How DC Comics Is Making Directors Hate Filmmaking
Ben Affleck was the best part of Batman V. Superman. Sure, his spine-crushing, evil-murdering rendition of the Caped Crusader wasn't perfect, but in a movie that featured a Lex Luthor who taunts a U.S. senator with a jar of pee and an extended sequence wherein Wonder Woman basically sits down to watch trailers for three other DC movies, he was fucking Brando. And when the news came out that Affleck would be writing, directing, and starring in his own solo Batman movie, I was reasonably excited. Dude's a good director, and at worst, it would be two hours of him grimacing and coming thiiiis close to ripping out the throat of any criminal within arm's length.
The World's Greatest Detective.
And then Affleck revealed that he wouldn't be directing it. Okay. I can understand being busy and not being able to commit to things. I have a porch covered in dead plants that can attest to that. It was also revealed that Affleck's script was being rewritten, and that's okay too. Writing a script is tough. It might have needed some work. But then it was rumored that he wasn't even keen on being Batman anymore, and while I wasn't shocked, I definitely wondered how the dude had transitioned from "I want to atone for the sins of my Daredevil performance" to "Please, Warner Bros. Please just let me go."
And after putting together all of the news stories that have been spawned from the unstable experiment that is the DC Expanded Universe, I realized that it's not Affleck who's being flippant on this bat shit. The DC "throw all the shit together and see if it works" system of making movies is ruining any enthusiasm that these creators once had. Which is tragic, because it promised them ultimate opportunities: "You get to put yourself in the pantheon of superhero history! You will be the person who has played a Batman / formed a Justice League / made Aquaman bearable. You get to add to the legacy of the characters you grew up with and loved. You'll be a legend, and if not a legend, number two on comicmaniac.com's list of the five best Batman actors."
"WELL HE'S NO KEVIN CONROY!" -- the internet, all the time, and for good reason
Just look at David Ayer's reaction to being chosen to direct Suicide Squad: "You can do amazing things as a filmmaker if you have the proper tools ..." Warner Bros. was going to give him exactly what he need to make the best "Dirty Dozen with supervillains" that he could. But considering that Suicide Squad was an hour of music videos followed by an hour of shooting nameless dudes, that optimism now seems obscene, like when a kid tells you that he will one day be a cowboy, a president, a paleontologist, and THE Lord of the Rings. No, you young fool. No.
The casting and pre-production process seemed to go smoothly enough, with a huge uptick in sarcastic remarks when Jared Leto appeared sporting "Damaged" across his forehead, as if he'd expected audiences to have trouble establishing the Joker's exact character. And with the exception of Leto sending his fellow cast members used Trojans to establish that he was trying to portray the Joker found in that classic Batman issue #142 "The Creepy Condom Conundrum," shooting seemed to go alright too.
"I've mailed four used condoms to prominent businessmen in Gotham, but ONLY ONE CONTAINS THE ANTIDOTE. GYAH HA HA HA!"
And then re-shooting happened, which meant that shooting didn't go alright. Or at least someone at Warner Bros. decided that it didn't go alright. Batman V. Superman had just come out, and while people praised the no parts of it at all, everyone seemed to despise the overly nihilistic tone. So they wanted to make Suicide Squad a little lighter. Add in a few jokes and haha's, because nothing improves a film like creating one and then suddenly changing its genre fucking entirely. Instead of letting the project flow naturally, they plugged it into their DC algorithm, which inexplicably churned out "3D words on screen, circle of knives, and a woman licking prison bars."
But Ayer defended it. He said that he loved Suicide Squad and that he believed in it, and that he "Made it for the fans. Best experience of my life." First off, "Made it for the fans" typically translates into "People who like this sort of thing won't care if it's garbage." And "Best experience of my life" seems like an exaggeration. What about your favorite birthday? Getting your first puppy? Finding your initial bit of filmmaking success? Again, I'm looking at this from the stance of someone who has already seen the julienned cadaver that was Suicide Squad, so maybe I'm biased. But anyone calling anything related to Suicide Squad the "best experience of their life" is like me calling my prom "that time my date definitely totally showed up."
"Surprise! All of the condoms were POISON!"
And then, a few months later, Ayer wished for a time machine. He said that he'd go back and make Joker the main villain, which isn't really a small adjustment as much as it's redirecting the entire narrative path of the film. He also wanted to make it a more grounded story, which would also be a big change, as the main villain of the movie we saw in theaters was a genie who could create laser tornados. But it was Leto, who literally mailed presents with jizz in them to his co-workers, who seemed saddest of all. "Were there any that didn't get cut?" he sarcastically asked, referring to all of the Joker scenes that were apparently stripped from the finished film. "Sadly, yes," I replied from my computer chair, totally winning the conversation.
But hey, maybe it's a case of Ayer just being hard to work with. Some directors are never really happy with their films or the studios that try to exert control over them. But then we got hit with the news that talks with Affleck's potential replacement, Matt Reeves (who directed the kickass Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes), had completely fallen apart. So maybe the problem isn't the directors simply being whiny little children about their action figure epics.
"YOU WILL PLAY LIKE WE HAVE TOLD YOU PLAY, DIRECTORS. ASK NO QUESTIONS, AND YOU MIGHT GET THE SEQUEL."
The problem may be that WB wants the DC movies to replicate the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, without actually knowing why Marvel is so successful. Batman V. Superman was intended to be both The Avengers and the Captain America: Civil War of its series, completely forgetting that Marvel's great showdowns were set up extensively by previous movies in its universe. Meanwhile, all Batman V. Superman had was the philosophical blehs and neck-snapping of Man Of Steel to build from.
Despite showing no evidence of learning from past mistakes, WB has over ten DC superhero movies set to be released over the next few years, and when its devolved already from a guy regretting major parts of a film a few months after it was released, to a guy who's burnt out before he even got the chance to make a film, to a guy who got fed up a week into talking about making a film, it's hard not to be apprehensive about the whole process. So to conclude on a happy note, let's remember a time when filmmakers got to make the exact kind of superhero films that they wanted to make, and it was the studios that were horrified in the end.
Daniel has a blog.
For more, check out 5 Huge Changes DC Would Have To Make To Compete With Marvel and 4 Signs DC Comics Has No Clue How to Make Superhero Movies.
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