Tag: zack snyder

Justice League


Justice League (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

Although not as polished, lean, and emotionally satisfying as Marvel films that have found strong footing in terms of establishing a specific tone while juggling a team where every member stands out, Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” is a step in the right direction. Perhaps the most important change in this expansion of the DC universe is the decision to make room for moments of levity. What results is a superhero picture that is actually enjoyable rather than one that is drowning in its misery, grim look, and would-be philosophical musings about what it means to be a protector of mankind.

Fans of the genre will likely check in for the action, but I found that one of the film’s strengths is when two characters simply connect either by sharing memories or challenging one another’s ideals. An example of the former involves Lois Lane (Amy Adams) being visited by Martha Kent (Diane Lane) at the Daily Planet and eventually the two women touch upon how Clark Kent’s death (Henry Cavill) has changed their lives. Neither is as strong as she thought she would be or could be, making their grieving process believable and relatable. As for the latter, at one point Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) find themselves at odds in terms of how to use a powerful but dangerous technology. A clash of ethics turns personal real quick and suddenly we see them as Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince rather than their counterparts. It goes to show that with the right script exploring the right themes, this universe has a chance to become compelling.

The villain requires more work to be interesting, especially when it is a CGI character. Although the goal of Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) is clear, hoping to reduce the planet to its primitive state by acquiring three energy-filled boxes hidden across the planet, it is yet another antagonist who wishes to end the world. It is a oft-tread path and at this day and age, having so many superhero films come and gone, it is not a good enough motivation. The best modern superhero films of the genre offer villains that function within the morally gray. The most recent example is Adrian Toomes/Vulture (Michael Keaton) in Jon Watts’ earnest and energetic “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” The man simply wishes to provide his family a good life. We relate to his goal; we may or may not relate to the path he chooses to take to get to that goal.

New faces of the team—The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher)—are given moments to shine outside of their specific personalities. Although none of them are fully realized characters yet, they command enough intrigue that I wish know more about them in future installments. Out of the three, Miller is most surprising given my knowledge that the performer specializes in playing extreme characters: people who are psychologically out there, some of them downright disturbed. For Miller to deliver a character that is fun and someone with whom one wants to be friends with, Barry Allen is a most welcome addition to his oeuvre. I can’t wait to see where he will take the character.

“Justice League” offers just enough entertaining action sequences. Although they tend to suffer from diminishing returns, especially because the giant CGI bugs are utilized too often (all of them looking the same with zero personality does not help), these scenes create a steady, accessible rhythm with enough camera acrobatics to create some level of urgency. A fresh perspective is that although Batman is the leader of the pack, he is perhaps the most vulnerable physically since he has zero superpower. The material milks a couple of jokes out of this curious situation.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice


Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
★★ / ★★★★

The greatest hindrance of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” written by Chris Terri and David S. Goyer, from becoming great piece of work is its inability to iron out the main story and the accompanying subplots in such a way that all of them, by end of its running time of one hundred fifty minutes, feel complete and thoroughly satisfying. Instead, what results is at least three movies—potentially good ones—compacted into one rushed film. One feels the pressure the studio puts on itself to release a product—including other movies planned to stem from it—instead of focusing on the assignment at hand.

Action sequences become underwhelming eventually because the grim-faced tone does not change even on a subtle level. For instance, the hand-to-hand combat between The Dark Knight (Ben Affleck) and the Man of Steel (Henry Cavill), are certainly well-choreographed, but there is no personality and there is a lack of genuine ingenuity to how they fight. Thus, tension does not build during their confrontation. The battle is built up to be the centerpiece of the film but the result is so pedestrian that one is left in disbelief.

There is a tendency for characters to explain themselves constantly. Expositions lead up to more unnecessary expositions and platitudes so the material barely takes off. Superior pictures, regardless of the genre, are written, executed, and acted in such a way that inner turmoil is felt and understood without relying on voicing out feelings and thoughts on a constant basis. A litmus test of superhero movies: Does the work still function as an engaging dramatic piece when superhero elements are taken away?

Two new characters stand out but deserve more screen time. Initially, I found Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Lex Luthor to be a major miscalculation. My mind kept telling me that he would better off as The Riddler or some villain of that sort. But looking closely at his performance, he milks every moment of snark and intelligent lines. There is always something behind the eyes. In every scene, I could not help but pay attention to this interpretation of Lex Luthor and wonder what he might be up to. Although arguably miscast, Eisenberg’s commitment to the role won me over.

A more effortless but equally magnetic performance is delivered by Gal Gadot. Her interpretation of Diana Prince, whose secret identity is Wonder Woman, is sultry, mysterious, full of presence. She commands the screen even during moments when only half of her face is showing. The picture comes closest to being playful during Diana Prince and Bruce Wayne’s repartee, so for a few minutes the movie comes alive. Their allure and chemistry together is so strong that one smiles at the possibility of a movie with just the two of them together.

