Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — the jumping point for DC’s shared film universe — was mired in negativity from day one. From casting backlash to flat-out hatred for the director, “fans” and film writers never held back in sharing their gripes towards with film before its release, creating an atmosphere of vitriol and frustration from the start.

The critical lashing the film took, in addition to its swift drop in the box office roster, can certainly be attributed to some concentrated disdain beforehand, but what about the film on its own (he says after spending two paragraphs talking about peripheral aspects of the movie instead of the movie itself)?

In an effort to break away from the same approach Marvel took in adapting its shared universe, DC and Zack Snyder chose to forgo a handful of set-up films and instead get to the juicy part where the universe’s heroes meet and worlds expand.

The result is a film that both revels in the glory of seeing these classic heroes on screen together, and suffers from one of the headliners being shortchanged in a film that works better as world expansion than as a concise, even story.

It’s not rare for an action blockbuster to end up running well over two hours, but when your writer hands in a script that’s equivalent to a four-hour cut, it might be time to pump the brakes. Batman v Superman is jam-packed with material — not all of which jives — and ends up being a movie that’s more a sum of its parts.

While the visuals, score, mature themes, new characters and a certain gonzo performance all should be praised, the lynchpin of the movie is absolutely Ben Affleck’s Batman. Brutal, imposing and complex, Batfleck is the most rock steady aspect of the film. Owing much of the interpretation to The Dark Knight Returns, Batman v Superman delivers what may be the definitive live action Batman/Bruce Wayne performance — an aspect that gives not only hope, but excitement at the thought of his continued presence in this universe.

And the other guy? After this film he might be in need of a course correction. Superman’s depiction in Man of Steel was refreshing: a conflicted savior figure trying to find his place in this world. Here, he’s just kind of … there, while everyone reacts to his presence. This really is more of a Batman movie than anything.

While there’s certainly a notable event that happens to the character here, Batman v Superman feels like a missed opportunity for Superman to evolve into a richer character, whereas he instead seems intent here to out-gloom Batman.

Speaking of gloom, let’s talk tone. Batman v Superman is dark. Like “why are children in this theater?” dark. Manslaughter, destruction, suicide bombs, philosophical discussions on religion and power — it’s heavy stuff.

That’s legitimately a great thing.

Superhero movies are allowed to explore more weighty concepts and should be encouraged to do so. That doesn’t make the movie “no fun,” unless you’ve been conditioned by a constant stream of comic book movies that abandon dramatic heft.

What’s understandably more divisive is the handling of the material. Snyder is not one for subtlety and Batman v Superman approaches the story with aggressive bravado. But the movie’s immense scope and serious attitude aren’t unwarranted. These are two of our most iconic figures in culture meeting on screen; this is like a modern-day opera with all the high emotions and sound and fury that can be mustered.

What can actually be integrated in the universe’s approach going forward is the concept of “dark, not mean.” Snyder seems to revel a little too much in pushing heroes towards non-heroic acts (not to mention just general cruelty) in a way that doesn’t seem genuine to the world.

We see the characters here at low points — Batman growing more vicious in his crusade from loss and Superman embattled on all sides for trying to do what he feels is the right thing — but don’t get the sense that they’ve entirely set themselves on a more righteous track by the end.

Woman Woman, meanwhile, doesn’t need any adjustment because everything is great with her. The set-up for a solo film looks promising, even if her introduction is all part of the studio’s grand universe-building plan.

A little less clear is how Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor will factor moving forward, as the actor’s fresh take on the character was an odd, sometimes annoying, sometimes endearing change of pace from the darkness of the rest of the movie.

While the concept of moving forward in a franchise shouldn’t be the main thing to talk about for a film itself, that’s kind of the point with Batman v Superman.

Essentially a set-up for bigger things to come, Batman v Superman squanders some of its potential as a great stand-alone film but makes up for it with strong internal elements that are at least thought-provoking, and at most engaging that should continue to pay off.

After all, it’s a franchise world and we’re just living in it.





“You made it ugly.”

