What Ruined The Mummy? Bad Decisions

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Nearly every decision made regarding Alex Kurtzman’s THE MUMMY was the result of bad decisions, mostly on the part of executives. And those bad decisions are Legion, for they are many.

1. MAKING A MUMMY MOVIE

You can actually reverse-engineer the decision disturbingly easily.

EXEC 1: We want to make a shared continuity universe like Marvel has, because those make money. Let’s use our old-school monsters. Who’s our most popular one?

EXEC 2: Dracula!

EXEC 1: Yeah! But nobody liked DRACULA UNTOLD (2014), and we jumped the gun on making that our shared continuity movie.

EXEC 2: Frankenstein!

EXEC 1: But other companies made I, FRANKENSTEIN (2014) and VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN (2015), and nobody liked those.

EXEC 2: Ummm… The Wolfman?

EXEC 1: WOLFMAN (2010). Nobody liked that either.

EXEC 2: Creature from the Black Lagoon? Invisible Man?

EXEC 1: Too small.

EXEC 2: The Mummy?

EXEC 1: Yeah! We could blow around sandstorms, destroy cities, and do all kinds of crazy stuff!

EXEC 3, who has been silent all this time: But won’t audiences just compare that with the popular MUMMY 1999 franchise?

EXEC 1: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPE!

Spoilers: EVERYONE has done that, and THE MUMMY hasn’t looked good because of it.

There’s nothing wrong on paper with making a Mummy movie, but in the age of reboots, you have to be especially careful about audience burnout and the optics of sullying a fan favorite. THE MUMMY (1999) IS a fan favorite, and if Universal doesn’t have enough evidence of this from its box office success and continued DVD sales, it certainly does from the fact that The Mummy is STILL a major ride at their theme parks.

It’s not been that long since THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR (2008), which came out 7 years following THE MUMMY RETURNS (2001). Audiences had plenty of reason to wonder if MUMMY (2017) was a sequel or reboot or wonder why Brendan Fraser didn’t return.

2. MAKING THIS AN ACTION MOVIE

Regardless of my love for the action-horror genre and my unpopular opinion that MUMMY (2017)’s horror scenes were among the few things it got right, horror is enjoying a renaissance, with movies like GET OUT (2017), IT FOLLOWS (2015), THE CONJURING SERIES, and THE PURGE SERIES showing how very much is possible within it. Universal’s “Dark Universe” could’ve truly stood out if only it’d fully committed to its horror. While its original movies were horror-dramas, they eventually evolved into action-horror movies. That gave audiences plenty of time to fall in love with the characters to care about their slugfests. Audiences today are clambering for the next big, exciting horror movie. There’s no reason why Universal couldn’t have started with a mid-budgeted horror movie and worked its way up from there.

By that same token, the UNDERWORLD and RESIDENT EVIL movie franchises have demonstrated that with a mid-level budget, you can make exciting movies that are consistently both action & horror without betraying either. THE MUMMY (2017) was initially slated to be directed by Len Wiseman of UNDERWORLD fame, and probably would’ve been a more appropriate movie for that.

3. FORCING THE SHARED CONTINUITY

I’m all for Universal’s “Dark Universe” of classic monsters. I love gothic horror, and I believe that there’s a place for it in a modern setting. By the same token, I respect anyone who has “shared universe burnout,” especially when MUMMY (2017) shits the bed with it.

IRON MAN (2008), only establishes its shared continuity status in its post-credits scene with Nick Fury, which is nothing more than, “We’d like to put more superheroes together. Whaddya think?” In THE MUMMY, Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll commandeers the movie with his monster-hunting organization, Prodigium. It effectively becomes HIS movie, undercutting whatever interest you probably hadn’t been building for Tom Cruise’s Nick, Annabelle Wallis’ Jenny, or Sofia Boutella’s Ahmanet. Nearly the entire second act takes place in Prodigium’s headquarters, where you’re treated to shots of a vampire and werewolf skull, the Creature from the Black Lagoon’s arm, THE MUMMY (1999)’s book of the dead, and Dr. Jekyll’s transformation into Mr. Hyde. It’d feel random as hell if those scenes –Nick’s heart to heart with Jenny, Ahmanet’s schemes in captivity, and Mr. Hyde’s Hulk-inspired fight- weren’t lifted directly from THE AVENGERS (2012).

These scenes work for monster nerds like me, but for everyone else, they feel like a marketing plan. “This is how we plan to make billions of dollars. We don’t care if the story makes sense, just that you know that we’re going to keep making these things until the money stops rolling in.”

4. HIRING ALEX KURTZMAN

Alex Kurtzman, the critically-panned writer of TRANSFORMERS 1-3, STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS (2013), and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014) was hired to shepherd in Universal’s “Dark Universe” clearly not out of talent, but because those movies had been BANKABLE. Well, except ASM2. Kurtzman’s gotten lucky in being attached to sturdy franchises and bankable directors like Michael Bay and J.J. Abrams, making his own success cloudy at best. The man isn’t tested with an original property, which THE MUMMY half-is, at least for audiences in their teens & twenties.

Considering those above movies, Kurtzman is an awful idea as a creative head: He’s a lazy writer. To be clear, his work ethic is fine, but he doesn’t care about the craft of storytelling, and holy shit, does it show. INTO DARKNESS, ASM2, and THE MUMMY highlight a writer who arranges scenes in any order without tonal flow or a clear cause-and-effect. He only seems to know how to write lame banter for 14 year-old douchebags, making everyone sound like an idiot. He routinely writes himself into dead ends, and his ONLY solution is Deus Ex Machina (THE MUMMY features about FIVE instances where outside forces inexplicably stop The Mummy from stabbing major characters). Kutzman doesn’t care about internal logic (The Mummy wants to stab Tom Cruise with a magic knife, but the movie is never clear if that’s a good thing or a bad thing and what the consequences truly are). Finally, Kurtzman is a writer with a DEEPLY traditional view of sexual politics. If the Mummy’s relentlessly sucking-out-men’s souls doesn’t convince you, check out the male gaze in TRANSFORMERS 1-3 and INTO DARKNESS, and the fridging of Gwen Stacy in ASM2.

This is not a guy you want anywhere near your mass-appeal summer blockbuster designed to herald in a sprawling shared continuity. He’s going to set a bad tone.

5. $125 MILLION PRODUCTION BUDGET

For fun, let’s run some numbers.

-Universal’s WOLFMAN (2010): $150 mil. budget, $61.9 mil. domestic, $139.7 mil. worldwide.

-Lionsgate’s I, FRANKENSTEIN (2014): $65 mil. budget, $19 mil. domestic, $71.1. mil. worldwide.

-Universal’s DRACULA UNTOLD (2014): $70 mil. budget, $56.2 domestic, $217 mil. worldwide.

-Fox’s VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN (2015): $40 mil. budget, $ 5 mil. domestic, $34.2 mil. worldwide.

Things to note, none of these movies, even the two enjoying Universal’s marketing, were able to break $70 million domestic. All four of these movies took a domestic loss for whatever reason (all four of them are bad-or-iffy movies). Only DRACULA UNTOLD was profitable worldwide, owing almost exclusively to the widest distribution and the emerging global market.

Conclusions: There IS a market for classic horror monsters, but a nascent one. It needs to be developed, not expected. Budgets over $100 million are, at this stage, untenable, when you can only expect an average (of the Universal brand horror movies) of $59.05 million domestic at best (for bad movies). The worldwide box office is a lifesaver, but that doesn’t exactly build excitement for franchises.

A safe budget is probably in the $70-$90 million range. DRACULA UNTOLD (2014) had a reported budget of $70 million, and it’s a good-looking movie with decent talent. Bummer that the movie itself was mediocre.

6. HIRING TOM CRUISE

Tom Cruise is a legendary actor who probably starred in one of your favorite movies, but when’s the last time he hasn’t coasted on just playing an idealized version of himself? In the last 7 years, he hasn’t. His star his dimmed, and if you hire Tom Cruise, the 55 year-old is going to act as if he was 30, and damned if that isn’t out of place.

Just like he’s fallen into niche roles, Tom Cruise has fallen into niche MOVIES. He stars in glossy action movies where he can banter and show off his physicality. His supporting female love interests are always tech/lore/intellectually savvy and play foible to him. He doesn’t have character arcs, but he grows in power throughout. When you see Tom Cruise in a starring role, you know you’re getting “a Tom Cruise movie,” not whatever else a movie might want to be. Thanks to Tom Cruise, THE MUMMY was branded as “a Tom Cruise movie,” which I have to believe hurt it.

7. HIRING TOM CRUISE

Bear with me, because this speaks to another bad executive decision. Why would you hire Tom Cruise? Outside of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, his movies don’t consistently clear $100 million domestically and are routinely saved by the foreign market. At best, audiences show tepid interest to his work.

Chances are, he was hired because he’s Tom Cruise, a name that was huge a decade or two ago. Remember that picture of the actors hired for Universal’s Dark Universe? Russell Crowe, Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise… these are men who were gigantic a decade ago, but now… aren’t. Their personal reputations and box office performances have ruined their brand. There’s much to be made about how the star system is defunct, but the big actors and actresses now are people like Ryan Gosling, Bryan Cranston, Tom Hardy, Emma Stone, Jennifer Lawrence, and Scarlet Johansson. THOSE are the kinds of people you want to hire to usher in a new era.

Even then, look at Marvel’s approach: they hired people JUST on the verge of popping. People who could be defined by their MCU roles, not the reverse. Sofia Boutella as Ahmanet is this kind of excellent casting so OF COURSE…

8. THE MUMMY RUINS AHMANET

In the age of EVERYONE clambering for diversity and positive representation in roles, especially after the success of THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) and ROGUE ONE (2016), it seemed like a great idea to make Sofia Boutella Ahmanet, the Mummy. An Egyptian princess out for revenge because her kingdom was stolen from her? BRILLIANT. Sounds like a great way to attack the idea of the glass ceiling and those who enforce it.

Except Alex Kurtzman has an extremely traditional view of sexual politics and gender roles. As an example, when we’re introduced to Annabelle Wallis’ Jenny, we’re immediately told that Tom Cruise’s Nick bedded her to steal information. Our supporting female lead is introduced as a sex object.

Ahmanet fairs little better. Her intro in ancient Egypt is heavily exoticized and eroticized, but things nosedive when Nick falls under her curse. Ahmanet’s curse basically means you have waking wet dreams about her, most of which confusingly end with undead sexual assault. Ahmanet grows her powers by sucking the life-force of men, and attempts to sexually manipulate others into doing her bidding. Ahmanet’s, a brunette, actions run counter to Jenny’s, a blonde, who continually calls Nick to the high path, confident that there’s some good in him, despite all evidence to the contrary.

So much for a feminist character.

Worse, Nick’s solution to killing Ahmanet is to suck out HER life-force, which is undeniably coded on the screen as rape. Then it’s heavily implied that Cruise will become the next Mummy.

Nicely done, Kurtzman.

9. PREMIERING THE WEEKEND AFTER WONDER WOMAN

Snarky point, but it highlights executive bad decision-making. It nearly says EVERYTHING about what went wrong during every phase of THE MUMMY’s production.

Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was the ONLY character who emerged unscathed from BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016), and Jenkins’ titular movie was getting strong buzz throughout its development. Wonder Woman is an established brand, not to mention THE most widely-known female superhero in western comics. Even if the DCEU was a three-movie failing brand, people WERE going to see Wonder Woman just BECAUSE IT’S WONDER WOMAN.

This should’ve behind why it’s hard for a Superman or Batman movie to fail, but…

…executives commonly think that since movies like CATWOMAN (2004), ELEKTRA (2005), and SUPERGIRL (1984) failed, female-led superhero movies flat cannot be successful. It’s pitifully reductive thinking that ignores every more relevant detail of those projects, and it’s nakedly misogynistic. Boiling it down, the execs behind THE MUMMY thought that WONDER WOMAN, a movie all about the positivity of women, their representation, and their role in the world, couldn’t be successful.

Oops.

There are a myriad of other nitpicks for THE MUMMY. Jake Johnson’s ghost corpse clearly rips off AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. Nearly all the dialogue. A host of logical and continuity errors. But these aren’t isolated things that spell doom for movies –after all, look at Michael Bay and J.J. Abrams’ ongoing success.

The bigger failing is in the executive decisions that made THE MUMMY feel like a movie of the early 90s instead of the late 10s. It feels like a throwback, ignoring all the progess cinema has made since MUMMY 1999, except for the shallow sequel-delivery vehicle of cinematic universes. Audiences don’t want to see business models; they want to see good movies, and that didn’t happen here.

