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In writing and directing The Avengers, Joss Whedon’s most notable achievement was to illustrate that no matter how outwardly bizarre the premise of a film or its protagonists, when angry, green men and hammer yielding Norse deities are used as vehicles to present relatable character arcs and show human vulnerability an audience will willingly digest anything no matter how seemingly mad the trappings. It’s the same reason that Nolan’s Batman trilogy was so well received. A strong protagonist who faces external adversity which usually reflects an inner struggle. People want to watch that.
People didn’t want to watch the latest Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer. I didn’t want to watch it either, at least not for a second time. For lack of a more nuanced sentiment, that made me really sad. Trailer releases and their reception are all part of the hype machine where studios get free marketing because masses of fans will repeatedly share links to their favourite trailers like eager rats spreading disease upon a pirate ship or like diseased pirates sharing tales of pillage and plunder. I see nothing wrong with that, it helps act as a barometer which lets everyone know, for instance, that Star Wars: the Force Awakens is going to tear box office records to absolute ribbons and make more money than the Irish government are currently putting into public services. Depressing and exciting in equal measure.
The Batman v Superman trailer gives us a look at a few different characters in more detail, the most striking of which is probably that of Jesse Eisenburg as Lex Luthor. Luthor has always been a notoriously hard character to get right. Half eccentric mad scientist, half slick business mogul, a lot of writers, actors, and filmmakers miss the mark when it comes to reconciling these two seemingly disparate personality quirks in their portrayal of the arch-fiend. I can’t help shake the feeling that when it came to casting Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman, Jesse Eisenburg’s role in The Social Network was still fresh in the mind, and that a large part of the decision to give him the role was based on the evidence that he can pull off the tech-genius, entrepreneur-asshole type pretty well. No doubt there’s a hope that those associations will be carried over into the minds of the viewer when they see him as Lex Luthor allowing Eisenburg to focus on using his hands and elbows to wildly gesticulate his way through scenes. He certainly seems to have embraced eccentricity for the role and it doesn’t look like he’s going to underplay it but this is hardly surprising; Zack Snyder is not known for his sense of restraint.
This sentiment forms the main crux of my concern. Up until the release of this new Batman V Superman trailer I think many of us had forgotten that Snyder was attached to the film. Up until that point those in charge of crafting the trailers seemed to maintain that there should be some level of suspense and mystery surrounding the characters and plot but that direction was clearly taken out back, beaten mercilessly and rammed violently into a waste paper basket where it was left to slowly die. We all now know how the story will go. Batman and Superman will have a bit of a disagreement but ultimately come together to stop Doomsday from tearing up Metropolis like Superman did at the end of Man of Steel. By the end of it they’ll even be cracking jokes together. Hilarious.
Man of Steel wasn’t all bad. Snyder’s particular brand of grandiose violence probably did Superman, a character renown and largely disliked for his squeaky clean morality, a world of good and catered to an audience who want super-people to frown all the time. Pitting Superman against Batman probably seemed like a masterstroke especially when Marvel films were being criticised for their one dimensional villains which seemed to pop up during each film and be subsequently beaten down again before the credits. Rather than having to pit protagonists against bad-guys who were largely cobbled together through CGI, celebrity, disused cardboard, and PVA glue studios have come to the realisation that they can cut out that crap and let the heroes punch each other continuously for two and half hours and not only will audience’s not mind them doing that they will actually actively encourage that type of morally ambiguous hooliganism. It’s what two thirds of The Avengers was about anyway. The first trailer for Captain America: Civil War was released recently and everyone’s in a right kerfuffle about it. In my favourite part Captain America appears to be fighting a helicopter. There’s also a heart rending scene where Iron Man and Captain America tell each other they’re not friends anymore which had the internet swimming through an Amazon basin full of sweet and salty man tears. Poor Tony :’(
But Batman v Superman is aware of all of this right? Sure it is. Up until the point where a nameless, faceless monster constructed from the rotting flesh of Michael Shannon’s decomposing (and decidedly pale) body jauntily skids into shot and spews laser-vison from its eyes, mouth, ears, and nose like some overly zealous anthropomorphic steam-train, neatly folding away whatever paper thin logic was used to support the tenuous rivalry between Batman and Superman. Everyone suddenly cops on and is like “Janey we should probably stop dicking around and take care of that.” Even Wonder Woman shows up and is like “Yeah cop on lads.”
Much as I complain I will inevitably pay money to see Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I know for a fact many other people will also do the same. Michael Bay is still making films like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles which don’t so much use borderline racist stereotypes to fluff out characters as they use racist stereotypes to fluff out characters. People will pay money to see crazy and stupidly bad things. I just hope Batman v Superman isn’t one of those crazy and stupidly bad things.