Archive for April, 2016

“Hardcore Henry” is an action movie filmed entirely in a first-person perspective. While many people I have talked to have avoided the movie out of fear of getting dizzy and/or a headache, I left the theater unscathed, despite sitting pretty damn close to the screen. The comparisons to video games are pretty spot-on, as the threadbare story of the film hits many of the beats and tropes of a first-person shooter game. The style and tone, aside from the video game connection, feel like something out of the “Crank” films, where ultraviolence is combined with a dark or sick sense of humor to create a rollercoaster ride of comedic violence that occasionally crossing into outright gore. The film suffers from some mild misogyny (all of the female characters are strippers, hookers, almost-rape-victims, or evil), but otherwise the film is a wild lot of fun for those inclined to enjoy this sort of thing. You know who you are.

 

The story involves Henry (played by multiple stuntmen and camera operators…the film was shot from Go Pro cameras attached to masks that the camera or stunt people worse), a man who apparently died a violent death and was brought back to life into a cyborg create thanks to a female doctor who says she’s his wife, Estrelle (Haley Bennett, looking very much like Jennifer Lawrence in many moments of the film). After a brief introduction to Henry’s body and powers (a video game tutorial, basically), the lab they are in is infiltrated by a telekinetic albino with an unidentifiable accent named Akan (Danila Kozlovsky). Akan runs an evil corporation in Russia (the entire film takes place in Russia) and seems to want Henry’s technology.

 

Henry and Estelle escape the lab, which is a flying airship, but on the ground Henry is attacked and Estelle kidnapped. After a firefight, Henry is met by Jimmy (Sharlto Copley), a man who knows what Henry is and, for a while, unexplainably changes appearance and personality throughout the film. Jimmy acts like the video game characters who give the player his missions and equipment, like Atlas in “Bioshock”. Go here and fetch this, go here and kill that, etc.  The thrust of the plot is basically Henry trying to rescue his wife, keep himself alive, learn about his technology, and find out who Akan is, who Jimmy is, and that he hell is going on with himself.

 

So that’s the story: a kind of warmed-over “Robocop” with an unusual villain who telekinesis is never explained. The story is sort of beside the point, as the entire film exists as an excuse to shoot action scenes and chase scenes in the first person, and your enjoyment of the film will largely depend on how much you enjoy the novelty of this approach. I found it to be a lot of fun. From a filmmaking standpoint I could see how certain shots must have been quite difficult to pull off, and figuring out where the cuts were hidden in the midst of whip-pans and where subtle CGI was used to augment certain sections was a little mini-game within the movie.  The film moves too fast at some points, and one maybe wishes the film had slowed down for some of the violence to give the horror movie gorehounds some time to appreciate the make-up effects. The speed also takes away from the violence at times. There are no slow violent scenes along the lines of Murphy’s death by gunfire execution in the original “Robocop”, and that detracts from any real power the violence might have. I’m guessing that’s why the opening credits are a slow motion, ultra-close up of violence set to deceptively slow, almost 80s New Wave sounding music. It makes for a good counterpoint.

The director, Ilya Naishuller, was previously a music video director, and you can tell by the way violence is scored quite well to music, most notably at the end when Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” scores a scene featuring a cacophony of violence wherein Henry dispatches with dozens if not hundreds of NPCs after injecting himself with adrenaline (like a video game power-up). I know I often complain about films where the finale is just a bunch of digital people fighting a bunch of digital aliens (“The Avengers”) or digital robots (“The Avengers: Age of Ultron”), but it’s different when you know there are flesh and blood actors playing the NPCs, even if the violence is augmented via digital effects.

