Why It Doesn’t Matter What Ben Affleck’s Batman Costume Looks Like

A rational person bases their judgement on previous experience. This applies across the board, but is often forgotten, particularly in emotional situations involving childhood memories. That’s the best explanation I can come up with for why so many otherwise intelligent people are so bloody excited about seeing Ben Affleck in the new Batman suit.

If this were the first film from Zack Snyder, it might be understandable. There it would be all “potential” and from his reels of short films and music videos one might presume that he’s the next David Fincher. He can certainly make things “look cool”, in that heavy, oppressive “busy” way that passes for art if you put enough shadows in it. A fair forgery of Ridley Scott’s patina (not that Sir Ridley is immune to make the odd bad film). But Snyder is a known quantity. Aside from perhaps 300, the source material for which I found sexist and horrible but the film has a unique look, he doesn’t make great films. Whether his films are even “good” is a matter of some question, and I think most intelligent, unbiased observers would agree that Sucker Punch was terrible and perhaps Dawn of the Dead and Watchmen, particularly the “Ultimate Cut”, can be classified as “good”. But that’s his range: terrible to sort-of good.

The logical inference to make, and this first-year Philosophy-level logic takes in auteur theory but is in fact a much simpler concept, is that because Snyder’s previous films have not been good, there’s no evidence that this next one will be. Especially since his mediocre-at-best cinematic oeuvre has been rewarded financially.

To put it another way: was anyone blaming Henry Cavill for the grim, inert, ultra-violent Man of Steel? I seriously doubt having anyone else in that central role would have made a difference to the film. And Cavill, by the way, is a fine actor and certainly fits the part well. As did all the rest of the cast. They weren’t the issue. It was script and direction and tone. A serious lack of intellectual sophistication combined with a humourless heaviness. That’s the recipe for “pretentiousness”. There’s I’ve said it: my biggest problem with Man of Steel (and all of Snyder’s work) is its own enormous self-importance. As if the director thought that enough special effects sequences and slow motion shots and British accents were the ingredients of a “significant” film. As if “darkness” equaled grandeur.

Now the question must be asked: what evidence do we have that his next film will be any different? Man of Steel succeeded at the box office, so Snyder and his team of enablers at Warner Bros clearly took this as artistic validation. There’s absolutely zero pressure on Snyder to alter his style in any way. In fact, I suspect the opposite might be true, given how studios love to back a known quantity. (“You have the recipe for Coca Cola!” as Charles Bluhdorn famously told Francis Ford Coppola when he demurred making a sequel to The Godfather.) At this point, a rational person would be forced to conclude that Snyder’s next film will be no better than his last, or at the very least, in the same mould.

Sadly, it’s at this point that rationality seems to fade for a certain viewer. I sometimes feel like I’m the only person left on this planet who basis his judgement of what movies to watch on whether they’re good or not. That’s really the only test for me. And I judge that, again being more or less rational, based on intelligent reviews by people whose opinions I respect. I truly seem to be in the minority, however, since there appears to be a large population whose decision making about what movie to see boils down to two questions: “Is Batman in it?” and “Seriously, dude, is Batman in it?”

Yes, I’m emotional about this, because I love movies, and I think that there’s a good superhero comic book movie to be made, in the right hands. But it’s not going to be made unless we stop buying tickets for bad movies. That was ultimately what depressed me so much about Snyder’s Watchmen. All that money and talent and effort went into making a film that is at best mediocre. It would be as if Peter Jackson had seriously, egregiously messed up the Lord of the Rings films. (Some argue that they were in fact messed up, but let’s accept the hypothesis that they’re not terrible for the purposes of this discussion.) Audiences would have been disappointed, but many would have had that disappointment doubled by the thought that this was their generation’s attempt at LOTR. There wasn’t going be another for many years. This was as good as they were going to get. That’s how I felt about Watchmen. Maybe there isn’t a good Watchmen movie to be made, but I can bet my middle fingernail that Zack Snyder wasn’t going to make it either way. The property was never given a chance.

Hollywood only speaks one language: money. They have the temperament of a spoiled rich child. They only way to send them any kind of message they will heed would be to cut off their allowance. Demand better, and they will give it, but reward mediocrity and they’ll think we love it.  Zack Snyder is a product of that system. You can imagine how a talented and great director feels, on the sidelines, watching this system reward the guy who can blow the most stuff up.

