Quick – a comic book movie with a lead character as an older, cynical version of themselves that was once a hero, but was worn down by time and loss until someone inspired them to start acting heroically again. Am I talking about The Dark Knight Rises, Logan, or Batman v Superman? It recently occurred to me (I’m slow on the uptake, sue me) that those three movies had essentially the same storyline for the lead character (in the case of BvS, the co-lead). Pretty much everyone that has ever read one of my posts knows that I love Zack Snyder and his DCEU movies (If you’re reading this and you don’t, hi! I’m Keya. I’m a giant nerd). They’ll also know that I’m not a big fan of either Logan or The Dark Knight trilogy. Seeing the similarities in the movies got me thinking about why that was true.
The best thing about the X-Men movies, at least for me, was that no matter how I felt about them in the long term, they were good for at least one watch. I didn’t think about all the things wrong with them until later. It was the same thing with the Dark Knight trilogy. No matter how much I disliked their Bruce interpretation, I was able to set that aside and enjoy the movie. I didn’t think about that dislike until after I left the theatre. I remember sitting in the theatre to watch The Dark Knight Rises, and you know what? At the time, I was genuinely moved. Bruce becoming a recluse after losing Rachel, spending years in mourning, putting on the cowl to fight again, finding the will to move on with his life…when I first saw that, I was very touched.
When Logan – the kind of movie that, very much like The Dark Knight Rises, relied heavily on using an aged lead that’s lost the people most important to him to elicit an emotional reaction – came out in March of last year, though, I wasn’t into it at all, not even while watching. At first, I couldn’t figure out why – after all, the movies basically have the same principle and I had similar problems with both. But The Dark Knight Rises came out in 2012, and made me emotional, while Logan came out in 2017 and didn’t. At all. One obvious explanation is age, and the fact that in those five years, it became harder to elicit a reaction from me. But I think there’s another explanation, and that’s that Batman v Superman came between those movies.
It’s completely subjective whether you find a movie emotional, but objectively, BvS was a much denser, more thought out story than either The Dark Knight Rises or Logan, with constant references and allusions to classical art, literature, comics, and more. What Batman v Superman did was force me to think about what I was watching while I was watching it, not after. And once I started doing that, all the aspects of movies that I don’t like started to pop out at me, from bad writing to disrespect for the source material. It took away the “good for one watch” thing that the X-Men movies had always had going for them. Popcorn movies are great. Not everything has to be deep, and sometimes I just want to see a lighthearted adventure. But Zack Snyder movies have spoiled me – now I don’t have patience for movies that half ass the emotional aspects.
I respect Christopher Nolan’s directorial skills, but as a Batman fan, I think his work cut out the most interesting aspects of the character in favour of a pretty shallow, surface level reading. He didn’t get why Robin is important to Batman, and considered giving some random cop that worked with Bruce once the name as the same thing, or at least, a good shout out. He went the “loner” route, rather than acknowledge that comic Bruce has never been that and has more friends, allies, and children than just about any other superhero. It was disrespectful to the enormous cast of Batman characters that aren’t named Bruce Wayne and the whole world of comic books, because like X-Men (2000), The Dark Knight trilogy was afraid of being seen as comic book movies.
To be fair to Logan, I went in biased because of my Wolverine fatigue. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve complained about how the whole movie franchise revolves around him at the expense of other characters and how those characters get no respect just to make him look better or to advance his plot. I’ve spent a lot of time pointing out that the first two of his solo movies neither did amazingly at the box office nor were well received by critics, and as such, using the whole “Wolverine sells! Logan makes them money!” as an excuse isn’t actually valid. I’ve criticized the writing of the original trilogy and how everyone else got so little screen time, it was pretty much impossible for anyone that wasn’t Hugh Jackman to stand out. As a bitter Cyclops fan, I was mad about how the premise of the movie would have been perfect for developing him as the general of mutantkind that he is in the comics, but he was killed off screen instead. All of these things together mean that it was probably impossible to win me over completely, regardless of how it went. But before BvS, I could have at the very least enjoyed that first watch.
Logan was a movie that, had it come out just a year earlier, I could have liked. Maybe even loved. For the reasons stated above, I probably would have been a little bitter towards it, and my appreciation for it would have lessened with time as I thought of more things that bothered me, but I could have enjoyed it. But after BvS did such a fantastic job of fleshing out its characters and relationships so that everything happening to the characters meant something to me, to the point that the “Martha” scene was the closest I’ve ever come to crying during a movie, by the time I saw Logan, I didn’t have any more patience for a movie bashing me over the head to get me to feel what they want me to.
