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

batman v superman

Director Zack Snyder has proved to be the Kryptonite of this new DC universe. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is classic Snyder: visually adept yet narratively and thematically senseless. With two of the most compelling and popular characters in the world, numerous questions about purpose and responsibility are aimlessly wasted. Throw in resplendent amounts of religious and political imagery, and way too many dream sequences, and what we’re left with is a sad mishandling of what should be a powerful and (ahem) entertaining film. The opening is fantastic, as we watch Bruce Wayne and others reel from the disasters perpetrated by Superman in Man of Steel. Unfortunately from there, things go downhill fairly quickly, as story clichés (Kryptonite) and lame coincidences (Bruce and Clark’s mom have the same name! Wow!) fill a convoluted plot. Worst yet, this “action” film is overstuffed with unending amounts of ethical speeches and monologues in place of actual character connections. DC’s desperation to right their own wrongs in the destruction in Man of Steel becomes embarrassing (“Luckily that island was deserted”). Even when we aren’t being lazily spoken at or having our emotions ineffectively manipulated, the set-pieces are largely insipid and boring. As for the pluses, Affleck is great as Batman, giving a unique turn as a sloppier, older, and angrier Dark Knight. Also, for the very little we see of Gadot’s Wonder Woman, it creates an excited eagerness for her stand-alone film. However, BvS as a whole has less in common with its positives than with Eisenberg’s poorly-casted Lex Luthor: frantic, ill-thought, desperate, and truly awful.

 

2 out of 5 stars

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Comic Book Review – Superman Unchained (2013 – 2014): Deluxe Edition (The New 52)

superman unchained

After enjoying Superman’s crazed 1950’s high speculative fiction (SF) watermark—including every shade of Kryptonite—in terms of “re-boots,” I’m a huge fan of the Superman in action in Dennis O’Neil and Curt Swan’s 1971 “The Sandman Saga,” running across Superman (Vol. 1) issues: #233 – 235, 237 – 238, and 240 – 242, and edited by the magnificent Julius Schwartz.

But even Grant Morrison struggled to give us a clear distillation of New 52-era Superman, ramping up ample thematic tropes from creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s original “Fanfare for the Common Man” ethos, born and bred somewhat in Philip Wylie’s 1930 potboiler, “Gladiator.” But I still felt little kinship to the current take on the Man of Steel—that is until Batman scribe Scott Snyder (fair enough: he redefined the Dark Knight for our era in a way that genuinely works, and it appears Tom King is following up quite nicely) breathed life into a quickly flagging New 52 vision by penning an unconventional, completely cinematic buddy action film pairing Superman with Wraith, an ultra-powerful alien who, at first, gives Big Blue a run for his money as a rival.

Wraith has an actual “world view,” one completely opposed to that of the Man of Steel, as Wraith sees his having been co-opted by the government as better for the world, and Superman as the naïve new flash in the pan sailing through the skies. Wraith wants nothing of fame. He’s been performing black-ops for United States government with abandon for years. Rather than mere mid-air fisticuffs, the reader gets genuine ideologies in conflict, as the two ultra-powerful beings clearly have different things in mind in terms of what it means to protect the earth—even if that means an occasional genuflection in opposition force General Lane’s direction.

Author Scott Snyder hurls many a plot-thread into the air, and Jim Lee illustrates each with gusto, even managing to make the character design on Wraith rise above, say, the mere Mongul homage it could have been. Collected as a nice stand-alone book, the story is filled with funny asides that work, such as Lana Lang’s comment to Lois Lane, regarding Wonder woman: “Did you know they’re dating?” Between that and Wraith acting as an only marginally accepted mentor as the two ultimately have to team, forging Superman’s best outing since Kurt Buseik’s all-too-brief run.

 

4 out of 5 stars

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Thor: The Dark World (2013) – Movie Review

There’s nothing more disappointing than a sequel that does not live up to the original film it came from, therefore, my cinematic experiences over the years dealing with such efforts have certainly been tragic.

