Hey hey! It’s Easter Weekend, so… go do what you do during that particular period, I guess. Have you hit up The MovieBob Patreon lately? Because that would be lovely 🙂
In any case, here’s a few quick updates on this end:
I’ve published my first “listical” for ScreenRant: “The 9 Biggest ‘WTF?’ Moments of Batman V Superman.” Please enjoy.
This review is possible through donations to The MovieBob Patreon. If you like what you see, please consider becoming a Patron.
I’m an unapologetic proponent of the superhero movie. The genre has yielded enough genuinely great works during its relatively brief run at the pinnacle of international popular-culture so as to forgive a lot of its missteps, and I firmly believe that it offers tremendous artistic and cultural value to those who would take advantage of it: Superheroes can make us laugh, give us catharsis, embody our fantasies, challenge our perceptions and give mythic weight to political metaphor.
Sadly, they can also be stupid, ugly, wrongheaded, intellectually-offensive and boring… and sometimes, they can be all that and more; and you wind up with a movie like BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE – a malignant, puss-bleeding cancer on the ass of its own genre.
I’m sitting here trying to decide where to even start this one, guys. DAWN OF JUSTICE is a terrible movie – I literally cannot recall the last time I was so shaken (literally shaking with rage!) at the climax of something I should hypothetically have liked since the first TRANSFORMERS movie. It’s bad on a level that would seem to defy even the worst vulgarity to mete out a proper condemnation; the kind of bad that begs to be conveyed by frantic vaudevillian sputters, a futile flailing of the arms and a stream of old-timey white profanity: I am agog at it’s awfulness. Flabbergasted by the depths of its failings.
Billed as 2 ½ solid hours of Universe-building DC Comics fanservice, the resulting film plays more like a “Producers Gambit” gone sentient and homicidal: If it were to come out tomorrow that a billionaire philanthropist with a pathological hatred of the superhero genre spent $400 Million to create a perfect embodiment of every negative prediction the old-guard film press ever made about the apocalyptic influence of comic book movies that would suck hard and swallow deep enough to choke to death and take the entire genre down with it… not only would I believe you, it would be more plausible than the actual plot of the film; which attempts to build a foundation for a prospective slate of features to rival the Marvel Cinematic Universe by smooshing together the plots of the two most overrated DC stories of the last 30 years.
And when it comes to this rectum-puckering garbage fire of a story, for once, I legitimately believe it when Snyder says the R-rated Blu-ray director’s cut absolutely needs to be at least 3 hours long, because at 2 ½ hours the theatrical cut has so clearly been hacked to the fucking bone the first and second acts occasionally feel like an exercise in seeing how many different locations in a row you can cut to without using any establishing shots. I’d compare it’s baffling lack of structure and complete disinterest in having a single character behave with adherence to any basic outline of rhyme or reason to the plotting of bad pornography but even bad pornography tends to at least fade in on whichever San Fernando Valley McMansion the gangbang will eventually take place in.
Speaking of pornography – though, to be honest, I can’t imagine any psychological healthy soul being able to pleasure themselves to anything happening onscreen in this clusterfuck (unless of course they’ve got money invested in CIVIL WAR…) – once the two solid hours of relentlessly tedious setup for a plot that somehow manages to be at once overcomplicated yet so simplistic it wouldn’t pass story-time muster in a Florida kindergarten has given way to the supposedly “action packed” finale; the whole production devolves into a high-contrast CGI trainwreck so narratively uninvolving and visual unconvincing that it feels less like The DC Holy Trinity teaming up to fight Doomsday than it does like watching four different screen-savers awkwardly fuck.
But I’m getting ahead of myself: The “epic” storyline that Zack Snyder, David Goyer and Chris Terrio spent three years and a rumored $400 million-plus getting made and that Warner Bros has potentially mortgaged its next decade as a solvent business on goes something like this:
Lex Luthor dislikes superheroes because reasons and he hates Superman most of all. So when he finds out that Batman is also mad at Superman because people who worked for Batman got killed during the ending of MAN OF STEEL he undertakes a ridiculously complicated master plan to goad Batman into killing Superman that involves the triggering of a Benghazi-esque foreign policy disaster in North Africa, the staging of a suicide-bombing during a United States Congressional hearing and a jar of piss (I’m not even kidding, a MAJOR plot-point of this movie involves a jar of Lex Luthor’s piss.) Except Lex didn’t really need to go to all that trouble because Batman already wants to kill Superman because he had a psychic nightmare about Darkseid except Darkseid was played by Evil Superman and also The Flash (I think?) popped out of a time portal and yelled at him about Lois Lane. Who herself then gets kidnapped by Lex Luthor along with Superman’s mom in order to force Superman to attack Batman whom Lex has also tricked into building kryptonite weapons and the anti-Superman battle suit from THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS so maybe he actually can kill Superman. But even if he can’t it doesn’t matter because Lex has also used alien science-magic to turn the body of General Zod into Doomsday whose stronger than both of them put together. Fortunately it turns out a mysterious lady whom Batman had been flirting with earlier in the movie is actually Wonder Woman, who shows up at the very end of the movie to punch Doomsday multiple times, buying Superman the opportunity to use Batman’s kryptonite weapons to kill Doomsday but then also get killed himself. With Superman now dead, Batman and Wonder Woman decide to invent The Justice League in case anything like Doomsday ever happens again or if Batman’s weird nightmares come true somehow. Also, yes really Superman is dead.
