Tag Archives: Zack Snyder

Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

batman vs superman

There’s just no gentle way to say it: Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice is a disappointment. It would have been impossible for the film to live up to the hype anyway, considering this is the first time in history the world’s two most popular superheroes have shared the big screen together (fanboys haven’t been spraying their shorts all over the world for nothing). But despite a few cool moments and scenes of action brilliance, this is a deeply flawed movie, an overlong mess with fundamental issues in storytelling.

Remember when audiences complained about all the seemingly innocuous destruction in Man of Steel from the final battle between Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod (Michael Shannon)? Batman vs Superman starts off by making us think that was their master plan all along, revealing that there was indeed a lot of collateral damage, some of which had a very personal impact on Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), the billionaire vigilante otherwise known as Batman.

And so begins an epic sulking match between two dudes with very different philosophies. One is a god among men but a relative amateur at being a superhero, while the other is a jaded superhero who takes the law into his own hands and believes the caped crusader cannot be trusted.

In line with Man of Steel, the tone is very dark and sombre, which have led critics to accuse the film of being too serious and lacking in fun. Personally, I didn’t have a problem with it as DC had to find a way to differentiate itself from the Marvel cinematic universe, and we’ve seen from Christopher Nolan’s wonderful Dark Knight trilogy that dark can work.

This all sounds great, doesn’t it? It’s a premise that should work in theory, though in practice it’s s different story. The problems remain in the surprisingly shit script by Academy Award winner Chris Terrio (Argo; he also wrote the screenplay for Man of Steel) and David S Goyer (Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy) and the execution by director Zack Snyder (Man of Steel, 300, Watchmen).

Snyder has always had talent for visual flair and action, though crafting a compelling narrative hasn’t always been his forte. Batman vs Superman is an accurate reflection of Snyder’s strengthens and weaknesses as a filmmaker. The images are never a problem; the gorgeous bluish grey colour palette, the expensive special effects, and the bone-crunching action sequences offer a smorgasbord of visual delights that will no doubt satisfy fans. A couple of the fight scenes involving Batman and a sequence with the Batmobile are particularly spectacular and warrant the praise.

On the other hand, the storytelling left a lot to be desired. The first half felt like a Batman movie, told from his point of view, which is partly understandable because we’re getting a new actor playing him. But we got so much Batman that Superman became more of a symbol than one of the two main characters. And then towards the end, it shifts uncomfortably into a Superman movie. The result of a Batman-heavy first half and a Superman-heavy second half — rather than letting one of them own the whole film (like what Marvel is doing for Captain America: Civil War) or focusing on both of them at the same time — is that the film feels uneven and disjointed, and neither character gets the development they deserve.

Instead of the layers a film like this needs, all we got was a lot of brooding and angry reactions, which are fine if these emotions are set up properly. However, people just pop up without adequate introductions, and the transitions between plot points are all over the place. It assumes you’ve seen Man of Steel, and secret identities don’t mean much at all. Plot holes, which are expected in any superhero movie, are poorly masked. It’s not that the narrative doesn’t adhere to common sense, it’s just that the story is pieced together in a rather incoherent manner. To be honest, even the trailers feel like they are structured more adequately than the film itself.

Even the dialogue is a mixed bag. You have these fantastic monologues and exchanges some of which you would have already heard in the trailers. But while they sound totally epic in trailers, in the context of the movie they often feel contrived.

My suspicion is that a lot of stuff probably got left on the cutting room floor –important pieces of exposition and explanation are left out, while needless dream sequences take up way too much valuable screen time. Perhaps we have to wait for the R-rated version Snyder is preparing for the Blu-ray release, but at 151 minutes the movie is already way too long — and feels that way too.

Interestingly, the two actors people were concerned about when the cast was announced turned out to be fine. Ben Affleck turned out to be a pretty decent Batman, both physically and acting-wise, while Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was probably the best thing about the whole movie, making it justifiable to be excited about her upcoming standalone movie.

Sadly, Henry Cavill appears to have drawn the short straw. Most of the time he’s relegated to second fiddle behind Batman, and then he’s suddenly called upon for some heavy duty emotional scenes as though we’re supposed to care about him, which isn’t very fair.