Personally, I have hope for Bill Condon’s BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (2019). Condon’s a strong director with an undying passion for the original movie, and he’s clearly got things to say about untraditional gender roles, romance, and dysfunction. It’ll probably be a good movie.

But will audiences care? I’ve already heard people wondering why it should be made before Frankenstein, or just how badly THE MUMMY would’ve ruined its brand.

Maybe executives will learn the right lesson here, back off, and let Condon do his crazy thing. Or maybe they’ll make him bend over backwards to get a cameo with Johnny Depp’s Invisible Man.

They probably will.

Should The Mummy Be a Horror Movie?

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Even though I’m excited for THE MUMMY (2016), I’m waiting for it to bomb, critically and financially.

The conversation leading up to this movie has been fascinating. Those in the critic community have pointed out the blandness of the trailers; that the movie seemingly can’t decide on a tone; and that it seems like a cynical, Marvel-inspired cash grab. Time will tell how accurate those thoughts are.

More interestingly, others have stated that they don’t want an action-horror Mummy movie, and would prefer a straight horror movie. While I respect that impulse as a horror fan, I’m not sure I buy it. Not when THE MUMMY (1999) -action horror with comedy elements- is still highly regarded.

From there, I’m having trouble parsing out the expectations for THE MUMMY (2016) and Universal’s “Dark Universe.” If it’s a wish for it not to be a cynical cash grab, I understand, respect, and agree with that argument, and can only hold out hope that THE MUMMY holds together despite its iffy trailers. If it’s “we only want this as a horror movie,” well… doesn’t that seem unreasonable?

Put simply, “only if it’s horror” is “I don’t want X to be Y.” and it’s an overly simplistic sentiment that has bedeviled horror for decades.

In a genre closely related to comedy, horror is all about eliciting physical reactions in viewers. That’s the point of the jump scare. That’s the point of dread and suspense. But what about when horror isn’t trying to scare you? The latter Freddy and Jason movies are trying to make you squirm and laugh with the absurdity of the gore. ALIEN COVENANT generally doesn’t use suspense and prominently displays its creatures. Is that scary? No. Is it horror? Yes.

SLITHER is a fantastic creature feature with heart, but it’s more funny than scary. CABIN IN THE WOODS starts as an effective, self-aware slasher, but it’s more interested in satirizing a subgenre than scaring. THEY LIVE is sort of an action comedy, but its implications about corporate and political control are the stuff of paranoid nightmares. Horror represents a broad range of subgenres (hauntings, slashers, body horror, etc.), but why do we keep trying to police what horror can/can’t be? Psychological horror and zombie movies aren’t alike, but both are valid. Both explore different kinds of horror, some that might not rely on big scares. Hell, ALIENS is one of the greatest movies ever made, but it toes the line between action and horror.

My point is that the Universal Monsters don’t need to be pure horror movies to be good or important. Yes, their original movies were horror, but as their titular characters shared sequels, they became horror-dramas, and ultimately horror-action movies. What else do you call it when the Wolf-Man wrestles the Frankenstein Monster?

The real strength of the Universal Monsters, to me, is less in outright terror, but in our own empathy. We can see ourselves in them. Who hasn’t felt like the Frankenstein monster, struggling for purpose and identity in a world that can seem hostile and alienating? Who hasn’t been attracted to the idea of Dracula’s seductiveness and power? Who isn’t scared of losing control of their base instincts like the Wolf-Man? The Universal Monsters are veritable Jungian archetypes for our understanding of the world, which has led to them enduring as Halloween costumes and symbols for all these years. We may not have had a true theatrical Dracula, Frankenstein, and Wolf-Man movies for ages, but their derivatives are ubiquitous.

To that end, a successful Universal Monster movie doesn’t need to be a horror move in the jump-scare-gore-fest-high-tension-sense; it needs to explore a part of ourselves that’s simultaneously horrifying… and alluring. Whatever mode it takes -action, horror, drama, even comedy- it just has to be honest with itself and to the audience.

Does that mean that “The Mummy” (2017) will be a good movie just for being emotionally honest? No. It could still have poor characters, bland action, lame horror, and little overall merit. Hell, if it’s as paint-by-the-numbers as its trailer looks, it could be a snooze. But it WON’T fail by virtue of its genre.

So yeah. Action-horror. Time for everybody to start reappraising VAN HELSING.

Because that movie rules.

Wolverine and Me

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Damn, am I ever excited for LOGAN (2017). Each new trailer is more impressive than the last, and I think it’s fair to say that the X-Men movie franchise is nostalgic for most, considering that it’s been going strong since the 2000s. Of course, any 90s kid will tell you that the 1992 cartoon show was better.

That was where I first met Wolverine, and damn did he help me through my childhood.

I’ve said before that Spider-man taught me that it was ok for me to be who I was, no matter what society thought. To a certain extent, Wolverine taught the same lesson, with his brash, devil may care attitude. He chain-smoked, drank, didn’t mince words, and didn’t have a problem kicking ass when he needed to. The Mary Sue pointed out that Wolverine’s behavior was emblematic of the worst aspects of masculinity: physical dominance, aggression, lechery, etc. While the Mary Sue isn’t wrong, I’d argue that its read is overly simplistic.

HOW overly simplistic is up for debate, though...

HOW overly simplistic is up for debate, though…

Wolverine in the 1992 cartoon and in the movies IS a messed-up guy possessing all of those vices. Having no memories and being a societal outcast will do that to you. In the cartoon show, you could set a watch by how often he flies off the handle… yet at the same time, Wolverine was a character deeply aware of his character flaws. He saw his hot temper as weakness, not a strength. He understood that he sometimes needed distance from his teammates to better understand his personal shortcomings. He understood that he couldn’t always have what he wanted, especially romantically. He was never a stranger to his feelings. For as much as Wolverine was propped up as the ultimate phallus (hilarious, considering that EVERYONE reminds him of how short he is), the cartoon show went out of its way to “emasculate” him.

Check out what happens when Wolverine goes up against Proteus:

Holy shit. There was NOTHING so mind-blowing as a kid than seeing the toughest character you’d ever known break down sobbing. Especially when bullies picked on you for that. It was ok to experience the full range of human emotions.

The ultimate lesson of the cartoon Wolverine, and even the movie version is that everybody hurts. Physical wounds, mental wounds- everyone faces times of sadness and tragedy, and sometimes it’s hard moving past those times. Yet we must.

In 1993, the X-Men comics took that a step further, when Magneto did what he’d always threatened in the movies: he ripped Wolverine’s metal skeleton out.

Paaaaaaaaain

Paaaaaaaaain

Wolverine nearly died. By the time he stabilized, he was back to flesh and bone (claws included), and his healing factor was nonexistent. In short, he was dying. There wasn’t any sense in projecting rage -his team had done all they could to save him. All that was left was for him to put his affairs in order.

The Wolverine I knew, the one from these pages, was one of immense humanity and frailty. Once an indomitable warrior, each new fight could be his last. He had to bury his ego and accept pity and mercy from his enemies. He had to accept that he couldn’t be there for everyone who needed him. He had to accept that even he was going to die.

About 21 years later. In a completely unrelated arc, long, long after he’d gotten all his powers back and then some.

The point is, sure, Wolverine is emblematic of plenty of negative, traditionally masculine values, but he also embodies countless strengths of character, including humility, restraint, and tenderness. Considering the directions the X-movies went, it’s easy to forget, too, that Wolverine, like the rest of the X-Men, is a human (and mutants!) rights’ activist. As a child, those latter virtues meant the world to me and shaped how I’d approach good times and bad times. As an adult, I like to think I follow those same lessons.

Plus, Wolverine’s a badass, amiright?

Rewriting Suicide Squad

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So there’s going to be a Harley Quinn Movie (Gotham Sirens or Birds of Prey), another Suicide Squad movie, and likely a Deadshot spinoff.

SUICIDE SQUAD (2016) topped most people’s Worst of the Year movie lists, while I thought it was just mediocre. Maybe offensively mediocre, given the racial stereotyping of Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and El Diablo (Jay Hernandez). It had a protracted, repetitious first act; the villain was worthless; it was riddled with plotholes; and the Joker was the worst ever put to film, but hey, I still thought BATMAN V SUPERMAN and X-MEN APOCALYPSE were worse.

The point is, SUICIDE SQUAD didn’t live up to the hype. It wasn’t as good as the animated movie in which they starred (BATMAN: ASSAULT ON ARKHAM). It wasn’t as good as any of the comics. And frankly, it oversimplified characters in a big way.

So in my usual way, I’d like to prove that I could’ve at least written a better version of the movie.

Now let’s be fair: SUICIDE SQUAD was reshot to high heaven, went through a gamut of 7-9 competing edits before being outsourced to a trailer company, and many of David Ayer’s ideas didn’t make it to the screen. That’ll make any movie suck. Who knows, maybe there was a fantastic version of the movie we never saw.

I don’t have those constraints, so maybe the unadulterated awesomeness I’m about to pull isn’t all that fair. ::shrugs:: Too bad.

  1. Understanding the Suicide Squad

Taskforce X –jokingly named “Suicide Squad” for its high mortality rate and deadly missions– was always designed as a way to play with the minutia of DC comics. It explored the smaller, more clandestine events that normal heroes were too busy to notice. It dealt with current social politics (Terror abroad, White Supremacy at home, etc.); government interagency skull and dagger tactics; and harrowing events too morally gray for most heroes. As an 80s comic, it was EXTREMELY anti-Reagan.

More, the team wasn’t a list of everybody’s favorite villains, but  dopey villains nobody would care to see killed. EVERYBODY was on the chopping block. Here’s the rub: the writer was FANTASTIC, and he brought an X-Men-level of characterization to everybody. You CARED about the people who died, and suddenly, it wasn’t as fun to kill characters off anymore.

Here’s the point: Suicide Squad doesn’t fight the same glowy hole-in-the-sky thing that other movie superheroes fight. Instead, its job is to explore the depths of the DC universe. It also does a GREAT job at raising the stakes with death.

It’s kind of hilarious that SUICIDE SQUAD failed in all of those regards. Our version won’t.

  1. Who’s on our team?

The movie had…

Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Boomerang, El Diablo, Slipknot, Katana, Rick Flag, Killer Croc,

We’ll have…

Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Boomerang, El Diablo, Slipknot, Katana, Rick Flag, King Shark, and Enchantress

Reasons:

-King Shark is a Hammerhead shark monster. That’s fucking awesome.

-Enchantress is a key member of the comic team and is a mystical version of the Hulk. Seriously, she’s June Moon, a pacifist normally, and a magical live grenade as Enchantress. She deserves better than she got in the movie.

  1. But How Is Our Story Better?

We open on the fight between Superman and Doomsday from BATMAN V. SUPERMAN. It’s destructive as fuck, just like you’ve seen, but this time, we see the fight from the perspective of the military, who’s trying to intervene. Found footage style. Helicopters get lanced out of the sky by eye-lasers, others by falling debris, it’s hell.

We pull back to a secret government meeting reviewing the footage. The gist: “Superman died fighting Doomsday. How the hell can we prepare for the next metahuman attack?” In addition to the usual spooks, there’s a new intelligence agency:  ARGUS, a firm designed to monitor metahuman actions. Its head, AMANDA WALLER, pledges to get right on it.

One Month Later

RICK FLAG JR., a soldier with an insecurity complex, leads a strike team -who might as well be his family- to a secret paramilitary lab. There, they’re surprised by overwhelming technological resistance, and Flag loses his whole team, barely escaping with his life. His C.O., Waller, preps a retrieval chopper and sends an order to “assemble Taskforce X.”

Quick cuts of the team being violent:
DEADSHOT shoots people.
KATANA stabs people.
KING SHARK eats people.
HARLEY joyrides with the Joker.
BOOMERANG robs a bank.
His partner, SLIPKNOT, robs the same bank.
EL DIABLO turns himself in.
ENCHANTRESS atomizes exorcists.

Now, all the team is behind bars in Belle Reve prison, which Waller has specially designed to hold them.

Short story, Rick Flag has to lead them and he doesn’t want to. He’s mourning his team, and he doesn’t think criminals have the honor or dedication of marines, and he thinks they’ll go rogue at the first sign of trouble. He’s probably right. Waller twists his insecurity into making him accept the mission.

Anyway, mission is simple: Taskforce X is to investigate this secret lab, Cadmus, and retrieve the package therein. Expect heavy resistance. The team makes light of it, and Waller punishes them to demonstrate that they’re on a collar. They misbehave, they get an electroshock. They go rogue, bombs implanted in their necks detonate.

Meanwhile, Joker’s in Gotham City, torturing and/or murdering people to find out what happened to Harley. She’s his. She has to come back to him.

