‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ Review

I’ll admit, I’m going to be biased here.

A movie featuring Batman and Superman together, at once, partnering up or squaring off amongst one another is exactly the sort of spectacle piece of cinema I’ve dreamed about for ages. Ever since my playground days, I’ve wondered about the cinematic possibilities of watching two of my favorite superheroes together in the same frame, and pondering over who would win in a fight if forced to throw around some kicks and punches. I certainly wasn’t alone. After all, this kind of thought is the basis for Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Easily among the most recognized and beloved do-gooders of all-time, the caped heroes are celebrated for a reason. In addition to being well-rounded, interesting characters, they each bring inspiration, awe and hope to a world that often doesn’t have that. They’re saviors in more ways than one.

Is that the kind of movie we get from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice? Well, no and yes. This is undoubtedly a monumental cinematic achievement, having two of the greatest superheroes of all-time face one another in ways they’ve never been given the chance to cinematically. Individually, they bring a great deal of weight with their respected histories and legacies, and under this new blockbuster, they demonstrate their greatest strengths and weaknesses when testing their true worthiness or displaying the full morality of their characters in one another’s company. It’s a movie of epic proportions, and while not a perfect one, it nevertheless lives up to the challenge in many, many other ways. So did I enjoy it? You bet. And does it work altogether? Ultimately, I would say so.

That’s right, if you’re expecting me to give Zack Snyder’s latest film a bashing as long-winded, overstated and hyperbolic as the blockbuster-in-question, look elsewhere. Seriously. You can easily find the malicious, no-holds-barred takedowns from any number of condescending reviewers online. I didn’t come into WB’s franchise universe-builder expecting an absolute travesty like some will, nor did I go in wanting to hate it. Not that everyone who dislikes the film went in with such shallow intents, I know. Even if I don’t agree with their points, I respect those who wanted to like it but didn’t. Hey look, it happens. I’ve been there to; I get it. It sucks. But here’s the thing: I’m not here to make you change your mind.

Your opinion on BvS is basically set from the first reel onward. If you thought Man of Steel was a disaster, you’re going to have a miserable time with this bloated, overlong energy drink of a film. I can’t guarantee you’ll like it because Snyder didn’t make a film that’s simple to define, easy to swallow or one you can enjoy the whole time. This is an oppressive, ruthless, merciless piece of work, and it’s a fairly self-serious one too. That might be too much for some, and I can understand why. It doesn’t help that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is, on the whole, flawed-as-hell. But if you’d let me elaborate for a little bit (okay, a lot a bit), I think Snyder’s latest is an appropriately epic achievement, and one that lives up to a great deal of its anticipation. It’s a potentially game-changing genre picture that cements itself among the most important superhero movies of the past decade or so in my eyes, just like Man of Steel. Yes, I did say “like Man of Steel.” I still think Snyder’s last film is among the most vital superhero movies in years. So take that into consideration, and prepare yourself accordingly.

Both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice want us to examine a world that’s both similar and distant from our own. Immigration scares, theorist threats, malicious warfare and even gun control are very real threats in this interpretation of the DC universe. Only now, there are also aliens from some planet named Krypton threatening human existence. Snyder accomplishes this sense of never-ending danger and uncertainty in a way that’s both very mythical and extremely grounded. The actions of Man of Steel loom heavily over Batman v Superman, and the consequences for said actions affect the greater outcome of everything that happens here. Since Superman (Henry Cavill) directly harmed several people under Bruce Wayne’s (Ben Affleck) employment and care in the Metropolis battle, he is a vixen and a global threat, a single-alien crisis capable of unstoppable destruction in his wake. That is, unless he’s stopped. And while others reach out to him in the heavens to save them in times of peril, others, like our titular Gotham native, believe they need to take matters into their own hands if they want to make sure there’s not even a one-percent chance he’ll destroy the planet-at-large.

Whether or not the world needs Superman, he is not a hero. He’s no longer a symbol of justice or the foundation of hope. When the city builds a statue in his honor, a man crippled by his attacks (Scoot McNairy) feels compelled to spray “False God” over his medal chest. The Man of Tomorrow is not a man of code; he lives in the moment and has to live with the aftermaths of his actions in every waking second. Absolute power can corrupt absolutely, as we’re told by Senator Finch (Holly Hunter). He is compelled to do right, but doesn’t know how. He might be faster than a speeding bullet, but he can’t fly around the world and save everyone at once? Does this ultimate make up more human, or more alien, as a result?

