Review – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

bvsBack in 1986, as Superman star Christopher Reeve was prepping work on the ill-fated Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, he approached the writer of Superman I and II, the late, great Tom Mankiewicz, for advice. Reeve pitched Mankiewicz on his idea for Superman to rid the world of nuclear weapons, a parallel to real-world social issues of the time. Mankiewicz replied with this advice:

Don’t ever get involved with something Superman could fix. He could disarm the world in fifteen minutes. He doesn’t have to go to the UN. If he feels that strongly about it, he could get rid of all the missiles. Superman could feed the world if he wanted to. He could establish agricultural fields in outer space. Don’t bring up things like that.

I would like to add an addendum to that. Don’t get Superman directly involved with real-world issues. Do not twist his mission of peace into a political struggle. Do not bog him down with the ugliness of reality, the superfluity of man’s government, or the problems of democracy, especially at the expense of his message of hope, of inspiring the best in humanity.

I write this, because my many concerns over the past few years with director Zack Snyder’s approach to Batman v Superman were finally realized last month. Not only has the filmmaker indulged in all the above missteps, he’s delivered the most vile, morally reprehensible depiction of Superman and DC Comics on film to date. The film is a brutal assault on our senses, on the spirituality and idealism of these characters, on our intelligence as moviegoers, and on the vitality of quality filmmaking in big-budget studio tentpoles. It’s not just a disappointment; it’s a resolute misstep for the future of the DC Universe on film.

The film centers on a middle-aged Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck getting first billing in a long history of big actors being billed before the guy playing Superman) who after witnessing Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod topple one of his company’s buildings at the end of Manbatman-v-superman of Steel two years ago, grows weary of such dangerous forces being left unchecked.  Rather than blaming the indulgences of the director in the previous film, we are to blame Superman for Metropolis’ destruction. Bruce’s fear is shared by a great deal of the public, who endlessly debate Superman’s heroics and the fact that he “answers to nobody.” Bruce returns to Gotham City plotting to neutralize, and kill if necessary, the Man of Steel, despite repeated claims by butler Alfred (Jeremy Irons) that “he is not our enemy.” “That son of a bitch brought the war to us!” replies Bruce. Blah blah post-9/11 themes.

Back in Metropolis, Clark Kent is living comfortably with fellow Daily Planet staffer Lois Lane (Amy Adams). I guess Lois knowing Clark’s secret identity from the get-go at the end of Man of Steel hasn’t yielded any interesting twists on their decades-long will they/won’t they relationship from the comics. Contrastingly, Superman has been entirely anti-social in public, saving the world yet not really interacting with it in any way beyond that for these two years. Meanwhile, wealthy philanthropist Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) plots to acquire the recently-discovered Kryptonite to control Superman, by manipulating a senator (Holly Hunter) and indeed everyone else around him. Oh, and there’s also other DC characters like Wonder Woman (Gal Godot) lying in the wait for the eventual Justice League movie.

It’s an overflowing plot, but there are traces of intrigue. Chris Terrio of Argo fame uses the characters as players in a larger piece about terrorism, power, corruption, and security, the groundwork of an intriguing political thriller. It is critical of heroes like Batman and Superman, examining their failings and the real consequences of their actions. It’s also a huge deviation from the reverence Snyder and his Man of Steel team showed for the universe in that film. In part to blame is perhaps the director’s long-standing love of Frank Miller’s seminal 1986 graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns; Snyder carts over that story’s older, world-wearier Batman, some talking-head-style political commentary, and perhaps intentionally or not, Miller’s own disdain for the Last Son of Krypton.

Indeed, Dawn of Justice continues the tradition of recent Superman media by placing the hero in no-win scenarios that go directly against the winning spirit the character has always been about. There is a scene wherein (avoiding spoilers) Superman enters a building and a bomb goes off, and Superman just watches somberly as everyone around him is vaporized. Uh, Zack? This is Superman. Not Doctor Manhattan.

That’s an issue I had with Man of Steel too, though to a lesser extent. The Superman mythology isn’t about “well, what if he were REAL? What if a humanoid that had all these powers came to earth?” I don’t care how the real world reacts to Superman’s presence. That’s not appealing to me. Superman is about fantasy, he’s an ESCAPE from the real world. He’s a guy flying around in a red cape who makes a difference in his community and inspires those Batman-V-Superman-Trailer-Fight-Heat-Visionaround him to pitch in themselves. Why is there debate about whether or not he’s doing the right thing? We KNOW he’s gonna do the right thing. He’s SUPERMAN. And yet here we are, watching Charlie Rose and Neil DeGrasse-Tyson (both make brief appearances) debate about a Superman that exists and whether or not his power should be checked. But this is a Superman that hasn’t even begun to build bridges with people publically, so he’s clearly failed in his mission. The Superman of the comics won people over with a smile and a wave as he flew above them. Pity Henry Cavill’s Superman isn’t allowed such joy, regulated to stand and mope idly about how people don’t understand him.

As for Ben Affleck’s Batman, he busies himself in these ridiculous, jarring dream sequences reflecting his fear of aliens from the sky. I had hope after one such sequence, wherein a bat-creature bursts from the tomb of Martha Wayne to attack him. It recalls the jump-scares of a horror movie, a cool new twist that might really transport audiences into Bruce’s tortured psyche. Yet the movie never goes anywhere with it, taking us into even more absurd (and immodestly-budgeted) nightmares, one of which is a full, unabashed teaser for the Justice League movie. Pity Affleck, who’s been suckered into this mess with the promise of redemption after the indignity of 2003’s Daredevil. The actor/filmmaker isn’t altogether unfitting in the cape and cowl, but is also far from the finest performer to fill it.

But I digress. After characters have waxed poetic enough, director Snyder yanks the film’s breaks and yells, “less talk, more EXPLOSIONS!” All political discussions or reflections on real-world politics (clumsy as they were) are gone, leaving all its ideas entirely unresolved, lost in Snyder’s blaring self-indulgence and Junkie XL and Hans Zimmer’s blatant, blaring, borderline parodical score. What of Scoot McNairy’s legless homeless guy? Why has Amy Adams’ role been all but reduced to damsel-in-distress? Shouldn’t Clark be getting in trouble every time Perry White (Lawrence Fishburne) passes by his empty desk? No answers here, we only have enough time left in the already bloated two-and-a-half hour runtime for the movie to live up to its namesake – the bout between Batman and Superman.

