Review – Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice

As a curtain raiser for Warner’s belated attempt to muscle in on the extended comic book universe market, this latest white elephant from Zack Snyder gets things off to the worst possible start.

If Batman vs Superman is the dawn of what's to come, goodness knows what's awaiting for us with the rest of this franchise

If Batman vs Superman is the dawn of what’s to come, goodness knows what’s awaiting for us with the rest of this franchise

As the anointed poster boy of the franchise, Snyder’s limitations as a director are laid bare, while every one of the film’s 151 minutes merely compound his weaknesses.

Snyder certainly has a unique visual signature, one that he has been refining since embarking on his first graphic novel adaptation, Frank Miller’s 300, in 2007. In the case of 300, the director’s penchant for uber-violence and fan-serving visuals (a number of the frames looked like they had been lifted directly from the graphic novel) was the perfect fit for the source material.

It's mano e mano in Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice

It’s mano e mano in Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice

When Snyder moved on to adapt Alan Moore’s seminal Watchmen (2009), that same dark and moody palette was used, but all the nuance was notably absent, which resulted in an experience that was akin to observing someone turning the pages of a comic book instead of watching an actual movie.

With 2013’s Man Of Steel, you got the sense that Christopher Nolan’s guiding hand was at least having some influence, especially in the early scenes when Clark Kent is coming to terms with his extraordinary gifts. However, that was before an extended last act which saw Snyder give in to his natural tendencies by practically destroying a city and wiping out thousands of innocent bystanders – presumably with the intention of pulverising his audience into submission.

That movie’s final rampage forms the prologue of Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice, which sees Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) swear revenge on Superman (Henry Cavill) following the Man of Steel’s apocalyptic bust up with General Zod (Michael Shannon). Batman sees the son of Krypton as a clear and present danger to humanity (his logic doesn’t convince Alfred (Jeremy Irons) – nor us it has to be said), while Superman views the Dark Knight as an increasingly unstable vigilante whose brutal methods, including branding his prey, have taken a sadistic turn.

Jesse Eisenberg trying not to overact as Lex Luthor in Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Jesse Eisenberg trying not to overact as Lex Luthor in Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Megalomaniacal mogul Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) also sees Superman as a direct threat and seeks to use Kryptonite as a ‘deterrent’ against him alongside other, even more deadly, weapons.

The hype machine that cranks into gear when a tent pole release is on the horizon rarely works entirely in the movie’s favour as the final product invariably fails to match the expectation that has been ratcheted up. In the case of Batman vs Superman, it feels as though that machine worked so hard and for so long to generate buzz that it practically incapacitated itself in the process.

It says a lot about the film that, within the space of a single week of its release, the feverish anticipation had already fizzled out and we were left with what this really is: smoke, mirrors and sledgehammers that equals far less than the sum of its parts.

Intrepid reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) in Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Intrepid reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) in Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Although it’s not entirely fair to compare this to Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy (those films are directed by someone operating at a far higher level), comparisons nevertheless demand to be made and it doesn’t take long to notice the chasm that exists between them. Whilst Nolan’s triumvirate had something to say about the dichotomy between justice and vengeance, the danger of becoming the thing you swore to fight and the ease in which civil liberties can be sacrificed when fear is allowed to take over, Snyder’s Batman is a virtually unrecognisable washed up fascist who has seemingly forgotten what it is he’s supposed to be fighting for and sees threats in every nook and cranny.

Liewise, the work put in to humanise Superman in Man Of Steel has essentially been tossed to the sidelines as we are presented with a figure who is given little more to do than look bewildered at the turning tide of public opinion against him.

Chris Terrio’s and David S Goyer’s script feels like it has been chopped to pieces, as evidenced in the dreadfully disjointed narrative that flits all over the place and throws in discombobulating dream sequences that may look cool, but simply don’t serve the story and are shameless attempts at sprinkling breadcrumbs for future movies.

Ben Affleck plays an aging Dark Knight in Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Ben Affleck plays an aging Dark Knight in Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice

This universe-building reaches new lows when Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman (the best thing in the movie and the only person who breaks a smile throughout) sits at a laptop and goes through Luthor’s secret files (how does he have all of this stuff??), watching footage of metahumans Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash that play out like teaser trailers.

So what of the fight itself? Well, like everything else in the film it is laden with ponderous dialogue and the sort of action choreography that Michael Bay would be proud of. It also goes on for an exceedingly long time, although it is the mere aperitif for the main event involving Doomsday, which smashes you over the head so relentlessly you’ll be screaming for it to end.

The Holy Trinity of Superman (Henry Cavill), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and Batman (Ben Affleck) in Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice

The Holy Trinity of Superman (Henry Cavill), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and Batman (Ben Affleck) in Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Cavill does his best in a movie that, instead of being Man Of Steel 2, sees him playing second fiddle to the Dark Knight, while Affleck, to his credit, emerges with his head held high in spite of the serious limitations placed on him by the script and director.