 

The film is so much like a video game (boss battles, clearly distinct “levels” in the acts) that the central gimmick of the film may appear weaker than it is to some filmgoers who are either not too well-versed in video game’s cinematic language or who otherwise don’t care for the narrative beats taking so much after a different medium.  One wonders if this first-person protagonist thing could work in an action movie film via, say, Steadicam instead of the herky-jerky Go Pro. Other films have been shot in large part via first person before (Gaspar Noe’s “Enter the Void”) and other films have had long sequences of it (Kathryn Bigelow’s “Strange Days”, the remake of “Maniac”) so “Hardcore Henry” isn’t breaking much new ground just by doing that. “Hardcore” is mainly going to be notable for how versatile and limber the shots can be because the camera is not restricted by a dolly or a crane, and instead can be attacked to a stuntman jumping on to moving cars of sliding down an escalator. The first-person perspective combined with that freedom of movement in an action film that barely if ever slows down is what the film brings to cinema which hasn’t quite existed before. It’s like watching someone play a FPS while high on cocaine.

 

The Russian sensibility (most of the cast and crew are Russian) comes through in the film a little bit. Without going into spoilers, there’s some content about soldiers and casualties of war that goes to a basic anti-war and nation-states and corporations disrespecting soldiers for profit and conquest, but it’s all on-the-nose while similarly being in the background simply because the hyperkinetic shit all around it will drown out any message.

 

The one aspect of this film I really enjoyed was the villain. Akan is an odd creation that doesn’t quite belong in this film, with his odd personality, unexplained powers, and unusual appearance and accent. He commands the screen whenever he is on, and you miss him when he is not. I suppose it makes up for having a hero who says nothing and is pretty much just a camera that beats up and shoots people. In an age where action films (Marvel) are giving us crappier and crappier villains, an unusual one that stands out is a treat.

 

I had a lot of fun watching this movie, which is really less a movie and more of a cinematic ride that should probably be judged less on an intellectual basis (which would consist of complimenting its technical prowess while denigrating its one-dimensional script) and more on pure, visceral enjoyment. I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. That doesn’t mean it’s a good movie, but it’s certainly not a bad one. B+

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“God’s Not Dead 2” is a two hour straw-man argument regarding the separation of church and state, an Argument from Authority regarding the historicity of Jesus, and a delusional look into the minds of people who think Christians are a persecuted minority in the United States. If it’s not quite as morally reprehensible as the first film, it’s only because this film doesn’t seek to murder its atheist characters with hit-and-run accidents or depict Muslim parents are abusive heathens.  We do still get racist Asian stereotypes, though.

 

The main story of the film involves a high school student named Brooke (Hayley Orrantia). Her brother has recently died, but her cold Atheist parents seem not to care, and are in a huge rush to donate all of the brother’s belongings to the Salvation Army. I’m surprised the parents would choose that most religious of charities, but if they hadn’t we wouldn’t be treated to a scene where Brooke sits on a bare mattress in her dead brother’s room crying while, I dunno, 7 different Salvation Army volunteers enter the room one at a time and each remove a single box, all while their walking and lifting sounds play loudly under the please-cry-now musical score of the movie. The scene goes on forever and the unmuted sound effects of the movers make it unintentionally hilarious. Once they’re done, another volunteer allows Brooke to keep her dead brother’s Bible. Apparently, this is a world where Christian children must hide their faith from their overbearing Atheist parents, lest they be cast out of the house. Not like our world, where Christian parents are more likely to disown and cast out their Atheist or, even more likely, homosexual children. I must have missed the scene where Dr. Who took us to this weird, alternate dimension.

 

In any case, Brooke starts to find faith and one day, in her AP History class, she asks the teacher, Grace (get it) Wesley (Melissa Joan Hart…yup), a question about whether Jesus’s “love your enemies” quote from the Bible is similar to Martin Luther King and Ghandi’s statements of non-violent resistance.  Grace answers yes, and quotes a piece of the Bible with Jesus’s full quote.  This interaction becomes the focal point of the film, so it’s important to spend a moment on it.  The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause bars state endorsement of one religion over another. Some Christians, and even this film, will argue that the First Amendment is only meant to keep the State out of Church and not the other way around, but if that were so we wouldn’t have both the Establishment Clause AND the Free Exercise Clause.  If both clauses were saying the same thing it would be redundant/ One clause protects the Church from the State, the other one protects the State from Church. That’s the way it is.