And…it sucks. Not only does Snyder fail to build up their conflict in any meaningful way, their fisticuffs aren’t satisfying, nor are they really even warranted in the context of the film. It’s seriously the weakest explanation for pitting these two characters against each other. And it was at this point in the movie, after suddenly becoming aware of the intense grimace on my face, I wondered, “aren’t I supposed to be having fun?”

Apparently not. There’s actually a really ugly undercurrent to Dawn of Justice, boasting such brutality, such bloodlust, such hyper-machismo bullshit that makes for the most uncomfortable, punishing experience. That’s not just during the title fight too, that’s the whole movie. Snyder and his cinematographer Larry Fong absolutely do not know when to stop with the hypermasculinity, when enough is enough, to the point where one starts to feel ashamed at being a man at all. It’s more than enough to build a case accusing Snyder, who also shoots the death of Bruce’s parents with all the slow motion and heavy breathing of a sex scene, of using DC Comics characters to work through his own crippling manhood issues.

The studio is even prepping an R-rated cut of this movie for home video release. That’s right, your favorite childhood comic book characters have been perverted into a movie that, without certain cuts, was deemed too violent and too intense by anyone under 17 years old. Wow.batman-v-superman-the-complete-guide-to-frank-miller-dark-knight

So inevitably, we know Batman and Superman are to resolve their differences at some point. And after all that thirst for blood, all that shoddy build-up, their altercation is capped off in the most mind-bogglingly stupid, overwhelmingly left-field conclusion, that literally any idea you, the audience, could come up with as to why these characters should stop fighting, will better qualify you to write this movie than the filmmakers being paid hundreds of thousands to do so.

And then they’re friends, as if nothing had happened, teaming up to destroy an even more laughably stupid threat. And if you thought this film would be answering for Man of Steel’s destructive climax, you’d be wrong, wrong, wrong. Batman v Superman doubles down on the needlessly high body count. In fact, in one scene Batman has the big baddie in a totally isolated area, but rather than returning to the city to bring the necessary tools to kill the baddie to him, he actually draws him BACK INTO THE POPULATED CITY to get HIM to the tools. Remember how Christopher Nolan’s Batman had that one rule about killing people? Apparently Zack Snyder doesn’t share that sentiment.

So we finally realize, Batman v Superman is a movie about uncomfortable extremes. Snyder has always been an overwrought mess of a filmmaker, favoring style over substance, but the responsibility of pitting together two beloved DC characters has done nothing to curb his sadist, ear-rapingly obnoxious hard-on for destruction. What the hell? Doesn’t this go against everything DC Comics characters have stood for the past 70 years? You bet. Both Batman and Superman are acting totally out of character here. Batman’s a crazy, single-minded bruiser who brands criminals and wants nothing short of Superman’s death, while Superman is totally willing to bend his own moral code if his family is threatened. In the comics, the two have had their quarrels, occasionally even violent ones, but they have never, ever been pushed to the point of foaming at the mouth, hungering for each other’s head on a spike like in this movie. Pity the children who have to witness such overt brutality by the hands of characters who should, ideally, be serving as their role models.

And again, pretty much all the problems posed by the movie would’ve been solved immediately had Superman simply TALKED OPENLY. A simple, “Bruce, we’re being played!” would’ve stopped the title fight altogether. And every single other problem of the movie could’ve been completely avoided had Superman simply stood up in front of the public after Man of Steel and been like, “Hey guys, my name’s Superman, I’m just here to help out with the problems you can’t solve yourselves and really just help everyone to do better. Sorry about that Zod character, he’s a bad guy on my home planet, and I was just trying to stop him. Next time we face a threat like this, I’ll do it in space or something so there’s not as many casualties. Again sorry, still new to the whole superhero thing. Anyway, up up and away and all that!” *woosh*

Boom. /conflict.

Even the other DC characters teased in this movie lack subtlety; they basically appear in mini-trailers for their upcoming solo movies. It’s a sad day when I’m longing for the more natural, thoughtful teases of Green Lantern.

I haven’t even mentioned Jesse Eisenberg, who gives the most abysmally misguided performance as Lex Luthor. Eisenberg, known for his mousy-yet-charming teenage characters in Adventureland and _1436830197Zombieland, is not only insanely miscast as the powerful billionaire, he’s clearly never even glimpsed a Superman comic long enough to know who this character is supposed to be. So he instead plays Luthor the only way he knows how – by going over-the-top awkward, hammy, and creepy, his hands shaking as he speaks about power at a charity event, stumbling over the girth of his words. There’s even a point at the end where he actually hums the notes of the musical score. It’s just uncomfortable, a lot like…well, Zack Snyder’s id – angry, unrestrained, bratty, unlikable, and sadistic.

And that’s pretty much Batman v Superman too, the Donald Trump of superhero movies – loud, blunt, ugly, stupid, fear-mongering, extremist, tasteless, and bearing several cringe-worthy teases of what’s to come. Zack Snyder was always the wrong architect for the DC Universe on film, merely a loud, annoying kid bashing his action figures together. I don’t think Tom Mankiewicz could’ve envisioned anything like it, but if he could see Dawn of Justice now, there is no doubt he’d be shaking his head, collecting his valuables, and leaving the theater. I’d be right behind him.

3.5/10

 

QUOTE: Rossen, Jake; Millar, Mark (2008-02-01). Superman vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon (Cappella Books) (p. 164). Chicago Review Press. Kindle Edition.

IMAGES: cinemablend.com, mirror.co.uk, screenrant.com, cdn.idigitaltimes.com, i.ytimg.com

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Ryan’s Top Ten of 2013

2013Before I kick off my annual reflection on the past year in cinema, I’d like to take a brief moment to say how annoyed I am having to wait until halfway into January before I can even come close to completing my conclusive Top Ten list. Many of the year’s best offerings came either at the tail end of December or the very beginning of January, technically still counting as part of the prior year (in the Academy’s eyes, anyway) due to limited theater screenings. It’s an irritating practice which continues to be a thorn in my side; why not just keep the 2013 movies in 2013, instead of delaying their release to a month when Top Ten of the Year lists have become largely irrelevant?

I digress. On with my best ofs, beginning with a few honorable mentions:

42 – In spite of some of the more recent racially-minded biopics of Awards season, I toss my hat behind a more inspiring, enlightening film about African-American social liberation. Great performances and a solid script make 42 a poignant film about overcoming social hardship.

Don Jon – Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut is a touching look at modern sexual relationships, and the way both men and women carry distorted perceptions of them. It’s a romantic comedy that doesn’t feel concocted in a studio, instead living and breathing in the real world.

