Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Full Review)

batman_v_superman_dawn_of_justice_ver8Forget the ‘v’ for versus, the idea of having Batman and Superman, two of the most iconic superheroes in all of pop culture, on the big screen together for the first time is enough to make even the tiniest of action movie fans giddy. As for me, you don’t have to know me, personally, to know who I side with. Simply skim through my favorite superhero movies and the love for the Dark Knight becomes pretty apparent. As for the overpowered Superman, my feelings toward him have always been the exact opposite. I respect the character, but I’ve always found him boring. That being said, I am on the side that thoroughly enjoyed Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. While most found its story dry and its action over the top, I appreciated the story’s ability to make Superman relatively relatable and I enjoyed the Dragon Ball Z-esque action sequences. So, needless to say, I was incredibly excited to see Snyder step into the director’s chair again as DC Comics attempts to create a cinematic universe akin to their rivals over at Marvel.

If you aren’t as familiar with the various comics as I am, then you’re probably unaware that Batman and Superman have always had a rocky relationship usually stemming from their conflicting styles: Superman, the boy scout and Batman, the fear mongering aggressor. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice sews the seeds of that conflict early by placing Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) at ground zero of Metropolis during the climactic battle from Man of Steel as buildings are destroyed and countless people are killed in the crossfire. From there, the world splits between people like Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) who either love or worship Superman (Henry Cavill), and the people like Bruce Wayne or Metropolis billionaire Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) who fear his power or loathe him for his constant collateral damage.

For starters, put your worries of Ben Affleck’s Batman aside. He is good, albeit brutal, in his portrayal of a weary and war torn Bruce Wayne. Good enough to warrant another solo Batman outing. The action sequences featuring the caped crusader are some of the best in the movie, and I’m not just saying that because of my obvious bias. Jeremy Irons is also a fantastic addition as Wayne’s butler, Alfred. Even the Dawn of Justice elements are not as shoe horned as some might have anticipated. Gal Gadot provides a perfect appetizer for the Wonder Woman character that will be expanded upon in future films.

Now let’s address what doesn’t work. I gave Snyder a pass for his pacing issues in Man of Steel, but here they are even more glaring. From the opening sequence that reminds us of Batman’s origin it is clearly evident that we are watching a Zack Snyder movie thanks to operatic music and overkill on slow motion graphics. There are seven live-action Batman movies in existence (eight if your’re counting this), not to mention countless animated films, television shows, and video games. Do we really need a long opening montage to remind us of the hero’s origin? Things like this coupled with some dragging scenes regarding Lois Lane researching a stray bullet, could’ve been noticeably shortened or cut to make the film less than three hours and make it feel less sluggish. The movie attempts to break the dragging tone with Jesse Eisenberg’s quirky portrayal of Lex Luthor, which mostly misses with the exception of one or two really riveting moments.

But pacing isn’t the biggest problem with the movie. My biggest gripe is the one fans and casual movie goers will likely have as opposed to film critics, and that is the relative false advertising. Instead of calling the movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it should be called “The Philosophy of Superman’s Existence… featuring Batman… with a few Justice League Cameos”. Instead of focusing on the conflicting nature of the two iconic heroes and highlighting their greatest strengths and flaws, the movie meanders through its first half while wallowing in its own philosophical ideals. Sure, several excellent points are raised thanks to some great quotes from Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch and some solid banter between Clark Kent and his boss, Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), but that’s not what the studio spent two years marketing to potential audiences.

We were told that it would be, as Lex Luthor puts it, “God vs. Man. Day vs. Night. Son of Krypton vs. Bat of Gotham”. Yet, when the fight finally does come around, it goes by too fast and its set up seems so forced that the film could almost exist without it altogether. And because of that, even though the last act is full of eye popping action, it seems so thrown together that it isn’t quite enough to justify the weight of the buildup.

It isn’t quite fair to compare this film, or any DC film, to what Marvel has built. DC is attempting a more serious tone to establish a unique feel and there is nothing wrong with that. But if you’re going to be gloomy, wake us up here and there with some action (ala Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy). And if you’re going to have action, give it more purpose. Otherwise you end up with a film like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a movie so hell bent on being thought provokingly serious that it doesn’t stop to appreciate its iconic heroes and revel in the fact that we’re watching a fantasy. There are some great shoutouts to classic DC Comics and the hints at things to come should give purists hope for DC’s cinematic future. But a movie featuring arguably the most popular superheroes of all time deserves better than sub-par.