 

In the universe of this film, Grace’s conduct is supposed to be claimed by the Atheists in this film (represented by the ACLU, of course) to have violated the Establishment Clause. As an Atheist who was once a member of the ACLU (my membership has lapsed, but I may renew it after seeing this film), I can tell you that Grace’s conduct is not a violation, and no Atheist in the United States, and certainly no member of the ACLU who knows what they are talking about, would think this is a violation.  Grace makes no comments as to Jesus’s divinity, or miracles, or any positive statements claiming Jesus was a god.  Contrary to many Christian’s beliefs, Bibles are allowed in Public schools. When I was in high school, I had English assignments to read parts of Genesis and compare it to other literary myths, such as those of the Egyptians and Greeks.  Some schools have comparative religion classes.  There is a difference between teaching ABOUT religion, and teaching RELIGION.  Some Christians clearly don’t know where the line is drawn between conversation and endorsement, but rest assured the ACLU does.

 

So, we have a straw man. This film misrepresents the ACTUAL issues that Atheists or other general fans of the Establishment Clause have with religious encroachment into public schools in order to stack the deck with a case in which the Christians are clearly on the right side of the law in order to make the Christians seem (somewhat) reasonable and portray the Atheists as petty jerks.  That’s assuming the filmmakers actually KNOW better. If they do, it is reprehensible to form an argument that they know is based on falsity and to peddle it to a filmgoing audience that may not know any better and warping their view of the law, the Constitution, and the other side of their argument.  If the filmmakers DON’T know any better, as I’m convinced they didn’t when they portrayed the field of Philosophy so inaccurately in the first film, then they’re simply idiots.

 

Grace’s conduct gets in her hot water with…the school board?  Have I mentioned this film takes place in Arkansas? This film wants us to believe that a school board, elected by the people of Arkansas of all places, is full of rabid Atheists who will jump on a teacher for mentioning Jesus before any student or parent has even lodged a complaint?  I used to live in Rhode Island, a very Liberal and Secular state compared to Arkansas.  You should have seen how hard the school board fought when an Atheist student wanted a banner hanging in the public high school calling the students to pray removed.  The ACLU took up and won that case after the school board voted against the girls’ request and the girl was subject to public ridicule from local businesses and elected officials.  If there’s that much resistance in a state like Rhode Island, I highly doubt Arkansas, which once has Mike Huckabee as it’s governor, would be more inclined to crack down on possible infractions of the Establishment Clause. Anyway, Grace refuses to apologize for her conduct, leaving the school board to suspend her.  Oddly, the school board has a weird plan after this. They don’t want to “get their hands dirty”, whatever that means. I think it means they don’t want to fire Grace. So, their plan is to get the ACLU to convince Brooke’s Atheist parents to file suit against the teacher (but not the school, because the board doesn’t want to pay out a settlement…sure, the ACLU will do that…) and force the board to fire her that way.

 

The lawyer for the ACLU is Pete Kane (get it), played in a gleefully over the top manner by Ray Wise. You may remember Ray Wise as playing the demon-possessed murderer of his daughter on “Twin Peaks”, or as playing Satan on “Reaper”.  Here, he’s pretty much playing Satan again, including the gleeful, almost salivating manner in which he hands a pen over to Brooke’s parents to have them sign his retainer, leering over the paper and all but wringing his hands in a Mr. Burns-like manner.  Kane dresses in nice suits, makes odd statements that come out of nowhere (“We’re going to prove once and for all…that God…is dead.” No Atheist has ever said that, ever, except when quoting this line and laughing at it), and expresses being physically sickened by Christianity. He’s this film’s answer to Kevin Sorbo’s highly unqualified Philosophy teacher in the first film, an arch Christian stereotype of an Evil Atheist. Ray Wise, unlike Sorbo, is a good actor and seems to be having fun with the role. I have no idea is Wise is sympathetic to the filmmakers position or simply took this role for the money (he was also briefly in the second “Atlas Shrugged” movie), but he’s fun to watch in a bad-Nicolas-Cage way in this film.