The Place Beyond the Pines – Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance’s latest is a mesmerizing odyssey of family pain. We watch two generations embody their father’s flaws, doomed to repeat their lineage. Shifting in characters and perspectives seamlessly, this April release proves a surprisingly meaningful experience.

Lone Survivor – While it doesn’t do anything new with the genre, Peter Berg’s pet project is a film about the qualities that separate humanity from the inhuman, the peacemakers from the warmongers. It is a film about why, in spite of overwhelming pain, we choose to sacrifice our lives for the good of others. And it’s powerful stuff.

The Counselor – Director Edgar Wright believes Ridley Scott’s epic crime drama to be a future cult film, and I completely agree. The unfairly reviled Counselor is one of the year’s most unforgivingly truthful films, boasting a great, if labored script by Cormac McCarthy. I suspect most critics had read the leaked script beforehand, and what they saw didn’t measure up to what they’d imagined. Or maybe they’re just dense. Probably a bit of both.

And finally, my picks for the best films of 2013:

10. Out of the Furnace

out-of-the-furnace-still-4One of the many things I admire about Scott Cooper’s modern western is its defiance of Hollywood and revenge-thriller conventions – the hero doesn’t get the girl in the end, its shootout sequences only take place during the third act, and even after its conflict is resolved, so many questions remain about its protagonist’s choices. Most importantly, Cooper understands that the best revenge stories aren’t about the chase or the final kill. They’re about people, and about pain.

Out of the Furnace is dirty, down-to-earth, and deliberate, staging a family where brothers (Christian Bale and Casey Affleck) are torn apart in their differing ideals. One makes an honest living in the steel mill, the other is a fighter, unwilling to work with steel the rest of his life and ignoring his brother’s protests. After a fight for a dangerous drug-addicted employer (Woody Harrelson), Affleck’s character seems to disappear, leaving Bale’s character to determine how to deal with his pain.

With some great performances and thoughtful direction, Out of the Furnace is a simple, yet subtle film that sucks you in to its world of hurt. I’d love to see Cooper helm an actual period-piece western next.

9. Her

her-joaquin-phoenix-8Like last year’s Joaquin Phoenix-starring The Master, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about Her, a story of a geeky, lonely man named Theodore (Phoenix) who falls in love with an artificially intelligent program (voice of Scarlett Johansson). It portrays, rather objectively, a disturbingly impersonal world not far removed from our own. Here, personalized letters are dictated by staff writers in the buyer’s own handwriting. Everyone in sight is looking down at his/her phone and holding a Bluetooth device in one ear. Technology has sensationalized, altered, and masked us from reality. It has become pornographic, turning us into selfish people craving on-demand updates and searching for instant gratification. Real human relationships are fewer and more far between.

Observe the brief scene with Olivia Wilde, who plays a beautiful woman on a date with Theodore. She essentially throws herself at him, desperate for a connection, but Theodore disconnects when he learns she wants a serious relationship. She recoils, saying, “You’re a really creepy dude.” And he is; despite his people-reading skills, a lost love has kept him from forming connections with others. It’s a commentary on the world we may soon occupy; before the date, Theodore pulls up her Facebook pictures during a video game session, and a kid playing the game with him online sees the pics, telling Theodore, “She’s fat.”

One could go crazy analyzing all there is to experience in Her. It is a profound study of love and human relationships, a timely look at today’s world’s generally declining ability to cultivate connections with one another. What forms does love take? How do we define it? Can technology define and convey human emotion? The film poses infinite questions about this technology’s relationship with humanity, many of which parallel that of real-life committed relationships – how two people can grow apart, meet other people, etc.

Her is also one of the most challenging films of the year, and yanked me out of my comfort zone with its innately polarizing portrayal of humanized machinery. I’m cold to its romantic conventions (which adhere a bit too closely to formula between the second and third acts), but that’s not really the point. Technology can be a great tool in forming and maintaining new relationships. It can appear wonderful and understanding on the surface at first. But technology doesn’t feel, and when we let it take control of us, well…it can only end in loneliness. There are powerful and gripping qualities about Her, and I hope to god society hears its message.

8. Rush

Rush-2013In my review of Rush, I described a film about the contrasting ideologies and bitter opposition of two men driven in their professions. It is a film not so much about the racing of cars as it is the people behind the wheel. It’s an important stipulation, one which writer Peter Morgan indeed channeled while writing the film:

I thought no one was ever going to come to me and say ‘Please will you write a story about an Austrian and an Englishman and examine the cultural differences between the two?’ That would never occur to anybody. So I thought ‘I’ll write it because it interests me.’

The approach is all the better for Rush, an accessible yet sophisticated blockbuster in the typical Ron Howard biopic vein – it details both James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Nikki Lauda’s (Daniel Bruhl) backstories, their characters, their respective love lives, and their tragic hubris. In the end, Rush has no winners or losers, just a lifelong relationship between two men with very different outlooks on racing, and in turn, life.

7. Saving Mr. Banks

Saving-Mr.-Banks-Reviews-starring-Tom-Hanks-and-Emma-Thompson-2013It took John Lee Hancock’s latest period piece to remind me just how much Mary Poppins meant to me as a kid. Is it strange that I still catch myself whistling “Spoonful of Sugar,” “Step in Time,” and countless others at my age? No matter; even more passionate than I about the film was the original novel’s author, P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson). And in her and Walt Disney’s (Tom Hanks) conflicting visions for the film, Saving Mr. Banks presents the timeless and important message that even a reconciliation of truth and imagination can be just as, if not more poignant than the truth itself.

We watch Travers’ heartbreaking childhood as her father (Colin Farrell) fosters her creative energies, yet begins drinking himself into oblivion. We feel for her and her fight for her work as she clings tightly to the most minute details of the novel’s story, really her life story, on her quest to redeem her father. We feel for Disney, who just wants to make a fun, engaging picture for children, something to mask them from the reality of the world they live in. Both Thompson and Hanks nail the speech and mannerisms of their respective characters, and the script is an excellent one.

Saving Mr. Banks is one of the most heartfelt films of the year, a delightful walk down memory lane which hits all the right emotional notes. It’s charming, it’s poignant, and it’s sugarcoated, but…just a spoonful.

6. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

dos4What shines most in the second act of Peter Jackson’s epic Hobbit saga is the incredible stuntwork and action sequences. The returning Legolas (Orlando Bloom) once more flies around in gravity-defying fashion, no doubt to the seething of die-hard fans still cringing from the archer’s shield-surfing abilities in The Two Towers. But above all, these stunts provide something we’ve never seen on film before – a fantastic mid-film barrel-riding sequence, which sees Thorin (Richard Armitage) and Co. travelling down an out-of-control river trapped in barrels, all while being pursued by a vicious pack of Orcs. Jackson’s camera is so integrated in the action, you’d swear you’d been whisked away onto a wet theme park ride.