Holy shit. Now that I’ve actually said it out loud I hate this goddamn thing even more.
Everything from the characters to the dialogue to the plot points to the moment-to-moment storyline feels crammed in from somewhere else with no amount of forethought, which means damn near every major element sticks out like a metaphor for how much this bloated, internally rotting corpse of a film doesn’t work. No really, it’s so goddamn shit-curdlingly bad that there are TOO MANY moments of self-symbolizing badness to choose from. The entire production is a full-blown, top to bottom, all-encompassing disaster rolling into theaters.
Snyder’s preference for photographing the masculine form like the bastard offspring of Robert Mapplethorpe and Vince McMahon, which means that Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill look alternately like gigantic bulging scrotums painted-up like easter eggs when wearing their superhero costumes and a pair of poorly-tailored shaved gorillas wearing literally anything else – at one point Affleck strips down to his slacks for a ROCKY IV training montage that mainly involves pounding on a bus tire with a sledgehammer because how can we be expected to respect Bruce Wayne if we don’t know that his CrossFit WODs are mad legit bruh??
Cavill is somehow even more stiff and unlikable here than he was in MAN OF STEEL, rendered aloof and absent by an existential panic over whether or not he’s actually doing any good that never manages to resolve itself – though at least since he can generate action scenes he gets off better than Amy Adams who the movie keeps trying and failing to find a place for with embarrassing results. During the climax she nearly drowns trying to retrieve Batman’s kryptonite weapon from a pool of water which sounds hypothetically heroic until I tell you that she threw it in herself a moment ago for no apparent reason other than the screenplay really needed her to almost drown.
Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, however, gets off worst of all – this fucking guy might well be the worst comic book movie villain of all time. Nothing about him makes sense, his personality changes from scene to scene, he’s terminally obnoxious, for some reason we never find out exactly what it is he does or is “about” when he’s not doing bad guy stuff and despite his actions driving literally the entire plot we never get an answer as to WHY he’s done any of it: At first he says he hates Superman just because, then later he has a weird hangup about God, then later he’s mad at his abusive father and by the end he’s barking about being aware of some unseen menace looming in the distance.
And that big Title Fight? It goes on for about five or ten minutes, and it’s mostly just a fistfight because Batman keeps hitting Superman with kryptonite gas that makes them evenly matched… but then Batman gives up because he finds out Superman’s mom was also named Martha. No, for fucking real, that’s not even a joke. The incidental “oh, isn’t that funny” bit of comic book nerd trivia that Batman and Superman both had mothers named Martha is here treated as a huge goddamn revelation that makes Batman want to be Superman’s friends and fuck. This. Movie. So. Hard.
Oh, and if you’re wondering about JUSTICE LEAGUE cameos… they’re in there. Oh boy, are they in there. Y’know how they typically do the worldbuilding stuff in the Marvel movies as post-credit scenes or random background references that don’t (usually) interrupt the main movie? Well, that’s apparently too fuckin’ subtle for Zack fuckin’ Snyder. So instead, right in the middle of what passes for a pivotal scene in this shitpile, Batman gives Wonder Woman a hacked hard drive from Lex Luthor’s place that’s full of surveillance footage documenting the existence of herself, The Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman. No bullshit, that’s really how they do it: Wonder Woman gets an Electronic Press Kit and shows us all trailers for the next four fucking movies.
But unlike Nick Fury showing up at the end of IRON MAN, this didn’t feel like a promise – it feels like a threat. Not merely of more terrible movies, but of some kind of cosmic balancing of the scales: “Oh, did you really think the tendrils of nerd ephemera could ensnare and colonize the machinery of pop culture and there wouldn’t be a downside??” It’s as though geek culture is being made to suffer for enjoying itself too much, like we’ve gorged ourselves too gluttonously for almost a decade at a highest-quality AVENGERS-catered buffet… and now BATMAN V SUPERMAN is the rock-hard, rectum-shredding, anus-prolapsing rectal blockage we’re to be punished with for indulging too long without consequence.
And if that sounded pretentious to you, you should hear the characters in the movie drone on about their own mythological significance with a humorless self-regard that perfectly compliments the droning faux-Wagnerian percussions of the impossible-to-take-seriously soundtrack and Snyder’s increasingly garish aesthetic, which aims for Alex Ross but lands somewhere closer to compositions you’d airbrush on to the side of a panel van.
