Paul P. Mealing

Check out my book, ELVENE. Available as e-book and as paperback (print on demand, POD). 2 Reviews: here. Also this promotional Q&A on-line.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Superheroes for adults – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

This is not the first movie review I’ve written on this blog; not even the first about superheroes. I wrote a review of Watchmen in Oct., 2009, which is an exceptional movie in my view, based on an exceptional graphic novel by Alan Moore, which I have to confess I read some years after I saw the movie.

One really shouldn’t reference other reviewers when writing a review (an unwritten rule of reviewing) but Stephen Romei, writing in the Weekend Australian Review (26-27 Mar., 2016) makes the pertinent point of how our superheroes have evolved over the best part of a century (the ones in this movie were all created pre-WW2). As someone who was born immediately post-WW2, I grew up with these heroes in the form that they were born in, comic books. Like many of my generation (including Romie, I suspect) they are imbedded in my psyche, especially Superman.

Romei makes the point that he’s glad he didn’t take his 10 year old son (so maybe not my generation) because the movie is long and the characters' relationships complex. But the truth is that when you see Lois in a bath you know this isn’t a movie for kids. And no, it’s not a gratuitous nude scene – it’s a very clever way of demonstrating her relationship with Clark without showing them in bed. Our superheroes have become grown up – they have sex. It’s a bit like the point in your life when you realise your parents have been at it for at least as long as you’ve been alive. Bruce Wayne has someone in his bed as well, but we never meet her. In fact, she’s so unobtrusive that I now wonder if I imagined her.

This is a very noirish film, and not only in subtext. The first thing that struck me about this movie was the cinematography: it’s darkly lit, even the outdoor shots. But what makes this film worthy of a blog post is that it has a moral dimension that reflects the current world we live in. It’s about fear and trust and how we are manipulated by politicians and media. Our heroes are flawed, suffer doubt and have to deal with real moral dilemmas. All of these factors are dealt with a level of authenticity that we would not expect from a superhero movie. It’s also about being judged by association; very relevant in the current global environment.

One of the themes of this movie, which is spelt out in some of the dialogue, as well as in gestures, is that these heroes are effectively gods. Bryan Singer brought this home to us as well in Superman Returns (a movie that you either loved or hated; it’s one my favourites, I confess). This is a point I’ve raised myself (when I discussed Watchmen): the superheroes are our ‘Greek Gods’. And like the Greek Gods of literature, they exhibit human traits, dabble in human affairs and even have human lovers. I am a storyteller by nature, and the whole point of storytelling is to be able to stretch our imaginations to worlds and beings that only exist in that realm. But that storytelling only resonates with us when it deals with human affairs, not only of the heart, but of politics and moral crises.

Chris Nolan’s second Dark Knight movie is a case in point, where Heath Ledger’s Joker makes Christian Bale’s Batman become, albeit fleetingly, as morally compromised as he is. This is the lesson: do we have to become as bad as our enemies in order to defeat them. Consider the Republicans’ current leading contender for the White House saying on national television that in order to defeat ISIS we need to attack their families. Cringeworthy doesn’t cover it.

And this movie, in its own way, challenges our prejudices, our inherent distrust in anyone who is ‘not one of us’, especially when we can associate them with atrocities occurring in remote locations and on our doorstep. We are tribal – it’s our strength and our downfall. And this fear and mistrust is manipulated blatantly (in the movie) which is why it is relevant and meaningful to the present day. Science fiction stories, always set in the future, always have something relevant to say about the time in which they are written.

And this brings me to the introduction of Wonder Woman, who has very little screen time, yet promises much for the future. I have a particular interest in her character, because she influenced one of my own creations, albeit subconsciously (I wasn’t aware of the obvious references until after I’d written it). I have to confess I was worried that she would come across as a lightweight, but Gal Gadot gives the role the gravitas it deserves. Gadot is a former Miss Israeli and the fact that she’s served in the military is maybe why she convinces us that she is a genuine warrior and not just someone who looks good in tight-fitting clothes.

Remember that Sean Connery was a Mr Universe contender before he became the first and (50 years later) still the most iconic James Bond. But the reason for her relevance is that female superheroes have been historically in short supply, but there is a sense that their time has come. Looking on the Internet, the biggest concern seemed to be if her boobs were big enough. And, in fact, a radio interviewer asked her that very question. She pointed out that the real Amazonians only had one breast, which may have made the role ‘problematic if one really wanted authenticity’. (I remember being told that as a kid: that they cut off their left breast so they could draw and release a bow string. It seemed plausible to me then and it sounds plausible to me now.) That slightly irrelevant point aside, the original Wonder Woman was based on Greek mythology; she is Hellenic, so possibly more in common with the Greek Gods than any other 20th Century fictional creation. Anyway, I think Gadot perfect for the role, and I only hope the scriptwriters have done her justice in her own story.

Just one bit of trivia: there is a piece of dialogue by Alfred (played pitch-perfect by Jeremy Irons) that has been lifted straight out of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (1986) of which I still have a copy. A subtle but respectful salute.

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