Directed by Zack Snyder, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is a dark, brooding, and tonally flat transition to an expansion of a franchise. Although its ambition is admirable and it does offer a few positive qualities to offer, it is neither a film that is easily likable nor one that inspires the viewer to see it more than once. Since many details of the story are either unfocused or not explored under the most rigorous standards, the work offers no compelling message, or messages, about power, sacrifice, and mercy.

Man of Steel


Man of Steel (2013)
★★★★ / ★★★★

During Krypton’s final convulsions due to the planet’s increasingly unstable core, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife (Antje Traue) rush to get their son, Kal-El, into a pod so he alone can escape the doomed planet and prevent the Kryptonian race from reaching extinction. This task is not made any easier by General Zod (Michael Shannon) as he and and his henchmen stage a coup d’état against the planet’s leaders. Zod wants the codex in his possession because it holds the genetic information of his people. Having it will allow him to recolonize another planet. But the codex is in the pod–located inside the infant to be exact–and Jor-El will not allow his son to be harmed.

To claim that “Man of Steel,” based on the screenplay by David S. Goyer and directed by Zack Snyder, is visually spectacular and consistently thrilling is not an understatement. Propelled by a confident execution and an above average script, when the film reaches emotional apices, especially in the first half, it makes for a compelling watch. It drags a bit toward the end, favoring ostentatiously grandiose action sequences over substance, but it is far from similar to the incomprehensible cling-clanging denouement of Michael Bay’s “Transformers.”

One of the wisest techniques employed is the non-linear storytelling. While this is not new to the superhero sub-genre, it is effective here. By choosing only the important moments of Kal-El, named Clark Kent (Cooper Timberline, Dylan Sprayberry in his younger years and Henry Cavill as an adult) by his adoptive family (Kevin Costner, Diane Lane), learning to control his powers, keeping a cool temper, and trying to keep his abilities and identity a secret, the small lessons are contained and to the point so they do not disrupt the rhythm of Clark’s journey toward discovering his origins.

I enjoyed the casting of Lois Lane. She is played by Amy Adams who, in my eyes, is not conventionally pretty. I think she is beautiful but her beauty comes with an edge. For me to be convinced that Lois is a serious journalist, one who can go toe-to-toe with the sharks in the Daily Planet and among its competitors, the actor playing her has to have the look as well as the capability to evoke conviction and intelligence. Adams is ace casting because she embodies these qualities.

However, the romance between Superman and Lois Lane is not handled with grace. There is a kiss that occurs near the end that felt like a knife to my stomach. Even when they stand from each other, silent, only a couple of inches apart, I cringed a little bit. The intimacy is not earned. Their relationship, one that is romantic in nature, is far from fully developed. And yet it is forced. A kiss between the two leads does not deserve a place in this movie. Perhaps a hug would have been acceptable–but only as a symbol of thanks.

The smashing of and crashing against buildings, helicopters, and alien ships are impressive. The first few big action pieces, especially the battle in Smallville between Superman against Faora (Antje Traue) and a robotic but very intimidating minion, offer genuine thrills. It is good that our hero is not made out to be invincible; he can feel pain and exhaustion–without being exposed to Kryptonite, an ore infamous for being Superman’s ultimate weakness. To circumvent the expected, the writer is forced to be a little more creative and I appreciated that.

Still, the explosions, skyscrapers crashing onto each other, and flying debris wear out their welcome eventually. Because it runs for longer than is necessary, I began to consider that perhaps the film might have been better off as having a hard R rating. Though it is implied, not one human death that includes all of its ugliness is shown. For example, when a structure is about to crash onto a group of panicking people desperate for escape, it quickly cuts onto another scene. If human casualty is shown once in a while, it might have made a stronger statement, one that is relevant to Superman’s journey of becoming a symbol of the human race. It would have shown that death of the innocent is a part of the story’s universe and that not even Superman can save everybody.

Despite a handful of missteps, “Man of Steel” is an action sci-fi fantasy that has more than enough gravitational pull in its marrow to keep us wondering about what will happen–within its story as well as a potential franchise. I want a sequel–one that is leaner, maybe laced with more humor, clever ones, but certainly one that does not flinch away from the uncomfortable.