As for Jesse Eisenberg, who I really like and think is a good actor, there’s no other  way except to say his Lex Luthor was a misstep. It’s less of a casting problem and more of a characterisation problem. This version of Superman’s nemesis looks like the Riddler and acts like the Joker (and not the Heath Ledger version). Most importantly, he’s simply not putting any fear into anyone.

Amy Adams actually has quite a meaty role as Lois Lane, but the rest of the all-star supporting cast doesn’t get to do much. Still, it never hurts to see the likes of Lawrence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons and Diane Lane (and a couple of surprising cameos).

I’m not trying to trash the film. It has good moments, epic moments that live up to the promise of the trailers. But so much of that good is outweighed by fundamental problems that would doom any movie.

Batman vs Superman has so far polarised fans and critics. As usual, I probably fall somewhere in the middle, though I must say on this occasion I’m more inclined to side with the latter. The fanboys, some of whom have waited decades for this movie, are probably willing themselves to believe this movie is the best thing ever. Or maybe I missed the point and need to see the movie again to understand it better, though to be honest I’m not getting the urge to sit through it again.

Having said all that, Batman vs Superman does do a solid job of setting up what is yet to come (it is, after all, called Dawn of Justice), giving us the hope that the future Justice League films (yes, it’s in 2 parts) will be able to finally get it right.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: 300: Rise of an Empire (2014)

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Hard to believe, but Zack Snyder’s 300 was released in 2006. It came out to mixed reviews, but personally I found it to be a revelation, a campy, delightful bloodbath of stylized action and popcorn fun of the purest kind, the closest thing we have to a direct translation of a graphic novel to the big screen. There is also no other film that makes people want to work out more than this one.

There was talk of a sequel almost immediately after it became a big hit, but it has taken nearly 8 years for 300: Rise of an Empire to be made. Any time it takes that long for a sequel to be made (I even remember seeing posters and trailers as long as two years ago), you have to be concerned — is there a reason? Was it a troubled production? Were there financial difficulties?

I have no idea, frankly, but what I do know is that much of the goodwill leftover from the original had just about dissipated by the time this film came out. They left it too long, and fans of the first film had either forgotten how much they enjoyed it or hyped it up so much that the sequel was doomed to unrealistic expectations.

Directed by Noam Murro, 300: Rise of an Empire is not a direct sequel but rather a companion piece that examines events before, during and after the events in 300. There’s no Gerard Butler screaming “This. Is. Sparta!!!” this time, but his wife, played by Lena Headey, is still around looking like she just stepped off the set of Game of Thrones. The two central characters are General Themistocles, played by Aussie Sullivan Stapleton (who was brilliant in Animal Kingdom), and the ruthless naval commander Artemesia, played by the sultry Eva Green. Rodrigo Santoro returns as the God-King Xerxes (the man who killed Butler in the first film) and David Wenham also makes a cameo as Dilios, a survivor from the 300 (the one with bandages around one eye).

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The story is more convoluted that necessary, but essentially it’s all about Themistocles leading the Greeks against Artemesia’s Persian forces. The action is, like its predecessor, bloody and stylistic, with plenty of flying fluids and severed limbs interspersed with rapid and slow-mo mass battle sequences. The distinctive colour tone is again grey with splashes of red and this time blue, and the special effects, though not noticeably improved since 2008, are as good as any blockbuster made in 2014.

The biggest positive about the film, apart from it being ab absolute visual feast, is that it feels like part of the 300 universe without being exactly the same. The films look similar but there are also plenty of differences, with the most obvious being that most of the battle scenes are on the sea, whereas in 300 they are all on the mountains and in the plains. It doesn’t come close to regenerating that freshness of its predecessor but still stands firm on its own.

