The Hot Blog
By David Poland - Sunday, April 24th, 2016
The man-cub rules the roost by triple the next best weekend… which has nothing to do with competition and everything to do with The Huntsman: Winter’s War not finding a hook to interest big audiences after they had already seen people turn into metal and shatter. (Perhaps focusing a teensy-tiny bit on The Huntsman of the title or explaining why it was a Winter War might have helped.) Per-screen queen was The Meddler.
By David Poland - Saturday, April 23rd, 2016
By this time in 2015, we had just one film open that would go on to gross more than $202 million domestic (Furious 7). The $201 million domestic movie was Cinderella. But there were movies that grossed in the 100s that excited entertainment journalists (Fifty Shades, Home, Divergent 2, Spongebob, Kingsman).
This year, we have had just five films that will do over $100 million domestic openings so far… but there have been three that have exceeded $300 million domestic. There has never been more than one that opened in the first 4 months of the year before… ever.
So why does this all feel so… meh?
Studios have stopped pushing past the opening. Now and again, you see a film that has legitimate ad spends going into a third weekend… but it’s rare. The habit of getting the movie open and then just running out the clock until Home Entertainment 90 days later is costing studios money. It is true that not every film is appropriate for an additional expenditure of energy past opening. But why did it feel like the Deadpool conversation was over less than a month after it opened? Zootopia is a legitimate phenom that came virtually out of nowhere. Why are we obsessing on the one big grosser that is a relative flop within its genre?
One thing that too often gets forgotten in this business is that all things have their own time, their own rhythm. As much as the corporate culture (and Wall Street) prefers consistency to artisan efforts, the reality of the film business is that every one of these studio films that is being released is a product of, first, dozens in development, then hundreds in production, and then scores of people working to make the release work. The input of those individuals becomes a cumulative, shared product. None of them are widgets. But the faster the well-oiled machinery goes, the more anxious to get to the next huge grosser, the less craftsmanship is allowed for everything else.
And the premise that Hollywood will become an industry that makes only those giant machine films is, well, not to put too fine a point on it, idiotic.
Let’s assume that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the most profitable film released in 2015. Part of that was, for instance, opening on every major screen (or in all the biggest rooms in plexes) in cities like Los Angeles. In Hollywood alone, it screened at The Chinese, The El Capitan, the Arclight (including the Dome), and The Grove. Every first run house within two miles of Hollywood & Highland.
It is likely that no matter what the industry does, these four theaters will stay in business. The El Cap is co-owned by Disney. The Arclight and The Grove cater to a specific, committed clientele. Bet The Chinese? Probably safe now as the area’s only IMAX screen.
However, The Chinese was abandoned as a traditional first-run theater a few years ago, as it was not profitable enough, even with its weekly premieres and endless foot traffic. And in the last decade, four first-run theaters in the same area no longer show movies.
This is the business center of the film industry, so things evolve more aggressively than in the real world. Our big mall in Century City, for instance, is getting its third major movie theater make-over in 25 years. But like The Chinese or another struggling premiere location, the Village, or the already demolished National, we are seeing clear proof that big movies alone are not enough to sustain the infrastructure of film distribution, the front line of which is exhibition.
The preferred exhibition conceit of the last decade plus—many screens of high quality with a significant screen size-to-seat count ratio that allow for a major expansion of the footprint of big openers, but can show a wide range of product when the heat is lowered—works great for distributors. We are seeing the biggest opening weekends ever, beyond previous comprehension, because the larger ecosystem works (mostly) in the service of those openings.
Entertainment journalism, by the way, does not cover this well. We still run theater counts as though they were screen counts, hiding the reality that exhibition still has mostly empty theaters most of the time. There are a ton of variables in the Jungle Book‘s 4028 theater count that is noted today. How many 3D showings… how many IMAX… how many vanilla 2D… how many seats… etc?
But “journalism” prefers aggregate numbers that have the least amount of insight given the range of stats. Studios parse out information that serves their purpose on Friday afternoon, Saturday morning, and Sunday morning, and the press runs it as the key data, when those details are very rarely questioned or reported… in great part because very few people writing on box office these days has the slightest idea what questions should be asked… how to follow up. As film criticism used to be just some assignment a newspaper gave to a city desk writer who seemed bored, so is box office writing now. No one wants to have to get up early on the weekend to file this stuff, weekend after weekend. But it gets a lot of page views, so the papers who mine these views now fight for position, speculating more and more, reporting in depth less and less.
