Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Batman V Superman: The Essential FAQ (Part 1)

You have seen the movie, eaten the popcorn, finished the soda, and are pretty much done with superheroes for a month, until that Avengers movie comes out. However, there are things about Batman V Superman that made you go "Huh?!", and wouldn't it be great if someone could clear up those irritating loose plot threads? That's where this comes in. Browse the handy-dandy Batman V Superman FAQ I have prepared with tremendous care and just a little bit of alcohol, and you'll know all about the subtle details behind two dudes in tight shirts punching each other in the face.

Q: First things first. Why did we need to see Batman’s parents die again? Didn't they already do an entire movie about this called Batman begins?
A: Well, I guess Snyder wanted to reinforce the "Martha" connection. Not the most subtle way to go about it, but that's Zack Snyder for ya. Also, yes, that doesn't explain why they had to show bruce falling down a hole AGAIN, but that's Zack Snyder for ya.

Q: Oh right, the Martha connection! How stupid is that? So these guys just became best buddies because their mom's have the same name? And not even a unique name, like Florence? There's a million "Martha's" out there!
A: Actually, it's more like the fact that Superman had a mom at all. See, up until then, Batman always thought Superman was just an alien. A being with godlike powers with no one to answer to. Remember the line "You are not brave. Men are brave." Having a mother, and obviously caring about her, humanised Superman in his eyes.

Q: Ok, I'll buy that. But now that you say it, why on earth is Batman so pissed off? Isn't he supposed to be this hero guy? Who never kills? I distinctly remember him shooting up a bunch of cars until they explode with people inside!
A: Ok, in the movies, Batman has always killed people as collateral damage. Let's just accept it. I know reviewers are pretending like this is a big deal, and Snyder has broken some cardinal bat-law, but in the very second Batman movie, he stuck a BOMB in a guys stomach. So yeah, movie BatFleck is a saint in comparison
Second, this is not the typical Batman. He has been Batmanning for 20 years, and as he put it - Criminals are like weeds, they keep growing back. So in his own eyes, his crusade is a failure. This is an old, bitter batman who has grown more and more desperate. However, for the first time, there is a threat at a planetary scale, one that he must put down. He can't eliminate crime, but he can certainly eliminate this one threat from the skies. So yeah, the Bat-intensity is off the charts.

Q: Are you going to Bat-everything throughout this blog?
A: On all Bat-topics, yes.

Q: Why?
A: It's a fanboy thing, Ok? Do you wan't your questions answered or not?

Q: I don't really care that much. I am a hypothetical non-fan remember? But fine, moving on...Is that why Luthor also wants Superman dead? Why is he so angry at Superman? Did Superman piss in Luthor's cereal or what?
A: Not totally. See, one of the core character traits of Lex Luthor is that he is a megalomaniac. He is really, really smart, and hates the fact that people worship a super-strong alien from the skies instead of another human being that represents the best of their own species.

Q: That....actually makes some sense!
A: Yes, that's what makes him a great villain. However, by "another human being that represents the best of their own species", he means him and only him. So yeah, the moral high ground is kind of shaky here.

Q: Anyway, so Batman wants Superman dead because threat to humanity, Luthor wants Superman dead because threat to ego? That's kind of a flimsy reason, dude.
A: Yes, but you have to realise that from Luthor's perspective, his ego is far more important than all of humanity.

Q: Hmm, but you said Luthor hates Superman becuase people love him. But people hate him here! They are constantly giving depositions against him, and defacing his statue, and badmouthing him. Luthor's ego has nothing to fear!
A: Not really. See, they built a big-ass statue of him in the first place. Plus, there are bits and pieces where people are chanting in support of Superman. See, another one of Snyder's boneheaded decisions is to not make it very clear that on the whole, people quite like Superman. They draw his symbol on roofs when they need to be rescued, they want to touch him when he saves kids from burning buildings etc. it's just a few who see him as a threat. But of course, the movie chooses to devote 99% of the runtime to that, so you don't see much of Luthor's motivation.

Q: Love him!? Isn't he put on trial for killing a bunch of people in Africa? 
A: Ok, yes, I can see why that may seem stupid. But follow me here. See, Superman is not on trial. It's a Congressional deposition, which means he has some concerns raised about him, and he has been given a platform to put forward his side of the story.

