“Wonder Woman”

LOUISA: 3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

It’s nearly impossible to watch “Wonder Woman” and not have your mind wander to our country’s current political climate where female rights are being trampled upon, leaving many women feeling as if they are being treated as second class citizens by the powerful white men in charge. That’s a big reason why the latest D.C. Comics superhero film resonated with me in a way few have before. No matter if you love it or hate it, this movie is a spirited rallying cry for feminism and is sure to empower girls of all ages.

The most any Wonder Woman fan could hope for is that the new movie doesn’t stink (it doesn’t). In fact, the middle third is pretty damn good cinema, with a creative (if implausible) real-world story line and scattered truly touching moments. What a pity that the film has bookends that can’t stand up to the rest of the project.

Director Patty Jenkins is efficient in delivering a good looking, enjoyable film, and it’s put together far better than any other big screen D.C. Comics project (which I realize isn’t much of a compliment, but it’s still an achievement nonetheless). I just wish she didn’t rely so heavily on slow motion twists and turns. It sure does look cool and fierce at first but after sitting through shot after shot of the same old thing, those visuals become tired parodies of themselves far too early. The movie also tries too hard with its story and ends up throwing every genre under the sun into the screenplay, hoping something will stick. There’s the usual ‘superhero saves the day’ story, but it’s also a war movie, a tender romance, an origin story, a buddy sidekick adventure, and a poignant feminist drama. Simply put, this movie is all over the place.

Besides the odd WWI set story, the elephant in the room is the acting. Let’s not sugar coat anything here: the performances are bad, especially for a big-budget franchise. Chris Pine just sort of sits there, a mostly insignificant character with the charisma of an old boot. Gal Gadot certainly looks the part but her performance is at times spectacularly awful, even causing me to giggle inappropriately through a couple of scenes. Thank goodness for the fantastic Robin Wright, who has an all too brief supporting role as the intense warrior Antiope. I’d love to see her have her own movie!

What works about “Wonder Woman” is when the story concentrates on the humanity of these characters. Thanks to the incredibly terrific “Logan,” it’s going to be nearly impossible to review a superhero movie without mentioning the incredibly high bar that it has now set. I realize not all films can operate with such an introspective, small scale focus, but when “Wonder Woman” isn’t afraid to go there, it really soars. Too bad the filmmakers (and studio) chose to chicken out and devolve into another computer generated crapfest which totally brings dishonor to the 120 minutes that preceded it.

The action is what you’d expect from a summer blockbuster: lots of CGI explosions and a ho-hum evil villain with a finale that resembles a bloated, tiresome cartoon. After another fifteen minutes of duplicate shots and an overlong ending where our heroine fights the Greek god of war Ares, I found myself longing for the earlier, better, more focused, and personal parts of the film, like the horror Diana experiences when she encounters guns for the first time or the sly and suggestive humor of her natural curiousness when she sees a naked man.

“Wonder Woman” is still a better-than-average superhero movie: but doesn’t she deserve far better than that?

“Criminal”

LOUISA:   1.5 STARS    MATT:   1 STAR


LOUISA SAYS:

Once in a while a movie comes along that’s so bad it’s good. “Criminal” is so bad that it’s just plain bad. There is only one thing remotely redeeming about this hopelessly awful excuse for a movie, and that laurel rests on Gary Oldman’s ridiculously cheeseball performance. Oldman’s character should be called ‘Captain Obvious’ because his dialogue consists of nothing more than rehashing whatever is going on in the plot at the time. I am not kidding. It is so funny that ultimately, finding myself no longer able to stifle my laughter, I let out a hearty belly laugh that didn’t subside for at least three minutes.

The moronic plot deals with the early onscreen death of CIA agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds, the only actor smart enough to limit his screen time in this crap) whose memory is transplanted — I know, I know, you are laughing already — into hardened criminal Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner). Doctor Franks (Tommy Lee Jones, whose acting abilities have been diminished to nothing more than cantankerously shuffling around and scowling like he can’t find his way to the Country Kitchen Buffet for his early bird dinner) leads this miraculous transplant at the command of CIA bureau chief Wells (Gary Oldman, in one of the most unintentionally silly performances in recent cinema). As per usual, when the memories start to kick in, Jericho starts to have some lovey-dovey feelings towards Pope’s wife and kid (Gal Gadot and Laura Decaro).

There are some kooky plot points about an anarchist hacker and wormholes and misplaced flash drives (the audience thankfully isn’t left in the dark thanks to Oldman consistently shouting “don’t give him that flash drive!“).

