Tag Archives: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

‘Justice League’ Review: A cleaner, but more jarring and hollow failure

On a storytelling level, Justice League is a better film than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It’s more cohesive, better paced and easier to follow. But it comes at a steep cost.

What the DCEU had gotten right up to this point — maybe not with Suicide Squad — was an investment in theme and how character and story both shape theme and are shaped by it. Batman v Superman is a mess of a film, but it’s an interesting story. It’s ideas of man vs. god, of the repercussions of Superman and the lengths to which Batman’s anger would take him in response, which feels like a continuation of Man of Steel, offers some semblance of narrative satisfaction.

Justice League, seemingly a continuation of Batman v Superman, a third film in this trilogy, is jarringly hollow in comparison. Superman’s death and Batman’s guilt are hardly investigated, and if they are, they’re parsed through in ways that don’t make sense with character; supposed steps taken in regard to those themes turn out to be more circumstantial, convenient and simple than actual elaboration on the story’s previous interests.

In essence, the film abandons what it was set up to be in order to be a cleaner film. It’s slightly, slightly understandable considering the position of Warner Bros. and DC, but it is such a disappointment. There’s nothing to latch onto in Superman’s character (surprise, he’s in the movie). He leans Christopher Reeve in tone, which, to some, might be exciting — but that’s not the Superman that’s been built in this universe. A short moment after his resurrection has the potential to take his character in a frightening, complicated direction, but that potential is quickly passed on and we get a one-dimensional figure that doesn’t even feel like a character.

The same can be said with villain. Batman’s visions of impending doom in the previous installment move nowhere with Steppenwolf, a monstrosity that falls flatter than the horrific CGI that creates him. He’s a typical, bland god-like bad guy spouting boring, cliched lines of fate for the “primitive beings” he’s fighting.

There aren’t many dimensions anywhere in Justice League. The Flash, while decently snappy comedic relief (which, itself, becomes tiresome), is barely two-dimensional. Aquaman’s motivations and backstory are washed over. Wonder Woman’s arc feigns at actual interest in the character — she’s dealing with the grief of losing Steve Trevor and the subsequent struggles she has with being a leader — but the timeline difference makes it difficult to swallow and, in horrifyingly gross fashion, the film sexualizes her and submits her to the filmmakers’ male gaze.

The only character that’s remotely fleshed out is Cyborg. His biomechatronic body has a brain of its own and he’s struggling to learn how to control it. But, considering that Ray Fisher gives a strong performance, it only ends up as disappointing that that arc is traversed here and not more thoroughly in a solo film.

It’s strange because one can almost feel that Justice League wants to be a cleaner movie. Too much of the plotting is expedited and, in turn, easy, leaving us with a lot that’s clean and digestible — until we realize that there’s no substance to any of it. But even in its attempts to be clean, it ends up as a messier looking film than most blockbusters in general. It’s embarrassing that we can tell where the reshoots are, not only narratively but visually. Literally, we see where actors are digitally inserted after the fact and where continuity is interrupted.

And Henry Cavill’s digitally removed mustache leaves his face as… by god, there’s no excuse.

Even the DCEU’s inarguably greatest element, its scores, halts dead with Danny Elfman’s work. We hear, perhaps, ten seconds of Wonder Woman’s theme before it never shows up again. We never hear Junkie XL’s Batman theme as Elfman opts to use his original one. We never hear Hans Zimmer’s Man of Steel theme. Elfman leaves us with nothing memorable about his score. The use of original themes don’t make  auditory sense for where the characters are meant to be, which, even worse, results in music that fails to serve the narrative on any level.

The film is cheap. It inserts quirky quips here and there to induce laughter that can, momentarily, help us forget its shortcomings. But even those quips wind up yanking us out of the film. They’re infuriating. They’re tonally imbalanced and out of character — especially for someone like Batman. The film also shoves in comic book references to help some of the comic book familiar folk look over its cheap nature, most of which will be missed by audiences not familiar and create no difference as none of the nods have narrative implications.

Some of the fight sequences work and work well. Characters are clear and distinguishable, and the overall battles are well shot in regard to spatial geography.

But it’s difficult to even want to talk about that with any layer of enthusiasm. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy notably lacked well-composed action, but they’re still some of the best superhero movies of all time because of their unparalleled execution of storytelling.

Cumulatively, Justice League is overbearingly cheap. It’s a middle finger to the audience, a “course correction” that does no correcting.

