Why I Couldn't Miss Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice... Pt. 1

[I began this piece a couple of days before Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice hit theatres on the evening of Thursday, May 24th, and finished it well after seeing the film twice already. When I began writing this, the film was already hitting crazy lows on critical mass sites like Rotten Tomatoes due to the accumulation of generally poor to middling reviews from movie critics, and even before the film was going to be seen for the first time by the public, the so-called "fan"-boys and the appropriately named trolls had already pretty much taken the film apart without seeing a frame outside of the trailers. While none of this was going to sway me from my impulse to see the film at my earliest possible convenience -- the reasons why are the thrust of this piece -- seeing that a couple of my long-time friends were not only proclaiming in advance they were not going to see the film, but were ferociously adamant about it, set me to muse upon the situation.]

There is a viral video going about lately that you can find by searching for "The Avengers 1978," though I have seen several different variations under alternate titles. In this video, we are presented with many clips of Lou Ferrigno and Bill Bixby from their portrayals of The Incredible Hulk and David (not specifically Bruce) Banner from the popular TV show on the late '70s and early '80s. We also see Reb Brown in his star-spangled garb and ridiculous motorcycle helmet as Captain America, featured in a pair of television movies (also from the late '70s). All well and good up to this point.



The year "1978" in the title gets thrown off the track greatly then by the appearance of a fur-laden but still mighty Thor; while he does come straight from an appearance with the Ferrigno/Bixby Incredible Hulk, the clips are from the 1988 TV movie titled The Incredible Hulk Returns (a full decade after 1978). The Iron Man used in The Avengers 1978 gets us closer to the stated year, although it is nowhere close to being the Marvel Comics hero. It is actually David Ackroyd as Exo-Man, the titular hero of a 1977 NBC television movie about a paralyzed scientist who builds an armored suit that allows him to walk again and eventually fight the mob on the streets of his city.

As for the rest of the "Avengers" in this comedic trailer, we get:
  • The Black Widow: short clips of a red-haired female in a red outfit (hardly the real Natasha Romanova's fashion choice) doing some clumsy martial arts combat against an assailant. Origin unknown to me at the moment.
  • Loki: various shots of Paul Lynde doing his trademark "sneer and snicker" schtick, sadly without audio of one of his usual catty comments. (Great casting idea though...)
  • Hawkeye: Alan Alda from M*A*S*H (who else could it possibly be?)
  • Tony Stark: a large mustachioed gentlemen of '70s vintage fills in for Iron Man's alter ego and woos women at a cocktail party (or two).
  • The Destroyer: Not sure if they are meant to imply Drax the Destroyer of Guardians of the Galaxy fame, but what we get here is Gene Simmons of KISS fame playing his fire-breathing Demon character from KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. We also get a couple of quick shots of KISS with Paul Lynde himself on Lynde's amazing 1976 Halloween special.
  • Nick Fury: In at least one version of this video meme, clips of David Hasselhoff playing Fury in an early '90s television movie have been inserted.
The trailer is displayed to the viewer as a "CBS Late Movie" complete with the attendant fanfare music and graphics expected in such a presentation. The joke is obvious, and admittedly, humorous on a first glance. Of course, my geekiness gets the better of me, and I can't but help to point out where they have erred in their attempt, a futile effort on my part that nevertheless becomes emboldened when reading too many comments on Youtube for the different visions of this meme where it becomes clear that the bulk of the millennials viewing these clips are mainly taking the videos at face value, and thinking that The Avengers 1978 was a real show. My guess is that even the Hawkeye Pierce joke is also totally lost on the majority of them. Le sigh...

But The Avengers 1978 fake trailer is not why I am here today. It certainly makes up a small portion of the kindling for this fire o' mine, but it is not the real reason. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the reason. Or, specifically, the perception of the critical lambasting of the film in advance of the film even coming out is the real reason.