Sucker Punch


Sucker Punch (2011)
★ / ★★★★

After their mother’s death, Baby Doll (Emily Browning) and her sister were left in the hands of their evil stepfather (Gerard Plunkett). When he found out that the sisters were the heir to the fortune he hoped to receive, he was possessed by rage and tried to hurt the girls. Commotion ensued and Baby Doll was accused of accidentally killing her sister. She was sent to a mental hospital where she eventually planned her escape with other patients (Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung). Directed by Zack Snyder, there was no denying that “Sucker Punch” delivered visual acrobatics galore. The action sequences looked dream-like, appropriate because much of the fantastic elements occurred in Baby Doll’s mind, and the girls looked great in their respective outfits. However, it was unfortunate that there was really nothing else to elevate the picture. The acting was atrocious. Blue (Oscar Isaac), one of the main orderlies, for some reason, always felt the need to scream in order to get his point across. I understood that Isaac wanted his character to exhibit a detestable menace, but he should have given more variety to his performance. Sometimes whispering a line in a slithery tone could actually pack a more powerful punch than yelling like a spoiled child. I was astounded that we didn’t learn much about Baby Doll’s friends. They were important because they helped our protagonist to get the four items required if she was to earn her freedom. I wondered what the sisters, Sweat Pea and Rocket, had done to deserve being sent to such a prison. They seemed very close. Maybe for a reason. The girls were supposed to have gone crazy in some way but there was no evidence that they weren’t quite right in the head. If they were sent to the mental hospital for the wrong reasons, the script should have acknowledged that instead of leaving us in the dark. They, too, could have been framed like Baby Doll. Overlooking such a basic detail proved to me how little Snyder thought about the story. “Sucker Punch” tackled three worlds: the mental institution, the brothel, and the war against Nazi zombies. Too much time was spent in the whorehouse, the least interesting of them all, and not enough time in the asylum. Though beautiful to look at due to its post-apocalyptic imagery, I could care less about the battle scenes with the dragons, giant samurais, and Nazi zombies. The reason why Snyder should have given us more scenes of Baby Doll in the asylum was because that was Baby Doll’s grim reality: in five days, she was to be lobotomized. Those who’ve played a role-playing video game in the past five years are aware that the games have mini-movies during key events in the story arc. Those images were as good as the ones found here and some of the stories in those games are quite compelling. If images were all this film had to offer, then why should we bother to watch it?

Watchmen


Watchmen (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★

We all know the fact that people complain whenever a film doesn’t stick closely to its source material. Well, “Watchmen” remains very loyal to its graphic novel–with a few tweaks here and there so the audiences will be able to relate more with the politics it tries to tackle. I never thought I would ever read a review (like the one from Entertainment Weekly) that complains about a picture sticking too closely to its source. It seems like some critics just find a way to complain about something (no matter how ridiculous it sounds) to sound insightful so it’s hard for me to take that specific review seriously.

“Watchmen” may be about two hours and forty minutes long but Zack Snyder (who directed the 2004 version of the cult classic “Dawn of the Dead” and the highly overrated “300”) directs the movie so astutely, it doesn’t feel like it’s that long. I was particularly impressed with the way the film started: it goes over the Minutemen of the 1940’s in about ten minutes during the opening credits and then it takes us to its current setting which tells the audiences how different their successors have become. The death of The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) in the hands of an unknown murderer sets up a series of events that results upon the reunion of five other superheroes: Rorschach (played brilliantly and hilariously by Jackie Earle Haley), Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), and Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman). Unlike most superhero movies, the six of them are atypical in such a way that they are nihilistic, not afraid to hurt or kill, and each of them can be placed in various areas of the moral spectrum. They do not necessarily have a common goal initially but their beliefs and methods of acquiring information are often at odds with each other. A typical villain is not necessary because their own selves are ultimately their worst enemies. Though some can argue that there is a “big bad” in the film, to me, nuclear weapons and politicians’ hunger for power are the driving forces that force the characters to choose the morally gray path.

Each superhero is featured in one way or another so the audiences get an idea on what makes the characters tick (pun intended). In a way, we eventually learn to see them as regular human beings with real problems instead of gods that can jump in at any time and save the world. In fact, I can only remember one or two scenes when the characters decided to do a good dead just because they are superheroes. Although at times, the dialogue may sound a bit cheesy, especially the romantic scenes between Wilson and Akerman, the film provides a great balance between seriousness and humor. I also liked the fact that the sex scenes look realistic (as opposed to other superhero flicks) and the filmmakers weren’t afraid to show certain body parts from both genders. Usually, films like this tend to objectify women’s bodies but I didn’t get that feeling here. In my opinion, this is lightyears better than “300” because of its rich moral ambiguity and ability to genuinely entertain. Those who expect a typical superhero film may be disappointed but those who want to see something different should be impressed. “Watchmen” is a breath of fresh air from the likes of “Iron Man,” “The Incredible Hulk” and “Spider-man.” Along with “Coraline” and “The International,” this is one of those few movies of early 2009 that is worth watching in the cinema; it also should be remembered as the year progresses.