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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Fun-Free Superheroes


"Batman vs. Superman" may have taken in $170 million at the box office this weekend, but that doesn't mean it's any good. On Friday, I gave it a four out of ten in the review on my Showbiz Show, but the more I think about it, that was too generous. I forgot one key element that's missing in this and all the other recent Batman and Superman movies: fun.

For those of us who grew up with their TV versions, with Adam West as Batman and George Reeves as Superman, there was an element of campiness that made the shows clever and entertaining. When the characters moved to the big screen with Michael Keaton and Christopher Reeve, the scripts were still infused with not just wit, but also some comic relief (e.g. Reeve's Superman going to change clothes in a phone booth but discovering they don't have doors anymore, or Robert Wuhl's snarky reporter).

Plus, those shows and movies had great villains, which are always the key to super-hero and super-spy movies. If the hero doesn't have someone with an oversized ego and a world-conquering plan, there's no reason for the audience to care. Give me Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger as the Joker over Tom Hardy as Bane or Cillian Murphy as Scarecrow anyday. Gene Hackman's joyful smirk as Lex Luthor in the first two "Superman" movies runs rings around the simply annoying version played in the new movie by Jesse Eisenberg.

Perhaps the blame can be placed on CGI. The earlier versions of these superhero stories couldn't rely much on special effects, because they looked cheap even when they cost lots of money. Now, the state of the art has advanced so far that directors and writers rely on them too much. They put the emphasis on the battles, the explosions, and the destruction, but forget to flesh out the characters and the lines that come out of their mouths.

Batman and Superman got their start in comic books, but the current keepers of their flames seem to have forgotten the comic part. No one needs superheroes who are dour, depressed, and haunted by events from their childhood -- we have enough of those people in our real lives.