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Perhaps the main reason why I admire Snyder’s two Superman movies so much is because he’s willing to challenge his audience in ways most studio filmmakers are often afraid to. Though he’s far from being subtle, he’s not a mindless director. In fact, I think he’s a deeply contemplative man, one who likes to think big ideas and make people challenge their understanding of superheroes. This is something he’s tried to accomplish since 2009’s Watchmen, but I think he’s truly coming into his own. While Batman v Superman can end up a bit of a slog at times — particularly towards the middle, which can feel a little aimless— there’s always a theological reverence to these larger-than-life figures, one that admires what they stand for and who they often strive to be but constantly has us question who, exactly, is a hero in a post-9/11 world. In Snyder’s vision, there are no clean-cut heroes, and sometimes there’s no real justice.

These are broken, often morally-plagued individuals, and Snyder and co-writer Chris Terrio (Argo) do not want us to sit idly and imagine a world where everything ends with natural conclusions and fair outcomes. You truly get an idea where these two idols — one mortal, one “god”— are coming from before they decide to throw fisticuffs. We feel this world, and thanks to Larry Fong’s awe-inspiring cinematography, we get a sense of its scope at multiple angles. This somber, often aggressively bleak look into the DC universe always carries a grave amount of stakes. Even if you save hundreds, you’ve lead thousands more to their deaths. Even if you’re a hero in one man’s eyes, you’re nothing but a traitor in another’s. There are no clear good guys.

As someone who loves to think about the greater picture during my “mindless” entertainment, these are thought-provoking discussions I think most superhero movies SHOULD have. To see the greater ramifications of one’s actions, mortal or otherwise, it gives a depth and a sense of honesty (almost) that leaves a lot to chew on and discuss, even when it doesn’t always work much like the aforementioned Man of Steel. But does it kill the entertainment value? At times, yes. Will it limit the audience? I guess so. Does this make for a fun night out for the whole family? I wouldn’t really say so.

Throughout the screening, I couldn’t help but watch the parents of two children in front of me, trying desperately to get their children’s attention as all this mayhem happened on the enlarged screen in front of them. Admit all the political talk with Charlie Rose, Anderson Cooper, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Nancy Grace, to name a few, smashing-and-crashing between our titular leads, fire storms, buildings collapsing, heavy moral discussions about a savior’s purpose in a morose world, and countless deaths, they would spring up to point enthusiastically at the first sights of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and a couple other DC characters that get a quick introduction before the end credits (side note: no end credits scene, so you can go home if you want). It ultimately seemed like a futile effort, for their children would likely never grasp the full intellectual layers of these conversations and find the action on screen a little, well, nullifying.

This is not a movie for everyone to enjoy, and I see why that might bother some people. Snyder doesn’t make easy films, as I’ll continue to stress. His bombastic tendencies are aggravating to a lot of people, and it’s easy to see why some might find this film, among other things, “too dark.” Though this might be based on comic book characters, much like Christopher Nolan’s own Dark Knight trilogy, this might not be a grand night out for all parties, most especially children with sensitive hearing and an aversion to violence.

Yes, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a loud, dark, brooding, hyper-violent and sometimes ugly film. But to dismiss it entirely would be, well, missing the point. At least, I think. Snyder presents a world where you not going get all the punches, slams, kicks and pummels you’ve envisioned in your head for years, but also question what comes behind every single blow. It’s a tricky balancing act that’s not accomplished with complete success, but one he captures as he retains an epic feel, and a gigantic sense of scope, without making anything feel marginalized when the movie jumps into smaller, more intimate moments in-between the chaos. That is a true feat. While that’s what some people see as its greatest weakness, I see as its absolute triumph. This is a contemplative, vigorous, bold and downright ballsy film, the likes of which we don’t often see from conventional studio films. And that needs to be celebrated. Whether or not you like it, it needs to be respected. And personally, I liked it all the same.

