Snyder and Gunn, above all else, help make zombies terrifying again.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. 2016. Directed by Zack Snyder. Screenplay by David S. Goyer & Chris Terrio.
Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, Scoot McNairy, Callan Mulvey, Tao Okamoto, Brandon Spink, Lauren Cohan, Michael Shannon, Ralph Lister, Kevin Costner, Joseph Cranford, Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, & Joe Morton. Warner Bros./Atlas Entertainment/Cruel & Unusual Films.
Rated PG. 151 minutes.
Personally, I’ve mostly given up on comic book movies. I give some a chance but on the whole I’m not into them anymore. Nor am I someone who finds Christopher Nolan’s trilogy to be the perfect superhero films – though I am a fan. Recently, I absolutely loved Deadpool because of its willingness to be different, to be strange and defy the comic movie genre. Even enjoyed some of 2004’s The Punisher, for what it’s worth.
And let me get this straight: I love Batman. Okay? The 1989 Tim Burton adaptation is a classic, one I saw at an early age, which in hindsight might not have been the greatest decision my grandfather ever made. But regardless, I then came to love the Adam West, campy version of Batman in the 1966 television series, and the following movie, too. They are awesome pieces of nostalgic camp that should never be forgotten. Aside from all the films I was first and foremost a comic fan. As well as a huge fan of the graphic novels when I get a little older and first discovered those – my favourite still being Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, and of course Year One is up there. So don’t knock me and say I don’t like this movie because I’m not a Batman fan. I am. All the same, Superman is not a favourite of mine. Not into any of the movies, didn’t enjoy Man of Steel, and at his core Superman is just not interesting to me. However, I dig the relationships between Superman and Batman from some of the comics/graphic novels. They make for an interesting pair.
Sadly, my opinion on Zack Snyder is far less than Batman, even worse than Superman. I do dig Dawn of the Dead and Watchmen (for more thoughts on that see my review re: 300). But as far as his talents in the realm of storytelling, Snyder is not solid enough. On top of that, David S. Goyer is somebody whose career I find spotty. Increasingly over the past few years his talent in the realm of superheroes feels stale, and here he’s coupled with Argo screenwriter and first-time superhero writer Chris Terrio, which sort of boggles my mind but hey – when you write a good Affleck flick, maybe he’ll get you a job sometime.
Snyder alongside Goyer and Terrio’s writing amounts to a decent movie. Though one fraught with bad choices, too many threads jammed in solely so that the DC Cinematic Universe can start getting their pump on, and its length isn’t justified with strong enough storytelling.
One of the better parts about this movie? Holly Hunter. She’s great anyways, but her character is marvelous here. A worthy addition to a cast filled with some characters we never grow to care for or enjoy that much, outside of their action-worthiness. Of course there’s a bit of a timer on Hunter’s screenpresence, however, she leaves a nice mark.
While a lot of people like shitting on Jesse Eisenberg, I for one enjoy him. Sometimes. Here, I still can’t be sure if the problem with his Lex Luthor is his problem, or that of the writing. Goyer and Terrio make their Luthor into this manic, post-modern business kid verging on Asperger’s. Eisenberg absolutely brings an energy and charisma to the role, but something about the character and the performance is like a nagging, irritating glitch throughout so much of his screentime. It’s almost unbearable in a few scenes, honestly. Ultimately I enjoy Luthor’s purpose as a character here, I enjoy his despicable nature. Just not totally sure what’s wrong with the character and why I find him more grating than useful.
Cavill needs no praise. He’s one of the only reasons I enjoyed Man of Steel, and for someone like myself that never liked Superman as a character, even in comics, his charm and his old school Hollywood movie star affability make the character endearing. The one who impresses me most here is Affleck. I didn’t expect much, but he plays the slightly older, more grizzled veteran of superhero life. And he plays it well. The writing gives him a chance to be that cynical Batman from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Even if the writing is not as good as that novel, the character of Batman particularly is solid here for the most part.
The score is so impressive. That’s because my man Hans fucking Zimmer brought his talent to the table, also with help at times from Junkie XL, which is intriguing and fun. Zimmer is someone who always, even in movies that aren’t so great, makes me feel awestruck. His music feels so heavy, emotional. The use of Zimmer’s passacaglia technique is something I love, others say it’s too repetitive. The way Zimmer builds and builds, blasts, then goes back to building more, it draws us in, hooking on, and shaking us when the time is right.
