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: American Ultra

American Ultra (2015)
Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman. Directed by Nima Nourizadeh.

AMERICANMike is a stoner convenience store clerk in a small Virginia town, where he lives with his girlfriend Phoebe. When he’s not stoned, he’s kind of a mess, ridden with anxiety and subject to panic attacks. One very late night, he catches two guys messing with his car, and when he confronts them, they move to attack him. Mike uses a spoon he’s carrying and a cup of instant ramen, combined with reflexes he doesn’t know he has, to kill both attackers in horribly violent ways. Soon, he is the target of a series of psycho killers and doesn’t know why, but he seems to be their equal in assassination skills, much to his own surprise.

ultraJesse Eisenberg is always an interesting actor, and pairing him as Mike with Kristen Stewart as Phoebe might not seem like natural casting choice (although they starred together in Adventureland, a film I liked very much), but it works pretty well, and Stewart is probably the best I’ve seen her. Topher Grace and Connie Britton play characters whose roles I won’t give away, but they’ve got something to do with the situation Mike and Phoebe find themselves in, and they’re kind of a comically serious couple of rivals. American Ultra works if you sit back and let it have its way with you, not overthinking the plot or the jokes. If you appreciate the creative stunts of a good Jackie Chan film, you might find a lot to like in the action sequences here, ‘though their very violent nature and execution cause them to lack the charm and acrobatic silliness of Chan’s best work.