As with the comic presumptions of VOD or The Screening Room being inevitable and/or inevitably successful, we have plenty of experiential proof otherwise… but in the pursuit of The New, people just don’t want to hear about it. Some of the richest people in the world want to have their selection of first-run movies available on opening day for $50 (getting the print driven over from the studio costs more than that!), so now we are all being sold this shtick that the world is waiting for this, it is the end of piracy, and that people who pay $100 a month for cable/satellite and going to pay $50 for one movie? Remember, at much lower price points, no movie has ever grossed as much as $50 million on VOD/PPV. Not one. But at 5x the price, it’s gonna be HUGE!
Of the Top 20 movies of 2016 to day, 13 are “middle” or small movies. But wait! Studios don’t make or release those movies anymore!
Brooklyn Bridge. Buy it now. Cheap.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War will open to slightly better than 1/3 of its predecessor.
Universal is having a profoundly mediocre 2016 so far. They saw it coming. They have hits to come. May 20 is Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising. July has two legit shots at strong showings in Jason Bourne and The Secret Lives of Pets. (And they aren’t even changing its name to Petopia!) I hope that writers skip the opportunity to crap all over the studio and the industry for the studio not doing the kind of numbers it did last year… or even the year before. Donna Langley is not a moron this year any more than she was the greatest genius of all time last year. She is a whip-smart, politically-skilled executive who is going to ride the wave like every long-surviving exec has before her has done and every one after her will do. There is nothing easy or obvious about this job.
Zootopia, which is well ahead of Batman v Superman worldwide, should pass it domestically this weekend as well.
On the indie scene, the strongest newcomer is The Meddler, which should be a solid success, especially with the over-60 crowd.
By David Poland - Thursday, April 21st, 2016
By David Poland - Sunday, April 17th, 2016
So guesses on The Jungle Book were low, 20% low. This may be one of the rare occasions in which word of mouth helped, as the family audience showed over the weekend after hestitating on Friday.
So push the worldwide guess to as much as $650 million… which makes it more profitable, though still not in the likely Top 3 for Disney for the year. I know that my commentary about profit not always being a thrill for the studio sounds weird. But it’s the macro view, not the micro view. And Disney, still more than any other studio, is playing a high-stakes game, which demands a long view. If this all turns in 2020 or 2021, 2016’s stats won’t matter much.
In the meantime, the risk on The Jungle Book has paid off. Disney is off to a hot year, with Zootopia doing unexpectedly big numbers, Civil War on the way, and Dory coming soon. How will they sell Spielberg’s fairy tale, BFG, and Pete’s Dragon (which they like enough to hire the director for his next film), a couple dramas, then Doctor Strange before the first Star Wars spin-off arrives as the other tree holding up the hammock?
Right now, Disney has 7 titled films scheduled for 2017, all of which are franchise titles, though I don’t see a sequel to Beauty & The Beast coming. So things are still looking safe.
Barbershop: The Next Cut opened to about what the original did, which is a couple million less than the sequel. Stable audience. (Shrug.)
Batman v Superman… stuck between Zootopia and Deadpool. If you believe that WB is okay with their top two DC stars coming in behind a non-franchise Disney animation released off-season and barely beating out an R-rated, marginal Marvel character, I have a bridge for sale. They won’t lose money on the film… but this is not what they needed.
Green Room and Sing Street start strong on limited.
By David Poland - Saturday, April 16th, 2016
There is nothing bad about the opening day/likely weekend of The Jungle Book. I suspect that the $80m estimates floating around might be significantly low. But… there has been a $95m+ opening in each of the last two Aprils. So if it’s not that, do we see this as a massive success for a $175m+ film? This film is going to be profitable. Over $450m worldwide. Perhaps up in the $600ms because of international. But like the cheaper Cinderella, which did $543m worldwide, the standard for a win at Disney is different right now. They didn’t get into The Jungle Book to gross $600m worldwide. Yes, yes, merchandising, branding, etc… ya.
I like the movie. I think it’s a bit long and a bit lacking in emotion (because the story is so severe that they clearly avoided emotional impact greater than run and jump and basic action stuff so children could see it). I think the same people mocking Jim Cameron for expanding Avatar this week are somehow in awe of the next extension of what Cameron did 6 years ago. I think that the eyes of the animals never actually feel real enough to elicit human empathy. And I think that if they were going to do the songs, they should have really done them. The “reality” of the piece already is beyond actual credulity. But… I was fine with the movie. I will take the 6-year-old and he will love it.
