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Review: ‘Batman V Superman’ Has Blockbuster Fever (But Not In A Good Way)

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Face Off: Henry Cavill as Superman MovieSpoon.com

Face Off: Henry Cavill as Superman

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is a clear case of reviewer futility. That is to say, a poor review is not going to stop a lot of people from going to to see it, anyway. It has blockbuster fever written all over it, no matter how much a critic might try to stop you from wasting your money.

A blockbuster mentality, however, is just one of the major problems with Batman V Superman. The idea of selling tickets as an artistic game-changer is evident from the film’s catchy, but horrendous casting choices to its endlessly explosive ending – the explosion that never quits – to its baffling beginning, which lasts about an hour or so before the plot jells into something cohesive.

That’s a long hour waiting for something to make sense. Oddly, director Zack Snyder chooses to circle the globe putting together unexplained scenes that will later have some nominal importance to the plot, which was very confusing. He then goes through the motions re-telling the same, old chestnut of a young Bruce Wayne walking down the street with his parents at night, when they are gunned down by a petty thief and the subsequent scene of his falling through a opening to a cave, where he is besieged by the haunting image of tens of thousands of bats. Haven’t we done all this before?

Gal Gadot Wonder Woman

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

Except for Henry Cavill as Superman and Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, the casting is all wrong. Cavill is super. He is stoic, steely-eyed and a bit of a blockhead, all the things we love about the man in the red cape. But Ben Affleck is puffy and slow as Batman and Jesse Eisenberg is annoying, rather than threatening as Lex Luther – who is supposed to want to take over Gotham, not just bother us. Amy Adams plays a terrific role as Lois Lane, but the problem is she is scripted to be someone else. She great, but she just isn’t Lois Lane. Gal Gadot provides the requisite eye candy as Wonder Woman but don’t expect much by way of acting chops.

Another misguided directing decision for Batman V Superman was for Snyder to take Batman and Superman out of their element, which is the late 1950s and early 1960s. Batman dialing in Alfred on a cell phone? It doesn’t ring true. But there it is on his parents graves: His father, in this film, was born in 1946 and was gunned down in 1981. That’s a big risk and it largely doesn’t work.

It’s a mistake not only because it allows for incongruous devices (like cell phones), but because the film doesn’t know where it is. Is it a campy rollick through the days when a nickle was a nickle and a punch was a punch? Or is it a modern film noir replete with terrorists carrying uzis?

This matters, because Snyder’s Batman is scruffy and isolated. He never shaves, even for the mandatory scenes in which he is dressed to the nines. Bruce Wayne, here, has very little social finesse and no friends. Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth, another casting faux pas, also looks more like an tweedy hobo than a billionaire’s butler.

Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne and Batman MovieSpoon.com

Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne / Batman

Instead, because it is modern times, Lois Lane is a modern, sexy, investigative reporter (hey, try to keep up) and the Bat Cave is both dingy and dark, but it is outfitted with huge computer screens that Alfred and Bruce both use expertly. What is Batman now – an antisocial hacker? Well, one can’t live in the 1950s forever.

For his part, Superman is great in every scene. This guy has presence, even when the director chooses to get in the way with dopey gimmicks, like having his eyes turn blazing red when he is mad, but having them simmer down when talked out of his anger.

What’s to like about Batman V Superman? Well, after the first hour, suddenly the plot pulls together and Lex Luther does start pulling some very wild, troublesome stunts, like blowing up things and upping the ante with more than just pesky threats. The Batman, on the side, is so isolated, he now sees Superman as a threat, so he tries to stop him from doing what he does — a very bad idea — and the two duke it out – an anticlimax in the extreme, but at least now two superheroes are are punching with purpose.

The finale is one to remember and it brought me back to the good, old days, when a nickle was a nickle and a comic was a comic. This ending has Marvel written all over it. Sure, it goes on for too long. It’s uproariously spellbinding – just like turning the page on a comic and finding a switch to a full page layout, because the scene wouldn’t fit in a one-sixth of a page story board. This is a big, bad showstopper ending and it offers no apologies. Hey, Batman and Superman are retro melodramas, anyway, and if you are going to be crowding one side of the stage with two heroes, then you need much more than an annoying villain to fill up the other half.

So even though Batman V Superman has stinker written all over it you should see it anyway. Some things, good, bad or indifferent, you just have to see for yourself.