As I’ve endlessly gushed before, The Hobbit films are some of the most well-designed, enchanting fantasies put to film. Not only are the effects outstanding, but the storytelling, combining the more fantastical leanings of the novel with Jackson’s more blockbuster approach, is equally brilliant. How do they get around the many talking animals of the novel, not present in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films? Make it so their speech can only be heard when Bilbo (Martin Freeman) puts on the ring. Smart. Then there’s the excellent Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug, providing not just a deliciously evil voice for the dragon, but a deliciously evil mo-cap performance.

People will continue to bitch and moan about the Hobbit films not covering nearly as much story ground per film as the Lord of the Rings films did. And no, unfortunately, the films don’t seem to want to have much to do with their title protagonist. But The Desolation of Smaug is another Middle-Earth outing from a master of the escapist adventure yarn that yet again manages to deliver a brilliantly-crafted, outstandingly-designed piece of storytelling.

5. Nebraska

nebraskaIn discussing his latest film’s back-and-white color palette, writer/director Alexander Payne says he chose the look because, “[he] just knew it from when [he] read the script.” Yet only a true master of the art could make such a decision and have it work so beautifully. It’s a testament to Payne’s ability to downplay the thoughtfulness he exudes so fluently in his work.

Nebraska is a film about fathers and sons, families and legacies. We laugh watching the older members of the family having short, trivial conversations with siblings they haven’t seen in ages. It always seems like family reaches a point where they simply run out of things to talk about. The exception is of course June Squibb’s character, who speaks candidly about her sex life as if she were 50 years younger. She has a great scene defending her husband Woody (Bruce Dern) against the vultures that are now their family members, asking for a share in Woody’s purported million-dollar winnings.

It’s another of Payne’s dramedies that captures both the pain and the humor of life, examining the true nature of people and creating characters that feel so genuine they could easily be real. This time, Payne provides quite a few flattering shots of the Midwestern state, painting a pitch-perfect image of the setting in gorgeous black-and-white. I’d speculate that color scheme is intended to reflect Woody’s single-mindedness in collecting his million. Maybe Payne just has an innate sense for these things.

4. Man of Steel

ffa54_man-steel-trailer-supermanLike Batman Begins before it, Man of Steel isn’t merely an excellent comic book movie, but an excellent film period. The traditional Superman mythology is rebirthed into something fresher and closer to reality, yet remains as hopeful and heartfelt as any of the character’s greatest adventures. And like Begins, it answers the simple question of why its hero exists as one of the greatest of his kind, not just for modern times, but for all time.

Henry Cavill was born to play this more human Superman, making for one of the best onscreen incarnations of the character yet. The rest of the cast, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, and more, all fill their roles memorably and ably. Clark’s relationship to Lois Lane is the story’s heart, the latter no longer acting as his damsel in distress, but his connection to humanity, his savior just as much as he is hers. The film’s final scene proves the most interesting moments of their new dynamic are yet to come.

It’s a shame that so many, including Superman: Birthright author Mark Waid, were so quick to dismiss Man of Steel based on its controversial resolution, which I felt to be the perfect way to illustrate exactly how Superman came to his immovable, unwavering ideals. Since my original review, I’ve come to the conclusion that the film is no Superman: the Movie, but truly, there is something here for every Superman fan to love, bits taken from every era of comicdom, yet a whole that rings an entirely new tune. For all his faults, director Zack Snyder musters a heroic iconography, a visual palette to this point unseen in the subgenre. And kudos to Goyer’s smart script, taking what could’ve been another predictable, mundane origin story to some unexpected places. Luckily, it doesn’t neuter the character in the slightest, only his surroundings, boiling the Superman mythology down to its core of a man lost and alone in the world, looking to find his niche and help people wherever he goes. It’s real, it has pathos, and proves that, above all, Superman is like us. A man.

3. American Hustle

American HustleHustle’s original script was titled “American Bullshit,” and for good reason – the film is a defining look at the fronts we put up, the masks we wear, and the lies we tell. There’s a reason why every character in the movie has bad hair – watch Christian Bale in the opening sequence, going through a lengthy morning comb-over ritual to mask his insecurities.

American Hustle sees bullshitters bullshitting each other in its tale of con men in search of riches. But no character is able to escape his/her flaws – Bale’s character’s wife (Jennifer Lawrence) has a set of lipstick and makeup which she uses to “keep him coming back.” The accessories are flower-scented, but “with a hint of garbage.” It’s that hint of garbage that Bale’s character can’t stand, and which is always there to send well-laid plans up in flames…literally.

I had a blast watching and dissecting director David O. Russell’s latest. His style doesn’t always work in the film’s favor, but when it does, it does beautifully. Set to a fantastic retro ‘70s soundtrack and boasting some excellent performances (including a surprise Russell alum who’s perfectly cast), Hustle is my early prediction for a well-deserved Best Picture win.

2. The Wolf of Wall Street

wolfofwallstreetI saw Martin Scorsese’s bombastic new film in a packed Saturday matinee showing, where I was seated next to two elderly ladies, both of whom clearly hadn’t the slightest idea of the kind of film they’d walked into. Every time a scene involving over-the-top sex or drug use played, the women were taken aback, thoroughly offended. “This is disgusting,” one of them groaned in protest, amongst shared complaints about the film’s length and how much longer their bowels could stand to be held.

Ordinarily I’d be pissed. I wasn’t. I smiled at every comment, because their whining told me Mr. Scorsese had done his job and done it beautifully.

The Wolf of Wall Street packs three hours of hilariously indulgent black comedy portraying the unbelievable life of Wall Street broker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio). Like Scorsese’s Goodfellas, Belfort occasionally addresses the audience directly, taking us through his exorbitant lifestyle fueled by greed and excess. Like a sort of Bizarro-Jesus, he inspires those around him to act the same way, saying, “Give me them young, hungry, and stupid, and in no time I’ll make them rich.” Eat your heart out, lady liberty.

It’s DiCaprio’s unforgettable performance that makes the film, his sheer amount of range bringing Belfort to life in a way no other actor could. If this film doesn’t prove to be his first Oscar win, the Academy are thieves. And it’s his director Scorsese, whom DiCaprio convinced to do the film in the first place, who once again knocks it out of the park, proving he’s one of the few remaining American New Wave directors who hasn’t lost a beat. Many have spread the idea that Wolf advocates for Belfort’s lifestyle. Are they daft? It’s no more a celebration of Belfort’s life than Goodfellas was of Henry Hill’s. And it has me praying that Scorsese isn’t as close to retirement as he may think.

