Meh. Vanilla. It’s okay.
The three statements above are the three different ways I’ve answered the question, ‘What did you think of Batman V Superman?’ in the past 14 hours. Although there are aspects of the film that are good and entertaining that is just what they are, aspects. The film overall is a bloated disaster – 151 minutes of too many ideas fighting for screentime which end up being incoherent and underdeveloped. Instead of a typical review, in which my thoughts on the film would be as nonsensical as the film itself, I’m going to use a list to let my great ideas have an organisation and a flow (lesson to the film-makers there…)
Aside from Cineworld at the o2 Arena screwing up the calibration of the sky superscreen (having forced the audience to watch all the ads, trailers and 25 minutes of the film with only one eye open as the projection was out of focus, they then decided to stop the film and spend 15 minutes reformatting before restarting the film. Cineworld have done not anything to compensate for this screw up and literal headache) when watching this film you can see where the money went. In fact, I suspect that is what director Zack Snyder wants us to do. The fights are big and brash, the costumes and special effects are spectacular. The cityscapes are breath-taking (if of debatable geography). In terms of big screen spectacle, it’s all here. Some sequences appear straight out of a comic book in terms of iconography and style, such as when Superman arrives at a Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration and he is being aligned as a Messiah-eque figure.
Whilst I was initially in the ‘Say No To Ben Affleck as Batman’ camp, I did begin to change my mind when the first trailers and posters arrived. As a lover of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns I could see how Affleck’s portrayal would be most similar to Miller’s Batman. A Batman who is aged, haggard and embittered by battle.(The image below shows the film’s main link to the 1986 seminal comic book.) For the most part in this movie it works. Affleck is charismatic enough as Bruce Wayne and imposing enough as Batman. It’s almost a shame that he didn’t get his own standalone movie prior to this one to fully establish his character, though perhaps the decision to open this movie with yet another retelling of the Wayne shooting/origin story indicates to us that a standalone Batman movie may have possessed little originality.
I don’t think it is a spoiler to say that Gal Gadot plays Wonder Woman/Diana Price. The trailers gave that one away long ago, yet the film treats it as though it is a secretrading by hinting then having a big reveal that is slightly unnecessary. Though she may not look exactly like the Wonder Woman from the comics I used to read (she’s rather slim-line in comparison to the Golden age version) she does possess a lot of power and successfully shares the screen with her male counterparts (as opossed to having them steal the limelight). The moment when the three are first united did induce a real Fangirl moment for me, seeing the Trinity together. In fact I would happily argue that she steals the show from the broody boys…
There are many moments in this film that are for the fans, moments that casual fans may get but not appreciate or may not even ‘get’ at all. I’m not going to state them fully here, just in case you’re reading this and want to avoid spoilers, so I’ll write them out but fill in the gaps. I liked seeing ………… in the ……….. I also loved the use of …… to show …………. Finally, the appearance of ……….. in the ……….. was an excellent yet subtle touch. These three aspects alone got me more involved in the next film than the film I was currently watching. By the way, there ARE NO AFTER CREDITS SEQUENCES. Don’t sit through all the credits it’s pointless (Hey Sam if you’re reading, yes I am referring to you here!)
I don’t think you can go wrong with a Hans Zimmer soundtrack.His collaboration here with Junkie XL is immensely successful. The score for this film is beautiful and emotive, something I would actively choose to listen to outside of watching the film which I don’t often think/do. My personal favourite is the rather aptly-named ‘Is she with you?’
Superman/ Lois Lane
I know it’s cool to hate on Superman, but I am quite fond of him. To some he may represent archaic ideas of patriotism, but so does Captain America and that guy walks around wearing stars and stripes. Yet Dupes has never had the cinematic renaissance that Batman has had twice (1989 and 2005). The 1970s/80s films are enjoyable yet of their time, Lois and Clark was entertaining yet cheesy, and Smallville was ocassionally good if rather tween-y.In more recent years, Superman Returns was long and dreary whilst Man Of Steel was interesting yet lost its audience in the overlong battle-heavy final sequences. Batman V Superman is not his movie either. Poor Henry Cavill spends most of the movie showing off his range of emo frowns. It’s that or rescuing Lois Lane THREE times. It’s all Amy Adams gets to do in the movie, which is a real shame as she is an incredible actress playing a character with incredible potential.
Of all the time-wasting nonsensical moments in the film, it is the dream sequences which really stand out for all the wrong reasons. There’s no entry point into them, you’re suddenly immersed in them with no idea of what is going on in them. Then the character wakes up and the audience is even more confused abiut what is going on. If the plot was more coherent it would be less problematic, but as the plot is so stodgy and indecifrable the moments just confuse as opposed to enhance what is going on in the main event.