Grade: D+

 

Featured image via Warner Bros.

Opinion: Why I value ‘Batman v Superman’ more than a film like ‘Thor: Ragnarok’

*Spoilers for ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ and ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’*

To be necessarily clear, Thor: Ragnarok is a far better film than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. There is no debate. But that’s not the question here.

The question is of value — something that’s rather subjective and, thus, changes from person to person. In regard to both of these films, I personally see a difference in what value they add to the superhero genre, and in what value they hold as films in general. There’s no doubting that Thor: Ragnarok has great value if only considering the fact that more people now know who Taika Waititi is. The film is also stunning to look at, a visually beautiful and coherently composed comic book movie — a rarity among the miles of grey muck that have become a staple in the very universe that I’m about to make a case for.

But when thinking about which film I value more, I quite easily gravitate to Batman v Superman. Again, to be clear, it’s not a good film. It’s a perfect example of sloppy storytelling. But I find myself hooked by the story Batman v Superman wants to tell more than the story Thor: Ragnarok does. The third Thor film is rather clean, generally well-executed storytelling — yet I feel so little depth in its ideas. With Batman v Superman, I’ve yet to mine all of the intricacies behind its ugly mask.

Thor: Ragnarok is not without its share of fascinating ideas. Introducing Hela as Thor’s sister and revealing that Odin did not come to Asgard in peace, but rather as a conqueror, present brilliantly complex conflict for both the story and for Thor, our main character. Smashing Thor’s hammer in the first act is a necessary kind of superhero deconstruction, asking who this character is without his most powerful weapon. And using biblical and immigrant imagery, to the tone of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, sets up the climax to be gripping and emotional.

But Ragnarok gets lost in its second act and fails to execute what it wants to do with its third. The planet of Sakaar has the ingredients to carry the story’s thematic concerns along through the film’s middle — a dictator who subjects his people to Roman-like arena death battles while most live in poverty. It had the chance to be a mirror to Asgard and to help Thor learn what he must to be able to come back and dethrone Hela.

But the film’s greatest asset, its comedy, also washes over this potential. While moments such as Thor and Hulk bantering in Hulk’s room or Korg being the one of the most hilarious characters in the MCU are entertaining, they’re given too much time. The film tips overboard in its improvisation without considering what that might do to the development of the story and to the arc of Thor.

To be brutally honest, I feel as though the second act flatlines in hindsight. It’s fun, but once we get to the third act and realize that Thor has to defend his people, take down Hela and make the choice to leave Asgard behind, we realize that the second act wasn’t enough — not even close to enough. Thor taking on Hela should’ve held so much more weight; this is his sister and, if he can love Loki like a true brother, he should be much more conflicted about Hela. It shouldn’t feel as though we’re watching Thor “beat” her, but more so overcome this part of his family that naturally leans toward ruling rather than leading. Thus, the thematic imagery at the end, of the people of Asgard fleeing across the bridge, doesn’t hit home emotionally.

In essence, I find only so much value in Thor: Ragnarok as a superhero film. It’s hilarious, but even the jokes fall flat once the story does.

While the way in which it tells its story is muddled, on a conceptual level, I see a consistency of interest in what Batman v Superman wants to do throughout its entirety.

The opening does so much work, driving home the character motivation of Bruce Wayne with harrowing, 9/11-esque visuals. It perfectly juxtaposes the two characters and sets up the dynamic between Batman and Superman — a man and a god.

Throughout the film, in every layer, this is what’s at stake. Bruce Wayne fears the power of a god, that, at any moment, this god could wipe out millions of lives. Each moment with Bruce Wayne is gripping as his character traverses an arc of growing anger. On the other hand, Superman grapples with the fact that he’s provoking so much fear. He’s a character who believes in good and is challenged when he sees that his efforts for good don’t inspire more of it in mankind. Some have contended that Zack Snyder’s portrayal of Superman goes against who the character is and, to be fair, I’m not aware of who exactly the character is in the comics. But there’s a logic to the direction of his character in this world that Snyder created.

This tension is extended to Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch and to Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, as both are concerned with the same thing — Superman’s power — but tackle that concern in different ways. Luthor’s backstory, having a German father who “had to march in a parade and wave flowers at tyrants,” which is heavy with implications, informs this intensely vengeful distaste for a figure with such tyrannical potential. Seeing Luthor force this god to his knees by threatening his humanity — his mother — is the kind of superhero imagery I want; it’s visually brilliant on an aesthetic level, but even more so because of its thematic level.

