Batman v. Superman Dawn of Justice – First Thoughts (spoilerish)

I saw Batman v. Superman Tuesday night. I normally wait until I have the DVD and can pause the movie while its playing, write down quotes, etc, before writing a review – but several of my friends on Facebook have asked for my thoughts, so here it goes – based on one viewing.

Overall – I liked it, but I have quibbles. Two of the quibbles were rather important – Ben Affleck (didn’t like him, more below) and the director (Dear Warner Brothers – Can we please fire Zack Synder? Please?) But there were also good things, and overall, taken all together, not only was the movie not as bad as I’d expected from the fannish rumbling and even critical backlash I’d heard even while trying to ignore spoilers, As I said, overall I liked it.

So – starting with the good:

I loved, loved, loved Wonder Woman (Diana Prince) – and I loved that she was a mysterious woman. We really don’t know who she is at first, and I liked that surprise factor. And she kicked butt during the fight sequences. I loved that. Plus her New 52-inspired armor actually worked for me.

I also really liked that the two “hero women” in the film were in a very real sense – the only ones with brains (we’ll get to that). Lois Lane and Diana Prince were the only people who knew what was going on. And they seemed to be at times the only ones with common sense.

Lex Luthor – omg, Lex Luthor. I never thought I’d be excited by Lex, he’s always bored me, other than his rather obvious direct parallels to real world politicians and businessmen. We’ve seen Lex as a buffoon, as a sociopath, and as cold unemotional b*****d, and even as president of the US – but I have never seen Lex Luthor as totally bonkers. Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex is completely and totally nuts – and even people other than Superman seem to realize it. Eisenberg plays Lex like he’s The Joker – and I liked it. It was very different, and it was interesting. Possibly in the Chinese sense (May you live in interesting times – the old Chinese curse) but wow. That was pretty much amazing.

I also liked that the film started with a different view of the battle from the end of Man of Steel. Seeing the same events from a different perspective was a cool way to start the film. And it should have set-up why Bruce was, um, concerned, to say the least about Superman.

I also loved the sneak peaks into the other “meta-humans”. But I refuse to spoil that by going into details.

Okay – now on to the bad.

Ben Affleck – from the beginning, the very beginning, I questioned this casting choice. And Affleck sank the last superhero movie he was in (2002’s Dare Devil), but I reserved judgement until I saw it. And Affleck was so bad as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Just awful. His grizzled look, heavy armor, and throaty voice reminded me of The Dark Knight Returns – both the graphic novel and the two-part animated film. But whereas it works, both as costume design and by the actor (Peter Weller) in The Dark Knight Returns it definitely does not work – at all – in Batman v. Superman. This film is supposed to be setting up the Justice League – so Batman should be young and relatively new to crime fighting. He definitely should not be old, cynical, gruff, rough and tumble, and grizzled. It was just wrong. I also hated seeing Batman using guns. Batman doesn’t use guns. It’s one of his major principles. Having Batman using guns, beating criminals to a pulp, and even branding them – that makes him into the criminal those who do not know the canon always accuse the character of being. Heroes need to be heroic or they aren’t heroes.

Bruce Wayne’s cynical outlook and utter lack of trust, especially of Superman, just didn’t really play either.

And since when did Bruce start having apocalyptical visions of the future? Can someone explain that entire thread in the film to me? Because it made no sense.

The other big problem was the director. At this point, I’m thinking Zack Snyder needs to have his directing license pulled. His ADHD hyperactive directing style is counter-productive. I found I was just starting to get involved in a story thread – when Snyder would change focus, completely. Action is completely meaningless if you don’t care about the characters – and Snyder directs in such a way it’s like he’s afraid of character and actual meaning. Good characters, meaning – that’s basic to what makes a film work. You have to care about the characters and have empathy for them. Characters drive the story – that doesn’t make it “boring”, it makes good film. Action sequences centered on characters we actually care about always work better that action that’s simply there to blow stuff up. And the sad part is, Snyder’s such as bad director he could sink the entire DC Comics movie line before it gets started. If Batman v. Superman Dawn of Justice has poor box office results – Warner’s could sink the whole line as “not profitable”.