No one wants to say anything bad about Disney, lest they lose their seat at the party, but the studio really doesn’t do very well with anything that isn’t sequeled, franchised, or branded. That’s not a failure of the films, necessarily, but a problem at a studio that has stopped functioning at more than one speed. Monkey Kingdom, Tomorrowland, Bridge of Spies, The Good Dinosaur, The Finest Hours… all soft or money losers. Ant-Man… mediocre return on spend, though the hope is that it will built an audience for the next film(s). Then 4 mega-movies that cover up the “limitations.” April 2014 – April 2015 was even worse: 7 misses, 4 mediocre performers, 3 mega-movies.
So this brings us to chicken and egg. Or as R&H’s Cinderella would have it, am I beautiful because you love me or do you love me because I’m beautiful? Is Disney making fewer films and focusing even more on franchise because everything else is unpopular or because the studio has so obsessed on mega-movies that it can’t really remember how to do anything else when they have to sell something smaller and that requires more than yet another EW cover?
Don’t get me wrong. There are people at Disney who have successfully sold “middle movies” in the past. They aren’t hacks. Likewise, marketing trouble at most studios. Trends shift and wear out. Very, very few professionals can exert most of their focus in one direction then brilliantly focus on something 180 degrees in the other direction. This is why Spielberg’s Jurassic Park/Schindler’s List year remains one of the epic moments in film history. Soderbegh’s 1-2 of Erin Brockovich and Traffic is similarly massively impressive, but the movies are a lot closer than Spielberg’s duo, making the magic trick just a little less impressive.
Anyway… The Jungle Book is as good a piece of big movie directing as Jon Favreau has done. (Elf still stands on top of his resume for invoking intimacy on a level not unlike his script for Swingers.) It will make money. The thrill ride will do it for kids (and apparently critics who have had their expectations systematically lowered). But what I tend to see after an opening like this is… hmmm… how will Disney respond to this as an organization?
(One last note: I think Disney saw this number coming and thought it soft, which is why they shifted the ad campaign late in the game. Studios know… and when they tell journalists about how shocked they were by a result, they are almost always lying.)
Barbershop: The Next Cut hasn’t suffered from 12 years away… nor grown as a result. This opening is right there between the first film and the sequel. Expect $70 million – right between the other two – as the reasonable, if not a little disappointing, result.
Batman v Superman keeps dropping steeply. It’s $60m behind Zootopia worldwide and I don’t expect it to catch up. You can’t lose money on an $800m worldwide grosser. That hasn’t changed. But as a launchpad, this is a massive disappointment for WB, no matter what they claim. If Suicide Squad opens to less than $85 million, people will be fired.
Big drop for The Boss, though it will be more like the low 50s by the end of the weekend. Still, the word-of-mouth doesn’t seem to be this one’s friend, even though Melissa McCarthy is undeniably box office.
Criminal. Lionsgate had 10 openings under $8 million last year… and 4 over. So far this year, it’s 4 under and 1 over… now 5 under.
There will be two English-language indies in limited doing over $10k per screen. The biggest will be Green Room, with about $30k per on 3. Sing Street will do about $17k per on 5.
By David Poland - Sunday, April 10th, 2016
All three Melissa McCarthy “solo” movies have opened to between $21 million and $29 million. That’s pretty much Wlll Ferrell’s historic sweet spot as well (though he has a few above and a few below). She’s not Sandra Bullock box-office wise, but Bullock is not a pure comedian. McCarthy is. And Ghostbusters is only going to make her bigger and stronger.
It’s interesting that McCarthy’s husband, Ben Falcone, is not getting much credit. I suppose it is similar to Adam Sandler’s group of directors, who are often dismissed. But the team of Ferrell and McKay, free of sex or shared children, is given a lot more credence. And McKay, obviously, took a huge step for himself with The Big Short and the duo has build Funny or Die and Gary Sanchez into more than vanity brands. But what the couple is doing together is working, at least commercially. And Falcone is clearly improving with each film.
Anyway… easy to get too serious about this… but McCarthy is now a real-life grown-up movie opener, a species which has become more and more rare in recent years. And so far, her explorations have been more inexpensive than expensive and they have both been successful… which makes her an even rarer bird.
Batman v Superman v Box Office continues. Went into it yesterday. Lots of not thoughtful think pieces about WB and DC lately. It’s all so much more simple and so much more complicated than it seems to people.