In regard to Superman’s humanity, Batman v Superman’s climax, the Martha moment, is horrendously executed. It’s terrible, and there’s no defending how it was portrayed. But it’s unfair to write off the concept there as equally terrible because it’s consistent with the story’s development. The only way Bruce can overcome his anger for Superman is to see him as Clark, to see him as a human being. So while the execution is poor, the idea is admirable. And to have man actually best god is even more admirable.

And, once Batman and Superman have reconciled, to then have man and god face the devil — Doomsday, who is created by man — is another sign of thematic consistency, and becomes even more engaging when it’s god who sacrifices himself for a mankind that never truly believed in him.

It may sound like I’m touting Batman v Superman as a brilliant movie, but I’m not. I’m simply admiring the deep fascination and care it has for story and character, regardless of how bad its storytelling is. That’s where the difference is for me. In Thor: Ragnarok, I see adept storytelling, but so much less care for character and story. While its execution is cleaner, it feels more hollow.

In essence, I’m admiring ambition. I value the attempt of Batman v Superman more so than the success of Thor: Ragnarok. I want superhero films that genuinely want to do something great with its characters.

 

Featured image via Warner Bros.

J.J. Abrams brought back to write and direct ‘Star Wars: Episode IX’

In a move that not many expected, but that seems as in line with Lucasfilm’s most recent decisions as any, J.J. Abrams, director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, has been hired to direct the final installment of the new trilogy from a galaxy far, far away, announced via a press release on StarWars.com.

A week ago, Lucasfilm and previous director Colin Trevorrow parted ways. Trevorrow had been on the project for over two years and had written the screenplay with his writing partner Derek Connolly. But rumors began to surface, especially after the critical failure of Trevorrow’s The Book of Henry, that Trevorrow could be ousted. Last month, Jack Thorne, co-writer of the upcoming Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson and Jacob Tremblay film Wonder, was brought on to rewrite.

It seems as though the script will be overhauled, as Abrams has been tasked to write Star Wars: Episode IX with Academy Award-winning writer Chris Terrio. Terrio won the Oscar for the Ben Affleck-directed Argo, and has written scripts for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and the upcoming Justice League. Abrams co-wrote The Force Awakens with Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt.

In the days after Trevorrow departed the ninth episode, fans and critics offered up potential replacements. The internet seemed to come to a consensus that they wanted Ava DuVernay, director of Selma13th and the upcoming Disney film A Wrinkle in Time. Rian Johnson, director of eighth episode Star Wars: The Last Jedi, popped up in serious rumors, so much so that the director ended up explicitly saying that he had no plans to return.

But it was likely that Abrams was already hired, or at least just had to sign on the dotted line, by the time Lucasfilm came out to announce Trevorrow’s exit. This will be Abrams’ first film since The Force Awakens and he will produce through his production company Bad Robot.

In the press release, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy made this official statement:

“With The Force Awakens, J.J. delivered everything we could have possibly hoped for, and I am so excited that he is coming back to close out this trilogy.”

In an announcement on Twitter hours later, Lucasfilm has officially pushed back the release of the film from May 24, 2019, to December 20, 2019. The seemingly large script revision likely meant that production couldn’t start as early as Kennedy had hoped. Now, Abrams will have 27 months to complete the picture instead of 20 months, and the December release will fall in line with the releases of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. The film will now compete with the second weekend of Wonder Woman 2, which is set to release on December 13, 2019.

Featured image via Gage Skidmore.

Patty Jenkins signs historic deal to direct ‘Wonder Woman 2’

Patty Jenkins has officially signed on to direct Wonder Woman 2, which was first reported by Variety.

The sequel to the year’s second highest domestic grossing film, sitting at $410 million from US and Canada, which puts it in the 5th spot for highest domestic grossing superhero films of all time (only behind the two Avengers films and the last two Nolan Dark Knight films), is slated to hit theaters on December 13, 2019.

Not only will Jenkins direct, but she will also co-write and produce the second installment — two positions she didn’t hold with the first. The first had an all-male writing team of Allan Heinberg, Zach Snyder and Jason Fuchs. According to The Hollywood Reporter, while Jenkins made $1 million for directing Wonder Woman, she’ll make in the range of $7 to $9 million for duties on the Amazonian’s second solo feature. These numbers would make her the highest paid female director in history. According the same reports, Jenkins will also make significant backend, which comes from box office gross.

