Thursday, March 31, 2016

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Batman v Superman Scenes 3 and 4

Here's the podcast episode that focuses on analyzing Scene 3 and Scene 4 in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, that is, the discovery of Kryptonite in the Indian Ocean and the African incident with Lois and Superman.

Some of the topics of this episode:
  • Why was the placement of the Kryptonite discovery scene so brilliant? How did the scene place these events in a broader context?
  • What does the African incident tell us about Lois's character? And about Lois and Superman's relationship?
  • How do the General's lines connect to later character development? 
  • All that, plus Jimmy Olsen and the KG Beast.

Top 5 Parts of Batman v Superman

Jason Book and I give our Top 5 favorite things about Batman v Superman.

Jason's favorites, in no particular order, included:
  • Batman's consistency with the Nolan movies, even though this is different universe
  • Wonder Woman!
  • "Martha"
  • Justice League cameos
  • Daily Planet, Clark Kent scenes

My favorites were:
  • Batman action scenes and detective work
  • Wonder Woman!
  • Comic-book aesthetic throughout the movie
  • Having a decisive victory in the Batman-Superman fight
  • Superman's character arc
There were many other things I loved about the movie and I've started a podcast to talk through the entire movie: 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Batman v Superman Scene 2

Here's a new episode of the Justice League Universe podcast that goes scene-by-scene through the DC Films, produced by Warner Brothers, starting with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. This episode focuses on scene 2, the Battle of Metropolis from Bruce Wayne's point of view.

Some of the topics in this episode:
  • Why show events that we've already seen in Man of Steel?
  • What is the surface-level reason for Bruce's vendetta against Superman, and what is the deeper reason?
  • What do we, the audience, know about Superman's actions that the people in the movie, like Bruce, don't know?
  • What does this scene accomplish in terms of establishing the world and establishing WB's approach to building the universe??

Monday, March 28, 2016

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Batman v Superman Scene 1

I've launched a podcast that has relatively short episodes, each one focusing on a specific scene in the DC Films Justice League Universe. The first episode is live and it focuses on the opening scene of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Some of the topics in this episode:
  • Why did they include another telling of the Waynes' murder?
  • What did the opening voice over mean when it referred to diamond absolutes, things falling, and a beautiful lie?
  • Why was it important that Thomas Wayne clenched his fist and went after the robber, and why was it important that the robber didn't seem to intend to kill the Waynes?
  • I propose the following as one theme for the movie overall: Good and evil cannot be statically identified with above or below, with heaven and hell; rather, they are choices that individuals make in dynamic situations.

Here is the podcast homepage:

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Superman 50: Back in the Suit

Jason Book and I discuss issue #50 of Superman, which is the final chapter in the "Savage Dawn" story arc. This issue is written by Gene Yang with art by Howard Porter and others.

The issue is a serviceable conclusion, but it marks the end of the "Truth" era that never lived up to its potential.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Quick Reaction to Batman v Superman (No Spoilers)

Here are my immediate reactions to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. There is a lot to analyze and interpret (which I really appreciate in movies), so I'll have more in the future, but for now I just have to list some bullets:
  • My overall reaction is positive, probably about an 8 out of 10 at least for now, and it is primarily based on deep character arcs, exhilarating moments (especially in Act 3), some poignant and touching scenes, and the excitement for things to come. Basically, I loved the big things, but I think there were some minor flaws. At the end, it really made me want to watch it over again and it got me pumped for Justice League.
  • There are some stunning visuals and the music is outstanding.
  • I loved the way they handled Diana / Wonder Woman and her role in Act 3 was awesome. I can't wait for her standalone.
  • I really liked the new interpretation of Lex Luthor, though I can understand if some other people aren't big fans of it.
  • They made a few bold choices in this film, but I can see from a story and character perspective why they did, and I'm fine with them.
  • Batman is intense, brutal and damaged. I think his character represents the psychological toll of heroing, and I think the reasons he gives for targeting Superman are actually just rationalizations that he has used to convince himself of why he's doing, but there are actually deeper-seeded issues driving him.
  • Superman has a great character arc continuing on from Man of Steel, and I think his character represents the philosophical questions related to power. How do you wield power responsibly and how do you deal with those who will second-guess or resent your power? I also love that, after we see Superman eventually choose humanity in Man of Steel, we now get to see humanity grappling with whether or not to accept Superman. Great continuation!
  • I really liked how they introduced the Justice League characters within the natural flow of this story.
  • Act 1 has a little bit of a momentum problem, but it also contained some great standalone scenes, and it sets up the character dilemmas that are the starting points for their arcs (Batman, Superman, and Lex).
  • Lois did a few things that didn't quite make sense to me, but I'll have to rewatch it see whether they are really plot holes. (There is also a chance some things will be explained by the deleted scenes.)
  • There were a few big surprises that I did not expect, even though I've been following BvS news for a couple years. The marketing team did not give everything away.
  • There are a bunch of comic book homages, which I loved, but some of which might be confusing to the general audience (I'm thinking of a particular one with a Justice League member).
Here's a video containing a more detailed reaction.