 

Lest you think this film forgot about characters from the first film, they’re here too. Remember the Liberal Atheist (because all Atheists are Liberal, right? Don’t tell Ayn Rand…) who was given cancer by god because she had the audacity to be an Atheist AND insult Duck Dynasty cast members? Well, after becoming friends with the Newsboys (the band who has the song that inspired these film’s titles, and whose albums these films are commercials for), god seems to have cured her of cancer.  Perhaps some day Christian filmmakers will tell me why god is willing to cure cancer in middle class white Americans (“Miracles from Heaven”) but still allows children all over the world to be raped, murdered, and drone-bombed on a daily basis. Anyway, Liberal Atheist is Amy Ryan (Trisha LaFache) spends the film covering the trial, but is otherwise fairly useless and unnecessary to the plot.

 

Also back from the first film is the weird, homoerotic subtextual relationship between Pastor Dave (David A.R. White) and African pastor Jude (Benjamin Onyango). You may remember them from the last film when they were way too happy after watching a man die on the street in front of them. This time, we’re still subject to poorly directed and poorly acted scenes from the two them that look suspiciously like the set-ups to gay porn scenes. In the first film, god punished Pastor Dave by making his car not start, because an omnipotent superbeing has time to flood your engine to punish you for something. In this film, Pastor Dave spills coffee on himself and gets appendicitis, and later he’s arrested. Maybe god doesn’t like you, Dave. Pastor Dave ends up briefly on the jury for Grace’s case, but he’s removed when his appendix is about to explode. He’s really only in the film so that the film can give us a brief subplot that sets up for a third film, and is based on really shaky ground.

 

There’s a scene about half way through the film where Dave is meeting with various other pastors, including the late Fred Thompson. Dave, who is still on the jury at this point and not supposed to discuss the case, discusses his impressions and biases regarding the case anyway. Then, and here’s a doozy, we learn that the government has decided to subpoena the last 120 days of sermons from all of the local pastors. For no reason. THIS would obviously be a violation of the Establishment Clause, not to mention a fishing expedition with no probable cause. The film still thinks this could happen, and mentions a case in Houston without giving the details of that case. Allow me to give you those details. The mayor of Houston signed a bill banning discrimination of homosexuals and transsexuals by businesses that serve the public, private employers, housing, city employment and city contracting. Following this, opponents of this law submitted a petition with 50,000 signatures asking to repeal it. The signature count was 2,000 valid signatures short because most pages of the petition were riddled with errors making many signatures invalid. Related to a legal challenge by the opponents to the law, the city attorney subpoenaed sermons related to the law, the petition, the mayor, and homosexuality and transgender issues.  The purpose of this was merely to see if the pastors gave instructions to the opponents of the law (who were all Christians tied to these churches). To quote a news article about the issue: “What exactly the pastors said, and what the collectors knew about the rules, is one of the key issues in pending litigation around whether opponents of the law gathered enough signatures for a referendum.”  The purpose of the sermons was not to censor content, but to clarify what instructions were given in relation to procedural issues at the heart of the matter.  That is a long way from this film’s indication that the government would exercise prior restraint on pastors.

 

Lastly, we see the return of Chinese college student and ridiculously offensive stereotype Martin (Paul Kwo). He’s starting to move closer to Christianity, and is so Asian that he comes to Pastor Dave with 147 questions about the Bible, because all Asians are hilarious overachievers, right? Later, we get a scene where Martin’s Communist Father visits him at college simply to smack his son across the face and say that he has no son, because the writers must have heard that Asians do this when they disapprove of their children.

