We recruited the illustrious James Olchak to write a serious movie review for us and bonus – he’s combined two reviews into one! Please take out all of your anger and/or swoon-y heart-eyes on James, I’m just the chump who’s cutting and pasting his work. – Cider
Hello, everyone. I’m James, but you can call me Jackal, because I crush the narrative bones of bad genre entertainments, hoping to extract some morsel of useful storytelling from their marrow.
I was kidding about the Jackal thing, just call me James.
I usually do these long-form reviews from the relative privacy of my G+ page, where I do weekly deconstructions of shows like The Walking Dead, or occasional reviews of terrible movies like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. There are literally dozen of fans of my cutting insight and lazy profanity. But, on this occasion, I’m letting the fine (?) people (?) at Superficial Gallery post my most recentest and latest barrage of poorly contrived metaphors and sarcastic euphemisms for “shitty.” Today I’m reviewing “Captain America: Civil War.” But really, more than reviewing Marvel’s latest eyeblasting CGI and noise spectacle, I’m going to compare and contrast it to DC’s latest attempt at same, the aforementioned “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” I’m going to use long words, longer sentences, and even longer paragraphs, so if you’re already zoning out, go ahead and put “TL:DR” in the comments section, now, because this is a cross-country hike for your attention span, not some BS listicle like “Top 10 celebrity tongues” or whatever normally passes for content at this internet turnpike rest stop.
“But James, why bother? All you got for doing this was a half-finished can of mixed nuts and a signed photo of a porn star’s tongue.”
Because I like feeling like a smartypants, rhetorical construct I use to illustrate the questions I might get about the things I review. In fact, I only had you ask that question so I could introduce the readers to you, a mechanism for illustrating how little their opinions mean to me.
“So, you’re gonna like, talk about two similarly-framed narratives, and how, despite their ostensible similarities, one turned out to be an unwatchable garbage fire, and the other turned out great?”
Yes, Damon, I am. Let’s begin.
The first element you hear about a movie is probably the title. Even in a long-running series of sequels like James Bond, you hear the title right after someone says “good Christ, they’re making another James Bond movie.” A good title helps people get excited about what they’re gonna see, and a bad title can conversely act as a barometer for how lazy or twisted the resulting film will be. If you were around in 1999, for example, you can probably remember how stilted and off-putting the title “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” was. So let’s talk titles:
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is a title that fails in several different ways:
- It buries the lede. The movie that everyone was reasonably excited about, the movie everyone was excited to see, should have been called “Batman versus Superman.” Full stop. It’s a movie about DC comics two biggest, most venerable characters, the template for thousands of characters which followed, characters that are the definition of iconic. If you can’t sell a movie called “Batman versus Superman,” you’ve made a real f***in’ turkey.
- It’s dips*** clever, the kind of clever that coked-out movie producers with 89 IQ’s think sounds smart. But it only sounds smart to dips***s. Because saying “v.” instead of “versus” is something that’s only done in court documentation. We didn’t have “Union v. Confederacy,” or “Tyson v. Holyfield,” or “King Kong v. Godzilla,” because those opposing creatures weren’t suing each other. And the thing is, even when they make movies about people doing that very thing, like “Kramer versus Kramer,” they still spell it out, because the word “versus” is shorthand for conflict, and conflict makes stories go.
- The subtitle is Mad Libs lazy. Any title you can think of that follows that structure “Movie Series: Verb of Noun” is bad. Always. It’s always bad. It’s always the worst kind of hacky, lo-fidelity slapped-together committee-based filmmaking, and there are endless examples: “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” “GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra.” On top of that, anything rising, falling, dawning or twilighting is a warning sign: Stay away.
And look, honestly “Captain America: Civil War” isn’t a great title, either. It’s basically the main character’s name followed by an indication that an organization is fracturing from within. It does the job, no more, no less. It’s just not grievously corny sounding, like “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which, from now on, I will be calling “Bat versus Soup.” Because it’s shorter, and it doesn’t have “Dawn” in the title.
What can we talk about next? How about the general setting, the feel for place and time the filmmakers managed to create in their individual films. Once again, lets start with the bad one.
Bat versus Soup has three settings, basically, three places you can find on a theoretical map. I will describe them. It won’t take long.
Someplace in the desert, in a war-torn country. It’s the only part of the movie with anything approaching natural light. Sunny, dusty.
Someplace in Washington, DC, where people have months long important political hearings. Rainy, dark, institutional lighting. Capitol Hill, I assume.
Gothamtropolis, or Metrogothamus, or whatever, two unique and iconic comic book cities combined artlessly into one blurry, dark amber-colored location, a barren, smoldering cityscape that exists only to be knocked down. Anyone who says they can tell which locations are in Metropolis, and which are in Gotham City are lying. Unless you read the script, you’d never know.
Cap’n America: Friends Fight has four main settings.
There’s a squalid and teeming African city, bright and sunny, with crumbling infrastructure and peeling paint.
There’s a rainy eastern European city, with densely packed bloc-housing, and bustling highways filled with commuters who all drive Audis.
There’s an European airport, with a glassy terminal and sun-baked tarmac.
There’s a sinister Siberian military complex, mouldering under a gray, frozen wasteland.
Now, there are a couple other smaller set-pieces (in both films), an apartment in Queens, New York, a spartan lakeside home, a high-tech compound where superheroes live, but I’m talking about the bigger sets, the stages on which big things transpire. I know for a fact that these locations were named (I’m pretty sure a big chunk of Civil War takes place in Germany), but that’s not really important, what’s important is how well did the filmmakers create a sense of place? Did the scenes that take place in Africa look different than the ones that took place in Germany? As an audience member, did I get the idea these were two different places, just by seeing the road signs, or citizens, or buildings? Don’t answer, because I can’t hear you and I know the answer. The answer is yes. If you watch a movie, and later, someone goes “I loved that fight scene in Africa” or “I loved that chase in the highway tunnel,” then they’ve done a good job.
One of the biggest problems with Bat versus Soup is that every exterior scene is kind of a nondescript CGI mess, and no effort is given to make any place distinct from any other. I’ll give a small example. Towards the end of Bat versus Soup, Lois Lane confronts a US government official for the second time, regarding a mysterious bullet fired by assassins that framed Superman for killing a bunch of terrorists in the first act (Why guys were able to successfully frame Superman by shooting a bunch of people with guns will be discussed later). they meet on a park bench, near a river. Where does this scene take place? Is it in washington DC? It seems logical until you realize that the next time Lois shows up, she’s back in Metropolis, without any indication how she got from point “A” to point “B,” a minor inconsistency, or enigma, or whatever, but the fact is that movies are made of small moments and big moments, and ideally they both need to work for the movie to succeed, narratively. S***, a movie can succeed if even one of them succeeds, consistently. In Bat versus Soup, the small moments don’t work, and the big moments work even harder at not working.
This is, admittedly, an unfair sort of comparison, but look. DC/Warners wants to get on that shared universe gravy train that Marvel/Disney has been riding on solid gold rails all over the planet. They’ve tried a couple times to get people interested in their hero’s solo outings (Man of Steel, Green Lantern), and they’re moving ahead with “huge shared universe” like the audience is invested in their characters. Which we…just aren’t. Man of Steel wasn’t a bomb, but it didn’t set the world aflame with Superman fever, and this version of Batman debuted in Bat versus Soup.
Conversely, we’ve had roughly a hundred Marvel movies, ranging from okay to great, giving us ka-billions of small moments and large moments that explain to us, in depth, who people like Cap’n America and Iron Man are. We’ve seen them in and out of costume, we’ve seen them in love and in war, confronting sickness, death, schwarma and so on. We know who they are, to the point of developing alliances with them, depending on how well their ethos dovetails with our own. So where does that leave us, looking at characterization?