Speaking of the plot, very little of it actually makes sense. Motivations are blurred from the outset with very few that are actually convincing or believable. It feels like this is a Batman movie forced in with a Superman movie, the story jumps between one then the other without any link. Moments drift, storylines are picked up then dropped and things happen without explanation. I’m going to stay intentionally vague on this one to avoid further spoilers. Let’s just leave this with saying that everything is miscalculated and heavy-handed. Ultimately it’s a very hollow 151 minutes of things happening for little reason or care.
‘Hello darkness my old friend’
A schism has formed over this movie between critics and fans. As someone who considers themselves to be both, I think the main argument over the ‘darkness’ of this film is flawed. I’ve read a lot of reviews talking about how this film is ‘too dark’ and fans retaliating with ‘the comic books are dark, it’s how it should be’. My answer to this? No. Yes some of the comic books are dark. Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, Jim Starlin’s Death in the Family and Jeph Loeb’s Hush (to name but three Batman story arcs) are dark, haunting and Gothic. Christopher Nolan‘s Batman trilogy is dark, haunting and Gothic. Batman V Superman is not dark, haunting and Gothic. It’s murky and shallow. Its darkness is artificial and synthetic. It’s a wannabe-emo in contrast to the aforementioned masterpieces. It pouts, moans and frowns. It tries to make important statements and points but these are empty and ill-informed. It’s like wearing a band t-shirt when you don’t really know the band (one of my biggest pet peeves). Having your actors grimace and setting most of the action at night, fighting for ‘what is right’ does not a maketh a ‘dark’ movie. A coherent plot, one with depth, does.
Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor appeared like a strange choice since it was first announced. This was embraced by Zack Snyder who promised great things, new take on a classic archvillain. In the comic books Lex Luthor is a charismatic business magnate who is physically powerful and formidable. He is shown to be a true threat to Superman. Charismatic, powerful and formidable are not phrases one would associate with Eisenberg. So perhaps this would be a refreshing new take on the character? Nope. It’s Jesse Eisenberg playing Heath Ledger playing the Joker as Lex Luthor. He is weedy, has daddy issues and rambles. Everything he says is either shouted or mumbled. His hand mannerisms are twitchy and strange, dominating each frame. This man is no threat but a nuisance who gets in the way. To use his performance as an analogy for the entire film – it’s devoid of depth and is ultimately lacking.
Spoilers. Spoilers. Spoilers.
Aged nineteen a small town girl, living in a lonely world, ran away with a substitute English teacher. Her parents had tried to persuade her that it was an awful idea. They had begged her to stay. On that afternoon, before she fled, something ‘awful’ happened during that confrontation, which led to the relationship between her and her parents being severed. The girl and her now-husband had a baby girl shortly after, followed two years later by a baby boy. Ten years later the substitute English teacher ran away with another woman, leaving behind his wife and two young children. A difficult five years followed, with the three still struggling to come to terms with the abandonment. That’s when a message arrives from her parents, who found them online. They acknowledge that it may be difficult to re-establish their relationship with their daughter, but would love to start one with their grandchildren. The grandchildren agree and beg to visit their grandparents. The mother reluctantly agrees, sending them off to her old hometown, whilst she herself goes on holiday with her new partner.
The grandchildren make their own way there by train, and are met at the station by their anxiously waiting grandparents who are holding a banner decorated with welcomes. They drive back to the family home, and a mutual fondness is formed. The grandparents dot on the grandchildren and their quirks, and the grandchildren are bemused by these old folks whose bedtime is 9:30pm. At 10.15pm the granddaughter leaves her bedroom to be greeted by her grandmother pacing the downstairs in a trance and projectile vomiting. The next day this is explained away by a tummy bug.
For the rest of their week-long stay the grandchildren realise that there is more than just character quirks going on here, something is seriously wrong. What makes them think this? The grandfather stores hundreds of used adult diapers in the shed. The grandmother runs around the house naked at night scraping the walls and crawling around the floor. She sits in a rocking chair cackling to herself whilst staring at the wall. She chases them underneath the house. She has a breakdown whilst discussing ‘that afternoon’ and also spends one night waiting outside the grandchildren’s room holding a knife.
When having a conversation via Skype with their mother they hold the camera towards the grandparents and the plot twist is revealed – those are not actually their grandparents. The mother tells them to try to escape and that she is on their way. The grandchildren are trapped into playing a game of trivial pursuit, during the course of which all is revealed. For when the granddaughter escapes into the basement she find the bodies of an elderly couple – a framed photograph beside them reveals that they were her grandparents. The imposters are escaped mental patients, who wanted to pretend to have a family just for a week. They were jealous of the actual grandparents, who were volunteer therapists. In fact, the fake-grandmother had actually drowned both of her own children.
