The difficulty in crafting a piece of entertainment featuring characters as well known and popular as Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman is that it’s hard to measure up to each individual’s ideal view of the characters.
The trio of DC Comics characters have entertained children and adults for the better part of eight decades in nearly all forms of media, and while the core of the characters have remained virtually the same through the decades, it’s the details that matter most to ardent fans.
For viewers who just like the characters or those who enjoy big-screen spectacles, the details don’t matter as much, but they do expect to be entertained and not be bogged down by the details the hardcore fans love.
If it weren’t hard enough to craft a big-budget film that’s both faithful to the source material and entertaining to a general audience, Warner Bros. Pictures asked director Zack Snyder to build a fantasy world in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice that will support at least eight proposed films featuring the likes of Aquaman, Flash, Cyborg and Green Lantern as well as the aforementioned trio.
Also, the shadow of Chris Nolan’s excellent Dark Knight trilogy looms large over any production including the Batman. The billion-dollar franchise set a standard that’s still fresh on the minds of most Bat fans.
That’s a tall building for any director to clear in a single bound.
Making matters even more daunting, Marvel Entertainment, the 800-pound gorilla in comic-book publishing the past four decades, has not only found a happy medium for the faithful and general audiences alike, but it has also hit the sweet spot time and again with films featuring Iron Man, Captain America and the Hulk, not to mention The Guardians of the Galaxy and Antman.
No studio in Hollywood is on a hotter streak than Marvel, and no matter what Snyder and Warner Bros., created, it would automatically be compared to Marvel’s films.
With all those challenges set before him, Snyder delivers fairly well despite the film’s tone, which is almost too serious. Snyder contrasts a world-weary and disillusioned Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) against an earnest yet slightly confused Superman/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) in a film that picks up where Man of Steel left off.
The movie questions whether either character’s quest for justice is more destructive than good for society in general. And it’s a good question, too.
The showdown between the two main characters, instigated by Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), and the ensuing fight between DC’s trinity of heroes and the monstrous Kryptonian genetic mishap Doomsday are as loud, violent and audacious as anything you are likely to see on the big screen this or in any year. In a nod to Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie, nuclear weapons are deployed. The super-hero action is mostly backloaded to the third act, but when the film delivers, it brings the thunder.
The fan-boy worries over the casting of Affleck as Batman and Eisenberg as Luthor were unfounded. Any weaknesses in their performances were the fault of the script. Cavill is solid again as Clark/Superman who struggles with his place on his adoptive world. He’s both feared and revered by the denizens of his adoptive world, and he’s not sure which troubles him the most. It would be nice to see the Big Blue Boy Scout experience a bit more fun if he appears in future films, but this movie is about placing him in an emotional crucible to see how indestructible he really is.
The movie provides a number of twists, and at least one truly surprising if not shocking moment when Superman appears before the U.S. Senate to be questioned about the fallout from his actions.
Gal Gadot is stronger as Wonder Woman than I ever would have imagined after seeing her in other films. She more than holds her own with her co-stars; however, Amy Adams as Lois Lane is the true scene-stealer and emotional heart of the movie. Diane Lane is also compelling in a small but pivotal role as Superman’s adoptive mom, Martha Kent.
In many ways, Affleck’s Batman is the most faithful rendition of the character ever put on film. The character displays detective skills throughout the movie that are so important to Batman in the comics, but ones that have generally been given short shrift in previous films. Affleck’s Batman also moves with more fluidity and power than any previous cinematic version, which was a welcomed addition. Jeremy Irons’ Alfred brings a bit of snark to the movie with his verbal jabs at Bruce.
Then again Snyder’s Batman deviates enough from the traditional comic-book version of Batman to give some ardent fans pause. This is a very brutal Batman who has leaped over the edge of pragmatism and fallen into a brutal cynicism. Again everyone’s ideal version of these characters is a bit different, giving any screenwriter and director who work with them a moving target.
As for setting up the DC Universe on the big screen, Snyder dutifully checks the box, providing cameo appearances by Ezra Miller as the Flash, Jason Momoa as Aquaman and Ray Fisher as Cyborg. Plus astute fan boys will likely catch several allusions to the biggest of the Big Bads in DC lore, Darkseid.
