Wednesday 30 March 2016

Moderate violence my arse

To the Everyman Cinema in Muswell Hill, there to see as a half-term treat (though not for me) Batman versus Superman

Most reviewers have criticised the movie for its complete incoherence, although nobody goes to to a blockbuster in search of the Aristotelean unities. Five minutes in I gave up attempting to understand the plot, because there really isn't one, or if there is it's entirely inconsequential (an approach which did no harm to  Hitchcock). What we get is a series of elaborate set-pieces exploiting the kind of special effects that are cumulatively underwhelming. What was overwhelming was the film's extreme, coarse-grained and stomach-turning brutality.

It is really shocking and troubling how extreme 'moderate violence' can be. Are the apparatchiks of the British Board of Film Classification (who gave the film a 12A rating) so jaded and depraved by their steady diet of slasher movies and porn? How on earth can a film of such unremitting and explicit violence be considered suitable for 12-year-old children, whether accompanied by an adult or not?

In the course of 151 gruelling minutes we were shown human beings (not superheros - we'll come to them later) graphically slaughtered both singly and en masse - eviscerated, blown up, stabbed, dismembered, riddled with bullets, chained to radiators and branded, thrown from tall buildings, run over, crushed by falling masonry, burned and (in the case of Lois Lane) nearly drowned. A mentally disturbed suicide bomber in a wheelchair blew himself up causing mass death in a Washington conference chamber. This scene also featured a jar full of an old woman's urine.

There were hand grenades, rocket launchers, high velocity rifles and no end of sexy high-tech gadgetry designed to damage bodies. There was bare-knuckle fighting; scenes of blood drawn from sliced flesh; there was an awful lot of noisy. meaty punching. Bones could be heard splintering.

Now it's one thing to watch superheroes slugging it out and destroying most of a city as they do so. Because they're superheroes, it's pretty much what they do all the time, it comes with the territory. They fight. They fight each other and they fight  unwelcome outsiders, usually from other planets. What they traditionally don't do is hurt and kill human beings, because they're essentially good guys who are here to protect us. Comic book violence is unrealistic and, in its way, up to a point, good clean fun. Any violence used to be directed at criminals, at our (and their) enemies.

We've come a long way since the fondly-remembered Batman telly series of the 1960s with its pop art sensibility and comic book vim, with paunchy Adam West and feisty Burt Ward laying into the Joker, the Riddler and Catwoman. It's something else entirely to watch  the explicit depiction of harm done to non-superheroes, to real people, to people like ourselves. At one point Clark Kent's mother Martha (played by Diane Lane, who should look for a pickier agent) was on the brink of being facially disfigured with a blowtorch by a heavily scarred and tattoo'd Russian psychopath. There were hundreds of unseen deaths in the cities reduced to rubble (an aestheticised version of the Twin Towers collapsing, again and again and again).

Ben Affleck played the Batman, or rather his jawline did. Superman was a brilliantined void (which is at least faithful to the original). Wonder Woman turned up towards the end to hack away spiritedly at some ghastly mutant but made little impression - on the mutant, or the film, or the audience, There was throughout no wit, no warmth, no love, no understanding. Nobody in the film does anything as unacceptable as smoking of course, not even the villain, although he did sink some bourbon while pointedly not offering any to his guest, a Hilary Clintonish liberal senator (played well by Holly Hunter, who should also change her agent). There were some annoying appropriations (the villain Lex Luthor quotes Nabokov), listless dialogue (when there should have been none at all) and too many sequences that seemed to start with a loose end rather than end with one. The incoherent plot was the least of it.

By the time the film started my appetite for spectacle had in any case already been more than satisfied by the multiple trailers. One, however, snagged my attention (so much so that I came home and looked it up online). It was for another forthcoming Marvel blockbuster: Suicide Squad. More than 40 million people have already watched this online, and you should do so too because it's a terrific piece of editing, with more wit and invention in two minutes than the two-and-a-half-hours of Batman versus Spiderman. This doesn't mean I'll go to see the full movie, of course, although it's timed for release during the school summer holidays, so I expect I'll have little say in the matter.

The Suicide Squad trailer owes something to what is, by any objective measure, a masterpiece of rhythmic appropriation and integration, an astonishing rap interpretation of Ridley Scott's Aliens. Something very original in the way the unconscious rhythms of Hollywood dialogue can be mined for a beat (and it chat's a clunky way of expressing it that's because I can't easily describe what's been achieved in a song written and produced by DJ MAYHEM and featuring the vocal skills of the excellent Mouthmaster Murf). Good work, fellas!

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