Taskforce X (eventually to be called “The Suicide Squad”) makes it to the secret lab. Before the action, Boomerang talks his partner, Slipknot, into believing the neck-bombs are bogus. Slipknot tests this and dies.

RIP, Slipknot.

Meanwhile, Joker’s getting closer, discovering that Harley’s been conscripted into Taskforce X. He tortures/kills his way to finding out why. She’s HIS to play with, not anybody else’s.

Taskforce X makes headway into the base, their personalities rubbing each other the wrong way, each getting a shot of demonstrating their personalities. Flag and Deadshot rub each other the wrong way, a thin philosophical difference being all that separates them. Anyway, the team finds the package, a huge metal cylinder that only King Shark can carry.

Meanwhile, Joker makes it to Belle Reve Prison and opens all the cells. With Waller hiding herself in a panic room, Joker discovers a little green trinket of hers…

On the helicopter ride back to Belle Reve, Taskforce X accidentally opens the metal cylinder. What’s inside?

HENRY CAVILL.

That’s right. SUPERMAN.

The crazy bastards at Cadmus cloned Superman from blood lost during the fight with Doomsday. Flag explains that Cadmus figured the best way to contain Superman was to have one of their own, and to use it to hold the world ransom.

“But now it’s yours,” Harley says.

“That’s right,” Flag says. “Now it’s ours.”

Taskforce X returns to Belle Reve and find it’s a madhouse. Metahuman prisoners are rioting, guards are laughing to death on Joker’s Laughing Gas. Waller’s in a panic room, and orders the team to contain the riot and stop the Joker. They try –fighting dudes like Captain Cold, Clayface, and Parasite– but they’re overwhelmed. Flag makes a split decision and activates the Superman Clone, who saves them all, imprisoning most of the supervillains without a casualty (LOL MAN OF STEEL). Y’see, Cadmus programmed the Superman Clone to be a boy scout… but their boy scout.

That’s when the Joker walks in with Harley around his arm. He gives a Jokery speech and mocks the Superman Clone. When the Clone grabs him, Joker sprays him with Laughing Gas.

Damn, does that ever have a bad effect on Superman Clone chemistry.

Joker, wielding Kryptonite from Waller’s office, commands “Jokerized Superman” -who he christens “Bizarro” to start killing. Flag tries to stop him– Bizarro decapitates him in a blink of an eye.

RIP, Rick Flag.

Joker escapes with Harley and Bizarro.

Waller tries to detonate Harley’s neck bomb…

But Joker has Bizarro use his heat breath to deactivate it during the flight.

Taskforce X is done. No fucking way can they handle Superman, let alone a homicidal clone of him. Waller threatens to detonate their bombs, but they don’t care. Better a fast death than whatever the Joker has planned. It’s clear that none of Belle Reve’s other inmates are going to volunteer. Still, seeing tapes of the Superman/Doomsday destruction, Deadshot steps forward. He’s got a little girl that he doesn’t want to see hurt. He’s not the best guy in the world, but he’s got to be the daddy she’d want him to be. But Amanda Waller is personally going to pay for his daughter’s schooling. The other teammates come around, each with their own demands. The straggler, Boomerang, says that the mission is suicide. Deadshot grins. “Then we’re the Suicide Squad.”

Waller flies the team for where the Joker went: Gotham City.

Damn, it’s bad. Gotham’s wrecked to shit, Arkham Asylum is split open, and the crazies are pouring out. Joker laughs his ass off as Batman, hopelessly outmatched, fights Bizarro. The clone’s just letting Batman wail on him with everything he’s got… and he’s not taking a scratch. Bizarro casually backhands Batman, sending him flying into a parked car, breaking several of his ribs and knocking him unconscious.

For a moment, Bizarro’s stares at what he’s done. His eyes change from madness… to shock. Just as he starts to question his actions, Joker gives him another snort of Laughing Gas, reigniting the carnage. Joker laughs over his new kingdom, but when Harley tries to join in, he yells her into place. This is for HIM to enjoy. She’s just lucky to belong to him.

With his telescopic eyepiece, Deadshot sees it all from the helicopter. As the Suicide Squad parachutes in, he calls the shots: Get the Kryptonite from Joker and stop Bizarro, or die trying.

They land in a war zone. They try to ignore screaming people, but El Diablo just can’t do it. He puts out flames by absorbing them, saving people. King Shark saves drowning people, despite them looking tasty. Deadshot & Boomerang save people too. By slaughtering the Arkham inmates chasing them. ::shrugs:: It’s what they do.

Meanwhile, Enchantress takes on Bizarro, her magic the first thing that’s managed to slow him down. He wades through it as she lays on the power. He weakens, falling to his knees. Katana leaps from behind, preparing to decapitate him– his eyes shoot a freeze ray, encasing her in ice in mid-air. She hits the ground, shattering.

RIP, Katana.

Enchantress  is so shocked that she reverts to June Moon, and sobs. Bizarro just laughs and flies away.

The others are fighting through Joker’s booby traps. Boomerang uses a boomerang to snag the Kryptonite from Joker’s hands… but as Boomerang cheers, Bizarro shatters the Kryptonite with a heat breath burst.

Without Kryptonite, the team is well and truly fucked. But Joker does them one better: He’s sitting on a nuclear bomb fitted with Laughing Gas. Gotham will be wiped off the face of the earth and the fallout’s going to give Metropolis a permanent case of the giggles. So, naturally, Joker laughs and orders Bizarro to kill the Suicide Squad.

Enchantress flares back out of June Moon, using her magic to try to contain Bizarro, but it ONLY slows him down. It’s just enough for the team to take turns distracting him.

Harley, meanwhile, is shocked that Joker could blow up Gotham. All her friends are there. Poison Ivy, Catwoman, Scarecrow, their hyena pets (yes, I am indeed stealing this moment from the classic BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES episode “Harlequinade.” That episode RULES SO HARD). Joker slaps her aside, telling her that he never needed any of them or her. She was just there for laughs. Harley, enraged enough to find her self respect, punches him back. Joker grimaces, liking where this is going. He draws a knife.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Suicide Squad is just BARELY keeping out of Bizarro’s grasp. El Diablo distracts him with fire. When he gets to close, Deadshot distracts him with a bullet. When he gets to close, King Shark punches him and runs, etc. It’s a losing war of attrition, and they all know it.

But Bizarro’s laughs seem to be quieting. He’s less manic by the second as the Laughing Gas wears off.

Boomerang, meanwhile, is nowhere to be found. He’s running along the outskirts, collecting fragments of Kryptonite in one hand, clutching a blowtorch in the other. He’s an idiot, but an idiot with a plan.

Harley fights the Joker: her gymnastics vs. his lethal gag gifts. Harley’s barely holding on, and he mocks her spinelessness every step of the way–

Bizarro finally catches King Shark by the throat. None of El Diablo’s flames, Deadshot’s bullets, or Enchantress’ magic can stop what comes next. Bizarro strangles King Shark to death.

RIP King Shark.

It hits the team hard. Sure he was a big shark-man, but he was THEIR big shark-man. And not that bad of a guy, once you got past the cannibalism.

Boomerang, meanwhile, finishes welding a KRYPTONITE BOOMERANG. It all comes down to the character from down under. *Sponsored by Fosters.

Joker’s got the upper hand on Harley, but just as he’s about to kill her, she grabs her mallet and swings it into his gut, knocking him down a hill of rubble and probably breaking a few ribs too. Harley stands tall over him, gripping her hammer. “I’m breaking up with you. Puddin’.” Then it hits her: “OMIGAWD, TH’ BOMB!” She runs off to diffuse it.

Joker just lays there, bleeding. His eyes roll to the side and he spots… an ice cream truck.

Meanwhile, Bizarro’s figuring out that he can ignore people’s attacks. He chuckles, tears streaming from his eyes. The Laughing Gas is wearing off, but it’s still affecting him. He wades through El Diablo’s waning flames.

Harley, meanwhile, struggles to diffuse the nuclear bomb’s countdown, Boomerang yelling unhelpful advice. “I’m a therapist, not a nuclear physicist!” Harley screams.

Just as El Diablo braces for Bizarro to grab him, someone calls out: “Hey, moron!”

Bizarro turns.

It’s Deadshot, standing in front of the people of Gotham, their terrified, bleeding faces covered in dust. Deadshot asks if this is something Superman would let happen. If Superman would ever knowingly let people suffer.

Boomerang’s poised with the Kryptonite boomerang, just in case.

Yeah, Harley adds, standing sincerely. People make mistakes all the time, but it’s how they recover from them that counts.

“THE BOMB, YOU BLOOMIN’ IDIOT!” Boomerang screams at her. “THE BOMB!”

“Oh yeah!” she says, and dives back into the wires, the countdown timer entering the single digits–

Bizarro steps past her, grabbing the bomb. “You know,” he says to them. “You’re not all that bad.”

Deadshot, El Diablo, Enchantress, Boomerang, and Harley exchange glances. They’re all pretty bad. Hell, they look it.

A tear slips from Bizarro’s eye as he hefts the bomb. “Up, up, and away,” he says.

He’s off like a shot. The Suicide Squad watches as he flies into space and explodes.

RIP, Bizarro.

A reverent moment of silence. Boomerang chuckles: “Chump.”

Harley laughs nervously, “So, umm… all’s forgiven right?”

Enchantress reverts to June Moon and punches Harley in the face. “Yep. All’s forgiven.”

Waller tells the group that the mission isn’t over. They still haven’t dealt with the Joker.

Deadshot notices the ice cream truck driving away. He casually aims and shoots at it. After a second, the truck crashes.

Waller tells him that’s not good enough.

El Diablo nods to where Batman had been laid out. Batman’s gone. “Somebody’s already on it.”

On the helicopter flight back, the team muses that now they’ve saved the city, they must get benefits. A parade, women, booze, whatever superheroes get. Waller agrees to make their cells more comfortable. But she does leave a case of beer in the helicopter for them.

“You guys,” Harley laughs. “We took out Superman!” They drink to that.

Meanwhile, Joker, battered and bloody, struggles to get himself out of the overturned ice cream truck. He mutters under his breath, swearing revenge. He’s got another nuke he’s been just itching to use. “Tell me where it is.” Joker looks up. Batman’s standing on top of the truck. He reaches for Joker–

Cut to black.

Mid-credits (fuck it, Marvel doesn’t own fanservice): Waller meets with Bruce Wayne, both threatening each other. Wayne threatens to expose the Suicide Squad -half of Gotham is conspiracy-theorizing anyway. Waller threatens to expose Wayne for being Batman and for setting up his childishly named “Justice League.”

Post-credits: Waller watches a press conference as Lex Luthor is released for prison and announces his bid for the U.S. presidency. Waller. “Looks like the Suicide Squad has a new mission.”

5. Fun, huh?

The idea here is that we make the most of the DC universe, establish lots of villains for future movies, do more with the current DCEU narrative: figuring out what to do in a post-Superman world.

It plays against tropes, the Suicide Squad lives up to its name, it makes better use of the cameos, it’s a little more streamlined, and it hypothetically better earns its emotional beats.

The post-credits also hint that Suicide Squad will be involved in political skullduggery, as they were in the classic comics. Again, this was an anti-Reagan comic, so wouldn’t it make sense for the movie franchise to be anti-Trump?

6. Lasting issues

All that said, there are a few lingering issues:

-Two prison breaks, although they’d have different feels, it may feel slightly repetitive

-ALL of the Nolan Batman movies had prison breaks, as this does.

-some will be bothered by Harley being chained to Joker for the latter half, but that’s kind of character: the abused girlfriend slowly breaking out from the abuser’s shackles.

-Waller’s sidelined at the end, but hey, she could be their eye in the sky or something.

6. David Ayer

David Ayer’s a solid director with an incredibly specific style -a style that might not be suited for broad appeal (RE: Ayer’s sexist and racist undertones). It also didn’t help that he only had 6 weeks to write a script that would be retroactively wedged into the DCEU.

That larger problem, though, is that Ayer is new to mega-budget superhero movies, and he flat didn’t have a language for it. As such, he reverted to trope. He made a movie almost wholly reliant on flashbacks and exposition when its predecessor, BATMAN: ASSAULT ON ARKHAM (a superlative Suicide Squad movie), demonstrated all that was necessary was to demonstrate character through action.

More, because these are supervillains, their adventures would probably be better-tailored to heists, assassinations, and sabotage over generic stop-villainous-plot stories. Their adventures can be small and they can get big, as I demonstrated. This could’ve been the size of a MISSION IMPOSSIBLE movie, or even a FAST AND FURIOUS movie.

Despite Ayer being a fan of Suicide Squad comics, it just seems like he didn’t have the correct imagination for the job.