OK – and on to the fan wank. Do Superman and Batman actually duke it out? Yes, they do. But what did I think of that scene? I was angry and annoyed. All Superman had to say was five words. Five words. He’s the bloody man of steel and he can’t get out five words because he’s either too dumb or too busy? Come on! That is not good action or good drama – it’s a bad excuse for a fight. And, in the end, it’s Lois who points out the truth to Batman. Though it was nice to see Lois being proactive for a change – that whole big fight scene just… well, it got my blood boiling. (Also, not spoiling what Superman just needed to say, because: major plot point, send me a message or comment below if you want to know.)

OK, finally, nice, not quite subtle point about how people treat Superman – as a hero, then as someone to fear, then as someone who’s “alien”, then as a saviour again. I actually liked that bit.

Overall, I’d say – go see Batman v. Superman Dawn of Justice. It’s worth two and half hours of your time. And it’s the necessary prequel to Wonder Woman, Aquaman, etc, which I have high hopes for. I will be getting the DVD or Blu-Ray and posting a full review then.

UPDATED: 4/3/2016 to fix typos.

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Man of Steel

  • Title: Man of Steel
  • Director: Zack Snyder
  • Date: 2013
  • Studio: Warner Brothers
  • Genre: Fantasy, Action, SF
  • Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Kevin Cosner, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Laurence Fishborne, Christopher Meloni, Michael Shannon
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: NTSC, Region 1

“Can’t I just keep pretending I’m your son?” – Young Clark Kent
“You are my son. [long pause] But somewhere out there you have another father too, who gave you another name.  And he sent you here for a reason, Clark. And even if it takes you the rest of your life you owe it to yourself to find out what that reason is.” — Jonathan Kent

“For 100, 000 years our civilization flourished, accomplishing wonders.” – Jor-El
“What happened?” – Clark
“Artificial population control was established, the outposts and space exploration were abandoned. We exhausted our natural resources, as a result our planet’s core became unstable. Eventually our military leader, General Zod, attempted a coup, but by then it was too late.” – Jor-El

“The people of Earth are different from us, it’s true. But, ultimately, I believe that is a good thing. They won’t necessarily make the same mistakes we did, not if you guide them, Kal. Not if you give them hope. That’s what this symbol means.  The symbol of the House of El means hope. Embodied in that hope is the potential of every person to be a force for good. That’s what you can bring them.” – Jor-El

Man of Steel starts on Krypton with Jor-El and Lara insuring the survival of their son, when their planet is about to be destroyed. The background on Krypton, and the exact means of its destruction will also be expanded upon, during encounters between an AI hologram of Jor-El and others – including Clark, Lois Lane, and even General Zod. But I’m getting ahead of myself. After introducing us to Jor-El, Lara, the Kryptonian government Council, and Zod and his coup – which fails, as well as the launch’s escape from Krypton and Krypton’s destruction – Man of Steel actually skips forward quite a bit.

We see a lobster harvesting ship, and a young man everyone calls “Greenhorn”. Only from the film’s trailers do we realize this is Clark Kent. The ship receives an SOS from an burning oil rig. When they arrive, the Coast Guard has declared the rig a lost cause and the lobster ship’s captain says the guys inside are dead already. Clark leaps into the water, gets the men to the rig’s deck that’s still somewhat free of flames, and they are rescued by the Coast Guard. Clark ends up falling into the water below the flames.

The film flashes back to Clark being overwhelmed by his senses as school. His mom helps him to focus.

The film flashes forward to Clark – he’s awakened below water by whale song, then gets to shore and borrows some dry clothes.

The film flashes back to a slightly older Clark on a school bus, where he’s being bullied and taunted by school-mates. The bus tire blows out, loses control, goes through a guide-rail and lands in a river. Clark pushes open the back door, then lifts the bus to safety on the shore. Some of the kids have seen what happened.

One of the parents confronts the Kents. Jonathan Kent tells Clark he can’t use his powers. He shows Clark the space ship and gives the S-shield key to Clark. He explains that Clark has another father out there, somewhere, who sent Clark to Earth for a reason, and Clark should strive to find out who his father was and what the reason may be.