Q: Which reminds me, why do people think he killed those terrorists in Africa? They had bullets in them? Are the investigators so dumb as to think that a man who can charcoal-grill people when he squints hard is going to pick up a gun and shoot?
A: Ok, this is another bit of misconception. See, if he was accused of killing those people, he'd be arrested. Or at least, they would declare him a wanted man. No one thinks he killed those people in Africa. The concern is that there is this American citizen who shows up anywhere in the world and does whatever the hell he likes. It was obvious that the firing started when he showed up, so the question is, if he should be responsible for collateral damage on foreign soil.

Q: Fine, although I wish they mentioned that stuff a little more. And speaking of foreign soil, any idea why the movie suddenly becomes Batman: Desert Storm? With giant bugs?
A: It's a dream/premonition. It's also a ploy to get fanboys frothy with delight. See, remember the symbol drawn on the dirt in that sequence? Yeah, that's the symbol of the BIG BAD in DC comics lore. You think Joker is bad? Darkseid is a ruler of a whole freaking planet who can toss Superman around like a rag doll. Anyway, so that is Darkseid's symbol.

Q: That's great. But why is it in the middle of THIS movie? This Dark Side or whatever never shows up? And isn't Superman the villain during this dream?
A: Darkseid is actually supposed to be the villain of the planned Justice League movie. Basically, Batman dreams that he is coming, but since, at the time, he thinks Superman is a bad guy, that's who he sees.

Q: So Batman can see the future now?
A: Batman can do a lot of things that need to be done to set up the Justice League movie. Snyder is not the most subtle of directors! We already established that!

Q: What the hell is a Justice League?
A: , I can't believe I am saying this, but Justice League is like the Avengers of DC comics. And before you ask, DC comics are the guys who publish Batman and Superman and a lot of other characters. Spider-Man, Avengers and X-Men, on the other hand, are published by Marvel comics, which is a totally different company.

Hang on for part 2!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Batman V Superman: Why the Critics got it Wrong

There were 9 of us. Most adults, with one kid. It was a good mix of non fans, comic book movie fans, comic book fans, Marvel fans and DC fans. After the movie, we had question.

What the fuck were the critics smoking?

BvS is sitting with a 30% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes. That is lower than Daredevil. Lower than Batman Forever. Lower than Spider Man 3 (by half!). Lower than Rise of The Silver Surfer!

That is also, insane.

At it's worst, the movie is divisive. It has some incredible strengths, and major weaknesses. The reviews have been out for a few days, so it's pointless to add to that mix. However, going through them both before and after watching the movie I feel they don't provide an accurate portrayal of what the movie is like. So instead of doing another straightforward review, let me take some specific aspects, address their critiques and devil's advocate the shit out of the movie.

But first, the short review roundup, in case you don't want to scroll through the wall of text below, because oh FUCK I have so much to say.

Mini Review Begins----------------------------

I think the movie is a perfectly enjoyable summer blockbuster that occasionally stumbles only because it tries loftier things than the average summer blockbuster. It asks some hard questions, and tries to make a point beyond "Bad person has upgraded version of my power/suit. Now we must fight!" That makes it interesting. More than that, it imbues the movie with a sense of ambition and scope which many superhero movies lack. It features largely good acting, phenomenal cinematography and action and an interesting plot that doesn't simply reheat the last superhero movie.

The biggest problem, I felt, was that it does not know who to please. For example, the first time Wonder Woman showed up, the people in our group who didn't follow comic books at all (a.k.a. the casuals a.k.a. the demographic DC has to please to have a hope in hell of making the movie successful financially) were confused. Why was this random woman who, so far, seemed to exclusively attend parties wearing clothes that never had enough material to cover the back, suddenly fighting with a sword and a shield? This was not an obscure reference - Wonder Woman is a core part of the final battle, and the casual audience has no clue who she is! Similarly, a lot of Luthor's motivation becomes a lot clearer once you know his character from the comics.

On the other hand, the movie deviates from the generally accepted canon regarding character and motivation waaaaay too much, and we all know how rational comic book fans are about such things. See, in this version, Luthor is a twitchy, neurotic maniac. In this version, Batman's "no-killing" rule is more relaxed than the dress code at a pajama party. In this version, Superman isn't a big blue beacon of hope.

How much you enjoy the movie will depend on your preconceived notions. See, this is a movie that requires SOME knowledge of these characters and their history. Nothing that can't be cleared up after a five-minute conversation with your comic-book loving friend. If, however, you are a stickler for how they are in the comic books, this movie is the equivalent of an abusive spouse who is also great in bed. It will make you incredibly happy, and incredibly sad, until you are a confused, seething mess of drool and rage.

Mini Review Ends----------------------------

Ok, so let's get down to business, dissect the movie and the critique, and see why Batman V Superman is worth your time. Because holy fuck, it's worth your time.

