Movie Review – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Director: Zack Snyder

Stars: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Jeremy Irons, Jesse Eisenberg, Laurence Fishburne

Earlier this week the reviews started coming in and they were middling at best. Empire gave it three stars and IGN gave it 6.8. I didn’t actually read those reviews, but my own predictions were that the film was going to be polarising. I thought that Affleck was going to be good as Batman but Superman was going to be mishandled again, that the film was going to be way too cluttered and it was ultimately going to make loads of money but it wasn’t going to be that good. Well, I can tell you here folks that those critics were wrong!

Yes, they were being too generous with three stars. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is an abysmal film. And it disappoints me because I wanted it to be good, I wanted to believe that Snyder could improve on Man of Steel and deliver with this epic. But the sad thing is I’m not even surprised. It was two and a half hours of empty moralising, pretentious speeches, and ultimately felt like a child playing with toys. So there’s lots to talk about here.

It begins in the most unoriginal way possible with the death of Batman’s parents. Oh yes, that again. Then there’s a hamfisted dream sequence (not the last one of the film), then the basic theme of the film is introduced. Can Superman be trusted? Should he be allowed to act unilaterally? Bruce Wayne saw the destruction of Metropolis firsthand and believes that he needs to take action to stop him, because, if he wanted, Superman could destroy the world easily. Once he finds out that Lexcorp has found some Kryptonite, he gets an idea. But the whole notion that people still mistrust Superman…the film is set 18-24 months after Man of Steel, didn’t this come up in that time? Superman is once again brooding, I mean, from what I can recall he maybe smiled once in the whole film? It just shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the character. Snyder shoots his scenes in a way that depicts Superman as a being so far away from humanity, and it reflects the way Luthor thinks of Superman. People always say that Superman is difficult to write because he’s too powerful but that just shows a lack of imagination. They’re forgetting the man.

The bit that got me most mad was when Superman uttered the line, “No man stays good in this world,” and if you’re reading this and you don’t have a problem with that then that’s fine, you might actually get some enjoyment out of the film. I get that some people think that Superman should reflect the state of our culture now, and the sad fact of the matter is that the world is cynical and ridden with angst, but I dismiss the notion that Superman should be a reflection of us. Superman should represent the best of us. The kindness, the compassion, the striving to always do what’s good, to be truthful, to be a hero. Contrast this film’s Superman with the current Supergirl on the tv show of the same name. In a recent episode there was a scene where a little girl, wearing a Supergirl costume, was being picked on by some older kids. Supergirl heard this, swooped down, and acted like she was this girl’s friend. I just can’t see Cavill’s Superman doing that.

Affleck makes a good Batman I think his solo film is going to be really good, especially if he’s directing it. But even Batman isn’t handled perfectly. There are vague dream sequences/ hallucinations that are crammed into the film to set up the sequel, but feel shoehorned in, much like the Thor cave scenes in Age of Ultron, and it simply makes the film more of a mess. Batman though, it was an okay depiction of the character until he flies in the Batplane and kills a load of people in a hail of bullets. By that point I was just laughing at how stupid this all was. And it feels vacuous as well, everything in the film happens so quickly and so arbitrarily that it lacks any kind of emotional impact. The much-vaunted fight between the two titular characters is okay. I liked how Batman made up some traps, but again is was basically ‘Batman is amazing. Superman…ehh’ and the switch to when they form a truce is absolutely ridiculous. There was no organic flow, it was just people doing things because the plot demanded it.

Oh yes, Lex Luthor is a perfect example of this. He’s basically a plot device. And you know how people were saying that there’s more to the character than what we saw in the trailer? Nope. I was hoping that the kinda-crazy was all going to be an act, that it was going to be the mask he wore in front of everyone but no he was just insane. Lois wasn’t much better either.  And this is what makes me really mad, the film trades on Superman’s history. In the film his relationship and love for Lois is said to be important but we hardly see them together. It trades on this history but it doesn’t respect it and Snyder doesn’t understand why Superman is such an enduring figure. Could they not have got some Superman writer to consult on the film?

Wonder Woman is probably the best thing about the film (either her or Perry White) and that’s most likely because she’s not in it enough for her character to be ruined. The conflict with Doomsday is empty, again, there’s no emotion to the battle. In Avengers the heroes were fighting a CGI army but at least there was Loki to give some context to the battle. This was, again, just a kid playing with action figures. But I get the feeling that Snyder probably thinks he’s made a grand, deep, profound film when instead the philosophy presented is shallow.

There are a couple of iconic shots lifted from comics that were kinda cool to see on the big screen, but the few things this film does right are let down by the rest of it. I mentioned Superman’s brooding earlier and I get that sometimes people are filled with a bit of doubt, but his brooding is never contrasted with him being optimistic or hopeful. We never get to see Superman actually look like he’s enjoying what he’s doing, like being the hero to earth is a burden. And the most damning fact of all for the film is this. A Civil War trailer played before this, the first one, the one I’ve seen probably 5 or 6 times now. Yet in those few seconds where Cap says “Bucky’s my friend,” and Tony replies with, “So was I,” I felt more emotion than I did in the entirety of the two and a half hours of Batman v Superman.

The film strives for an emotional ending but it feels unearned due to a misunderstanding of the characters and a rushed story. Disappointing, not surprising.