I could more folks, I really could, but by now I think you get the point: BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE is a travesty wrapped in a disaster inside an obscenity. It is steaming, rotten, sunbaked, oozing shit. As a critic, I can’t conceive that we’ll see a worse major studio movie this year. As an observer of the film business, I’m perversely fascinated to know what happens next now that one of the biggest studios on the planet has built multiple Summers worth of release slates around follow-ups to what’s turned out to be a Hindenbergian catastrophe. And as a comic book fan I am… suddenly feeling very, very old. And tired. I imagine it won’t last, but… for now… “tired” would indeed be the operative fucking word.
SPOILERS after the jump (and in the video):
When the first season of DAREDEVIL hit it kinda blew everybody’s mind. Not because of it’s much touted extra helping of sex and violence to set it apart from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though that was certainly novel and eyebrow-raising, but because of that plus it turned out to be really, really good.
Granted, at this point it feels like Marvel is either getting to that PIXAR point where they’re so consistently excellent at what they do *or* that STAR WARS/ROCKY/JAMES BOND point where they’ve created so much a permanent cultural niche for themselves that it’s difficult to apply the same kind of conventional criticism to them you apply to everything else; but it was worrisome all the same that they were going to try building a whole new venture around the “dark and gritty superhero” thing – a recurring trend in the medium that always manages to produce one or two clever works shortly before driving the whole genre into a fucking wall.
In other words, when you pair that with the… “mixed” results of Marvel’s TV division thus far it almost felt like someone had practically gift-wrapped this to be the moment where Marvel actually, finally fucks something up – I mean, Jesus, even their bad movies are still better than some other bad movies I could name…
But then DAREDEVIL came out and, pretty much across the board, the reaction was: Holy shit, this is good! I like this cast, it’s got all kinds of intrigue and drama and crime stuff, and it’s super violent in that nasty Tony Scott 80s cop movie kinda way and the writing really pops and I like all these gangster characters and they’ve obviously put a ton of work into these fight scenes and it clicks together so well you hardly even notice that Charlie Cox doesn’t really seem to have much range… or chemistry with anyone else in the cast… or that they make you wait until the last episode for him to get his costume… and then it sucks… like, really, really sucks… and that it really drags in the middle… and that there’s a shitload of plot but very little story… or that JESSICA JONES came out afterwards doing a lot of the same kind of schtick but somehow felt like it was made by and for actual adults and not an angry 10 year-old dressed up in his dad’s clothes… wait, why do I remembered Season 1 being so good again?
Oh! Right: Vincen’t D’Onofrio’s Kingpin was such a perfect fucking character – seriously, hands down the best Marvel villain and probably the acting MVP of the entire Marvel Universe at this point – that the sheer magnitude of his presence didn’t just overshadow and overwhelm Season 1’s myriad flaws; it literally filled-in the cracks and spackled over them. For example: That whole thing where Daredevil solves the big mystery of the season in the first couple episodes but then we have to watch Karen, Foggy and Ben Urich try to also solve it again on their own? Yeah, you barely even notice the first time because all the stuff they’re investigating leads back to more Kingpin! Hell, he’s so damn compelling that when he finally turns up for a two-episode guest spot in this season it’s hard not to want him to him to stick around and swallow everything up all over again – even though he’s right in the middle of all the Punisher stuff and everything about The Punisher fucking rules.
DAREDEVIL Season 2… has pretty-much the exact opposite problem: Overall, it’s *probably* better all around than the first season: There’s an actual fully-realized storyline with sensible character-arcs for everyone involved, there’s several genuine mysteries that are legitimately intriguing with (mostly) agreeable payoffs, it doesn’t sag as much in the middle-episodes which is an improvement over most Netflix shows and it feels like there’s a lot of pretty interesting worldbuilding being laid out for (one has to assume) THE DEFENDERS… hell, even Daredevil’s costume looks kind of less than terrible when there’s enough light to be able to see it which is basically never.
So yeah, good stuff but not without flaws – unfortunately, whereas last time said flaws were papered-over by one great element, this time they’re all highlighted and exacerbated by one terrible element, and that terrible element (shockingly) is… ELEKTRA, who is easily the worst-adapted character the Marvel Cinematic Universe has yet attempted and might even belong somewhere near the semi-tolerable end of a roster of its worst characters, period
And the tragedy is, you can really tell because she doesn’t show up for about 4 or 5 episodes, before which the Season is straight-up awesome because everything is all about THE PUNISHER – and The Punisher stuff, again, fucking rules. Fortunately, his story keeps going and kind of extends across the whole rest of the season… but yeah, every time we cut away to deal with the Elektra storyline it just feels like such a huge, deflating distraction.
Which, to be fair, is kind of the point of the story this time, so… kudos for doing the job perhaps too well, I guess. Our arc this time is that it’s a year later and Matt Mudock has settled into his comfy routine of lawyering to the indigent by day and punching his crime-ridden neighborhood into behaving itself by night; but now suddenly he has to deal not only with gangsters but with a rival vigilante who’d rather just straight-up murder everyone in Manhattan who’s so much as nodded approvingly in the direction of organized crime.