[author title=”Anthony Hall” image=” http://popstermedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Jabba_the_Hutt-Anthony-Hall.png”]Movie guy Anthony Hall is an enigma. He’s never been photographed and only works late at night after everyone has left the office. Hall’s articles have appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Miami Herald (and more). [/author]


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“Bumblebee” Swaps Insulting Action For Lighter Adventure

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As the first spin-off of Michael Bay’s Transformers saga, BumbleBee is a huge shift from the usual gears. It’s as though Travis Knight took a good, hard look at the clunky and sloppy nature of the series and decided to give it an overhaul. Gone are the mounting and confusing story arcs that seemed to needlessly double with each sequel. The cynical nature has been removed, replacing the human and robot heroes with more quirky and heartfelt ones, albeit within the cartoonish realm of a 1980s adventure fit for kids. All of these changes don’t exactly make the film a stellar Transformers movie but it at least earns the title of being the best of the lot for the rather low bar it had to cross.

It helps that the Transformers lore is kept to a simpler story. As a prequel, we learn how BumbleBee was the first of the heroic Autobots to land on Earth after losing the battle for Cybertron against the evil Decepticons. His mission is to ensure that Earth is safe and free of Decepticon interference until the other Autobots arrive. But during a scuffle with one following evil robot, BumbleBee has his memory wiped and his voice taken, just in case you were wondering why the transforming robot only speaks through the radio.

Helping him to communicate is Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), a teenage mechanic prodigy with a life in need of a tune-up. And unlike previous Transformers human tagalongs, she deserves it. She’s a smart kid, great with a wrench, has good taste in music, and is naturally depressed by her dad passing. Charlie feels that nobody can understand her so, naturally, the confused BumbleBee takes a liking to her easily as she teaches him about human life and music, something that the robot from another planet has opinions about. Who knew that Cybertronians have an instant disliking for Rick Astley?

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Transformers movie without some evil Decepticons trying to take over the planet. Similar to everything else in the film, this plot has been pruned down to be less messy as only two Decepticons of Shatter (Angela Bassett) and Dropkick (Justin Theroux) come to Earth for the invasion. Their mission is less convoluted; kill BumbleBee and kill all the humans. And you better believe they kill the gullible American government stooges that place their trust in these robots that pretend to be working with them. Don’t worry, parents; the robots will only zap the humans into liquid goo as opposed to bloody slop, for whatever that tweak may be worth.

Much of the junk has been scraped off the Bay-formers saga to be a more thoughtful and sympathetic film but some of the lameness remains. I don’t know why the film bothered to mention that the story takes place in 1987; the setting goes out of its way to prove this point, from ALF on the television to a VHS copy of The Breakfast Club to posters of The Thing on room walls. John Cena plays a cocky military agent who never quite crosses over into Wahlberg craziness with his meatheaded nature but still occupies the tired trope of the series with the military blindly trusting robots from space. Charlie has a neighborhood friend Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) who wants to be her boyfriend but he thinks he’s too nerdy to ever have a girlfriend. I find it hard to believe a teenager with a rather trimmed body, which he does show off while shirtless, could have that much trouble finding a girl in a community of divers and beach lovers. But perhaps it’s a subversion of such a person, as the film blatantly tries to toss out the suggestion that Charlie and Memo will kiss by the end, as if nudging the audience to say, “See? We’re not THAT predictable.”

BumbleBee is Diet Transformers; all the robot action and adventure, none of the Michael Bay insanity, but loaded with artificial sweeteners. While I’d like to applaud the film for trying to take a sweeter and gentler route to its tale of giant robots that turn people into slime, it doesn’t feel like enough to carry the film past being a passive special effects adventure for the kids. Still, that may be the best part of the film with how it finally feels better targeted at its key demographic of kids, even inspiring for little girls that love the Transformers brand. Worth noting are the simplified designs of the robots that look more like the original cartoon than junkyard explosions. But if the spin-offs want to play more in the field of E.T. and The Iron Giant, they’ve got to tune up the heart to make me care more about a mute robot who can transform into a car. I was almost there but I need more character out of him than his innocent means of pranks and exploring a house he’s too big for. For a Transformers film, those scenes are cute moments. For stories of a kid and their alien pal, it’s par for the course.


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“Aquaman” Washes Out Christmas, “Bumblebee” and “Poppins” Close Behind

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Christmas weekend was a savage one. All manner of genre films came out to play, eager to be the biggest blockbuster of holidays. But there could only be one winner and it was the king of the oceans. Aquaman, the Jason Momoa starring superhero epic based on the DC Comics character, arrived at #1 for the weekend with a domestic gross of $67 million. Though it has a ways to go as such an epic to make its money back, the film is off to an enthusiastic start.