The cheesy lines are harder to find this time, which is a shame, because it takes a lot of fun out of the film. As for the performances, Eva Green dominates and shines through the gloomy greys. She takes what is otherwise a fairly pedestrian script with a typical baddie and turns Artemesia into a memorable villain; a wild, vengeful nutjob who makes Stapleton’s Themistocles seem boring by comparison. Not to crap on Stapleton, who has already proven to me he can carry a role, but here his character feels sorely lacking in charisma.

At the end of the day, 300: Rise of an Empire is still a fairly enjoyable romp. It lacks the awe factor from the first film but the action sequences are still impressive and Eva Green is fantastic as the psycho villain. It’s a solid companion piece to the original but will likely be remembered as yet another sequel that didn’t really have to be made. Perhaps when another sequel is made (it’s being planned) to extend the series into a trilogy it will be viewed upon more favorably in hindsight.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Man of Steel (2013) (2D)

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Every Superman movie comes with unreasonable expectations. We already saw how the 2006 Superman Returns directed by Bryan Singer and starring Brandon Routh (whatever happened to his career?) turned out when it tried to reboot the franchise with a more serious, thoughtful take on the Superman mythology. It wasn’t as bad as everyone said it was, but no matter which way you look at it, the film was a bitter disappointment.

And so I was somewhat apprehensive about yet another reboot, the long-awaited Man of Steel headed by Zack Snyder, the man who gave us 300 and Watchmen, two flawed films  I really enjoyed. Snyder is supposedly a massive Superman geek who knows the universe inside out. Coupled with his unique visual flair and penchant for relentless action, it seemed like a good fit. Indeed, the initial trailers and the pre-release word of mouth were promising.

Having now watched the film and given some time digest, I have to admit I still found Man of Steel a disappointment — albeit one that was very interesting (especially in the first half) and had a lot of positives going for it.

One of the biggest positives is Henry Cavill, formerly the unluckiest man in Hollywood (having just lost out on the lead role in Superman Returns to Brandon Routh, Casino Royale to Daniel Craig, and Twilight to Shovelface Pattinson),. Cavill is perfect as Clark Kent/Superman. Apart from being superhumanly handsome and buffed out of his mind, he exudes a vulnerability that at times reminded me of Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Nolan, by the way, served as a producer on Man of Steel.

Secondly, a problem with any Superman movie is that everyone knows the plot, so kudos to Snyder for making an origins story that covers some things we have not seen before, or at least not done in a way we’ve already seen before. I’m no Superman expert, but I understand there are quite a few subtle adjustments to the story, characters and narrative progression that made the film feel familiar but fresh.

The best parts of the film, surprisingly (or not surprisingly), are where Superman is out of his suit (which made the controversial decision to keep the underwear inside this time), the bits where he is learning who he is and how to control his powers. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane do a magnificent job as Clark Kent’s parents, stealing the show with the most human and emotional portions of the movie.

So the first half of Man of Steel is brilliant, dare I say almost Nolan-esque. The second half, when the villain, Zod, played by the brilliant Michael Shannon, arrives on Earth — well, that’s when things start to unravel and the film morphs into your more conventional superhero affair…except that it goes on for far too long and the carnage is so overboard that it all becomes numbing and dull. OK, maybe “dull” is taking it too far, but the tension and excitement was certainly not commensurate to the number of buildings being blown to pieces.

That said, the special effects were very good, and it wasn’t easy distinguishing between what’s real and what’s CGI. Some of the Krypton technology was pretty cool too, a clever divergence from the typical alien technology you might have seen in the past.

I like Amy Adams, but I never really liked Lois Lane in this one. Her relationship with Superman didn’t feel close enough to warrant some of the interactions between them. It was like we had to accept that there was chemistry between them (when there wasn’t) just because she’s Lois Lane. Adams is good, but the character felt lacking.

As for Russell Crowe as Jor-El, I have to admit he is pretty good in a “I’m Russell Crowe, the greatest f*&%ing actor in the world!” kind of way. I didn’t expect he’d have so much screen time either.