In spite of the character being touted as Mark Zuckerberg’s (even more) evil twin, Eisenberg is horribly miscast and gives a dreadfully mannered turn that exudes little or no menace. Amy Adams, meanwhile, does her best as Lois Lane but is again given very little to work with, while Irons shines in his all-too-brief moments on screen.

Even Hans Zimmer’s score (working with Junkie XL), normally so rock solid, is patchy and unsure of itself; reflected in the composer’s admittance in interviews that he struggled on this occasion to produce something distinct from what had gone before.

If Batman vs Superman is the dawn of what’s to come, goodness knows what’s awaiting for us with the rest of this franchise.

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Review – Man Of Steel

The superhero’s superhero is back, but not as we’ve seen him before, in Zack Snyder’s earnest origin story that strives to put the king-daddy of comic books back on his throne.

There's enough in Man Of Steel to promise much for future adventures, but let's hope there's more fun next time around

There’s enough in Man Of Steel to promise much for future adventures, but let’s hope there’s more fun next time around

While his ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound and run faster than a speeding locomotive naturally lend themselves to incredible set pieces, Superman as a character has always been tricky to build a movie around. His intrinsic capacity for good is far less dramatic than the dark, brooding of Batman, for instance, or the cocksure machismo of Iron Man.

Jor-El (Russell Crowe) prepares to sending his son away from a dying Krypton in Man Of Steel

Jor-El (Russell Crowe) prepares to send his son away from a dying Krypton in Man Of Steel

Uninspiring action sequences, a lacklustre plot and an over-extended running time sank Supes’ last cinematic outing, 2006’s Superman Returns, so the challenge was on to rediscover the magic of 1978’s Superman and make him relevant to a modern day audience.

The news that Man Of Steel would be ‘A Zack Snyder Film’ was hardly a great start. Since his highly watchable 2004 remake of Dawn Of The Dead, the quality of Snyder’s output has diminished further with each new release, to the extent that his most recent film, 2011’s Sucker Punch was virtually unwatchable.

Clark Kent flashbacks to his childhood in Man of Steel's best moments

Clark Kent flashbacks to his childhood in Man of Steel’s best moments

Although the presence of Batman alumnus Christopher Nolan and David S Goyer as, respectively, producer and screenwriter can be felt, there’s no mistaking this is a Snyder movie, which means stylised violence delivered at an ear-bleeding volume.

Taking the character back to his roots, Man Of Steel begins at the moment of his birth on a dying Krypton. His father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and mother Lara (Ayelet Zurer) manage to launch the spacecraft carrying Kal-El before maniacal rebel General Zod (Michael Shannan) is able to get his hands on the child. Crash-landing on Earth, he’s raised by honest-to-goodness farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), who name him Clark. When Clark starts to develop super-human powers, his alien lineage is revealed to him by his father, who warns of the need to keep his abilities a secret for fear that a confused, frightened society would reject him. However, when Zod and his followers arrive years later demanding that Earth surrender Kal-El or suffer the consequences, Clark must finally embrace his Kryptonian ancestry and become the superman he was destined to be.

Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) consoles a confused Clark in Man Of Steel

Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) consoles a confused Clark in Man Of Steel

While the dark and serious approach taken by Nolan for his Dark Knight trilogy works for a superhero who lives in the shadows, the similar direction Man Of Steel takes doesn’t make much sense. Tossing words around like “edgy” and “realistic” is all well and good, but when you’re dealing with god-like alien beings beating the hell out of each other and laying waste to half of Metropolis (and killing thousands of faceless people in the process, although this doesn’t seem important) on a scale not seen since the The Matrix Revolutions, “realistic” is stretching it somewhat.

Taken on their own merits, the childhood flashbacks Clark has during his Christ-like wandering phase in the film’s first act are the film’s finest moments. Handsomely filmed, these scenes are richly evocative and beautifully played by Costner and Lane. Indeed, the brief, wordless moment when a young Clark plays with the family dog and wears a makeshift red cape is Man Of Steel‘s high watermark.

Intrepid Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) in Man Of Steel

Intrepid Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) in Man Of Steel

A typically restrained Michael Shannan as General Zod in Man Of Steel

A typically restrained Michael Shannon as General Zod in Man Of Steel

However, they look like they belong in another film when Snyder switches into default mode and lets the CGI do the talking. While there was a palpable sense of jeopardy for Iron Man and co during Avengers Assembled‘s extended final battle in New York, here the only thing you feel is a sore backside.

In his big break, Henry Cavill does everything that’s asked of him, from brooding lonerism to conflicted turmoil and finally self-assurance that falls on the right side of smug. He’s no Christopher Reeve, but then who is? Anyone aware of Shannon’s turns in the likes of Take Shelter and HBO’s Boardwalk Empire may wonder like me how much CGI was actually required to show Zod’s heat vision, so intense are Shannon’s eyes anyway. It’s hardly a stretch, but it’s fun nonetheless to watch him deliver Zod’s semi-regular meltdowns.