All we can do is judge whether the films made us:
- Understand their characters and their motivations, and
- Decide whether those motivations make any f***ing sense,
- Decide whether the characters are behaving according to those motivations, and
- Decide whether those behaviors make us relate to them, empathize with them, or
So, let’s start with Bat v. Soup.
Superman. What are his motivations, in this? Well, he cares about Lois Lane, the woman he loves, and is consumed with her safety. He cares about his mom, who he also loves. He seems largely indifferent to other people. He’s ambivalent about his work (both at the Daily Planet and as Superman), to the point of being surly, and seems to rescue people from disasters begrudgingly. When given the opportunity to go before the Senate and reassure them as to his intentions (which are unclear, even to the audience), he strides in, imperiously, with his mouth set into a grim line. Superman can be seen, in his speech and actions, to be detached, cold, uncaring. Even his treatment of Lois Lane is weirdly possessive and anger-driven. He’s more concerned with punishing people for endangering his loved ones than protecting them.
Is this a Superman consistent with other, iconic depictions of the character? No, not really. That doesn’t matter, in and of itself, but this does: Do we care about this character? Do we root for him? I mean, no? Is it fair to say no? I certainly didn’t, and Batman’s cultural cool factor pretty much ensured that the general public wanted to see him succeed at the impossible task of beating up someone a hundred thousand times as strong as him. So this Superman’s characterization can be summed up as “imperious, dull-witted dickhead set up to job for Batman.”
Batman. What are his motivations? Well, he’s angry. Angry at Superman, who he blames for destroying a Wayne Enterprises building, and killing a number of Wayne’s faithful worker bees (during, it should be noted, a battle with a genocidal Kryptonian despot). So, he hit Bruce Wayne in the pocketbook. Even when Bruce is cradling a newly-orphaned little girl in the tragic aftermath of this massive catastrophe, he glares skyward, his jaw clenched, his mouth set into a grim line. He’s not full of grief, for the lives lost, the childhoods destroyed, he’s just mad. Mad at the bad sky-man who knocked down his building. His motivation is punishing that bad man.
Is this a Batman consistent with other, iconic depictions? Maybe a little? The more fascistic, unsympathetic, fringe depictions of the character. I will point out that not too many versions of Batman use machine guns to ruthlessly cut down corporate thieves. Most versions of Batman, even the largely vacuous Bale iteration, threw a bone towards the narrative conceit of Batman being a detective. Proactive, alert, investigatory. This Batman is almost purely reactive, responding to distressing stimulus more like the Hulk than the world’s greatest crimefighter: “Superman hurt building? Batman smash Superman!” So this Batman can be summed up as “Single-minded robotic dreadnaught of physical destruction and vengeance.”
Now lets look at the lead characters from Cap’n America: Friends Fight.
Iron Man. Almost every movie that Marvel has made in the last ten years had Iron Man in it. He even appeared in the post credit sequence from that second Hulk movie nobody watched. So it’s fair to say that the character has had more time to bloom, if not necessarily grow, since his introduction. Like Batman/Bruce Wayne, Iron Man/Tony Stark is a rich WASPy a$$hole who think’s he’s smarter than everyone around him. Unlike Bruce, Tony actually does seem to be smarter than most of the people around him, but he’s also a bigger egomaniac. He’s also not a soldier, which is the most interesting thing about him. He’s obsessed with safety, for the world, the public, but mostly for him, specifically. “I tried to put armor around the world” he said in last summer’s warm tea no lemon “blockbuster” Age of Ultron, in which his paranoia, and drive for automated security nearly extinctionates (it’s a perfectly cromulent word) the human race. Tony Stark’s motivation is fear. Fear of failure, fear of losing, fear of being trapped again, fear of dying in a cave, in space, submerged under the rubble of his mansion. Many online dilettantes like myself have written, ad nauseum, about Tony’s symptoms of PTSD, but I feel like his inherent (pre-Iron Man) narcissism is an act to cover his deep-seated feelings of inadequacy. He’s a blowhard, he picks fights, he constantly belittles everyone around him, but it’s all bluster. Tony Stark is a coward, and he spends most of his time on screen trying to pretend he isn’t.
Which, s***, is heady stuff for a comic-book movie character. Really, it is. And it’s insight that we wouldn’t have gotten if he’d been introduced in this movie. We’d have gotten the WASPy blowhard-ness, but not the circumstances why. We wouldn’t have been able to sympathize, as much, with his need to have his actions recognized and authorized and made bona-fide. “I’m doing the right thing, all these papers say so.” He’s complicated, he actually needs a couple paragraphs to explain, rather than a pithy sentence or two.
Captain America. Captain America is the second-most sincere comic book character of all time. He’s the Linus in the pumpkin patch of superhero books, second only to Superman. Not the Superman from Bat versus Soup, naturally, but the one that optimistically believes in the sanctity of Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Captain America is what you see on the box. The Red, White, and Blue. A fist in the face of fascism. A shield, not to protect himself, but to help him protect others. He’s what Americans never were, but believed in, anyway. He’s a guy whom you can respect, even if you disagree with him, but if you disagree with him, you’re probably an a$$hole. His motivation? Captain Steve Rogers just wants to help.
Everyone. Everyone who needs it, as best as he can. Wherever they are. Whereas Tony Stark lived his life armored (By wealth, social standing, intelligence, and eventually actual literal armor), Steve Rogers grew up bullied by life, weak, sickly, and poor. He was a guy with newspapers in his shoes trying to get drafted, and being told that despite the world being threatened by fascism, he was too f***ing useless to even hold a rifle and march to his death. He knows who the tired and poor and downtrodden are, because he was them. But people use his desire to help, too often, to lie to him, and manipulate him. And he’s quite reasonably tired of that s***.
Captain America is Captain America, not “Captain American Government.” He’s not willing to to toe the line for political expediency, as he has in the past. This is actual growth on his part–he begrudgingly worked for the US military (who put him in a USO show), he worked for SHIELD (who had him illicitly smuggling data for HYDRA), and now he works for himself, becauseyou a$$holes can’t be trusted. He’s not angry about it, he’s just not willing to saddle himself with bureaucracy when it comes to what he needs to do. Help.
This is where I start to dip more liberally into the profanity bucket. Because as often as people like to shout down critics for expecting loud, colorful genre entertainments to do things like “make sense” and “have multi-syllable words in them,” the objective fact is that a movie has never been made worse by having a coherent script. Never. It has never happened, not once, ever. There are plenty of movies that have done quite well with nonsensical, bats*** scripts (Two of my favorites being Strange Brew and The Big Sleep), but never has a critic, film student, or rando audience member said: “I didn’t like that I understood why things happened the way they did. I would have preferred that more random s*** that drastically affected the plot happened without rhyme or reason.”
“But James, I like being able to turn off my brain when I go to an action movie!”
Well, what you actually mean, Damon, is that you’re dull and you have low standards for entertainment. And you want everything to be held down to that low standard.
Because guess what? You can always turn your brain off at the movies. If you don’t understand it because it doesn’t hold to any kind of narrative coherence, or you don’t understand it because you’re unwilling or unable to pay attention to the structure of what you’re watching, the end result is exactly the f***ing same. See how that works? If all you want is bright colors and laser explosions when you go to the movies, then the movie also having a plot written at a lofty ninth-grade level doesn’t affect your experience at all. At all. You are the audience equivalent of the guy at the ice cream shop who’s pissed because sprinkles are free and he doesn’t like sprinkles. F*** you! Don’t have any, then.