The film flashes back to the present. In a rough and tumble bar, one of the oil workers harasses a waitress.  Clark tells him to stop it. The customer throws a beer in Clark’s face and taunts him. The waitress tells Clark it’s not worth it. Clark walks off. The guy throws a can at him and hits him in the head.

Clark walks down a highway, carrying a bag, and hitch-hiking.

Lois shows up to investigate an “anomaly”.

Clark finds a Kryptonian ship buried in ice that’s over eighteen thousand years old. He uses the S-shield key to deactivate the automatic security system. The key is an command key. Lois also follows Clark and gets attacked by the security system – Clark uses his heat vision to cauterize her wounds.

The ship departs. Lois narrates her story but Perry won’t print it. She gives the story to a conspiracy theorist website.

Meanwhile, Clark meets an Artificial Intelligence-hologram of his father, Jor-El. Jor-El gives his son, Kal-El a lesson in Kyptonian history. They had expanded across the galaxy, built outposts, even terraformed planets. Then the empire withdrew back to Krypton, abandoned its outposts and space exploration, began using genetic engineering to predetermine everyone’s role in society, and eventually exhausted Krypton’s resources. This lead to mining of Krypton’s core, which caused the core to collapse and the planet to explode.

Jor-El and his wife Lara sought a different path. They risked much to have a natural birth, the first in generations, and when Krypton’s doom was nigh, they put Kal-El in a spaceship with the Codex of Krypton’s citizens and sent the ship off, towards Earth.

The film flashes back to a teen-aged Clark, who wants to be something greater, something more than a Kansas farmer, like Jonathan Kent. He’s arguing with his father, when a tornado hits on the freeway. Thanks to Jonathan’s actions, most everyone gets to shelter, but he, himself, ends up trapped in a car (after freeing their dog). Clark goes to rescue Jonathan, but Jonathan yells at him to stay with his mother.

Clark goes home to visit his mother.

General Zod shows up and gives Earth an Ultimatum – turn over Kal-El or face the consequences.

Another flashback, as Clark remembers being bullied and conversations with his Dad about not reacting to the bully.

Back in the “present”, Clark turns up at an army or air force base, and offers to surrender if he can speak to Lois and if the military guarantees her freedom.

There’s another flashback/dream sequence of Zod’s history. Zod explains how the destruction of Krypton released him and his fellow insurgents from the Phantom Zone. They retrofit a ship with hyperdrive and search for Kal-El.  Not finding anything on Krypton’s old outposts for thirty-three years, they pick up a signal from the scout ship that was sent automatically when Clark entered it. Zod’s plan is to take the Codex and then use a World Engine to terraform Earth into New Krypton. This will, of course, destroy every living thing on Earth.

Lois and Clark are taken by Zod, and put in cells on Zod’s ship. They are tortured and experimented upon. Lois, however, has the command key – and when she uses it, Jor-El appears to her and guides her through what she has to do.

Clark manages to escape from Zod’s ship, and rescues Lois – who’s escape pod has been hit by weapons fire and is spiraling out of control towards the ground. But Clark rescues her. Zod, his female lieutenant, and his other cronies attack Martha Kent and do considerable damage to her house. Clark and Zod have a show down on main street.  But before they can re-play High Noon, the military arrives and in trying to shut down Zod and company make things worse.

There’s a massive battle between Zod, Superman, Zod’s lieutenant, the military, and Zod’s forces. Needless to say, Smallville, Kansas doesn’t fair well. Eventually, Zod and company leave.

But, Zod orders the release of the World Engine. Having discovered that Jor-El bonded the Codex to Clark’s cells – and that it’s recoverable whether Clark is alive or dead, Zod will use his machine to terraform Earth into New Krypton, kill everything on the planet, and take the Codex from Clark’s corpse.

Lois and Clark bring his capsule ship to the army, and he, Lois and Col. Hardy explain how the capsule can be used to destroy Zod’s ship. Superman will go to the second site and destroy the other half of the World Engine terraforming machine in the Indian Ocean.

