So, with Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America Civil War now officially In the world’s collective rear-view mirror, it seems as good as time as any for me to go right ahead and bitch about just how much of a disappointment BvS was when I put it up against Civil War.
Because, y’know, I’m surely the first person who’s doing this.
By Sam Jones
However, I’m not gonna tackle this one in broad terms (mainly because this rambling would never end if I did), but rather I’m gonna zero in on what really separates Batman vs Superman and Civil War: tone. Or to be more accurate, a misunderstanding of tone.
You see, Batman vs. Superman is dark in its tone. So dark. Pitch black in fact. Or at least, it intends to be, but in watching the film, for as dour, grim, and joyless as it is, I wouldn’t call it dark. Goofy, absurd, and extremely misguided are all words I would use, but not dark. Because the kind of “dark” director Zack Snyder believes to be a dark tone could not be further from what it actually is. Based on what I’ve heard from the guy in interviews, and his ideas and take on Superman as a character, ol’ Zack seems to think that something’s “dark” if it has a lot of shocking, gruesome, or just otherwise abhorrent stuff going on- like for example, Zack saying that he would have his version of Batman prison-raped (I’m not kidding, go ahead, Google that), or trying to justify his vision of Supes by using the ridiculous analogy of saving a cat out of a tree resulting in it having thousands of cat babies (again, not kidding). It would seem to me that by Snyder’s standards, “dark” is all encapsulated in action, and action alone (and how appropriate that is in relation to his previous work), as opposed to any kind of context or ideas underpinning it. He plays at his films having some kind of higher meaning, but when you actually look at what happens, it just doesn’t hold up: Seriously, after all of Lex Luthor’s ridiculous faux-philosophical rambling nonsense and lofty-sounding dialogue, did anyone glean any kind of greater understanding about him? Who he was, what he stood for? Why he was doing any of the stuff he was doing? Because he hates God? He hates his dad?And this relates to Superman…how exactly? Because Snyder insists on doing Jesus-allegory shit with Superman? My point is, this isn’t “dark” in the good sense of that tone: it’s playing at being “dark”. Its pretending like it has something to say more than it does, and has the audacity to greet the very things that offered it the capacity to do so with pure contempt, namely the characters upon which the whole thing was being sold: Batman and Superman. Snyder seems to have a particular distaste for Superman, whom he has painted as some kind of bizarre, half-assed take off of Watchmen’s Dr.Manhattan as some kind of emotionally crippled demi-god who can no longer find his humanity. Except we’re still supposed to like Superman in spite of him being an aloof, mildly arrogant asshat who only barely cares about us. Oopsy-daisy.
Thing is though, one of the most basic rules of writing as it pertains to any kind of action is that it should always be justified in the context of the narrative: if shit’s gonna go down, there’s gotta be a reason for it, otherwise its meaningless. Same goes for tone really: its what’s causing the action that dictates the tone, not the action itself. Quentin Tarentino’s films are loaded to the nines with ridiculous over-the-top violence, but its not “dark” because the intent behind it and the reason for its existence are not inherently grave, grim, or serious in nature: for Tarentino, it exists as a celebration of absurd filmic violence; he just loves to revel in nonsensical amounts of gore, and as a result, instead of it being gruesome and shocking, the absurdity of its very existence turns it into goofy, pulpy fun.
You might be wondering where I’m going with this. Well, here it is: Civil War is probably one of the darkest Marvel movies yet. Its probably also one of the funniest too. It achieves this because the things that motivate its action, and drives its plot are actually kinda serious stuff. I mean think about it: the whole plot of Civil War kicks off in earnest because Scarlett Witch accidentally kills a whole bunch of people while the Avengers are out Avenging, because heroes are meant to protect innocent people, not murder them en masse (paging Mr.Snyder…). We have a whole scene in the movie dedicated to addressing the geo-political ramifications and consequences of an extremely powerful independent organisation operating in civilian zones with zero oversight and accountability. On top of that, we have the whole “civil war” aspect of this movie functioning as a pretty grim metaphor for a family falling out and splintering over something contentious. There’s also a water boarding torture scene. Yeah, that happens. Thing is, if Civil War didn’t inject itself in all the right places with some levity and fun, it would probably collapse under the weight of its own grim proceedings, and become is dour and draining as BvS. In spite of itself, Civil War is still fun and a blast to watch while still taking itself seriously enough to be taken seriously.
My point being is that Zack Snyder, as a creator, doesn’t seem to understand that darkness doesn’t have to be joyless: that in order for us to take the man dressed up like a bat and the superhuman wearing a blue body condom seriously, they need to be presented with absolutely no sense of humor and zero awareness of themselves. The problem being that when you’re so dedicated to being that dire with concepts that are, at their base, so outlandish is that it causes a complete disconnect in an audience with the characters they’re seeing and what situations they are asked to take them seriously in. Like for example, a man turning up to Congressional hearing in a blue onesie and cape. And unlike seven-year-old me, he doesn’t have the excuse of being a dumb kid.