Daredevil can’t abide that but as Matt Murdock he also ends up defending The Punisher aka Frank Castle in his murder trial because he’s pretty sure the city is trying to cover something up about the gangland shooting incident that figures Big Pun’s standard family-killed-in-crossfire origin story… but then Murdock keeps fucking up the case because he’s distracted every other night by the reappearance of his crazy-hot-but-also-just-plain-crazy ex-girlfriend who needs his help taking down the cult of magic ninjas that apparently never went away from last season.
Now that right there is a really good outline for a season of a TV show about DAREDEVIL, not just plotwise but thematically: If they really are going to insist on sticking with the premise of Matt Murdock as a walking avatar of a uniquely Irish Catholic masochistic martyr complex, you’re not going to find a better literalization of that theme than making the pretext for the superhero stuff he keeps shirking his grownup job and potential emotionally-healthy love interest for than an “exotic temptress” he just can’t say no to. I mean, that’s pretty goddamn basic stuff and the male psyche hasn’t changed THAT MUCH since Frank Miller thought Elektra up in the first place.
Problem #1, though, is that Elektra – as in the specific Marvel character, Elektra – is NOWHERE to be found anywhere in Season 2’s baker’s dozen of episodes. Oh, she’s called “Elektra” and to her credit Elodie Yung has a lot of raw charisma and struggles mightily to do something with the unbelievably stupid character they’ve given her to play… but along with being stupid said character is completely unrecognizable as Elektra; and no, I’m not just saying that because she never wears the costume, although the one she does wear manages to somehow be worse than Daredevil’s which is kind of an impressive bar to not clear.
It’d be one thing if this radical reimagining of Elektra was at least interesting in her own right, but instead she’s the absolute worst kind of female character: The kind who has no interior life, exterior existence or even function in the plot apart from the needs, wants and projections of the male cast. The original Elektra may have been conceived, top to bottom, as a concentrated collection of Frank Miller’s hang-ups and fetishes but she at least had agency and an agenda – indeed, an identity – of her own, informed and driven by own (however poor) decisions.
This version of Elektra, on the other hand, has no such thing: In her new origin story, everything important about her from her martial-arts training to her attitude to her initial relationship with Daredevil to her re-emergence in the present turns out to have ALL been manipulated and managed by Scott Glenn’s Stick – and not only that, he supposedly did so in order to stop her from instead being manipulated and managed by… ugh, yup… her “destiny;” which here involves a really dumb payoff to the leftover “Black Sky” mystery involving The Hand from Season 1. And yes, it’s as dumb as it sounds.
And it’s a shame, because the stupidity of everything surrounding Elektra really does creep up and ultimately overwhelm the Punisher storyline, which is awesome and really should’ve remained the whole focus. Jon Bernthal is, quite simply, *extraordinary* as the best version of Frank Castle ever. Let me be clear about that: Ray Stevenson in Lexi Alexander’s PUNISHER: WARZONE remains the most faithful adaptation of the original Punisher comics and I love it as much I love those comics; but what Bernthal and the makers of DAREDEVIL have done is something next level – actually attempting to make Castle a three-dimensional character beyond the one-note Paul Kersey/Mac Bolan/Bryan Mills righteous murder-machine fantasy that birthed him.
The key? They don’t try to make The Punisher “cool.” Oh, he’s a bad-ass and people are going to love him and Marvel would nuts not to have already agreed to give Bernthal his own series and/or movie, but there’s a deliberate lack of self-conscious style to his mannerisms and his actions that demonstrate a deliberate choice to avoid making him an “action-hero.” He doesn’t have catchphrases, he doesn’t strike poses, there’s no sense of irony or gimmickry to how he takes out his targets and on the few occasions that we get a glimpse of who he might’ve been before the general impression is mostly an exceptional but not “legendary” soldier and a normal, probably even sort of boring suburban family man – what makes him interesting is contrasting that with what he’s become; and Bernthal does amazing work making it feel like everyone is constant immediate danger every time Castle is onscreen.
Hell, he even has the one thing virtually no one else in the cast does: Actual chemistry with Charlie Cox’s Daredevil. Don’t get me wrong, Cox was fine in the first season and he’s fine here, but they still haven’t solved the problem of Daredevil being the least interesting character in his own show thematically and in terms of presentation: The fight scenes are just as brutal and less obviously-choreographed this time around, but it’s mostly the same brawls in the same underlit hallways from Season 1 (seriously, DAREDEVIL loves underlit hallways like the POWER RANGERS love rock quarries) and don’t really change-up until he (finally) gets his adjustable billy club from the comics in the finale.