Two confrontations happen, with fake-grandfather rubbing a used diaper in the face of the grandson and the fake-grandmother chasing the granddaughter around a locked bedroom. The granddaughter kills the fake-grandmother with shards of a broken mirror. The grandson, with the aid of his sister, kills the fake-grandfather by slamming his head in the fridge doors multiple times. The mother then arrives and takes them to safety; the final scene has the mother revealing the ‘awful’ events of that afternoon fifteen years ago. She had slapped her mother and her father had slapped her in return. Fade to black.
There are so many issues with this film it is hard to start. So instead of a normal review, which would instead become an incomprehensible and lengthy rant, I will instead use bullet points to divide these issues into sections.
- Child Safety: The fact the mother does not actually check the children have been collected by the right people. Yes, she has not seen or spoken her parents for fifteen years who explain her reluctance to do so, but surely any parent would want to perform some sort of check? This aspect then undermines and already ridiculous plot twist. During the week the mother tries to explain away the oddness of the grandparents by stating that they elderly. But, realistically, the problems that the grandchildren are describing cannot be explained by that when considering how old the grandparents should be. If the mother was nineteen when she had the children, the oldest of which is now fifteen, her parents really couldn’t be much older than seventy. When her children describe these incidents to her, wouldn’t she be shocked that her parents were acting in such a way?
- Plot twist: After a week of increasingly terrifying antics from the grandparents – which they attempt to explain away with a night-induced form of sleep disorder as well as a– to explain be explained away by the fact ‘well, they were crazy’ is so flawed and archaic that it’s offensive. Considering this is 2015, to have a portrayal of escaped mental patients is already asking for trouble, but to then assign them traits such as staring into the distance at nothing, an obsession with bodily functions, homicidal tendencies (involving knives, hammers and ovens), crawling along floors, scrapping at walls and screaming is disturbing in its facileness. The fact that both grandparents try to explain away their behaviours with varying excuses such as dementia and Alzheimer’s may anger some, let alone the fact the children do not question whether these things could actually be related to the frightening behaviour of their grandparents, is also problematic.
- Storytelling: This is yet another M Night Shyamalan film that depends on a twist. The Sixth Sense is viewed as his best attempt at this, though that film only holds up for two viewings maximum before the novelty is shed. Interestingly, at the preview screening I attended Shyamalan was asked whether he wrote the plot twist first then filled in the rest. Shyamalan vehemently denied this, claiming he wrote stories about people and the twist followed. There is no evidence of this claim upon watching The Visit. Unlike The Sixth Sense, few will inflict a repeat viewing upon themselves. The film hinges on the twist, and your opinion on the twist will depend on whether you actually care about the main characters.
- Characterisation: The grandchildren will divide audiences. 15-year-old Beca is a profoundly pretentious wanna-be documentary maker, who views life as a series of moments that she could record if they have the correct lighting and naturalistic elements. 13-year-old Tyler is a wanna-be rapper who tries to make up for his pre-pubescent features with attempts at charm and swagger. He likes to freestyle rap. They are each given a character trait which the film deems in need of ‘fixing’. Beca has low self-esteem and cannot look at herself in the mirror. Tyler is a germaphobe. Again, if you end up caring about the characters who may consider this important. Or, you may think it’s a waste of time.
- Shaky Cam: Used to tell the entire film. Overused and nausea-inducing.
- Genre mash-up: A blending of genres can work. This one doesn’t. Shyamalan explained that he wanted to blend family drama with the horror elements, along with comedy. The result is a film which is confused about what it actually wants it to be. It creates tension, sheds it to try to make you laugh, then tries for a quick scare.
- Ending: Five people die during the film. By having a final sequence with the mother recounting the events of that afternoon fifteen years ago, reconnecting with herself and her past, then suggests that this was the entire purpose of the movie. That everything her children endured, and that those five people died for, was to allow her to come to terms with the events and herself. The fact the actual events of that afternoon remain secret creates tension that is bound for anti-climax. For what could be as awful as what her children endured, or the fact both her parents are now dead? Yes, the fact she hit her mother and her father retaliated was awful, but if one were to rank awful events during this film it would not own the number one place. The fact we are not given many opportunities prior to develop sympathy for her, reduces the emotional response that is supposed to be generated.
The Visit is only roughly ninety minutes long, but it feels like so much more. It’s bloated with ridiculousness, flawed ideas and frustrating characters.
Escape from [insert name of fictional Asian city here]