I get that everyone has their take on why or why not they want to see a film. While I might believe that someone's particular stance is grounded in obstinacy or sheer bullshit, I also cannot denounce any opinion they may hold as invalid (at least not publicly). Conversely, I don't want someone to discount my opinion in the same manner. We all have our likes and dislikes, and we use them to color our decisions throughout our existences, both in matters important and trivial. And so I am not going to pick out a particular instance or two that might have riled me recently, nor am I going to do battle against the critical establishment, for in stating what I already have thus far, I must by all means consider each of their opinions in this matter as equally valid in viewpoint and execution.

What I am going to tell you is why there is not a chance in any imaginary hellscape that I would even think of missing out on seeing Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice in a movie theatre.

And The Avengers 1978 fake trailer is one of the reasons why.

The silly little fake trailer is nothing more than simple fluff, meant to entertain while gathering pageviews and comments on whatever social media page chooses to host or post it. But for certain members of its audience -- namely, me -- The Avengers 1978 hit home in an unexpected way.

An actual Avengers comic from 1978
During the year of 1978, I jumped from thirteen to fourteen years of age, and I was a big comic book geek. While I read comics for much of my young life at that point, I didn't really start collecting them until early in 1977. From the start, my favorite Marvel comic was The Avengers and my favorite DC books, naturally, were the Batman titles. Throughout 1978, not only was I beginning to amass what would turn out to be a huge comic collection, but I was also fully immersed in Edgar Rice Burroughs novels, Ray Harryhausen stop-motion, Hammer horror films (but monster films of all stripes really), Topps baseball cards for all of the major sports (and even the non-sport varieties), and reruns of older TV shows such as Star Trek, The Wild Wild West, Dr. Who, Get Smart, Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and my all-time fave and obsession since I was a toddler (quite literally), the Adam West version of Batman. And then there was the prime time television of the day...

As a tried and true comic and also science-fiction fan, my TV obsessions that year definitely included such fare as The Incredible Hulk, Wonder Woman, Mork and MindyThe Amazing Spider-Man, Battlestar Galactica, Logan's RunThe Bionic Woman, and especially The Six Million Dollar Man (which ended its run early in that year). I also partook of non-genre shows like Fantasy Island, Starsky and Hutch, Baretta, The Love Boat, WKRP in Cincinnati, M*A*S*H, Family, Eight is Enough, SoapThree's Company, and Charlie's Angels. There were also Saturday morning cartoon shows like The All-New Super Friends Hour/Challenge of the Super Friends, The Krofft Supershow, The Fantastic FourCaptain Caveman and the Teen Angels, The Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Hour, Jason of Star Command, Space Sentinels, The Godzilla Power HourSpace Academy, and The Batman/Tarzan Adventure Hour/Tarzan and the Super 7 (amongst far too many others). 

What it comes down to is... I watched a lot of damn television as a kid. And scraping away the non-genre junk (from all the other junk), it became clear that wherever super-heroes, super-villains, monsters, or aliens of all stripes might appear -- and no matter which format or time of day or night -- I would find them. Sure, even at that tender age, I wished that some of the animation in the cartoon shows was better. I was always angry that none of the animated shows had a design half as good as the much older (but still often in reruns) Jonny Quest, then and now one of my fave shows of all time. And I was always frustrated that the live-action shows were always so stunted in showing off the powers of its heroes and villains, or in the rather limited scope of special effects (at least until Battlestar came along).

But we took what we could get. When a TV movie featuring Dr. Strange came on, my fellow comic buddies and I jumped on it like it was made of solid gold, no matter the actual quality of the film. It just didn't matter. The aforementioned Exo-Man was a big deal to us when it came on (though once it was on, it was no longer a big deal; it was a pretty shabby affair, as you can tell from the clips in The Avengers 1978 trailer). Short-lived shows like the very silly Holmes and Yoyo and the more serious Future Cop came and went, but we watched them all in the hopes of see something new, something different, something cool... and something heroic.

