BvS brushes off bad reviews, has $166M opening

Batman v Superman poster

Batman v Superman poster

UPDATE III (March 28): Actual U.S.-Canada weekend figures came in on Monday, March 28 for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The haul was a few million less but still large, at $166 million, according to Exhibitor Relations.

That means the movie was the seventh-best opening weekend of all time and No. 2 Warner Bros. opening, with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part II retaining the crown at $169.2 million.

ORIGINAL POST (March 27): For Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, all the bad reviews were like bullets bouncing off Superman’s chest. The superhero movie had an estimated opening weekend in the U.S. and Canada of $170.1 million.

It was the sixth-best opening weekend of all time, unadjusted for inflation, entertainment research and data company Exhibitor Relations said in a post on Twitter.  It was also the biggest Warner Bros. opening ever, Exhibitor Relations said.

The development was a welcome piece of good news for Warner Bros. The studio had a terrible 2015 at the box office, so having any hit would be a relief. However, Batman v Superman also represents the studio’s attempt to catch up to rival Marvel Studios and its extended fictional universe of superhero films.

Batman v Superman specifically sets up a Justice League movie scheduled to go into production next month for a November 2017 release.

The Justice League of America is DC Comics equivalent to Marvel’s Avengers super hero group. (The JLA was first and was a revamp of an even earlier group, the Justice Society of America.) Marvel has produced its own movies since 2008, including Avengers films in 2012 and 2015.

Batman v Superman, besides its title characters, includes Wonder Woman as well as cameo appearances by other characters who’ll be part of the Justice League.

The movie had some setbacks. It originally was set to come out in July 2015. Warners pushed it back to May 2016 but retreated after Marvel announced it was going to have the third Captain America movie in the same date.

That film ended up being Captain America: Civil War, which is almost like another Avengers film and will bring Spider-Man into Marvel’s film universe for the first time.

Then, came the reviews. Batman v Superman received so many pans, it has a 29 percent rating (as of this morning) on the Rotten Tomatoes website.

Variety has estimated Batman v Superman will need worldwide ticket sales of $800 million to break even. Given all the hype, it probably needs a $1 billion box office to be seen as a success. People likely be watching carefully how much next weekend’s box office falls off for BvS.

Regardless, after all the setbacks, Warner Bros. executives presumably are breathing easier about the expensive movie.

UPDATE: Batman v Superman’s estimated worldwide box office currently is $424.1 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

UPDATE II (7:50 p.m., New York time): Warner Bros. executives took a victory lap later Sunday, including a quote about there’s “a disconnect between critics and audiences,” according to ComicBookMovie.com.

BvS: Dark and somber, but what’d you expect?

Henry Cavill after reading the latest Batman v Superman reviews

Henry Cavill after reading the latest Batman v Superman reviews

One vague spoiler awaits. There will be a warning.

Well, nobody should have been surprised.

Throughout the production of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the makers talked about how their story was real. Very real. And very serious. If you ever wanted to know what the real world would be like with superheroes, this movie would let you know.

Director Zack Snyder, a disciple of Christopher Nolan and his somber style of film making, even did some trashing talking of Marvel Studios’ Ant-Man, an escapist superhero film that was a decent hit in the summer of 2015.

After two changes in its release date, Batman v Superman is out. This time, movie critics were doing the trash talking, causing Snyder’s film to have a “fresh” rating of only 30 percent on the Rotten Tomatoes website. You have to have a lot of pans to get a score that low.

A recurring criticism is the movie is dour and dark. The San Francisco Examiner’s reviewer says “everything is shrouded in a kind of black sludge.”

Again, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Snyder directed 2013’s Man of Steel (with Nolan co-producing and co-plotting) where the costume of Superman (Henry Cavill) has such dark shades of blue, red and yellow it looks as if the uniform actually is dirty.

Vague spoiler follows.

To give Man of Steel more intellectual heft, there is some religious imagery. (Filmmakers often look to the Bible and Shakespeare to add gravitas to their efforts.)

Snyder continues that in Batman v Superman to the point it seems like opening on Easter weekend was planned all along, even though it wasn’t.

The thing is, the movie isn’t as bad as some of the reviews suggest. Not the biggest endorsement, admittedly but it’s the best we can do.

Ben Affleck is good as Batman, even if this version shows signs of finally going off his rocker for good. Ditto for Jeremy Irons as Alfred. The blog’s favorite moment is when Alfred reminds his employer that it was Bruce Wayne, acting almost like a spy, who got a key piece of information rather than Batman punching out a lot of guys.