About two thirds of the way through Fantastic 4, Miles Teller’s Reed Richards grumbles this line in reference to a remade teleportation device. If that’s not the most representative statement on this debacle of a movie as a whole, I don’t know what is.

Since its announcement, the reboot of Fantastic 4 has faced heavy backlash, helped in no small part to reports early this year of mandatory reshoots, heavy studio interference and turmoil behind the scenes with director Josh Trank’s erratic behavior.

Ultimately, regardless of who’s to blame for the production woes, none of this changes the situation that the movie we have before us is a mess of opposing interests and surface-deep ideas that never fully delivers on a single thing it tries for.

After building a makeshift dimensional portal, young genius Reed Richards attracts the attention of the Baxter Foundation, a group meant to foster young brilliance headed by Dr. Franklin Storm. Given the chance to complete his designs, Reed is paired with Storm’s children, Sue and Johnny, as well as the arrogant Victor Von Doom, to complete the project and send living beings to the Negative Zone (here known as Planet Zero). In using the device, an accident occurs that leaves Reed, Sue, Johnny and Reed’s childhood friend Ben with life-altering abilities.

Fantastic 4 is fantastic in the sense that it never fails to find a way to disappoint you, despite containing bits and pieces that hint at a good movie underneath the weight of its colossal failure. The feeling that this was a film by committee, existing to first and foremost satisfy a legal obligation, engulfs the whole picture, which would explain the overwhelming lack of passion coming from everyone involved.

In an effort to remove themselves from the previous F4 movies, the creative team has taken the gritty approach and has gone on record as saying this new story is largely inspired by the science fiction work of David Cronenberg. On the surface, this seemed great. “What superhero franchise could benefit more from a change of pace than Fantastic 4?” Well, there are several ways this approach could have payed off: multi-dimensional characters (hah), a good script, an interesting plot, emotional investment.

Yeah, this movie has approximately none of those.

There’s just no depth in any aspect to sell such a self-serious mood. We’re made to follow a set of characters we barely know anything about, who seem to have only a passing interest in each other, in a plot that almost prides itself in not advancing. A good half hour of this film is devoted to just the building of the machine that will take the team to the other dimension and it’s here that the movie shows that it could have been something.

These are now my default faces when thinking of this film.

Despite devoting entirely too much time to a single piece of the “plot”, this section of the movie comes closest to working. We get to spend the most time with House of Cards‘ Reg E. Cathy here — whose presence as the father figure of the characters is the movie’s biggest asset — and actually are given some sense of buildup for what’s coming.

Spoiler alert: it’s nothing good.

Somehow, the Fantastic Four here are more boring after they get their powers than before. The accident that gives them their abilities is impressively horrific but it’s practically an afterthought for the rest of the movie. There’s an unnecessary excursion to Panama, but most of the middle of the movie sees our main heroes stewing about in blank, cement-basement sets (don’t be fooled by the posters, New York plays only a cameo part in the film), bargain-bin visual effects and unclear purpose. Reed’s entire anemic crux of the film is learning how to make his arms not stretchy. Seriously.

Then Doom shows up, a sore sight for eyes, and the film rushes into its one and only action set piece. The ending fight of this movie is so sudden, garish-looking, poorly conceived of, wrote and all-around lame that it’s like you can practically see the Fox execs taking the scissors to the celluloid and the budget simultaneously. If the movie up to this point was simply boring, here’s where it becomes downright laughable.

I would say that this film is like the old days when studios thought they could get away with delivering subpar superhero movies as long as the titular characters appeared and looked cool, but F4 bungles even that low bar. There’s no character to this film and thus nothing to even define it as a Fantastic 4 movie. It’s simply that hollow.

For what it’s worth, this is all coming from someone who really championed giving this movie a shot in the midst of all the bad buzz in recent months. The basic ideas were there and they had the cast to hit home on at least some of it.

Yet, here we are with a film so destroyed even one of its most accepting patrons thinks it’s garbage.

The characters deserved better. The cast deserved better. Fans deserved better. The very art of movie-making deserved better.

Flame over.




There’s been a noticeable habit among superhero movies, as of late, to aim bigger and bigger in scale. Some properties naturally lend themselves to the enormous blockbuster approach while others are a little to overwhelming for their own good.

