Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot

Director: Zack Snyder

Writers: Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer

I desperately wanted to love this film. I’ve been a fan of Batman and Superman since childhood and couldn’t wait to finally see them together. I went into this movie with great anticipation and when I finally saw the two go head to head against one another, it was an epic spectacle that was astonishing to behold. But it was done for the wrong reasons. Amazing as it was to finally see the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel in the same movie and engaging each other in battle, some of the choices that were made in terms of story and character defy sense and reason. I don’t know if the fault belongs to Snyder for masterminding the whole thing or with the studio for their interference, but the result is a visually stunning yet fundamentally misguided mess of a movie.

In the aftermath of Metropolis’ destruction in Man of Steel, Superman (Henry Cavill) has become a controversial figure in the world. Half of the public view him as a saviour while the other half sees him as a monster. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who witnessed Superman’s destructive abilities first-hand, believes Superman to be a threat to the planet and seeks to stop him as Batman. Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is also threatened by Superman and hatches a plan to assure his demise using the discoveries he has made from studying Zod’s corpse and his Kryptonian ship. A congressional hearing led by Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) meanwhile is held to determine whether Superman is indeed a threat to humanity and invites him to appear before the world to speak. Thus Superman must confront the responsibility he holds for his power and actions and must decide what kind of man and what kind of hero he wants to be.

When it was announced that the sequel to Man of Steel would introduce Batman into the DC universe by pitting him against Superman, I think that the excitement that arose was more than a reaction to the iconic status of the two characters. I think the reason that so many people were excited for this fight is because there is actually a valid ideological conflict to be had. Superman stands up for liberty and justice and believes in the power of hope to save people. Batman in contrast fights crime through fear and favours methods that are altogether more ruthless and brutal. Fans of the comics, the animated shows or of the previous movies featuring these heroes can understand and relate to both of their creeds which is why a clash between the two would allow for a complex and engaging dispute of epic proportions. Either the makers of Dawn of Justice did not understand this or the heart of this conflict simply got lost in the middle of all the many overlapping and convoluted stories that were crammed into this movie.

Maybe the bloated state of this movie is a reaction to the enormous success and widespread adoration of the Marvel franchise, as if DC thinks it needs to catch up as quickly as possible by doing in one movie what Marvel did in five. Even though the conflict between Batman and Superman had more than enough material to make a compelling, action-packed movie, Dawn of Justice also decided to include an inquiry into Superman’s actions, a mystery for Batman to solve, the appearance of Wonder Woman, a diabolical plot by Lex Luthor resulting in the creation of a villain the trailer saw fit to reveal, some set-up for the future Justice League movie, a number of dream sequences and an iconic storyline from the comics that occurs during the climax. While some of these stories do work, the simple reality is that the film as a whole suffers from a severe absence of focus and direction. The movie tries to juggle so many different elements that it never finds the time to adequately explore any of its characters’ motivations or the deeper meaning of its themes. Although we do get our Batman vs. Superman fight, and it is breathtaking, the investment just isn’t there.

Anyone who has seen 300 or Watchmen knows that Zack Snyder is a superb visual director. The action in Dawn of Justice is some of the best to ever involve these characters. Snyder however is not Joss Whedon and in this film he doesn’t seem to understand what it is audiences actually want from a Batman and Superman movie. He displays little understanding of the characters themselves or of how to use the story to serve them. He doesn’t seem to appreciate the virtue of establishing and developing this universe over successive chapters rather than trying to do it all in one go. Most infuriating of all was the ending where he saw fit to include an iconic event from the comics that was wholly and entirely unearned by the film’s story. As much as I admire his talents as a visual artist, I still cannot believe how profoundly misjudged some of his choices were.

I feel torn about criticising the movie in this way because there are genuinely amazing things in it. Batman himself is stupendous from the look to the action to Affleck’s performance. The inclusion of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman worked well and now has me very much excited for her solo movie next year. The visuals and action scenes were masterful with only some of the highlights being the vision of an apocalyptic future, the actual fight between Batman and Superman and also what is perhaps the single greatest Batman action scene ever put onto film. Even the climatic battle that has no business even being in this movie was impressive to watch, especially in the way it employed Wonder Woman. No other movie this year has managed to inspire such an ambivalent reaction out of me. Although I’m giving this movie three stars, I must stress that I do not think Dawn of Justice is in any way an average film. There are parts of this film that I utterly adore and there are parts that I bitterly hate. Even though I am disappointed that Dawn of Justice was not the movie I wanted it to be, I must admit that I was drawn in by the spectacle and that, all things considered, I am glad I saw it. I just hope that Snyder learns from the backlash when the time comes for The Justice League.