More amusingly, the producers are so clearly in love with him as the bleeding, gasping, brutalized suffering-savior that there’s almost zero logic at play concerning the training and strength-level of the fighters: Daredevil gets his ass kicked in almost every fight even though he usually walks away the default winner, and it seems to be just as brutal and physically taxing for him to defeat a handful of pissed-off bikers as it does to fend off fifty or sixty highly-trained ninja assassins. Cox is doing what he can, but it feels like both Season’s worth of showrunners just aren’t interested in developing Matt Murdock beyond a costumed embodiment of working-class Catholic self-penance: He wants to mete out vigilante justice but he needs to do it in a way that almost kills him to pay off the guilt. We get it, we got it the first time, please find something additional for him to be “about” between now and THE DEFENDERS.
I mean, what else is a shared universe for if not to be able to say: “Okay, sure, here’s a one-dimensional character; but maybe if we bounce him and 30 or 40 other one-dimensional characters off one another they’ll all eventually get more interesting!”?
It probably sounds like I’m ragging on this season and the series in a general and, I should stress, I’m not. Apart from the existing issues with the costuming and the pacing and the lighting (or rather lack thereof) and the huge Elektra-shaped dead weight dragging down the back half I actually really dig and have a lot of fun with DAREDEVIL – including some of the stuff that doesn’t totally work.
DAREDEVIL is the most “serious” Marvel production so far, which, paradoxically, often makes it the silliest Marvel production: I mean, we’re supposed to laugh during ANT-MAN, but as much I enjoyed ANT-MAN none of the *intentionally* funny parts in it were anywhere near as funny as watch Cox’s Daredevil seethe and glower and clench his fists and grit his bloody teeth with all the turgid solemnity of an angst-ridden middle schooler determinedly etching Pantera lyrics into his Alegbra textbook while the soundtrack thunders and rages with funereal self-importance while up onscreen he’s… doing rhythmic Cirque Du Soliel kick-flips with a bunch of ninjas straight out of a Godfrey Ho movie against the backdrop of a cartoon anachronism of Hell’s Kitchen circa-1982.
Intentional or note, that kind of mismatched tonal whiplash is right the hell up my alley. The great thing about the Marvel productions in general is that they afford so many different entertainment experiences: JESSICA JONES made me think, AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. is a nice mellow distraction, the AVENGERS movies are (at their best) inspiring and I fully expect CIVIL WAR to be a fucking emotional rollercoaster. DAREDEVIL, two seasons in, feels mostly like a weird, nasty, lurid footnote of a thing, but a generally well made one that occasionally (as in the case of The Punisher this season) manages genuine greatness. I really wish they hadn’t tried to force Elektra in this time around – or, rather,
I wish they hadn’t decided to name this completely unrelated boring new character “Elektra” – but there’s more than enough to recommend making Season 2 worth your time. So even you’re completely burnt out on superheroes at this point (which is understandable at this point) I’d say definitely check it out.
Yes, I skipped over the first midseason-comeback episode.
The storyline this time, with the interplanetary portal stuff out of the way but with S.H.I.E.L.D. not yet aware that HYDRA is taking orders from Zombie Ward whose really an Inhuman “god” made of slugs, Coulson and Talbot have to go attend a U.N. conference about “the Inhumans problem.” Ostensibly that’s because that’s what would happen but really because Fox just made $800 million from DEADPOOL so the X-Men aren’t coming home any time soon so the project to remake THE INHUMANS as replacements must continue and that means you do a “the world finds out about
Mutants Inhumans and reacts poorly” story.
Either way, they’re mainly going (Talbot under duress: His wife seemingly just left him because he took the ATCU job and he’s still not fond of Coulson) to try and figure out which of the visiting dignitaries are actually working with HYDRA leader Gideon Malick; which means the pair have to go in an shmooze their supposed colleagues while The Agents engage in the series’ second favorite pastime outside of sneaking around for clues in empty Los Angeles-area office spaces: Sneaking around for clues in hotel rooms. Whatever, the main point is setting up spycraft-gotchas, and the rate at which they drop throughout the episode is impressively daffy even for AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. In brief:
- Coulson and Talbot are attacked by Crusher Creel: The Absorbing Man
- BUT WAIT! Creel has actually been cured of his HYDRA brainwashing, and now he’s (kind of?) a good guy – and Talbot’s personal bodyguard.
- Coulson and Talbot chat up the dignitaries. Russia wants to let all The Inhumans move to Russia, and it turns out Australia has an Inhuman captive somewhere.
- BUT WAIT! Talbot betrays Coulson, “outing” him to the dignitaries as a spy – he was Malick’s inside man the whole time!
- Malick shows up and announces to the world (or, rather, a dozen or so people in the room because this is AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D) that Coulson is the Director… of HYDRA.
- BUT WAIT! Talbot isn’t evil, his hand is being forced: HYDRA is holding his kid hostage, and that’s what his wife was actually angry about.
- BUT WAIT AGAIN! Creel is working for HYDRA after all, preventing Hunter from saving Talbot’s kid.