The plan basically works, though Zod survives and Clark has to fight him. Eventually, Superman kills Zod.

I thought Man of Steel  was better on second viewing, than when I first saw it in the theater last Spring or Summer. The film works best in it’s quite moments – Lara and Jor-El on Krypton trying to save their child, Clark talking to his father – Jonathan Kent, and Clark learning from his other father – Jor-El. But, at times, some of the action sequences seem overblown and thus almost boring. They can just be too much and too long. I also found the constant flash backs and flash forwards to be somewhat distracting. Not that I never knew “when” I was – that was perfectly clear, but I think the film would have worked better if it was presented in chronological order, or largely chronological with only the tiniest of shots back to scenes we had already seen. I think it would have made Clark a stronger and more interesting character, and the audience would have been able to follow his journey – and route for him more. I also think some of the action sequences could have been trimmed a bit, there’s only so much CGI of collapsing buildings and flying cars that one can take. The cast was good. Henry Cavill made for a more vulnerable take on Clark Kent, and the surrounding cast of experienced actors made the film work. Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, and Kevin Cosner were all brilliant as Clark’s parents.

Recommendation: See It
Rating: 3.5 to 4 Stars
Next Film: Not sure, probably Star Trek: Into Darkness.

Stardust

  • Title:  Stardust
  • Director:  Matthew Vaughn
  • Date:  2007
  • Studio:  Paramount Pictures
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Romance, Comedy
  • Cast:  Claire Danes, Charlie Cox, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert DeNiro, Mark Strong, Peter O’Toole, Ricky Gervais, Henry Cavill
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Nothing says romance like the gift of a kidnapped, injured woman!” — Yvaine

“I admire you dreaming.  Shop boy like me, I could never have imagined an adventure this big in order to have wished for it.”  — Tristan

“You know when I said I knew little about love?  Well, that wasn’t true.  I know a lot about love, I’ve seen it.  I’ve seen centuries and centuries of  it. And it was the only thing that made watching your world bearable.  All those wars.  Pain and lies.  Hate. Made me want to turn away and never look down again.  But to see the way that mankind loves…  I mean, you could search the furthest reaches of the universe and never find anything more beautiful.”  — Yvaine

Stardust reminds me of The Princess Bride, at times.  It is a very funny, enjoyable fantasy film, filled with romance in both senses of the word.  The film begins in the Victorian village of Wall, so named because of the brick wall separating the town from the nearby forest.  Part of  the wall has a hole in it, it’s fallen down, and this place is guarded day and night – no one crosses the wall.

One day a young man, out for adventure, crosses the wall.  There he meets a young woman, slave to a female merchant.  The young woman tells him she is a princess, tricked to be slave to a witch.  He cuts the silver cord binding her to the merchant’s wagon, but the cord grows back and re-seals itself.  The young man and the woman spend the night together, and the young man returns to Wall.

Nine months later, a baby appears on the now older man’s doorstep.  The story skips ahead again, and the baby is now a young man, Tristan.  Tristan is not a very successful young man in the traditional sense, but he works in a local shop and has fallen for Victoria.  His rival for Victoria’s hand is Humphrey, an upper-class fop, but nevertheless someone Victoria sees as a better catch.  Tristan convinces Victoria to go with him on a picnic.  He treats her to champagne (a new experience for Victoria) and rich foods.  Tristan tries to convince Victoria to accept his hand in marriage.  Learning that Humphrey is going “all the way to Ipswich” to buy Victoria a ring, Tristan vows to go to London to make his fortune. Then a star falls.  Tristan tells Victoria he will bring her the star, to win her hand.

Later, Tristan talks to his father, who tells him of his true origins, gives him a letter from his mother, which is wrapped in a candle.  The letter says the “fastest way to travel is by candlelight”.  Father and son light the candle and Tristan disappears.

Tristan lands in a crater.  At the center of  the crater is a beautiful blond woman, Yvaine, the star.  Tristan ties her to him with the piece of magical cord that was also in the baby basket, and intends to bring her back to Wall.  They begin a series of  adventures.