 

Don’t worry, we still have plenty of new characters packed into this mess. Grace’s attorney is Tom, played by the handsome but talentless Jesse Metcalfe. Metcalfe is never, for one moment, able to deliver a convincing line of dialogue or appear to be a convincing lawyer. If it weren’t for Pastor Dave, I’d say Metcalfe is the worst actor in this film, which admittedly has better acting on the whole than the first film did. We also get a embarrassed-looking Ernie Hudson as the judge presiding over the case (at least the film dispensed with the ridiculous broken gavel from the trailers) and Pat Boone as Grace’s father.

 

The depiction of the trial is inaccurate, even by movie standards. No one ever excuses witnesses from the stand (the entire court room empties out leaving Grace crying alone on the witness stand at one point). A lawyer is allowed to yell at a witness, his own client, because he’s able to “treat her like a hostile witness”. Treating someone as a hostile witness only means the attorney can ask leading questions, not berate them and testify in the guise of asking questions, but whatever. Also, witnesses are allowed to testify willy-nilly, even though any and all potential witnesses need to be disclosed before the trial, and people can’t just burst into a court room and demand to be heard. Also, by the end of the film, Tom should have easily been held in contempt and potentially facing ethics charges, but the film ignores his conduct as soon as it’s over. Also, since when can a judge decide to unilaterally forgo with closing arguments?

 

In a weird turn of events, Tom’s legal strategy turns on trying to affirmatively prove the historical existence of Jesus in order to justify quoting Jesus in a history class. While Grace’s quotation was, again, not a violation of the Establishment Clause, in real life is someone tried to use this argument to get away with ACTUAL preaching in the classroom, it’d be deemed irrelevant. But, the filmmakers, in addition to believing that Christians are persecuted, also seem to believe that denying the historicity of Jesus is an egregious commonality that the film must address. While I myself doubt the historicity of Jesus, most historians do not. You’d think the filmmakers, having the majority on their side for once, would make the most use of this. Nope.

The first witness called is Lee Strobel, a pastor and author of Christian apologetics. He’s not a historian, and his testimony in the film cites no evidence for a historical Jesus. Instead, he name checks two historians, one an atheist and one an agnostic, who state that Jesus is a historical figure, and that’s it. Argument from Authority and nothing more. The fact that the ACLU lawyer in the film doesn’t tear apart this testimony left me wanting to do cross-examination myself.  You’d think the guy would have at least pulled Josephus out of his ass. Then we get one more witness, and that’s it. We get J. Warner Wallace, a former homicide detective who claims the gospels are true because they hold us as good eyewitness statements (never mind that the authors of the gospels did not personally witness the events they wrote about) and that any contradictions between them are reasonable considering contradictions in eyewitness statements from witnesses whose stories are all slightly different after witnessing the same event. Right, because whether the car that sped off after hitting a pedestrian was blue or purple is the same as not knowing if one person or many people came back from the dead after Jesus’s crucifixion. Also, the tacit argument here is that it doesn’t matter if the word of god is accurate all the way through, as long as the broad strokes are correct. He also oddly seems to claim that a later gospel fills in details of an earlier gospel, so they both must be true because one had a detail the other didn’t, but both describe the same event.  Why does he not realize that the writer of a later gospel could have read the earlier one and fixed the continuity in the same way that “God’s Not Dead 2” clarifies that god didn’t kill Amy. Also, there is no chain of custody to the Gospels, nor any mention of oral tradition or Q document or anything else that actually explains why some gospels are similar and different.  Geez, I could make a better argument that Jesus existed than these two witnesses, and I don’t even BELIEVE he existed.

 

I’m starting to think many of these Christian movies only exist to sell books, and not just Lee Strobel’s and J. Warner Wallace’s. The book “Man, Myth, Messiah” is shown in this film many times. I’m reminded of how “Fireproof” was mostly a commercial for the two books the filmmakers sold as aids to struggling couples to fix their marriages, or the book tie-ins to “War Room”.  These films spend an inordinate amount of time pimping out products that can be found at Lifeway Christian Stores, especially since that MMM book isn’t really referenced in the case or in dialogue beyond a single name check, but the book and cover are shown repeatedly.