- Malick predictably betrays Talbot, orders him killed along with Coulson.
- BUT WAIT! Creel is good, after all! He saved the kid, and he saves Talbot and Coulson.
That’s a fun hour of TV right there, especially given that one of the incidental characters being able to turn himself into metal or stone is just “something that happens” and not the main focus.
The B-stories were also pretty good, if a little on the overly-telegraphed side. I really like the dynamic that Malick has with Hive/Ward, i.e. this guy’s whole life has been dedicated to a quasi-religious cult all about bringing this Lovecraftian horror to Earth but now that he has he’s increasingly irritated that “god” is a weird zombie who just wants to sit on a couch watching TV and thumbing through books all day. It looks like that back and forth is coming to an end given how the episode wraps up, but so far watching Malick and the bad Inhumans react to Hive as “Not Apocalypse” is more interesting than Hive itself.
B-story #2, meanwhile, picks up the “can we cure it/should it be cured?” half of the “X-Men stuff you need to get out of the way” pile; with Simmons working out that Creel surviving touching Terrigen means his blood can conceivably be used as a vaccine against Terrigenesis. Interesting to see them slot Lincoln into the obligatory “
Mutant Inhuman who can see the upside of calling it a cure” role; not so much for what it means for his character (someone has to be in this slot and it can’t be Daisy, so…) but because they’ve finally found at least something for Lincoln to do.
NEXT WEEK: Episode 13 is called “Parting Shot,” so don’t be surprised if this is where Hunter and Mockingbird take off to go get ready for their spin-off.
Okay, so here’s the premise of ZOOTOPIA, a movie that kind of plays out like Disney Animation got hold of an unfilmmed script for a Dreamworks movie and said “Hey guys, let us show you what one of these would look like if they didn’t suck.”
Minor SPOILERS follow…
So the movie takes place in an Earth-esque world where apparently homo-sapiens never really showed up so instead every damn species of animal evolved into a civilized form and started wearing clothes, building cities, getting jobs and generally doing stuff other than killing and eating eachother – including carnivorous predators who (I guess?) eat something else instead. Still, old prejudices about predators being violent, dangerous, untrustworthy etc continue to, however passive-aggressively, persist – except apparently in Zootopia, a sprawling metropolis where all species live together in harmony and background doesn’t have to determine your position in the world.
Our heroine in Judy Hopps, an excitably-earnest rabbit who heads for Zootopia to become the city’s first rabbit police officer only to discover that the post-racial paradise isn’t all it’s cracked up to be i.e. she can’t get any good assignments – not so much because she’s a rabbit but because rabbits are small and all the important policework goes to bigger, stronger species so… still kind of because she’s a rabbit, I guess. So to prove herself, Judy sets out to solve a series of missing persons cases with help from a con-artist Fox named Nick and ends up blowing the lid off a bizarre political conspiracy wherein the “missing” animals turn out to have unexplainably regressed to their “savage” pre-evolved nature.
But in the process of revealing this to the public, Officer Hopps clumsily places focus on the fact that the “gone savage” phenomenon seems to be happening exclusively to once-predatory species and might be connected to their biological nature – inadvertently setting off a wave of prejudice and discrimination against predators who, as it turns out, are a minority population in Zootopia. To set things right and repair their obvious now-damaged friendship, Judy and Nick must solve the rest of the conspiracy up to an including the possibility that the savage-regressions are being somehow chemically induced in the population.
So… yeah… holy shit, Disney’s new funny talking-animal movie is actually a super-deliberate cartoon metaphor for racism, racial-profiling by police and also maybe the crack epidemic? I mean, I guess this is the new Disney now – everything get’s a deeper, more specific socially-conscious meaning to go along with all the whimsy i.e. how a lot (seriously, A LOT) of people felt very strongly that Elsa’s storyline in FROZEN could easily be read as a analogous to a coming-out narrative and how Angelina Jolie came right the hell and just said “Hell yeah, MALEFICENT is an extended metaphor for rape-survival.” Yikes!
And hey, I’m all for that – kids are smarter than they get credit for, they can handle this stuff. But it’s interesting that the just-for-the-grownups themes are now actually darker than the just-for-grownups jokes – and just to give you a metric for that, Zootopia’s idea of a grownup joke is building a key scene around a drawn-out BREAKING BAD parody.
But then again I guess Disney has been working with material like this for awhile – in fact the Disney-affliliated movie that ZOOTOPIA resembles more than any other in terms of tone and sensibility is WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT and that was social-metaphor overload central i.e. the whole thing is mainly about the life of minority actors in Golden Age Hollywood… or did you miss that the Toons all lived in their separate town outside the main city that was in danger of being bulldozed for an urban renewal project and that whole subplot where the cops can just murder them without any consequence?