Cavill is fine in what’s an almost thankless role because this seems more like a Batman film with Superman as a supporting player rather than co-leading character.

The filmmakers did experiment with Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), making him much younger than previous incarnations. Think an evil Mark Zuckerberg (played by Eisenberg in The Social Network). The results are uneven but it was an attempt on a different take. I thought the Gal Godot version of Wonder Woman was a plus, but again it’s definitely a supporting character. Overall, at 151 minutes, it’s too long but better superhero movies have the same fault.

Warner Bros. has a lot riding on the movie as it tries to get competitive with Marvel in superhero films. Despite the reviews, Batman v Superman generated $27.7 million in Thursday night showings in the U.S. and Canada, according to the Deadline: Hollywood website.

Batman v Superman needs a $1 billion global box office to be seen as a success, so Warner executives had to be pleased with the results despite the baby seal treatment by the critics.

UPDATE: It turns out Snyder did, well, pee on one key part of the Superman mythos. The Spy Commander missed it, but New York magazine’s Vulture website caught it. If you want to see what, or who, it was click on the link.

In defense of the traditional Superman

The Adventures of Superman main title

The Adventures of Superman main title

It’s not cool to be Superman in the 21st century.

Batman — in particular the more grim and gritty versions of recent decades — is more popular. Zack Snyder, director of the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which has a darker take on the iconic character, says, “There’s no winning anymore for Superman.” 

Others say Superman is too square, not appropriate for a darker time.

What follows is a defense of the traditional interpretation of Superman.

Superman is an orphan — not only of his parents but an entire planet. While he grew up on Earth, he is not *of* the Earth. His Clark Kent identity gives him a respite, a pause, from the responsibilities of being Superman. But he can’t withdraw to his Clark persona indefinitely. He know he has to fufill those responsibilities.

That’s just the way it is. He can no more abandon one or the other.

One of the best comic book examples of this dynamic is mostly forgotten now. In the 1970s, Cary Bates and Elliot Maggin wrote a four-part Superman comic book story illustrated by Curt Swan where Superman is forced to confront which persona he truly is.

When he tries to be Clark alone, he’s not complete. But when he tries to be Superman full-time, he gets no chance to take a break, no chance to catch a breath.

It’s not that Superman is a Boy Scout. Rather, he simply has more abilities and powers — more of an opportunity to act on what needs to be done. He’s still human, despite his birth on Krypton, and has the same needs, wants and desires as anyone else.

That’s a big burden. But when done well, it’s still compelling.

When it comes to adapting that for other media, you’ll find enthusiasts for all sorts of interpretations of the traditional Superman, including the (low-budget) 1950s Adventures of Superman television show with George Reeves and the 1978-1987 (initially big budget) Christopher Reeve movies.

With 2013’s Man of Steel and now Batman v Superman, Warner Bros. and director Snyder have opted for a darker direction. That’s in vogue and perhaps to be expected. Still, people shouldn’t disregard the traditional interpretation.

The Year of the Comic Book Movie off to strong start

Deadpool publicity still

Deadpool publicity still

The Year of the Comic Book Movie got off to a strong start at the box office, with 20th Century-Fox’s Deadpool generating an estimated $135 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada for the Feb. 12-14 weekend, according to THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER and VARIETY.

For some perspective, Deadpool’s opening weekend is shaping up to be almost twice the $70.4 million that SPECTRE generated in its opening weekend in November. It’s more than the entire worldwide run ($109.8 million) for 2015’s movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Deadpool’s box office for the four-day President’s Day weekend may be $150 million, according to the two entertainment websites.

Deadpool drew a lot of attention because of its R rating and stepped up violence. The character is part of Marvel Comics’ X-Men group of characters for which Fox obtained the film rights before Marvel began making its own movies in 2008. (THIS STORY from The Hollywood Reporter has more about the character’s comic book roots.)

Besides Marvel and Fox, Warner Bros. is boosting its output of comic book based movies this year with Superman v. Batman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. The Superman-Batman movie is intended to lead into a two-part movie version of the Justice League of America super hero group.

Some prominent filmmakers, such as director William Friedkin, have expressed unhappiness with the rise of comic book movies, saying they’re ruining cinema.

The increased output has raised questions whether for comic book films is becoming saturated. Even before this year’s surge, there were flops, such as Fox’s 2015 Fantastic Four movie.

Director Steven Spielberg last year told The Associated Press last year that such movies will “go the way of the Western.”

Based on Deadpool’s opening, not yet. But another interesting test will come next month with Batman v. Superman.

Warner Bros. has had trouble making movies based on DC Comics characters other than Batman.

