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 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Director: J.J. Abrams

Stars: Daisy Ridley, Harrison Ford, John Boyega, Peter Mayhew, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, Domhnall Gleeson, Andy Serkis, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Oscar Isaac, Gwendoline Christie

…Yeah I’m not going to give my usual plot overview. I’m going to keep this as spoiler-free as possible.

Obviously The Force Awakens has a lot of hype and a lot of weight surrounding it. So many things could have gone wrong. It has to introduce new characters while including the old, and try to recapture the magic of the original trilogy without seeming clichéd. I was concerned that it would be derivative and that it would basically be a highlights reel of ‘things we loved in Star Wars,’ and while it’s not a flawless film it is a fun film, and the energy of the original trilogy is back.

The main strength of the film lies with the characters. Rey (Ridley) and Finn (Boyega) are a good team, and Rey especially is a badass. I liked both their arcs, and both were sympathetic characters. The opening scene that introduces us to Finn and gets the plot moving is engaging and instantly creates a bond to the character. Rey’s introduction is more sedate, but through the film she shows herself to be a strong-willed character, and there are hints to her backstory that are intriguing. Po (Isaac) made an impact on me even though I was surprised at how little he was in the film. I look forward to seeing more of him.

With how good these new characters are, it meant that I wasn’t simply waiting for the cast of the original trilogy to show up. I of course wanted to see them and was excited when they finally appeared, but I was never getting bored of Finn and Rey (or BB-8, who was a completely endearing character). Kylo Ren is a menacing bad guy, and the film manages to give him a compelling and tragic backstory in about 10 seconds, and the prequels couldn’t do that with Anakin in three movies!

However, not all the character work is good, and here I must mention Christie as Captain Phasma. There was literally no point to her character. She could have been any generic stormtrooper and it wouldn’t have changed the film at all.

Shall we get to some more negative things? Sure!

While The Force Awakens isn’t just a highlight reel, it does follow the same template as A New Hope so the plot beats are predictable, and while there were a couple of moments that surprised me it’s the kind of film where you can see how things are going to play out fairly early on. There’s some wonky science, which doesn’t bother me so much because I’ve always seen Star Wars as space fantasy, and I’m willing to give a lot of poetic license, but some people may be bothered by that. I was a little disappointed with Jakku because it was basically Tatooine by any other name, and I’d rather there be new environments (say what you will about the prequels but there were some cool planets in there).

Another little thing was a moment with R2 but that’s all I’ll say there…

And the big thing is that the film went bigger instead of going deeper, and yeah Star Wars is bombastic and over the top etc but it just feels like it has to top the other films instead of taking a different angle, and it verges on the ridiculous.

The other big disappointment were the lightsaber duels. They lacked the gravitas of the ones from the original trilogy, and the frenetic choreography of the prequels, so there’s definitely room for improvement there.

I was also hoping that the situation would be reversed and that the Republic would be the expansive galactic force, while the remains of the Empire were a small band trying to reclaim their glory, but there wasn’t much time given to developing the new state of the galaxy (which I can forgive to some extent because the prequels were bogged down by the political state of the Republic, but I’d still like to know how the First Order were allowed to become as powerful as they were).

I did like the exploration of the force and how the light side and dark side oppose each other, and there’s always a tug of war between the two, and the Awakens aspect of the film was done well. There are also seeds planted for the next film in this new trilogy and the other thing I really really REALLY hate about the film is the ending because I just want to see the next one right now!

While I have my complaints (some of which I didn’t go into here because of spoilers) The Force Awakens is a really fun movie. It retains the visual appeal and includes frenetic space battles, but it also has great character work, on a par with that seen in The Empire Strikes Back. It would have been easy for the film to be underwhelming, or to not strike the right balance between the old and the new, but it manages to pull it off and for the most part I was sitting there with a big grin on my face. It was always going to be one of the biggest films of the year, but it’s also one of the best.