‘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-

 

 

‘Deadpool’ Review

Forgive last year’s Fantastic Four, for it didn’t know what it did wrong.

In a time when superhero movies seem like a collection of calculated executive decisions rather than genuinely enticing affairs, 20th Century Fox is perhaps the only movie studio in Hollywood that knows how to take real risks with their comic book properties. Yeah, Marvel has Netflix on their side to produce some occasionally challenging discussions with some appropriately-adult content. And Warner Bros. may very well be putting their cart in front of their horses these days with their upcoming onslaught of their DC-universe, beginning in jest with next month’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. But neither are really taking chances. Both rely on well-established names, with Marvel in particular such-a-name at this point that it doesn’t have to worry about such petty concerns. It’s, therefore, produced a malicious onslaught of mediocrity in the cinema these days, the likes of which causes something as trivially average as Ant-Man to pass as last year’s best movie featuring people-in-tights. That’s why we need to thank our movie gods — or simply our lucky cinematic stars — for Deadpool.

The infectiously juvenile, jubilantly crass, delightfully unapologetic and happily incessant studio feature from first-time feature director Tim Miller is exactly the kick-in-the-teeth the genre desperately needs at this point. The type of firing-on-all-cylinders mad-cap motion picture that only rarely loses steam, Deadpool serves as a celebration to the superhero films of the past decade and a lovingly winking parody of them that only occasionally wears its contemporary meta comedy too close to its sleeve. It brings back memories of when seeing these type of big-budgeted efforts was less an exercise and more an experience to behold. A time when blockbusters like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, the Hellboy films and even the first Iron Man film made going to see a new superhero movie, you know, fun.

And that’s what matters here: Deadpool is fun, fun, fun. Though it’s not without its sloppy pacing and occasionally awkward tonal shifts, it’s a gleeful, heart-firmly-beating-on-its-chest production that genuinely comes from a place of inspiration, insanity and massive creativity — something all too rare, and often all-too-fleeting, from these movies these days. It knows exactly what it wants to be, and it does everything in its power to make that vision come alive in stride. Even when it falls short on its ambitions at times, it’s always a ferociously, commendably true labor of love, and it deserves a lot of fucking respect for that these days. Because at the very least, it’s trying something different, and its off-color irrelevance comes in a nice shade of red, white and fuck you too.

Early on, Deadpool runs the danger of blowing its wad too quickly, and too soon. Particularly from frame one — after we’re introduced to some of the best use of opening credits I’ve witnessed in a good while — we’re placed right in the action, as we’re introduced fast and lean to our titular anti-hero (Ryan Reynolds) shooting the shit with your not-so-average taxi driver (Karan Soni), breaking the fourth wall whenever a clever aside comes to mind or plainly stating his course of action. In this case, it’s packing whatever hit he can carry and whatever swords he can swing to bring the merciless Ajax (Ed Skrein, a.k.a. Jason Statham’s replacement in last year’s The Transporter Refueled, proving himself far better as a supporting villain than a lead man) to his knees. For this is the man who led our lead down the path of rampage he walks before us with today, as he wasn’t always the foul-mouthed, fast-shooting man in red-and-black tights he is today. Well, he may have been a little bit. But back in the day, he went by the name Wade Wilson, and he was simply your average hunky mercenary with a troubled past and a heart of gold.

Wade was a sort of low-level Robin Hood-esque figure who helped the innocent track down those who did them wrong and took out the most truly detestable men who (mostly) deserved the pain coming their way. He spent his days kicking bad guys around, and his nights throwing back drinks at his local roughen-friendly bar. Run by his equally-sarcastic best friend Weasel (T.J. Miller, playing his dry comic relief role to a T), this night resort is the kind of territory where pummeled deaths are not only common but encouraged by the staff, as everyone places odds each night on who’ll not make it home the next morning on the overheard chalkboard known as the “Deadpool.” As you’d expect, this place doesn’t necessarily attract the friendliest of attractors, but it’s the place where our good-hearted killer happens to cross paths with the sweetheart of his dreams, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). A prostitute with an equally disturbed history, and more than a common understanding for pop culture infinities, it’s a romance for the ages. The two hit it off in no time, and in more ways than one. And with their hands soon in marriage, it looks like everything’s gonna turn out alright. Until, of course, it doesn’t.