Superman Returns in 2006 film ended up being a one-shot, although it did generate $200 million in U.S.-Canada box office ($391 million worldwide). A 2011 Green Lantern movie (starring Ryan Reynolds, the star of Deadpool) was an expensive flop. The Martin Campbell-directed film had an estimated production budget of $200 million, but only generated $219.9 million in global box office.

A 2013 try at Superman, Man of Steel, did OK, but didn’t match the box office of a lot of Marvel films. Batman v. Superman follows up on that movie, using actor Henry Cavill as Superman.

Last week, Warners brought out its final Batman v. Superman trailer that was Batman-centric, playing up Ben Affleck’s performance as the Bob Kane-Bill Finger character. The movie has been rescheduled twice. Warners faces a situation where anything less than $1 billion in worldwide box office will be cast as a disappointment.

Still in the wings: Marvel Studios’ Captain America: Civil War in May (which caused Batman v. Superman to reschedule to March) and another X-Men movie from Fox. There’s a long way to go to see how all this turns out.

Batman v Superman turns into a Batman movie

So when did Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice turn into the newest Batman movie?

Warner Bros. came out with its final trailer for the movie that’s intended to launch a “shared universe” of characters from DC Comics. However, from the looks of the trailer, it looks more like a new Batman movie with an expanded cast. Or, put another way, there’s a reason Batman gets top billing in the title.

This trailer opens with Ben Affleck, the newest incarnation of the Bob Kane-Bill Finger character, in action along with an assist from the new Alfred, Jeremy Irons.

More importantly, it ends with a shot showing a surprised Superman (Henry Cavill) when an armored Bats is able to block a punch. Somehow (Kryptonite, anyone?), Batman has found an edge in what logically would be a rout.

If 2015 was “The Year of the Spy,” then 2016 is “The Year of the Superhero,” as Warner Bros. ramps up its output against rival Marvel/Disney. Warners and DC have had common ownership for decades, but DC now is directly a part of the studio. DC even moved from its long time home in New York to Warners’ digs in Burbank, California.

The studio has a lot riding on Batman v. Superman, especially after a sour 2015 at the box office.

Warners originally scheduled Batman v. Superman for July 2015 but delayed it to May 2016. But the studio slotted it for the first Friday in May, a date Marvel/Disney has owned more or less since 2008’s Iron Man. Marvel didn’t back down. It went ahead and scheduled the third Captain America movie — now Captain America: Civil War, which is more like The Avengers Part 2.5 — into the slot.

So Warners rescheduled again, moving Batman v. Superman to March, not your typical month for a blockbuster “tentpole” (in studio speak).

One shouldn’t read too much into trailers. Yet, it appears Warners is playing the Batman card heavily. From the trailer, it also looks like director Zack Snyder owes more than a little to Frank Miller’s 1986 The Dark Knight Returns comic book.

What would a reboot of The FBI be like?

fbishowlogo

While doing work on THE FBI EPISODE GUIDE, we got to thinking what a reboot of the 1965-74 television series might be like.

Background: The show was an idealized version of the real life U.S. agency. In fact, the bureau had script approval and veto power over guest stars of the series produced by Quinn Martin and Warner Bros. The real-life FBI exercised that power on occasions, including vetoing Bette Davis as a guest star in the second season.

Anyway, a few thoughts:

DOING A REBOOT AS A PERIOD PIECE: The general public knows a lot more about J. Edgar Hoover, the bureau director for 48 years, than it did when the television debuted. It’s not a very pretty picture, including wire taps on Martin Luther King Jr.

If a reboot of The FBI were done as a 1960s period piece, we’d likely see Inspector Lewis Erskine (Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in the original show) as a conflicted figure, aware of things the bureau shouldn’t be doing. He’d be portrayed as someone loyal to the bureau but aware of its failings.

DOING A REBOOT TIMESHIFTED TO THE 21ST CENTURY: Erskine’s assignments would be much different than the original series.

Instead of dealing with bank robbers, the mob and those behind major crimes, Erskine likely would be dealing with terrorists. In the show, we’re told Erskine’s wife was killed in an ambush meant for the FBI man. With a reboot, we might see the doomed Mrs. Erskine killed during the Sept. 11, 2011 attacks, explaining why he’s such a driven figure.

At this point, such thoughts are only speculation. The FBI TV series was something of its time and nobody has shown any interest in reviving it.

 

SPECTRE box office and its future implications Part II

SPECTRE promotional art

SPECTRE promotional art

By Gert Waterink,
Guest Writer

SPECTRE while one of the most popular movies of the year, won’t be as profitable as 2012’s Skyfall. SPECTRE cost more to make and appears headed to fall short of Skyfall’s $1.11 billion box office.