So let’s pull apart these scripts, like so much garlic monkey bread.
Bat versus Soup. Act One: “Trouble in Desertstan,” or “Superman: Threat or Menace?”
The first place Bat versus Soup takes us is into a flashback. Then another flashback. First, we watch the Wayne’s get killed, again, leaving a screening of “Excalibur,” an easter egg of indeterminate meaning. Is it because the movie is about knights, and you Bruce becomes the “Dark Knight?” Probably. It’s here to give us the most important plot point in the film, that Bruce Wayne’s mom is named “Martha.”
In flashback 2, we see a ground-level replay of the climactic, city-demolishing battle from Man of Steel, as Bruce Wayne futiley tries to get to his precious building in time to evac one of his employees. He fails, and he’s left in the rubble, coldly comforting a young orphan, and pulling a newly paraplegic man from under a chunk of his prized building. “Grr,” he says. “Superman is to blame for this.”
Once we reach “the present,” we find Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen on the far side of the world, preparing to interview a generic desert warlord. The warlord’s incredibly efficient soldiers discover a tracking device in Jimmy’s camera, and shoot him in the f***ing head, execution-style.
A note on tone: Already, this movie has made itself oppressively dark. We’ve seen three senseless murders, a man getting his legs crushed by falling rubble, and a little girl crying about her dead parents. It’s ghoulishly dour.
So, Lois Lane is dragged to a secure position in the warlord’s camp, to…wait for Superman to come rescue her? Which he does, but not before a few of the warlord’s super-efficient soldiers kill everyone else in camp, and ride off into the desert on motorcycles.
“Why did they do that, James?”
Well, to frame Superman for acting unilaterally, and killing some terrorists in a foreign desert.
“The frame-up is that Superman flew down from the sky and shot everybody with a f***ing gun?”
Yes, Damon. It’s that unfathomably stupid. Not only that, but a stray bullet that lodges in Lois’ purse ends up being the clue that brings the “frame up” down, via an even stupider plot point.
“And they killed their own boss to frame Superman?”
No, because we find out later that they secretly work for Lex Luthor, who is trying:
(A) To destroy Superman’s reputation.
“Why does Lex want to do that?”
Because, by increasing the public fear of Superman, he can use his political connections to gain access to the crashed Kryptonian spaceship, and the corpse of General Zod, for ostensible purpose of creating a fail-safe weapon to use against Superman. In reality, he’s going to allow Batman to steal the failsafe weapon he already has (Kryptonite), to force a confrontation between the two humorless pricks.
“Why does Lex want to do that?”
(A) To destroy Superman’s reputation.
Yeah, I know.
Anyway, the first act kinda trundles along like a tricycle with a flat tire, across cobblestones of pointless celebrity cameos, mostly of unpleasant TV pundits reiterating the talking point that Superman might be dangerous.
Hey guess what: If part of your plan to make your movie more immersive is to get a cameo from shrieking cobra-woman Nancy Grace, please never work in film, again, ever.
There’s also Senator Holly Hunter, who’s having governmental hearings of some kind whose purpose seems to meet every day and ask questions into a TV camera, much as all the rando TV pundits are doing. It’s basically this:
“Welcome to CSPAN’s fifteenth day of the congressional hearings on Superman. Today, senator June Finch is going to continue mechanically reciting her personal qualms about Superman’s unilateralism into our cameras, as the other senators in attendance do nothing to contribute, or stop her. Is this how the House of Representatives decides things? I don’t know, because I am a terrible movie writer.”
Cap’n America: Friends Fight. Act One:
Like Bat versus soup, we begin with a flashback, back to 1991. James Barnes, “The Winter Soldier” (last seen in the previous Cap’n America film) is thawed out to recover some samples of a mysterious serum. He is shown attacking the courier on a remote stretch of highway, disabling the car and killing the occupants. He recovers the samples from the trunk.
Once we return to the present, we begin in Africa, as The Avengers wait for an anticipated terrorist action. They’re staking out some sort of international banking hub, but it turns out the attack is actually being planned against a nearby biological research facility, where a deadly biological agent is being researched. Momentarily set back by their mis-read intel, they nevertheless leap into action against the heavily-armed mercenary team, led by burn-faced ex-HYDRA agent, Crossbones.
During the extended battle, which involves indoor-and-outdoor martial arts battles, stunt-flying, gunfights, telekinesis, pneumatic fist-extenders and always present parkour, all the samples of the biotoxin are recovered. However, Crossbones triggers a suicide bomb in an attempt to kill his nemesis, Cap’n America. While Cap’s team member, the Scarlet Witch, attempts to channel the explosion’s force away from both Cap and the teeming throngs of people in the marketplace, a nearby building is severely damaged, and as it turns out, 11 people are killed.
This is important. While Bat versus Soup gave us 20 minutes of full-on 9/11 disaster porn, with massive buildings collapsing into enveloping clouds of choking dust and smoke, it had the effect of completely numbing the audience to any idea as to the ramifications of any of it. Combined with the leads complete inability to sell “grief” or “sadness” or any emotion other than “badass determination,” this is a f***ing problem, because the only thing Bat versus Soup has in its whole playbook isbuildings collapsing, a narrative currency they overspent, immediately.
And the Marvel movies, likewise, are guilty of this too often. But here, they frame the conflict in a way that the audience can reasonably understand: The Avengers f***ed up, and 11 people were killed.
Also, see how coherent this first act was? See how short the summary is? Because it’s easier to summarize 30 minutes ofactual action than 45 minutes of robotically-delivered dialogue restating the premise in different accents.
Plot Point Ahoy!
Here we see how the status quo established by the first act is disrupted by a new influence, traditionally known as the first plot point. We’re gonna start with Cap’n America, first, because the other one is so stupid I’m going to want to spend some time on it.
Cap’n America: Friends Fight. Plot Point One:
After the death of 11 innocent students, the United Nations decides that there need to exist protocols (the “Sokovia Accords”) to establish where and under what circumstances the “enhanced” operatives like the Avengers can intervene on foreign soil. The US Secretary of State, General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross relays this to the Avengers, using disaster footage from their other blockbuster films to establish the tone as to why this is necessary. Tony Stark, who is beset with guilt and PTSD already, (and was earlier confronted by the surviving mother of one of the nameless faces killed in Sokovia) is in favor of the accords, while Cap’n Steve, having been lied to by one government committee after another refuses. Their stances are based on not only personal experience, but personal experience that we, the audience have been privy to, in previous movies.
“But James, in all those other movies, thousands and thousands of innocent people were killed, why, suddenly is the UN so concerned?”
Because in those other movies, either the victims were from the US (the Chitauri invasion in New York, the Hydra attack in Washington DC), or from a politically weak third-world country (Sokovia). In this film, those eleven people killed were Wakandan students on an outreach program, and Wakanda, being the world’s only dependable source of the super-metal Vibranium, has political clout.
So, the lines are drawn, and some of the Avengers sign the accords, and some do not. But hey, until something happens, it’s all academic, right?
Bat versus Soup: Plot Point One:
Bruce Wayne, paranoid about the influence of the godlike Superman upon world society, decides to get as much information as he can about “Meta-humans.” He successfully steals a boxy flash drive of this data from Lex Luthor, has it stolen from him by an incognito Wonder Woman, who then returns it later because the plot needs him to both meet Wonder Woman and get that data, and that’s the best they could do. While decrypting the data, in the Bat-computer in the Bat-cave, Bruce takes a Bat-nap.
During his paranoia-and-hacking-
“Bruce! Listen to me right now! It’s Lois! Lois Lane! She’s the key! Am I too soon!? I’m too soon! You were right about him! You were always right about him! Fear him! Fear him and find us. You have to come find us, Bruce!”
