Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot. Directed by Zack Snyder.

bvs1The title of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice really says it all. The citizens of Metropolis and the U.S. Congress question Superman’s trustworthiness. Superman doesn’t like Batman’s brand of justice. Batman considers Superman’s powers a threat to the public safety. Lex Luthor has a plan to inspire Batman to kill Superman.

bvs2It’s a bit more complicated than that. It’s a lot more complicated than that. The part of the plot involving Luthor getting involved with the remains of General Zod seems an unnecessary complication, so I probably could have done without that, but it’s still okay. And despite covering a lot of ground with these three characters, the film leaves a lot of stuff underexplained. I’d heard complaints that the movie is too long and too slow, but I watched it in three sittings, across three evenings, and it didn’t seem too long to me. If you’re watching this at home, I recommend splitting it up this way.

bvs3I just knew Ben Affleck was going to be a good Batman, and he is. I guess something needs to be said about the suit and the Batmobile, so I’ll say I like the way the suit’s eyes light up, kind of like that animated TV series in the late Nineties, but it seems more like a knight’s armor, really kind of clanky, than suits in films past. It gives the Caped Crusader a squarish look, in his body and face, and I like that too, but it takes a little bit of getting used to. The Batmobile is fine. I normally get off on cool cars in movies, but I was kind of uninspired by this one, for no good reason I can think of.

bvs4I was less sure of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, but he’s quite good too. His early scenes with Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent are excellent. Add my fondness for Henry Cavill as a less-charismatic-than-expected Superman and Amy Adams as a more-charismatic-than-expected Lois Lane, and it’s a decent movie, a grimmer and grimier superhero movie with a few interesting action sequences and a few interesting quiet moments. I liked the quieter scenes in Man of Steel too, mostly because I like the way director Zack Snyder doesn’t feel the need to overdirect some of the films’ poetic moments.

At the height of the anti-Superman sentiment, Superman does something especially heroic, and there is a moment when the suspicious public realizes its error and gestures apologetically (and perhaps reverently) while Superman stands there, silent. The scene is dramatically different from the hip-hip-hooray stuff we expect, and it feels like a special moment of connection between the people and a man with connections to very few. I want more of this.


Review: Chasing Amy

Chasing Amy (1997)
Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Jason Lee, Dwight Ewell, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith. Written and directed by Kevin Smith.

It’s been nineteen years since Chasing Amy was in theaters, a realization that makes me ponder my mortality, but then everything makes me ponder my mortality nowadays. I wonder what it does to Smith, for whom this was the breakout film. In 1997, Smith was a known entity with a couple of well-received indie pictures under his belt, again operating on a tiny budget, again casting his childhood friends. But this film received a few meaningful recognitions, including a Golden Globe nomination for Joey Lauren Adams and awards-season nods from critics’ associations.

I look forward to revisiting Smith’s early work, now that I realize how long it’s been since I’ve seen most of his movies. He’s one of my favorite directors, greatly flawed in predictable ways but still fresh and creative in multiple other ways.

I watched Chasing Amy two weeks ago and again last week, and my biggest takeaway from these repeat viewings is that the stuff that was bad in the late Nineties is worse now, and the stuff that was good is even better.

I don’t think there are spoilers here, but if you haven’t seen it and would rather know very little going in, skip this bulleted section.
I was looking to see a few things with fresher eyes, here’s what I came up with.

  • Holden McNeil, the main character played by Affleck, is as tone deaf as I remembered, a doofus who gets unreasonably upset about something he learns about his lover’s past. Not only does he overreact to the initial discovery, but he confronts her about it in the most juvenile way, and then his proposed solution to the mess he creates is bizarre at best. It’s idiotic and implausible at worst. It is the film’s greatest flaw, and one I have difficulty getting past. Main characters are allowed to make mistakes, but when they’re just idiots, mistakes just look like idiocy.
  • I had reservations about Alyssa’s getting together with Holden, the premise on which the film is constructed. This time around, I like it a lot more. Alyssa explains that she’s come to this point where she makes her own decisions about love and sex, and she’s going to love whoever she wants. This character doesn’t just need a Ben Affleck to come along and make her see the error of her lesbian ways. This is a strong, smart statement she makes (more than once) about owning her sex and articulating this ownership in clear, multi-layered arguments.
  • The Jay and Silent Bob scene is still the best part of the film, and some of Smith’s best writing in any of his movies. Smith, Affleck, and Jason Mewes deliver the lines so well that when the film was over this most recent time I saw it, I went back and watched the scene five more times.
  • I’d forgotten about Dwight Ewell as comic book artist Hooper X. He’s a great character, and I wish he’d returned in later Smith films.

