Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Genre: Action

Director: Zach Snyder

Screenplay:  Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer

Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, Scoot McNairy, Michael Shannon

Running Length:  152 minutes

Synopsis: Fearing the actions of a god-like Super Hero left unchecked, Gotham City’s own formidable, forceful vigilante takes on Metropolis’s most revered, modern-day saviour, while the world wrestles with what sort of hero it really needs. And with Batman (Ben Affleck) and Superman (Henry Cavill) at war with one another, a new threat quickly arises, putting mankind in greater danger than it’s ever known before.

Review:  It was inevitable, after the incredible box office successes of the Marvel Comic Universe, that competing comics giant DC would want a piece of the pie too. And thus the DC Extended Universe was born, with the first salvo fired being Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (shorthanded to BvS for the rest of the review), and a slew of movies announced all the way to 2020. However, based on BvS alone, one wonders if the DCEU is already off on a wrong foot from the get-go. While the film does have its merits and some high points, BvS is also mired with issues, ranging from terrible writing, an overlong (way, WAY overlong) running time, and a complete lack of joy in the proceedings.

Given that the film title states that it’s Batman v Superman, one would not expect that it takes almost 90 minutes for the premise to be setup, and that the setup is such a weak and unconvincing one. The conflict between the two superheroes is just not believable, and even though it presents an interesting angle (essentially, who watches the watchmen, a theme also explored by Snyder’s Watchmen adaptation in 2009), the twists and turns needed to get there just does not work on any level. This is not aided by the lack of anything for the audience to get emotionally invested in – while the film tries to be serious and weighty, there’s very little narrative and backstory for the audience to latch on to, which gives BvS very little dramatic heft. And do not get me started on how the “animosity” is resolved eventually, which is so contrived it truly beggars belief.

While the same self-seriousness worked well in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, it already proved to be a bit of a miss in Man of Steel as it was quite a departure from Superman’s established canon, both in film and in print. This is further exacerbated in BvS – while no one is expecting a comedy, Snyder and his scribes do not seem to understand that being serious doesn’t mean sapping the joy out of a superhero movie, especially one that contains both Superman and Wonder Woman. BvS doubles down on the dourness of Man of Steel, and is indeed one of the most (if not the most) downer of a superhero movie I’ve watched in years.

Despite the initial outcry, Ben Affleck is actually a reasonable replacement for Batman, both in his physicality and in his performance. However, Henry Cavill remains a very wooden Superman, only looking the part when he shows up in the iconic spandex suit and cape. Jesse Eisenberg is terribly miscast, and his supposed psychotic Lex Luthor comes across more like an annoying teenager with a ridiculously long list of nervous tics and twitches. It is truly hard to believe that two intelligent beings like Batman and Superman falling for his rather simplistic schemes of manipulation. The women all fare better, but are all relegated to nothing more than window dressing in the film. Gal Gadot in particular shows great promise as Wonder Woman, and there is hope that her standalone movie next year would fare better than BvS.

Zach Snyder is a director that excels in crafting visuals, and it is not surprising that some portions of BvS are indeed very good looking. However, there is definitely an over-reliance on CG, especially in the (anti)climactic showdown between the heroic trio and Doomsday. Speaking of Doomsday, he is a complete bust as there’s absolutely no background to the villain, existing solely as a prop to advance the plot, and one that looks very unevenly animated, despite what must be a massive CGI budget. Coupled with way too many quick cuts in the last action-packed hour, and a relentlessly booming and overbearing score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL, and it’s just quite an exhausting ordeal of a movie to sit through. BvS functions more like a (very long) teaser trailer to the upcoming DCEU movies, but in their eagerness to launch the franchise, it does seem that Snyder and team have forgotten to make BvS itself a movie that would stand on its own strengths.

Rating: * * (out of four stars)


Zoolander 2

Genre: Comedy

Director: Ben Stiller

Screenplay: Justin Theroux, Ben Stiller, John Hamburg, Nicholas Stoller, based on the characters created by Drake Sather, Ben Stiller

Cast: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Penelope Cruz, Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen, Kyle Mooney, Milla Jovovich, Christine Taylor, Justin Theroux, Nathan Lee Graham, Cyrus Arnold, Billy Zane, Jon Daly

Running Length:  102 minutes

Synopsis: Derek (Ben Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson) are lured into modeling again, in Rome, where they find themselves the target of a sinister conspiracy.

Review:  Full disclosure: I am a fan of the original Zoolander, and have watched the 2001 film multiple times outside of the cinema (the first Zoolander has the dubious honour of being banned in Singapore, due to its featuring the “Malaysian Prime Minister”). Over the years, the film had built up quite a cult following, and when Zoolander 2 was announced, I (and many other Zoolander fans) was rather stoked. Unfortunately, the sequel is a half-baked, overstuffed movie that proves pretty joyless to watch, despite the copious number of celebrity cameos and a handful of somewhat funny sequences.

One of the biggest issues of Zoolander 2 is the number of things going on at any one time. Not only does the espionage plot make a somewhat unwelcome return, there’s also the Zoolander father-and-son reunion, and then there’s the unresolved grudge between Derek and Hansel, the return of arch-nemesis Mugatu (Will Ferrell) and a whole bunch of other inconsequential plot threads, none of which feel satisfactorily resolved by the end of the movie.

It seems that Ben Stiller and his posse of screenwriters can’t bear to divorce the sequel from the original film, and almost constantly makes references to the 15 year-old movie, which is unnecessary and limits the appeal of the movie even further. Much as Zoolander has a cult following, this unabashed nudging and winking serve nothing more than make the proceedings feel ever more like drudgery, especially after the novelty of seeing these characters back on the big screen fades after the first reel.

It doesn’t help that Zoolander 2 is a little too self-aware for its own good. If everyone is in on the joke – and in this film that’s certainly the case, given the frankly ridiculous number of cameos of both celebrities and fashion industry mavens, even more so than the first film – then the joke ceases to be funny. While it may be a somewhat interesting diversion to spot the cameos (including Benedict Cumberbatch in an appearance that will haunt him for many, many years to come), much of it feels shoehorned into the scattershot scenes, and in the end it just feels like a chain of middling SNL skits stringed into a movie. Zoolander 2 is a sporadically funny film and thus not without merit, but it certainly is questionable if that is sufficient to justify paying the price of entry to watch it on the big screen.

Rating: * ½ (out of four stars)