Let’s not forget that WB was only able to mine one DC star, Superman, from 1978 – 1987. Then Batman launched in 1989 and for 17 years (until 2006’s Superman Returns), the only attempts they made at other DC characters were Steel, Catwoman, Constantine. In the decade since, there have been two distinct Superman reboots and the failures of Watchmen, The Losers, Jonah Hex and Green Lantern. So the high drama of blaming Kevin Tsujihara first and foremost – however problematic he may be – is, well, bullshit.
DC has been a disaster at WB for most of its 45 years owning the comic book company. Superman basically went two films before falling apart. Batman too. Then they got Chris Nolan, who got them three hits in a row with Batman again, who is clearly the strongest movie player in the DC line-up. But that’s 6 major hits (not counting Batman Begins, which was modestly successful) in 45 years of WB owning DC.
Marvel has had 12 $700m+ worldwide grossers in the last 14 years since Spider-Man.
Even if you forgive the 30 years of life without CGI, which has been central to the explosion of massive superhero films, Warner Bros’ inability to get anything without Batman or Superman to succeed in the last 15 years is brutal… and covers multiple administration changes at the studio.
And all of this means nothing if they get a few wins. But that has proven to be easier said than done.
This brings up your reminder that Deadpool will gross more than any comic book adaptation that doesn’t have Iron Man, Batman or Spider-Man in it and had a sub-$100m budget.
Zootopia is a huge hit. Hasn’t dropped more than 36% on any weekend. This weekend in the mid-20s again. Now a Top 10 all-time domestic animated film. Should pass #9, Shrek The Third, next weekend. Currently, the #8 all-time international grossing animation and sure to pass #7 (The Lion King) this week and #6, Despicable Me 2 soon after. #5, Toy Story 3 at $648m internationally is probably to far to reach. But a remarkable run and another sign that Disney Animation is fully competitive with its sister company, Pixar, at the box office now. (Of course, both companies are headed by John Lasseter.)
Hardcore Henry was not.
Midnight Special and Everybody Wants Some!!, two well-reviewed indie films being released by major distributors are doing soft business. Sorry. Wish I could say otherwise. People will have to find them on HBO/HBO Go and EPIX/Hulu.
Drafthouse is pushing The Invitation hard and media, anxious for a positive story about a woman director, is lining up for Karyn Kusama. But even with a bunch of rave reviews on top of that, if you can’t get to $10k per on 6 on opening weekend, the battle will be uphill.
Miles Ahead did pretty well, considering 25 screens… $8,760 per is solid. Can Sony Classics get the film to $1 million or more? This would have been a very strong DVD play in the era of the DVD.
Finally, don’t forget the older women. Both My Name Is Doris and The Lady in The Van are ready to tip the $10m mark for their distributors without a lot of ad spending. It’s not BvS money, but these are big indie model hits. The audience is waiting.
By David Poland - Saturday, April 9th, 2016
It’s funny. Tammy rolled out over 5 days in the summer of 2014 and got its ass kicked in the press (I wasn’t kicking its ass, but I wasn’t as generous as I should have been) for a $21.6m 3-day and a $31.3m 5-day. It grossed $85m domestically and just over $100m overall and was quite profitable off of a $20m budget.
Now The Boss comes along with numbers that aren’t a dramatic improvement (especially with a 3-day opening) and it’s not summer, but it will be the #2 comedy opening of the year to day and the #1 for and original comedy (vs Ride Along 2) and it’s hard to say that Melissa McCarthy is doing anything other than successfully building a mid-range franchise of lower budget comedies that make money, not too much unlike will Ferrell, with occasional blockbusters (Ghostbusters is coming) to keep it all going. And she’s done this while doing a series… from which she is now free.
As long as McCarthy shows this kind of budget discipline, she will have free reign. And if she ever cracks the international box office nut on her smaller films, she will be a legitimate force on Ferrell’s level as a performer. (I have no idea whether she wants to support other filmmakers as Ferrell and Adam McKay do.)
Batman v Superman had, easily, the worst third Friday of any film opening to over $150 million in history. That’s a dozen titles. The only film in the group which BvS isn’t behind as of that 3rd Friday is Spider-Man 3, which ended up with $337m domestic, but is falling more slowly. I would expect BvS to land somewhere right above or below that number, to become the #1 or #2 worst domestic grosser after a $150m opening.
BvS is about $90m behind Spidey 3 in international right now and should catch up and perhaps pass the total worldwide gross of $891 million. Nothing to sneeze at… but in the game they are playing, at the prices for entry they are spending, quite mediocre.
