Tag: movies

Batman v. Superman is Awesome – the Critics are Wrong

Batman v. Superman poster

So the movie is out, reviews are in, and most critics agree that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is a bad movie. As of this writing it is currently holding a 30% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics calling it a “dour disappointment” and claiming that the creators of the film “managed to drain all the fun out of these characters and their world.”

Can it really be that bad?

No, it’s actually quite good, a visually stunning spectacle that delivers on its promise to bring together two of the most popular superheroes in the world for a fight that may decide the future of humanity. Zack Snyder remains a fantastic visual director, and Hans Zimmer’s score is electric. Ben Affleck does not disappoint as the Batman, there are Easter eggs aplenty to excite the comic book fans in the crowd, and the action sequences are wonderfully crafted.

So what went wrong? Why do so many critics say that this isn’t a movie worth seeing?

By now MARVEL Studios has trained the moviegoing audience to expect certain things from a superhero movie. (I say this as a fan of the MARVEL cinematic universe who just finished watching the second season of Daredevil and loved it.) MARVEL’s films tend to keep to a familiar formula and tone, and after a dozen of them we think we know what a superhero movie is supposed to be. (Even a genuinely lackluster MCU film like Thor: the Dark World ranks more than 60% on Rotten Tomatoes.) Most of the critics of Batman v. Superman are panning it for not being fun. And by “fun” they mean funny and lighthearted the way that MARVEL’s films are. To them, a serious superhero film is a contradiction.

Not that the film doesn’t suffer from being a little too dark and brooding. It does, but not as much as the critics would have you believe. The reason for this is probably that DC has learned over the years that their greatest critical and financial successes have come from telling darker stories (Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, their animated films, the Arkham video games…). Meanwhile, their attempts at lighter fare (such as the awful Green Lantern film) have not been as well loved, to put it mildly. The Dark Knight raked in over a billion dollars and they thought they knew what the audience wanted from their movies. It’s a misunderstanding that has haunted the current film version of Superman, who is consistently glum. Indeed, Superman is the one character that Snyder does not get at all.

Despite that, Batman v. Superman is a triumph of comic book inspired cinematic storytelling. To paraphrase another DC film, it may not be the movie we deserve, but it’s the one we need. MARVEL’s formula is beginning to show its cracks. As much as I enjoy them, I’m starting to walk out of the theater after seeing one with the feeling that I’ve seen that movie before. They are still fun, but they no longer feel special. Age of Ultron was a better film than the first Avengers movie, but it didn’t really give the audience anything they hadn’t seen before. The comic book movie craze is showing no signs of slowing down, but I find myself wanting something different. And Dawn of Justice delivers. It may not be a perfect film, but for every moment that falls short, another soars.

Batman v. Superman takes its heroes seriously. We get to see what it looks like when the gods come down from Heaven and make Earth their battleground. And even though this take on the popular characters is going to polarize fans, I give DC credit for daring to do something different with their familiar heroes. This Superman is not universally beloved by the world. He’s practically worshipped by some, and outright despised by others, and all his efforts to do good seem only to open the door to more tragedy. This Batman is not the bloodless ninja warrior from Nolan’s films. He’s grown old and bitter, even cruel. He’s so cynical that he’s not capable of seeing the goodness in someone like Superman. This Lex Luthor… is something we really haven’t seen before.

I love the character of Lex Luthor, and every on-screen portrayal of him has brought something new to the role. Gene Hackman gave us a charming but silly criminal mastermind. John Shea’s take on the character was a white collar criminal and romantic rival to Clark Kent. Kevin Spacey’s Lex was a darkly jealous supervillain. Michael Rosenbaum gave us the definitive Lex Luthor by portraying a noble young man who slowly lost his soul in exchange for power. We’ve seen the character from quite a few angles over the years, but Jesse Eisenberg’s plays the character with a manic intensity we haven’t seen before. His playful menace is hypnotic, and while fans seem divided over his performance, I was enthralled.

Even though the movie hums with new ideas, the hearts of these characters are still very much familiar territory. Even in a world that does not accept him as their friend, Superman is an awe-inspiring force of goodness with a very human core of love. Even though he’s let his life and home fall into complete disrepair, Batman is still out there saving the innocent and fighting the never ending battle. Even though he comes off as something of a goofball, Lex Luthor is still a genius who wields science as a weapon like one who would take on God himself.

I am excited to see where Zack Snyder and company take these characters in the upcoming Justice League film. Especially Superman. After that ending, there is a world of potential. For a hero like him, the sky is no limit.

 

Stray thoughts:

They sure took the criticisms of Man of Steel‘s wanton destruction to heart, didn’t they? Unfortunately I think they went too far. There were no less than three different instances of assuring the audience that areas where the film’s final villain was rampaging were depopulated, which made the whole affair feel a little too safe. You shouldn’t tell viewers, “Don’t worry, there’s no one around for the monster to hurt.”