One big problem I had with Snyder’s Man of Steel, which likely can be said about 300, is how the majority of its big action pieces were almost incomprehensibly CGI’d to death. Now I understand, we’re watching a movie about fictitious superheroes. But still, the essence of good film making is emotional resonance. Without enough character development I don’t care how many interesting CGI cities you can destroy, there’s just nothing more than mediocre about its excitement. But what Snyder, and the writers, do here is keep things a little smaller. Just slightly. Instead of Superman flying through buildings and the action going so fast barely even the colour in frame is definable, he and Batman have a pretty intense fight together, mainly just beating the hell out of one building. It’s the fact they keep things noticeable, the CGI isn’t as ugly and chaotic. There’s still a hell of a lot, but we can actually see things and pick out all the brutality of their clash.
And the whole Martha thing, I get, but really? REALLY? At that juncture of the film it is just an unbelievably sappy, sentimental writing decision. I get that they were fighting, Superman had no time to tell the Bat about anything, least of which his mother’s name. There’s a cheese-filled quality to letting this be the thing that stops Batman from doing Superman in/being Batman’s ultimate realization of the fact they need to unify.
Furthermore, to my mind it’s a bad choice to tell the story they did here. Major reason, for me, is that this is the first time Batman comes up against Supes, then all of a sudden he’s got him downed, almost beaten to death? Not in my books. I love Batman, as I’ve made clear. Not even big on Superman. But I refuse to believe Bruce is just going to be able to get the jump on him immediately. For a movie that runs an excruciating 151 minutes the screenplay doesn’t do service to the plots and stories it attempts telling. Also, it abandons most of its human drama after a certain point, which is understandable to a certain degree when we’re focusing on superheroes. Although, this feels unsatisfying because there’s a lot of wonderful sociopolitical elements to the drama where we begin the film, with Hunter’s character and the whole Senate hearing, so on. Shame there wasn’t more of that other than the military action later in the film.
Overall, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a mediocre piece of superhero cinema. The DC Cinematic Universe is off to a shaky leg start, as far as I’m concerned. Zack Snyder makes decent movies sometimes. This one is good enough. I can’t help wonder, though – how good could it have been? Could’ve been magical. Instead this first encounter between two major superheroes onscreen in a film is lukewarm. On the big screen it’s fun, sure. On the level of a proper film it’s only a midway effort. Boasting a couple good performances, some high-end action, you’ll enjoy yourself if a fan of comics or superhero movies. At the same time, like myself you may encounter aspects that don’t line up well enough with the stories you know and love. Either way, it’s a mixed bag. My opinion? They ought not bank on Snyder to carry these films past his next project. Bring in different blood, some different writers, see how things turn out. This was a disappointment in the end.
300. 2006. Directed by Zack Snyder. Screenplay by Michael B. Gordon, Kurt Johnstad, & Snyder.
Starring Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, David Wenham, Dominic West, Vincent Regan, Michael Fassbender, Tom Wisdom, Andrew Pleavin, Andrew tiernan, Rodrigo Santoro, Giovani Cimmino, Stephen McHattie, Greg Kramer, Alex Ivanovici, & Kelly Craig. Legendary Pictures/Virtual Studios/Atmosphere Pictures/Hollywood Gang/Warner Bros.
Rated 18A. 116 minutes.
Zack Snyder is a director I’m not particularly sold on. I did love how he remade Dawn of the Dead because he kept enough to retain the wonderful legacy of George A. Romero while also throwing his own spin on things. Later, his adaptation of Watchmen was good enough, though to be fair no film adaptation could/would ever make Alan Moore’s words fit properly into the form. Other than these two films, as well as 300, Snyder to me is a second rate filmmaker. He knows how to capture an image, how to make it pop, and how to give his films an impressive atmosphere. But Snyder seems to consistently lack the essence of a visual storyteller. He’s more of a visual mood painter, as opposed to a painter that evokes poetry in his imagery.
