Don'ts Of Screenwriting
Lessons that DC Must Learn From Marvel
By: Mike Amari
A movie script has a pretty straight forward job. It exists entirely to move an audience through the story in a cohesive and, most importantly, interesting manner. Think of the movies in your own personal vault of classics. I would bet good money that just about every one of them has a palpable rhythm to the story, a cadence to the narrative that makes the fiction seem fluid and natural. It always astounds me when this piece of the film-making puzzle, the one that is ostensibly easiest and cheapest to refine, is mishandled as badly as it was in this year’s Batman Vs. Superman.
Before you start in with the “all of the critics out there are biased against DC” or “ DC can’t get a fair shake” arguments please understand 2 things:
1) I am not a professional movie reviewer, I’m just some asshole with a keyboard and a
few hours to kill. There is no monetary or professional reason for me to beat up on any
company or film maker
2) I grew up on a steady diet of both marvel and DC comics. While I may gravitate toward the “Excelsior” brand, i have no interest in taking sides in any fanboy wars.
This year was pretty great for those of us on the nerd front, between Finding Dory, Deadpool and even the criminally underrated Kubo and the Two Strings, just about every week this year had something to look forward to. The apex of this was supposed to be the one two punch of Marvel’s Civil War followed by Batman Vs. Superman. While Marvel delivered a well scripted, if a bit familiar, tentpole release, DC fumbled what should have been the easiest slam dunk in movie history.
Seriously, how was this not the best damn thing ever?
The rift in quality actually has little to do with the overall plot points of BvS as both it and Civil War share eerily similar moments and thematic undertones. Instead we can lay blame at the feet of the piss poor pacing afforded to the caped wonders in DC’s universe.
You see, while both movies have minor issues with the story they are trying to tell, it’s how David Goyer’s script tells this story that puts this movie reeling on it’s back foot.
There are some easy points of comparison between the two scripts that help to highlight where the script for Dawn Of Justice went wrong. First, compare how each movie introduces a new, pivotal character to their respective cinematic universes. In Civil War, Black Panther is introduced as a crucial piece of the overall narrative. Who he is and what his motivations are help drive the plot so his introduction is a natural one that sets the stage for his own solo movie.
Compare this to the ham-fisted way Wonder Woman was shoe horned into BvS. She feels disconnected from the overall plot and particularly from our two main characters. Her interactions with Bruce Wayne are unnecessarily cryptic and has her coming off as more of a Selena Kyle than a Diana Prince. Her whole inclusion feels like a cheap gimmick. Putting her in this film before the solo Wonder Woman film does her a grave disservice and feels too much like putting the cart before the horse.
Way too badass to be a tertiary character
It’s when the two movies shift into their second and third acts that we begin to see the glaring issues with the BvS script, pacing wise. Civil War's narrative rhythm is spot on. With each scene we are given either an expository moment which serves to push the narrative forward or a well choreographed fight that has actual impact on the story itself. Each battle within Civil War starts organically from moments that preceded it and leads into another moment whose importance is clearly defined. There's a cadence to it.
Compare that with the utter nonsense that BvS descends into shortly after the halfway mark. It trudges along at a snail's pace and seemingly forgets what story it started to tell. After it's very strong opening act the audience is expecting a movie centered around an honest to God moral conflict where these two titans core beliefs put them at odds with one another. The opening promises a movie that is going to dive deep into the theme of responsibility in regards to God-like beings. The titular conflict is set up as one that is based partly on revenge but also upon an idealistic difference between the two main characters. This has always been the strongest interplay between the characters of Batman and Superman, from Batman’s innate distrust of any who wields untold power and Superman’s disdain for Batman’s brutal methods.
This is not the story told by the back half of the movie. After a solid set up scene, we see a future where superman has gone full Hitler and our first glimpse at the multiverse where alternate universe Flash warns Batman that this all happens because Lois Lane dies, the script seems to forget ALL of that. Instead of continuing the bulidup of that possible outcome and how it can impact the universe, the filmmakers spend much of the remaining screen time setting up a completely different conflict, one which feels forced and hackneyed. Rather than having a conflict based upon principles, we have a far less interesting and contrived reason for these two to fight.
The greatest sin is that the movie just rings hollow after a while. Nothing seems to be of any consequence, actions have little to no weight. By the time the third act rolls around there is absolutely no investment on the viewer's part. It doesn’t help that the final showdown is just a confused mess both visually and thematically, giving short shrift to Doomsday, a character that should have had a much better cinematic debut. Cap off the whole thing with the laughably cheap inclusion of Superman "dying" and you have a film that leaves newcomers uninvested and comic fans upset. I mean, the death and return of Superman is a classic arc that should be it's own movie (or two) not something tacked on to the end of another story
Overall what i’m most bothered by here is the wasted potential that seems to be a problem from the top down over at Warner Bros. Each movie that comes out seems to be more ponderous than the last. Don’t get me started on Suicide Squad which was not only a mess pacing wise but was utterly pointless from start to finish. I hope that reports stating Ben Affleck has taken on producing duties for the DC universe movies is true, because movie fans are getting a boring and muddied version of the DCU under the current regime.