Top 5 Comic Books Featuring Batman and Superman

In anticipation of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Jason Book and I share our list of our 5 favorite Batman and Superman comics.

Here is our list:
5. Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2003) Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuiness
4. Superman: The Man of Steel #37 (1994) "Bats!" in Zero Hour
3. The Dark Knight Returns #4 (1986) Frank Miller, Klaus Jansen
2. Batman #612 (2003) "Hush" by Jeph Loeb, Jim Lee
1. Superman/Batman #78 (2011) "Who would win?"

We also had a few honorable mentions that we include in the video briefly. One of them is the great and recent three-part story by Tom Taylor called "Universe's Finest."

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Interpreting the Batman v Superman Reviews

Reviews for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice have been mixed thus far (that's right, mixed not negative -- see below). Here are three ways that one can go about making sense of the reviews without losing hope for the movie.

Option 1. Reject Rotten Tomatoes by remembering that it is a pretty terrible system for any movies that are not critical darlings or critical bombs.

Rotten Tomatoes uses a binary classification system of "rotten" and "fresh," with one of these two options assigned to every single review that comes in. So a movie with all 10/10 ratings will be 100% but a movie with all 6/10 ratings will also be 100% fresh. This system does a good job on the easy task of identifying top-rated movies, because nearly all the reviews will be 7 or higher and this will be represented by a 90+ "fresh" percentage. Similarly, it does well for critically derided movies.

But it does not do a good job for movies that fall anywhere along the middle spectrum. More valuable in these cases is the "average rating" which is printed on the Rotten Tomatoes page, albeit in much smaller text than the freshness score (and the average rating doesn't show up in the thumbnail graphics). Even better would be an average rating with a standard deviation to distinguish between, for example, a solidly average movie that receives all 5/10's and a divisive movie that receives equal numbers of 2/10's and 8/10's.

In the case of Batman v Superman, the "freshness" score is currently 33% (based on 129 reviews). People are freaking out because this seems similar to terrible movies like Transformers 4 (18%) or Fantastic Four (9%). But the average is 5.2/10 -- i.e., moderate, not terrible. Lots of the reviews in the Rotten Tomatoes system are very near the 60% threshold and so are counting as "rotten" when really they are moderate or mixed. The binary system is not a good one in this case.

Metacritic is one alternative that includes a "mixed" category in between "positive" and "negative." This is important because 29 (out of 47) reviews for BvS are mixed, 9 are positive, and 9 are negative. This reveals that BvS is a solid case of mixed or average reception, not a critical bomb. Another alternative, Critics Choice, currently shows BvS at 67/100. So above average without being a critical hit.

Rotten Tomatoes can also be argued against on principle, not statistics. Joe Hill argues that conglomerating reviews doesn't make sense because you are just lumping together lots of different perspectives and opinions and pretending that you can "average" them. Instead, you should find reviewers who have insights or tastes that resonate with you and rely on those instead of a pseudo-meaningful numerical score.

Option 2. Look at the SOURCES OF THE REVIEWS on Rotten Tomatoes to see who liked the movie and who did not.

This option involves more work than simply taking the "freshness" score as gospel or simply rejecting Rotten Tomatoes altogether. But I think the work reveals something important.