I sound more negative about Man of Steel than I should be, but only because my expectations were so high. The cast and the first half of the film were super but for whatever reason the storytelling in the second half lacked the emotional depth that would have made it a great film. And it was unnecessarily long. All things considered though, it is a solid Superman flick that is clearly better than Superman Returns, but not quite what I believe it was trying to achieve — ie, Dark Knight territory.  Perhaps the planned sequel(s) can get there.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Immortals (2D) (2011)

Immortals, the bloody, ultra-violent fantasy action film loosely based on Greek mythology, is widely mistaken as a Zack Snyder film (ie, the guy behind the epic 300).  I overheard no less than two couples make the erroneous connection when exiting the movie theatre.  It is easy to see why, given the similarities in content, styles, themes and incoherent shouting between the two films.  Besides, there is an overlap in producers (a fact they keep reminding us).  But unfortunately, Immortals is no 300.  Yes, it is also visually arresting and the action — when there is action — is blistering, but at the end of the day, Immortals impales itself on its laboured storytelling, rendering it plodding in comparison and ultimately forgettable.

In fact, Immortals is directed by Tarem Singh, an Indian director who was previously at the helm of The Fall and The Cell (yes, the infamous J-Lo clunker) and built his CV on music videos and commercials.  His visual style is slick, fast and brutal, with long, clear fight sequences and well-placed slow motion emphasis — rather Snyder-esque — but Immortals does not attempt to emulate 300‘s monochrome colour scheme or its comic book presentation.  I’d actually say that Immortals is closer to a mix of Clash of the Titans (for its Greek mythology and fantasy elements) and Centurion (for the excessive brutality last seen in this 2010 ultra-violent Michael Fassbender Roman conquest film).

The plot is straightforward — Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) declares war on Olympus, turning the world upside down to seek the mystical Epirus Bow in order to release these demi-god creatures called Titans to destroy the Gods.  Theseus (Henry Cavill) is an ordinary man chosen by the Gods to save humanity and gets caught up in the destruction.  He is assisted by a hot virgin oracle priestess (Freida Pinto from Slumdog Millionaire) and a strangely-loyal-for-no-reason thief (Stephen Dorff).  Let the carnage begin.

Immortals does have a lot going for it.  There are some highly entertaining action scenes, all of which involve bone crushing, blood splattering, head exploding (and according to some, excessive and unnecessary) violence and most of which involve an agile, sword/spear wielding Henry Cavill and his impressive 6% body fat.  Watching Cavill (the man whom Stephenie Meyer expressly envisioned as Edward Cullen in Twilight before he got too old for the role, and the guy who was almost James Bond) on the big screen, it’s hard to imagine why he isn’t a massive star already.  He looks fantastic, oozes charisma and has reasonable acting chops.  Immortals won’t make him that massive star, but the upcoming Superman reboot (again?) Man of Steel, in which Cavill plays the titular character, most probably will.

Freida Pinto and Stephen Dorff are underused as Cavill’s companions, but that’s more the fault of the script than their abilities.  Luke Evans (Clash of the Titans) is solid as Zeus, and Kellan Lutz (Twilight) and Isabel Lucas (Transformers 2) are semi-believable as Poseidon and Athena, respectively.

However, it is Mickey Rouke’s Hyperion that dominates.  Rouke is phenomenal and seems to relish playing these complex and unforgiving characters.  The film would not have been the same without him.  Big call, but I reckon it was his best performance since Wild Orchid (just kidding!).

So Immortals was exciting when people on screen were killing each other, but sadly, everything in between was kinda boring.  The storytelling really struggled after the opening third and never picked up any steam.  The characters remained stagnant and stopped developing, and when you think about it, the story doesn’t really go very far.  That would have been mildly acceptable had there been simply action, action and more action (like 300), but for for me it felt as though too much of the 110 minute running time was wasted on the boring stuff.

This makes Immortals an average and somewhat forgettable movie at best, but my bias for exciting battle scenes and visual flair probably boosts its rating a little higher than it should be.

3.25 out of 5!

PS: When I first saw the trailer for Immortals, I was very excited by the obvious allusions to 300.  I know that film polarised some viewers but I loved it — it was as close to a comic book or video game (I’m a big fan of both) as any film I had ever seen.