That’s why it doesn’t matter to me who plays Batman or what costume he wears. There’s a hole at the center of this franchise named Snyder, and everyone who bought a ticket to Man of Steel (including this fool, by the way) put him there, and told him to stay. I won’t make that mistake again.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Independent scholar Ian Dawe has been writing for Sequart since November 2013. Before that, he had a mixed background, initially in science (Molecular Biology and Biochemistry), where he earned an MSc from Simon Fraser University and then an MA in Film from the University of Exeter in the UK. He spent a decade teaching at the college level, delivering courses in Genetics, Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Biological Anthropology and Film History. His academic work includes peer-reviewed papers on the work of Alan Moore, Harvey Pekar for Studies in Comics and a dissertation on Terry Gilliam for the University of Exeter. He has presented papers at several major academic conferences including Slayage 2014, Magus: Transdisciplinary Approaches to the Work of Alan Moore in 2010 (in the wizard's hometown of Northampton), Comics Rock and the International Conference of the Humanities in 2012, and at the Southwest Popular Culture Association Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2014 and 2015. He has contributed to several books, including a chapter about the TV show Archer in "James Bond and Popular Culture" and two chapters on Breaking Bad for "Breaking Bad and Masculinity", both now available from McFarland. At Sequart, he has authored a chapter for New Life and New Civiliations: Exploring Star Trek Comics, A Long Time Ago and two more upcoming books on Star Wars comics. He has also contributed to books on Alan Moore and 1970s Horror Comics. He is currently planning a full-length book on Better Call Saul. Ian currently lives in Vancouver, BC.

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13 Comments

  1. Thank you so much, Ian! My only complaint is that you are too nice. You’re a gentleman. I have a much lower opinion of those bums who are killing cinema (not only superheroes, but everything, everywhere).

    • Both the article and your reply have made me curious about something: What do you consider the purpose of cinema to be, that popular entertainment is “killing” it? While it’s all well and good to admire cinematic art, it’s a mistake IMO to presume that something produced for popular entertainment value is “killing” the movie industry. For all the artistic pieces in the world, there’s still a lot of commercially viable and non-artistic work out there that people still find value in, even if it’s “only” entertainment value.

      • Oh, I like entertainment. I love “Singin’ in the Rain” as much as “The Seventh Seal”. My problem is not just with those popcorn summer movies. I would be fine with them if the “serious” stuff was any better. They’re all killing it. Michael Mann, Payne, Ridley Scott, Paul Thomas Anderson, Jonze, Snyder, Webb, Raimi, Nolan, Jackson, those “indie” movies that all look the same… Pfui!

        What I wish is for cinema to be wonderful again, instead of “fun”. I want to recognize myself, or someone I know. I want to be impressed. I want to see something brilliant or truly surprising, or memorable, even if for just a minute. It can happen in entertainment, it can happen in art films, it can happen in trash horror movies, it can happen in sexploitation, it can happen anywhere. It takes some voice and some knowledge of the craft. And luck, probably.

        I saw two movies by Snyder: 300 and Watchmen. He can’t stage a scene between people. He can’t get the performances, no one looks real, no one looks comfortable reading those lines. The effects make the movies look kind of good, but he doesn’t know where and when to cut, so it ends up looking ridiculous.

        Yeah, it sells, okay. But is there anything else to watch? And how do the audience respond to these films (most of them, not just Snyder’s), how do they remember them? Aren’t they all kind of blurred together? I fail to see what makes them unique.

      • Mario, you lost me. Is there supposed to be an answer to my question in your reply somewhere? Let me repeat the question: “What do you consider the purpose of cinema to be, that popular entertainment is ‘killing’ it?” Do you think the purpose of cinema is to a) impress you, b) be relatable to you, and c) be memorable?

        If that’s your answer to my question, I must confess I find it a subjective and vague answer that I can’t get behind, even with the understanding that any answer you’d have come up with would be subjective by its very nature.

        My own answer to “What do you consider the purpose of cinema to be?” is “to earn money, fame, and/or cultural cachet for the people who produce the films, depending on what the filmmaker set out to do.”