Cast and Acting:
This, very few reviews had problems with. Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot are the highlights, in spite of Gadot's limited screen time, while Jeremy Irons is a brilliant Alfred. More dour and snarky and less fatherly than Caine or Michael Gough. This is an Alfred that has given up on trying to make Bruce realise that dressing up like a bat to punch criminals is crazy, and is now focused on keeping him alive. Amy Adams does not have much to do, but even then, adds humanity to Henry Cavil's Superman. Cavil himself is a blank slate, looks adequately like a brick wall and delivers a steady and unmemorable performance.

The divisive one here is Jesse Eisenberg as Luthor and well....I didn't hate him. I can see how his performance, affected as it is, will rub fans the wrong way, but for non fans who don't have any idea of the suave, cruel Lex Luthor, Eisenberg is fine and even a little magnetic. I've seen him compared to the Joker; however, this Luthor is teetering on an edge of insanity, whereas Joker has already gleefully jumped in. Moreover, I found that the Machiavellian aspects of his character has been left intact. Luthor is, after all, the master of the long game, and here, it's apparent that he has been playing for years.

The Tone:
"Grim". "Joyless". "Humorless". This was my first clue that there might be a teensy bit of bias going on. I don't want to drag this into a Marvel vs. DC morass, because then we'd be here all day, but this idea that it's only the Marvel tone that works for superhero movies is a throwback to the idea that comic books are for kids. That anything to do with comic books have to have a rainbow-sized colour palette and a RDJ-alike making quips a mile a minute. I don't mind Marvel doing Marvel stuff, in fact, I welcome it, but a lot of critics seem to have decided that a dark, grim tone in itself is a negative.

"So if critics hate dark, how come they loved the Nolan movies huh?" Yeah, this is the most common defense being pushed around. Here's the thing - the Nolan movies were brilliant. BvS is decidedly NOT a brilliant movie. It's good, but not great. However, calling a good movie, or even a mediocre movie bad BECAUSE of its tone makes no sense. Worse, it suggests that those who prefer a particular tone are somehow, by virtue of their aesthetic choice, less evolved in their taste. I happen to prefer this tone, as do many others I know. Some of Marvel's movies bore me simply because of their very different tone. Doesn't make them worse movies though.

Oh, and there are laughs to be had here. Almost everything Perry White or Alfred says elicits a chuckle or two. Because they aren't coming at you like machine-gun fire, they land with more impact.

Plot and Storytelling:
The plot has holes. So. Many. Holes. But there are also hints and suggestions regarding plot points, and the viewer is expected to connect the dots, which is something that some critics seem to have a problem with. This is a movie where not everything is spelled out, and requires careful watching for it to make sense. Is that a good thing? Should a summer blockbuster always be a switch-your-brain-off kind of thing? I don't know, and I am not suggesting it shouldn't. It's true that Snyder is not a skilled enough director to juggle the multiple plot points and heavy themes efficiently. But the fact that the movie even tried to do it, even though it failed, makes it more interesting to me.

However, one thing I never had a problem with, and I don't really understand why so many reviewers did, was the storytelling. It's certainly choppy, but I personally enjoyed that. The movie is told through multiple perspectives and some events take place concurrently. There are multiple plot points, but they are not hard to follow, and when they come together, it's satisfying to see the threads meet. Again, there seems to be a "if it's a comic book movie it has to be simple and linear" attitude which is difficult to agree with.

But yeah, the blatant fanservice videos of the other heroes should definitely have been placed at the end, instead of right before the big fight.

Action and Visuals:
Some things are just automatically cool. Watching the DC Trinity work together on the big screen is one of those things. The action is epic, and the ground level shots where Bruce is watching Superman and Zod duke it out really provide a sense of scale of the destruction caused. However, the film takes time to get going, and the action ramps up only in the last hour or so. Batman gets a couple of solo fight scenes that are bone-crunchingly brutal, and the marquee main event is just as I envisioned a Batman vs Superman fight to go down. It even has a decent laugh! Wonder Woman shows up in the coolest manner imaginable. Electric cello blaring, she looks every inch a gladiator forged in battle. Where Superman, in spite of all his power, questions and wavers, she leaps at the enemy - sword, shield and above all, lasso in hand. For all Snyder did wrong, Wonder Woman has been done oh-so-right.

Visually, the film is typical Snyder - beautiful shots that look like comic book panels, with a sense of grandeur in the visuals. The 3D doesn't really help, making the dark visuals even murkier. Once again, 3D mucks up an otherwise beautiful movie.