 

Needless to say, the film ends with Grace winning, thanks to a weird scene/emo girl with a cross tattoo on the back of her neck that no one saw, but replaced Pastor Dave on the jury. Given that tattoos are forbidden by the Bible (Leviticus 19:28) I’m shocked the filmmakers are okay with them. A protest outside the court room by Atheists is drowned out by pro-Grace supporters who begin chanting lines from the Newsboys song “God’s Not Dead”, and then we cut to a Newsboys concert where they sing a Christian song with bad legal puns in every line. Then the credits roll, and we get a post-credit sequence of Pastor Dave being arrested because, well, he refused to turn in his sermons to the government.  The bored government official, by the way, gets WAY TOO OFFENDED by this act and stands up to threaten Pastor Dave. I’ve been to town hall and the DMV enough to know no government employee would ever give this much of a shit, no matter how anti-Christian they might be. Oh well, this thing’s going to be a franchise of illogical arguments and inaccurate looks at different schools of thought and professions.

 

While not as bad as the first film, “God’s Not Dead 2” is still morally repugnant. It presents a straw man argument to strengthen their imaginary conceit that the country is “out to get” Christians, feeding into their persecution complex and martyrdom fetish. It will harm its audience by giving them poor reasoning and debate skills, and passes off logical fallacies are perfectly reasonable ways to defend a position. Adults may be too far gone, but for all the children dragged to this film who would otherwise prefer to see “Zootopia”, you are damaging them beyond belief.  While I’m no fan of Christianity and think the whole thing is hogwash, there are far more logically sound ways to argue that Jesus is a historical figure or that the legal system might be overly secular.  This film isn’t concerned with that.  This film wants to preach to the choir, and does their audience, as well as human intelligence and reasoning skills, a disservice.

 

Also, at one point the Pat Boone character claims Atheists have no hope. Mr. Boone, I remember when you were interviewed in the documentary “Fuck” and told the interviewer that you replace the F-word with your own last name. So, in honor of that, go Boone yourself. F.

“Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” is a mess.  It is not a laughably bad movie, and it does contain enough nuggets of goodness to keep the film from being a complete failure, but the movie is nonetheless a sloppy piece of work, largely at the screenplay level.  This is a movie that has no idea what it wants to say or how to say it, so we get some half-executed mixed metaphors combined with some lackluster action and a hideous-looking third act sound and light show that combines the worst elements of “300” with the sensibilities of Michael Bay.  This film is the first major disappointment of 2016.

 

The biggest criticism, aside from the color palette, that was launched against “Man of Steel” was regarding that film’s climax, where Superman (Henry Cavill, who really does play a wonderful Superman in two films that have no idea what to do about Superman) and General Zod (Michael Shannon) have a giant fight in Metropolis that knocks down tons of buildings. That film kind of ignored how many people were likely to have died, and that Superman was probably complicit in some of those deaths by willy-nilly flying through skyscrapers to fight his enemy.  Well, director Zack Snyder obviously heard those criticisms, as “Dawn of Justice” is pretty much a two and a half hour response to those criticisms.  Thankfully, he didn’t pull a Shyamalan with “The Visit” and blame his audience, and he did try to craft an actual story dealing with the implications of that film’s finale. Hell, in this film’s action climax, we get Anderson Cooper telling us the city is largely empty because the fight takes place after the work day has ended. Apparently Metropolis is a ghost town when business ends?