        Your reply indicates you want to take this back to Snyder, so let’s do that. I saw Man of Steel. I liked a lot of things about the movie, and I thought some things could’ve been done better. I didn’t come across anything I absolutely hated about the movie, and I didn’t expect it to be a work of cinematic art, just a movie marketed towards the public at large (a.k.a. “popular entertainment”). If Snyder intended to create a film that rebooted the Superman franchise, left the door open for sequels, and provide visceral entertainment for a large audience that isn’t heavily invested in the comic book realm of Superman, then IMO he more or less achieved his purpose. Any lambasting of him for sticking to what appear to be the formulae of modern cinema instead of trying to create something “artistic” strikes me as bordering on intellectual self-flagellation. :-)

      • Alan, I think the difference in our views is very clear. Yes, I do believe that the purpose of cinema is to wow me. And you. And anyone. Sounds crazy, I know, but I take art very personally. I’m less interested in how much money a movie makes than in how people respond to it. And no, just paying to watch it is not enough.

        What is killing cinema, as I see it, is that this audience that is spending all those dollars to see these movies doesn’t seem to take anything from them but two hours of “good” time. It’s in the same spirit that they watch (and buy the DVDs of) “Two and a Half Men” (or any other crap you want).

        However, entertainment can be better than “Two and a Half Men”. I’m sure you remember Indy shooting the guy with the sword, because everybody does! What do people remember from, let’s say, “Speed”? The plot? That’s it? It’s not enough in my book.

        Does anybody remember “Crash” anymore? Remember that one? It won the Oscar about ten years ago. The Oscar should have gone to “Brokeback Mountain”. Do you see lots of mention to “Brokeback Mountain” (other than the unfortunately frequent homophobic jokes)?

        Films are released, they make money, then they’re gone. Time to wait for the next one. They’re dead and forgotten.

        Come on, let’s talk about something we love!

      • Mario, I quite agree with you that we have clear differences. I don’t expect every movie to have to “wow” me as a form of cinematic “art.” In fact, I think holding every film up to a subjective “Is it art?” standard and decrying the industry because most of the time the answer is “no” ignores that there’s an awful lot of stuff out there that isn’t meant to be art. Sounds crazy, I know, but there are actually filmmakers out there who aren’t trying to make art, just popular entertainment.

        As for the “forgetability” factor and being “wowed”: Considering I find Plan 9 from Outer Space to be a highly unforgettable movie that wowed me, but it wowed me and is so unforgettable because it was so bad. From your statements, I would take away from that experience that it was “good” entertainment because I can’t unsee it, and that just doesn’t add up right in my book.

        And there’s the crux of the matter for me. I can’t take seriously “it has to wow me” as objective criteria or “it can be better” as an objective comment when I live in a society where a large chunk of people (including you and me) can disseminate its collective opinion to a largely unseen audience who, thanks to the miracle of information overload, may or may not have ever seen the very things you personally find unforgettable and “wowing” (for lack of a better term).

      • Oh, get off the objectivity high horse, Alan. Nothing I or anyone you disagree with will ever satisfy you. There is no objectivity in art, culture, entertainment and in one’s view and appreciation of life. And you know it because you read about it. It’s easy enough to find it.

        I can come up with some semi-interesting experiments you can make. You watch any given western from the fifties. At certain moment, in the middle of an action scene, stop. And write it down what you were watching. “Randolph Scott was walking down the street, then he shot the guy in the second floor window, then he shot the guy coming out of the saloon, then it cut to the heroine telling him to look out and he turned and killed the guy behind him.” Then you watch the scene again, and then again, freeze-framing this third time. Note how many things you got wrong or failed to mention. Then you watch a recent action movie. Repeat the experiment. If you get more things wrong in the recent action movie, it means that the old western was easier to follow. But who says that clarity is important in a movie? That’s subjective, right?

        You can interview people over 50 and under 30 about their favorite movies. Unless I’m mistaken, the old movies will get more recognition. Not only of title, but particular scenes, lines, music, mood and overall memories… But that doesn’t mean that the old movies were better, it may mean that older people are more sentimental. Anyway, it doesn’t matter, because it’s all subjective.