Sure, I may be talking out my ass, as I don’t have 6 weeks, to write a script out of this, but by the same token, had I pitched a script to Warner Bros., I would’ve read the tea leaves for what WB would probably want long term. I would’ve known that creating a “different” comic book movie had to extend beyond visuals. I would’ve known that audiences are clamoring for an honest-to-God great villain. I would’ve pitched this to follow BvS or, failing that, MAN OF STEEL, because audiences are all about continuity these days. I would’ve pitched with a sequel in mind, because studios like relative financial certainty. I would’ve pitched this exact plot, because it’s the best way to utilize the characters on screen and on the page.

But then, I just read a ton of comics and watch a ton of blockbusters.

I’m just talking out my ass.

RIP, Sadcyborg.

DOCTOR STRANGE: NOT QUITE THE MASTER OF THE MYSTIC ARTS

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Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme has always been one of my favorite characters, so as you might imagine, I had big expectations for DOCTOR STRANGE (2016). With its mind-bending visuals, decent great comedy, and good performances, it’s by no means a bad movie. After that, its themes, characters, and structures aren’t as well-realized as it thinks. If you have the courage to soldier on, brace yourself for a SPOILER-FILLED discussion.

So what’s holding this movie back?

  1. Triumph and Torment

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Whenever I watch a movie, I ask myself “Is this succeeding on its own terms?” Thus, what is DOCTOR STRANGE trying to do? Obviously, its storytelling goal was to tell the origin of Doctor Strange as a master of mystic arts by way of a dimension-hopping magic/martial arts movie. A success, in that regard.

Thematically though, it gets muddy. On one hand, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is learning to get over himself. “It isn’t about you,” the movie says, but his final confrontation with Dormammu has less to do with that –though it is physically about self-sacrifice- and more to do with a larger understanding about time, the cycles of life and death, and more. Strange isn’t overcoming himself in this confrontation; he’s displaying his mastery and understanding of time, a fundamental force of nature.

In some key scenes, Strange dallies with time, using the Eye of Agamotto to rot/unrot an apple, to momentarily restore pages to a spellbook, and to reverse the flow of damage to Hong Kong. We’re told, in a handful of scenes, that one doesn’t use magic to disrupt reality, but to preserve it. This is the message of The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), the obsession of Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the duty of Wong (Benedict Wong), and indeed, the mission  of the masters of mystic arts in Kamar-Taj.

EVERYONE talks about how important it is to preserve the natural order, and it’s a big deal when people are found in violation of it.  When Strange bungles time manipulation, Mordo and Wong warn him that there are ALWAYS consequences. But we never see consequences. It’s earth-shaking for Strange and (especially) Mordo to learn that the Ancient One has been defying the natural order, but there are no consequences until the day is saved. Even then, when Strange defies the natural order to reverse time and “resurrect” a ton of people, it’s not clear if Mordo is more reacting to the Ancient One’s affront or Strange’s. Strange’s confrontation with Dormammu revolves around perverting the natural order through use of time.

So why isn’t messing with Time a bigger deal?

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As soon as Strange learns that a paraplegic “healed” himself with magic, why wouldn’t that be his continual goal in training? We see Strange act like a bastard early in the movie, but he loses the selfishness pretty quickly as he trains in the mystic arts. He displays altruism and survivalism, but little selfishness. Instead, why wouldn’t all of his training be focused on healing his hands? Channeling every new spell into his hands, continuing his muscle therapy exercises, etc.?  The Ancient One might know that Strange isn’t of pure heart, but she’s got her own agenda, dealing with incursions of a seemingly unstoppable extradimensional evil. Meanwhile, Strange’s fellow student, Mordo, might encourage his studies in time manipulation  to repair his hands, to undo the misfortune that’s come upon the world, etc. Little would Strange know, each time he uses Time magic, the dark entity grows stronger. As a result, Strange would discover that his selfishness has a price and that time isn’t a toy. There would be consequences, ripple effects, that threaten to destroy reality. He would defeat Dormammu, the dark entity, with time manipulation, but would he unlock a greater evil?

Using time as our way of exploring realities, we could see alternate realities where Strange didn’t study martial arts, where he had only empty happiness, where Dormammu wiped out reality, etc. Strange would learn the consequences of messing with time, and the value of the new lease on life he’d gotten.

Sure DOCTOR STRANGE hops around between a few dimensions and plays with fractals a few times, but this is all just window dressing for fight scenes, rather than examining our impact on eternity like in INTERSTELLAR or INCEPTION. DOCTOR STRANGE’s dimension-hopping is beautiful, but felt, at least to me, like video game levels, and somewhat interchangeable. Traveling through alternate realities of his past would make Strange’s journey much more character-focused.

  1. MCU Villain-syndrome. Again.

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THOR: THE DARK WORLD’S Malekith will always be the worst MCU villain, but Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelson) doesn’t have much going on for him. We never see his humanity. We never see what he’s lost to make him so obsessed with stopping death. Rather, Kaecilius marches around, blank-faced, brazenly murdering people. Isn’t that in conflict? The movie opens with him ceremonially decapitating a guy, and I’m not really sure why he needed to do that. If he’d needed the blood/spirit of the dead guy for magic, that’d be something, but it’s really not played upon. It’s almost like he kills the guy JUST so we know he’s a bad guy. We’re later told through exposition that Kaecilius defied the Ancient One’s teachings and did his own thing –like Strange does- but none of this is dramatized. All of this makes him feel blank and underutilized. That’s crazy when stopping death seems like a sympathetic goal.

Kaecilus launches periodic magic attacks around the world, robbing Strange of character-development time with people  like Mordo and Wong, stunting their relationships. For Mordo, this is especially egregious, as his relationship with Strange is central to Strange’s journey and will be central to the sequel. It’d be one thing if Kaecilius was a villain worth having… but he’s got nothing to sell him.

So why not combine Kaecilius and Mordo into a single character?

This way, Mordo and Strange can grow together as students, then friends, then comrades in arms… until it becomes clear that Mordo was manipulating everything, leading to him murdering the Ancient One. Now Strange has to stop his new best friend and the dark entity Dormammu, who’s been summoned to consume the world. This way, Mordo, his relationship to Strange, his agenda, and his betrayal, have all been dramatized. If that happened, I guarantee we’d be raving about Marvel’s best new villain.

  1. Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Still-Not-Supreme

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In the movie, Doctor Strange arcs from down-on-his-luck-surgeon to very-competent-with-magic-guy, which isn’t bad, but why not go further? We know that the mystics of Kamar-Taj are ranked Student, Master, Sorcerer Supreme, and that apparently a basic competency with magic is all that’s required to become a Master. Strange becomes a Master midway through the movie, just like most of the Ancient One’s acolytes, and from there, his advancement ends. Even though Strange has an unparalleled mastery of magic, even though the Ancient One, the Sorcerer Supreme, dies, nobody appoints Strange to her place. Why leave Strange only as special as his cohorts? Why doesn’t his arc end with him accepting the title of Sorcerer Supreme, defender of reality? The movie doesn’t have a good reason not to end this way, and a post-credits scene acts as though he IS Sorcerer Supreme. So what’s up there?

I’m also mixed on the teleportation-creating Sling Rings. I get why they’re there –focusing powers through artifacts creates rules so you can’t make shit up. That’s screenwriting 101. But why isn’t this subverted? Why doesn’t Doctor Strange find the power within himself to create portals WITHOUT Sling Rings during a critical moment? That too would’ve been screenwriting 101. There’s license to do this, considering Strange’s exponential advancement as a sorcerer.

  1. Why bother with Dormammu?

This seems a silly question, as building up the unstoppable entity is the whole thrust of the movie, but Strange’s confrontation with him isn’t special. It’s not two rivals squaring off, but a first-time meeting that, bereft of special effects, would have little gravitas. What follows is a test of wills and magic loop-holing. While that’s a classic, appropriate Strange tactic, it doesn’t NEED to be against Dormammu. Why not employ this same magical trickery against Kaecilius? Spread out the reverse-time fight scene to build to this climactic showdown of wits? Then, the threat of Dormammu can hang over the credits, only to pan out in the sequel. Using him now as a one-off makes about as much sense as making Galactus a space cloud in FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER.

  1. The race thing.

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Doctor Strange must’ve been a difficult adaptation, given its origins in 60s-era Orientalism. By all accounts, director Scott Derrickson struggled to make the races and genders less offensive, but sort of missed the mark. Tilda Swinton IS good as the Ancient One, but that role absolutely belongs to an Asian woman. While I respect Derrickson’s argument that it would’ve been hard not to make an Asian-woman-as-Ancient-One a “Dragon Lady,” I’d argue that James Gunn’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY bear little resemblance to the original characters, or even the 2008 versions written by Dan Abnett. There was plenty of license to reimagine and update Doctor Strange’s mythology, especially when urban fantasy novels provides plenty of direction. Hell, Baron Mordo essentially got a whole new personality and philosophy here.

Now that we’ve wrapped up ACTUAL issues affecting the screenplay, let’s talk about nerd stuff. These things don’t make-or-break the movie, but they’re annoying little personal preferences from a guy who’s read a few comics.

Nerd Complaints:

  1. The Eye of Agamotto SHOULD NOT BE an Infinity Stone.

Man, do I ever loathe this idea. See, I’m not a fan of the Marvel universe as a whole. I love Spider-Man, the X-Men, and Marvel Magic/Horror. And I love that Marvel Horror tends to keep the rest of the Marvel Universe at arm’s reach. Making the Eye of Agamotto an Infinity Stone (the Time Gem) makes Doctor Strange a cosmic character, shrinks his universe, and limits the range of worldbuilding possibilities. After all, the Eye of Agamotto, in the comics, is an amulet literally housing the eye of Agamotto, an extra-dimensional caterpillar trickster god. I know that’s bonkers, but it’s Doctor Strange. Doctor STRANGE.

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I am NEVER doing shrooms again…

  1. I hate that Dormammu was a big head in the sky.

DOCTOR STRANGE went above and beyond in depicting the Dark Dimension from the comics, a place where space, time, and gravity don’t exactly apply. Given that its lord and master, Dormammu, is an all-powerful being bent on ruling EVERY dimension, I understand why he might be adapted as “mystical Galactus” (he’s out to consume every dimension instead of every planet), but doing so undercuts the breadth of lore surrounding him: Dormammu’s kingdom is literal; he’s got an evil sister who’s mystical-Lady MacBeth; his niece is the lover and student of Doctor Strange; and he commands an army of laser-shooting rock people.

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Seriously.

Although Strange HAS confronted loads of giant space heads, they tended to be minor deities, never to be encountered again. Dormammu is one of -if not THE- principle Strange enemy, and he’s party to most of Strange’s personal dramas. Undercutting and underutilizing him closes the door on tons of narrative potential.

  1. Why does Mordo have the wrong motivation?

I see what DOCTOR STRANGE is going for with Mordo: a radical follower with an inflexible morality, who will go off the deep end in DOCTOR STRANGE 2. His stated goal, going forward, is that there should be “no sorcerers.” Fine, but that’s the motivation of an entirely different character: Silver Dagger.

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This guy has ALL the crazy.

Silver Dagger is a crazed exorcist out to slay all things supernatural. He’s a stand-in for the religious far right, the stories about him debating belief vs. morality. His backstory naturally supports that.

Mordo is, as Derrickson put it, “very arch” –as in arch-enemy. In the comics, he’s a mustache-twirler, driven only by megalomania. There are plenty of ways to reimagine the character from being a disenfranchised student of the Ancient One. The easiest example is Anakin Skywalker approach. Make Mordo a tormented guy who’s honestly trying save the world and (as his full name is Baron Karl Mordo), he’s trying to save the people of his homeland from… something. He thinks magic is the answer. However, the Ancient One doesn’t trust him. Desperate, Mordo goes rogue, bungles his attempts to save his people, and needs to be taken down. There IS a way to make him a deep character that’s in-keeping with his comic origins, but the movie weirdly wasn’t interested in that.

But as I’ve said, these last three points are just comparing and contrasting to the source material. They have no bearing on if the movie worked or not. Infinity Stones are going crammed in there whether it’s appropriate or not. Dormammu’s lore can be replaced with another extradimensional demigod like Nightmare or Shuma-Gorath. I’m sure DOCTOR STRANGE 2 will make good use of philosophical-conundrum-Mordo. Just because something’s inaccurate, doesn’t mean it’s wrong for the material.

The Doctor Is Out

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Don’t get me wrong, DOCTOR STRANGE is still a fine MCU movie. I’m sure its visuals, rhythm, and climax will give the MCU a second wind. It IS entertaining… but I don’t think that it’s as successful on its own terms as it thinks it is. All that said, I hope the movie does well. Director Scott Derrickson has teased that his sequel would THE DARK KNIGHT by way of Doctor Strange, and that sounds hella interesting. My only hope would be that the creative team look hard at the common criticisms surrounding this (very polished) movie, and improve accordingly.