Part I looked at some factors that may have contributed to this. What follows is an examination of additional issues.

Too liberal producing style?
Current Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson seem to apply a more liberal working ethos as compared to their father/stepfather Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli. The creative control over the Bond franchise has become much more a “shared responsibility” between the producers and the biggest cast- and crew members involved.

Daniel Craig is now a co-producer, a title no other Bond actor achieved. Connery wanted to be a full partner, but Cubby Broccoli resisted. Directors seem to have gotten more freedom with their desired cast and crew choices. And now bigger (and more expensive) stars have joined the Bond family and their wishes seem to have become more important too.

The Bond producers had to take some radical measures to rejuvenate the Bond franchise. With Skyfall and Casino Royale, this more liberal producing style really helped. But it does have its flaws, too. Creating the “perfect Bond film” has always been precarious.

With a more liberal producing style, you make that notion prone too much to more different interpretations. One actor wants the film to become a perfect closure in case he leaves the franchise after SPECTRE whereas a producer is adamant on continuing the Bond franchise.

The ambition to make a “perfect Bond film” with SPECTRE was there. For the most part it worked (I gave it 4 out of 5 stars! 7th out of 24 on my ranking list now!). But in the process, the different interpretations of such resulted in a slightly less coherent film near the last 20 minutes of the film.

The Sony leaks
The Sony leaks are a perfect example of a very unwanted bit of publicity. They created a strong narrative that was driving the attention away from the actual film.

Once actor Idris Elba was mentioned by former Sony executive Amy Pascal, the questions from movie journalists shifted away from the actual production of the film. Idris Elba became the “main object of desire” as opposed to current Bond actor Daniel Craig. And perhaps this facilitated some of the negative remarks made by Daniel Craig himself (“I’d rather slash my wrists”).

Secondly, the entire writing process of SPECTRE became public. While this shouldn’t be directly damaging to a film – the production crew of Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation started principal photography without a finished script — it didn’t help the publicity of SPECTRE. Within the movie journalism community, “unfinished draft screenplays” were easily read as or changed into “final screenplay is all over the place.”

No one can prove if the Sony leaks damaged the publicity of the film, but it did shift the attention away from the tightly scripted Publicity & Advertising campaign that Sony/MGM/EON envisioned, making the P&A budget more prone to risk.

Reviews
The Sony leaks also made its way to review aggregate sites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes. It is not hard to find some reviews in which the narrative of the Sony leaks are part of the reviewer’s arguments for the quality of the finished film. Simply put: The ongoing narrative of the leaks made its way into reviews. Make no mistake, P&A departments take great pride in good reviews. They are especially important during award screenings.

Conclusion
It is only logical now that the next Bond film won’t and can’t be as expensive as SPECTRE. With such high cash investments ($350 million) and in comparison low box office returns ($820 million through this weekend), the factual, real profits will be simply too low.

Bond films are an A-brand in the movie business, so financial flops are out of the question. But they can become worrisome investments. The Bond producers know that and have downscaled the production budgets on numerous occasions. Take for instance the movies that followed You Only Live Twice and Moonraker, This will happen now with Bond 25. The rumors that director Guy Ritchie, who is now quite cheap in the market, comes onboard, should therefore be taken seriously.

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson need to be careful with using (older) Bond films as a template for future success. The Bond film series is 53 years old. So what may look very familiar, and fun, to Bond fans, might look bland or unimpressive to general audiences. Every new Bond adventure therefore needs to feel entirely fresh. It needs to be a good Bond film but also a good film regardless of the franchise tag.

In an era where movies have shorter cinema runs, it should especially appeal to non-fans. Skyfall has proven that. Although it seems difficult to produce such a movie, I think it’s easier than certain filmmakers want us to think.

Also, the Bond films don’t have the advantage of an extended cinematic universe. It needs to be an instant hit every three years. Unlike Marvel, the Bond franchise can’t get publicity assistance from, let’s say, a Felix Leiter spin-off. With a tighter focus on the above factors, –-original/fresher action, focus on hit scoring anthems and music, tighter creative control & perhaps downscaling on casting/crew budgets -– one can better fight off those unwanted external factors like these ghastly Sony leaks.

PS: I do think it’s a very good idea to include Ian Fleming’s “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” in the negotiating process if MGM and EON Productions will sit together with Warner Bros. for a co-financing/distribution deal. There’s no harm in sharing financial risks between Napoleon Solo and James Bond.  :-)

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