Louder Than Bombs

Cast: Gabriel Byrne, Isabelle Huppert, Jesse Eisenberg, David Strathairn, Amy Ryan, Rachel Brosnahan, Devin Druid

Director: Joachim Trier

Writers: Joachim Trier, Eskil Vogt

The film opens on a shot of a newborn infant clutching his father’s finger. As the child’s life begins, so does he intuitively form a powerful bond with the parent whom he recognises as his custodian. It is a bond built upon love, faith and nurture that endures for the duration of their lifetimes. The opening shot reflects the fragility of this bond as well as its instinctive nature. There is a beauty to this image but there is also a certain pathos as its portrayal of life at its inception ends up serving as a contrast to the remainder of the film. Louder Than Bombs tells the story of what happens when the bond that is formed at this very moment is ultimately and inevitably severed by death. When a director understands the importance of an opening shot and how powerful it can be, it is a strong sign that the film you’re watching is in capable hands.

It has been three years since Gene Reed (Gabriel Byrne) tragically lost his wife and now there is going to be an exhibition in her memory. Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert) was a renowned photographer famed for capturing images of war zones who committed suicide, leaving behind her husband and two sons. Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg) is the elder son who has since graduated from college and is now married with a newborn baby. He returns home to assist the upcoming exhibition by sorting through his mother’s things while also taking the chance to reconnect with Erin (Rachel Brosnahan), an old flame. The younger son Conrad (Devin Druid) is still in high school and still living with his father. He has become increasingly withdrawn since his mother’s death and remains in the dark about the fact of her suicide. He spends his days shut in his room where he can avoid his father and lose himself in his video games. So affected are they by Isabelle’s death that the three of them are unable to connect with one another or reconcile their feelings about the woman whom they all remember in different ways.

Despite the impression that the title might form in the viewer’s mind, Louder Than Bombs is in fact a strikingly quiet film. The suburban setting is thousands of miles away from the destructive and chaotic areas of conflict that we only ever see in Isabelle’s photographs. What makes this film stand out is how much it is able to convey with its stillness. By far the most striking image in this film is when the camera focuses squarely on Isabelle’s face for what seems like an eternity as she subtly yet vividly conveys an entire spectrum of emotion. Whereas a typical image is said to be worth a thousand words, this is an image that speaks entire volumes. Isabelle is not featured prominently in this film and yet she makes her presence felt, haunting the memories of those who remember her. The absence she leaves following her departure is almost deafening in its silence. This family has been fractured by her death and nothing is as it once was. The way this film jumps between chronology and perspective is indicative of this as each family member reflects upon their own unique remembrances of her.

The up and comer Devin Druid gives the film’s standout performance as an introverted teenager unable to fully comprehend the loss of his mother. He deftly conveys this character’s anxiety and confusion in his attempt to make sense of it all. He isolates himself from his father without quite understanding why, he plays video games for hours on end in order to escape his own thoughts and he has no clue how to vent his frustration and anger. Huppert also shines every moment she is on screen as a woman who finds herself torn between her life as a photographer, which provides her with stimulation and fulfilment, and her life with her family, which provides her with love and comfort. When she is home she misses her work but when she’s away she misses her family. Through this character she expresses an agonising inner-conflict that perhaps could never have been reconciled. Neither the audience nor the characters are ever given a clear answer over why she took her own life. All we have to go on are the memories of her.

As well as an engaging and emotional story, Louder Than Bombs is an interesting exercise in the power of perspective. Conrad reflects on a lesson he learned from his mother about how changing the frame of a photograph can completely change its meaning. Trier teaches this same lesson by allowing certain scenarios to play out from different points of view. He directs this film skilfully and purposefully as he reflects how our perspectives can affect our perceptions, our relationships and our feelings in revealing ways. In order for their reconciliation to happen each of these characters has to have their eyes opened in a profound way and learn to see things differently from how they appear. Louder Than Bombs is a film that does not seem great or profound upon its first impression. It requires patience, thought and concentration to really sink in but is well worth it. Upon reflection I discovered it to be an intelligent and thoughtful drama about the effects of loss.