Which brings us to two major criticisms of the "action" aspects of the movie. Let's deal with them one by one

1) "Batman kills. He mows down henchmen. This violates his no-kill code" - Batman has always killed in the movies. In the Burton movies, he definitely killed henchmen, while in the Nolan movies, he kills two face and flips a truck over. He had NO WAY of knowing that would not kill everyone inside the truck. Canon batman does not kill, but this is not canon. Each director has his own version of the character, aspects of which are canon, and aspects that are not. I have never felt that "no killing" has to be an integral part of every Batman. If you do, that's certainly an opinion, but not one casual fans care much about.

2) "They cause citywide destruction again, after making that such a big deal in the MoS movie" - The first thing Superman does is fly Doomsday into outer space. The only reason the battle comes back to earth is because of the knee-jerk reaction of the powers that be. If anything, this movie proves that Superman has evolved and understands his responsibilities better than those passing judgement on him.

The Final Word

Batman vs Superman does a lot of things right. Problem is, some  things it does will appeal to casual moviegoers and piss off hardcore fans, and some will appeal to hardcore fans and piss off casual moviegoers. On top of that, Zack Snyder's limitations as a filmmaker means the film has glaring weaknesses, while his fanboy love for comic book means it also has a lot of heart and is emotionally powerful. That's why this is such an incredibly divisive movie, and that is why it cannot make anyone completely happy. Given a chance, however, it is a fantastic entertainer, and gets me excited for another comic book universe on the big screen.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Deadpool Review: Merc with a Movie

In the comics, Deadpool is a polarizing character. His fourth-wall breaking antics range from surprisingly funny and insightful to "HAHA #LOLRandom, laugh because Deadpool is soooo crazy". The consensus is that except in the hands of a very strong writer, Deadpool is good only in small doses and in team books, if that. So when I settled into my seat, I was hoping for an enjoyable movie, but fully expecting it to hit me in the face with meta joke after meta joke, all but shoving thought balloons into my face in a desperate attempt to be over the top and Krazy with a kapital K.

Now that I've seen it, my biggest complaint is frankly that the movie clears the top with only about six inches to spare, and while adequately crazy, it's a very sedate crazy. With a lowercase c. 

The basics. Ryan Reynolds is Deadpool a.k.a. Wade Wilson, the merc with a mouth, and he isn't afraid to use it. Imagine him as Spider-Man's far more foulmouthed brother. A former special forces soldier turned thug with a twisted sense of humour, Wilson falls in love with a woman just as twisted as he is. Since life has a sense of humour even more twisted than his, it turns out he has cancer of the everything. A shady man comes with an offer too good to be true, claiming he represents parties that can cure him. If you are wondering whether they do, or if there's a catch, welcome to the first movie of your life. For the rest, of course he's double crossed, tortured, horribly scarred all over, and left to die. He doesn't, and emerges with ugly face ("you look like the inside of an asshole", his friend comments) and a flippant attitude ("the one thing that never escapes this place is a sense of humour", his torturer tells him. Deadpool is determined to prove him wrong) and goes on a path of vengeance. Also, because his torturer is the only one who can fix his face. Setpieces happen, Deadpool flips a lot, a couple of X-Men show up, (ostensibly to recruit him but really because let's face it, Deadpool really does work best with a comedic foil.), the girlfriend gets kidnapped and well, you can guess the rest.

If the plot seems rote, it's because it is. It's honestly the weakest thing about the movie. It's basic, and only here to string up the jokes and the crackling chemistry.

Ahhh yes, the chemistry. If the plot's the weakest thing about the movie, the chemistry among the cast is probably the strongest. Whether it's between Deadpool and his girlfriend, or Deadpool and the bad guy, or Deadpool and Colossus and his protege Negasonic Teenage Warhead (the aforementioned X-Men who show up), or even Deadpool and his roommate blind Al and friend Weasel - this is a cast that's having fun with the material. At the centre of it all is the shining jewel that is Ryan Reynolds. Having built a career as a Hollywood heartthrob, he dives into the character of Deadpool, facial warts and all, with fearless abandon. He makes the movie. Also, yes, Negasonic Teenage Warhead IS the coolest superhero name you have heard of. Deadpool knows that as well.