        You can accept that, up to a certain point, that is some sort of consensus about best films and directors, and you can try to understand that some of these classic films are just pieces of entertainment, that they tell us nothing about the human condition and did absolutely nothing to revolutionize the cinematic language and that they’re just fine examples of their genres. And you may wonder why you see “just entertainment” films from the distant past, but not so much from the last 15 years. Oh, well, who cares, that’s subjective too!

        I can’t win, can I? Fine. But please be objective. I’ve mentioned both “Singin’ in the Rain” and Indiana Jones, not to mention trash horror and sexploitation, and you still find the objective need to lecture me about how some people just want to make entertainment. Dude, I’ve mentioned examples of good movies that are nothing but entertainment (“Singin’ in the Rain” is pretty shallow story told in a very traditional way).

        When I said “art” (and I did it once), I meant in the broad sense of all and every art form like film, music, comics, literature, etc. Rob Leifeld’s in it, somewhere. Sorry if I didn’t start my post as an academic paper (“Introduction. When I write introduction, I mean it as Kant defined it…”). The whole “entertainment vs. art” thing is just in your head. I’ve never stated that every film should be “Umberto D”, even because I don’t think so. Some days I watch Bergman, some days I watch Carry On.

        You know, in your heart, that some films are awful. Admit it. Get yourself free! Because right now you’re defending a guy who, in your words, “more or less achieved his purpose.” You’re defending the okayish. There are better causes. So my question to you is: do you really love some of those recent movies? Can you go back to them in your memory? Do you revisit them when you want to see or feel something special? In my subjective playground, that’s all it matters.

        And just to finish it, “Plan 9″ is a cheap shot. You got what you were expecting (actually a little less, “Glen or Glenda” is a much better trainwreck). On the other hand, I really wanted to like “Thor”. But I’d rather watch “Glen or Glenda” again.

        Sorry about the tone, Alan, and everybody here at Sequart (I have nothing but respect for this company, and I’m sorry for disrupting the place). Alan, it’s just that we see the world differently, man. You want objectivity, I want subjectivity, I want people to feel things, to be passionate about things. It’s okay that you have your beliefs. I’m sure that we like some of the same stuff. And hopefully next time we “meet”, we’ll both be praising something we find awesome. Looking forward to it!

      • Well, Mario, it appears you haven’t yet grasped what I’m getting at, so let me put it to you in the simplest terms I can:

        Your explanation of what you think the purpose of cinema is, is IMO too subjective to be able to say that some–or all, or most–movies are objectively bad, which I read your overall collection of rants to be about. In addition, I think it’s disingenuous to treat all movies alike when some of them simply aren’t all made to meet the same kind of values/standards/whatever you want to call them.

        There. I hope that “lecture” wasn’t too long for you, “dude.”

        If your “I can’t win, can I?” complaint comes from the fact that I’m sticking with the position I outlined above, then I guess you can’t win.

        Sorry, I’m just not feeling terribly charitable at the moment towards someone who writes a very long reply in which I’m one accused of “lecturing” and taking “cheap shots.”

        Have a nice day.

  2. Nat Purcell says:

    This article is pretty self-indulgent in that it presumes the Man of Steel is objectively a bad film. I mean, come on. It matters what the Batman costume looks like because it’s, you now, BATMAN. You seem to really dislike Zack Snyder, that’s fine. What isn’t fine is to assert that disliking Zack Snyder is compulsory for being worthy have having an opinion. Hogwash.

    • Agreed. My biggest problem with this article and the reply thread I’m involved in has been that both really just come across to me as a lot of opinion-waving being asserted as objective truth, without much to back any of it up.

      • That’s the beauty of editorials, Alan : ) Opinions rule. At least it got a convo going.

      • Looks like part of my reply got cut off, which would’ve addressed your point about this being what editorials are for, Mike. :-) My dislike of this particular editorial is that I found it to be intellectual snobbery masquerading as an opinion piece. I suppose I don’t really need to add a YMMV disclaimer, but I’ll do it anyway for CYA purposes. :-)

      • Understood, Alan.

        I wish Ian would chime in with his thoughts on your thoughts of his thoughts ; p

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