1. To the Wonder

ttwI regret to admit that 2011’s Tree of Life led me to write off director Terrence Malick as pretentious, his lofty intentions exceeding his abilities to tell a coherent, compelling story. I was nonetheless inclined to check out this, the subject of critic Roger Ebert’s final, glowing review. To the Wonder is everything he claimed it to be and more, and I was left awestruck by the magnitude of its simple, majestic beauty.

It’s a story we’ve heard before: boy meets girl, boy plans to marry girl, boy has doubts, girl leaves, boy has flings elsewhere, boy returns to girl. And yet, there is a profound sense of unfamiliarity here, the story told more meaningfully than perhaps I’ve ever seen it told. Stars Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko shine in their deeply nuanced performances, conveying so much with so little.

In my original review, I described the film to be like a moving painting, or a homemade video of a family member stumbling upon a series of intimate moments. Perhaps To the Wonder is best described as visual poetry; as we listen to the monologues from character to character, we are inundated with Malick’s graceful, naturalistic visuals, the very grace that Javier Bardem’s priest character is struggling to find. It’s a style all it’s own, and truly, Malick’s work represents some of the highest-caliber art a film can reach. Many will dismiss it as too demanding, but I maintain To the Wonder rewards every ounce of attention you lend to it.

Review: Man of Steel

mosThis review contains minor spoilers.

For years, there has existed a sharp divide between hardcore and casual superhero fans. You’d often hear the latter group complaining that Superman, the first true superhero and arguably the best, was dull, dated, and too powerful to relate to. I can’t entirely fault those with that outlook – 2006’s Superman Returns, intended to re-establish the influence of the classic 1978 Richard Donner Superman, featured a Man of Steel that was indeed dull, dated, and too powerful to relate to. Fans of the comics and TV incarnations, however, knew that America’s greatest modern mythology had evolved well beyond the hackneyed convention of Returns. They knew there existed the potential for a great modern superhero adaptation, an entertaining and enlightening film exhibiting the leaps and bounds (or rather, aerial mileage) the character had covered since the late ‘70s. That film has finally arrived, and has since become perhaps the biggest, most talked-about release of the season. To those Superman fans pre-Man of Steel, give yourselves a hearty pat on the back for predicting right.

I’ll stay out of the group back-pat for now. Those of you who’ve been following my blog for any length of time knew well my severe anxiety towards this film before its release. I’ve said a lot of things to quell my excitement, maintaining reasonable doubt to shield from bitter disappointment. I’ve also said I would be the first to admit I was wrong if the film was actually any good. Today, I’m very happy to be able to do so.

Man of Steel opens with the screams of a woman in labor. This is Lara (Ayelet Zurer), at her side her husband Jor-El (Russell Crowe), newly christened parents of Kal-El, all citizens of Krypton, a planet facing impending destruction. But this is not the subtle, crystalized, Kubrickian Krypton of Donner’s film, but a world of bizarre, advanced alien culture and technology. We quickly cut to Jor-El chastising the planet’s council of elders for their lack of foresight in preventing the planet’s doom. Quicker still, the ruthless General Zod (Michael Shannon) bursts in and announces his plans to take over the government. Even quicker still, we watch Jor-El fly through Krypton on a pterodactyl-like creature, steal a small skull-shaped device called the Codex, which contains the entirety of the planet’s knowledge and culture, and imbue it into his infant son, before rocketing him to Earth to make his own destiny. Meanwhile, Zod’s coup is undone and he is banished to the Phantom Zone, after which the planet is destroyed in a fiery explosion. Enjoying the movie yet? If not, don’t worry. The sequence is ultimately the polar opposite of Donner’s Krypton – a trivial, non-stop CGI lightshow that’s neither emotionally charged nor particularly memorable, an all-too familiar flaw of director Zack Snyder’s past work.

Thankfully and refreshingly, Snyder’s excess takes a backseat as we settle in for the Earth scenes, where an adult Kal-El, raised Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), has been taking odd jobs around the world, each time helping people by using his powers, and every time having to move onto another job for fear of being discovered. It’s a dynamic that mirrors the opening sequences of 2005’s Batman Begins, when Bruce Wayne was also bearded, travelling internationally, and finding himself via flashback. In several of these flashbacks, we see Clark growing up on his adopted family farm in Smallville, Kansas, where he struggles to control his new senses, among them super-hearing and X-Ray vision. The new powers frighten him while he’s in the middle of class, forcing Ma Kent (Diane Lane) to come in and help him learn to control them. It doesn’t help that Pa Kent (Kevin Costner) tells him he has to keep his powers a secret, be the better man, and turn the other cheek until he feels the world is ready for him. These scenes work well to demonstrate not only how Clark gained his moral structure, but the constant sacrifice in keeping such incredible powers at bay.

Indeed, people who aren’t Superman fans often argue that Supes isn’t nearly as compelling as characters like Batman or Wolverine, because the latter two are unpredictable and fallible, mere mortals who bend morality like rubber. With Superman, they argue, there’s no tension, because you always know in the end he’s going to do the right thing. In reality, that’s exactly what makes Superman so compelling  – what does it take for someone to sacrifice their own life every day, just to keep the world safe for complete strangers? What burden does relative infallibility and an undying impulse to save lives carry? Happily, writer David S. Goyer poses these very questions of the character in his script.

Hot on adult Clark’s trail is Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams), who traces the hermit’s footsteps via his old jobs in the hopes of telling his story to the world. It’s a clever change-up to the characters’ expected romantic dynamic, and serves as a great example of how the film shatters many preconceived notions and age-old conventions of the mythology, while still remaining largely faithful to it. Meanwhile, Zod and his cohorts, having escaped from the Phantom Zone, discover Kal-El’s presence on Earth and threaten to destroy the entire planet, in its place building a new Krypton using the codex imbued in Clark. Clark now faces a decision – is it finally time to reveal himself to the rest of the world?

Man of Steel is the near-perfect Superman for the 21st Century, thanks to Goyer’s strong, action-packed script. It’s a rather brilliant amalgamation of elements from the best Superman stories post-1986, yet still a wholly modern, Goyer-esque take on the character that feels fresh and stands apart from all previous Superman material. As with his script for Batman Begins, Goyer takes the core of the title protagonist – played surprisingly well by Cavill, who not only physically matches Superman but also nails his heroic, down-to-earth persona – and boils him down to a more tangible, cynical universe. For better or worse, this is a more serious, less colorful, and even at times shocking portrayal of the Last Son of Krypton. Kudos also to producer Christopher Nolan, whose footprints all are over the film, for lending the film his stamp of approval. It’s the Batman filmmaker’s ability to keep so much behind the curtain up until a film’s release, and then make even the most predictable outcomes throughout the film feel fresh and exciting, that makes him such a pervasive influence on the industry.

