Rough thoughts on Batman v Superman

the-battle-of-the-century

I thought I might as well weigh in on Batman v Superman. I’m not a comic book fan, but I am a film fan, and despite the film being lampooned by critics, I really wanted to like it.

I didn’t, and I think it fails on some of the most basic filmmaking levels. Here are some thoughts:

  • Ben Affleck is clearly passionate about the project, and gives a great performance. This makes me feel even sorrier for him given how the film turned out. I do look forward to his solo Batman films, though.
  • The film makes no sense. It feels like two films mashed into one, which is fitting, given the overblown title.
  • Zack Snyder is more interested in bringing the ripped-straight-from-the-comics storyboard panels to life, than he is in telling a coherent story.
  • The film is drab, colourless, and boring. It is shot without any flair or effort to distinguish. There are hardly any establishing shots, leading to confusion when a close-up of one character suddenly cuts to a close-up of another character in an entirely different scene. It’s bizarre.
  • I actually have no problem with a jaded Batman killing people in theory, but it makes no sense in the context of the film. When the precedent is set that Batman has no problem with directly and indirectly killing people, his non-lethal warehouse action sequence in the final act is out of place. Why bother punching everyone when he could just shoot them?
  • Lois Lane continues to be a plot device rather than a character. She is a walking Superman magnet, used to draw him to wherever he’s required to be by the script.
  • Speaking of Lois, wouldn’t it be nice to explore how a relationship between her and Superman would work in the modern day? That would be interesting, so naturally there’s no time devoted to it in the film.
  • Batman deciding not to murder Superman because their mothers have the same name is ridiculous.
  • Hans Zimmer’s score is the most unremarkable work of his that I can think of.
  • Without saying anything of Eisenberg’s acting, what was Lex Luthor’s motivation? What was his goal? To kill Superman? Why? If the big CGI monster had succeeded in killing Superman, what then? The whole thing is just vacuous.
  • Lord of the Rings already did an amazing Cave Troll fight. Stop it, Zack.
  • Lex says that the titular fight will be “day versus night”. One would assume that the “day” is Superman, but hold on a second. There’s nothing “day” about this universe’s Superman. He’s not a heroic or charismatic saviour. He’s yet another brooding mass of muscle whose inhabitancy of earth the entire film up until this point has been criticising.
  • The plot thread about the morality surrounding Superman’s existence and actions is a really interesting one on paper, but it’s completely abandoned as soon as the time comes for Batman and Superman to fight.
  • Gal Gadot is a good-looking woman, but were we supposed to be excited when Wonder Woman showed up to fight at the end? Why? I haven’t read the comics, so naturally I’d expect to be informed as to who the hell she is and why I should root for her. But no, she just turns up for reasons, and all the important stuff will be explained in another film.
  • The Justice League cameos were awkwardly shoehorned in and had no place in the film.
  • The ending of the film is built entirely around a character sacrificing him/herself to save others. When the stinger just before the credits reveals that he/she isn’t actually dead and will be back in the next film, then what was the point of all the melodrama?
  • The overuse of slow motion is comical. If all of the slow motion shots were sped up to normal speed, the film’s running time would probably be reduced by half.
  • During the first half of the film, I just wanted something to actually happen. During the second half, I just wanted it to end.
  • Although I’m sick of Marvel films by now, at least they built their film franchise effectively, first introducing the major players in their own environments, before teaming them up. DC and Warner Bros. are trying to do a weird inverse version of that, and it’s a mess, because familiarity with characters just so happens to be something an audience needs in order to be invested in a film’s plot.
  • There’s a lot of stuff in the film that could have been handled more effectively in different hands. Zack Snyder as the ringleader of the DC Extended Universe is extremely worrying.

I went in with an open mind, willing to give the film a fair chance. I left disappointed, exhausted, and confused as to how something with such an interesting premise could bungle everything.

“Ex Machina”, my favourite film of 2015

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I saw a lot of films in the last year, but nevertheless, this was an easy choice. Like everyone else, I have my interests and expectations, but also try to take each film as it comes and judge it on its own merits. For example, I am not a fan of the comedy or horror genres, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate and enjoy comedy or horror films, or indeed films from another genre incorporating comedic or horror elements.

I had been aware of Ex Machina when it released earlier in the year, but for whatever reason I didn’t go to see it in the cinema. After that, I completely forgot about it. I was only reminded about it upon my preparation for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, during which I attempted to familiarise myself with the former projects of both cast and crew. As fate would have it, Oscar Isaac’s portfolio led me straight to Ex Machina, which also happens to star Domhnall Gleeson (with whom, as an Irishman, I am more familiar).

Generally, what appeals to me most in film is a set of three things: well-written and -acted characters; a simple, internally consistent story; and good cinematography. Of course, a decent score can elevate mediocrity to greatness, but music just falls short for me in importance compared to the aforementioned three elements. Ex Machina had all three.

Our three leads (in actuality, pretty much the whole cast minus Sonoya Mizuno) each give great performances. In the lead-up to Star Wars, a lot of people pointed specifically to this film as an example of what Oscar Isaac was capable of as an actor and why we should be excited with his casting. I now retroactively echo those sentiments. He is definitely the standout element of this film and gives the character of Nathan a complicated and understated menace, the likes of which we don’t see much in modern films. Domhnall Gleeson turned in a solid performance as Caleb, and it is nice to see him breaking the mould of his recent string of indie-esque films (Frank, also starring Michael Fassbender, is also a nice example of Gleeson’s acting capabilities). Alicia Vikander is great as Ava, and perfectly treads the “uncanny valley” we see mentioned more and more due to the advancement of special effects and such. She gives what is in my opinion the most grounded performance of an A.I. in any film I have yet seen. I don’t want to spoil any of the nuances in any of the performances, but trust me in saying that the performances are worth seeing.

I don’t want to say much about the specifics of the story, either, because I would encourage experiencing them for the first time in the film itself. However, I will say this: the story doesn’t attempt to be greater than the sum of its parts, but lets itself be told organically through both silent, reflective moments, and interactions between the three leads. As an aside, I also found it deeply ironic and a subtle nod to the film’s premise that the postmodern laboratory setting of the film is out in the middle of nowhere, encircled by the natural world. It’s quite meta without being heavy-handed.

I loved the muted, soft focus of the shots – they give the film a very distinct look, and enrich the muted sense of the location, and the tone and theme of the story. Rob Hardy lets many of the shots breathe, which is sadly lacking in the majority of modern big budget, popular films. Rather than simply being a window into the world of Ex Machina, Hardy’s cinematography is its own character, and plays an active part in informing the scene.

Of course, if I was to scrutinise, some of the science doesn’t hold up – but despite the subject matter dealing with artificial intelligence, the science of A.I. is not one of the driving components of the story. It instead provides a backdrop upon which a very human and introspective drama plays out. To briefly bring up Star Wars again, the original trilogy and now The Force Awakens both provide a similar example. Someone with even the most basic understanding of science can point out flaws in the logic of the Star Wars universe. But it doesn’t matter, because scientific consistency is not the point. The technological, galactic setting is just a backdrop for the story and characters, which is what Star Wars is all about. Just so with Ex Machina – if we substitute bioengineering and artificial intelligence in for lightsabers and Death Stars.

It is by no means a groundbreaking or particularly culturally relevant film, but that’s part of why I enjoyed it so much. Alex Garland showed admirable restraint with the subject matter, and as a result the film knows exactly what it is, never straying from that identity. Ex Machina is a down-to-earth, intelligent, well-made film with three stellar performances. I’d recommend it.