Following closely behind Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns, the sequel to the Disney musical classic now starring Emily Blunt, earning a weekend debut of $23.5 million. Despite opening early on Wednesday, the film still only made about $32 million which isn’t looking especially strong for Disney during the holidays. This is especially concerning given that the film is a close call for the #2 slot as Bumblebee, the Transformers spin-off of the titular heroic transforming robot, came up with a $21 million gross. That being said, Bumblebee’s opening is concerning given the big opening grosses of the previous Transformers film that were usually massive.

But that’s nothing compared to the low debuts of the films that were not intended as genre blockbusters. Second Act, a romantic comedy starring Jennifer Lopez, would debut at #7 with a domestic gross of $6.4 million. Even further down the list is Welcome to Marwen, the new Robert Zemeckis directed drama starring Steve Carell, came in at #9 with a box office of $2.3 million. Brutal.

View the full top 10 box office results below:
Aquaman ($67,400,000)
Mary Poppins Returns ($23,523,121)
Bumblebee ($21,610,000)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ($16,635,000)
The Mule ($9,727,000)
Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch ($8,548,370)
Second Act ($6,480,000)
Ralph Breaks the Internet ($4,702,425)
Welcome to Marwen ($2,366,560)
Mary Queen of Scots ($2,277,820)

Next weekend may be a bit of quiet one as we shall see how the films released on Christmas Day will fair. Holmes and Watson, the new Sherlock Holmes comedy starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, opens to 2,700 theaters. Vice, Adam McKay’s new biopic dramedy about Dick Cheney with Christian Bale playing the character, is opening to 2,300 theaters. Stan & Ollie, a biopic on Laurel & Hardy starring Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly, will be in a limited number of theaters on December 28th.


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First Box Office Weekend of 2019 Finds “Aquaman” King (Again)

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It’s a new year and so we enter into the chilly month of January, usually reserved for Oscar nominations to strut their stuff and mediocre-to-decent films to swoop in and make a mint. Similar to last year, the first big new film a lukewarm horror picture. Escape Room, the horror film based on the party activity craze of escape rooms, debuted at #2 with a decent January take of $18 million. Not a terrible opening at all for such a horror film but most of its bigger gross was eaten up by Aquaman, the DC superhero epic that continues to make waves. Even though the film took a 41% dip from last weekend, the movie has currently $259 domestic with a worldwide gross total of $940 million. It’s a big success for DC Comics trying to catch up with Marvel Comics at the box office and Aquaman is still looking good coming into a slow January.

With Escape Room being the only major release, there are no big surprises for the shifting of placement. Mary Poppins Returns holds firm as a family film for winter, the domestic total now sitting at $138 million. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, having recently won the Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature, is still just below with a domestic gross of $133 million. Still struggling to crack $100 million is Bumblebee, the Transformers spin-off. Despite being the highest-rated Transformers movie by miles, the film has only made $97 million after three weekends.

Miles Morales in Sony Pictures Animation’s SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE.

The longest holdout in the top 10 box office is Ralph Breaks The Internet, Disney’s cyberspace adventure sequel. Released during Thanksgiving, the Disney animated film has to date made $187 million domestic after seven weekends. Just below it, however, is a film that has been in theaters for two weekends but has already seen a massive drop, Holmes and Watson, making headlines for being one of the worst films of the year with a descending box office.

View the full top 10 box office for the weekend below:

Aquaman ($30,700,000)
Escape Room ($18,000,000)
Mary Poppins Returns ($15,773,000)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ($13,010,000)
Bumblebee ($12,775,000)
The Mule ($9,040,000)
Vice ($5,803,490)
Second Act ($4,910,000)
Ralph Breaks the Internet ($4,685,000)
Holmes and Watson ($3,400,000)

Next weekend will feature some bigger competition of dogs, clones, and soft human drama. A Dog’s Way Home, a spiritual sequel to A Dog’s Purpose, will debut in 3,000 theaters. Replicas, a sci-fi thriller starring Keanu Reeves, will hit 2,500 theaters. The Upside, a dramedy where Bryan Cranston plays a paraplegic and Kevin Hart is an inept assistant, will premiere to 3,000 theaters. The battle is ultimately between A Dog’s Way Home and The Upside but I’m willing to bet a PG dog movie will take the top spot or about as high a spot it can muster with Aquaman still in play.


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