Joey Lauren Adams as Alyssa Jones gets props for some good acting, but she quickly gets the emoting up to ten, so that there’s nowhere for her to go in her extended scenes. It makes Affleck look low-energy in some of the film’s most critical scenes.

Chasing Amy has always been the most normal of the Askewniverse pictures, and it’s easy to see why it received more mainstream praise than its predecessors. Smith deserves it: he puts his funny, talky characters in normal settings with normal circumstances, and the translation works a lot better than one might predict. The problem is that his main characters, played by Ben Affleck and Jason Lee, are morons who never really redeem themselves, making them difficult to like.

Some of this normalcy is also a problem. There are at least two music video scenes to show the passing of time and the developing of relationships, and there are at least two scenes on playground swings, a device that was old and tired even in 1997. These bad clichés of normality are especially notable because Smith gives us some of the good, creative stuff we don’t see in fifteen other movies, like conversation in a comic book convention, or a group of friends stuffing envelopes while they accuse Alyssa of being scarce lately, or the (common now but fresh then) front shot of two guys talking while they play a video game against each other, both staring straight ahead as they focus on the television.

Smith includes one of his signature moves: the low-angle shot of someone animatedly telling a long, crude story. It’s another highlight for me, the kind of thing that almost excuses an extremely heavy-handed pivotal scene in an ice rink, where the action in a hockey game is meant to illustrate the dialogue between Holden and Alyssa in the stands. It’s awful, but at least it’s creative.

Put that all together, and it’s a likeable but not loveable movie, one with great scenes you want to look at on repeat, and scenes you kind of hope you never have to see again.


Review: Daredevil

Daredevil (2003)
Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Michael Clarke Duncan, Colin Farrell, Jon Favreau. Directed by Mark Steven Johnson.

daredevilDaredevil is quite a bit better than I expected. I missed it in theaters because I didn’t know a thing about the comic book hero, and because I didn’t know Jennifer Garner was in it. It turns out to be nicely dark—darker even than the Dark Knight series—with interesting fight sequences and an intriguing romance-driven plot. I’m disappointed there isn’t a sequel with the same protagonist.

daredevilBen Affleck plays Matt Murdock, a lawyer blind since childhood, who takes clients who can’t always pay in cash. The office he shares with his partner Foggy Nelson (Jon Favreau) is crammed with sports equipment and other items received as payment for the firm’s services. The accident that took Murdock’s sight also left his other senses extremely heightened, in a super power kind of way. He can’t see, but his hearing is so acute that it serves as kind of a radar, so he can judge shapes and distances through (I suppose) echolocation. These super senses, combined with a restless, reckless need for justice, serve him at night, when he dons a costume and fights crime as a mysterious, mythical character named Daredevil. I have long thought that Ben Affleck doesn’t get enough credit for his acting chops, and he does better than an apt job with this role.

That’s pretty cool, but add a few details, and you really have something. Murdock lives in the stony, unlit basement of an old Catholic church, sleeping in a water-filled sarcophagus that acts as a sensory deprivation chamber. He has no family, and his father’s murder is unsolved many years later. He literally smells attractive women before they enter a building, and he has some nicely honed moves for getting to know them. I have often wondered why superheroes in these films are never horndogs—I mean, given their abilities and their abundance of testosterone, it seems like a natural thing. Now I’ve seen two in three weeks who seem to enjoy the company of women (the other is Deadpool, but we see this before he has any powers, so he’s not employing his advantages). There’s also a short Kevin Smith appearance I appreciated.

daredevilI love Jennifer Garner, so my opinion here is disproportionately influenced by my affection, but her smart, tough, feline portrayal of Elektra Natchios, who seems able to keep up with Murdock, makes the film work. She’s a great love interest for him, and an obvious choice for the spinoff series we never got. Michael Clarke Duncan and Colin Farrell as the villains are fine, but the characters are (and I realize I shouldn’t complain about this in a comic book movie) silly and cartoonish.

This could have been the beginning of a great series. As it is, it’s like watching a great TV show pilot and never getting to see any other episodes: promising but just a bit flat.