B v S: A ‘paint by numbers’ movie product that fails to evoke a single emotion

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I wonder how it is possible to get so many acclaimed actors on screen, surrounded by such awe-inspiring sets, props and special effects paid for with a budget in excess of $200 million and still fail to evoke a single emotion through two and a half hours of viewing. I didn’t feel a thing – neither awe nor joy nor suspense nor anticipation nor satisfaction nor grief. Nothing. The analogy that comes to mind is of watching windmills turn on a wind farm or oil rigs pumping away in the desert – amazing marvels of engineering, but with an entirely predictable sequence of events.

With both 300 and Sucker Punch, Zack Snyder was able to combine stunning visuals with interesting and quirky characters who we really cared for. He was unable to repeat that with Watchmen, but even in that flawed adaptation, there was a sense of wonder and discovery, plus some seriously emotionally damaged characters worth getting interested in.

Of course, the challenge with a Batman/ Superman movie is that these characters are too well known, with virtually nothing new that one can say or learn about them. It’s the same malaise that affected the recent Spider-Man films with Andrew Garfield. That’s one of the reasons why comic book films like Guardians of the Galaxy or Deadpool about lesser known characters are such big hits.

Here, the two titular superheroes are cardboard cutouts who seem unable to emote. The same Henry Cavill who was so perfectly cast in last summer’s The Man from UNCLE, looks like a plastic mannequin with his perfectly stuck-in-place hair and his impossibly bulging muscles. When he scrunches up his face during fight sequences, he looks so ridiculous I thought the villain would die of laughter. Ben Affleck is ok, but can’t do much more than glower as Bruce Wayne. We’ve seen all that Batman can do in the three Chris Nolan movies, so I thought it was a neat trick to give him a metal batsuit to combat Superman in this film. Somehow, even that was not too impressive. What did look pretty cool was the sequence in which he goes into the desert looking like a real vigilante with a big trenchcoat over his batsuit.

Among the supporting cast, Jeremy Irons is unable to bring any humanity or humour to the Alfred Pennyworth character. Laurence Fishburne has some blustery moments as Daily Planet editor Perry White. Amy Adams has decent screen time but mostly in action sequences and therefore no opportunity to bring any depth to Lois Lane’s character.

Israeli model-turned-actress Gal Gadot catches the eye in a series of interestingly cut evening gowns before kicking some serious ass when she turns up in Wonder Woman costume at the end. There is general consensus that she has set things up very well for her standalone movie coming out in June 2017. In particular scene, Bruce Wayne discovers a grainy picture of her dated 1918, which shows her and a group of fellow adventurers, including Chris Pine as her love interest Steve Trevor. I immediately pictured in my mind a fun, swashbuckling period movie in the manner of The Mummy or Captain America: The First Avenger. Will definitely be looking forward to this one.

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My biggest issue of course is with the Lex Luthor character. For this, I cannot blame this particular set of filmmakers because over the years, none of the Superman films have got the casting right. From Gene Hackman and his ridiculous goons in the Christopher Reeve films to Kevin Spacey in Superman Returns (2006), we now have another actor Jesse Eisenberg hamming it up as Superman’s arch enemy. For a man drawn in the comic books as a sinister, super-intelligent industrialist, I don’t understand how every on-screen incarnation ends up behaving like a bad Hindi movie villain. Rather than pick someone who fits the looks and personality (say like Mark Strong), we have Jesse Eisenberg who seems to think that he is still playing Mark Zuckerberg in 2009’s The Social Network. With his strange facial and verbal tics, it is an unwatchable, unbearable, intensely irritating performance.

Lastly, I also found the music disappointing. On paper, it sounded like an interesting experiment to pair up Dutch music producer Junkie XL with veteran film composer Hans Zimmer. Instead, all that one gets is a combination of generic electronic music with generic bombastic orchestral music. No memorable hook or musical line that defines these characters, in the way that John Williams did for 1978’s Superman or even the way Henry Jackman has done for Magneto in the X-Men: First Class.

So, in conclusion, Warner Bros. and Zack Snyder have dialled in the most generic and uninspiring of comic book films, with a confused script, wooden acting, a joke of a villain and absolutely no emotional connect whatsoever. Not worth spending two and a half hours in a theater. For a real superhero showdown with high emotional stakes, let’s wait till early May for Captain America: Civil War.