A note to parents, the film warrants its PG-13 rating for profanity, extensive super-hero action and violence as well as adult situations. The plot does hinge on the murder of a mother, and the threat of murder to another mom for the two main characters to find a sense of commonality.
As for a letter grade, I’d give it a B-.
Allegiant gets lost in its own toxic wasteland
Photo by Murray Close
Have you ever gotten halfway through a novel and continued to read despite realizing that you really don’t care about the story. That’s what sitting through The Divergent Series: Allegiant was like for me. It was an exercise in completing what I started, but little more.
The tepid film, directed by Robert Schwentke, is the third of four movies based on the young-adult Divergent novels written by Veronica Roth. Set in a dystopian near-future Chicago, the movie series tells the story of Tris (Shailene Woodley) and her colleagues, who attempt to overthrow a governing model that places individuals into to factions based on their dominant attributes.
In the first film, we find out that Tris is divergent because she is well rounded. She has the mental, physical and emotional tools to fit into any of the factions. She and other divergents like her boyfriend Four are considered dangerous because they are less likely to fall in line and be content in one faction.
In Allegiant, we find out that Tris is not only divergent, but also pure. Her genome type could prove to be the salvation for mankind. In the film, the human race’s gene pool became so damaged from years of genetic engineering that people basically became unable to get along with each other because of the lack of commonality. The result was the Purity War that led to a nuclear calamity that left most of the world a toxic wasteland. At least that’s my understanding of the convoluted, Orwellian backstory.
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Despite being forbidden, Tris, Four, her sketchy brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and colleagues Christina (Zoe Kravitz) and Peter (Miles Teller) scale the giant wall that separates Chicago from the rest of the world to find out what’s on the other side.
They find a bleached wasteland splashed with an odd reddish hue that reminded me of a bigger-budget version of the alien planet sets from the original Star Trek TV series. After being beat down by the elements, the group is rescued/captured by soldiers in flying vessels who work for the ominously named Bureau of Genetic Welfare, if you know your doublespeak.
Once decontaminated from their time in the toxic wasteland, Tris begins work with David (Jeff Daniels), who is the head of the Bureau, while the others are assigned jobs based on their talents.
David dupes Tris into buying into the Bureau’s plans, but Four and Christina learn that the Bureau is actually capturing children who live in the wasteland and giving them an inhaled vaccination that makes them forget their previous life. The Bureau then uses the children for tests.
Meanwhile, the factions are getting ready to go to war against each other in Chicago, and Daniel plans to use that war to push his ulterior motives to the fore.
I’m sure there is some kind of political message at the core of this sci-fi mess, but frankly the movie left me too woozy to worry about it. That’s a shame, too, because Daniels, Woodley and Teller are quite capable of compelling performances, but their talent was wasted in this film that frankly became too sprawling for it own good.
If you are a fan of the novels or the two previous movies, Allegiant might be worth the slog for you, but otherwise, avoid this movie like you would a toxic wasteland.
Since Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice may be too intense for the younger crusaders, here are a couple of suggestions featuring the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight that are more appropriate for super-hero fans under the age of 13.
Superman first made it to the Silver Screen in 1941, just three years after the character burst onto the scene in Action Comics No. 1. Fleischer’s Superman is a compilation of 17 short animated films shot in Technicolor that still look gorgeous today. Produced by the Max Fleischer Studios, also known for its Popeye and Betty Boop cartoons, the animation factory spared no expense in bringing the Man of Steel to life. The money wasn’t wasted either. The action is fantastic. Cartoon historians point to the Superman shorts as being among the best animation ever crafted. The cartoons are available in many formats, including www.youtube.com.
More hours of film have been committed to Batman than any other super hero, and while everyone has his own favorite, one that should not be overlooked is Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. The makers of Batman: The Animated Series produced the PG-rated film in 1993, and the feature-length running time gave them ample time to develop a first-class mystery for the caped-and-cowled sleuth to uncover. Featuring the familiar voices of Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker, the movie has enough action and antics to keep kids thrilled and enough intrigue to keep adults interested.
If you need even more Batman in your life, you might try Batman: The Brave and Bold. The cartoon series is more comical than Batman: The Animated Series, but it’s very clever and sometimes even touching. It features the Dark Knight Detective teaming with other heroes of the DC Universe to battle a host of costumed ne’er-do-wells. The episodes co-starring the boisterous and bearded outrageous Aquaman are sure to draw laughs.