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There are many things I left undiscussed. Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Joker-reminiscent Lex Luther, for instance, I found to be a massive amount of fun, and brought some much needed levity to the proceedings. I wish his motivations were made a little clearer and not simply spouted upon over and over again, but that’s how it goes. Amy Adams and Diane Keaton, as Lois Lane and Mama Kent, respectively, both give good performances as always, but feel largely short-sighted. Jeremy Irons Alfred is magnificent, bouncing off Affleck’s Wayne well while giving him some humility in the process. And speaking of Affleck, while he’s fine enough as Wayne, he’s absolutely aces as Batman. He rocks the suit like it’s nobody business, takes down foes like he’s chowing down lunch and engages in a single-shot, super-well choreographed single-man fight sequence in the desert that’s among the best I’ve seen in ages. And his Batmobile comes in a long line of epic rides under the billionaire’s name.

Let’s see, what else? Laurence Fishburne is also massively entertaining, if also underutilized, as Barry White, the editor-in-chief of The Daily Planet. Gadot looks amazing in the Wonder Woman suit, but merely does okay outside of it. She’s not bad, mind you, but you never forget that someone better could be in the part. In the midst of heavy contemplation and the large-scale action, it’s very easy to see where Terrio’s script ends and David S. Goyer’s hack writing begins. Long, beautifully-written monologues will constantly be interrupted by blunt lines that feel ripped from the 1960s serial. It’s never less than jarring. But that score, man. Man oh man, that score! Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL (Mad Max: Fury Road) produce something that’s never short of breathtaking. They build on the masterful accompaniments of the original film while complementing it with chilling arrangements that always remind you how much danger is presented on screen. It demands you pay attention for each-and-every-second; it’s truly genius work.

For all its faults —and there are many, as I’ve pointed out myself — Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a celebration in creating a distinct, uncompromising vision of a world similar, and not, to our own. It’s a towering, monumentally-wide look at topics we’re prone to look away from in our superhero movies, and discussions we don’t often have after seeing a movie with men punching each other in capes. But to write it off as little more than noise and confusion is a fool’s errand. It offers a lot to think about, and once you start picking apart the message, it does start to fall apart, much like Zootopia. But that it lets us have these discussions, as opposed to giving us run-of-the-mill productions like most films under Marvel’s banner, it’s a soaring relief on its own.

Snyder, once again, has realized a polished, highly-stylish and unflinching vision that feels appropriately cinematic in every single moment. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s definitely one worth watching. Even if it doesn’t always fly, it floats on the goodwill it preserves. Because it gives fans what they have wanted to see their entire lives, while also letting them wonder why they praised these loons in the first place. And that’s something super special. Hopefully, it’s also the dawn of a new age of thoughtful, intellectually-stimulating cinema. If one with some extra punches and explosions to boot.

Rating: B/B-

 

 

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Both ‘Bond 24’ and the Third Season of ‘Twin Peaks’ Will Be Shot on Film

By Will Ashton

In some unexpected news—at least for those continuing to think film is dead in the Hollywood studio system—it has just been revealed both Bond 24 and the upcoming third season of Twins Peaks, airing on Netflix, will be shot on film.

The news on the upcoming Bond film, which is title-less at the moment and therefore called Bond 24 until that changes, came from a recent interview with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema for In Contention’s Kris Tapley at Hitflix. The DP blunted stated, “I’m going onto film [for Bond], yeah. I love film,” when asked which forum he would use of the action sequel.

Remembering that Hoytema shot Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar on film, this news isn’t necessarily shocking. But considering that Skyfall, the last Bond feature, was the first to be shot entirely on digital —to wide acclaim, thanks to cinematographer Roger Deakins stunning work for the movie— it was assumed the new Bond feature would follow suit. Also, considering that Hoytema proved equally adapt at shooting on digital as on film thanks to his camera work in Spike Jonze’s Her, few worried that the film would not look good in either format. Still, this is definitely a sign of acceptance for keeping the film in the field, a good sign for film lovers. With a December production start set, Bond 24 is set to hit U.S. theaters on November 6, 2015.

On a similar note, director and Twin Peaks show creator David Lynch confirmed to both Agenda Magazine and WelcometoTwinPeaks.com he will be shooting the show’s new third season for Showtime on film, following suit with the original two seasons—also shot on film during their initial 1990 and 1991 airing. Lynch will direct every episode of the new season, which air on an undisclosed date in 2016.

“We’re gonna do the same things, but in better quality, and film remains the best quality,” Lynch said on the matter, but has kept decidedly mum on any other details on the new season.

While people continue to bemoan the death of film, as projects like these —and other big-budget films like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Fury and Interstellar, to name a few— prove, film is still a part of the Hollywood circuit.