Here are the scores for Batman v Superman from sites that I follow that focus specifically on superheroes and comic book media:

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Processing the Reviews of Batman v Superman

I will update this post throughout the evening as more reviews come in. You can also see some of the fan reactions on Twitter, which are overwhelmingly positive.

Movie critics are under an embargo until 6:00pm EDT on March 22nd with regard to their reviews of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. But a couple Spanish-language reviews slipped through and were captured on Rotten Tomatoes midday on the 22nd. They were both coded as "rotten" but a closer look reveals more nuance. The first review, from Cinema Movil, gave it a 2.5 out of 4 (so still above 50%... not sure why it was considered "rotten") and had quite a few good things to say about the movie. Its main drawbacks were the performances of Affleck, Eisenberg, and the pace of Act 1. But it concluded by saying that it was a step up from Man of Steel, in their opinion.

The second review, from Garuyo, was a 6 out of 10 (again, above 50% but still considered "rotten"). The negatives mentioned here were (a) trying to include too much, (b) a weirdly personal attack against Geoff Johns' involvement, and (c) some vague critiques of the tone and the narrative structure. It had some praise for Affleck's performance and said Eisenberg was interesting, if not perfect. To be honest, though, the review was a bit rambling.

Running average: 5.5 / 10

Before the premiere and early screenings, I compiled some early positive buzz. And don't forget, Al Roker gave it a 6 out of 5!

UPDATE 5:05PM CDT: Two more "rotten" scores on Rotten Tomates (RT), for a total of 4 rotten, 0 fresh, but they don't have the details of those new ones yet. Also, the first two average 61.3% which should be above the 60% fresh threshold, but are still listed rotten. Even if you say the tone of Garuyo is negative, rounding it down, the Cinema Movil is pretty positive and the 2.5/4 should be fresh.

UPDATE 5:08PM: It's now 6 rotten, 1 fresh, but they aren't posting any details beyond the first two.

UPDATE 5:12PM: 8 rotten, 1 fresh. Variety has a mildly spoilery review and praises quite a bit of the movie (e.g., visuals, editing,  music, lessons learned from Man of Steel) but didn't seem overly impressed.

UPDATE 5:21PM: 12 rotten, 3 fresh. Things not looking good so far. Many of the "rottens" are right on the edge, around 50-60% or a C+ grade. Some are pretty harsh, though. Hollywood Reporter criticized it for not being fun (I don't think it's supposed to be) and didn't like Lex.  Time Out (spoilery) seemed ready to critique the comic book genre and is using this as an opportunity.

UPDATE 5:29PM: 15 rotten, 5 fresh. The Miami Herald seems to have missed at least three layers of Batman and Superman's conflict, which is vengeful, psychological, and also philosophical in terms of the nature of justice. He also critiques the inclusion of the Waynes murder because we've seen it already, but can you really have a DC Movie Universe without showing the origin of Batman? There are some positives, though, such as the dream sequence, the tension building, and the ending.

UPDATE 7:58PM: With 40 critic reviews in, RT is at 16 fresh and 24 rotten. The percentage has gone up from 9% initially to 41% now, with the average score staying between 5 and 6 out of 10. It's still too soon for a consensus. There are probably going to be about 300 reviews when all is said and done, so we only have about 14% of precincts reporting, so to speak. Tonight I'm going to look for some patterns in these early reviews. One thing I can already see is that the negative reviewers often say it's depressing or no fun. (For me, the tone is a positive, not a negative.) Here's a positive review from Film Ink, though. And by the way, the original two reviews are still marked as "rotten" even though they meet or surpass the 60% threshold. This is why the average may be more useful than the percentage, with so many reviews coming in right around the breaking point.

UPDATE 8:57PM: Critics Choice has the movie around 76/100, contrasting with RT now at 39% fresh. Note that RT has decreased to 39% even though the average has increased to 5.4/10 now.

UPDATE 10:43PM: I'll give an analysis of reviews tomorrow, but right now there are still only 44 reviews in to RT, and I expect about 300 eventually. It's at 39% positive with an average of 5.5/10. On Critics Choice, the score is 78/100. I've read some really great analyses of the psychology and philosophy in the film (e.g., Forbes) but I've also seen people say that it's just visuals (they simply missed the deeper themes) or it's humorless (as if this is a bad thing).

