Monday, 28 March 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

I wasn't as excited about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as most people who know me would probably have expected me to be. I think this is largely down to me getting older and not getting excited about upcoming films the way I used to. I do also think however that it was partly due to the fact that I didn't love 2013's Man of Steel, I'm not really a big Zak Snyder fan and, at least initially, I wasn't keen on the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman.

Gradually, as the release date approached, I became slightly more excited. In retrospect I think this was exactly the right amount of excitement for this film because Batman v Superman turned out to be a good, but not great, superhero film, worthy of moderate but not significant excitement. That said, I do not consider the film and its cast have been given the credit they are due.

Batman v Superman is 2 hours 31 long, in other words, long but not long for a superhero movie. The movie managed to keep me entertained for the whole of those 2 and a half hours and there were a variety of well-choreographed action sequences and cool special effects. Unlike many films of that length, there weren't any long periods where nothing happened, although that positive actually leads on to what I would say is the biggest negative of the film (which I will discuss later).

Probably the most interesting aspect of this film is the political element. The movie borrows many of its ideas from its source material, Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns which culminates in a battle between Superman and Batman. The reason for the conflict in Zak Snyder's film (and in the graphic novel to a similar extent) is the question, how can powerful vigilantes be allowed to run free in a modern democracy and in particular, the view that each of our two superheroes has of the other. Bruce fears Clark because he could destroy the entire planet just like that if he wanted to. Clark disapproves of Bruce's aggressive and merciless approach to the criminals he apprehends. The film cleverly manages to develop and justify these seemingly hypocritical attitudes of our two leads.

There are a decent number of action sequences in this film which can't be said for all superhero movies (*cough cough* Iron Man and Captain America). The eponymous showdown between the Bat of Gotham and the son of Krypton is pretty cool. I even found myself believing that Batman could stand a slim chance of beating Superman (OK, well, not being killed immediately by him).

That said (spoiler alert if you haven't seen all the trailers), when we come to the big battle between Batman and Superman and the real monster of the piece, what ensues feels very generic and familiar. The creature itself looks like someone has tried to merge the face of Michael Shannon's General Zod onto the cave troll from the Lord of the Rings. It's pure fisticuffs, eye lasers and lassoes with nothing particularly new or inventive.

It's not just the final battle that felt familiar either. Many of the scenes involving Bruce Wayne (especially the flashbacks to his tragic past) felt like Zak Snyder had watched Batman Begins and then re-shot it scene for scene except with Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Lauren Cohan as Thomas and Martha Wayne. 

The biggest weakness for Dawn of Justice was for me its haphazard editing and the way the film seemed to jump too quickly from scene to scene, often without any apparent segway. Particularly early on in the movie, there is a lot of cutting back and forth between different characters and settings. Very few scenes last for more than a couple of minutes. On top of this, there are a lot of dream sequences that appear at first to be real and, rather than having the dramatic effect sought, just served to confuse me and my film-viewing companion.

Although Batman v Superman had a number of issues, I think many of its critics are going to have to accept they have "egg on their face" because Ben Affleck as Batman was really good in this new superhero flick. Zak Snyder is no fan of subtlety and many of the scenes with Clark and Lois felt over-dramatic and a tad camp (not that that is completely out of place in this kind of film) but I thought Ben Affleck captured well the tortured, disillusioned character of Bruce Wayne in a very understated way, using the acting skills that made him so good in Gone Girl.

I did genuinely enjoy the movie and not only the political story and Ben Affleck as Batman. Henry Cavill essentially is Superman, Jesse Eisenberg is a decent Lex Luther and Gal Gadot is pretty cool in the few scenes we see of her as Wonder Woman. I have moderately high hopes now for the Justice League film.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016



The Merc with a Mouth has finally got his own feature-length film. Deadpool has been a long time in the making. Ryan Reynolds has been waiting to do a proper Deadpool movie since before 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine in which Reynolds first played the quick-mouthed anti-hero. X-Men Origins was less than well received and, whilst Reynolds showed  glimpses of a potentially strong performance as Wade Wilson, the film-makers for some reason decided to take away Deadpool's deadliest weapon: his mouth. 6 years later, Deadpool has been eagerly anticipated by nerds everywhere. After all this time, can it possibly live up to the hype?