Movie Theaters, Audiences Report Sound Issues with ‘Interstellar’

By Will Ashton

As Christopher Nolan’s new sci-fi epic Interstellar came into theaters last week, the conversation was muted when it was revealed several theatergoers experienced sound difficulties during their viewing experiences. Turns out, as far as the theaters are concerned, the problems result from the movie itself, not from any malfunctions from the theater sound systems.

As Slashfilm reported last week, several people lining up to see the latest Nolan movie in IMAX theaters had trouble hearing lines of dialogue throughout the movie as it was overpowered by Hans Zimmer’s booming score. Across the country, movie theater patrons took to Twitter to address their concerns, many believing that it was the fault of the theaters.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, though, in light of receiving complaints both in person and online about their supposed sound malfunctions, Cinemark theaters have issued the following statement in front of their box offices:

“Please note that all of our sound equipment is functioning properly,” the statement reads. “Christopher Nolan mixed the soundtrack with an emphasis on the music. This is how it is intended to sound.”

A picture of the sign, taken in front of the Cinemark Tinseltown USA and IMAX theater in Rochester, New York found itself scanning across the Internet today after a Twitter used posted the picture to the site.

What makes this news all the more puzzling is that Nolan reportedly visited several IMAX theaters across California and other states to check them out for themselves and make sure the film sounded and looked the way it was intended. So, jokingly, many are wondering if the director is having hearing problems, and some, in a more serious manner, are wondering if this is a problem of poor sound mixing.

The sound problems have not been reported in digital theaters, or in theaters showing the movie in 35mm. So it seems to be more of a problem within the IMAX setting. But there seems to be other problems in theaters playing the movie in 70mm too.

As FilmDrunk reports, their screening of the movie was interrupted during the climax and, after several times to fix the problem, resulted in them having to be sent home without seeing the end. This is not the only report of this happening, and it does bring into question the longevity of 70 mm.

Some say this may bring film projection down from bring seen in the near future. If that is true or not will have to be determined in due time.

The Argument of Film vs. Digital Continues, as Two Respected Filmmakers Battle It Out

By Will Ashton

Edit: I misspelled Darren Aronofsky’s name a couple times in the previous post. Those errors have since been fixed.

With each passing day, it seems that someone or another is getting up in arms either defending film or defending digital. It’s no different now, as two acclaimed directors, Darren Aronofsky and Nicolas Winding Refn, have a firm stand on both sides of the argument.

Exploring Aronofsky side first, while promoting the DVD/Blu-Ray release of his latest film Noah, the Black Swan filmmaker was more than willing to express his love of film and disinterest in shooting on digital. Leading up to his 2014 honorary Maverick Award at the Woodstock Film Festival, Aronofsky told Indiewire digital is not a suitable replacement for film stock, as video loses the adrenaline and excitement of waiting for film stock to process and experiencing filmmaking through an eyepiece.

“Film is amazing,” he explained. “The alchemy is so amazing when you shoot something and you don’t know what you have until 24 hours later or sometimes if you’re shooting in a really weird location, sometimes much longer. There’s something almost like gambling. There’s this adrenaline where you’re waiting for the magic of the chemicals to unleash the image. With video, that type of magic is gone and it’s the instant gratification thing where you’re almost looking at your finished image in front of you. I don’t think it’s just nostalgia. I think something happens in the chemistry that is part of the process.”

Aronofsky has shot all of his movies, from his debut, Pi, to Noah, on film, and upon shooting a short project on video, he sees no reason why he should stop doing it. Aronofsky would go on to say that “film is a great art form and if it dies, something is going to be lost.”

On the other side of the spectrum, however, is Refn. While Refn considers himself an enthusiast of film, when speaking to Deadline, he stated that “digital is so much better.”  “I shoot on digital, always,” he continued to note. “Drive, Only God Forgives…Bronson was the last film I shot on film, on super 16mm.”

Going against what Aronofsky stated, he believes that digital is “not a substitute, it’s just another canvas —and a canvas that has allowed more creativity than anything else in the world….Don’t fight it, embrace it.”

Who is right in this argument? Clearly there is no winner and losers at this point. There are going to be filmmakers now championing digital, like David Fincher, and others who continue supporting filming, like Christopher Nolan. The latter pushing his beliefs in a big way as seen with his efforts with his new upcoming film Interstellar. The big question is now what will become of filming movies in the future?