Zootopia should pass Monsters, Inc and Up this weekend to become one of the top ten all-time animated grossers domestically. And with mighty international sales, it will pass Inside Out‘s worldwide gross in the next few weeks. I would posit that Zootopia is the more under-written-about film in memory. Cute animals and all that… but there is a lot of stuff going on under the hood of this film and as much as I hate overflowing think pieces, this film deserves a bunch more.
Hardcore Henry had a soft opening. I have seen the thing promoted all over the place and I still have no real idea of what it is other than a first-person-shooter gimmick.
If I were Paramount, I’d be going back for more money for 10 Cloverfield Lane, which continues to get shockingly good word of mouth for the performances and screenplay, suggesting that there is surely an adult audience for the film that has not been mined.
Some films with very passionate supporters and detractors slumping into the indie box office this weekend. Demolition will do almost $1 million on 830 screens… which is kinda underwhelming. Jake fans, I would suspect. A hard movie to explain in ads, but not a great start. The Invited has gotten all kinds of indie raves for Karyn Kusama’s “return to form,” but $7500 per on 6 screens is not an indication of this taking off in any real way. And Louder Than Bombs – which features great performances from Jesse Eisenberg, Gabriel Byrne, Isabelle Hupert and newcomer Devin Druid – won’t even do $6k on 4… which is pretty DOA as these things go. That means fewer than 150 people saw the film on each of those 4 screens yesterday. All day. Fewer than 500 likely to each screen over the weekend. More people saw it at Cannes on opening day. I love this film… but the market can be brutal.
Last thought… everyone who mentions blizzards and hurricanes on the east coast affecting box office should measure how drizzle in LA does the same here. I wonder if there is a bump in VOD and streaming sales on exotic L.A. weekends like this. Drizzle. Oy.
By David Poland - Sunday, April 3rd, 2016
6th fastest to $100m. 7th fastest to $150m. 11th fastest to $200m. 11th fastest to $250m.
See the trend line?
And still, not shocking numbers for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in any way. Klady estimates a 69% drop… not remotely shocking for an opening as massive as the one this film had last weekend, including Thursday, which is why historical comparisons of % drops from any film over 5 years are completely meaningless. Yes, it is 5% – 8% higher than WB would have wanted. But it’s really not a huge drama. Especially since WB did, indeed, turn the corner internationally. Yes, China fell off, but the film has already blown past Man of Steel internationally and though it is not likely to catch up to The Dark Knight Rises, it will be the #2 DC film internationally.
Context… again… mediocre numbers, given the significance of the film for the DC franchise moving forward. No disaster. No mandate.
Zootopia is not going to topple Frozen, but for Walt Disney Animation, it’s going to be a strong #2, passing $800m worldwide this weekend and perhaps passing $900m all in.
God’s Not Dead 2 fell of its competitive-with-the-original opening over the weekend, but still, a solid opening that should have matched expectations of the producers. Miracles From Heaven is a bit in its way, which will probably cost it $20m or more. Risen is still hanging on with $36.5m in the bank. Competing for that Easter money is brutal!
This is that time of year when the Top 11 includes Pure Flix, Bleeker Street, Freestyle, and Roadside. All solid businesses, but ranking higher in the horse race through soft studio releasing.
By the way… The Lady In The Van is quietly creeping up on $10 million domestic for Sony Classics.
Miles Ahead wins the Best Per-Screen war this weekend with $29,829 per on 4. The first $120k is the easiest.
Four-walled Vaxxed, the lunatic fringe film that got escorted out of the Tribeca rally with DeNiro getting sucker punched on the way out, did #24.5k on 1 screen. 2000 more misinformed people in Manhattan.
Everybody Wants Some!! did decent per-screen business on 19 for a film with a national campaign. The film deserves better than it is likely to get… but is also very much a niche film.
By David Poland - Saturday, April 2nd, 2016
It would be challenging to find a more boring boxoffice weekend than this one. One new wide release… a mistitled sequel (should be God’s Still Not Dead with one of those graphic red “Not’s” trying to barge its way in from above). One mediocrely massive holdover. Indie box office that is either soft or mighty niche.
BS: Dawn of Justice is a little ahead of Man of Steel. The trajectory will likely come in behind or just barely passing Deadpool at the domestic box office when all is done. It’s barely ahead of last April’s Furious 7 domestically after 8 days and will surely fall behind that film as well… especially internationally. This is significant, as Batman is easily the #1 draw for the DC Universe.
