Too Many Characters? Not the Problem with Batman v. Superman

Warner Brothers'(WB) recent attempt at expanding their own superhero cinematic universe, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice(BvS), has become one of the most talked about, controversial, and polarizing films of all time.  Sure there are people out there in the middle, or even liked the movie but do acknowledge its problems, however, those that I’ve talked to and the majority in the online community seem to be in one of two camps.  Those that view it as a masterpiece or a colossal mess.

I was there myself on opening day, although I wasn’t to optimistic going into the film due to the recent critic reviews and my negative thoughts on Zack Snyder’s directing.  Not to mention his recent Man of Steel, another movie that polarized fans that I’m in the negative camp.  I can still visually remember when the movie was all said and done, the people leaving the theater were in one of two categories.  Those clapping, cheering, and exiting the theater with excitement for the future of the DC Extended Universe(DCEU).  Then there were audience members who looked so depressed, that you’d mistake them as people walking out of a funeral.  Unfortunately, I was in the latter.

One of the most common criticisms of BvS is that the movie was trying to do too much.  That it introduced too many characters who weren’t previously established in their own solo movies, causing the audience to become confused, unable to follow the plot, and the narrative to lose focus.  While it is true that the script did lack focus, it wasn’t due to the abundance of characters.

Everyone has theorized that this is WB/DC’s attempt to play catch up to Marvel and there successful cinematic universe(MCU).  That they are trying to do what Marvel did backwards, by introducing their major players in a team-up film, then going off to do solo movies.  Essentially, a short-cut.  While I do agree that one of the contributors to the success of 2012’s the Avengers, both financially, critically, and structure wise, was the fact that they had established these characters in previous solo movies.  I however call bollocks to the too many character criticism and contend that BvS could have succeeded with the amount of new characters it had introduced.

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There are two key comic book movies that WB/DC should have taken note of when making this one, the first being 2000’s X-Men.  The live action feature film debut of the popular Marvel franchise, created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee in 1963, is considered the groundwork and foundation for the modern-day genre.  The movie was both a financial and critical success, grossing nearly $300m at the box office and capturing a critic rating of 81% on Rotten Tomatoes.  How can this be though, considering that before the Bryan Singer directed film we didn’t have an origin movie for Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, Jean Grey, Professor Xavier, or Magneto?  The answer lies in the Rotten Tomatoes critic consensus,

“Faithful to the comics and filled with action, X-Men brings a crowded slate of classic Marvel characters to the screen with a talented ensemble cast and surprisingly sharp narrative focus“.

X-Men was able to have a cohesive script because it kept its narrative focused and wasn’t concerned with establishing plot points for future films.  He allowed the movie to stand on its own.

Bryan Singer also cleverly understood the need for a gateway character.  Much like how Frodo is used in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Wolverine is used as our ride along character.  One to follow and use his point-of-view as the audience is being introduced to this already established world.  BvS didn’t have that and tossed us right into the thick of things.

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The second comic book movie to recognize is 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy.  This was the movie that everyone said was going to bomb, that it was Marvel Studios saying that they’re out of ideas, the movie that will lead to the collapse of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Surprise, surprise, the movie was a power-house hit, making over $94m domestically in its opening weekend and over $773m worldwide during its theatrical run.  Audiences loved it as well as critics with a 91% on the tomato meter.

Why did this work though?  We didn’t have Star Lord, Gamora, Groot, Rocket Raccoon, or Drax the Destroyer origin movies.  If you’d ask me, I’d say it’s because director James Gunn kept the movie focus on the characters, their interactions with one another, which allowed the audiences to get to know them.  He didn’t prioritize the movie’s time with setting up plot devises in preparation for sequels and spin-offs.  Gunn’s space opera was focused on its characters and creating an emotional weight when the climax ensues.

In BvS, Batman and Superman hardly talk.  There’s the one conversation they have while attending Lex Luther’s party at LexCorp.  It wasn’t enough though and we needed more one-on-one engagements between them to truly become invested with their rivalry.

Theres also the fact that all original movies are the first time you’re being introduced to its characters.  We didn’t have an origin movie for Danny Ocean, Rusty Ryan, Linus Caldwell, or Terry Benedict, so where were the complaints from people after seeing 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven.  A movie with an abundance of characters, all with distinct personalities.  We didn’t need an origin movie for them because director Steven Soderbergh gave us what we needed to know about the characters through their interactions with one another.

When you really stop and analyze the WB/DC film, it’s completely all over the place.  The script is disjointed, convoluted, and the characters are given relatively little to no development or interactions with one another.  The movie’s entire focal point and purpose was to quickly establish plot points to kick-start a cinematic universe.  From introducing other characters like the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg, to visualizing Parademons and the Omega symbol.  That’s the essential problem with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and some of the primary reasons why I didn’t enjoy it.

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