For me the answer is a pretty strong "yes".

In a time where it seems like a new superhero movie is coming out every month, where the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and DC are battling it out to be the darkest, edgiest superhero franchise and where, on top of all that, Sony and Fox keep churning out films starring the Marvel heroes that they managed to bag before MCU got hold of them, it’s not so easy to produce a film starring spandex-clad warriors that feels fresh. Whilst it is perhaps "not as anarchic as it thinks it is" (to steal a phrase from Mark Kermode), Deadpool probably succeeds better than any other superhero movie (apart from Kick Ass if you count that) at giving us something different.

I'm sure you'll have heard already that Deadpool is not your average superhero.  The film-makers keep telling us this, critics keep telling us this and, in fact, the eponymous hero tells us himself on a number of occasions throughout Deadpool.  This is a superhero film that from start to finish throws epic gore and foul language at us, to the extent that one questions why it only has a 15 rating. The most odd (and most talked about) feature of this film however is the amount to which it breaks the fourth wall (i.e. winks at the audience). If you can't imagine how this works, think of anything you've seen Kevin Spacey in (OK, so maybe just American Beauty and House of Cards).

There are multiple references to Ryan Reynolds' career and the not-so-great success of his previous superhero outing, The Green Lantern. There are also, more unusually, multiple references to Hugh Jackman. I'm not so sure how much the latter counts as breaking the fourth wall but it didn't half make me laugh! Some people will inevitably find the film's constant referencing to its lead actor, limited budget and its place within the superhero movie universe incredibly annoying. I however think it worked very well and enjoyed a bit of a change. One of the moments that most made me laugh was a point in the film where I started to question a particularly contrived meet-up between Deadpool and the two X-Men we see in the film and, before I could finish my critical thought, Deadpool himself basically says "gosh, that's a bit contrived".

There are jokes aplenty in this film, not just in the fourth-wall breaking and this is a film which, if it makes you laugh once, it will keep you laughing from start to finish. Literally, the opening and closed credits are crammed with humour. And this is where the casting becomes so genius. Comedies are really where Ryan Reynolds comes into his own (Two Guys and a Girl, anyone?) and his sense of humour has always been highly sarcastic and childish. If you then take into account his face and body, Reynolds really was born to play this part. On top of that, you have Wade Wilson's best friend and geeky sidekick, played by T J Miller, who is one of my favourite comedic actors at the moment.

This film is far from perfect, don't get me wrong. There are some awesome action sequences (see car chase which is cleverly interspersed throughout the movie), but the film falls into the same trap that the first Captain America and all of the Iron-Man films fell into in that the final fight, the big finale, is a bit dull and generic. This may be partly due to the fact that the film's villain (evil bald British guy) is also a bit generic. Although to be fair, we are warned about this in the opening credits which name him as "A British Villain".

Another problem (if you can really call it that) with Deadpool is it's just not as "outside the box" as it likes to think it is. Wade's main goal is to get his life back on track so that he can get his gorgeous girlfriend back. The movie begins with an origin story and ends with the aforementioned battle between good and evil, Wade Wilson v the British Villain. And whilst Wade may be a bit of an anti-hero, at the end of the day he only kills and maims bad guys. He's clearly not a bad guy himself or Professor X wouldn't keep trying to recruit him.

Yes, Deadpool is not perhaps the daring, rebellious movie it was set up to be and there are some points where improvements could be made, but all in all, this is a very funny, very entertaining film with a great lead actor and I eagerly anticipate Deadpool 2!

P.s. I just have to mention the bit with the hand. Love it! You'll know what I mean when you watch the film.