I don’t read too much into any of the so-called political analysis critics have heaped onto this film. Sure, you can try. Ultimately when it concerns the Spartans they are a tiny group, tough, though against all the odds stacked high in the favour of their enemies. So how can you try to say they’re representative of a right-wing element, or a superpower? Don’t think so. Also, there’s the fact this is based on Frank Miller’s comic – before Frank got a little Conservative himself – which is itself a historical fantasy, inspired largely by the 1962 film The 300 Spartans. While its basis is in Greek history, the comic and film are meant as part fantasy. Isn’t that obvious? Shame I have to say that. Furthermore, we get solely the Spartan perspective throughout this story. That should speak for itself.
But aside from that 300 is not all it’s been cracked up to be. The look is astounding, even if there’s CGI dripping from most of the frames, the actors do a fine job with their characters. There’s just something missing. Not only that, the look – to me – is not revolutionary as some have claimed, likening it to the groundbreaking work in The Matrix. Honestly the films of Tarsem Singh, particularly The Cell at times, really came to mind. Not everything feels lifted, only a few points where Snyder’s imagery and technique feels similar. Regardless, the constant fixation on an arresting visual style draws us away from the characters, effectively leaving us with CGI and action that never lifts this up past mediocre cinema.
There’s a wonderful atmosphere and look to 300 that compliments its graphic novel roots. While I do find some of it is definitely similar to Singh (The Cell, The Fall), the action sequences are exciting and the visual flair gives them an extra edge. So no, it isn’t as groundbreaking and astonishing as others make it out, but it does look great. I’m not a big lover of CGI. As a huge horror fan, I’m often repelled by the need to use CGI instead of practical makeup effects. Of course there are particular images you just aren’t going to make look proper if you use practical effects – mostly in terms of difficulty and practicality, budgets, et cetera. However, it feels like the intent for 300 was always layer it down in CGI, crunch up the contrast and other visual elements until the look is like a Renaissance painting. Only a Renaissance painting is beautiful not just because of its look, but due to the fact underneath that look there is purpose, reason. Snyder doesn’t achieve any of that extra stuff. Just flash.
For all its beauty, there are times I don’t like certain scenes. Some of the stuff with the sun rising or setting in the background, shots of the sky, it comes off as gaudy and overwrought instead of well put together in its complexity. In addition, Snyder overuses slow-motion to the point of agony. I get it, we want to slow down and let the eye catch on some blood, gore, and the impressive fighting skills of the Spartans against the massive Persian army. Overboard, Zack. Way overboard. It’s as if every minute (or less) we’re getting a shot slowed to a crawl, until finally it becomes all but ineffective.
Tyler Bates has gone on to do some good composing. He almost killed his career here, using unauthorized pieces of other scores including significant bits from the Shakespearean adaptation Titus. And funny enough, the whole score isn’t that impressive anyways. Since this film Bates has done genuinely nice work, including John Wick and Ti West’s The Sacrament. But a lot of this stuff here is generic. Others have said quite the opposite, that is really amps things up. Certain pieces work. Most of it just doesn’t feel up to par with the epic filmmaking attempts by Snyder. There’s a mixed-mashed sense to a lot of the composing here, which doesn’t end up coming together in the right manner. If Bates had stuck to one style instead of crossing from orchestral pieces into quasi-heavy metal riffs and thumping drum kits, the music would’ve probably complimented the action correctly and in turn intensified a lot of already loaded moments.
This is a mediocre action film with historical fantasy weaving through its cracks; a 3-star piece of cinema. Zack Snyder tries best he can to elevate 300 into the realm of innovative action where work like The Matrix still reigns supreme. Not all is bad. The film has its moments. Lena Headey and Gerard Butler sell their characters well, their performances both fierce and emotional at the correct times. Outside of them and a couple of the other cast members (Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes is damn solid and also fairly unnerving), nothing is any better than the sum of its parts.
While some will hail this as a great achievement and an awesome bit of cinema post-2000, I’d take a lot of other movies in the past 16 years over this one. 300 is enough to satisfy a bit of hunger for action, a slice of history, some historical fantasy, too. Otherwise it is a run-of-the-mill movie with Snyder’s brash style laid over top. You can still have fun here, just don’t let anybody confuse you, and don’t get confused yourself – there are better movies out there in the same realm. Snyder isn’t some contemporary action genius, even if he keeps being handed massive amounts of money to make his middle of the road films.