FINAL GRADE: C-

The Divergent Series: Allegiant (Full Review)

Divergent was, by no means, a groundbreaking achievement in film. But, I at least felt entertained despite its sloppy plot and meager production value. Last year’s sequel, Insurgent, managed to up the ante on the special effects front, but its plot was twice as incoherent as its predecessors’. So after a proverbial dud of a sequel, this young adult book trilogy turned film series has nowhere to go but up. Or so it seemed.

AllegiantfilmposterAllegiant picks up where Insurgent left off. With the faction system now toppled, Divergent hero, Tris (Shailene Woodley), tough guy boyfriend, Four (Theo James) and their friends are now desperate to leave ruined Chicago and to explore the unknown world that lies beyond the massive wall that surrounds the city. With Four’s mother (Naomi Watts) desperate to cease power, Tris and company decide to stage a daring (and rather dumb) plan to sneak out. Once beyond the wall, they discover the technologically advanced world responsible for their city and must convince its bureaucratic leader (Jeff Daniels) to prevent Chicago from tearing itself apart.

As far as plot’s go, this film is much easier to follow than Insurgent, but newcomers will still be totally lost if they haven’t brushed up on the first two films. And, unlike with the previous installment, there is actually a story that furthers the development of characters and the overall tone and message of the series. The problem is, the execution is virtually nonexistent.

I haven’t read the books, so I can’t tell if the script or source material is responsible for doing such a poor job of structuring what should be a decent story. Some characters are underutilized or killed off before you can even remember what purpose they served. Then there are the primary antagonists, who are either flat out dumb or spend the entire movie making unintelligent decisions that contradict how intelligent they are supposed to be. We’re supposed to believe Jeff Daniels’ villain, David, has been watching Tris and knows everything about her, and yet his overall plan involves hoping this rebellious teen conforms and doesn’t ask the simplest of questions? And he isn’t the only character that does dumb things. Through two previous films we’ve learned that Miles Teller’s character, Peter, is a double crossing sleaze, and yet at every turn the protagonists seem to go out of their way to ignore this fact and land everyone in deeper trouble because of it.

Allegiant isn’t quite as droll as Insurgent, but it is bad for entirely new, avoidable reasons. It doesn’t help that the film feels the impact of Insurgent’s financial flop. Shoddy CGI and a few segments of noticeable green screen make the movie look cringe worthy in certain spots. So, if you’re looking for a poorly rendered, poorly executed young adult science fiction movie to sit through until Batman v Superman drops, look no further. Otherwise, save your money and wait a few days.

FINAL GRADE: D+

10 Cloverfield Lane (Full Review)

2008’s Cloverfield is a bit of a polarizing film. Some found the filmmaking style nauseating and the story underwhelming after the massive build up. Others thought the movie was a creatively intense thriller. Regardless of how you felt about J.J. Abrams’ monster feature, you can throw all memories of it out of your brain for 10 Cloverfield Lane, because aside from a mysterious marketing campaign and a few tiny easter eggs embedded for purists, the two have almost nothing in common.

10_Cloverfield_Lane10 Cloverfield Lane, produced by J.J. Abrams and directed by feature film newcomer Dan Trachtenberg, stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michele, a girl who gets into a car accident after getting into a fight with her boyfriend on the same night as an apparent attack on U.S. soil. When she regains consciousness, she has seemingly been taken hostage by Howard (John Goodman), a conspiracy theorist who believes aliens have attacked. Howard refuses to let Michelle and his stowaway neighbor, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), leave the bunker for fear of nuclear exposure, but the longer they’re down there, the more they begin to question Howard’s sanity and the truth of what really happened above ground.

Kudos to J.J. Abrams and Trachtenberg for crafting a simplistic film around a very intriguing idea. Taking place mostly in an underground, three room bunker, 10 Cloverfield Lane relies less on visuals and more on gripping performances. It helps when you have someone like John Goodman. His performance as Howard steals the show and it’s what makes the movie feel as eerie and as suspenseful as it wants to be. Winstead and Gallagher Jr. are certainly no slouches either, both managing to pull their emotional weight and play well off of Goodman’s magnetic performance.

If there’s fault to be found with the movie, it is that it lasts too long. No, it isn’t a lengthy movie, and it actually felt relatively shorter than its listed 103 minute run time. But there’s a point in the film, that I won’t spoil, where the movie could’ve ended and savored its perfect tone. Instead, it goes on for about 15 more minutes and turns into a movie of an entirely different genre even though the plot twist has clearly been realized. And that’s a shame, because those last few minutes make you leave talking about the unusual and unfitting climax instead of about the exhilarating performances.