Oh, he was right about “him,” you say, mysterious ghost from the future? Always right about “him?” We should “fear him,” should we? Well good job not throwing in a proper noun, you blithering gibbon. Your warning is useless. You came on anunfathomably difficult journey through the storms of temporal causality, and had time for a few good sentences to get across a clear idea across to the man who needed the information. And you bumblef***ed coherence right down a badger hole.
Oh, then Bruce wakes up, again. So maybe this is meaningless BS, too.
“But James, if you knew anything about comics…”
“..you’d know that the Flash can travel through time…”
I’m serious, stop.
“…and the imagery in the Knightmare™ is reminiscent of Darkseid of Apokolips…”
Shut up, shut up, shut up. None of this s*** constitutes acceptable mechanics to advance the A-plot of a would-be summer blockbuster. “He had a precognitive dream” is acceptable when it’s Luke Skywalker, because he’s strong in the Force, whichbinds us all f***ing together, and lets him do s*** like that. When has Batman ever used the force? When has he ever had psychic visions? When has the Flash ever traveled through time into somebody’s dream, you a$$hole? Is Freddy Kreuger under that mask, now? This s*** makes no sense because it makes no sense, not because we aren’t looking hard enough. It’s just a grab bag of cool visuals devised to make dips***s feel smart for recognizing them, like a CGI “Where’s Waldo.”
“Oh, look, an omega, one of Darkseid’s symbols! Oh look, those must be Parademons!”
You spotted a thing you recognize, good job, nerd, you get a cookie. At no point does that constitute “a story.” Let’s move on.
Cap’n America: Friends Fight. Act Two:
Remember how I said the schism between the “pro-oversight” and “no-oversight” Avengers was all academic? Well, that’s because, until the “no-oversight” half of the team goes out and acts without proper authority (authority solely bestowed by the accords), there’s no need for the pro-oversight half of the team to interfere. Guess what happens next!
During a UN conference ratifying the accords, a terrorist bomb attack kills the keynote speaker, King T’chaka of Wakanda. Further complicating matters, it appears that the bomb was placed by the infamous “Winter Soldier,” making him both number one on world terror rankings, and Cap’n America’s best friend. That’s conflict.
Suddenly, there’s a worldwide manhunt for the Winter Soldier. International law enforcement is trying to bring him in “dead or alive” to to his exceptional lethality, and Captain America is trying to recover him alive (along with his partner the Falcon), both because they are pals, and because he senses a set-up. Meanwhile, King T’chaka’s son, King T’challa (otherwise known as the Black Panther) is seeking to execute him for his perceived act of regicide.
What follows is a three-way chase scene, as German anti-terrorist forces try and neutralize the Winter Soldier, while Cap and the Falcon try and help him escape (while keeping anyone from being killed). The Black Panther, meanwhile, intends to kill Winter outright, and ends up having to fight Cap and the Falcon, also. Eventually, The Winter soldier is captured, thanks to accorded Avenger War Machine showing up. Everybody is taken into custody, and The Falcon and Captain America’s gear is confiscated. Black Panther, presumably has diplomatic immunity.
With everybody taken to secure location, Buck Winter is put into a super-cube prison to await interrogation by a UN-appointed interrogator, while Tony tries to get Cap and the Falcon to retroactively sign the accords, and make their actions “above-board.”
Batman Versus Soup. Act Two:
Armed with his new, unaddressed, and unexplained “ability to dream the future,” Batman comes to a startling conclusion, that if there’s a 1% chance of Superman ever turning evil, he should be murdered right in the face, because otherwise, he could kill everyone on earth. Since Batman is known as being the most murdering hero ever, he’s taking the task on, himself. But first he needs the kryptonite that Lex Luthor is secretly smuggling into the United States.
Meanwhile, Clark Kent is ignoring all deadlines at his day job, in order to work on a story about Batman. Batman branded a human trafficker he captured, a brand that resulted in the trafficker being severely beaten in prison, where the brand of the bat is sometimes seen as a “death sentence.”
Why? Why would that be? Why would being captured by Batman be seen as shameful in the Gotham City criminal community? Wouldn’t a great many of them have been captured by Batman? Wouldn’t that brand be exceptionally common in Gotham city? Why does he brand them, anyway? Lee Falk’s “The Phantom” branded his foes with his skull ring, because it represented their “one chance.” It was a literal warning that they were marked for death, should they encounter the Phantom, again (because he would shoot them, dead, that second go-round). Harry Steeger’s “The Spider” would brand the foreheads (with a gizmo on his cigarette lighter) of enemies he had already killed, so that no one else would be blamed or charged for the killing. Why is Batman branding people again? Why does he brand a human trafficker, but kill the s*** out of dozens of smugglers bringing kryptonite into the city? If he’s gonna kill people, it seems like the slaver guy would rate as bad as the guys smugglingundocumented radioactive material.
Anyway, like I just mentioned, Batman is trying to capture the Kryptonite being smuggled into Gotham, and gets into a huge Batmobile chase with the smugglers. Using a forward-mounted dual 50-caliber belt-fed machine gun, he massacres the s*** out of dozens of goons. Just shears them in half with machine gun fire, blows them the f*** away. The nameless goons futilely try to stop him with their own guns, but fail to do more than slow the Batmobile down. Once it seems that Batman will certainly capture the deadly radioactive element, Superman swoops down and lets the Batmobile smash into his dick, allowing the surviving criminals to escape. He then rips the doors off the Batmobile, and tells Batman to stop being Batman. “Stop being Batman. Branding people is wrong. Never fight crime again. I’m gonna let you slide on the dozens of men you murdered a few blocks from here, but the branding I’m really upset about.” Then he flies away.
Why did he do this? If he thinks Batman is a criminal (which, s***, he just shot a dozen people to death), then why not pull him out of his death-tank, unmask him, throw his utility belt into orbit, and take him to the cops? Did he not notice that Batman was in the middle of a chase with guys who were firing rocket launchers all over Gotham’s poorer neighborhoods? is he deaf? Is he blind? Did he not fly over the burning wreckage of the cars Batman smashed and shot and blew up? Did he try to save any of those people who may have been still alive under the tons of burning metal Batman crushed them under? What the f*** is his motivation for doing this? Who is this a$$hole, and what did he do with Superman?
Meanwhile, Lex Luthor, who has already gained access to both the crashed Kryptonian spaceship and the body of General Zod, is petitioning Congresswoman Finch for some kind of f***ing military grant or some f***ing thing, to create an anti-Superman weapon, but despite supposed witnesses of Superman’s Desertstan assault showing up to her special hearings (“Everyone was burned!” No they weren’t, they were shot), she’s reluctant, probably because Lex Luthor gives every impression of being an oily human skin filled with sentient cockroaches.
So, Lex Luthor finds the guy that lost his legs in the collapse of the Wayne building, and butters him up with a free high-tech wheelchair to turn him into the face of the nameless victims of Super-people. Because if anything says villainy, it’s “exploiting the disabled.” Boo, Lex Luthor, boo!
So, we’re coming up on the second plot point, and the third act, and there’s obviously a couple similarities so far. Let’s examine the mastermind behind each villainous plot, and see what they’ve done so far, and why.
Bat versus Soup: Lex Luthor.