Guy Ritchie breathes new life into an old UNCLE

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It’s not easy to convert a popular ‘60s TV show into a successful movie or franchise. For every successful Mission: Impossible and Star Trek film, there are still-born attempts like Wild Wild West, Bewitched, The Saint, The Avengers (not the Marvel comics one!) and Get Smart. Although the trailer didn’t give me much hope, Guy Ritchie’s big-screen effort with The Man from U.N.C.L.E. had me going Oliver Twist by the end and saying, “Please sir, I want some more.”

Anyone who has seen the trailer might think that this is another James Bond clone in a ‘60s setting. And they would be right, because the show concept was co-created by none other than Ian Fleming for MGM TV in 1963. Originally titled Ian Fleming’s Solo, it followed the template of his Bond stories with the names and nationalities changed – Napoleon Solo instead of James Bond and international spy organization U.N.C.L.E. instead of MI6. The show producers switched to a new title The Man from U.N.C.L.E. under legal action from the producers of Bond movie Goldfinger, as there was also a character called Mr. Solo in that movie. Clearly, Mr. Fleming wasn’t keeping track of what names he was using in which series! The show ran from 1964-68, and was a career launch pad for both its stars Peter Vaughn and David McCallum. It even inspired Stan Lee to create his own version of a spy organization, S.H.I.E.L.D. for Marvel Comics in 1965.

What has changed in this big-screen adaptation 50 years later? Well, for a start, the lead characters sure have become bigger. Compared to the suave and somewhat diminutive Peter Vaughn, CIA agent Napoleon Solo is now played by 6’1” Henry Cavill with his Superman muscles virtually bursting out of his impeccably tailored suit. Likewise, the character of Ilya Kuryakin has been completely recast with 6’5” Armie Hammer playing the Russian KGB agent in place of 5’7” floppy haired David McCallum.

The plot is fairly basic: In 1963, Nazi-era nuclear scientist turned American collaborator Udo Teller goes missing; he is presumed to be in the hands of Nazi sympathizers who are using his services to build their own private nuclear bomb. This is not welcome news to either the CIA or the KGB, so they bring together their two best operatives (Solo and Kuryakin) to find the missing scientist and put the bomb out of commission. To find the scientist, they enlist the help of his estranged daughter Gaby, played by Swedish actress Alicia Vikander. She is the 2nd Swedish actress to feature prominently in a spy movie this summer, the other being Rebecca Fergusson in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. The trio end up in Italy as guests of the wealthy and flamboyant Victoria and Alexander Vinciguerra, who are suspected of using their shipping business as a cover for building the weapon. Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki is absolutely striking as the classy and ruthless femme fatale Victoria Vinciguerra. There is plenty of verbal repartee, humor and physical slapstick used as padding for the thin plot, but it all falls into place due to the charisma of the actors.

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Cinematographer John Mathieson is a purist and has done a great job of using older model lenses to mimic the 60s look, in spite of shooting on digital; surely credit also goes to the highly accomplished Arri Alexa XT digital cameras, which supposedly provide the same color/ tonal range as real film. This is what action movies would have looked like if Douglas Sirk had directed them! The only disappointment for me was the night time action scene in the Vinciguerra Shipyard, when the footage lost all texture and started looking like a home movie. For the most part, the color and opulence of the costumes and sets just pops off the screen. When combined with Daniel Pemberton’s playful and exotic European soundtrack, it makes for a very distinctive movie experience.

I also love the way Guy Ritchie visualizes his action set pieces; unlike a lot of other modern directors who shoot their action sequences in close-up and edit with fast cuts, Ritchie goes for frequent long-shots, with pan-and-zoom, giving viewers a very good perspective of where people are in relation to one another (something that would have been very useful in a movie like Pacific Rim!). I had noticed this style in that memorable forest shootout scene of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows as well.

Sadly, the film has had a very soft launch across the world and I think it would take a financial miracle for Warner Bros. to greenlight a sequel.

Man of Steel flies high!