Meanwhile, the King of Stormhold (the magical kingdom beyond Wall) is dying.  He has seven sons, but three are already dead.  A fourth is killed, as the King deactivates his royal ruby necklace and throws it out the palace window.  It was this necklace that knocked Yvaine out of  the sky, and which she found and placed around her neck.  The ghosts of the dead princes, form a “peanut gallery” making comment and even fun of the actions of the living remaining princes.  The princes are also all named by their number: Primus, Secundus, Tertius, et cetera all the way to Septimus.  Septimus (Mark Strong) quickly dispatches one brother, and then Secundus is killed by a wicked witch.  So it’s Septimus who becomes the main villian, pursuing Tristan and Yvaine.

The other villains are three witches, who want to capture Yvaine and cut out her heart – for eating the heart of a star conveys eternal youth and life (though using magic uses up this “star power”).  Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) is the witch who eats the last of their previous star’s heart, becoming youthful, and goes in search of Yvaine.  Each time she uses her magic, she loses some of her youth and beauty… becoming old and wretched by the conclusion of the film.

Thus Tristan and Yvaine are pursued by two groups:  Septimus because he wants his father’s ruby necklace so he can become king, and Lamia because she wants Yvaine herself to kill her for her heart. Tristan thinks that he wants to bring Yvaine to Victoria, and thus win her heart with his gift.

The film thus follows the path of each of these three small groups.  And it is beautifully shot, in gorgeous countryside, with great costumes and sets, competent effects, and good storytelling.

After meeting a group of pirates, lead by Captain Shakespeare (Robert De Niro) and their flying galleon, which captures lightening to sell, Tristan and Yvaine fall in love.  They leave the ship, have more adventures, and finally reach an Inn near Wall.  They spend the night together at the Inn.  Tristan wakes early, the next day, cuts off a piece of Yvaine’s hair and goes to see Victoria in Wall.  He speaks with Victoria, gives her his gift, but she rejects it as “worthless”.  Humphrey arrives, but Tristan scares him off with the swordplay he learned from Capt. Shakespeare.  Victoria they opens her gift, but is dismayed that it’s “mere stardust”.  Tristan, who’s already rejected Victoria because he loves Yvaine (he’d only gone there to lord it over her how successful he now was) realises that if Yvaine follows him across the wall, she’ll die.  He races back to stop her.  But everyone else is proceeding to the Wall too.  Septimus is there to take the ruby necklace from Yvaine.  Ditchwater Sal is there with her servant girl (who is really Tristan’s mother and Septimus’s sister), and Lamia is there as well.  Lamia attacks and kills Ditchwater Sal, freeing Tristan’s mother, but she captures Yvaine (thus accidentally saving her life, because she does prevent her from crossing the wall).  Tristan arrives after the battle of the two witches, as does Septimus, and they both head for the witches’ palace.

There, in a fantastic battle, Septimus is killed by Lamia; but Lamia’s two sisters are killed by Tristan. Lamia uses Septimus’s body as a sort of golem to fight Tristan.  Tristan finally manages to defeat him, frees Yvaine, and is nearly tricked and killed by Lamia.  However, his mother steps in, fills in Yvaine and Tristan as to who he is, and in the end, Lamia is defeated.  Tristan becomes the new king of Stronghold, with Yvaine ruling by his side.

Stardust is a wonderful film — fun, imaginative (as one would expect since it’s based on a Neil Gaiman novel), full of humor, magic, close calls, escapes, etc.  The peanut gallery of the ghosts of dead princes add a twisted, dark humor to the piece.  Again, the film is based on a novel by Neal Gaiman, so one would expect that.  All the actors are fantastic!  Robert De Niro plays decidedly against type, as a tough pirate captain, who is much happier helping Tristan and Yvaine to dress appropriately and teaching them both how to dance, and in Tristan’s case how to sword fight.  He’s very funny, yet sympathetic.  I highly recommend this film and I also think it’s very appropriate for children (aged, oh, about 10 or 12 and up), yet enjoyable for adults.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  Five out of  Five Stars
Next Film:  Star Trek (2009)