Until then, make mine Marvel (Studios).

Deus Ex: Human Revolution Sucks

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I’m not prone to sweeping statements like this, but I’ll argue that Deus Ex: Human Revolution is the most overrated game of the previous console generation.

I realize that’s a hell of a thing to say in a console generation that also had Metroid: The Other M. But while The Other M disrespected Samus Aran and featured some of the worst writing on the planet, it was at least (mostly) fun to play. So why pick on Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a revered game in a revered franchise? A game that is, on its surface, about so many big ideas like social prognostication and human singularity. After all, barring the game’s infamously outsourced boss fights, it reviewed as highly as it was anticipated, and sold well.

Then it was quickly forgotten.

I realize, too, that’s not saying much. Its sequel, Mankind Divided, enjoyed a similar flash in the pan moment before being abandoned for the next big game -as are most games- but why doesn’t it, a game with the ideas of Bioshock and the presentation of Metal Gear Solid, resonate the way those games do?

Because it’s shit.

No, it’s not without merit: the “conversation” boss fights are excellent and *should’ve* set the standard for such things, even in Bioware & Bethesda games. Its world feels lived in and complete, successfully transporting the player to a Neuromancer/Blade Runner-style cyberpunk world…

But that’s about where my compliments end.

I’m not sure I’ve ever felt a game where I’ve constantly felt the need to give writing notes. Literally everything about the game is hamfisted, inelegant, antiquated, irritating, or just straight up wrong. Some of these things can be explained by discussing how writing works and operates. Some of the issues are in terms of game mechanics.

Static Presentation

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Right from the get go, I knew something was up. We walk as the protagonist, Adam Jensen, ex-cop and chief of security in a major augmentation tech firm, in a well-trod world, not unlike the opening of Half-Life 2… except that in Half-Life 2, you’re constantly immersed in action. You’re harassed by guards, you’re attacked, you have to make a daring escape… in Human Revolution (DE:HR), you’re alerted to a terrorist attack several floors below, and you’re requested to take care of it. There’s no dynamism, not really a setpiece… just a perfunctory, static feeling to it all. In this tutorial sequence, Jensen can be shot to ribbons by anyone, prompting several game overs (and Christ, get ready to memorize those loading screens). That is to say, it’s not a gentle lead-in, and doesn’t excite so much as confuse. At the tutorial’s climax, Jensen and his girlfriend are apparently murdered by badass cyborg bad guys.

It’s vital to mention here just how bad the writing and voice acting is. Jensen’s voiced by a man who ONLY speaks in menacing whispers, even prior to his tragic origin story. Most of the dialogue is clunky, purple, and inefficient. It doesn’t SOUND clean, and it doesn’t hint character or tell stories the way Bioware dialogue does, for example. Maybe it’s not fair comparing anything to Bioware, but if you’re trying to tell a prestige sci-fi story with gigantic thematic & emotional resonance, you’re standing in their shadow. Big time.

The rest of the game follows like this: endless exposition, a barrage of fetch quests, and fairly static actions within locations. Pick your favorite stealth game, Metal Gear Solid, Batman Arkham Asylum, Assassin’s Creed, Thief, whatever– they all understood if they leaned cinematic or not, and they played into it. DE:HR is attempting to feel cinematic, but is executed the video game equivalent of made for TV. Everything just feels by the numbers.

Adam Jensen: Badass Cyborg?

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Jensen awakes a few months later as a cyborg, and this is where the game fell on its face again. Prior to this, Jensen had been a major tech corporation’s head of security, and apparently a badass. He returns to being head of security and apparently a badass black ops solo-mission kind of guy… except he’s completely ineffectual. Jensen’s upgrades have zero purpose and give him no new skills whatsoever. He can still be easily killed by a random minor enemy, he has trouble hacking into things, he’s not terribly strong, and for some reason, it wastes battery power for him to physically fight people.

Now I realize, part of the appeal of Deus Ex is that the player upgrades Jensen as they go, taking him from glass slingshot to wooden cannon, if you’ll follow the metaphor -but he never feels like a badass, despite his mannerisms. Enemies upgrade at the same rate he does, effectively keeping him ineffectual throughout. Issues in the game mechanics (more on that later) mean that Jensen will never be the paragon of human and machine he apparently is, creating a constant sense of dissonance.

So why are we Jensen, former cop, head of security, posturing cyborg, and all-around Mary Sue? Why are we not Adam Jensen, singularly unlucky janitor, who happened to catch a look at the cyborg terrorists, was horrifically maimed by them, and given cyborg implants by his boss to track them down? Then we’d have a reason to start out ineffectual. We’d have a reason to posture as a badass only for that to be deflated. Hell, we’d have a reason for janitor-cyborg to become badass-cyborg. We’d have a character arc. Imagine that.

It’s not like we’re losing anything, as Jensen is a blank slate. Backstory is eluded: a cracked mirror in his apartment signifying his disgust with his cyborg features. We’re told in an exposition dump that Jensen may be a test tube baby. There’s pathos in ideas like this. So why don’t we see these scenes play out? Why don’t we see scenes of Jensen trying to figure out what it means to be Jensen if that’s so important to him? Why isn’t Jensen’s physical journey married to a personal one? And I mean beyond his cliche dead girlfriend motivation. Instead, Jensen just learns that his boss is kind of a bastard -something that was obvious from the start.

Nearly every character sucks.

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It’s hard to get invested in a game when nearly every character is painfully unlikable. With the lone exception of Faridah Malik, Jensen’s plucky pilot and only interesting female character, everyone is skeezy, standoffish, and without redeeming qualities. Pritchard, your hacking eye-in-the-eye exists purely to insult you, lay on the sarcasm, and presumably sniff toilet seats. Sarif, your boss, is MADE of condescension and arrogance and is very, Very, VERY clearly the bad guy. Both of these assholes are voiced by preening yuppies, who only make them less likeable.

The villains are baffling. Two of the Illuminati’s best wear ridiculous ruff collars, and as they’re women, they can’t interact with Jensen without coming onto him. The villainous badass cyborgs? What passes for their characterization is 1. A buff man with a Texan accent. 2. A slim, buff man with an Eastern European accent. And 3. A buff woman who doesn’t speak. How am I supposed to care about the villains if they’ve literally no point?

If Jensen’s mission is a Heart of Darkness-like voyage into the moral complexity of cybernetic augmentations, shouldn’t the characters reflect those moral complexities? Say what you will for Metal Gear Solid’s brand of impenetrable exposition, but characters like Psycho Mantis, Sniper Wolf, and The Boss/Joy resonate for being deep, complex characters who serve as facets of an antiwar thesis. You don’t forget them. Meanwhile, Jensen just has a shitty boss. ::yawn:: …But that’s still better than you can say about the minor inhabitants of Jensen’s world.

A Brave New World… of Bigotry

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I’m just going to come out and say it: Deus Ex: Human Revolution is racist and sexist. On the surface, it might not seem that way, after all, the cast is a fairly even mix of races and sexes. That’s good diversity. However, after the tutorial mission, we’re taken to the slums of Detroit where Jensen fights through legions of black and Hispanic gangbangers. Then it’s off to the slums of China to indulge in some Yellow Peril. Throughout this, Jensen is constantly able to talk up and help prostitutes, or a police officer who’s going undercover as one. This isn’t third wave; it’s sexual exploitation.

Yes, cyberpunk operates on the ubiquity and criminal abuse of technology, generally in a noir setting, but it generally show’s a diffusion of races, almost to the point where ethnicity doesn’t matter. It doesn’t generally go out of its way to create horrible racial stereotypes as DE:HR does. What’s the point of this? To convey danger though xenophobia? To show that technology hasn’t bridged social bonds or wealth disparity? If the latter, the script and presentation’s doing a piss-poor job. There IS wealth disparity in DE:HR, and hints of gender inequality, but none of it is explored; it’s only there for titillation.

The same goes for its sexual exploitation. Your detective adventure doesn’t NEED to go through a brothel, concern back-alley prostitutes, or even go through a strip club. Sure, you can have sensual elements in your story, but it has to be an integral part of your story instead of just an excuse for sexual objectification. Third wave feminism in media is awesome, so long as agency, context, and representation are carefully considered.

The World Is Bugged

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So what IS the message of DE:HR? It attempts to explore the ethical complexities of augmentations in a transglobal society, but even the minor points of this, such as transhumanism are only paid lip service through background news feeds. Effectively, the game has more to do with xenophobia, fear of the lower classes, conspiracy theories about corporations, technophobia, and masculine power fantasies. This is not the genre-defying enlightenment of Bioshock, but pure pulp, with little of value to say.

This will seem like a minor point, but it blows my mind that there are newspapers and radios in this world. Bear in mind, this is a world with tablets, smartphones, technological implants, holograms, and more. Why would there be radios? Why would there be newspapers? Why would there be any kind of differentiation between “Ebooks,” “Pocket Secretaries,” and “Electronic Newspapers?” Why wouldn’t all of these things just be on various devices? The game design answer is “so you know what to expect from objects,” but why should that detract from world logic? Why not have Jensen just scan/hack personal devices and get what he needs/wants from them? I’m not saying that EVERY cyberpunk story needs to display technological and social foresight, but bear in mind, the people designing this game are in the tech sector writing a game ostensibly ABOUT the tech sector. Shouldn’t they have ANY insight or predictions on what’s to come beyond the technophobic “augs are bad… Maybe?” Yes. Yes they should.

But is it fun, bro?

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My gameplay experience.

While the above problems would damn most screenplays, the X-factor for video games is whether or not the game’s fun to play. So IS it fun? Is its stealth intuitive? Does it give you effective options for stealth and instead of stealth? Is it easy to navigate the world and select your own path? Do you feel like the badass cyborg saboteur you’re meant to be?

No.

No, I’d say not. Now I’m not invalidating those who’ve beaten the game with a flawless stealth record, nor am I invalidating those who had a good time with the game, but the game is, plainly, unintuitive.

Maybe it’s better on the PC, where you can reassign all the buttons, but why in love of God, is X your confirmation button on the Xbox 360? Why is R3 your sniper scope? Why is L1 your chest-High-wall-connection button? These are unorthodox placements and the source of great confusion.

On top of that, the controls are stiff, making Jensen feel to lurch about. There’s no oomf to the shooting controls, or to the weapons themselves, from a combination of poor sound effects, poor weapon animation, and from the fact that every enemy is a bullet sponge. Jensen never stops feeling clumsy and jerky, compared to Dishonored’s Corvo feeling spritely and elegant, or smooth and calculating the way Batman feels in Arkham Asylum.

It doesn’t help that, as eluded earlier, Jensen’s got a penchant for getting the hell shot out of him. Most regular enemies and kill him with small arms fire. Upgrading his armor barely helps. On top of that, Jensen can’t fall more than five feet without dying instantly, all of which contributing to this sense of klutzy ineptitude.

When you finally invest in aug upgrades so you can fall 5.001 feet without dying, you get a stupid canned animation of Jensen in an energy bubble, radiating electricity, arms spread out like Christ’s second coming. Why? Can’t he just tighten his leg augs or something? Everything’s got a canned animation, like the Typhoon grenade system -which just fires a ring of grenades around you. Jensen has to make a super suave pose, do a little twirl, crouch down, and THEN fire the grenades -all while the enemies are haplessly firing at you. Who was supposed to tell them that you’re in a cutscene and they’re not? All of Jensen’s melee attacks ALSO trigger a cutscene, instead of just, Y’know, playing out. Thanks, game. I WAS an ineffective robot man. Now I’m a pretentious one too. Just what I always wanted.

So what does this combined clunkiness look like in action? You’re a pretentious robot man, sneaking around an identical black-and-piss-yellow enemy base (a pallet shared by the entire game), and because you can combat roll in front of cameras without being seen, but not lasers, for no discernible reason, you get caught. Oh, shit! Time to shoot your way– oh, your bullets are ineffective and they killed you already. “Reload the last save?” The game offers, having you wait through a full minute of loading screens for the umpteeth time. What’s the point of having a ton of sci-fi weapons if they don’t allow you to consistently get out of harm’s way? I was attacked by several bodyguards in tuxedos, and somehow my minigun didn’t drop them before they killed me. Another time, I was trying to snipe my way through a difficult room, but when I Headshot a guard, his helmet absorbed the shot and he alerted everybody else. Three reloads later, I snuck up on this guy and punched him -in the helmet- rendering him unconscious. Guess his helmet was bulletproof, not fistproof.