The Immortals trailer also reminded me, unexpectedly, of one of the best video game franchises of all-time, God of War, and in particular God of War III on the PS3.  If they’re ever going to make a God of War movie, I’d imagine it to be like this (at least visually).

Amazingly, I found the storytelling in God of War III, told through a series of cut scenes, to be superior to the storytelling in Immortals.  Now what does that tell you?

PPS: Forget about 3D.  It never even crossed my mind.

Movie Review: Sucker Punch (2011)

In a nutshell, Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch is the one of the most visually impressive but intellectually and emotionally empty films I’ve ever seen.

I’m really stuck on this review right now because I don’t know how to go about it.  The film started off unbelievably well, with virtually zero dialogue and a kick ass soundtrack — but most importantly it told a story, and an interesting one: a deceased mother, a dead sister, an evil stepfather and a girl in a mental institution where she will be lobotomised in five days.

At this point I thought I was in for one of the best films of the year.  I loved the look of the film (in my opinion it exceeded both 300 and Watchmen), I loved the sound (something I don’t usually notice) and I loved where it was heading.  It had a terrific (at least looking) cast led by two sensational Aussies (Emily Browning and Abbie Cornish), plus Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung.

Then, as expected, the film took a turn into fantasy, and from there, the story just went downhill (though I will say it redeemed itself a little towards the end).  I didn’t have a problem with the turn itself, but I disliked the way it was executed.

The effects and fight scenes were amazing to watch, but because you knew it was all ridiculous fantasy, nothing was at stake and as a result there was no genuine excitement.  Incredible to look at (it was like a freaking video game or the best live-action anime of all time) but it left me feeling strangely hollow.  And without giving away anything more about the plot, I also found the progression to be predictable and plodding.  The devices used were, for lack of a better term, lame.

And so I have very mixed feelings about Sucker Punch.  On the one hand the geek inside me was utterly impressed by the super cool visuals, martial arts moves and blazing guns.  There was a scenario for every nerd — war, fantasy, sci-fi.  But on the other, the sane movie-goer in me was disappointed by the lack of a compelling narrative and a complete failure to generate any emotional connection.  It smelt of a lazy film, one that was too focused on the aesthetics and not nearly enough on the heart and soul.  It’s a real shame because with a stronger script, Sucker Punch could have been something quite special.

2.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Watchmen (2009)

I had been importing my short Flixter entries for all my movie reviews up to now, but I thought if any movie deserved a full review, it would be Watchmen, possibly the most anticipated movie of the year for many (unless Harry Potter 6 or Transformers 2 is more your thing).

Disclaimer: I will preface this review with two comments: (1) I am going to stick to my convention of not revealing much about the plot or what happens in the movie; (2) I have not read the Watchmen graphic novel yet (thought it might ruin the movie experience if I read it beforehand).

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Watchmen (2009)

Director: Zack Snyder

Main cast: Malin Ackerman (Silk Spectre II), Billy Crudup (Dr Manhattan), Matthew Goode (Ozymandias), Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian), Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl II), Carla Gugino (Silk Spectre I)

Rating: USA: R, UK: 18, Australia: MA

Running time: 163 minutes

4 out of 5 stars

Watchmen is likely to be one of the most unusual films you will ever see.  It’s about superheroes, but it’s not your typical superhero movie.  Most of the superheroes don’t display any obvious supernatural abilities (which really just makes them people who like to fight crime and have costume fetishes).  It’s often difficult to discern who is good or evil, right or wrong.  Probably all of the main characters exhibit some form of mental disorder at varying levels of seriousness.  In a sense, they are the anti-superheroes.

As I said, I don’t like to reveal the plot for those that don’t want to know about it (but I assume most people who go to see it have a rough idea).  All I will say is that the story takes place in an alternate historical version of 1985, during the peak of the US/USSR Cold War.  This becomes clear in the opening sequences.

However, to some extent, it doesn’t really matter what the plot is about, because at its heart, Watchmen is a character movie.  The story is told in non-linear form, jumping from character to character and revealing their back stories through flashbacks.  There is a central line in the plot, a mystery waiting to be solved, but the focus is firmly on the characters – who they are, how they became the way they are, their personal struggles, their fears, desires, motivations and ambitions.  At the same time, there is this constant undercurrent about the nature of human beings, and in particular, their capacity (or lack thereof) for understanding and compassion.

