Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

Ever since Ben Affleck (Gone Girl) was announced as the next iteration of the Caped Crusader, movie buffs and fan boys alike have been waiting with baited breath to behold this epic clash of titans in Batman v. Superman. Most fans have maligned Affleck’s selection, but I reserved judgment. Affleck’s career experienced a brief downturn during the J-Lo era, but I thought he rebounded nicely as early as 2006 with Hollywoodland. I like Ben Affleck and if anyone tells you he’s what’s wrong with this film – they are mistaken.

I looked forward to this, cautiously optimistic about what director Zac Snyder (300, Sucker Punch) would do with the franchise after taking the helm over from Christopher and Jon Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises). Batman v. Superman begins with the familiar exposition of the murder of Bruce’s parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne. We then move forward to the recent past, and the inception of Batman and Superman’s mutual disdain. When one of Superman’s epic battles leaves an avalanche of destruction in its wake, including the decimation of one of Wayne Enterprises’ properties, Bruce is furious. Meanwhile, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill, The Man From UNCLE) is none too fond of Batman, bristling at the cavalier vigilante who has won Gotham’s heart by taking the law into his own hands. To be clear, Batman doesn’t trust an alien with god-like abilities; conversely Superman thinks the billionaire is reckless and should be contained.

The stage is set for battle, after a young Lex Luthor (played by a terribly miscast Jesse Eisenberg, Now You See Me) pits the two against one another. Luthor and LexCorp have weaponized kryptonite, in the event that Superman ever needs to be neutralized. After Congress denies his request for government approval, he moves forward with another plan, hoping that the two heroes will take each other out. The plot was a little thin, and I was never emotionally invested in any outcome for either hero. When Batman and Superman finally square off, it is laughably apparent just how overmatched Batman (a mere mortal) is when facing a real superhero with powers beyond a utility belt. Only with the tried and true trick of kryptonite can he keep pace with Superman. Affleck clearly bulked up for the part, which makes sense – but why was he a slow, lumbering oaf with little agility and quickness? It looked as if even the likes of Daredevil could handily dispatch Batman.

I thought the movie was just ok. It wasn’t as horrible as the blogosphere is making it out to be, but it was rather underwhelming, plagued by poor casting and an underdeveloped, nonsensical plot. Eisenberg was miscast as Luthor. Instead of a criminal mastermind, Lex Luthor seemed like a bratty, petulant teen – hardly a worthy foe to a much more mature Batman or Superman. Batman seemed slow, and the fight sequence wasn’t as jaw dropping as I expected. One scene involves Superman 1) retrieving some kryptonite and 2) using it to kill something; how is this even possible?! There were some cool, entertaining moments, but they were few and far between. Moreover, I don’t really like the way Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot, Triple 9) was incorporated. The character wasn’t properly integrated in the storyline. Perhaps she was supposed to be mysterious, but I never felt like I understood her motivations or history.

Lastly, I just can’t get the Nolan’s interpretation of Batman out of my head. It was just a superior trilogy, and I don’t particularly care for what Snyder has done thus far. I’m still curious to see what Ben Affleck can do in the role, whenever he gets a solo Batman film. I thought he looked the part, but I would like to see more in the future. Superman is just a boring character to me, and Henry Cavill didn’t do much to change that opinion. Superman has all the power and none of the personality, easily distracted like a simp when Lois Lane (Amy Adams, American Hustle) is in danger. Corny! The cinematic edge still goes to Marvel, and all this movie did was make me anticipate Captain America: Civil War even more. Grade: C

300: Rise of An Empire

I’ve commented numerous times that Hollywood studios love a sequel, whether it’s warranted or not. For example, bad sequels typically involve a re-tread of the original, a la The Hangover 2. Which leads me to 300: Rise of An Empire. 2006’s 300 was an exhilarating depiction of the Battle of Thermopylae, replete with amazing imagery and strong performances. One would think a sequel would logically pick up where the original left off, but the makers of 300: Rise of An Empire had something different in mind, much to my disappointment.

Writer Zack Snyder (Man of Steel) uses this sequel to tell a parallel storyline overlapping the same time period as the original movie. This seems like a cumbersome storytelling technique, but there was potential for it to be interesting. Snyder reveals Xerxes’ (Rodrigo Santoro, The Last Stand)backstory, providing a glimpse of him before he became the ruthless villain who mercilessly defeated Leonidas. Xerxes’ father Darius was king of Persia, decimating Greek troops through relentless warfare. During one fateful battle, he was killed by the bow of Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton, Gangster Squad), a fearless Athenian determined to unite all of Greece. Upon witnessing his father’s demise, Xerxes became hell-bent on exacting revenge upon Themistocles and any city-state that threatened Persia.

Enter Artemisia (Eva Green, Casino Royale), a fierce Persian warrior who harbors a venomous hatred for Greece. It was Greeks who raped and pillaged her childhood home, viciously marring her childhood and deeply sowing a seed of revenge that would come to define her. Left for dead, she was taken in by an older Persian warrior who trained her in battle. She displayed a natural ferocity and skill, becoming a formidable fighter. By the time she came of age, Artemisia had earned the favor of ill-fated King Darius. She was placed in command of the Persian army, though she served at Xerxes’ pleasure.

The movie is told largely from Themistocles’ perspective, as he tries to defeat Persia with the help of Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey, The Purge), Leonidas’ widow. She is reluctant to provide Spartan soldiers for battle, though Themistocles must amass a sizeable army to compete with the Persians. Eventually she lends the manpower, and Themistocles leads the charge against Persia, not to avenge Leonidas, but to unite Greece in defeat of a common enemy.

I don’t know how or why Zack Snyder allowed such a decline in quality between the original 300 and this sequel, but most aspects of the movie, which I viewed in 3D, disappointed me. The special effects were visually entertaining, but they became trite and felt gimmicky after a while. For example, it’s fine to use slow-mo effects to add emphasis, but overuse of the technique lessens the impact and the device becomes trite. The adversarial positioning of Themistocles and Artemisia was effective from a character standpoint, and they had excellent chemistry. One particular scene where they engaged in a rough romp was awkwardly entertaining, but ultimately the movie was not satisfying. Don’t waste your time. Grade: C