The script, on the other hand, is a hit and miss. More hits than misses, but the jokes don't fly as thick and fast as you would think, and many of them land for hardcore fans, but not the casual viewer. To it's credit, the love story at the heart doesn't seem jarring at all, shifts in tone kept in sync thanks to the use of humour throughout. Deadpool is also a much "nicer" guy than he is in the comics, but I guess they did have to tone down the nastiness not to turn off the audience. It's just that with Deadpool, it's easy to be too "edgy" but this movie feels like it could do with a little more. Let's just say that in an universe where of "Daredevil" is a thing and "Punisher: War Zone" already happened, a superhero turning a guy into a "fucking kebab" is NOT shocking.  

Oh, don't get me wrong. It's a good film, and a great way to spend a couple of hours. It's genuinely funny most of the time, the music is really good, the action kicks ass and Ryan Reynolds is looooong overdue for a successful comic book movie. After 4 attempts. all stinkers, he finally has one that has been created with little money (by Hollywood supermovie standards. Seriously, the budget is bottom-of-the-barrel, and it shows.) but a lot of love and enthusiasm for the source material. I'll be there, popcorn in hand on the first weekend of the sequel. Just promise me you'll talk to us a little more, ok Ryan? That's all I need.

PS: Yes, there's quite a few jokes about Green Lantern and Mouthless Deadpool, but they're funny.

PPS: Everyone's already said it, but the opening credits are one of the best and funniest I have ever seen.

PPPS: I get that if Deadpool realises this, there's no movie, but there's no way his scarring would repel the woman in love with him. Ultimately, Deadpool is like his own movie, far less ugly than he thinks he is. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Chew (Or, how to eat a book)

When I was very little, I learnt how to read silently. Even got in trouble for it. See, we didn't have much of a library at school, but we had a "library period" - A 45-minute stretch of time where a group of fidgety 8-year-olds were expected to sit still and mumble from whichever book had been handed to them. Not because they loved it, but because "Library sir" would whack them between the shoulder blades with a freshly plucked switch if they didn’t. This wasn't meant to foster a love for reading, it was meant to keep us relatively quiet and scared; Which would describe a LOT of our classes, now that I think about it. But I digress.

My mother taught me how to read silently. It was the mark of culture, she said, to not move his lips when he read. So as I sat on the scratched, brown bench, hunched over my Blyton with no cover and ripped pages, lips unmoving, it must have seemed like I was staring, rather than reading. a classmate noticed, and keenly felt the unfairness of it all – him having to slog through books while I just sat there, in bliss, not absorbing ANY of the painful words into my brain. A teacher was summoned. The complaint was succinct. "He isn't reading. His lips aren't moving". I got away with it because, let's face it, as the only one in my class who snuck into the library rather than the football field during recess, it wasn't really believable that I wouldn't be reading. But I have always felt faintly smug about the incident, long after I had any right to be of such childish gotchas.

And then, I discovered, I was wrong. My mother was wrong. One day, I discovered the joys of reading out loud.

I blame Pratchett. The quality of his prose made me realize that it wasn’t enough to just read the words, that I wouldn’t be satisfied if I couldn’t feel them in a tangible manner. I needed to experience them through as many senses as I could, not just one. Hearing them, and yes, even speaking them out loud, feeling my lips and tongue and teeth perform the intricate symphony of storytelling the author had left there for me was a more complete experience, enveloping me and drawing me deeper into the world that had been weaved into my soul.

There is something solid about words. They aren’t simply vibrations in the air, or pixels on the screen, or curvy little blobs of ink on paper. They live, they breathe, and if I wanted them properly, I had to savour them. To say them out loud, to chew them, to bite, gnaw and nibble them until they felt real, in my mouth. I developed this system of “chewing” a story, where I don’t just read it out loud. I do the voices, I put on accents, I do characters. In short, I do my damndest to sound like a bad radio play, over-inflecting every word, suitability be damned. Does it slow down the process of reading? Certainly, but at the end of the day, it can’t possibly be about reading more than the other guy.

I don’t advocate reading whole books this way, of course. Not every word, not every passage, not every page or chapter is there to envelope you in. Some of them are there just to take you from the really good bits, and if you are lucky, the good bits are close by. But when you get to them, you will know. You will feel the familiar pinpricks of your hair standing on their end all along your arm, you will feel that tiny tingle in the back of your neck that tells you something special is going on. Your lips will part, your breath will pause, and somewhere in the deepest recesses of your animal brain, synapses will crackle with a little more fire. And when that happens, it doesn’t matter whether you are tucked into your bed with a book and a flashlight, or if you are in the metro, hanging onto the strap with one hand while you flick across your smartphones with the other, verbalize. Read it out loud. Trust me, eating your words never felt so damn good.