The Watchmen graphic novel (by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins) first came out between 1986 and 1987, which explains the setting.  For many years, it was regarded as unadaptable, and after seeing this film, I got a sense of why that may have been the popular opinion.  It’s a shame that the movie was not made closer in time to the graphic novel, because the story reflects many of the contemporary anxieties of the American public of that period.  Many of those anxieties are still relevant today, but they have evolved (in the wake of 9/11) and the impact is not quite the same as it would have been.

Directing and Screenplay

Director Zack Snyder and writers David Hayter (who wrote the original script) and Alex Tse (who kept the best elements but amended much of it) should be commended on bringing Watchmen to life at last.  As I haven’t read the graphic novel, I cannot comment on how good the adaptation was, but as a standalone film, it was very good, though not great.  The difficulty may lie with the running length – at 163 minutes, it is very long for a superhero movie (though not as extraordinary as it would have been a few years ago) – but at the same time, you get a strange feeling that there was much more of this bizarre world yet to be explored.  Perhaps the director’s cut, which is supposedly 191 minutes (and coming out with the DVD), will be a more complete picture for those that want to see more of it.  For some, I imagine 163 minutes is already too much.

Acting

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Haley as Rorschach was amazing

The importance of the acting in a film like this cannot be understated.  For the most part, the actors in the lead roles delivered believable performances that traversed a plethora of emotions.  The clear standout would undoubtedly be Jackie Earle Haley as the freakish yet intriguing Rorschach, the best character by far.  You’re already impressed with him when he wears a mask that obscures his entire face.  You then become even more amazed when he takes off the mask.  Truly brilliant.

Not far behind is Patrick Wilson (Haley’s co-star in the magnificent Little Children), an extremely underrated and underappreciated actor who plays Nite Owl II, a slightly overweight and awkward social misfit.

If there is a weak link, it would have to be Matthew Goode’s Ozymandias.  While he may fit the bill physically (tall, lean and traditionally handsome), he doesn’t quite exude the charm and presence needed from the character.  Not to take anything away from Goode’s performance because it was adequate, but if you have to pick on someone it’s him.

Violence, Sex and Special Effects

Given the classification ratings for Watchmen, it’s not surprising that there is an abundance of incredibly bloody and gruesome violence (as well as ‘normal’ violence), a bit of sex and nudity (both real and assisted by special effects) and some coarse language (though not as much as I expected).  I’m glad they made this film for adults rather than worry about the classification and go for a toned down version that simply wouldn’t have worked.

The fight scenes were superbly choreographed – smooth, crisp and whole, thankfully avoiding the rapid cut scenes that have plagued action films of late.  And from the guy who directed 300, I would have expected nothing less.  On the other hand, Snyder didn’t shy away from some of the more frightening scenes either, displaying the pain, gore and blood in all its glory.

As for the special effects – they were good, but certainly not groundbreaking.  They did a fairly decent job with Billy Crudup’s Doctor Manhattan, but there were times when you could easily spot things that were completely computer generated (not that you would expect them to build the real thing).

Conclusion

On the whole, Watchmen was very very good – but it fell considerably short of the masterpiece some it expected to be.  It may seem unfair, but you cannot NOT compare the film to its source material (or at least its reputation if you haven’t read it), which is considered by many to be the greatest graphic novel of all time.

There were some absolutely brilliant sequences littered throughout this movie, but it was more scattered than consistent.  Those expecting an all-out action flick might be disappointed because there are quite a few ‘dull’ character development moments in between.  I assume there will probably be 4 broad classes of reactions to Watchmen: (1) loved the graphic novel and therefore loved the movie; (2) loved the graphic novel but felt the film did not do it justice; (3) haven’t read the graphic novel and now want to after seeing the film; (4) thought it was weird and stupid and didn’t get it.

I put myself in the third category.