Yes, there have been second films that have equaled or surpassed the original (“The Empire Strikes Back,” “Superman 2,” “The Godfather: Part 2,” just to name a very few), but these are as rare as Academy Award nominations from “Weird Al” Yankovic.

So, die-hard Marvel Studios fans may want to exit this website now and forgo any bitterness they may feel when they realize this review — while not a whole dismissal of the newest superhero epic, “Thor: The Dark World” — may not exactly be what they want to read at this moment.

True to my nature as an optimist, however, I will highlight the positive points of the new production. First, Chris Hemsworth is the perfect choice to play the stoic, unemotional, dispassionate, apathetic, unmoved Nordic leading deity to a tee (actually, I’m not sure these are good points).

It does not require a whole lot of animation to jump from the sky, punch someone out or throw a hammer. Hemsworth does a very good job in his portrayal of such a character and, as long as he does not try to break the acting ceiling like he did in “Snow White and the Huntsman,” I think we’ll be all right.

The other good thing about this movie (and it’s probably the best) is Loki (Tom Hiddleston, “Midnight in Paris”), the deeply troubled younger (and let’s not forget ADOPTED) brother of the first prince of Asgard. It’s his third appearance in the role and he has grown quite comfortable as the smirking, conniving schemer.

Here, he makes every scene he’s in delectable. It’s too bad he is not in more. Plus, the sequences where he appears with Hemsworth are not only the best in the picture, but they elevate the latter’s status and acting credentials even higher than they should be.

Okay, we have discussed the positive, now let’s look at the concerns. Replacing first installment director Kenneth Branagh (who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director — and lead actor — for 1989′s “Henry V”) eliminated the whole Shakespearian angle with the fallen brother, the troubled prince and world-weary king, which punctuated the action scenes and made for much more intelligent viewing than your average superhero narrative.

Alan Taylor, while adept at television drama (several installments of “Mad Men,” “Game of Thrones” and a host of others), has not helmed a feature film since “Kill the Poor” in 2003. His contribution to this feature — at least as far as the Bard connection goes — is negligible and thus much of the drama of “Thor” is replaced with the mediocre of standard fights, screaming and explosions.

Yes, “Thor: The Dark World” looks good, but there is a troubling blandness and sameness to the enterprise.

Sadly underused (or misused in some cases) are Anthony Hopkins (“Red 2”) as King Odin, Natalie Portman (“Black Swan”), Stellan Skarsgård (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) as Dr. Erik Selvig and Christopher Eccleston (“G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”) as the main villain — that’s right, Loki isn’t even the top bad guy here — Malekith.

Hopkins is given even less screen time than in the first film, while Portman bitches and moans and nags so much about Thor being away one understands his reasoning completely. She is both bland and annoying, a difficult tightrope to walk (see “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” for a perfect example).

Meanwhile, Skarsgård has been reduced to a comic relief buffoon and Eccleston, who began his career in 1991 in a great little British film, “Let Him Have It,” is easily one of the worst Marvel villains of all-time, sort of a lightweight Bane, but without the menacing demeanor. Heavily made-up and CGIed to the point of complete obscurity, he comes back (after failing numerous time in the past) to use the all-powerful Aether to blow all of the realms to pieces, for whatever that’s worth.

The best spy, war and superhero movies have one thing in common — great and terrifying bad guys (Goldfinger, Darth Vader, Lex Luthor, Loki). Malekith is certainly a name few will remember in the annals of filmdom’s evil malefactors.

Few will remember the plot of “Thor: The Dark World,” as well. Basically Asgard is under assault from Malekith and Thor is forced to release Loki from prison (where he has been since the end of “The Avengers”) to aid in the protection of the realms. The real drama is whether the kid brother can be trusted. Seems a logical concern to me. There are trips to other planets and Earth gets a few location shots.