Jenkins had only signed on for one film, coming onto the project after Michelle MacLaren exited due to differences in vision with the studio, which is why Jenkins had to enter negotiations for a second in the first place. With the film becoming a box office smash and the first critical hit for the DCEU, when it desperately needed one, Jenkins then held a lot of negotiating power. The Hollywood Reporter reports that Jenkins asked for pay similar to that given to Zack Snyder when he signed on for a second film. Snyder directed Man of Steel, which released to lukewarm reviews, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which was critically smashed.

Gal Gadot will appear as Wonder Woman for the third time in the DCEU superhero team-up Justice League, which opens on November 17.

Featured image via Gage Skidmore.

Who should Lucasfilm hire to direct ‘Star Wars: Episode IX’?

With Colin Trevorrow exiting ‘Star Wars: Episode IX,’ who should Kathleen Kennedy and Lucasfilm hire to replace him? Our staff offers some suggestions:

Levi Hill (Deputy Editor and Co-Chief Film Critic) — Rian Johnson

Gage Skidmore/Courtesy

To me, this was a tough choice. Why? Because there are quite a few big-budgeted directors that I think could make one hell of a Star Wars movie. Take, for example, what Guillermo del Toro could do with a massive budget and the freedom of world-building that Star Wars has been able to conjure up. Yet del Toro is also an idiosyncratic director that, in my opinion, works best when working from his own deliciously imaginative script. Then, rumored directors or writers like Sam Esmail or Stephen Daldry wouldn’t be bad choices, with Esmail in particular being an intriguing prospect — due to his love for one of the greatest sci-fis of all time (Fritz Lang’s Metropolis) as well as showrunning for the smartest sci-fi (sort of) show on TV right now, Mr. Robot.

Also, who wouldn’t want to see Ava DuVernay follow up A Wrinkle in Time with the biggest franchise of all-time?

But all of that to me is superfluous, because as much as any of us want to see another director take on Star Wars, the answer is likely right in front of us — and it’s not a bad thing. Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi hasn’t even been seen by the public yet (and anyone, probably), but the film has already generated an immense amount of buzz from its one unbelievably beautiful and rousing trailer. To be fair, anything Star Wars related will generate buzz, but I know I’m not the only fan with the belief that the Johnson directed film could end up being the best in the entire series. But most importantly, Rian is an auteur that Lucasfilm has seemingly had no problems with on or off set. There have been no rumors about temperamental producers, slow-paced editors or wayward actors. That alone proves that Rian is passing in flying colors and that, to me, means he is the right and only choice to finish this highly touted new trilogy.

Kate Halliwell (Editor-At-Large) — Mimi Leder

Sarah E. Freeman/Courtesy

I’m not going to waste my time complaining about how male directors like Colin Trevorrow continue to fail upward in Hollywood, managing to turn flops like whatever The Book of Henry was into massive blockbuster deals, while talented female directors go to movie jail after just one underperforming film.

Okay, actually… just a quick rant.

Television is full of incredible female directors right now, many of which started in film and had to transition to TV after being shut out of opportunities in Hollywood. Since the news about Trevorrow broke, names like Ava DuVernay, Mimi Leder, Michelle MacLaren, Lesli Linka Glatter, Reed Morano and many more have been bandied about online — but how reasonable is it to think that a female director may actually get this job?

For my money, I’d give the film to Mimi Leder in a heartbeat. Whether crafting incredible shots on HBO’s The Leftovers or directing high grossing blockbusters like her 1998 film Deep Impact, Leder has been one of Hollywood’s most reliable directors for decades.

But let’s be real — it’s a pipe dream. Would someone like Leder, MacLaren, Morano or Linka Glatter absolutely slay this job? Of course. Do they deserve it? Absolutely. Will they actually get it? Not on your life.

When the untitled Han Solo film went through a similar director swap just a few months ago, the studio turned to Ron Howard — basically the safest, least inspired choice in the book. Press releases concerning Trevorrow’s exit have cited irreconcilable differences with Kathleen Kennedy and other producers of the film. Obviously, these directors aren’t getting the opportunities to do what they want with their Star Wars movies, no matter how inspired (or not) their vision may be. So as much as I’d like to see a female director take on Episode IX and show all of Hollywood what they’re missing, I’m selfish enough to want to keep my favorite female directors where they have the freedom to do what they want. And, for the most part, that’s on TV.