It’s therefore interesting that Marvel is following up Age of Ultron — one of those latter movies I mentioned — with Ant-Man. Like a true David and Goliath scenario, Marvel’s smallest hero shows the big dogs how it’s done, delivering a movie that uses its scope to its advantage in delivering a well-balanced heist comedy that’s one of Marvel’s most fun films in years — even if it is more than a little familiar.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) can’t hold a job or get permission to see his own daughter on account of being a convicted burglar. Desperate to catch a break, Scott goes through with the robbery of an anonymous millionaire’s safe.

Little does he know, said figure wants him to rob that safe. The man behind the curtain is Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), former S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist, expert in microphysics and originator of the Ant-Man identity. Pym reaches out to Scott to pull off a very special heist. With the help of Pym’s prickly daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), the trio must infiltrate Pym’s company to stop its new head, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), from utilizing Pym’s uncovered shrinking technology to create an army of miniaturized assassins.

To do this, Scott must take up the mantle of Ant-Man and become the world’s smallest hero.

In a cine-scape of prolonged battles, multiple subplots, dozens of characters and endless tie-ins to other movies, Ant-Man is a superhero film that embraces refreshingly old-school principles that make it wholly accessible.

The film (previously to be helmed by Edgar Wright) is a mostly self-contained story that sticks to a core handful of characters, saves most of its action for the third act and keeps the core of the film between the characters, as opposed to the special effects. It’s because of these choices that the film is more genuine and embraceable than many other of its ilk.

In keeping things more focused, director Peyton Reed and crew can hone in on more of the colors that make the film unique. The best Marvel movies tend to be strong genre pics with a superhero twist; Ant-Man is the studio’s first foray into the heist genre and plays like Ocean’s meets Iron Man (that’s a compliment). The decision to have Ant-Man as a heist movie is damn near inspired, allowing Reed and the myriad of writers on the film to mix things up in fun ways, like combining the practice run montage on a heist film with the superpower discovery section of a superhero pic.

At the same time, the film mimics the general arc of such films and touts the power of buildup rather than sheer geek-gasm. Sounds strange for a modern superhero film, no? Well, it helps that the film is paced near perfectly, coming in at a brisk 1 hour, 57 minutes. Alongside films like Mad Max: Fury Road and Inside Out, it’s not a stretch to say that Ant-Man is one of the summer’s leanest offerings that uses its runtime to its advantage.LOz04Ry

Being a Marvel film, there are naturally a lot of effects going on but not to the point of exhaustion. Ant-Man‘s shrinking abilities and his communication with ants is positively playful and acts more as a character beat than a studio-mandated effects shot. Reed and co. use just the right amount of restraint in the film until the end, letting us appreciate the effects more rather than getting spoiled by them.

In the meantime, the real strength of the film comes with the main three cast members. Rudd, Lily and Douglas all tap into the lightness of what the writers are going for but never phone it in, tackling the humor of the piece with charm and grace. This film may be more on the comedic side of the Marvel spectrum but serious kudos should be given the cast and creative team for making both the humor and the drama of the film genuine (the father/daughter themes in the film are beautiful), instead of having things come off as too cool for school… unlike certain other Marvel flicks.

That’s not to make it sound like everything about Ant-Man is shiny and new. Right off the bat the similarities between this hero and Marvel’s other super-powered suit-wielder are pretty clear. The benevolent suit-wearer up against the military industrial complex is Marvel’s shining cliche, but at very least they find a few new ways to go about it to keep things fun.

On the topic of Marvel cliches, let’s talk about how much their villains still suck! One day these guys will pick up the ball on their bad guys but Ant-Man isn’t the film to break the streak. Corey Stoll is a fine actor and gives it his best go here, but there’s only so much to do with the same cookie-cutter role the studio keeps carving out for their antagonists. Unfortunately, Yellowjacket is a one-two punch of the studio giving the villain weak motivations, then having him possess the same powers as the hero.

Then there’s Luis.