Monsters are destroyed, good guys are pounded and, for a while, we wonder if anyone can survive the onslaught of out-of-control special effects. One funny sequence involves Thor and Malekith bouncing around the universe while the mighty hammer of the Norse god struggles vainly just to keep up with the action.

“Thor: The Dark World” is nowhere near enough to surpass the first experience, and while not a bad movie at all, it just seems like a temporary diversion until a part three (or “The Avengers: Age of Ultron”) comes out. Sadly, that’s just not enough for a studio with a much better track record than this.

5 out of 10 stars

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Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox – Movie Review

Normally it’s said, “the book is better than the movie”, however with DC Entertainment’s Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox it’s the opposite.

Based on the graphic novel Flashpoint by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert; Barry Allen wakes up in a timeline similar to the one he calls home, but quickly discovers several startling differences. For starters: his mother is alive, Iris his wife is married to someone else, and he is without his abilities. While the Justice League doesn’t exist in this timeline; they are represented by different versions of themselves. In a world where villains are heroes and heroes are villains, the Flash will need to find help from unlikely “heroes” in order to restore the timeline, hopefully before the war between Aquaman and Wonder Woman destroys the world.

Jay Oliva returns to direct Flashpoint Paradox, since the last DC animated feature film Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Parts 1 & 2, and with fan favorites returning such as Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Dana Delany as Lois Lane, and Nathan Fillion as Hal Jordan this should be quite the production. Adding weight to the already impressive cast is Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle) as Cyborg, Sam Daly as Superman (son of Tim Daly who voiced Superman in the animated TV show), and Kevin McKidd as the alternate Batman.

This story puts the Flash center stage; Justin Chambers does a more than adequate job as the Flash, but some of his lines suffered from either weak deliveries or were just too ridged. However his opposite in the movie Professor Zoom is voiced by C. Thomas Howell, and he give a solid performance, even though most of the dialogue was lifted straight from the comic books.

James Krieg wrote the screenplay and struck a nice balance adapting the five main issues while incorporating story elements from the additional 20 tie-ins. What we end up with is a well-constructed story; even if it feels abrupt (it’s only 75 minutes). Considering this story could have been bogged down with too many characters and stories, the liberties Krieg takes not only flesh out the world but kept the story self-contained.

The inclusion of Lex Luthor aiding Deathstroke to find the WMDs Aquaman possesses was a nice touch instead of the convoluted original Deathstroke pirate story. Whereas the Kraken was at least in one of the tie-ins and actually served as a better alternative to a gigantic amazon, but the addition of a Cerberus and a Minotaur feels more like an anime checklist requirement.

The animation style is heavily influenced by modern day anime (think the Second Renaissance from the Animatrix) it isn’t too distracting. With that said though it isn’t very flattering for the alternate versions of Aquaman and Wonder Woman, but it does add to the already emaciated Superman. It also helps to detail the violence in the war between Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and “surface dwellers”; which might leave viewers feeling drained seeing a world without hope or heroes, and ravished by death.

This might be a case of be careful what you wish for, because this movie is a departure from the kid friendly animated movies we’ve come to expect from the studio that brought us Batman: The Animated Series. Although it’s rated PG-13 it is unlike any other DC animated movie in terms of excitement, shock value, and violence, which at times could be distracting. As Jay Oliva set the bar for gloom and violence in The Dark Knight Returns and raised it in this film. What can audiences expect from 2014′s Justice League: War?

Overall the film does a better job telling the story than the graphic novel. It clearly defines the conflict the Flash has and adds suspense & tension to the decision he ultimately has to make. Where the graphic novel felt bland and even anti-climactic, the movie conveys the emotional and climatic moments in a more effective manner.

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox succeeds wildly where the comic fell flat. By incorporating choice elements from the comic event tie-ins to the main narrative, it hits all the right notes to not only create an intense thriller, but also prove that Flash can carry his own film.

This is a seriously hardcore cartoon with lots of brutal violence, and while sometimes the line is crossed, it’s generally a good amount of fun, especially when Batman is involved.

 

9 out of 10