In the first act of Man of Steel, the actors wear the elaborate costumes of a Greek tragedy and enact a plot from a Shakespearean one. There is a military uprising, talk of treason, a blasphemous act and a Brutal slaying. (yes, there is a reason the ‘B’ is in caps). The actors delivering the stoic lines are certainly well chosen for it – Russell Crowe appears very stately as Jor-El and Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer (who had quite a good role in the 2008 thriller Vantage Point) who plays his wife Lara lives through the loss of child, husband and world with an impressive degree of forbearance. The actors who play the misguided Krypton council have been cast for their strong facial bone structure. And of course, there is the star of the show – Michael Shannon, playing General Zod, manages to impress as a villain in spite of his strong American accent (all the best villains usually have British or European accents, don’t they?). First of all, kudos to screenwriter David Goyer and producer Chris Nolan for having the smarts to take one of the most iconic villainous roles in the DC movie universe and insert it into the retelling of the origin story (I could not have put up with another helping of a cinematic Lex Luthor, after Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey). Second, kudos to whoever picked Oscar-nominated character actor Michael Shannon to play Zod; I had never imagined that anyone could top Terrence Stamp’s performance in Superman II (1980). But Shannon is the real deal. The man has played some disturbing characters in the past 4 years including his breakout performance in Revolutionary Road in 2008. Michael Shannon brings a level of physicality and menace to the character of Zod that is truly frightening, all the more so because unlike Gen. Zod from Superman II who was just a megalomaniac, this Zod actually believes he is the true Son of Krypton and Superman is the traitor to the cause.

And ultimately, this movie is about each man (oh that’s right, they’re aliens) having to decide where his moral center lies.

But before we get to that point, there’s a whole lot of story to cover.

We get to see a beautifully visualized Krypton (with an interesting insectoid design sensibility), falling to its inevitable apocalypse while the spacecraft carrying Kal-El wormholes its way towards Earth. We then cut to the present day where a grown-up Clark Kent playing a strong/ silent worker on a fishing trawler finds himself part of a spectacular set-piece where he puts some of his powers into play.

Director Zack Snyder plays liberally with flashbacks and that’s where we are introduced to Diane Lane and Kevin Costner as Martha and Jonathan Kent respectively. I am a fan of both actors and very much enjoyed their grounded interpretation of these important roles. Costner has relatively little to play with, but there is a very memorable and poignant moment at the end of the tornado scene that will stay flash-frozen in my memory. Some of Clark Kent’s most ‘human’ moments came – not surprisingly – with his mother Martha Kent and these moments interspersed across the runtime of the film give it some much-needed breathing space. I think Russell Crowe, inclusive of his post-corporeal existence, eventually gets more screen time than Kevin Costner, but I don’t think there was really much chemistry in those scenes with his son (and why should there be, you may ask, when the son is talking to an image, projected by an Artificial Intelligence filtered through the consciousness of the father he never knew!).

Amy Adams is a pleasant surprise as Lois Lane. Margot Kidder was absolutely irritating in the Christopher Reeve films and Kate Bosworth didn’t even register in Superman Returns (2006). I was worried that Amy Adams would go the Margot Kidder way, as she eminently is capable of playing irritating and neurotic characters. But she was surprisingly ‘normal’ and sensible in this movie and I’m not sure if the credit for that goes to director Snyder or screenwriter David Goyer (neither of whom I would credit that degree of sensitivity) or to Amy Adams herself.

And so of course, we get to the 2nd half of the movie which features some seriously impressive action on a scale that we have perhaps never seen in a superhero movie – and by that, I include even Marvel’s The Avengers from last year. At some point, I found myself wondering how Superman could really claim to be protecting the Earth when he was partly responsible for all that destruction. Because of the almost total absence of humor, this will never be as beloved a superhero film as the Iron Man films or The Avengers. But, it is certainly an entertaining and suitably contemporary reincarnation of one of the most often-told stories in comic book lore. It won’t take long before Warner Bros. greenlights the sequel and while Henry Cavill will never be the equal of Christopher Reeve in this role, I think he will grow into it quite well if given the chance over the course of a sequel or three.

New Superman Logo for “Man of Steel” has just been released

Warner Bros. has just released the official new Superman logo for the upcoming Superman reboot Man of Steel, starring Henry Cavill (yes, a British actor fighting for “Truth, Justice and the American Way”) and releasing on June 14th, 2013.

Looks very organic.

On one hand, I don’t like all this tinkering around with established icons.

On the other hand, I find it very exciting and of course, it generates lots of buzz and interest among the fanboys.

The movie is directed by Zack Snyder, who ranks up there with Tarsem Singh as the most visually inventive Hollywood director today. You may not like his storytelling style, but you can’t ignore the eye-popping visuals of movies like 300, Watchmen and Sucker Punch.

Check out the full press release and the logo visual here on the Darkhorizons website.