Coming out of this film, I was elated to realize this was no where near as aggressively annoying as Guardians of the Galaxy… with this one character being the exception. Michael Pena is quite good in a great many things but here his presence is just, well, ants to my eyes and ears. At best, he’s a major annoyance that hampers the vibe of the movie; at worst, he’s an insulting stereotype of the Latino community that Marvel let get out of hand and would be better off distancing themselves from.

Even with weak villains, cliched plot points and a Hispanic Stepin Fetchit, it’s hard to dismiss the pure charm Ant-Man has going for it. With only limited ties to the greater Marvel universe, it’s oddly comforting going in knowing you can have a fun time contained just to this one film. And fun it is. With movies like this you can hear it in the score (excellent, by the way) and see it in the edits.

At just under two hours of two-for-one genre thrills, Ant-Man is the type of playful film that has the confidence in it’s own strengths to escape its trappings.




There are several movie franchises where the sequels are as beloved as the original film; the Jurassic Park films aren’t one of those. The second and third films in the series largely failed to capture the wonder, excitement and brilliance of 1993’s Jurassic Park, a classic that easily holds up to this day.

Over 20 years later, the stage has been set to recapture the magic of the original, much less do it right. To pull this off, Jurassic World goes for an old, reliable method:

“If you can’t beat ’em, copy ’em.”

Jurassic World certainly has some different wrinkles appear in its plot but one could argue that it is, on the whole, practically the same movie as Jurassic Park. And while it’s nothing short of familiar, the movie is still successful in being downright entertaining.

Decades after the events of Jurassic Park, Isla Nublar is up and running as the fully-functional Jurassic World. In an attempt to boost attendance, the park’s geneticists, headed by operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), create a hybrid dinosaur, the Indominus Rex, made up of several dinosaurs and comparable amphibians.  Paired with animal behaviorist Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), the two are to observe the man-made monster before debuting it to the public. But, as expected things go very wrong as the Indominus escapes and lays a path of murder and mayhem on its way toward the park, where Claire’s nephews Zach and Gray are visiting.

Dinosaurs running loose on an island and eating people is essentially what a Jurassic Park movie means, and World certainly delivers on that. Director Colin Trevorrow has clearly taken steps to recreate many of the aspects that are attributed to the first movie: gradual set up before chaos breaks out, a knowledgable male lead who foresees the danger on its way, a pair of kids to put in peril, a schemey schemer in the midst of the staff, a cautionary tale about the dangers of science that seems archaic in this day and age. It’s all there.

While it’s certainly easy to point out the parts that have been used before, it rarely ever feels harmful to the movie. Stories like Jurassic World are like grilled cheese (thanks Ben): nothing terribly complicated or nutritious, you’ve had many before and will have many to come, but it’s all still pretty good.

For me, this is the actual first film where Chris Pratt shows he can be a serviceable leading man (or at least that he can not be entirely annoying in a lead role) while Howard shines brighter here than in her previous large-scale roles. Together, they make a pretty convincing old-school Hollywood odd couple. Everyone else in the cast does relatively well for what the script allows them (comparatively little to Pratt and Howard).

What’s unfortunately not always as convincing is the quality of visual effects the movie has to offer. World steps up the scale of the story in comparison to the original, which calls for some elements that practical effects can’t create. As its own movie, the CG in World might have looked decent (given there’s an absolute abundance of it). But held up to the timeless skill and artistry of the first movie’s practical effects, the effects on screen come off like a circle-jerk of studio cost-cutting.

In the realm of special effects, Park is how you do it right, World is how you do it cheap.

On a better note, while John Williams doesn’t return for scoring duties, Michael Giacchino — William’s ultimate sonic doppelganger and successor — crafts an exciting and fitting followup score.

Jurassic World isn’t bound to break any cinematic barriers (box office being the enormous exception) but it fulfills its purpose as a fun, fluffy summer blockbuster. In this case, that’s enough.





It can’t be easy being the follow-up to the biggest superhero movie ever.