But whatever. The fact is, even when it’s not playfully affecting a Disney Afternoon version of THE WIRE, ZOOTOPIA is goddamn riot and a lot of fun. Even if the actual story wasn’t compelling and the actors so game well-cast in their roles – particularly Jason Bateman as Nick and Ginnifer Goodwin as Judy – the movie would be worth it for the sheer level of imagination and creativity that’s clearly gone into designing the world where this all plays out. The level of detail and the way its consistently used to pile jokes upon jokes upon more jokes both in terms of how things work and how the mechanics of Zootopia play off one another is a wonder to behold, and while Disney tends to be extra-careful about what becomes a franchise it feels like the ZOOTOPIA universe is richly-detailed enough that you could set dozens of stories here and still only scratch the surface of what’s available here.
ZOOTOPIA is flat-out, full-stop one of the best comedies of the year – period, animated, talking-animal or otherwise. I mean that without any exaggeration: The extended sequence involving a DMV office staffed entirely by Sloths is one of the funniest extended comedy bits I’ve seen in years. Plus it’s sharp, modern, dialed-in and “of the moment” in a way animated fare and especially Disney animated very seldom is just by the logistics of how long these things take to make. I loved it, I think you will too.
NOTE I: This review is made possible through the generosity of donors to The MovieBob Patreon. If you’d like to see more like it, please consider becoming a Patron.
NOTE II: See post-script for important information.
Here’s a perfectly good (excellent, in fact) little movie that’s probably going to piss people off because of its title – or, more specifically, its title’s part in the twee, self-satisfied meta promotional games of producer JJ Abrams. That’s a pity, because once you understand that this really isn’t a “sequel” to CLOVERFIELD (thank God…) but rather an attempt to turn CLOVERFIELD’s more-memorable-than-the-film marketing campaign into a kind of anthology-branding; there’s a genuinely ingenious production under here (it was originally filmmed as it’s own movie under “THE CELLAR,” with the decision to retitle it coming post-production) doomed to be obscured by how annoyed lay moviegoers are likely to be that its not a “real” sequel and how annoying people like me find the idea of CLOVERFIELD as branding to begin with: Sorry kids, I’ve done more with my life than obsess over the minutiae of everything the tenaciously-middlebrow Abrams/Bad Robot have produced since ALIAS, and as such I don’t find insider-references to Los Angeles freeway exits to be the cleverest thing ever.
But, hey! The movie is good – really good, in fact. You should go see it. And then afterwards, hit the jump for a review which, by necessity, features SPOILERS.
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is essentially a really good TWILIGHT ZONE episode with the character-interplay drama stretched out to a feature-length second act and a more expensive than typical finale, and engaged on those merits it’s one of the better films of the year so far in terms of acting and building genuine suspense. The script works, the direction is old-fashioned slow-burn solid , but what drives it home is some terrific acting – particularly from John Goodman (who we should really figure out a way to give an Oscar at some point.)
Goodman is a rural weirdo named Howard, who has built a fully-functioning long-term livable fallout shelter with all the amenities under his farmhouse and is pretty much exactly the guy you expect to have built a fully-functioning long-term livable fallout shelter in 2016. We first meet him through Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead,) who wakes up chained to a pipe in the shelter after getting run off the road in a car crash after fleeing an unseen argument with her fiancee.
Understandably, she’s terrified; but while Howard is absolutely the living embodiment of the obsessively-paranoid “prepper,” he’s (apparently) not some kind of serial killer who’s abducted her: At some point shortly after her accident, some sort of unnamed chemical/biological/nuclear attack struck the region, and Howard found her and brought her down to the shelter just in time. There’s another guy down there with them, a contractor who helped build the place (John Gallagher Jr) – though Howard is visibly irritated by having him around.
Once the innevitable Act I business is cleared up (i.e. our skeptical heroine discovers that Howard is seemingly telling the truth about the outside world having become uninhabitable) the film settles into cozy slow-burn thriller mode, as the time in between meals, puzzles and board games gives way to understanding the characters and (subtly) familiarizing the audience with the core geography of the bunker itself. All of this is good, meaty, dramatic stuff; but again it’s Goodman who makes it all sing. His Howard is a brilliantly observed antagonist – we get very little in the way of (reliable) background on him, but his unsure speech, palpable difficulty speaking to people, petulant boundary-issues and “lonely self-involved child” personality create a lived-in character and a harrowing sense of familiarity: You’ve met this guy, and being near him bothered you, and maybe you felt bad about that because its hard to pin down exactly what feel so “off” about him and you don’t want to be a dick in case it’s… but he still creeped you out.
It’s all going more-or-less where you think it is (1 bunker, 1 woman, 2 men, one of said men is alternately regressive/paternal and practically oozing mother-issues, it’s not complicated) but the reveals of various secrets and half-truths are so skillfully executed you hardly notice. The director is Dan Trachtenberg, a commercial vet whose biggest exposure before this was a PORTAL fan-film, and if you were worried about suffering through any washed-out shakycam you can relax – his approach here is extremely locked-down and deliberately-composed, befitting the setting and the story. He’s the real deal if this is any indication, so we’ll probably hear about him getting scooped up for a Marvel movie or a 20-years-later sequel to a 90s blockbuster within the next week.