 

The film begins during “Man of Steel’s” finale, and Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck, giving a by-the-number lousy Ben Affleck performance and not the “Gone Girl” performance I was hoping for) is witnessing the destruction and the people being injured or dying, and blames Superman.  This version of Bruce Wayne is a bit odd. He suffers from hallucinations and some form of psychosis, and is clearly hampered by PTSD, possibly due to a run in with the Joker as the film makes mention of “clowns” and shows a Robin outfit written on by the Joker.  This is not the Bruce Wayne of the comics who has a strict moral code.  This is a Bruce Wayne who is a Batman that is dangerously close to becoming the Punisher. In the film’s attempted political metaphor, Batman represents the United States post 9/11.  A once noble (in the filmmaker’s minds) power that has been corrupted by fear and tragedy to break the rules (brand criminals if you’re batman, waterboard if you’re the United States) and loses sight of reason because he’s single-minded focused on the worst case scenario.  For Batman, he views the mere possibility that Superman could turn fully evil as an existential threat to mankind, and develops an unusually fierce hatred for the man because of it. Seriously, the film never quite adequately explains why Batman is so damn angry and afraid of Superman, especially when it seems clear that Superman is trying to help and any damage he causes is collateral, not on purpose. Superman is slightly less at fault for death than a United States drone that kills innocent people while also killing a terrorist.

 

If Batman represents the United States as it is, Superman represents an idealized version of what America either was or never was but has strived to be. Perhaps that is why Batman hates him, because Superman represents the ideal that Batman cannot live up to. In any case, Superman’s position in this world is confusing. The senate is holding hearings about him, indicating people think he’s an uncontrolled menace or something because of the battle with Zod in Metropolis. If that’s so, why is there a giant memorial to the victims of that battle that contains a huge Superman statue which was erected only 18 months after the battle? The film can’t decide if Superman is widely loved, widely hated, or in what ratios he is both. In a scene where Lois Lane (Amy Adams, who is too good for the way they under-write the character) goes to interview an African warlord and is taken hostage, only for Superman to come and save her, mercenaries with guns kills some of the warlord’s men in order to…frame Superman? How does shooting people frame Superman? When has Superman ever needed to use guns?  And why would the mercenaries use special experimental bullets that can easily tie them to the man who hired them as opposed to…you know…normal bullets that are perfectly capable of killing people?

 

The idea is that Superman can still do all the good he wants to do, and people will hate him regardless.  If we apply this Superman-as-America, it is a weird apology for America’s imperialist evil that seems to come straight out of Dick Cheney, but coming from Zack Snyder, who directed the pro-Iraw War metaphor of a film “300”, I’m not surprised. In a scene where Superman talks to his mother (Diane Lane) she tells him to be everything people want him to be, or be none of it, because he doesn’t owe the world anything.  She might as well be saying “Fuck the rest of the world if they don’t appreciate what America does.”  I expect Ted Cruz to say that at a GOP debate.

 

The America metaphor, which is not very explicit, doesn’t really hold because the film doesn’t sufficiently provide an enemy that stands in for an actual enemy the United States faces.  Instead, our villain is a weird collection of tics and eccentricities named Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg).  Luthor is like if Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg from “The Social Network” merged with a Bond Villain.  He’s over-the-top and more than a little annoying, and his motives are stupid. Luthor is where the film fails the America metaphor, though the film still argues America needs to be less like Batman and more like Superman in general, and it goes for the other metaphor, which is of religion.

 

The Christian god and many Greek gods are mentioned in this film, and Superman is compared to a god in the film. The problem is that if you want to make Superman into a metaphor for the Christian god, it’s not very tenable because Superman is clearly not omnipotent.  Superman is more in common with the Greek gods who, while extremely powerful, have many limits on what they can and cannot do.  The reason this is a problem is because the arguments for and against Superman given in this film, especially by Luthor, are the arguments Christians make for their god and Atheists make against god.  We get basic Christian apologetics in favor of Superman, and we get the Problem of Evil from Luthor.  Yeah, it seems Luthor’s only motive is to kill “god” because no “god” helped his father out when he was alive in Communist East Germany.  Luthor is a violent antitheist who hates god and wants people to top believing in him.  So, we basically get the villain from “Prisoner”, that awful Christian serial killer movie with Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal.  Or maybe Luthor wandered into this movie from “God’s Not Dead 2”, I dunno.   The problem is that if Superman is not omnipotent, then you can’t blame him for not stopping all of the evil in the world. Superman isn’t the Christian god. He’s not even Dr. Manhattan from “Watchmen”, power-wise.