All of this points to an illusion of choice. Sure, you can build Jensen to be a combat champ all you want, but you’re in a stealth game, and no matter how tough you make Jensen, no matter what weapons you have, you’ll always be outgunned. And despite the fact that there are multiple routes to your objectives, there are often clearly wrong routes -those with patrolling enemies- and clearly correct routes -ventilation shafts. Which are invariably hidden by a couple of the countless random boxes and crates strewn about the world. Oh, you didn’t see the vent because you didn’t think to turn over a nondescript box far off the beaten path? Hope you enjoy being Swiss cheese. Seriously, because these routes are so unintuitively placed, I tended to find them only after I’d done things the hard way.

And don’t get me started on hacking.

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The definition of insanity is doing the same action and expecting different results. That is hacking in DE:HR. In this incessantly-occurring mini game, one has to take over data points, working one’s way to a target point. The problem is, every time you take over a data point, you have a predetermined chance of getting caught and failing. That is, this is a percentile, so at any single hacking point, you might breeze through with no problem, or, more likely, you’ll fail, alerting every guard to your presence. And you’ll die. This means reloading your save. Again. And looking at that damn loading screen. AGAIN. There’s no skill involved, no merit of the player, just “did you upgrade your hacking percentile to a slightly more advantageous number?” As hacking is the single most common thing you’ll do in DE:HR, this turns the game into a protracted session of save-reloading and frustration. This is without mentioning how precise the controls and feedback are in-hacking, leading you to think you’ve activated a data point when you’ve only just moved out of it. Is it worth it? When you open up doors, safes, and security systems, sure, it can be. When you open up personal computers, though…

Resident Evil popularized diary entries in games to help flesh out the narrative experience, and since then, audio logs have become staples of video game storytelling, bringing in whole new casts of characters, exploring existing themes, and creating emergent side stories which can enrich the player’s experience and understanding of the game. DE:HR has few to no audio logs but a STAGGERINGLY high amount of email chains to read. Yeah, if I’m a modern-day hacker, I might sift through thousands of corporate emails to find incriminating exchanges, but if I’m a badass cyborg in the middle of a hot zone, why is that my only option? There’s no brevity of cast here, just a barrage of samey emails saying, “Hey, I switched the password to this. Remember it, even if some cyborg guy is going to hack around it because using passwords give no experience points.” While games like Bioshock and Dishonored use audio logs and journal entries to enrich the world, Deus Ex uses email chains as one of its primary means of storytelling, and put simply: Who cares? When every Pocket Secretary just gives you unlocking information, when Ebooks just offer tepid philosophy about augmentations, who cares if a random email has anything to say? I’m sure they could enrich my experience, but I’ve only got so much time in the day.

Old Man Yells at iCloud

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So why am I crucifying a game from 2011 when there are so many other games out there? Especially when there’s a new Deus Ex happily flouncing its truncated self across consoles now? Honestly, it seems like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is suffering from the same storytelling flaws and thematic conflations that are held back DE:HR. Acceptable gameplay in a market starved for it, but confusing social statements, poor characterization, an inappropriate RPG system… the works.

Is it a case of the games Industry learning little since the last installment? If anything, the developers learned that Dishonored ruled, so they stole a few moves from that. Is it a case of poor feedback? At the time, most of the rave reviews game from longtime fans of the series, or at least its first installment. Fangasms aren’t conducive to fixing flaws. Or am I just being overly critical? Surely someone will tell me “it’s just a game” or that they “got what they wanted out of it.” As I said before, those are valid enough casual opinions, I guess.

But do sentiments like that advance the medium? Do they help games to become more entertaining and more impactful works of art? Of course not. Criticism, especially harsh criticism, is born from love and investment and a deep desire to see things improve. I love Cyberpunk’s gritty take on the future its big ideas on who we are and where we’re going, even if it’s just as ugly as where we are now. I love how stealth games give you the satisfaction of a perfectly timed takedown, or a pulse-pounding fight out of harm’s way against superior foes. Deus Ex: Human Revolution had the potential to explore cyberpunk’s big questions in a way that was polished, intuitive, and exciting. Instead, it half-assed it, delivering a racist, sexist world of unlikable characters, a baffling conspiracy theory plot, and stilted gameplay. It has nothing to offer.

And that’s the real shame.

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: HOW TO FIX IT

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Even if you loved BATMAN V SUPERMAN (BvS), it’s hard to deny how divisive it was. Projected to close WAY under its projected 1.5 billion dollars, director Zack Snyder’s second shot at the DC universe failed to find an audience. But why? Some moronically claim that the movie’s philosophy and themes were “too smart for Marvel fans;” others blame the movie’s dour tone; and still others point to the movie’s atrocious script.

As per usual, I’m in the third camp. BvS wears its philosophies on its sleeve, but it doesn’t execute them in a way that’s clear or entertaining. So how could it have improved?

With damn near a page-one rewrite.

HERE ARE OUR RULES:

  1. Good script notes understand a story’s goal and try to make the script the best possible version of itself. Batman v Superman wants to be a grim philosophy-fest culminating in dueling superheroes AND set up the Justice League? Sure. We can do that.
  1. BvS is a follow up to the just-as-polarizing MAN OF STEEL (MoS). It too had a slew of script troubles, but everyone honed in on the ludicrous amounts of violence, property damage, and implied civilian casualties. BvS was meant to address those issues and course-correct the franchise. Our script has to do that.
  1. Batman & Superman have an established comic book mythology with a worldwide following. While this doesn’t necessitate a slavish recreation (even the Marvel movies take liberties), it DOES indicate that, to one extent or another, these characters “work” and are cherished. If you’re using the characters, even in a deconstructionist sense, you NEED to be true to the spirit of their characters. Who are they at their core and why is that interesting?

STEP ONE: WHAT CAN BE CUT?

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“GRRRR! I’M A BAD GUY!”

It’s no secret that the first hour-hour and half of BvS is borderline incoherent from too many plot-threads, interchangeable themes, bad internal logic, and terrible pacing. This leads to a climax that doesn’t feel like the big payoff it should and that doesn’t adequately establish why its shared continuity is exciting.

By removing segments that are confusing, contradictory, irrelevant, overcomplicated, or inappropriate for the material, we can VASTLY improve the material.

So, what’s on the chopping block?

1. The death of Bruce Wayne’s parents & the discovery of the Bat-Cave.
-Everyone knows Batman’s origin. Nobody needs this rehashed.
-It’s only there to establish that “Martha” is Bruce’s mother, which will be used as an on-its-face-stupid plot device later to connect Batman & Superman
-This is revealed to be a dream sequence, which is a piss-poor way of opening a movie. Opening with a dream sequence destroys the trust between audience & storyteller (unless the story is literally about dreams and questionable reality). This script isn’t about dreams.

2. Everything that happens in Africa and as a result of Africa. We get a stunning 9/11 re-enactment of Bruce Wayne watching the destruction of Metropolis in the wake of Superman & Zod’s fight. THAT is your Inciting Incident –the first implication of the central conflict. BvS ignores this, instead focusing on Superman being framed for murdering dudes in Africa after he saved Lois from a warlord.
-Superman has never used a gun in the series and he’s demonstrably more powerful than bullets. Why would he use them?
-The focus on Africa ignores Metropolis as an Inciting Incident, which is a sloppy choice.
-Neither Superman or Lois mourn the human loss in Africa, especially to their friend, Jimmy Olsen, who is gunned down right in front of Lois. Instead, they have sex in a bathtub.
-The African massacre is clearly there to echo the War on Terror, which Metropolis’ destruction already covers.
-That makes the African massacre confusing as to its motivation and effect on the plot.

3. The Superman Statue in Metropolis.
Half of Metropolis was leveled, and countless people lost their lives in the devastation. Superman would be an extremely polarizing figure. There’s no chance they’d build a memorial statue for him. In all rationality, they’d first try him for reckless endangerment, as the trailers seemed to suggest.

4. Every Dream Sequence.
-As established, Batman’s origin is a wasted sequence
-The “Knightmare” sequence in the post-apocalypse where Batman shoots & kills people and Superman laser-visions people to death. Countless people have been put off by the violence in the sequence, it’s not pertinent to the immediate story, and it’s baffling to non-fans.
-Flash’s cameo. Flash shows up in a dream/time-wormhole/who knows to Batman after the “Knightmare,” to warn Batman about Superman. Again, baffling to non-fans, Flash’s armor confused many existing fans, and it’s not motivated by anything in a script sense. If this paid off later (if we saw Batman send Flash back in time to warn him IN THIS FILM) it might make more sense. As it is, it’s a weird dream-within-a dream. This is not INCEPTION, people.
-Pa Kent’s “dead horse” monologue. Pa Kent shows up on top of a mountain to tell Superman that heroism will always cost lives. Beyond the fact that it’s demonstrably untrue in real life, every other living character has spouted off about the cost of heroism. It’s unnecessary. Being a dream, it further complicates the movie’s already troubled grasp on reality.
-Martha Wayne, the Demon Bat. Bruce Wayne has a nightmare that his mother’s grave is bleeding. When he touches the blood, a Demon Bat bursts out and attacks him. Is this supposed to speak to the darkness within Bruce? To his fears of fighting Superman? To his survivor’s guilt over his parents? What? It’s not a clear line to anything. It’s only there to look kewl.

5. Batman Violence.
Yes, this is supposedly the “best” Batman (I’ll always say BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, or if pressed, BATMAN BEGINS, because those have the fighting skills, detective skills, compassion, and respect for human life going for them), but he’s got a serious problem with violence. Remember, the movie says he’s opposed to Superman’s violence in Metropolis’ destruction. He has to be consistent and offer a rational alternative. We’ll remove…
-The Bat-Brand. He uses this to mark “the worst” criminals so prison inmates know to kill them. That’s not any Batman I recognize, and if fundamentally misunderstands who Batman is. He stops crime; he doesn’t perpetuate it, even indirectly. More, what criminal would go along with what Batman says? That makes zero sense.
-Removing the “Knightmare” sequence takes care of Batman murdering people. Mostly.
-Tone down the Batmobile. Yes, the Batmobile is awesome, no Batman shouldn’t be shooting people or literally monster-trucking them to death.
-Physical violence. Even outside of “Knightmare,” this Batman MAIMS people. Most of the people he fights in the warehouse won’t be walking again. Or breathing without medical assistance. He also directly killed the guy with the flamethrower. If Batman is this violent, SUICIDE SQUAD couldn’t exist in this universe; they’d all be in traction. The Joker –WHO KILLED JASON TODD prior to the movie- would be six feet under.

6. Doomsday.
Lex Luthor is one of the greatest  villains in comic books. A master genius, strategist, manipulator, he hides his villainy behind a spotless reputation as a businessman and philanthropist. Bearing in mind that in the comics he made his own anti-Superman Iron Man armor, you have more than enough to make him a physical threat too. So why bother with Doomsday?
-Doomsday is literally only there to kill Superman. His appearance alone telegraphs this, making it unsurprising to fans and baffling to general audiences. The death of Superman, cinematically, occurs too early in the franchise for this to have any emotional resonance. It isn’t earned.
-Doomsday doesn’t have any bearing on the plot prior to his appearance.
-The devastation of Gotham in the fight with him renders Batman’s anti-civilian casualties point moot. Seriously, it’s like an atom bomb hit Gotham. One-line explain-aways like “everyone in that district went home for the night” can’t cover shitty logic.
-Although Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman fight together, they absolutely do not communicate. Nothing in the fight advances any of their characters, save for Wonder Woman, who receives the bulk of her (slim) characterization here. This makes their team up against a generic villain blank and kind of boring.
-The whole point of Doomsday is the slow, growing certainty of failure and death. In the DEATH OF SUPERMAN comic, Superman makes peace with Lois and himself before knowingly giving his life to stop Doomsday. Using Doomsday as random a boss fight fundamentally misunderstands the psychology of the source material.
-That cave troll is not Doomsday.

7. “Martha”
Batman and Superman’s fight comes to a screeching halt when they realize that their mom has the same first name. This is cataclysmically stupid and has nothing to do with the multitude of previously established themes. It’s trite, easy, overly convenient, and, honestly, not very satisfying. It doesn’t even begin to address their philosophical differences, which, I remind you, are driving this story.

8. Bruce Wayne’s Training
Seriously, we’ve seen Batman kick 9 kinds of ass already in this movie. We know that he’s in peak physical condition. We don’t need to see him lift tires to understand that. More, we know that no human being is remotely a challenge for Superman. It’s wasted screen time.

