Sunday, May 15, 2016

Movie Review: 3 Superhero Flicks (2016)

OK, darlings, let's do this in chronological order: Deadpool, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Captain America: Civil War.

Short version for the impatient: 
  • Deadpool:  Irreverent, gleefully meta-misbehaving R-rated romp. B+
  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: As sleep-inducing as rhino tranquilizers and as vacuously pretentious as college freshmen. D
  • Captain America: Civil War:  Imperfect but entertaining anyway!  A-  (Was there a teensy bit of grade inflation due to comparing this face-off with DC's?  You betcha.)
For those of you who want more details, read on!


The fun begins right from the beginning with the opening credits, when it is instantly and abundantly clear that this is going to be another kind of superhero movie.  These are easily the most fun opening credits to date this year, and they establish a zestful mood of subversive, metatheatrical self-awareness that pokes fun not only at the genre of superhero movies but at moviemaking and heroic ideals in general. Think of this as red band Marvel or Marvel after hours.

Ryan Reynolds is clearly having the time of his life as Wade Wilson aka Deadpool, the titular character, a disfigured loose cannon "merc with a mouth" of extraordinary powers matched only by his irrepressible sense of hilarious sarcasm.  Deadpool is not so much a hero as an anti-hero who keeps up a nonstop commentary that shatters the fourth wall and any remnants of decent restraint.  He's wildly, naughtily entertaining, but let me say right now that this movie is manifestly not for children.  His sewage-filled vocabulary alone would give Captain America fainting spells. 

Deadpool is maybe not so much a protagonist as a superpowered id run riot.  The movie plays havoc with everything it touches and does so with a kind of sophomoric, wisecracking, profane giddiness that you may or may not enjoy depending on your mood.  Deadpool faces off against his prerequisite opponent played by Ed Skrein, Ajax (a villain name that Deadpool immediately deflates by quipping, "He got Ajax from the dish soap!"), and soon the usual fisticuffs and explosions and destruction of property take over the screen, along with a supporting cast of C-list people with names like - I am not making this up - Negasonic Teenage Warhead.

Oh, one more thing: be sure to sit through all the closing credits for a final joke that is - if I may say so - brilliant.

Mad Minerva gives Deadpool a grade of B+.  As a one-off flick, this is very diverting, though I can well imagine how Deadpool's mouthy, flippant schtick can get old fast.

RottenTomatoes gives the movie the bona fide Fresh rating of 83%.

Deadpool runs 108 minutes and is rated R for violence, language, and sexual situations, some of which involve graphic nudity.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

What to say, what to say?   So many other critics have savaged this movie that it feels superfluous and even a little mean-spirited for me to pile on.  And yet ... I spent my own good money to see this wretched project, and I'm darn well going to air my opinion.

This joyless flick tries to do too much, ends up doing far too little, and goes on for far too long in a chaotic mess of CGI overkill, terrible acting, and incoherent storytelling.   It tries to make some kind of ambitious statement about politics and social stresses and collateral damage, and I suppose I should give it some credit for trying, but I won't.  I'm not in a forgiving mood because THE EXECUTION IS SO ABYSMAL.  I care about results far more than I care about intentions, and not all the ambitious goals in Gotham can make up for the fact that as a story BvS is a pile of garbage.  Arguably worse, it doesn't realize that it's a pile of garbage, because it carries on with a puffed-up sense of grim, po-faced self-importance that adds insult to injury to the bored, alienated, increasingly hostile audience (read: me).  The climax of the flick is unspeakable.  I actually laughed out loud and yelled, "Come on!  Are you freaking kidding me?" 

OK, down to brass tacks here.  The title of this mess of a movie tells you that Batman and Superman find themselves as opponents, and they proceed to mix it up.  That's fine and all as a general premise, even though (and, yes, I know there is a precedent, OK?) it carries the unmistakable whiff of gimmickry and stunt publicity about it.  The actual catalyst, though, and by this I mean the express given reason for Batman's decision to take down Superman, is logically nonsensical.  

(Spoiler for the rest of the paragraph: Bats is upset about the havoc that Superman and Zod wrought in their Man of Steel battle.  Fair enough, but then he makes this leap: he says that if there is a 1% chance that Superman could go bad, then we have to assume that he will and therefore take him out now.  OK, let's just think about this for a second. ... Really?  Seriously, really?  A 1% chance is not a 100% certainty, and this argument is silly.  Hey, I suppose there's a 1% chance I could punch a supercilious colleague in the nose tomorrow, but is that supposed to mean that it is a 100% certainty that I will?  While I'm at it, let's think about it some more.  Hey, I think there's a 1% chance that Supes might get disgruntled and go rogue.  You know what would make the most sense?  Oh, you mean talking with him and trying to understand each other?  Nope, let's just go off on a tear and persecute this guy.  Yeah, THAT'LL make sure he won't get mad and act out.)

Let's get another thing out of the way: Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne was actually not that bad.  He turned in a respectable effort (especially given the awful script and the aforementioned stupid reasoning).  Remember all that gnashing of teeth and wearing of sackcloth when he was cast in 2013?  That mass hysteria was all for naught.  Affleck's Bruce Wayne is perfectly adequate.  I'm not going to say that it revolutionized Batman because it didn't, and I won't say it surpassed Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne because it couldn't, but Batfleck was fine.  It wasn't a disaster.  (Jesse Eisenberg as Luthor, though ... What an absolutely hideous, unwatchable spectacle of twitchy overacting at every conceivable turn.  Why is it so hard to get Lex Luthor right on film?  Somebody cast Bryan Cranston already!)