From The Handmaid’s Tale to HBO’s new (and incredible) The Deuce to Homeland and Breaking Bad, these ladies have proven themselves incredibly valuable in helping create and maintain the peak TV era. While Leder and others are still making movies — Leder’s upcoming Ruth Bader Ginsberg biopic starring Felicity Jones is set for 2018 — it’s TV where they can really strut their stuff.

So I’m not getting my hopes up. Give it to Howard, or Rian Johnson, or whatever white man will make the studios happy, if you must. I’ll be hanging with my girls at home on Netflix, HBO, Hulu, Amazon and wherever else they can truly do their thing.

Harrison Tunggal (Associate Editor and Co-Chief Film Critic) — Patty Jenkins 

Gage Skidmore/Courtesy

Do fired Star Wars directors become Force ghosts? Is this gif, this gif or this gif a better representation of the current state of Lucasfilm? Regardless, the production company behind the galaxy from far, far away continues to lose directors like Anakin loses limbs. A tentpole film losing its helmer is nothing new though, and somewhat analogously, Wonder Woman lost its first director, Michelle MacLaren, because of her creative differences with Warner Brothers. As we all know, Patty Jenkins replaced MacLaren and delivered one of the best superhero films of all time, suggesting that Jenkins knows how to cooperate with the demands of a studio. Whether Jenkins’ sock-folding can live up to Kathleen Kennedy’s high standards remains to be seen, but Jenkins has demonstrated an aptitude for storytelling within the rigid confines of an established universe. Hiring Jenkins would also allow her to close a trilogy hinged on Rey, a move that could make Rey even more inspiring and iconic than she already was. Just imagine the “No Man’s Land” scene but with the Force-wielding awesomeness of Rey. I want that scene more than Luke wants his power converters. Additionally, choosing Jenkins is a choice predicated on the assumption that Star Wars: The Last Jedi will be a darker film, just like The Empire Strikes Back. With that in mind, what was Wonder Woman if not a film that lifted its titular heroine from the darkness of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice? Jenkins’ Episode IX could do something similar, bringing Rey out of the darkness of The Last Jedi. If the tone of Wonder Woman was any indication, Jenkins can meld rollicking excitement and fun with darker moments of dramatic weight — if that doesn’t scream Star Wars, then I’m a trough of bantha fodder.

Kyle Kizu (Editorial Director) — Spike Jonze

aphrodite-in-nyc/Courtesy

I’m going to mutter the three words that doom anyone making a pitch for something/someone they know will likely fail to sell: Hear me out. If not for anything else, I’d want Lucasfilm to choose Spike Jonze simply because of the endless “wait, what the fu**?!” reactions on Twitter. But honestly, Jonze could do something wildly special with a Star Wars film. His four films are all intensely visual (as are all of his music videos) with Where the Wild Things Are showing that he can manage large scale CGI and Her displaying his absolutely masterful visual and stylistic rendering of setting (his Los Angeles is a quite distinct and singular futuristic vision). If he were to have the galaxy to play with, we could surely expect a captivating manifestation of bizarre — Star Wars needs bizarre — and utterly delightful imagination, the likes of which, after two merely decent visual Star Wars films, the franchise desperately needs. But visuals only matter so much and, thankfully, Jonze handles character with care and grace. With Her, the director offers one of the most tender, joyful and tragic character journeys of recent memory, and those three qualities are absolute must-haves when it comes to the final installment of any trilogy, let alone a Star Wars one. Jonze could dig deep into the vulnerable emotion of both the galactically massive, nearly 40 year journey of Luke, which might come to a close in Episode IX, as well as the intimate, explorative and raw discovery that is the journey of Rey unfolding before us. Now, the only thing that’s left to prove for Jonze is his ability to direct action, and I have an odd place in his career to point to. Spike Jonze has dabbled in feature films, music videos and documentaries. But he’s also directed skateboard videos. Yes, you read that right. Skateboard videos. And one particularly breathtaking shoot that handled intense choreography of action is the introduction to Fully Flared. Am I crazy? Maybe. But I think he could shoot the hell out of an explosive X-Wing dogfight and an epic lightsaber duel.

 

Do you agree with any of these choices? How would you have answered this week’s question? Sound off in the comments below.

Photos via aphrodite-in-nyc, Sarah E. Freeman and Gage Skidmore.

Feature image via Gage Skidmore.