Seeing Wonder Woman in action was a pleasure, and makes me excited to see what she does with her own movie next year. It’s taken a long time for comic books’ premiere heroine to get her own film, but if what we see here is any indication, the wait might just have been worth it.

Snyder’s Ultimate Edition director’s cut is supposed to be half an hour longer. I’m still not convinced a film with Superman in it needs an R-rated release, but I’m eager to see the definitive version of this movie.

The glimpse we see of the other Justice League characters was kind of cheap, but at least it didn’t distract from the main event of the film. I was wondering how they were going to fit Aquaman into this movie. Wonder Woman’s role felt natural, even if a bit tacked on, but any more would have been too much.

Hans Zimmer’s score is a super-power in itself. I love his twisted, broken Lex Luthor theme.

Now that I’ve seen the DCCU’s Batman, I’m twice as excited for Suicide Squad.

Deadpool and the Rewards of Showing the Fans some Love

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ Deadpool poster

Deadpool was as good a movie as I could have hoped for. Apparently I’m not alone in thinking so, as the film just took the number one spot at the Box Office for the second week running. But what struck me, even more than the wild financial success and the positive reviews, is the overwhelming enthusiasm and ownership that the fans have shown the film all the way through its production.

This enthusiasm has pulled the film from anger at the way the character ended up realized in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, through the leaked test footage that led to the character’s film reboot, to the triumph of the final product. In an era where we are being offered countless comic book adaptations to choose from, the value of the momentum that fan excitement brings a film can’t be overestimated. The lack of such momentum helped to kill the recent Fantastic Four reboot in its cradle.

It’s worth comparing how the two movies treated the fans’ outcries. In the case of Deadpool, the initial reaction to the way the character appeared in Wolverine wasn’t immediately heeded. It wasn’t until the test footage was leaked and fans had the opportunity to display an overwhelming support for a different vision that the powers that be saw that there might be value in giving fans what they wanted. The decision to make the film Rated-R, and use that as part of the marketing, was a risk, but like the initial test footage itself, it was met with overwhelming support by the fans. They had a sense that the film was being made for them. In the case of Fantastic Four, decisions such as the reimagining of Doctor Doom left fans with the sense that the movie wasn’t interested in bringing the characters they loved to life, and when their complaints were ignored, the message the fans received was that this wasn’t a movie that was being made for them. At no point in production did the filmmakers do anything to assuage their concerns, and when the trailer finally hit the Internet, it didn’t offer anything special. Added to this were persistent rumors that  In the end, the movie never had a chance.

The success of Deadpool (or any film) can rarely be credited to a single factor. A lot goes into making a movie. And I don’t believe that the R rating had much to do with it. The fact that it was a comedy, a superhero movie in an established film universe, and starred a charismatic actor all helped to make it what it was. But the momentum that the fans gave it at every turn in its production made sure that it landed with an audience that already considered it their own.

That’s the lesson I hope that production companies take to heart. It’s not the sex scenes and the gore that made Deadpool a success. The R rating wasn’t the thing that made the difference (or else films like Watchmen and Kick-Ass might have done better at the Box Office). It was that the online community felt at every stage that the filmmakers were being true to the character and giving them the film they wanted. They felt like the movie was their own even before they saw it… so they went and saw it. Deadpool wasn’t nearly as famous as the Fantastic Four (though if he’s not by now, he soon will be). He doesn’t have any villains that are of the caliber of Doctor Doom. But the fans embraced him as their own and rejected a team of superheroes that they grew up with because they knew they weren’t going to be the characters they grew up with. The superhero craze is not dying down any time soon. Every year more heroes enter the fray, on television and film both, and rake in hundreds of millions of dollars. Characters that almost no one had heard of before, such as the Guardians of the Galaxy and Jessica Jones, are now huge hits. In this world a production can’t afford to alienate its fans from the beginning, as Fantastic Four did. If Deadpool can teach us one lesson that can be applied safely to all the films that aren’t Deadpool, and don’t need swearing and nudity and ultraviolence, it’s that if the sea of superhero fans that are out there feel as though you are making the film for them, then you won’t need to try to convince them to watch it. Their hearts will already be in it.

7 Cool Horror Films to Watch This Halloween

Looking for something fun and spooky to watch this Halloween? These are my picks—and my reasons why they’re so awesome—for some of the most thrilling horror movies out there. Perfect for staying in on the night when the border between our world and the other side is at its thinnest. Here they are, in no particular order…

#1 – The Omen

ZZZZ The Omen creepy kid

This one is a classic, a suspense-filled masterpiece of 70’s cinema. It’s also one of the best examples of the Creepy Kid genre of horror films. The darkness that surrounds little Damien is palpable throughout the entire movie, from the moment his nanny commits suicide, all the way to the terrifying revelation in the graveyard. The movie also boasts one of the best decapitations in movie history. (You know… if you’re into that sort of thing…)

#2 – The Blair Witch Project

ZZZZ Blair Witch found footage

The film that singlehandedly popularized the “found footage” movie genre, The Blair Witch Project remains one of the best films of its kind. It’s low-budget, devoid of color, with few actors and a somewhat-vague mythology, but it remains effective. Much of the tension comes from watching the characters slowly start to panic as they realize the terrifying truth about their situation. Good luck walking in the woods alone right after watching this.