 

Beyond the failure of the film’s messages/themes/metaphors, we just have a bad script here.  While everyone knows this film is meant to set up a new slew of DC movies, this film does it in that horrible “Iron Man 2” fashion of shoe-horning in previews of future movies in ways that do not add and actually distract from the current film we’re watching.  We literally get a scene where Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) watches videos of other superheroes on a laptop for 5 minutes while we see previews of heroes that are yet to get their own films, like The Flash and Aquaman.  Hell, Wonder Woman has no real reason to be in this movie. Her presence in the climactic fight is not necessary story-wise, and she spends the movie going to cocktail parties in order to…keep an old photo of herself hidden? Really?  She came out of hiding to do that?  Luthor at one point even makes that “If you can make god bleed” statement, which Mickey Rourke made in “Iron Man 2”.  Way to copy the worst film of Marvel’s for your new universe, DC.

 

Perhaps none of this would matter if the action was good, but it’s not. The fight between Batman and Superman is lackluster, with lots of throwing each other around and punching each other in the face. How the fight ends is laughably bad, and the way Batman turns on a dime from ready to commit murder to Superman’s ally is awful.  This fight is the biggest letdown it could have possibly been.  Of course, any shittiness of that fight is surpassed in shittiness by the climax, wherein Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman fight Doomsday, a giant abomination.  This climactic fight looks ugly, with dirt clouds and a brown color palette, and has constant unnecessary electricity bolts and lightning and roaring. This thing is a CGI bore of ugly, wasteful special effects. I have also complained about the CGI orgies that ended both “Avengers” films, but at least those endings, while boring, were not unpleasing to the eye.  Following the conclusion of the fight, we get an ending so drawn out that it reminded me of “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King”.  The film takes its sweet time putting all of the pieces into place for the next films in the universe.  This follows two and a half-hours of odd pacing and choppy editing. There is no flow to this film at all.

 

Look, the film isn’t all bad. Jeremy Irons makes a great Alfred, Batman is actually shown doing detective work for once, the concept of having Superman testify to Congress is cool even if the film handles it poorly (he didn’t hear that bomb? The senator is taunted with a jar of urine?), and the film gives us a lot more wet, naked Amy Adams than I ever expected to see, so I guess that’s something.  However, I cannot imagine any fan of Batman not being angered over this very not-Batman-like Batman that the film gives to us. I can’t imagine any comic book fan who can’t think of a better comic book story that featured Batman and Superman at opposite ends of a controversy that would have made a better movie than this one.  I cannot imagine anyone not walking out of this movie disappointed.

 

“Dawn of Justice” isn’t a “Green Lantern”-like trainwreck. It’s screenplay, by David Goyer and Chris Terrio, is fucking awful. Why does Luthor even want Batman and Superman to fight? Why is Luthor concerned with Batman at all? The film fails thematically, sure, but it also fails at basic storytelling with character motivations and events logically leading to other events. Zack Snyder, who has directed two good films (“Dawn of the Dead” and “Watchmen”) and a number of absolutely horrible movies (“300”, the awfully misogynist “Sucker Punch”) does the film no favors.  The movie is almost black and white for how silver, brown, black, and ice blue make up the color palette. The ending is a failure on every conceivable directorial level, from general visual aesthetic to knowing the spatial dimensions of where everyone is standing. Snyder is the wrong person to helm this universe, and if it has any hope of not being garbage Warner Brothers needs to find someone else to handle this.

 

“Dawn of Justice” is not the worst superhero movie of the modern era, but it’s the worst “Batman” movie since “Batman & Robin”, and that’s bad enough. C-