In 1978, we got Superman on the big screen, and man, was it a big deal. I still have promotional magazines for the film's release in my collection (included an over-sized jumbo magazine that DC itself put out and the requisite set of Topps trading cards). And when we sat in the theatre and saw the new, charming Man of Steel portrayed perfectly by Christopher Reeve (still the standard) fly for the first time, well, even without being told that we would believe he could do so by the advertising, we really did believe it for a short time. Or at least we were willing to suspend our disbelief long enough to enjoy the experience, even though we were already too touched by Star Wars and the new media concentration on how special effects were created in that day to not see the men behind the curtain. The magazines told us everything, but the effect did still work on us -- because we wished it so -- and it was bigger and better than any superhero effort to that point. We loved it.

Most of the time, however, it was me and my comics alone. Lacking a live-action source for most superheroes (or even an animated one), I read and reread each issue devotedly. In my mind's eye, I treated each comic as it were the latest episode of that hero's television show. The next step was a tad insane. Obsessed with TV listings at that age (even memorizing the times and stations of every prime time program and many of the daytime ones), on paper I constructed my own networks that were to be rivals to television's (then) Big Three. There was a DC and a Marvel network, and I delighted in plotting out prime-time schedules, pitting particular comics against one another in the same time slots. I even had a network for the non-Marvel and DC titles, where Richie Rich, Casper, Archie, and Charlton Comics got their fair shake as well. Whatever I was reading at the time, they got a "show".

In this dream comic television universe, Batman almost always ran concurrently against Captain America and the Falcon, and of course, the Justice League of America always faced off against the Avengers, and so on... Studying the TV ratings announced in the local paper, I was already attuned to which nights were the most popular ones, and tried to adjust my "hero" networks in the same way, putting what I perceived to be stronger shows on the nights that drew the bigger ratings to do battle against the most popular "real" shows.

In this way, when I actually read the comics, they came to life even more for me, since I was now perceiving each one as an actual live entertainment. I would even write out brief synopses for each issue to put in my bogus TV Guide to entice the would-be viewer into watching that "show". And this alternate television universe in my mind also extended to the movie world. Multi-issue arcs, of the time the Avengers were often prone to, were feature films to me. 

My superhero network world collapsed after a year or so, mostly due to maturation (albeit slight) on my part. We grow up and get distracted by other things. Comics were still a major component of my lifeblood; the extra time in my late teens was spent in building fake TV schedules was put into more worthy projects like writing, music, going to actual movies, obsessing over girls (and all of its attendant weirdness), and drawing my own comics. But even though I was growing up, there was one aspect of childhood that I never outgrew: I still felt the world was seriously lacking comic book entertainment beyond the printed page.

I never fell out of love with the fantastical onscreen. Straight through the rest of the 20th century, every major science-fiction, superhero, fantasy, and horror project was treated with equal fervor and excitement before it either came out to theatres or arrived on the television screen. And then, once it was released and viewed, likewise treated with either the acclaim or disdain appropriate to its result. This leads to situations where The Last Starfighter, Krull, and Megaforce all seemed equally interesting in concept in advance of their release in the 1980s, but then I discovered that -- in my opinion at the time (and now), and in order -- that one was a thoroughly marvelous entertainment, one was dull and too derivative in conception, and the last was an insipid pile of horseshit. But I chose to go see each one on the same neutral grounds, and if I didn't come out with the same positive opinion of each one, well, that's mostly on me.

No matter how I felt about them afterward, I was happy to go see all three in the theatre. It doesn't come down to idiotic statements like "I want my money back" or "I wasted two hours of my life that I'll never get back"; you know, the rote things that people who don't take ownership of their actions say when they are upset about the consequences of a simple night out at the movies. No, I chose to spend my own money and see all three films, and it wasn't the excellence of the films in which I was investing those few precious dollars... it was the experience.