Point is—still—mediocrity. Not a disaster. Not enough to push any upcoming movies into the stratosphere. The Zack Snyder version of DC is just squeaking by. It is now the Divergent of superhero franchises… just waiting on the one that will flop seriously enough to cost the company a lot of money. It may not be Justice League. But the clock is ticking. And a decisive, massive reboot will have to come before 2021 if this is not going to drag down the studio (in perception, if not actual financial terms).
God’s Not Dead 2 opened to the exact same number (within $100k) as the original.
Meet The Blacks this weekend, because they won’t be in theaters past next weekend.
By David Poland - Wednesday, March 30th, 2016
What cultural icon’s passing has hit you hardest in the deadly first three months of 2016?
By David Poland - Sunday, March 27th, 2016
Batman v Opening Weekend Box Office has almost always been won by the bat. In 27 years, there have been 8 Batman movies. Four Batman films broke the domestic opening weekend record when they were released. One was the #2 opening of all time when it opened and another the #7 opening of all time on its release. The only Batman film that did open to record or near-record numbers was Batman Begins, which followed the steep-dropping dog Batman & Robin which had a then-unproven director, in commercial terms, at the helm.
Batman v Superman shows, once again, that whatever the box office moment, no matter how bad the review, people want to see Batman. And they did. Our estimate for the weekend is a little lower than Warner Bros, the exclusive significance of which is that Potter 7a opening a million or so better and by estimating high, WB can say this is its best opening in studio history.
Anyway… these are simple facts. The judgment of what this opening means is… it opened well. There is no sane dismissal of this opening. It is, in fact, only the fourth best opening of the last year. But that is unkind on some level. There have only been seven openings of this size in movie history and you have to give the devil his due. It’s not $200 million… but shut up.
The question will be the legs and the international number. International had a very strong start too, though only TDK Rises has really been a Batman movie in the era of the wildly expanding international gross. No Batman movie has ever failed to gross at least 2.5x opening. On the other hand, 3 of the 6 other all-time top openers failed to get to 2.5x opening. So take the side you think is more significant in the over/under on $400 million domestic for BvS.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 counterprogrammed BvS as the parents and grandparents drop the kids off at the multiplex. It did okay. The Friday numbers were strong enough to make Sat/Sun a little disappointing. But this opening is solid. High 40s or low 60s, this one will be a pale shadow of the original, which was the last vestige of an exhibition era that encouraged long runs. That original film did a lot of international business ($127m), so given that there is an audience for this material and there is more worldwide exhibition, it could make a killing (relative to domestic) there.
WB had the #2 per-screen hit of the weekend too… Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special, starring BvS cameo Michael Shannon. The real question for this movie will be expansion. There are surely 20 more markets that will be hot for this film… but beyond that, it’s not so clear. But WB has to feel pretty good about getting this one started on the right track.
By David Poland - Saturday, March 26th, 2016
Heading out the door for a children’s birthday party this morning. We’re taking all the 6/7-year-olds to go see Batman v Superman.
Haha. Stop calling Child Protective Services. Rollerskating.
Big opening # for BvS. Fourth best of the last year. But last year was a big year for big movies. So fair enough. Batman opens. We knew that. What will be the hold? The Dark Knight Rises is the only Batman film other than Batman & Robin to do better overseas than domestically. Where will that trendline go with this film? All questions waiting to be answered. No one’s dream of BvS dropping dead into the ocean is happening. No one’s fantasy of it being the next step up for DC is happening, either. Like Man of Steel, it will make a reasonable amount of money, but not a killing.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 opened to what the original – which never appeared on half the screens of this opening – did in the first 6 weeks/weekends. Should get to $20m (little more/little less) this weekend, which has to be counted as a win.
By David Poland - Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016
It’s hard to know where to start with a film like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
I am not a Zack Snyder fan. But I have appreciated the skills he has shown and I have understood, even when repulsed by them, his storytelling instincts. I was trying hard to keep an open mind when he popped on screen with a “please-no-spoilers” request to the media before the screening I attended (note: always a good idea to screen a movie in IMAX in which a full third of the fully-booked room has horrible, too-close seats) and he referred to his movie as “Batman vee Superman,” my stomach sunk. I mean, it is literally what the film is named. But it’s an abbreviation of versus… unless he thinks it’s something more clever than that… who knows what that would be… so maybe it’s a kitschy insider way of talking about his own movie… and even so, be aware of your audience.