Of course, it goes without saying that there IS something wrong (as in seriously wrong) with Howard, but if you know your TWILIGHT ZONE riffs you also know that’s unlikely to be the final “gotcha.” Unfortunately, that’s where the titling issue probably hurts it most.
(YOU WERE WARNED ABOUT SPOILERS)
Let’s be real: To Bad Robot and super dialed-in longtime Abrams fans, “Cloverfield” concievably could translate to “Oh, that means low-budget/high-polish genre exercise!,” but to most moviegoers it means “That handicam Godzilla movie you kind of remember.” And with both the advertising campaign and even a cursory knowledge of the genre both telling you in advance that you’re in for a double-gotcha ending (i.e. if you’ve seen one other movie with this structure you know the twist isn’t “obvious psycho is more psycho than you thought,” it’s “obvious psycho was actually right, it really is The End of The World out there”) it’s more than reasonable that most of the audience is probably expecting “The Cloverfield Monster” to be waiting when Michelle finally gets out of the bunker… and it’s not, so it’s not unreasonable that some of the audience is going to walk away annoyed.
I certainly wasn’t. Quite the opposite, in fact, since I’ve seriously soured on CLOVERFIELD and its underwhelming monster. So that it turns out that the “attack” was an alien invasion a’la War of The Worlds (allowing Michelle to complete her “learn to not run away from your problems” arc by making a cartoonishly contrived decision whether to head for safety or join the human resistance) is perfectly fine on my end. Also, aliens are probably still “close enough” to off-brand kaiju to at least “feel” related (I’m sure there are already tiresome fan-theories about the monster being the first wave of the attack and that it’ll totally be back for Part 3); but you have to imagine the reception is going to be effected by it.
Still, as it’s own thing, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is a slick, super-watchable thriller that deserves the attention it’s getting – title or no. Absolutely worth a look.
P.S. I know it’s been too long between reviews and people are hungry for new content. Obviously, most of my recent slowdown has been due to getting my new book launch underway and several other factors, but I’m working to get more reviews up now as we head into Spring and the next Really That Good as well. So please stay tuned for that.
P.P.S. The plain fact of it is, the more non-blog/non-video work I have to do to pay my bills on this end, the less time I actually get to devote to those things. So, basically, the more frequently the Patreon get’s back up above it’s target goal and the more people visit my new gig at Screen Rant, the more original content I can produce for you. Case in point, if you’d like to read/share the latest pieces, here’s some links:
UPDATE! The first five books are now available in Apple iBooks format for iPad, iPod Touch, iPhone and MAC. You’ll find the iBooks Store like on each books linked purchase page, or you can reach my iTunes author page HERE.
Here it is, the one you’ve been waiting for. Unless you don’t know what I’m talking about, in which case, scroll down.
The first run of my new collection of ebooks curating the best of my earlier work, “The MovieBob Anthology,” is now complete with the newest and final volume, “GAME OVERTHINKER & BEYOND” – which includes transcripts of select classic OverThinker episodes and columns, articles and blogs about games and game culture from The Escapist, this blog and elsewhere. You can buy a copy in .epub format (compatible with most e-readers) from Lulu HERE for the low price of only $4.00 US.
The other volumes (previously posted about) include the following; all priced the same and in roughly the same layout (i.e. with “MovieBob’s” preceding the individual titles):
REEL BREAKDOWN: Reviews of newer theatrical films. Includes transcript of the PIXELS review.
IDIOT BOX: Columns, reviews and blogs about new and classic television.
SUPERHERO CINEMA: Comics, superheroes, comic-book movies and comics-culture in general.
STRANGE HOLLYWOOD: Columns and articles on movie culture, the film industry and Hollywood history.
GEEK STREAK: Writings on the subject of “geek culture.” Includes the “Re-Tales” series from the old Intermission column, “Bat-Mitt vs Obamavengers” and “The 50 Most Boring Opinions in Geek Culture.”
REEL RETRO: Reviews and retrospectives of classic films, obscure gems and the great filmmakers behind them.
Also: Regarding formats – these are all in .epub format for now, which can be read on most devices (Calibre can convert it to .mobi for Kindle, for example.) I understand that many folks would prefer to buy them in device-native formats, and those versions are in the process of coming to be. Unfortunately, I cannot offer a timeline for when – that’s a decision that’s entirely up to Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, etc.
Also: Since some have been asking: I very much want to do physical copies, but it’s not in the cards yet – there’s a big overhead for printing something like that, so I need to have a lot more things in order before that proceeds on even a limited basis.
NOTE: Production of The MovieBob Anthology was made possible in large part through fans and readers’ continuing support of The MovieBob Patreon. If you like what you’re seeing here and would like to see more of it, please consider becoming a Patron.