 

 

Movie Review – The Dark Knight Returns Parts 1&2 (2012 & 2013)

Director: Jay Oliva

Stars: Peter Weller, Ariel Winter, David Selby, Wade Williams, Paget Brewster, Richard Doyle, Gary Anthony Williams, Michael Emerson, Mark Valley, Maria Canals-Barrera, Robin Atkin Downes, Michael Jackson

Based on Frank Miller’s seminal graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns: Parts 1 & 2 takes place in the latter years of Batman’s career. After the death of Robin, Batman has become grizzled and retired, although Gotham still suffers from a disease of crime. A new gang, the mutants, are rampaging through the streets, and Bruce Wayne decides to resume his fight against crime. But in doing so he awakes an old adversary, The Joker, who has a plan in store for him. Meanwhile, Jim Gordon is in the process of retiring as the commissioner and the new regime sees Batman as an outlaw, and due to his activities the President threatens to send his right-hand man – The Man of Steel – to defuse the situation.

I was debating whether to write these as separate reviews or not, but decided to lump them in as one because the graphic novel is a single story and, although I think the first movie works fairly well on its own, I don’t think you’d want to watch part 2 without the first part. Now, I love the graphic novel although I recognize it as a story where Batman has been taken to the extreme, and certain factors (like Superman) are twisted a little bit in order to serve the story. I’m going to quickly mention Superman v Batman here because it seems to be taking a lot of inspiration from this graphic novel, and I’m not sure it’s the right way to go, but we’ll see.

Anyway, although the second part has a lot of what people will probably want to see (The Joker and the fight with Superman) I actually think the first part is a better movie. It feels like it has a smoother narrative and it works well to show Batman returning to the streets. I loved the direction and the animation is superb, and I really noticed the music and the sound effects here and the way they complemented the story. The voice acting is great and the film captures the mood and the tone of the graphic novel. The second part has some harrowing imagery as the stakes rise and Batman gets pushed to his limit, but there are also some touching moments as well.

Coming into this I pretty much knew that I wa going to like it because I love the graphic novel, and this adaptation definitely does it justice.

Book Review – Martian Manhunter: Son of Mars by John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake

Photo0241

Martian Manhunter: Son of Mars begins with him recounting his tragic past and how he came to be the last son of Mars. But then people keep dying, and all the evidence points to crimes only J’onn could commit, yet the truth is even darker as he realizes a foe he thought long-dead has re-appeared. J’onn will have to atone for mistakes he thinks he made so many years ago.

Martian Manhunter is an odd character as it’s hard to divorce him from comparisons with Superman. They share similar origins and power sets, and in fact the Manhunter even has a broader power set including telepathy and the ability to transform his appearance and mass. And yet he’s never really taken hold as a character in his own right, I mean, even with all the casting new of Batman v Superman and the subsequent JLA movie there doesn’t seem to be anyone clamouring for Martian Manhunter to be included. In the very first chapter of this collection Ostrander attempts to examine this relationship between the Manhunter and Superman, and there are some interesting points raised here, but then throughout the book there are continual references by other characters to how J’onn is the heart and soul of the League, and this comes off as a bit forced, and it feels like Ostrander is trying to make us care about the Manhunter.

Anyway, the story begins with J’onn talking to Superman about how they differ and how he has to go back to Mars to try and come to terms with his past, as he hasn’t returned to the red planet since he witnessed every member of his species dying (this is one point that helped emphasize the tragedy of the character when compared to Superman; he was actually there when his species died, while Kal-El was streaking through space). However, this pilgrimage is presented as a big undertaking and yet by the next chapter he’s back on Earth. Seems an odd way to start this storyline. I did love how his weakness to fire was described, in that it’s not just a physical weakness but also a mental one as he is vulnerable to the flickering chaos.

Next we’re given some history about how he came to Earth and began to learn about humanity. I liked this part, and in another section he talks about his other secret identities, one being in Japan, where they have created a Manga cartoon about him. I thought this was a fun diversion and it examines the global impact of these heroes that are mostly located in America, and it’s something I’d love to see more of in comics. These issues read like an anthology that deal with different cases and they give a brief overview of what J’onn has been doing while he’s been on Earth, but then the stuff from his past comes up and we have him trying to deal with that. Which I thought was okay, it was a typical story where the hero has to take on a mirror image of himself.  There were a couple of inventive developments towards the end that I thought was quite clever. This book also has a hilarious comment by Flash where he asserts that ‘Dead is dead,’ yes Flash, of course it is.

The art is strong throughout. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the story lent itself to both grounded stories and more cosmic scenes. I also liked the focus on Martian culture and history, and the different ways in which Manhunter changes shape.

I think this is a good entry point if you want to know more about the Martian Manhunter. In some ways it does feel like a highlights package of the basic information you need to know, but after the jarring return to Earth the stories do have a through-line that connects them. But I’m not sure that it manages to definitively capture the essence of the character. So much time is spent showing how he is different to Superman and how J’onn is an integral part of the JLA that he never gets a chance to be a character on his own terms. It’s almost as if he’s so tied to these preconceptions that he’s shackled to them, and it’s a shame because it appears that he’s always going to live in Superman’s shadow.

For this reason I think the strongest parts of the book were the glimpses we had of his time on Mars. Seeing him with his family gave him an emotional grounding and the fact that he was a hero on his own world and in his own terms gave him an individuality that he simply doesn’t have when he’s standing next to Superman. So if you’re interested in Martian Manhunter I’d recommend checking this out.