Now this is the moment when some people will accuse me of being overly critical or nitpicky and going in with a bad attitude. This “vee” moment was more a pet peeve-like thing than anything else. But it is, like it or not, instructive. As for a bad attitude, I am a little bit guilty. This thing smelled like trouble from a distance. The murky, overly arty outdoor campaign continued that. I think the WB pivot to the action between Superman and Batman was the right commercial pivot, but I could never have imagined how false an impression of the actual movie those ads turned out to offer. But honest… I was as open as I could be as the movie started. And this review is going to get a lot more critical and nit-picky, if that is how you want to see it.
So the movie begins…
Zack Snyder still shoots everything in close-up or wide shots. Everything else seems to challenge him beyond his skill set (or style, if you must). There is no possible way to follow any of the major action in this film. It is big. It is loud. It is violent. But it is a crappy CG blur interrupted by close-ups of this one or that one taking/making an impact or landing.
The dialogue has the feel of high school Shakespeare… which is to say, that if you are familiar with Shakespeare, you know what the words are meant to mean, but the people saying them really don’t understand them, so it feels like a foreign language, making little sense. In this case, it is the words and directorial context that are at fault and no matter how hard everyone (especially the actors) try, it comes out like pretentious teenage verbal masturbation.
Of course, that lets off the storytelling too easily, blaming the marble-mouthed dialogue. The ideas are terrible from start to finish. Does Superman have a single serious, considered thought why he’s so pissed off at Batman? Has Batman made any effort at all to consider – as the world seems to have, though the film doesn’t bother offering that context – that there might be a reason why Superman failed to protect Metropolis instead of being a participant in the killing of thousands? And as importantly, if not more, do either consider their own flaws or are they just two megalomaniacs with mommy issues, now joined by Lex, working out his daddy problems?
My critical brethren seem to have landed on the idea that this film is nothing but an ad for Justice League and I can’t argue that… but I do feel that it was meant to be more than that. (And as ads go, it is horrible.) There is a great idea in this. Two icons of great meaning and power who have come to believe that they have to fight in order for the world to be safe. Should be something great. Think about talking with friends about the ideas late at night and how many really smart takes might come up. And then, watch this movie and wonder whether anyone realized just how low this film really aims.
The Donald Trump/Ted Cruz comparison is a comical meme on the web, but it is shocking how much more interesting the real life conflicts are than the ones in this movie. Why does Trump have a constituency? Why does Cruz? Why is Trump such a threat to the Republican Party? Why do they all hate Cruz? Answer those four questions – and that’s just tapping the surface – in a 2 hour movie and you will have a vastly superior one than BvS:DoJ.
Imagine, if you will, that Hillary Clinton was really a mortal threat to the nation… and was likely to win. Think of the tension in the idea that these two people who are so opposite and so opposed to one another must come together, somehow, in order to save the nation. Serious drama. And what, for the sake of argument, if Wonder Woman was the only person who could break through their arrogance to unify them.
Of course, the argument that Hillary Clinton would be terrible for America is absurd and 80% of America knows it, even if many of them don’t love the candidate. Be clear on that. But as a dramatic idea, dynamite.
Instead, in BvS, you have a Lex Luthor, amusing at times, but who believes nothing. He’s a climber, not an ideologue. And yeah, a good writer could make that work too. It would be funny, as the Hackman version was in the first Superman, just working a real estate angle. But Zack Snyder has no sense of humor (or self-awareness, it seems). Nor a vision.
Now that I think about it, a mega-problem with this film is that every major male character is wrong in deep and profound ways, but never learns anything… except that they may need others to preserve themselves more than they need to kill them… because none of them are about anything more than their specific mistaken ideas of the facts. There is nothing for us to care about.
Snyder tries to create an intense, adult intimacy between Superman and Lois Lane, even doing a bathtub scene. But her passion for him is as shallow as the dialogue, like we should know why she loves him from some other movie. Is it the greatest (or most complicated) sex ever? Don’t know. Is she trying to fix him? Don’t know. Is he really that nice? Don’t know. We know that he will save her because he thinks he loves her.. but we don’t know why and because of that, we don’t care.
I don’t feel The Dark Knight worked as well as many did, though I still think it is a terrific piece of filmmaking. Specifically, the stakes that The Joker creates for Batman, choosing between his love and a large number of lives, challenges how Batman sees himself. The payoff on it just wasn’t satisfying to me. However, it was a really smart, complex idea inside a comic book movie.
In this movie, Lex pushing against Superman’s vulnerabilities means nothing more than playing him for a sucker in a bigger game. This is an example of how Snyder is a simple thinker and Nolan is a deeply ambitious one. (Success in ambition is not the best measure of the ambition, but that’s a whole different discussion.)
