankable star and the safe money would be that such a run will continue.

Other than that, all DC can hope is their form picks up quickly. After all, you only have to look back at Marvel's Phase One and you'll realise it wasn't replete with mega hits. Most of them are pretty mediocre. DC can recover but it has to do it quick because Justice League has now become a make or break movie. It is one that Warner Bros cannot afford to lose.

Friday, 18 March 2016

What Is The Most Important Film of 2016?

2016 is in full swing and the big films are on their way to our local cinemas. 2015 wasn't a great year for film. Star Wars returned to a big box office via the path of heavy self plagiarism. Marvel rolled in the cash with lacklustre efforts. Universal scored a massive hit with Jurassic World, which wasn't nearly as good as people made out. The fact is that 2015 wasn't vitally important, in the sense that films that could change the movie landscape weren't coming out. That's this year, as franchises, fledgling and long standing, go toe-to-toe. So which film will be the most important in 2016?

The cynics are already crawling out of the woodwork about Warner Bros big gamble. And it is huge. $400 million has been dumped on the clash of DC's two most iconic characters. As much as Man of Steel was touted as act one of the DC Cinematic Universe, Batman v Superman is the rock on which the entire franchise rests. Warner Bros needs it to come off because it is out of franchises. If you don't know, every major studio needs a franchise to effectively keep the lights on. With Harry Potter gone, this is it for Warner Bros. A studio could rise or fall based on this one film.

Marvel may be sat atop the crest of a wave but 2015 didn't go to plan. Age of Ultron was not well received and Ant-Man, while fun, was nothing special. Now DC has come knocking and wants the comic book crown. So Marvel has gone all in with an expanded Phase Three, starting with Civil War, which is akin to Avengers 2.5. Not only does it pit two of the MCU's favourite characters against each other, it also introduces Black Panther and the new Spider-Man. Marvel needs to get back on track. Cinemas are no longer a battle of films but a war of franchises. With Marvel wanting to broaden its releases, it needs to be on top.

Video games and films don't mix. While there has been a smattering of box office successes from video games, generally they are a disappointment. That was because video games weren't compatible to the story telling method of movies. Now, they are a bigger industry than Hollywood. More importantly, they heavily trade on story and cinematic experiences. Assassin's Creed and Warcraft paves the way to the possibility of Hollywood exploiting that rich seam of stories. If these films get it right, a wealth of options become genuine possibilities. Call of Duty is already being considered for a potential cinematic universe and others are getting looked at too. Not a slavish retelling of the video game but using the material in the games to inspire interesting and exciting stories to put on the cinema screens.

The Force Awakens made mega money and was heralded as a return to form for the Star Wars franchise. When The Phantom Menace came out, the box office was decent and, at first, it was marked as a good film. This is where people's memory gets hazy. Then the criticisms came and they started to stick. Mainly because the second film didn't hold up. The Star Wars franchise is back on familiar ground. If the criticism that is, in my opinion, fairly sticking to The Force Awakens is to be swept aside and keep the sci-fi juggernaut rolling, Rogue One has to be good. If it fails, Episode VIII will have a heavy weight to bear.

So which will be the most important film of 2016? The one that succeeds the most. Ultimately, that will put the respective franchise and studio on top. Based on the fact that Disney is throwing two major efforts in, topped up with Finding Dory from Pixar, makes me think they are the most likely winners from this. I fully expect Warner Bros's DC Universe to work but still sit in the shadow of Marvel. Universal will get a hit out of the Bourne franchise to add to their Jurassic and Fast & Furious slate. But if I had to place a bet, I have a feeling that Assassin's Creed will be the film that makes us sit up. Comic book heroes have had their moment in the sun. 2016 may very well be the year that marks the rise of the video game film. Time, as it always does, will tell.