Well, we know already a bit about Lex’s personality. It’s awful. Abrasive, high-strung, and off-putting. Despite having a multi-billion dollar corporation at his back, and (supposedly?) a great scientific mind, he seems to repulse everyone around him, possibly intentionally. He invades personal space, he squeaks and twitches and generally acts like he’s on cocaine-infused helium. His plan is to use his great corporate and financial strength (that the plot has bestowed on him) to get access to Kryptonian technology, under the guise of creating anti-Superman failsafes for the U.S. Government. Then, use Batman’s great antipathy toward Superman, and knowledge of Superman’s secret identity to force a fatal confrontation between the two heroes. Under these circumstances, he will then capitalize on either Batman’s death at Superman’s hand, or vice-versa.Somehow.
Seriously, we, as the audience, are simply not privy to any of the key axes upon which Lex’s master plan rests. We are not shown
- How he learned Superman’s secret identity, and was thus able to kidnap Martha Kent
- How he knew that Batman had a grudge of any kind, against Superman, which could be exploited
- What his desired outcome is, other than cryptic gibberish about “the man killing the god, or the god kneeling to the man” or some such tripe.
Further, all of the tools needed for his ill-defined plan are placed there without any effort on his part. The Kryptonite is found by someone else, The Kryptonian technology is handed to him by the U.S. Government, and even his final stroke, the creation of the monster Doomsday, is happily performed by the Kryptonian spaceship, with little more than a prompt from the Kryptonian computer:
“Create monstrous, uncontrollable death-beast that is anathema to all Kryptonians, everywhere? Y/N?”
It’s a push-button scheme from beginning to end, and there’s no payoff.
Cap’n America: Friends Fight. Zemo.
I haven’t said anything about Zemo until now, because his presence in the first couple acts is understated, as he personally gathers the instruments required to enable his plan. Even his appearance is understated, a meek, doughy, mouse-colored man with a twelve-Euro haircut–ingratiating, polite, friendly. First, he searches out an aged, down-on-his-luck member of Hydra, hiding out in middle America. After recovering the codebook that enables command of the “Winter Soldier’s” programming from behind the wall of the man’s basement, Zemo tortures his victim for further information, relating to the events of that fateful day in 1991. When the man refuses (with a defiant “Hail Hydra!”), Zemo kills him, and is forced to undergo a plan which will result in more “unnecessary” bloodshed.
When we next see Zemo, he’s staying in a hotel in Germany, ordering room service, but not allowing the innkeeper to enter his room, for fear she would see the strange technological device hidden in the closet, or the corpse in the bathtub. Now, there are shortcuts in the narrative retelling of Zemo’s plan, to be sure, but “Where did he get the EMP device” and “How did he know where to find the old Hydra agent” are more reasonable things to gloss over than “How did Lex Luthor figure out Superman’s secret identity?” Besides that, for his masterplan, Zemo has both
- a concrete and explicitly expressed motive, and
- a concrete and explicitly expressed desired result
Neither of which requires the ability to instantly grow a Kryptonian supermonster with an hour’s notice.
Plot Point Ahoy!
Cap’n America: Friends Fight. Plot Point Two.
While everyone cools their heels in what I guess is a CIA stronghold, Tony Stark attempts a final time to get Cap to fall in line, RE: the accords (For political expediency, as much as ethical concerns, now that Cap is in clear and public violation of the nebulously-defined treaty). It’s working, until Tony lets it slip that Wanda Maximoff (The Scarlet Witch) is being kept under house arrest/protective custody at the Avenger’s compound. Cap sees this as a further indicator of overreach on Tony’s part, and they part on chilly terms. Returning to the office where his partner Sam and CIA liaison Sharon Carter are waiting, Cap watches the interrogation of Buck Winter via closed circuit TV. Sharon Carter, who is warm for Cap’s form (mutually) secretly allows them to hear the audio. The UN-appointed interrogator/psychologist turns out to be an incognito Zemo, who vamps his way through the warm up part of the interrogation, secretly waiting for his henchman to deliver the EMP device to the local power plant, throwing the stronghold into chaos as primary power is lost, just like on Star Trek.
Free from closed-circuit observation, Zemo uses the opportunity to use the code words to take command of Buck Winter, who uses his enhanced strength to escape his cube prison and work his way through the CIA complex, with an unequipped Cap, Falcon, Tony Stark, Black Widow, Sharon Carter, and King T’Challa in pursuit. Lotta moving parts there, huh? But it all works, because all of these players have different motivations: loyalty, duty, friendship, revenge. Since pretty much all of these various super-characters lack their various gizmos and gimmicks (Save for the escaping Winter Soldier’s bionic arm, and a trick watch/gauntlet Tony had on hand), we’re treated to a mostly straightforward display of fight choreography, parkour-style leaping about, and smashing of furniture. This is important, also–in an action movie, an audience can get quickly numbed by repetitive, redundant sequences. Cap’n America: Friends Fight largely dodges this problem, by varying the setting, scale, number of participants, and type of action sequence. Even though this is a chase sequence (like the previous), it fundamentally differs in a number of ways from the previous, notably that this “Winter soldier” is fully activated, and has no compunction about killing his opponents. We also get to see him fight a number of different main characters, (Sharon Carter, Tony and his watch/glove, Black widow, King T’Challa in his tennis shoes) each under-equipped but still determined to stop him. Eventually, Cap and Buck Winters topple off a helipad into a river, and the Falcon pursues Zemo out the front door (before losing him in the dispersing crowds). It’s a cracking scene, but it also performs an admirable narrative job, that of:
Adjusting the settings:
You see, this action sequence is the last one before the biggest, most blockbustery scene in the movie, the one where the sky is the literal limit, and every character is going to be fully equipped, joined by new allies, and prepared to use every weapon in their arsenal in order to achieve their goals. So this scene, in order to make that scene pop more, seem more bombastic and excelsior, was wisely reduced in overall spectacle. It’s not boring, mind you, the goal is not to be dull, it’s to reset the audience’s sense of scale. No flashy costumes, wild powers or candy-colored laser beams to be found, here; just leaping and punching, kicking and grappling, followed by a helicopter crash, an action beat that would constitute an exclamation point in a smaller scale movie, but here functions more as an ellipsis.
Bat versus Soup: Plot Point Two.
Having accomplished his goals of getting kryptonite (which is lethal to Kryptonians), getting access to crashed Kryptonian ship (to plunder technological wonders from), and getting the body of a dead Kryptonian (to experiment on), you’d think Lex would be all set with regard to destroying Superman and making the god kneel to the man or make the man kill the god or whatever.But instead, he waits for Superman to appear before Senator Holly Hunter’s “Is Superman Bad?” hearings, and sends his new pal, legless former Wayne employee guy to the hearings–with a bomb in his high-tech wheelchair. Ka-boom, I guess. Holly Hunter never gets to ask Superman a thing, Superman goes from “mildly perturbed” at having to talk to politicians to “mildly perturbed” at having dozens of humans explode into dust around him. It’s a terrible, pointless scene, both pointless for the audience, and pointless in regards to Lex’s plan, which includes space for “commit high treason randomly” but no space for any sort of intended result. Superman isn’t even blamed for it, in any way. It’s a big explosion because the Save the Cat film structure calls for an explosion at this time-code.
Nerd Talk: Why is this Superman such a dud, power-wise?
There’s a lot wrong with this movie, too much for even me to get into, but a recurring problem is that this is a Superman movie made by a group of people who have never experienced any version of Superman in any media. The responsible parties simplydon’t know a f***ing thing about him. I’m not talking about the kind of minutiae that nerds like me like to delve into, like “how many different kinds of Kryptonite are there” (seven) “which kind of Kryptonite can turn Superman gay” (pink, naturally). I’m talking about basic stuff like “faster than a speeding bullet.”