#3 – Tremors

ZZZZ Tremors monster movie

This list wouldn’t be complete without a good old-fashioned monster movie. Tremors is unique because most monster movies rely on darkness to instill the fear of the unknown in the viewer, but since the lethal sandworms attack from under the ground, it’s not necessary. Most of the movie takes place in broad daylight, and it’s still frightening. The danger is balanced with a healthy dose of comedy, making the movie great fun.

#4 – Kairo

ZZZZ Kairo Japanese horror

Ghosts are invading our world through the Internet. Japanese cinema has plenty of great horror films, but this one is my personal favorite, partly because of the philosophical undertones and themes of human connectedness in a world where so many of our relationships are online, and partly because of the brilliant slow unfolding of what is actually happening to the world at large. The threat seems undefinable at first, but as the number of characters in the background dwindles with each passing scene, it comes into frightening focus.

#5 – Poltergeist

ZZZZ Poltergeist ghost story

What is it with ghosts trying to reach us through our technology? This time they are talking to a little girl (resident Creepy Kid Carol Anne) through her television set. Like Tremors (and the next film on this list), the movie strikes the balance between terror and comedy. The family being haunted by these spirits is likable, so you actually care to see them survive. Even so, there are some truly iconic horror scenes here: the spooky tree, Carol Anne trapped in the TV, that horrible clown doll… moments that will stay with you long after the end credits roll.

#6 – John Dies at the End

ZZZZ John Dies at the End horror comedy

Extradimensional beings are trying to invade our reality, and only a pair of slackers that have been exposed to an alien drug called Soy Sauce can stop them. This film is based on the book by David Wong, one of my all-time favorite Fictioneers. Want to see someone attacked by a flying mustache? How about a drug trip that rewrites the past? A young woman open a door with the ghost of the hand she lost in an accident years ago? This movie has it all (and still manages to leave out over half of the things that happen in the book). It’s funny. It’s frightening. It’s awesome.

#7 – Event Horizon

ZZZZ Event horizon ghost ship

At its heart, Event Horizon is a story about a Ghost Ship. Only this one is in space. Lovecraftian Horror meets science fiction and Sam Neill gives a chilling performance as the architect of the damned vessel, Doctor Weir. Very Bad Things happened to the crew of the Event Horizon, and our crew of unfortunate souls are looking for answers. Rumor has it there’s an unedited copy of the massacre scene floating around somewhere on the Internet, but you can also just read the novelization of the film if you are morbidly curious. It’s suitably awful. But it’s Weir’s character arc and the way the ship messes with the minds of the crew that provide the real thrills here. Even in a distant future in which humankind is exploring the universe, the scariest place is still inside our own heads.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Teaser Feels Like Coming Home

Star Wars The Force Awakens

At last, Disney has released the first trailer for J.J. Abrams’ long-awaited Star Wars sequel. I have loved Star Wars since I was a kid, and was really hoping that the teaser would appeal to my nostalgia. Thankfully I was not disappointed. Behold. The camerawork and direction are noticeably different from previous films, and we don’t get to see any of the old cast, but the world that we get glimpses of in the trailer feels like Star Wars in a way that nothing else, not even the prequels, ever managed to capture. I expected Luke Skywalker to show up at any moment, look into the camera like Obi Wan Kenobi and say, “Hello there.” All my caution in my optimism was swept away when the music picked up and the Millenium Falcon took flight.

 

Wonder Woman’s New Costume Looks Pretty Cool

Sword instead of Lasso? It's gonna be the end of Man of Steel all over again.

Sword instead of Lasso? This is gonna be the end of Man of Steel all over again, isn’t it?

So, the new Wonder Woman was revealed at Comic Con, and it’s about what I expected. Her costume fits with the darker superhero world that Zack Snyder started in Man of Steel. I’m pretty excited about finally seeing the character on the big screen.

Of course, as the premiere comic book superheroine, it’s really a shame that her debut is going to be in a film that is going to be dominated by the characters of Batman and Superman (as it should be). She deserves her own film.

More than a decade of summer box offices ruled by costumed characters, and Wonder Woman still hasn’t managed to lasso a movie of her own. Worse, there’s not even a confirmed Wonder Woman film on the horizon (or really any female-lead superhero movie). Hopefully the success of action movies such as Lucy (which just beat The Rock’s Hercules at the box office) will make the studios realize that superheroines on film are not just something the audience wants, it’s something they’ll pay for.

Until then I’ll take what I can get. Popular big-screen comic book characters like Hit Girl and Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique are proving as compelling as their male companions, and often moreso. And while she may not have her own movie yet, Wonder Woman is coming to the big screen, and from the looks of it, dressed to kill.