There’s a lot of weight on the shoulders of whoever is in charge of a movie like Avengers: Age of Ultron —  in this case, Joss Whedon once again — to craft a movie that is even more enjoyable than the first, while fulfilling even more desires from audience and studio alike, while also stepping things up a notch.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is certainly a much bigger film and it absolutely tries its best to cover as much ground as possible, but even a talent greater than Whedon’s couldn’t handle the breathtaking amount of crap Marvel decided to pack into this film.

Acting more as a patchwork for the studio’s upcoming slate, Age of Ultron, while mostly worth its weight in spectacle and zingers, is overflowing with characters and nods to the point where there is almost no satisfying story arc in the film.

After completing some heroic housekeeping from the events of The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Avengers may have finally caught a break from protecting the world. Tony Stark, now in possession of Loki’s sceptor, finds an opportunity to use his new tech to jumpstart an artificial intelligence peacekeeping program that Bruce Banner and himself have been working on — Ultron. But as these things always go, Ultron immediately sees the best route to saving humanity as destroying it. With Ultron allying himself with two scorned superhuman twins in his plan to destroy the world, it’s up to the Avengers to stick together as a team and overcome their inner turmoil to best this new threat.

As mentioned earlier, Age of Ultron is big and blockbuster-y in some satisfying ways. There are several ambitious set pieces in the film, with the whole picture peppered with memorable one-liners and exchanges. Excusing some seriously messy camerawork in areas, the fight between Iron Man and the Hulk and the finale atop a rising city are among the best moments the movie — and maybe all Marvel movies — has to offer.

With hindsight, part of the reason early Marvel films like Iron Man work so well is that they keep a core of four to five characters and develop from there. Steadily growing ever since, we reach the point of Avengers: Age of Ultron, which has almost 20 characters battling for screentime. The result is that almost no one in the film gets ample time to shine.

I realize this is an Avengers movie, and that characters are supposed to share the screen for the shared experience, but even the multiple storylines feel maddeningly shallow or sometimes not at all worth it. When the pieces feel wrong, the whole picture starts to suffer.

Really, in the realm of characters getting their due, only Hawkeye has been afforded some actual growth, probably as a “mea culpa” for his role in the first movie. His addition to the film seems to be the exception to the rule when it comes to the characters not getting their due.nY6ARxp

Iron Man has perhaps the most un-met potential among the returning players, with Whedon toying with the idea that Stark is still not terribly popular around the world and that his actions, past and present, keep coming back to haunt everyone. But that’s quickly dropped in accordance with the action quota, while reasoning behind him being his same old self after the transformative end of Iron Man 3 is not even touched on.

Captain America is mostly kept to nice character beats in the absence of an actual arc (nice character beats being more than he was afforded the first time around), while Thor gets the honored duty of heading the film’s choppy, shoehorned side story that presumably leads up to many upcoming Marvel movies — it just has basically nothing to do with this one.

Bruce Banner and Black Widow here are stuck in an even worse shoehorned element: a forced love story. One that’s not believable beyond the reasoning of “well… we need something for the girl of the movie to do and we didn’t bother with the Hulk this time. Problem solved.” Keep an eye out for the third wheel in their romance scene: the conveniently eye-catching can of Gillette shaving cream.

The twins, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, are intriguing and feel like they should hold more importance but are another casualty of an overstuffed movie, getting shoved out of the picture in their own debut.

Also not getting their moment in the sun are Ultron and The Vision. The Vision is a cool new element to the team, and has a couple standout moments, but this is just his introduction in a movie that already had enough going on. Ultron, meanwhile, is hard to dislike because of James Spader’s menacing charisma, but again isn’t afforded the proper time to become one of Marvel’s few multidimensional villains.

And that’s not even touching on Nick Fury, War Machine and Maria Hill, who are in this movie for… some reason…, Baron Strucker, and our South African arms dealer, Ulysses Klaw, who essentially appears to preview a movie than is more than three years away.

Avengers: Age of Ultron isn’t one of the stronger Marvel movies, even among Phase 2, but it’s still not necessarily bad. The film’s positives still make it worth catching on the big screen. I can honestly say I had fun watching a lot of it.

Still, it’s an odd occurrence when a movie so stuffed with stuff feels so empty. Ultimately, that’s what makes Ultron great promotional material instead of a great movie.