Because Superman actually has a ton of really impressive super-powers. It’s kind of his thing, he’s the baseline for a really powerful, unfairly powerful Super-character. Superman has a whole suite of powers that individually could make anyone a super-hero, but in this film is given access to only the most basic, obvious ones. Let’s examine. Superman in Bat versus Soup has:
- Flight (useful for saving Lois Lane from falling)
- Invulnerability (useful for taking a million punches)
- Super Strength (useful for dragging a capsized ice-ship for four seconds)
- Dream heat vision (useful for executing dudes in a dream sequence)
And that’s it. Here are some the powers a more iconic version of the character has, and the the things that he should have been doing with them throughout the film
- Super Speed (useful for dodging kryptonite gas bullets that can instantly rob you of your powers)
- Super-senses (useful for detecting nearby hidden bombs by the smell of the explosive, or sound of the electronic relays activating, or tracking down the gang of normal humans who have kidnapped your mother)
- X-ray vision (useful for figuring out what parts of Batman’s equipment are stocked with Kryptonite, and thus suitable for welding to his dumb armor with heat vision, so they cannot be used against you)
- Hurricane-force breath weapon (useful for dispersing Kryptonite gas attacks before they can reach or affect you)
- Actual heat vision (useful for destroying anything dangerous-looking that Batman holds in his hand, pulls from a pouch, or deploys from a Wayne Enterprises shipping crate)
Isn’t that funny? How all of the abilities that seem to be missing from Superman’s normal power set are the ones that would make a mockery of everything about this movie? This isn’t Batman v. Superman, it’s Robo-Bat versus the flying punching bag.
Holy Crap it’s the Third Act
So here we are, the final act, where ideally all the loose ends come together, and all the payoffs are direct results of elements introduced earlier (right?). Conflicts come to a head (and are then resolved), and narrative catharsis is achieved. Or it just runs until the godd***ed wheels fall off the wagon and the audience is dumped unceremoniously into the daylight, with an exhaustion migraine.
Bat versus Soup: Act Three, part One
It’s time for Superman and Batman to fight, right? What’s going to bring them into conflict, though? The bomb that took out Congress wasn’t blamed on Superman even for a second, and the secret files that Bruce Wayne stole from Lex Luthor only contain grainy Youtube footage of superheroes that otherwise do not appear in or affect this film. Batman had the Knightmare™, he stole the Kryptonite, he made the gas bullets and the special gun, put on the bulky Bat-armor, and he’s now standing by the Bat-signal, waiting for Superman to come fight him. “I brought all my cool crap, I’m ready to kick your ass, Super-loser” he says to the f***ing empty sky. Couldn’t you be doing something else, right now, Bruce? Like avenging your parents or fighting crime? You really just wrote in your planner “stand by Bat-signal until Superman comes to fight you.”
Lex, meanwhile, has kidnapped Lois Lane, who has found evidence that Lex Luthor was responsible for the massacre in Desertstan. What’s the evidence? A bullet that embedded itself in her purse.
“So? Lotsa guns shoot bullets, what does that prove?”
Good question, Damon. You see, this bullet wasn’t just a regular bullet, it was a special secret Lexcorp bullet supplied solely to Lex’s military contractors.
“Oh, so it was, like a special bullet, somehow? Like, it was armor piercing, or heat-seeking or something?”
Nope. Just a unique design for clandestine military operations.
“Wait, it was designed to be uniquely identifiable–to be used for military operations that you want to keep secret?”
Very astute question, Damon. Yes. In order to make their covert black-ops squads less traceable, the government commissioned bullets that are only available to, and in circulation amongst, those covert squads. It’s like, if you’re gonna stab someone to death, instead of stabbing them with a ten-dollar chinese dagger you bought at the flea market, stab them with the 16th-century basket-hilted rapier used by duelist Almeria Braddock you bought at a Sotheby’s auction, last year. The weapon’s rarity should make it that much harder to trace, right?
Yes Damon, it is. Anyway, Lex kidnaps Lois Lane to lure Superman into the open, and drops her off a high building because that happened in the 1978 Superman movie, and people remember that, so in it goes. Superman shows up and catches Lois, and I confess, even though he rescues her in the nick of time three times in the film, no indication is given as to how, exactly he knows how and where she is, and what manner of peril she’s in. At the end of this act, she taps on a piece of concrete while drowning, and he hears it from very far away, but I can’t imagine how, because he shows no indication of having any super-senses at any other time in the film. Hell, he rescues Lois from kidnappers on a different continent in act one, but somehow has no means of finding his Mom somewhere in Gothamtropolis in act three. There’s no consistency, no internal logic, it’s all gibberish.
Batman continues staring at the night sky, checking and rechecking his grappling hooks and guns and retractable Kryptonite spear. “Any minute now…any…minute…now. Ready to fight. I’m ready.”
There’s an incomprehensible scene where Lex lays out his plan for Superman, which is nonsense, just the blithering of a thirteen year old who just got into the Smiths and Nietzsche. “The god will kill…the man…or the man…will kill…the god…who kneels to…the man, or something, anyway go kill Batman, or I’ll have your mom set on fire. He’s been waiting by the Bat signal for like 40 minutes.”
Superman flies off toward the signal. He has no plan. He doesn’t begin searching for his mother. He makes no attempt to contact anyone, he makes no sincere attempt to talk to Batman, nor does he make any attempt to disable Batman’s equipment, or avoid his traps, or anything. He simply trudges toward his “foe,” letting Batman’s various booby traps spring out of obviously positioned crates (I’m surprised, actually, that the crates didn’t say “Wayne Enterprises” on them) and target him with missiles and sonic blasts and plain ol’ bullets. “This is what you came to see, sigh” says the world’s most powerful jobber, as he engages in the most tedious and redundant bout of super-pugilism ever recorded on film, between two blurry CGI cartoon figures in a dark, deserted alley made up of spare PS3 polygons and cloned digital flames. They exchange punches, in a mechanical, orderly way, like, they basically take turns swinging haymakers at each other, which always connect. Nobody dodges. Nobody uses any tricky maneuvers. Nobody engages any non-Kryptonite-related strategies. Batman successfully depletes superman’s powers with Kryptonite gas, and punches him long enough for his powers to return, and then successfully uses the kryptonite gas again. Superman shows no sign of comprehension as to why it happens, and makes no attempt to stop it from happening, and soon, Superman lies on the ground with batman’s kryptonite spear pointed at his chest “this is what…you came to see…gasp” he says. The ref bangs the canvas twice BUT WAIT
Superman asks Batman to save “Martha,” his mom. And since Batman’s mom was also named Martha, it sends Batman into a robo-feedback loop of grunting and waving his arms around “That naaaammmeeee! Why did you saaaay thaaaat naaameee!”Lois Lane arrives and explains who “Martha” is, and Batman races off to find Martha, which he does in a few minutes time, beating up the kidnappers in a really solid human-on-humans choreographed stuntman-filled fight scene that would have been absolutely incredible had it not come at the two-hour mark of a relentless clockwork explosion parade. Martha is saved.
Meanwhile, Lex Luthor has dragged General Zod’s body into the Kryptonian ship, left it floating in a mysterious soup of magical techno-fluids, and asked the Kryptonian computer nicely to bring the corpse back to life as a monster. “Sure thing, rando non-Kryptonian! This is a perfectly reasonable thing to happen, and in no way represents a weak, Diabolus ex Machina-style twist! It takes five minutes for a Kryptonian corpse to be turned into a living indestructible murder-machine, but it’s bone spikes may not grow in for another five minutes.” “Perfect,” says Lex, “that’s just enough time for Superman to arrive. Good thing randomly growing super-monsters was part of my plan from the first act, even though there’s no way I could have known about this possibility prior to this scene, and I never mentioned it, and how did I know Batman was going to fail at killing Superman, andwhat the night of the living f*** is my desired result, anyway?”