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Positive Signs for Batman v Superman

We're less than a week away from the worldwide release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (WB Pictures). It held its world premiere yesterday in Mexico and the reactions are very positive! Tonight it will have its US premiere in New York City and you can watch the red carpet live.

Many critics have seen the movie already and will be releasing their reviews in the next couple days. A few scores have already slipped onto the Critics Choice system (scores, not the full text of the review). These are legitimate movie critics and the first two came in as 100/100. The average is now at 90/100, which is still a 4/4 stars in their system. A good sign. (**EDIT: Other scores must be coming in to Critics Choice, because a few hours after posting this, it shifted to 86/100.**)

There was also the vague, early Entertainment Week review which was largely positive. Breznican said Wonder Woman was "fearsome" and that BvS will probably redeem even some of the haters of Man of Steel.

With regard to revenue, makes projections for future films and they initially had BvS projected at $120M - $140M opening weekend domestically, but they have since bumped that up to $159M. That projection puts it as the highest March opening of all time, surpassing The Hunger Games $152M in 2012. If BvS hits its mark, it would have a shot at hitting $400M total in the U.S. That would be a big success. I predicted back at the beginning of the year that BvS would make a worldwide total of $1.25 Billion and I'm going to stand with that prediction.

Lots of people will also be able to watch the movie early this week because they participated in the IMAX event last summer. Part of that event was the gift of tickets to an early screening. So I think a lot more public reviews will be coming out soon. As for me, I'll be seeing it Thursday evening, and I plan to post a non-spoiler review Thursday night or Friday.

**EDIT: The US Premiere is now finished and the non-spoiler buzz on Twitter is very positive. This, of course, is not a representative samples because the people able to attend the premiere were probably swept up in the moment and more likely to view the movie favorably, but they are praising some specific things, which has more credibility. The two things that I've noticed standing our are the Gal Gadot is great as Wonder Woman and that there is not only good action but also some emotional moments. I take that as a very good sign, because I was already very confident in the action and the philosophical themes.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Batman Superman 30: Conclusion to Universe's Finest

Quick post about Batman Superman issue 30 from DC Comics, written by Tom Taylor with pencils Robson Rocha and colors by Blond: I wrote earlier about how great this three-part story was. Well, this concluding issue gave us an exciting climax that brought the Batman story and Superman story together perfectly and its resolution was perfect and touching.

For anyone looking for a tight, well-written, well-drawn Batman Superman story that is self contained (and features some great scenes with Lobo, too), be sure to pick up these three issues. I'm going to get an extra set as a gift for my brother-in-law in anticipation of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Superman 49: A Mishandled Build-Up to 50

Jason Book and I discuss issue 49 of Superman (DC Comics), written by Gene Yang with pencils by Jack Herbert and cover by Howard Porter. This is the next chapter of the "Savage Dawn" storyline, continuing on from Superman Wonder Woman #26.

Although I like the overall Vandal Savage plot, there are too many missteps and character moments that weren't earned. So while I liked the touching gesture from Metallo, it would have carried more weight if he had played a central role in previous issues. And this issue officially confirms that Hordr_root did not live up to the potential that I saw in the beginning back around issue #40.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Justice League 48: A Death and a Birth

Jason "Comic" Book and I discuss Justice League #48, written by Geoff Johns with pencils by Jason Fabok and colors by Brad Anderson. It is part 8 of the Darkseid War story arc.

The issue was a solid entry in the storyline, pushing forward the Mobius (formerly Anti-Monitor) plot and Ultraman and Superwoman's situation while setting up larger things to come in issues 49 and 50. Fabok's art is impressive, as always, with some especially nice throwbacks to Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Discussing DC Comics Rebirth

Jason Book and I discuss our expectations and excitement for the DC Comics Rebirth event coming in May.

We talk about the slate of titles, the twice-per-month schedule, the $2.99 across-the-board price, and Dan Didio's comments about a hugely controversial scene in the May Rebirth special.