9. Talking heads
Batman v Superman pays homage to THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS comic by all buy copy-pasting the talk shows that discuss the pros and cons of Superman. There are a few problems with this montage.
-This sequence was used in the comic to be political and philosophical babble. Satire meant to mock the hyper politicization of the 80s-onward and to show how far society has fallen. IT IS NOT serious political and philosophical discourse. Portraying it in this way misses the point.
-The talking heads are over a montage where Superman repeatedly saves people. This does not advance the plot in any meaningful way beyond “giving Superman something to do.”
-These people are stating multiple conflicting themes in a movie that already states multiple conflicting themes. Just because you state those themes doesn’t mean you execute those themes. Just because something’s on the screen DOES NOT make it intelligible.

10. Chasing experimental bullets
We already cut Africa, but so this is clear, Lois is kept “active” in the story because she’s chasing down experimental bullets that Lex’s mercenaries in Africa used. These bullets are meant to create a conspiracy that leads to Lex Luthor. Here are the problems:
-Experimental bullets that lead to Lex? How cartoonish and obvious can you get?
-Why the hell wouldn’t mercenaries just use normal bullets?
-Again, if this is meant to incriminate Superman, it’s far beyond his modus operandi

11. Kidnapping Martha Kent
Lex Luthor forces Superman to fight Batman by threatening to kill his mother if he doesn’t.
-Superman has demonstrated super-hearing in this script. No doubt he could find her in a matter of moments if he tried. Coupled with Superman’s x-ray vision, wtf is Lex thinking?
-All Superman has to do to prevent the fight is to tell Batman that Lex Luthor has kidnapped his mother. Instead, Superman decides to fight Batman out of chest-beating masculinity.
-Kidnapping? Really? That’s the best criminal mastermind and tech CEO Lex Luthor has to offer? C’mon…

12. The Destroyed World Engine
Early in the movie, children find a giant hunk of Kryptonite, Superman’s weakness, in the remains of one of the giant terraforming devices from Man of Steel. Why is its twisted wreckage just sitting there? Wouldn’t Superman have thrown it into space or the military have seized it? It’s bad world-building.

13. The Death of Superman
We’re not killing Superman. We’ve established that killing him in this way has no resonance and would mean nothing this early in the series. Let’s hold off until it CAN mean something after Justice League 3 or something.

14. Wonder Woman
Of all the pledged cuts, this is the only one I feel bad about, as Wonder Woman was one of the few things that audiences across the board seemed to like. She was cool, she liked to fight, she had killer theme music, and that WWI picture of her was fantastic. The problem is that she’s largely inactive when she’s undercover, having go-nowhere scenes with Bruce Wayne, and when she suddenly shows up to fight Doomsday, it feels like deus ex machina –like an easy out- for the main characters.
Yes, Wonder Woman is a major part of “The Trinity;” yes, she’s a major Justice League character; yes, we need more female superheroes; yes, Gal Gadot looked awesome… No, it wasn’t the best way to use her. No, it wasn’t her story. No, she didn’t add interesting themes to a movie that was, principally, theme-driven.
Because she was so loved by the fanbase and by general audiences, I’m willing to concede on this by saying that she can stay in the movie IF she can be given a more integral role so her appearance at the end doesn’t come out of nowhere.

15. The White Portuguese
Are you trying to tell me that Batman, the World’s Greatest Detective, the guy with a giant-ass crime-computer, couldn’t figure out the name of a boat?
Horseshit.

By removing all these things, we already have a slicker, more understandable movie that’s prepared to tell the story it’s advertising: Batman v Superman. It also has more time to investigate the heavy themes that are so important to it. While this makes the movie more approachable, it doesn’t solve some other key issues.

STEP TWO: WHAT SHOULD BE REARRANGED?

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Next, we’ll talk about what elements could be rearranged to make the story more entertaining. As it stands, DEAR GOD, BvS is poorly paced. If it’s not taking an excruciatingly long time to reach major plot points, it’s padding itself with sequel-baiting. Some of these issues can be fixed simply by placing them somewhere else.

1. The title fight
Why is the main fight between Batman & Superman saved for the end of the movie? Up until that point, they barely interact, save for glaring and Superman trashing the Batmobile. They disagree on… something. Collateral damage? Threat to society? That philosophical difference is all the movie cares about, not the actual fight. As a result, 2/3rds of movie feels like empty build-up.
So move the fight to the first act turning point, or roughly 25 minutes in. Doing this allows you to get to the crux of the confrontation faster; highlights that Batman doesn’t have a chance; more clearly motivates him to find kryptonite; gives Lex more reason to scheme and maneuver; and gives Superman more cause to question himself and his role in the world. Doing this also allows you to have them fight more than once. The first time, Batman gets his ass kicked. The second time, with Kryptonite, it’s more evenly matched. After that, well… you get to the rest of the story.

2. “Freaks dressed as clowns.”
Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent attend a party held by Lex Luthor, where they trade barbs about each other’s secret identity, leading to Bruce making the above remark. It’s a great scene, and –cut like it was in the second trailer- it’s genuinely the best written scene in the movie. Here’s the problem: their dialogue hints that they both know the other’s secret identity, which at this point in the movie is impossible.
Move it to after the first fight. Maybe Batman gets unmasked by Superman, or Superman discovers his identity with X-Ray vision. Maybe Batman plants a tracking beacon on Superman or deduces it with keen detective skills. Hell, maybe the glasses just don’t fool Batman. The point is, this scene plays better if the dialogue is a verbal representation of their physical battle. It plays better if they know each other’s secret identity.

3. Move the Justice League cameos to the end.
Just as Batman and Superman are about to fight Doomsday, Wonder Woman watches some youtube videos of forthcoming Justice League characters –Aquaman underwater stabbing a camera, Flash stopping a grocery store robbery, and Cyborg getting fused to a Motherbox –a teleportation machine from a distant planet. These aren’t quick cuts, but long takes of each character that destroy the pacing of the movie, especially right on top of the climax. Although WB/DC is trying hard not to be Marvel, these scenes NEED to happen at the end of the movie so they don’t distract from the current movie.  As to how to improve these scenes, well…

STEP THREE: WHAT SHOULD BE CHANGED?

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“What to change” in a nutshell.

 

BvS is failing so hard that some things need to be changed outright. Maybe they didn’t fit the movie’s tone. Maybe their theme is wrong. Maybe they push the movie in a bad direction. Hell, maybe they represent a missed opportunity.

What should’ve been changed?

1. The Justice League cameos
Film logic can be hard to explain to people who don’t speak the lingo. Think of a sentence that’s too long to be entertaining or easily understood. Think of a song that’s really repetitive. Think of watching someone walk toward you from over a block away. That’s how these scenes feel. The Aquaman scene goes on too long. The Flash scene is a little too staged. The Cyborg origin DEFINITELY goes on too long and has an inappropriate tone.
Maybe this should’ve been a montage? Batman or Wonder Woman looks through the secret files, and although they’re hidden camera footage, they’re arranged like a montage complete with music. Quick cuts, as much information as you need to see that your favorite characters are there and what might lie ahead for them. Aquaman stabs a camera; Flash stops a robbery and ties up the bad guy; Cyborg integrates more technology into his body or does a weapons test; Green Lantern gets his ring and blasts off into space; The Suicide Squad recruits a dangerous new member; etc.
Just showing audiences characters won’t get them excited. Showing them characters in a way that’s exciting will. Presenting information as action also gets people interested in future movies.

2. Batman’s captured criminal
So in a throwaway scene in Gotham, Batman saves a bunch of sex-trafficking victims by branding their slaver with a batarang. He then escapes the police. It doesn’t serve much purpose beyond establishing that Batman’s methods are extreme (even after what Superman did to Metropolis, it seems).
The scene could be marginally more interesting if he was taking down someone who’d appear in Suicide Squad. Maybe Batman stops Deadshot or Slipknot from assassinating someone. Maybe he books Harley Quinn or the Joker? Any of these would be a good tool for setting up Suicide Squad in a more natural way. After all, this Batman has been around for awhile. No doubt the criminals in Suicide Squad had to come from somewhere. Again, we removed Batman’s ultra-violence, so this scene no longer serves that point. Now, it’s here to establish that he can get the job done without collateral damage, and will do so at any cost. It’s also here to shamelessly plug future DC movies.

3. Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor
Did anyone like Jesse Eisenberg’s Max-Landis-as-Lex-Luthor? Yeah, Eisenberg is a great actor, but within a certain context. Not in this context. He doesn’t fit the established tone of BvS, and he’s a pointless reinvention of the character. What was your favorite Jesse Luthor moment? Him forcing a cherry Jolly Rancher into a guy’s mouth? The jar of piss? “The Red capes are coming?”
This is getting into ad hominem territory, but when Zack Snyder’s Objectivist politics became known, it almost made sense that he wouldn’t portray Lex Luthor as his comic book counterpart. The comic book Lex Luthor IS an objectivist, and someone that Snyder would probably sympathize most with. Which is probably why he doesn’t like classic Superman –a guy who does good things out of the goodness of his heart. Snyder doesn’t agree with Superman’s politics. He can’t see him as the hero against an objectivist.
So, why not cast Lex Luthor as his traditional comic book self? The objectivist, bald, physically fit, manipulative genius of business and crime? He’d be a much more threatening foe, have fewer comparisons to the Joker, and still fall within the attempted themes of people seizing power for themselves. Why not have the most threatening version of the villain?
The only excuse I can imagine for keeping Eisenberg as Luthor was that he managed to break up the movie’s monotony.
Lex Luthor can still get the Kryptonian technology from MoS’s World Engines or from Zod’s crashed ship. He can still generate a physical threat (just not Doomsday), and he can still play both men against each other. He just doesn’t have to be an irritating asshole the whole time.

4. What the characters stand for
This isn’t so much a change as a massive clarification. BvS revolves around its themes, so it’s important for us to understand in no uncertain terms what the characters stand for.
Is Batman anti-alien? Is he anti-collateral damage and civilian casualties? Does he simply want justice for the people who died in Metropolis? Does he think that nobody should have absolute power to enact justice? If so, how does he reconcile his own actions?
What does Superman want? The movie indicates that he’s grappling with his own godhood. Fine, but what does that mean emotionally? “Am I a god or aren’t I” isn’t emotive. Is he trying to redeem himself after the collateral damage at Metropolis and Smallville? Is he anti-Batman violence? If so, why is he ok killing people? Does he feel that might makes right? Is he just trying to live a normal life? Without knowing his goals, it’s hard to say what he stands for thematically. Rather, most of the movie makes him an object to be acted upon.
BvS’ Lex Luthor stands for mortals seizing power for themselves, and perhaps doing it in a corrupt way. How does that play against Batman and Superman’s themes? Is it the correct theme for him? Do we even know what Lex Luthor wants, exactly, beyond a dead Superman?
Without knowing all of these things, it’s hard to tell a coherent movie with a clear division of philosophies. We need to have a clear idea of what these differing philosophies are and how they differ before we can understand why Batman and Superman would EVER come to blows. Otherwise, we’re just aping the imagery of The Dark Knight Returns without understanding how much its Batman/Superman fight was contextualized.

5. The senate hearing
This is one of the most important scenes in the movie, and it’s wasted. The senate hearing represents an opportunity for the characters to espouse their philosophies, goals, and methods, and to highlight the conflict of the movie.
Instead, Superman gets nothing to say, everyone stares at a jar of piss, and a guy in a wheelchair explodes, killing everyone. It’s meant to implicate Superman as a murderer, but how does that happen? We know from real-world arson cases that the source of the explosion could be easily determined.
The senate hearing needs to establish Superman’s platitudes, his goals, and his methodology. Or, more simply, what does he want and how does he plan to get it? That’s how EVERY movie works and neglecting it here is a major misstep.  ESPECIALLY in a movie about themes and ideology.  More, it needs to establish how society will deal with Superman. Will it take measures to assure his cooperation? Will it demand he leaves? What happens if he doesn’t agree with their decision?

6. No Darkseid
BvS heavily eludes to Darkseid as the JUSTICE LEAGUE villain, with a barrage of imagery in Batman’s “knightmare” and with Luthor’s implications of interacting with them.
All of this is horseshit.
Sure, Darkseid is one of those imposing foes of the DC universe, but he’s not the worst. More, although he was certainly the inspiration for Marvel’s Thanos, Thanos has already been seen on the big screen a few times now. Bringing Darkseid to your JUSTICE LEAGUE movie is only going to seem like you’re copying Marvel.
Trust me, Justice League has way more villains. Vandal Savage, Eclipso, Despero, The Injustice League, The Crime Syndicate, Amazo, Dr. Destiny, The Anti-Monitor, Prometheus, Circe, Starro, Queen of Fables, Imperiex, and some of the individual heroes’ most powerful villains: Ra’s al Ghul, Joker, Mr. Mxyptlk, Lex Luthor, Ocean Master, Ares, seriously, the list just keeps going on.
Pick one that better resonates with your universe and doesn’t make you seem like a copycat.
Want more? Making Luthor the stooge of Darkseid makes him a less interesting, less individual character. He’s not goddamned Loki; he’s Lex Luthor.