Buying a movie ticket doesn't guarantee that you will enjoy the film that is showing on the movie screen that day. It is a contract between you and the theatre owner that you have rented space in one of their seats, gives you access to their refreshment counter (where you will encounter further, sometimes ridiculous fees for usually mediocre food), and allows you the chance to see the featured film at the specific time printed on your ticket. It doesn't say anything about actually enjoying the film; you are basically purchasing a night out at the movies, and whether you end up enjoying the experience or not is up to you.

No one gets refunds on a ticket to the baseball game when the home team doesn't win the game. You are going to the game to see two teams play each other. You are going for the experience. Just like with a movie, your happiness over the few hours you have spent there may depend on the outcome of the game, but that is merely your perception of the event. The doofus next to you in the stands -- or in the same theatre row -- may have had a wonderful time overall.

For me, even seeing a crappy film in the theatre is still an experience worth having. Seeing what you believe to be nothing but top-notch films all the time may sound great, but what it does is whitewash the results of what you are seeing. You have to have a little bit of the bad with the good on occasion to make what is good seem even better. You have to mix it up. Megaforce is a truly terrible film, but we actually had a terrific time making fun of every horrid moment on the screen -- in a pre-MST3K way, since it was only 1982 -- and every stupid line delivered by a truly out of his element Barry Bostwick and company. Once an audience is unified in its belief that what they are seeing is beyond even the help of the most proficient editor in the world, the results can be a ball. 

But the biggest thing for me is that when I went to a film in those days, it was more about the communal experience of seeing a film -- any film -- with my friends. The film really didn't matter; it was about sitting in the dark with my best pals and having a good time. Popcorn, soda, red vines... if the movie turned out to be fantastic, all the better. Beyond this, then and now, the movie theatre has become my church. It is where I go to work things out for myself, to perhaps catch a few minutes of quiet in the dark, and just let a movie wash over me while my mind clicks away in the background. (Sorry, unlike many people who prefer that a movie let's them "not think" for a while, I cannot do that.) Sure, I prefer to go see a film of which I might be anxious to check out, but when I need to escape to the theatre, it can be any film. As a result, I do often see movies that are considered subpar on a critical level.

So I learned how to deal with those potential disappointments when encountered on the big screen. Beyond becoming simpatico with a crowd and firing back at the screen (something which totally violates my movie-going code of the past 25 years and which I would never do these days), I learned that the best way to combat ill feelings towards a film was to write them about them; to put these experiences down on paper, and learn to cast a critical eye towards anything that I was watching. Whether or not anyone else was going to read what I had just spilled out on paper (and in those early days, nobody was reading anything that I wrote, even myself), the point was to get it out of my system.

Now, one could say that there is little difference between what I taught myself to do over the years in writing about my movie experiences, and what people were doing in advance of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Weren't they also getting out their disappointment onto, if not paper, then on the internet, and probably on Twitter or Facebook, for the world to see? Well, yes, they were, but there is a critical difference between what I do and what they were doing...


... I wait until I have actually seen a film before I start deciding if it is the worst thing I have ever seen or not.

[To be continued...]

Comments

Based on my facebook updates, I'm pretty sure I'm one of the people you reference throughout. However, though I knew I was never going to see the film in a theatre, I knew there was no way I wouldn't be seeing it as soon as it hit video. And, in fact, if money and free time were more in abundance, I definitely would have seen it by now.

I'm not one of those people who disliked Man of Steel for it's changes to continuity, and I'm not one to dismiss this new film for changes to the character. Each writer on the comics changed the character slightly, and the continuity for all comics is convoluted enough that I'm more than happy for the movies to blaze their own trail.

My problem is that Man of Steel aped the Batman Begins formula too closely. I don't mind a thoughtful, possibly tortured Clark Kent, but I would like my Superman movie to have some fun with the idea. And Zack Snyder's style has gone from exciting (I loved his Dawn of the Dead remake, and quite enjoyed 300) to grating. I'll see the movie, I'll give it as fair a shake as is humanly possible, but I'm just not excited for it.
Rik Tod Johnson said…
Nope. It's not you, Aaron. Somebody else altogether. - Rik

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