The movie makes a hash out of Amy Adams' Lois Lane, wastes Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, and doesn't give Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Superman anything to do that would develop him as a character.  Cavill looks unhappily boxed in, as if he can't breathe.  This is the most joyless Superman in recent memory, and it's a shame Another critic probably put it best when he said, "in a different film, Henry Cavill’s physical chops and boyish good looks would make a perfect Man of Steel, while Ben Affleck’s smug persona would have made for a fun Bruce Wayne."  Alas, we're in this film, a lumbering, lugubrious mess that can't even fully capitalize on its own leads' natural strong points.

One of the only good things - OK, not "good" but "not facepalmingly embarrassing" - is Gal Gadot's debut as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman.  Her character is basically nonessential and pretty much shoehorned into the Batman-versus-Superman plot as a teaser for her upcoming standalone movie.  Still, it was fun to see a Wonder Woman - however briefly - who wasn't a total joke.  (Oh, and La Parisienne, another brief appearance that wasn't terrible: Papa Winchester - yup, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and his dimples - as Bruce Wayne's dad.)

One last thing: this is so obviously a setup for Justice League movies that it's laughable.  Look, Marvel did a great job of setting up the Avengers by first building relationships between the audience and individual characters, but with this movie DC tries to cram everything in all at once, and the emotional payoff is nil.  I could not care less that Aquaman and a bunch of others show up for 2 seconds as file photos here.  So what? If the movie couldn't make me care about Batman and Superman - the two principle characters! iconic figures in American pop culture of the 20th century! - why would I care about a few grainy file photos?

Mad Minerva gives Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice a grade of D.  I watched this thing once out of a sense of obligation to stay current on DC movies.  I have no intention of ever seeing it again, even if Cavill does have the face of an angel.  I'll watch him in The Tudors instead, shall I?

RottenTomatoes gives the movie the miserable Rotten rating of 27%.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice runs 151 interminable minutes and is rated PG-13 for violence, action sequences, and some sensuality.

Captain America: Civil War

Having just lambasted BvS for badly presenting a 2.5-hour-long tale of superheroes fighting each other, I find it not a little ironic that I turn now to praise another movie that is also a 2.5-hour-long tale of ... yes ... superheroes fighting each other.  In all honesty, Marvel did a heck of a better job with this basic idea.

I still think the whole thing could have been resolved if the people involved would just stop and really talk to each other, but hey, we want an action movie, right?  Well, yes, but we don't want only an action movie.  We also want some character development, characters to behave in ways consistent with their previously established personalities, and some laughs along with all the inevitable action sequences.

By now everybody knows the plot basically breaks down into Team Captain America versus Team Iron ManBefore the whole thing devolves into fistfights and car chases and mayhem at an airport, though, the plot attempts to contextualize the disagreement in a discussion of power, responsibility, who watches the watchmen, accountability, collateral damage, and civilian casualties.  Granted, the Marvel flick doesn't manage to follow through well on these fronts, but it's still far better than its DC counterpart, and it certainly looks even better in comparison.  

I could go on and on just about the idea of accountability and oversight (remember, SHIELD's been infiltrated by HYDRA), though somehow the willingness of Tony Stark/Iron Man (the irreplaceable Robert Downey Jr.) to sign off on UN oversight seems a little off to me (wasn't this the same guy who told a Senate committee to kiss off in Iron Man 2?)Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) expresses doubts and misgivings that I'm much more partial to: he's not at all sure that this is a good idea because organizations have agendas, and agendas can change.  Besides - and nobody said this out loud in the flick - the UN is itself highly problematic.  At the same time, though, so is the idea of a troupe of superpowered individuals doing whatever the hell they please, guided only by their own internal morality.  Not everybody is a Boy Scout like Rogers ... and even Boy Scouts can make decisions that others don't like, such as choosing to protect boyhood friend Bucky Barnes/the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).

The cast is missing a few familiar figures (the Hulk is AWOL, Thor presumably off in Asgard, and Nick Fury in the wind), but everyone else acquits themselves with aplomb, and we have a couple fun additions of the creepy-crawly kind and one of the jungle cat persuasion.

The characterization of the villain is a problem, as always in Marvel (with the exception of Loki, of course).  German actor Daniel Brühl (so good in 2003's excellent Good Bye Lenin!) is Zemo, a Sokovian embittered after the destruction wrought on that fictional Eastern European country in last year's Avengers: Age of UltronZemo's almost beside the point, though, once you see how disagreements snowball and turn into rifts, then arguments, then CGI demolition derbies.  Sometimes we are our own worst enemies, and we need no disgruntled Sokovian to play us like fiddles when we're already not seeing eye to eye and not talking about it.

As always, look for the Stan Lee cameo and sit through all the closing credits. 

Mad Minerva gives Captain America: Civil War a grade of A-. 

RottenTomatoes gives the movie the bona fide Fresh rating of 90%.

Captain America: Civil War runs 147 minutes and is rated PG-13 for violence and action sequences.

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