Cap’n America: Friends Fight. Act Three, part One.
Cap’n America, the Falcon, and Buck Winter are at a secure location, wherein Bucky has regained his non-murder personality. He reveals that Zemo asked him for information only his programmed assassin personality has, namely the location of the base he was kept and deployed from, where five other, previously unknown “Winter Soldiers” are stored. “They can take down a country in one day,” says Bucky, hyperbolically.
“Wait, so Zemo took command of the Winter Soldier just to find out where these other Winter soldiers were kept?”
Yes and no. There’s something else at the facility he wants, actually, but as far as Zemo’s plan is concerned, Buck Winter’s importance is largely finished. The group needs to get to Siberia, where five other “Winter Soldiers” are stored. Zemo is already on his way, having left evidence at his hotel room that implicates him in both the UN bombing and the murder of the actual UN interrogator he impersonated. Despite this new evidence coming to light, the diplomatic quagmire created by Bucky’s escape, and Cap and Falcon’s continued operation outside the new protocols forces Iron Man to agree to bring in the rogue group in 36 hours. Both Avenger’s factions find time during this urgent international crisis to bring in some additional allies.
“Isn’t that the opposite of urgency, since both teams are working against the clock?”
Good eye, Damon, yes. Especially since both teams need to bring allies over from the States. On the up-side, it creates somenarrative urgency, because when the big face-off happens, 24 of Tony’s 36 hours are already spent. In any case, we get a couple good scenes here, that f*** up the pacing more than I would like, but I’m not sure I see the solution. in one, Hawkeye, breaks into Avengers compound to free the Scarlet Witch from her android babysitter, although she’s the one that incapacitates the Vision, using her nebulously-defined telekinetic powers to activate his density-control abilities, sending him plummeting towards the earth’s core.
In another scene, Tony Stark travels to Queens to recruit Spider-Man from his sexy aunt’s apartment. I’m a little bugged that Spider-Man’s secret identity is already knackered in the MCU, but I guess the theme of the zeitgeist is that “billionaires have access to anything they want to know about you.” It’s a chatty, comedic set piece that allows for lots of banter between the glib Tony Stark and the canny, stalwart Peter Parker, and it works perfectly, except for its awkward placement late in the narrative.
Cap, the Falcon, and Buck Winter rendezvous with Cap’s sexy CIA liaison, Sharon Carter, who breaks international law by returning their equipment to them. She then goes on the run, since her job requires her to not aid fugitives from justice. Finally, Cap’s group meets up with Hawkeye, the Scarlet witch, and a jet-lagged Ant-Man, just in time for the airport to be evacuated. OH NO THEY FOUND US
What follows is a huge, absurdist comic-book-style fracas, in which Tony and his Avengers attempt to bring down Cap and hisAvengers, recover Buck Winter and defuse escalating international tension, while Cap’s team is trying to get to Siberia and stop whatever nefarious scheme Zemo has planned using the five cold-stored super-assassins. Everybody’s motivations are pretty clear, and the lengthy fight sequence never becomes mired in tedium.
Nerd Talk: Why does this fight scene come off so well?
Lots of reasons. Let’s talk about a few, and then break them down into even more granular reasons.
- Visuals. Seriously, this is a big one. Everything in Bat versus Soup is a either a muted blue or a dingy, amber color, and all the action sequences take place at night in smoky, smoggy environments devised to (and failing to) obscure and hide how cheap and fake the action looks. Conversely, Cap’n America: Friends Fight has much of its action, including this scene, take place in bright, crystal-clear daylight, to show off the effects, not hide them.
- We give a s*** about these characters. It’s perhaps an unfair advantage that so many of these characters have had so much screen time over the past decade, and so much opportunity to become sympathetic to audiences, but I will point out that that’s solely the result of good films being made in a way that people reacted to them. It’s what you want, to get the audience engaged–you’re not entitled to it, which is largely how the producers of Bat versus Soup seem to view the creator/audience relationship.
- Tonal variation. One of the most tragic events in the film happens in this scene, and one of the funniest, and one of the most shocking. There are jokes, huge reveals, characters doing heel/face turns, surprise entrances, it hits all the different notes you could want in an action movie. Comedy, Pathos, Drama, Laser explosions. Bat versus Soup has one setting: bleak.
- Diversity of action. Of all the things you could learn, with regards to developing an comic-book action sequence, this is by far the most important. There are roughly fifty-four characters in this ensemble cast, each with superhuman powers, high-technology weapons and devices, and cleverness of gimmick and ability. Each of them gets a moment, or two, or three in which they demonstrate their strengths (or fall victim to their weaknesses) in a diverse array of engaging narrative beats. The characters shrink, fly, swing on webs, grapple, pass through walls, hurl weapons, become enormous, and fire a dizzying barrageof beams bolts and missiles at each other. They chase, hide, confront and escape. they fight reluctantly, enthusiastically, zealously. They taunt, bluff and compliment each other.
It’s a brilliant action sequence, a glorious success by almost any metric you could judge it by. In the end, Buck Winter and Cap escape, War Machine is shot out of the sky via friendly fire, and Cap’s gang of rowdies is rounded up and taken to super-prison.
Bat versus Soup: Act Three, Final Part
The monster Doomsday is freed. It looks both stupid and cheap, bares no resemblence to the creature from the comics, either in abilities or aesthetics, and is distractingly pantsless and genital-less. With the whole “save Martha” being thing taken care of, Superman has nothing to worry about, and can concentrate solely on fighting the weirdly crotchless blurry grey cave troll that Doomsday is being portrayed by. OH NO WAIT NO HE CAN’T
Because Lois Lane, having unraveled the whole “Lex Luthor gave special bullets to secret commandoes to frame Superman for shooting a bunch of brown guys in Africa” plotline, is now busy doing incomprehensibly stupid and pointless s*** that manages to endanger her life, despite her being miles from the dangerous laser explosions that are collapsing the 33 percent of Metrogothamus not destroyed in the first act flashback. Seriously, it’s the third act, the climax is underway, and the director has decided to baffle the s**** out of anyone not yet mentally deadened by all the other stupid s*** that’s happened in the film’s first fourteen hours. Left alone in a dark, crumbling island prison, Lois Lane is left with the glowing green spear that seconds earlier, Batman was going to stab a man to death with. WHAT DO I DO WITH IT.
It’s actually my favorite sequence in the whole film. It perfectly sums up everything about the film’s characterization of these iconic characters as being aggressively stupid, and motivated solely by a drunken PA shouting inscrutable stage directions from just off-camera. “Pick up the spear, right? Then, just stare at it…maybe…throw it somewhere. PUT IT IN A BIN. Or hide it…in the trunk of your…car…car. Put it in your purse, I dunno!”
Now, she knows nothing about this spear, other than it can apparently kill or weaken Superman, she hasn’t been doing research on it, or anything. But she picks up the spear, and wanders around the rubble of the nondescript building Superman and Batman punched each other through, I guess looking to hide it? So she finds a little pool of water, about 10 feet deep, who knows what it was even supposed to be, and she drops it in. “There. No one will find it there. Sealed away forever.”
Like, she drops it in like the old lady in Titanic dropping Le Cœur de la Mer into the f***ing ocean. But, it’s…it’s just a little pool. What did she hope to accomplish? WHY DID SHE DO THAT
Meanwhile, A bunch of lasers and explosions are happening. Batman, having saved “Martha,” is trying to figure out how to beat Doomsday, who is a monster from Kryptonian legend, as explained by Lex Luthor…to Superman. In a conversationBatman was not privy to.