About midway through the film, the US military enters to take control of the alien situation. I’ve criticized their presence in recent Superman comics, mainly because they only exist as antagonists for the hero,MAN OF STEEL treating him as if he were a misunderstood monster like the Hulk, not the humanoid, English-speaking, perfectly normal-looking guy that he is. Man of Steel is the first time I’ve seen them used properly – here, they are not malicious, xenophobic morons who automatically distrust Superman, but are merely cautious of him, only  distrusting him out of need to protect their country. The film ponders the idea of trust between both Superman and the military, neither side knowing whether or not the other will truly do what they say they will. In the end, the film shows that these men and women represent the best of us, the people who, if occasionally mistake-prone, are the core of the fighting spirit and undying desire for justice that America prides itself on. The patriotic philosophy wisely sidesteps cheesy, in-your-face flag-waving, showing rather than telling how Superman appeals to the best of humanity.

In retrospect, it’s easy to see why so many different filmmakers – Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future), Duncan Jones (Source Code), and Guillermo Del Toro (Blade II) among them – passed on directing Man of Steel; they would’ve been executing Goyer’s take, not their own. Any additions these auteurs might’ve wanted to make would’ve entailed a page one rewrite, something Warner was likely unwilling to do given the script’s narrative strengths. Thus, Zack Snyder, far from an auteur, was likely hired in part because his insubstantial style would bring the balls-to-the-wall action fans craved, in addition to adapting the prepackaged Goyer script without unraveling its unique approach. Still, I can’t help but feel a better director, one that perhaps hadn’t directed three flops in a row for the studio, could’ve made an even better film in his own vein and still retained Goyer’s vision.

As it stands, Snyder brings with him an equal share of pluses and minuses. For one, his design for the classic red-and-blue suit and Kryptonian technology work well. Snyder also ably brings the script’s epic, heavyweight conflict to life, with every punch, every insurmountable obstacle realized on a massive scale. Scenes of Clark learning to fly are perhaps the best, most spellbinding sequences of the film; I believed a man could fly more than I ever have before. And from a technical standpoint, there’s little if anything to complain about – we have an excellent score from Hans Zimmer that proves the composer isn’t limited to “dark” films, and easily the best 3D conversion work I’ve seen on a film yet.

But the director’s affinity for handheld shots and almost all medium close-up shots feels claustrophobic compared to the lingering, natural imagery of Donner’s film. And with the director’s over-the-top, CGI-fueled visuals comes an obnoxious sense of self-satisfaction; observe Supes and Zod’s lengthy battle through Metropolis, wherein countless buildings come toppling down in the Kryptonians’ wake, to the point where I’m wondering what exactly Snyder’s got against tall buildings. Luckily, the action occasionally, and only just overextends its boundaries; the director’s trademark indulgence isn’t quite enough to break the film.

teaser-man-of-steel-shannon-e1365999108756Directorial faults aside, Man of Steel is still missing a crucial piece of the puzzle – charm. Fun. Child-like wonder. This Superman doesn’t so much save cats from trees as bellow at his foes and drag them against the dirt. Goyer’s humorlessness robs the Superman universe of its general light-heartedness, keeping the film from truly capturing the full essence of the mythology. And there’s certainly plenty of room for humor here, perhaps more banter between the abrasive Lois and the good-natured Clark. Even Goyer’s own Batman Begins script seemed to have more winking, wry humor than Man of Steel, and when Batman’s having more fun than Supes, it’s a problem.

The film’s darker philosophy follows right through to the film’s shocking conclusion, which for some will shake the very core of their Superman fandom. It’s a Catch-22 scenario, wherein Superman’s final decision is borrowed straight from (spoilers, fans) the classic Exile story arc. This is an ending that proves the stakes were personal, the threat was real, and the after-effects are clearly going to be felt for some time. In the end, it’s what Supes needed to be taken seriously by a modern audience, and to prove that he’ll do anything, anything, to save people, even if it means the scarring of his own soul. Not to mention, Man of Steel is an origin story, portraying a Superman still learning the ropes. With Zod, he received a big lesson that will no doubt shape his moral compass forever.

On a side note, Man of Steel poses some interesting questions about the future of Superman on film. Certainly the film’s final scene, which had me holding back a big, geeky grin, promises an interesting change-up, effectively eradicating the trademark love triangle between Lois, Clark, and Superman. I’ll miss that dynamic of the mythology, but I’m very interested to see where they take the new one. But does the decision to ground the character in pseudo-reality bode ill for bringing some of the character’s more cartoony antagonists, among them Bizarro, the Prankster, and Mr. Mxyzptlk, to this new screen universe? There’s also the much-discussed prospect of Goyer and Snyder being ported over to WB’s long-gestating, likely ill-fated Justice League adaptation. Personally, I’d rather the studio hire different talent to helm individual Flash and Wonder Woman adaptations first. Besides, I’m not exactly clamoring to see an entire DC Universe through Goyer’s super-serious eyes, especially when you consider how much color and fun are going into many of Marvel’s films. These are, after all, comic book movies.

Man of Steel is an epic, thrilling film that packs far more punch than any other comic book adaptation in half a decade. And with Man of Steel comes proof that studio Warner Brothers, opting for a balls-out approach in all aspects of production, is finally treating their comic book adaptations not like cartoony toy commercials, but actual films, legitimate epics that are just as viable enterprises as artsier fare. Even if Goyer’s isn’t the end-all-be-all interpretation of the character, the weight he and Snyder bring to the proceedings works as a much-needed update of a character that audiences will hopefully now be taking far more seriously. It’s proof to modern audiences that Superman isn’t just some dull, dated relic of yesteryear, and proof that the character can still be relate to people today. But you fans out there knew that, didn’t you?

 

Film Review Man of Steel

 

8.5/10

Top Ten Most Anticipated of 2013

 

It’s Heraldic Criticism’s belated one-year anniversary, and I’m once again kicking off the New Year with my top ten most eagerly anticipated films of the next twelve months.

You can expect my Top Ten list a bit later, as I still need to watch quite a few movies from 2012. Until then, enjoy my hopefuls of 2013!