FINAL GRADE: B+

Gods of Egypt (Full Review)

What if I told you, that Gerard Butler trouncing around as an Ancient North African mythological God whilst speaking with his normal Scottish accent isn’t remotely the worst thing about Gods of Egypt? Sure, it’s a sloppy detail that makes the filmmakers seem incredibly dense, but a racially accurate cast is far from the element needed to make Gods of Egypt watchable. Like 2014’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, this movie is dead on arrival mostly due to a poorly written script and lackluster direction.

Gods_of_Egypt_posterThe film tells the story of a power struggle between Set (Butler), vengeful God of the desert, and his nephew Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), God of the Sky. After Set kills Horus’ father and takes Horus’ eyes, he overtakes Egypt and begins his mission to rule all of the world’s realms. After stealing back one of Horus’ eyes, mortal thief Bek (Brenton Thwaites) reluctantly joins Horus on a quest to save the love of his life, Zaya (Courtney Eaton) and take back Egypt from Set.
The plot seems decent enough to carry out a movie with at least the competence of a film like Clash of the Titans. And yet, this movie manages to be chocked full of as many plot holes as action sequences. For instance; despite having an army that is about a tenth of Egypt’s population and despite being outnumbered by God’s who don’t support him, Set manages to overtake Egypt without the slightest hint of difficulty. There are also rules established by the film, like Horus needing both of his eyes for flight, that are repeatedly and conveniently thrown aside to further the film’s plot. Combine that with dumb elements like the God of the Sun (Geoffrey Rush) battling a giant Space worm, and this movie feels like it’s been written by a 9 year old with each passing second.
There is some clever dialogue thrown in that manages to make the film go from atrocious to so-bad-it’s-funny territory, and that may be the movie’s only saving grace. The fact that the film is poorly cast, filled with hardly relevant/unlikable characters that do idiotic things, and is about 30 minutes too long all make for an unpleasant overall experience. And if you’re looking for decent special effects, look elsewhere. The CGI seems at least 10 years behind it’s time more often than not.
FINAL GRADE: D

Disney’s Zootopia (Full Review)

There are a multitude of animated family films that come out each year. Most of the time, these films are filled with whimsical characters and goofy slapstick that are more than enough to entertain young children for an hour and a half. But at least two or three times a year, the producers of these family films like to bless us with a movie than transcends the simple entertainment factor of the genre to deliver stories that are both enjoyable for all ages as well as thought provoking. Zootopia, Disney’s newest animated feature, is one of those films.

ZootopiaZootopia takes place in a world where anthropomorphic animals live the lives of everyday humans. Small-town bunny, Judy Hopper (Ginnifer Goodwin) has dreams of being the world’s first bunny cop and refuses to let her size, her supportive but fearful parents, or her grumpy bison police chief (Idris Elba) stand in her way. When animals start disappearing in the big city of Zootopia, Judy takes it upon herself to crack the case. But to do so, she’ll need the help of  street hustling fox, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman).
The film’s animation is absolutely gorgeous, which should be no surprise for a Disney film. But the different environments, from the frozen tundra to the rainforests, are especially breathtaking in 3D. The film also manages to successfully strike the comedy chord. Goodwin and Bateman have phenomenal chemistry as Judy and Nick, while Nate Torrence is clumsily lovable as Zootopia Police desk attendant, Clawhauser.
But flawless animation coupled with sight gags and some clever, well timed movie references aren’t the reason Zootopia is an absolute must see. Instead, it is undoubtedly the timely references to racial prejudices. Throughout the film, the story manages to infuse this message within its comedic kid-like tone. There is no mention of black, white, asian, or hispanic. Instead, animals of Zootopia must learn to overcome their pre-conceived notions of smaller animals. But the lions and rhinos of Zootopia aren’t the only animals with prejudices to overcome. Tiny critters like Judy have to learn that being a fox doesn’t make someone sly or mischievous, and being a predator doesn’t make an animal vicious and cruel.
This important message is incredibly vital for all children as they navigate a constantly changing world. What better way than in a thrilling family mystery that manages to make audiences laugh as well as keep them guessing. Disney has hit the high mark too many times to count, but with Zootopia, they’ve managed to create an incredibly fun masterpiece that should stand the test of time as both entertainment and culturally relevant.
FINAL GRADE: A