It’s only a matter of time before disaster hits, and Wade soon finds his downfall as he’s diagnosed with late-stage cancer scattered all over his body. The man known best for taking other people’s lives soon will have to come to his own death, it appears. But just before his name’s ready to be checked off the board, he gets tipped about an experimental set of procedures that could cure him for good. He doesn’t buy much stock into it, but he doesn’t want to let his girl live a life of misery if he can help it. So sneaking out one night, he freely puts himself under the control of the sinister aforementioned Ajax — a scientist who feels no pain and who, alongside Angel Dust (Gina Carano), his assistant — puts his subjects through various strenuous operations to make sure he’s not only illness-free, but never has to worry about feeling sick for the rest of his life. And though Ajax’s successful, it’s not without some (intended) side-effects: for while Wade’s a superhuman now, he’s also one with horrendous scars all over his body. With his good-looking days behind him, he fights to return back to the man he once was in order to take back Vanessa’s heart. But in the meantime, he must lurk around the corners, hide behind various masks and costumes and pick off everyone who did him wrong until he has Ajax, and his cure, under his grasp.

Bouncing between the past and the present with as much consistency as Deadpool’s stream of thought (note: he likes to rattle on whenever he sees fits), it’s easy to see how some may find Miller’s film a little too messy for its own good. Deadpool fights hard to poke fun and sneer away the conventions of your typical origin story, and though it’s often finds itself restrained by a fairly by-the-way vigilante story, its snappy editing, lighthearted charm and clear affection for gore and looney mayhem always keeps the energy on high. Though it plays its hand early and never keeps its intentions a secret, this decidedly not-kid-friendly feature flies with a robust sense of self and a positively electrifying shock of inspiration at every turn. This is a real Deadpool movie through and through, and it never takes any short cuts in being exactly what it wants to be. This is gleefully sophomoric, logic-be-damned, cartoonish-as-all-hell R-rated nonsense at some of its most fulfilling and naughtily clever in years. And not since the first Kick-Ass nearly six years earlier has censor-less adrenaline felt so rewarding on the big screen.

Of course, Deadpool isn’t without its shortcomings. Its flavor for improbably callous behavior grows a bit cumbersome after a while, especially when played to the nines for so long, and it’s hard not to feel the growing weightlessness of the action by the end. Having a hero, and a villain, who are impervious to pain makes their trials and tribulations a little hard to be completed invested in. Plus, the film’s only X-Men, Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic, and never convincing brought to the screen through poorly-released CG) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), feel more wasted than not. And though Miller produces some of the clearest and most easy-to-follow action scenes I’ve seen in a pale moon, his history in video games can easily be detected throughout the bloody but often little-too-lightweight action scenes. Also, it won’t have hurt to give the villain just a wee bit more flavor. Though Skrein interjects some maniacal flair in the right moments, his character is just a little too sullen for such a frivolous production.

Though certainly a bumpy little adventure at times, Deadpool lives and dies on both its script and its lead star. Thankfully, each pack as much heat as they can muster. Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick’s screenplay — easily their best since 2009’s Zombieland —  knows Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza’s creation inside-and-out, and glorifies giving the character as triumphant and sensational a big screen bow as they can produce. It’s easy to see why their script earned so much respect and chatter over the years, and Reynolds makes their work comes alive as memorably, and spectacularly, as he possibly can. The actor, also producing, gives every second on screen his all, fighting tooth, nail and severed appendage to have nearly every fan walk away as satisfied as possible. And his hard-work never becomes tiresome. In fact, quite often the opposite; he’s an absolute joy to watch in every second. He was born to play Deadpool.

His witty, winning-as-all-hell performance plays entirely to his strengths as a comedic performer, and proves him right where X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Green Lantern served him so, so wrong. It’s a beautiful work of art in motion, and justifies every fight he’s given to make this performance come alive in the first place. And though the wait was long, it feels right: Deadpool comes just when we need this character in theaters. In a time when superhero movies thrive on being generic and cookie-cutter, Miller’s film becomes as unconventionally lewd as possible, never scared about whether or not its references are too dated, its language is too crass or its violence is a little too insensitive. And its end credits scene? Sheer perfection. Make sure you stick around to watch it. It’s the kind of risks I dream to see from studio blockbusters today, and it hopefully proves Fox with the continued inspiration to push themselves in dirty, gutsy directions.

Does it play its target audience like a fiddle? Yes. Does it lose steam after a while? Certainly. Do all the dick jokes land? Most definitely not. But it’s the heart, the sheer passion and the unabashedly driven sense of self driving Deadpool to its filthy, expletive-heavy finish line. Miller’s film thrives on being exactly what it wants to be, and though usually such entailment comes off abrasive and petty, here it plays to exactly what people want from this incessantly tired, tropes-heavy genre. There’s an organic freshness alive here; a spark, an energy and a sense of pride in this movie that feels revitalized. And whether or not it’ll age well a couple years from now, it speaks true to the present, and it comes like a vital shock-to-the-groin after an onslaught of superhero films that practically seem allergic to fun. Though it’s decidedly an anti-superhero movie, it truly saves the goddamn day in the end.

Rating: B/B+