10. Gravity

gravityConsider this a placeholder for all sci-fi films coming next year. Of the bunch, Alfonso Cuaron’s (Children of Men) long-delayed Gravity looks to be the most promising. While little is known of the actual plot, Gravity will star George Clooney and Sandra Bullock.

 

9. Iron Man 3

iron-man-3-teaser-poster_cmykI was just as shocked as everyone at the more serious, less jokey tone of the trailer for the third Iron Man film and follow-up to The Avengers. But it was almost certainly the right way to go – the ballsy, epic feel aims to prove that serious shit can go down even in these heroes’ individual worlds. Among the film’s many draws are Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin, the armored avenger’s greatest foe, playing what could easily be one of the most memorable villains in years, and co-writer/director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) providing a healthy change of pace from the meandering Iron Man 2.

 

 

8. The Wolf of Wall Street

First-Look-at-Leonardo-DiCaprio-in-Character-for-The-Wolf-of-Wall-StreetMartin Scorsese’s follow-up to 2011’s Hugo sees the return of frequent leading man Leo DeCaprio for a 90s-set true story about a broker who refuses participation in a mafia-tied Wall Street. To say that the fifth Scorsese-DeCaprio collaboration would be one to watch this year would be a no-brainer.

 

7. The Counselor

ridleyLooking at director Ridley Scott’s body of work over the past decade, I’m thrilled to see him tackling anything other than another hackneyed historical epic. Prometheus proves the director still has it in him to direct a great thriller, and with a script from Cormac McCarthy, it seems he may be able to add another to his already brimming resume. And while I haven’t read the author’s work, both The Road and No Country for Old Men are fantastic. Topped off with an all-star cast, this could easily be one of the highlights of the year.

6. The Wolverine

wolverine_jackman_660If Fox’s recent track record is anything to go by, the mistake that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine is all but a distant memory. Using the outstanding Chris Claremont/Frank Miller miniseries as inspiration, the new Wolverine solo outing promises to get to the heart of the character like no movie before. Director James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma) will helm, citing a strong influence from films like The Outlaw Josey Whales. Spot on. Fox’s original choice to direct was Darren Aronofsky, a tantalizing prospect, but one which suggests a more A-list approach from the studio than in the past. Everything’s looking great, but what would really, truly sell me is the inclusion of the classic yellow-and-black suit in some form, provided it’s not ridiculous. Hey, they made it work for First Class.

5. Saving Mr. Banks

tom-hanks-as-walt-disney-in-saving-mr-banks-first-lookI can still point to Mary Poppins as one of the first films I ever saw, and one that inspired a strong bond between me and classic Disney. Some days, I still find myself humming Step in Time, We Love to Laugh, or Let’s Go Fly a Kite. As such, this Black List script-turned major awards contender is generating some serious buzz. I don’t know much about how the rights to the book were sold, but I’m very eager to hear the “based on a true story” version.

Plus, there’s Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. Why not?

 

4. Man of Steel

1man-of-steel-posterI am terrified for this movie. This is Superman’s last chance at being a box office draw, and it’s clear WB have gone balls-out to try to make a movie as A-list as the character deserves. As I’ve discussed, the approach leaves ample room for failure, and yet, a universally reviled movie will be forgotten. Worse yet is the chance that the film will blow and STILL manage to find an audience, guaranteeing an inferior version of the character permeating throughout all Superman media for years to come (see Captain America: The First Avenger).

I’ve been inclined to dismiss the film entirely for reasons I’ve already mentioned – the bizarre casting, WB’s cluelessness of how to handle DC properties, writer David Goyer’s sketchy track record, and most of all, the choice of Zack Snyder to helm. That last one especially – this is a man that not only directed three flops in a row for the studio, but arguably hasn’t made a good movie yet. Or at least one absent of the director’s trademark soulless, thoughtless visual ejaculate better suited to car commercials than the greatest superhero of all time. Top that off with DC Comics’ own misguided reinventions of the character, including a military presence that portrays the character as more Hulk than hero, seemingly being used as a partial influence. Suffice to say, there is more than enough potential for this movie to be dead on arrival.

The latest trailer, while still largely just an HD version of the leaked Comic-Con trailer from last July which I praised, polarizes me. Distracting faux-artsy flair, blinding high contrast, borderline pretentious musical selection…it’s all so completely unnecessary to simply telling a great Superman story. If they go with such a self-serious tone, trying too hard to go beyond the pulp roots of the character, they may very well end up with something even more moody and unpleasant than Superman Returns.

Having said all that, this is still Superman we’re talking about, and isn’t Superman all about hope in the face of certain doom? I’m optimistic for perhaps a more modern silver screen take on the character in spite of my better senses. In the end, this is a movie that will live and die based on how well it tells its story, not its overwrought presentation, looking to be a retelling of the character’s origins from a more grounded perspective, and perhaps treating Superman as if he were a real thing. It’s more important the filmmakers do the character justice and tell a meaningful, compelling story than stage a scene with a sun setting in the background and let the mindless, drooling masses hail it as “visionary.”

There exists plenty of potential for a great Superman series, on par or better than even The Dark Knight. And for what it’s worth, I have no reason to complain just yet. Consider my words more of a defense mechanism brought on by failures like Green Lantern. It’s all still, so to speak, up in the air.

3. The Lone Ranger

MV5BNDczODgyMjYzNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzQ1OTU1OA@@._V1._SY317_Growing up watching Star Wars and playing Cowboys and Indians with Legos kind of gives one a false perception of what a western really is. Case in point, watching The Searchers for the first time after learning of its influence on the latter film, expecting Star Wars in the old west, leaves one bound for disappointment. I’ve since grown to appreciate the genre through films like Unforgiven and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, but I’ve never lost the desire to see a more fun, kinetic (and well-made) western blockbuster. I get a sense that The Lone Ranger may very well be that film.

Here’s another yarn from my childhood – back in 2003, I saw the first Pirates of the Caribbean at a drive-in and was suddenly infused with purpose. Film was where I wanted to be, and Pirates had everything I loved about blockbusters and more – an epic feel, great characters, explosive action, memorable writing, solid direction, and a score I’d be humming for years to come. Ten years later, watching The Lone Ranger trailer left me feeling that, maybe, that pure Disney magic I’d felt at seeing such a brilliant, fun, original film had returned.

Many will still scoff at my lofty placement for such a seemingly ho-hum summer tentpole, this grittier reimagining of an old radio hero. And sure, there have been valid concerns over the out-of-control budget and a first draft that boasted werewolves and other oddball supernatural occurrences. I still say the chance that The Lone Ranger delivers on its promise to do for westerns what Pirates did for pirate movies outweighs them. Verbinski looks to have delivered some breathtaking shots, and lines like, “There come a time, Kimosabe, when good man must wear mask,” are already infinitely memorable. Not to mention, the good sense of humor Pirates had in droves appears intact. I’m not expecting a masterpiece, just a fun time at the movies like I first felt all those years ago. Hi-ho indeed.

2. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Sin-City-A-Dame-to-Kill-For-teaser-posterEight years after 2005’s revolutionary Sin City, the sequel is finally arriving. It’s high time, given that the stories being adapted for this film also overlap with those of the first. And already, both former players Brittany Murphy and Michael Clarke Duncan have passed, making perfect continuity with the first all but impossible. By any account, eight years was eight too many.

One of the greatest adaptations of all time, the first Sin City brought comic writer Frank Miller’s magnum opus to life and stood as director Robert Rodriguez’s greatest achievement. The visual style, the faux-noir dialogue, the style, the look…I love just how dark and dour this world is, and how many opportunities for great storytelling it yields. Adapting further tales from the depths of Basin City, A Dame to Kill For looks to be more of the same inspired CGI-based filmmaking, and hopefully not too far from the look of the first as Rodriguez suggests here.

Naturally, Frank Miller’s co-direction and co-writing of the script, which includes two original Sin City stories, leaves plenty of room for question. As great as the writer was in the 90s when the Dark Horse series was at its peak, the man’s work in the past decade has devolved into self-parody at best, twisted abomination at worst. Luckily, Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Departed William Monahan was on hand to rewrite Miller’s draft, so pray A Dame to Kill For is more in the vein of the first than The Spirit.

The fact that the film adaptation didn’t explode into a full-fledged franchise is nothing short of a crime. Depending on how this film goes, let’s hope we won’t have to wait nearly as long for the third.

1. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

hobbit-desolation-smaugNo surprises here. An Unexpected Journey was excellent, a grand return to the kind of epic storytelling we’ve come to expect from director Peter Jackson. Though the trilogy conceit is a bit much, and even Unexpected Journey suffered from a meandering, over-elongated script, the second installment should prove to contain even more titillating moments for fans of the book. Among those will be an appearance from Smaug the dragon, voiced and acted via motion-capture by Benedict Cumberbacht (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). And as someone who regrettably skipped through the appendices of Return of the King when I read the book as a kid, I’m also very eager to see more of the Necromancer and how it all ties in to Lord of the Rings. In any case, more is not at all a bad thing.

A Brief Commentary on the new Man of Steel trailers

 

MAN-OF-STEEL-PLACARD_300

As I delve into my Dark Knight Rises review, I can’t help but be more intrigued by another DC adaptation on the horizon. With its Comic-Con panel behind us and two newly released teaser trailers, Man of Steel has finally been unveiled to the world. I had the chance to see not just its two official teasers, but the exclusive Comic-Con footage which leaked online (I won’t link to it, but it’s out there…Google is your friend), and I felt compelled to share my reactions. Keep in mind that the footage I’m primarily writing about was recorded via camera phone, so this won’t exactly be the final word on the film or its marketing.

Before I get into the footage itself, many of you may already be aware of my stance on the film up until now. I was devastated when the news broke that sub-par 300 director Zack Snyder would be helming, and I’ve since been skeptical of everything we’ve learned about the film thus far. That said, I’ve maintained the stance that I’m happy to be proven wrong come June 2013, even if I didn’t think it was especially likely. But where do I stand now that we’ve received our first look?

At first I reacted skeptically, honing in on the self-serious tone of the trailer. It really is as if producer Christopher Nolan directed the film himself, which I’m sure was exactly what WB wanted for the film. If you look at the shortlist of directors they first lined up to tackle the project, it’s obvious WB was looking for someone similar to Nolan or at least possessing the ability to ape the director’s style, the latter of which certainly fits Snyder. Whether it be a comic book writer/artist or another filmmaker, Snyder’s lack of a real directorial identity and history of…er…borrowing other styles makes him a prime candidate in WB’s eyes, his only real claim to fame being his own overused slow-motion sequences and a broad visual vocabulary.

There are certainly better ways to make a superhero movie than thoughtlessly emulating Chris Nolan’s style, that much is certain. There’s something to be said about these films taking themselves too seriously when even Chris Nolan can’t recapture the magic of the style he introduced, as I’ll illustrate in my Dark Knight Returns review. Still, all this is rendered moot if the film itself manages to deliver, and maybe, with any luck, that self-serious atmosphere could lend the film a kind of artsy sensibility that may elevate its material into something more thoughtful, and potentially of A-list quality.

And I will admit that despite Snyder’s shortcomings, there do seem to be a lot of pretty-looking visuals in this movie. The footage looks colorful, with a lot of lens flare and epic shots of Superman’s powers. I do, however, feel the flair isn’t particularly necessary to begin with, as it may have the potential to become more of a distraction than anything. A more straightforward approach would’ve likely been just as serviceable. But the fact remains that this film is going to live and die based on its narrative, and if they get it right, if all this pieces of the puzzle come together in the most satisfying, well-constructed way possible, there could potentially be something great here.

Surprisingly, I don’t find myself as put-off as I thought I might be by the trailer’s military presence. They’re only in a few shots of the trailer, and while it’s too early to say for sure, I get a sense that they won’t be vitally important to the film, perhaps allocated the same amount of facetime as they receive in Earth One or George Perez’s recent run. I do have concerns with the shot of Superman being escorted away in handcuffs, if only out of concern that the film may possibly take a page from Peter Berg’s Hancock. Regardless, as long as Superman isn’t treated like the Hulk, and as long as his scuffles with our men in uniform don’t encompass the entire film, I’m not worried.

Digging deeper, I’m wondering what the trailer’s voice over means for the writing in the final film. We hear tidbits such as, “people fear what they don’t understand.” Batman Begins, anyone? David Goyer wrote both that and this film’s screenplays, which begs the question…is he just repeating himself? Still, what I’m most concerned about is the final voice over from Henry Cavill, which concludes with, “what do you think?” Is Superman supposed to be speaking directly to the audience? If so, it’s an incredibly clumsy method of exposition, and reminds me far too much of Goyer’s script for Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, in which its protagonist dictated similar fourth-wall-breaking material, and ended up being perhaps one of the absolute worst voice-over narration ever put to film.

Still, I like what I’m seeing so far, and the more I watch the trailer the more I dig it. This character deserves a thoughtful, well-made adaptation, and despite my earlier comments to the contrary, I think it actually has a chance at being something really special. Color me cautiously optimistic.

mos