7. Batman’s Age
In the BvS universe, Bruce has been Batman for a long time, however, Gotham police and Clark Kent act like he’s a new phenomena. “He operates in shadows.” Sure he does. He also pilots a plane that spews bullets and a drives a car that might as well be a monster truck. Why is Batman 50-60 years old? Why are the cops unsure about him? Gotham would’ve LONG made up their mind about him. What is the benefit of this, especially when this info is contradictory?
Because it’s a callback to THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. The other reason is that after the death of Jason Todd, Batman’s grown old and bitter, which is an excuse to have him use extreme violence.
I’d argue that his being an old man makes little sense, especially with A. how impulsive and overt he is. B. How soon the actor could age out C. How the universe responds to him.
Either he’s a relatively new urban rumor, or he’s a fixture of the city.

Ok, so by removing vast swaths of the movie that aren’t working and by reordering events to work better, we’re tentatively left with the “best parts” or “most vital parts” of the movie. That doesn’t leave us with much movie (the movie was singularly bad, and we’ve had to cut nearly all of it). That leaves our last step:

STEP FOUR: WHAT NEEDS TO BE ADDED?

 

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1. Luthor kills a Bat-Villain.
Let’s go back to Batman arresting a known villain who could get inducted into Suicide Squad.
Instead, maybe he arrests one of his known-but-minor villains. Mad Hatter, Anarky, Calendar Man, etc. But, Lex Luthor is waiting at the police station, having paid off the arresting officers to turn a blind eye. Luthor talks to this villain about the injustice of the arrest at the hands of the Bat. The villain swears revenge. Luthor asks him what he’d do for revenge. The villain says “anything.” Luthor kills him and dumps the body in an alley around Gotham City, telling the police that if they breathe a word to anyone, he’ll  make their whole family suffer.
Suddenly, it looks like Batman killed that guy. Won’t Superman be pleased.
Now you have a reason for Superman to want to fight Batman –”he killed a guy”- and the conversation can’t be ended as simply as “Martha.” More, Batman having murdered a guy allows Superman to do some soul-searching –after all, he killed a guy too (in MoS). Maybe he wants to take Batman down for both for justice and because Batman represents, to him, the dark side of himself –a reminder of his failures.

2. Superman is wracked with guilt from Man of Steel.
In the events of MoS, Superman is complicit in the destruction of Smallville, the destruction of a third of Metropolis, and the murder of General Zod. In BvS, Superman acts relatively well-adjusted, his chief worries about what it means to him to be a god. There’s no sense of character growth from the previous movie and little indication that he’s learned anything from it. Sure, he saves lots of people in this, but he also saved a handful of people in MoS from an exploding oil rig.
If BvS is a response to the criticism of MoS –you bet your ass it is- Superman has to show growth as a character. He screamed when he broke Zod’s neck. That indicates a perceived failure on his part (he’s not well-characterized in MoS for us to specify what failure that is), and a wish to change/improve.  This is all the motivation we need to evolve Superman’s character into one that more closely resembles his comic book counterpart –the pinnacle of goodness of virtue, an inspiration to all of humanity in the universe to be better than we ever thought we could be. He WANTS to be that guy.
So yes, let’s make Superman wrestle with his guilt. Maybe he’s trying to save everyone in the world. He can’t let a single person die because if he did, maybe the world’s right about him. Maybe he’s a monster. Maybe he’s too dangerous to live. Over the course of the story, though, we see that this drive to save people is a natural state for him. He’s shrugging off the bad morals of the Kent family and coming into his own.
He genuinely wants to help people. And that might have to start with stopping someone who he perceives as hurting people –Batman: a person who he sees as embodying his failure.

3. The first fight between Batman & Superman doesn’t go so well.
In BvS, Batman and Superman only fight once. At the very end. That is a catastrophic mistake for a movie whose name suggests a massive battle. Their fight is brutal but bland, and their only other confrontation is just an exchange of glares after Superman trashes the Batmobile. That’s nowhere near enough.
So give us a Batman/Superman fight at the first act turning point –about 25 minutes in. For this fight, we don’t need Batman in the Frank Miller armor; he’d take on Superman with the Batjet and the Batmobile and get owned. Batman uses both of his vehicles in tandem, and they’re swatted like flies. Superman isn’t even trying. Batman pulls out all the stops, emptying his utility belt to no effect. Superman just walks through the gadgetry, lecturing about stopping Batman’s violence. He grabs Batman, pledging to make him face justice –only to be distracted by screams only he can hear. He flies off, swearing to finish this another time. He leaves Batman scared shitless. Especially because he calls Batman “Bruce.” X-ray vision and whatnot.
Of course Batman planted a tracker on Superman, which he uses to determine that Superman is Clark Kent. Or, again, maybe he just deduces it. He IS the world’s greatest detective after all.

4. Batman comes prepared for the next fight.
In the second fight (about 50 minutes in), Batman’s had tons of time to prepare. The Frank Miller armor, Sonics, missiles, kryptonite, etc. Both men espouse their stances on justice as they fight. Batman gets the upper-hand with the kryptonite. Their fight causes a building to collapse, and Superman hears people inside. They work together, barely managing to save everyone before the building collapses.
In this moment, they realize that they’re opposite sides of the same coin. Both men just want to help people, but they have very different methods. They understand, from previous deeds or misconceptions, that maybe they don’t have all the answers.
You use action to show that these two can see eye-to-eye philosophically. It’s WAY THE HELL more believable than them becoming best friends over their moms having the same name.

5. Rooftop Heart to Heart
How weird is it that Batman and Superman barely talk to each other in BvS? Just a few sentences between them could’ve solved everything.
In our rewrite, these are guys who’ve been beating on each other for about half the script. After they nearly just killed each other in pursuit of justice, they realize that they’re more alike than they could’ve imagined.
So they talk it out. Both men explore their fears. Superman laments what happened to Metropolis and Zod. He wishes he’d been stronger… That he hadn’t been so impulsive …or so scared. He’d lived so long without limits that he didn’t realize that he SHOULD have limits. He can’t let it happen again. He has to be better than himself. He has to become a symbol of something greater. Batman explores his fear of loss. His parents; Jason Todd (the Robin Joker killed prior to BvS); and his employees during Metropolis’ destruction… He can’t let anyone else die on his watch. Even if that means losing his soul.
Naturally, Superman asks him why he killed that supervillain of his. Batman denies it, and, talking it out, they realize what’s going on:

6. Lex Luthor has orchestrated everything
Through crafty words and actions, Lex Luthor has turned public opinion against Batman & Superman, and he’s manipulated events to make them kill each other. He LET Batman steal Kryptonite. He supercharged the headlines to focus on Superman’s guilt in the destruction of Metropolis. He killed the supervillain and framed Batman.
But why?
Batman & Superman work together to figure that out. Complimenting each other’s strengths, they investigate Lex Luthor’s labs, and discover that Luthor’s been experimenting with Kryptonian technology. Just as they’re about to make a major discovery, Luthor’s security system activates, immobilizing Superman with a Kryptonite beam and Batman with a Kryptonian robot or something.
Luthor gloats, explaining that the destruction of Metropolis allowed him to profit like he never had before. Real estate, construction, infrastructure, technology. After its destruction, HE was Metropolis’ savior. He didn’t have to manipulate the media to become the city’s favorite son, and he wasn’t going to stop there. With a fleet of reverse-engineered Kryptonian drone ships at his disposal, he could stage “Kryptonian attacks” all over the world, fund the militaries that defeat them, and put the Lexcorp name on every building built on the ashes.
While this plan is almost as elaborate as Lex’s “plan” in BvS, it’s far more complete and with less extraneous steps. Moreover, the goal is not “a dead Superman, because reasons,” but superiority, domination, and control. It’s not quite as simple as “take over the world,” and its gleefully disregard of human life runs directly counter to the ideology espoused by Batman & Superman throughout the script.
It’s the antithesis of their character arcs.
It’s how you craft a resonant villain.

7. Lex’s secret weapon
Lex prepares to kill Superman with a knife. Batman, ever the escape-artist, manages to free an arm and disarm Lex with a batarang. Lex panics and runs while Batman finishes freeing himself. He manages to pull Superman from the kryptonite field, but Superman’s at death’s door. That’s when a pair of massive doors open revealing:
Lex’s battle armor. A kryptonite-powered death machine.
Batman tries to sneak Superman away as Lex hunts them down. Lex uses thermal vision to track them. Superman, regaining his powers piecemeal, uses his heat vision to distract Luthor with another heat signature while he and Batman regroup. Batman’s set all kinds of traps, but they’re not stopping Lex. The battle armor is all but impregnable. Superman has a plan, but Bruce will have to trust him.
Luthor manages to get the drop on them, scattering them. Batman’s knocked unconscious. Superman, agonized, struggles to get to his feet, but he’s too weak. Lex blasts him with Kryptonite radiation, gloating in his torment. Finally, Superman goes still. Death by kryptonite exposure. Lex prepares to deliver the killing blow—
Only for Batman to rip his suit open from behind.
Superman leaps to his feet, his face covered, and he uses a grappling hook to rip the Kryptonite core straight out of Luthor’s chest.
That’s right. Batman and Superman traded places. And kryptonite radiation has no effect on Batman. With the suit’s remaining power, Luthor attempts to kill Batman. Superman casually dismantles the armor with his heat vision, talking about how no one should have the kind of power that Lex has. He’s shown that the risk of abuse is far too high. Luthor swears that he’ll get away with it. They’ll never be able to arrest him. The people of the world are still turned against the heroes, they—
Batman plays a bat-recorder, Lex’s own words damning him. Lex just glowers.

8. The Promise
Batman mentions they should probably do something about the kryptonite. Superman agrees. He laser-visions the rock, saying, “I meant what I said about power. Nobody should have unchecked power. You trusted me. I trust you.” Batman goes to the steaming kryptonite.
It’s been burned into a ring.
Superman: “If I ever step out of line… If I ever fail to be the hero the world deserves… I need you to be the hero it needs.”
Batman tucks the ring into his utility belt. “I’ll never have to.”
They shake hands.
This completely brings their arcs together in a way that’s meaningful, true to their characters, and true to the established themes of the movie. In a movie about power and responsibility (hell, nearly ever superhero movie is), both men find a proper balance. It also references the hell out of THE DARK KNIGHT, which should make fanboys happy.

9. Luthor’s fate
Luthor’s admitted to the world’s cushiest prison cell. He paid for it. It’s only a matter of time before the courts hear his appeal and he’s free again. And when he gets out… there will be hell to pay. Contacting his people on the outside, he tells them to begin prepping the Doomsday project.

10. Luthor’s secret files.
At the Batcave, Batman and Superman go over Lex’s secret files, showcasing a barrage of super-powered people. Aquaman, Flash, Cyborg, Wonder Woman, Vandal Savage, Parasite, Trigon, etc. The world’s a far bigger place than they could’ve imagined. Together, they’ll be ready for it.
Again, the timing here means it doesn’t interrupt the flow of our story.

11. Not enough for you?
Yeah, that was a little contained for a blockbuster, I guess. How about Lex escapes with his fleet of Kryptonian ships after leaving Batman & Superman to their deaths at the hands of a Kryptonian robot? Superman and Batman free each other and fly out to stop Luthor’s ships before they level Gotham? You could have the same climax described above, but with a helluva lot more action and a ticking clock. Hell, maybe Lois has been trying to sabotage these things the whole time and she gets wrapped up in the climax? Or maybe we swap Lois for Wonder Woman?

WRAPPING IT UP

batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justice-slice-05-600x200

Sorry, the internet ran all out of kissing jokes.

I’ve heard it said that BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE fails because Marvel’s had so many more movies to establish its world and characters. I reject that idea. EVERY movie has a chance to establish its own world & characters. BvS fails because it couldn’t be bothered to tell a concise, understandable, genre-appropriate story. It could’ve -and should’ve- been the second-highest grossing movie of all time after STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS.

You CAN have heavy themes in your blockbusters. DAWN & RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES did that well enough. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD and INSIDE OUT knocked it out of the freakin’ park. You CAN tell revisionist versions of established characters to great effect. See THE DARK KNIGHT and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. You just have to understand why the characters work; why cinematic language and storytelling tenants are important; what makes your movie entertaining; and why a movie in a shared universe absolutely needs to stand on its own.

Let’s hope Warner Bros. learns their lesson.

P.S. I also wrote a Man of Steel retcon. Interested?