Nevertheless, Batman goes “The monster is Kryptonian, I’ll need that kryptonite spear I made, rather than making a few hundred armor-piercing kryptonite bullets. I’ll have to lead the monster back toward where I left it.”
Meanwhile, Lois Lane, who is nowhere near anybody at this point suddenly realizes, for no reason, that they’ll need that spear to defeat the monster, Doomsday, which she has no idea exists, and has no idea is Kryptonian. So she goes back to the little pool where she dropped the spear, which is super easy to find because the f***ing thing glows like a dozen lightsticks and the water makes the green light bounce all over. She climbs down the stairs that lead into this pool, whatever the f*** it is, and bumblef***s around for way, way longer than it should take anyone to retrieve a four-foot metal object from the bottom of aperfectly clear 10 foot deep pool.
Naturally, Batman has led the monster back to this spot, and an errant energy blast collapses a bunch of rubble on this dingy broad, and now she’s gonna drown in this stupid f***ing puddle, but she taps out a distress call to Superman (In morse code? I Guess? I Assume? Otherwise he just went “That’s Lois’ tap, I’d know it anywhere!”), who comes and rescues her, then goes into the water to get the spear, which promptly causes him to fall unconscious and now this dips*** is drowning and she’s gotta pull his dumb ass out.
Two of the main characters, in a movie filled with superweapons, genetic monsters, alien technology, paramilitary gunrunnersand so forth almost die drowning in an inexplicable shoebox of water. It’s gloriously, ascendantly stupid.
Anyway, once the spear is recovered, Batman and Superman finally team up to fight the spike-bristling Doomsday. Since no one was available who was both strong enough and skilled enough to fight Doomsday one-on-one, using an archaic melee weapon, Superman is forced to wield the radioactive spear against the monster, even as it poisons him. He and the lumpen grey ogre collapse together, suffused in the poisonous glow. SUCH NOBLE SACRIFICE.
…oh, and Wonder Woman was there, too. She actually fights Doomsday one-on-one for a bit, using only her great strength, amazonian skill and archaic melee weapons, basically fighting Doomsday to a standstill while the WAIT A MINUTE HEY SHUT UP.
So Superman dies, and Wonder Woman and Batman agree to create a league of heroes to rescue each other’s mothers whenever a businessman kidnaps one. Just before the credits roll, we see the dirt atop Superman’s casket shift, meaning the consequences of Superman’s pointless noble sacrifice lasted about three minutes. THE END.
Nerd Talk: Why didn’t this fight work?
A lot of reasons. Superman’s severely curtailed power set, combined with the lack of power diversity across the involved characters, muddy visuals, and a lack of attention to anything approaching fight choreography mean that we essentially have four dusty bown pinballs rattling around in a dirty bucket, bouncing off each other. Everyone just leaps at each other, smashing together in artless visual noise. The one character who has a non mud-colored power is Doomsday, who inexplicably has nebulous prismatic energy bubble powers, which he uses mainly to destroy those crumbly, weightless CGI buildings that Gothamtropolis is made of.
“Well, I guess we can at least look forward to some more diverse action in the Justice League movie, right?”
No, of course not, Damon. Because there’s no one in the Justice League cast that brings anything to the table not already available in this movie. Superman has super speed, but he still ends up taking punches from guys who didn’t leave their parents on Krypton. He took a bunch of punches, and got shot with plain ol’ guns, actually, because the plot called for it. You think the Flash is gonna somehow be the real super-fast guy, and bypass this kind of bad storytelling? He won’t. Cyborg is just a living utility belt, and Aquaman is a sexy hunk with an archaic melee weapon. Everything in that movie has been previewed here. Just more muddy pinballs to toss into the bucket, and shake it up harder.
Tony Stark failed to bring in Cap, or Buck Winter, and is feeling the heat from his government handler, Secretary of State General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross. The legitimacy of the Sokovia Accords is at stake, and Stark has to bring the situation to a satisfactory close. In a hail mary play, he uses his technological know-how to shut down the government’s eavesdropping devices, and surreptitiously interviews Cap’s pal The Falcon, in the hopes of preventing further international incidents. The Falcon reveals where Cap and Buck Winter have gone (Siberia, where the other Winter Soldiers are kept), and he heads out in pursuit, himself tailed by the vengeance-seeking Black Panther.
Nerd Talk: The Black Panther
As far as wild cards go, Black Panther is an example of what such a character is supposed to do. He’s introduced early, and is given parallel motivations to each of the main characters. He wants to capture Buck Winter, out of misinformed vengeance, so he’s kinda working toward the same goal as Tony’s Iron Man, who wants to capture Buck winter solely out of political expediency. Same goal, different motivations. But as new details come to light, T’Challa’s motivations and goals change. He wants vengeance, but as he realizes that his target is innocent, and the situation is more complex than he realized, he works instead toward coming to something resembling justice. Tony, meanwhile, is working solely toward the politically expedient goal, until he gets hit with the need for senseless vengeance. By intertwining the character motivations in this manner, you get a greater sense of what drives these characters, and how much their methods may differ, but their goals are largely the same. Compared to Bat Versus Soup’s wildcard, the glossy, starched Wonder Woman, the Black Panther somehow manages to get more clarity of purpose with a fraction of the screen time.
Zemo, a Sokovian national whose family was killed during the Ultron attack, views the Avengers as responsible for their deaths (Fair, since Ultron was created by the Avengers, specifically Stark and Banner). Using the historical perspective of his home nation’s downfall due to internal corruption, he set’s out to make the Avenger’s destroy themselves from within, reasoning that their empire (as he sees it) can never recover from that kind of internal disintegration. He then shows the group video footage of James “Bucky” Barnes, the Winter Soldier, killing Tony Stark’s parents, back in 1991, to acquire the five doses of Super soldier serum used to create the five (now deceased) Winter Soldiers held in this fortress.
It’s at this point where bringing Buck Winter to justice becomes, for Iron Man, less an issue of international relations, and more an issue of “he killed my mom.” Cap and Buck defend themselves from the high-tech onslaught, whittling down Iron Man’s offensive and defensive capabilities little by little, as Tony, largely blinded by rage, pulls out all the stops in trying to kill Barnes. It’s a good fight, rangey, works in three dimensions (Barnes at one point tries to flee up a missile silo, only to have Tony use the force to bring down the firing hatch at the last instant with a perfectly-aimed rocket (a more subtle Star Wars reference than the earlier one where Spider-Man used his webs to trip Giant-Man AT-AT style) and asymmetrically (Cap and Bucky are overmatched by Tony, but are both on their game and used to fighting above their weight. Tony, by contrast, is largely a tantruming toff, who is using his sophisticated wearable jet as a crude bludgeoning instrument). It goes on a bit too long, and the only interlude is Black Panther confronting Zemo, who confesses his whole plan, apologizes for the death of T’Challa’s father, and attempts suicide. T’challa disarms and captures the smug Zemo, who seems to have completed his work handily.
Anyway, Cap and Bucky defeat Tony, who petulantly demands Cap return the shield his father made. Cap and Bucky escape with T’Challa, Zemo is put into custody, the locked-up rebel Avengers are freed by Captain America, and Buck Winters is put back on ice in T’Challa’s home nation of Wakanda, in hopes of eventually deleting his programming. THE END
- There’s no substitute for a coherent script
- Where the script is weak, the characterizations must be strong enough to carry it
- If it’s dark, it’s to hide bad CGI
- If the superhero forgets about a bunch of his powers, it’s to hide bad plotting
- An author must comprehend the source material before he can subvert it