Logan felt more manipulative to me than anything else. It never once seemed to me while watching that it had earned the reaction it wanted. Everything about it was about making us feel bad for Logan. It was a further example of disrespecting the other characters for his sake after nearly two decades of doing just that – and that’s just in the movies. I never felt connected to the supposed emotional core. Logan coming to care for Laura felt rushed. It felt like most of his angst was about being old and in pain, with no actual grief for the X-Men – you know, those people that were supposed to be his friends that w ere ruthlessly killed off screen just to emphasize how alone he was. A bunch of characters died, but I felt detached – the movie didn’t manage to get through to me why I should care. The closest thing to real emotion I felt the entire time I was watching was seeing Laura crying.
Despite how tired and broken down Bruce was throughout BvS, all the attention devoted to his perspective, it wasn’t about making us feel sorry for him, it was about us wanting him to stop feeling sorry for himself and realize what he’d become. It was about his cynicism being actively harmful. It was about trying to make the audience sympathize with him and understand his perspective, while also wanting him to realize that he’s become the bad guy. BvS is certainly a movie you’re supposed to think about – all the supposed “plot holes” and things that supposedly have no build up can be explained if you pay attention and think about what you’re watching – but it’s even more heart than head. It’s about human emotion, and the combination of acting, visuals, and the score made me feel everything it was trying to convey. I can’t explain logically why Logan‘s attempts at emotional scenes fell flat for me because it’s not an intellectual thing, but while watching, I just didn’t feel anything.
Logan and The Dark Knight Rises had many of the same pieces as BvS – a jaded hero past his prime meeting someone that forces him to get past his cynicism being the most obvious – but none of the same respect for the mythos. I’m totally for broad strokes adaptations. But those broad strokes adaptations can’t just be for the sake of one character.
I get that Logan was very loosely based on Old Man Logan, but in order to do that, the movie had to ignore the optimistic end of Days of Future Past to basically redo the same idea. Regardless of whether or not this is in the main continuity – I seem to recall statements being made both confirming and denying that – it’s still a rehash of what’s been done before, and killing the X-Men off screen again was insulting to them, especially the ones that have existed as characters for years longer than Wolverine. And making Xavier responsible for their deaths instead of Logan may make more sense, because any number of X-Men could neutralize Logan in a fight before he killed them all, but takes away from the emotion that could have been there, the sense of responsibility.
The way The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises approached the story was to cut out Robin all together, and try to give two original characters the role – they made Rachel the Jason equivalent and Blake the Tim. The problem is, the Batman and Robin dynamic doesn’t work there. In the comics, Bruce felt heavily responsible for Jason’s death because he made him Robin. Had he not done that, Jason wouldn’t have been lured to Ethiopia and the Joker wouldn’t have beaten him to death with a crowbar. While the only one ultimately responsible for Jason’s death was the Joker, Bruce felt guilty for putting Jason in that position. That plotline doesn’t work when you replace the son that he trained to fight with a love interest that would have been targeted regardless of her connection to Batman. There was no ring of truth to Bruce’s guilt. It’s not the same kind of responsibility, and it completely erases the significance of multiple very important characters.
Snyder, too, took a broad strokes approach to his movie – BvS was a patchwork of bits taken from different comics and continuities that relied on Bruce being primarily alone, without his closest friends and allies. But it did that without disrespecting his cast of characters. While Batman v Superman didn’t have Robin, it never felt dismissive of the character. It honoured his memory by having his suit on display in the Batcave, by the implication of that and several lines of dialogue being that his memory haunts Bruce and losing him changed Batman. Bruce felt responsible and spent the entire movie fighting to make sure something like that doesn’t happen again.
Both TDKR and Logan were the culmination of a series. Like I argued here, Logan relied upon years of built up affection for Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of the character and knowledge that this would be his last time in the role. The Dark Knight Rises was similar to that – the audience wanted a happy ending to the trilogy, so they were invested in Bruce’s story and recovery. Batman v Superman was the first movie in the DCEU with Batman, and when it was released, we knew that Justice League was coming, so it didn’t rely on any sort of nostalgia or prior goodwill. It just let us feel things without long pieces of exposition telling us why we should.
The Dark Knight Rises, Logan, and Batman v Superman are all serious dramas in the superhero movie genre. That’s great. I didn’t find them equally effective, but in principle, I love people taking comic book movies seriously. It’s not that TDKR and Logan are bad movies, but they weren’t for me. I know that now because Batman v Superman gave me everything I didn’t know I needed or wanted in a superhero movie. No wink, wink, nudge, nudge, we’re not like those comic book movies moments. It was itself without needing to deride the rest of the genre. It embraced the spirit of the source material. Every moment was completely sincere. After seeing it, I realized the way The Dark Knight Rises and Logan approached serious and emotional just doesn’t work for me.
TL;DR: Zack Snyder puts too much effort into his movies, and has thus ruined my ability to enjoy movies that are supposed to be intense and emotional but don’t go the full way to making them so. Thanks a lot, Zack.