But let’s put aside the movie this could have/should have/might have been. Let’s get back to what it is.
Here is a list (without any overt spoilers) of things I disliked in this film:
The only non-celebrity black people in the film as villains/victims
Superman/Zod fight as 9/11 metaphor
Batman shooting people
Batman origin story… again… adding NOTHING!
Referencing John Boorman as though this director could carry his jock
The great Jeremy Irons cashing a check in really nice clothes (except the hazmat suit by Gautier, which is absurd)
Amy Adams’ boobs bobbing in a tub in a hacky stab at intimacy
Referencing Stanley Kubrick as though it wouldn’t make Kubrick vomit
Parental advice that sounds like it came out of the world’s largest fortune cookie
55-year-old junior Senator who heads a committee and speaks unilaterally for the US government.
Every woman other than the four with more than a few lines of dialogue is objectified
The wrong iconic assholic character with problem hair from the last movie gets a dialogue chunk.
No one seems to have been able to decide whether this Batman was Frank Miller’s 55-year-old Dark Knight (shamelessly and endlessly ripped off by Snyder to inferior effect) or the 40-year-old that the math of the film (parents killed in 1982) suggests. He is thick and a bit limited like the elder Batman, but a workout warrior and played by a 41-year-old Ben Affleck, whose righty curmudgeonliness never quite makes sense. (Affleck seems to be playing Clooney half the time, who would have made a lot more sense in this film, really, not that Affleck doesn’t do fine.)
Referencing Cole Porter in a way only someone with no wit at all would do
Upskirt of Gal Godot long enough to show a cleft where her thigh meets her groin
Major dramatic events created exclusively by characters not communicating
Previews of additional characters only to set up the next film. The movie actually stops to have these mini-trailers, watched by a character downloading files
More terrorism references that don’t earn the choice
Dream sequences that are good enough for ads, but not to be taken seriously by the screenwriters in the film proper.
“Clever” shift from all the daddy issues of Man of Steel to mommy issues.
Horrible jerk-off use of a coincidence of decades-past character naming.
Batman vs Superman not being enough for this film
Fake-outs so obvious that the audience is 30 minutes ahead
I was shocked. I have come to expect murky action and overripe dialogue and flat characters and bad ideas from Zack Snyder, but I didn’t expect to be listening to endless dialogue sequences that seem to be written by a teenager trying to be Strindberg nor to have the whole thing hinge on errors of judgment or filmmaker tricks nor to find these iconic characters so lost and uninteresting from start to finish. This is a movie that a mediocrity could have done much, much better. This film could only be this bad because the filmmaker was truly ambitious and truly not up the fulfillment of any small percentage of those ambitions.
It may seem oxymoronic to say that you should be able to feel the joy of a filmmaker who is trying to make a serious story that includes action. But you must. Or it is going to be terrible.
For everything that failed about Green Lantern, for instance, at least you could feel that the team, from director Martin Campbell to credited writers Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg were trying to do something interesting and it just didn’t come together. There was comedy. There was a crazy interesting performance by Peter Sarsgaard. There were wild aliens. But there was comic book seriousness that looked like shit (literally at times) and it didn’t work. But I felt the joy in there.
I don’t demand perfection. Not by a long shot. Great genre filmmaking makes you feel, not intellectualize… not analyze the minutiae. You can drive a truck through the holes in many of my favorite genre films. Don’t care. Don’t want to real lists of errors. Joy.
In Batman vee Superman, I feel a movie desperately trying to prove its intelligence while doing everything on screen that it can to prove that it’s not half as smart as it thinks. It will try anything to be important. But movie audiences see through this every time.
I have made the comparison to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. JJ Abrams, while a great guy and a clear talent in many aspects, may not have an original idea in his head. But he is as good as they come at putting the Silly Putty on a great piece of original art, transferring the framework, and coloring it in to make it look like a really good minor variation on the original. He always entertains, even if he never challenges an audience.
Zack Snyder might be a greater artist than JJ Abrams. But we will never know that until he stops trying to prove it. So he keeps revving the engine of the world’s biggest franchise, like the noise is what matters.
In the words of Frankie Goes To Hollywood…
“Relax don’t do it
When you want to go to it
Relax don’t do it
When you want to make Batman v Superman a pretentious crap show.”
By David Poland - Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016
Any reaction to early reviews?
By David Poland - Sunday, March 20th, 2016