Daily Planet editor Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) and his staff take shelter in Man Of Steel

Daily Planet editor Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) and his staff take shelter in Man Of Steel

Although she starts out well as feisty reporter Lois Lane, Amy Adams struggles with a script that runs out of things for her to do. Laurence Fishburne, meanwhile, dons his Morpheus hat for a spot of sermonising as Daily Planet editor Perry White and Crowe at least gets to run around more than Marlon Brando.

Superman (Henry Cavill) at one with the suit in Man of Steel

Superman (Henry Cavill) at one with the suit in Man of Steel

Hans Zimmer’s score may indulge the Christ motif a little strongly at times (there’s only so many angels you need to hear), but is otherwise stirring and haunting in all the right places and doesn’t make you pine for Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic composition.

Snyder drops in a few nice touches to prepare the ground for the inevitable sequel (a Lexcorp lorry is overturned during the Superman vs Zod melee, suggesting Mr Luthor is being primed) and one can only hope it makes room for a bit more fun next time around.

It’s ironic that a film featuring a character gradually finding himself should lose its way as it goes on. There’s enough here to promise much for future adventures, but this man of steel still has a long way to fly if he hopes to reclaim his crown.

Trailers, Or The Art Of Spoiling A Movie

The hype machine is now as much a part of the fabric of a big budget tent pole movie as the director, cast, special effects and, more often than not, the script.

The relentless drip, drip marketing campaigns for such pictures generally kick off months ahead of release before reaching a crescendo of wall-to-wall promotional blitz targeted at winding audiences up into a collective frenzy of well coordinated anticipation.

The trailered-to-death Man of Steel

The trailered-to-death Man of Steel

One of the oldest, but still most reliably effective weapons in a studio’s armoury is the trailer. Once upon a time, a film got by with just the one trailer to sell itself to the masses. However, as the campaigns for blockbusters have got longer, the number of trailers produced has in turn increased, to the extent that Zack Snyder’s reboot of the Superman franchise Man Of Steel managed a whopping five trailers (not forgetting the numerous teasers and TV spots etc) prior to its release.

When so many trailers are produced for a single film, with each one focussing on a slightly different plot or character aspect, the chances of giving away way too much to the audience are pretty high. Even films that have just one or two trailers are now cut in such a way that you feel like you’re watching the entire movie, or at the very least the best action scenes or the most amusing gags (stand up Fast & Furious 6 and The Hangover Part III).

Just as damaging are the trailers that idiotically give away major plot points, thus spoiling the experience of watching the film. In the right hands, a trailer shows you just enough to whet your appetite for the main feature.

In the wrong hands, trailers such as the ones below can end up ruining a movie before you’ve paid for a ticket.

Warning: The following trailers give away the entire film

The Negotiator (1998)

Probably one of the very worst offenders in Hollywood history, the trailer for this decent action thriller featuring Samuel L Jackson as a hostage negotiator turned hostage taker who only wants to talk to fellow negotiator Kevin Spacey ended up totally ruining the movie when a critical plot point was senselessly revealed at the end. To make matters worse, the offending spoiler-filled line of dialogue spoken by Spacey in the trailer didn’t even make the final cut of the movie!

Carrie (1976)

It seems whoever put together the trailer for Brian De Palma’s horror classic assumed everyone in the world had read the Stephen King book on which the film is based, as absolutely every plot point is crammed in. It may not have revealed the very final shot, but that’s about the only surprise that was spared.

Cast Away (2000)

Robert Zemeckis’ survival drama about an Average Joe stranded on a deserted island remains one of the director’s very best films and sees Tom Hanks at the top of his game, but do we really need the entire plot layed out before us in a single trailer? Anyone in any doubt as to Chuck Noland’s fate need only watch the trailer to realise everything’s been helpfully spelt out for you.

Terminator: Salvation (2009)

The fourth installment in the Terminator franchise managed the double-whammy of being not only uninspiring, but also ruined by its spoiler-tastic trailer. Sam Worthington’s role as Marcus Wright is just as integral to the film as Christian Bale’s resistance leader John Connor, so it was only right to have featured him prominently in the trailer. What wasn’t as smart was the decision to spoon feed us a key character development involving Marcus that pretty much ruined the whole movie.

The Island (2005)

There just had to be a Michael Bay movie somewhere on this list, and while this Philip K Dick-esque dystopian sci-fi is far from his worst, whatever twists the film has are well and truly blown by the trailer. Impressively, it not only gives away the film’s central conceit in one swift line of dialogue by Steve Buscemi, it goes on to ruin another key moment involving Ewan McGregor’s Lincoln Six Echo in between the explosions, chases and leering shots of Scarlett Johansson. Way to go.

Quarantine (2008)

Anyone who watched the far superior Spanish language horror film REC will know exactly how this slavish American remake turns out, but to the uninitiated a semblance of surprise would have been nice. Instead, the trailer serves up all the grisliest details in true bloodthirsty fashion and can’t even resist chucking in the climatic shot, just to make sure there are no surprises.

Those are some of my picks for the worst movie trailers. What are the trailers that most annoy you?