“Criminal” is overly bloody and overburdened with fiery explosions and car crashes that dominate the film’s finale. I couldn’t stop laughing throughout much of the film’s ridiculous conclusion. Could “Criminal” have staked its claim as one of the ‘so-silly-it’s-awesome’ action films like “London Has Fallen,” “Bad Boys II” or “White House Down?” Maybe. But the entire cast and director Ariel Vromen seem to be earnestly playing it straight, which makes the film more worthy of audience pity rather than cult status praise.

MATT SAYS:

This movie is terrible with a capital “T.”

First, if the preview has you believing that “Criminal” stars Ryan Reynolds, let me disabuse you of that notion. Yes, Mr. Reynolds, the master of the body-switch movie (see also: “Self/less“, “R.I.P.D.“, and “The Change-Up“) is in the movie, but only briefly. Reynolds plays Bill Pope, a CIA agent whose memories get transplanted into serial killer and prison lifer Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner). Pope’s CIA handlers (including boss Gary Oldman) hope to use Jericho to find out information that only Pope knew, but predictably things go awry. Jericho quickly escapes from CIA custody, and finds himself hunted down both by the CIA and by a nefarious terrorist network. Reynolds is the best thing about this film, and his part is concluded after the first 10 minutes or so. For the rest of the movie, it becomes the Costner and Oldman show, with a dash of Tommy Lee Jones thrown in for good measure.

“But wait!” You might say. “I like Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, and Tommy Lee Jones. How could a movie with all three of them suck?” Take my word for it: it doesn’t just suck, it sucks hard. Costner’s performance is a one-note series of grunts and growls indistinguishable from those we got from Christian Bale’s Batman. Oldman, as the chief CIA agent in charge, may as well have been called “Mr. Shouty,” because that’s pretty much all he did. Jones was a little more understated — and therefore the best of the three — but his character and the lines assigned to him were so inane that he was unable to elevate this material.

“Criminal” is full of logical plot holes that quickly pile up, one on top of the other, and the fall under their own weight. Look, I can suspend my disbelief as well as the next guy. But this film doesn’t just ask you to suspend disbelief: it asks you to check your brain at the door. It’s simply impossible to accept this low-rent and dumbed-down world of spycraft when there are so many better options out there.

At some point, this dim-witted movie got so absurd that it actually became funny (so there’s a positive, I suppose). Just for fun, here’s a partial list of some of its many problems:

  • The CIA is so inept at its tradecraft that “The Agency” becomes indistinguishable from the Keystone Cops.
  • The head bad guy is a direct rip off of Javier Bardem’s character from “Skyfall,” except unlike the “Skyfall” baddie, he has zero personality and an unexplained array of hacking abilities beyond that ever seen in any movie, anywhere.
  • There is a Russian female assassin reminiscent of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, who serves no apparent purpose other than to check a box on some focus-grouped list.
  • The key MacGuffin in the picture is some kind of super hacking tool that allows anyone to command all U.S. military assets, including nuclear missiles. Despite the possible world-ending value of this item, the CIA can apparently only afford to task 10, maybe 15, people to find and obtain / destroy it.
  • More on that point: this movie takes place entirely in the U.K., and despite the bad guy using weapons that pose an immediate threat to the country’s most populous city of London, we see zero involvement of the British government.
  • Tommy Lee Jones plays a doctor who talks like he is just making s*** up as he goes along, but everyone believes every single word he says.

Okay, I have to stop at some point so this is as good as any. Don’t go see “Criminal” in the theater, skip it in Redbox, and delete it from your Netflix Queue.

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”

LOUISA:   2 STARS     MATT:   3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

The day of ‘Batfleck’ has finally arrived, so let’s get this out of the way early: he’s not half bad as Batman. I was one of the doubters who groaned and complained when I heard Ben Affleck would be playing the caped crusader, but he has made me eat my words. This isn’t to say the film is good (it isn’t), but Affleck is not the one who ruined it.

I’m not sure whom to blame for this big, bloated mess that is “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” but let’s say I think the majority of the fault lies squarely on the shoulders of director Zack Snyder. No doubt Snyder is capable and talented, but here he shows zero technique — it’s as if he isn’t a fan of the material or even that he actively loathes the DC Comics characters. Talk about a complete waste of an awesome idea.

The movie is awfully dark in both story and look. It’s not really something for kids either (half of the children in my sold out audience were audibly freaking out after the big end battle scene), and half the time I couldn’t see what the heck was going on because of all the brown and gold, muted cinematography. Everything was washed out, and I like to think of my larger-than-life superheroes as being bold and bright and colorful. It’s further burdened with ugly costumes, scene upon scene of animated crap, and the most anticlimactic action and fight scenes ever. The action pieces are as slow and boring as the entire pace of the movie, which clocks in at a draggy two and a half hour runtime.

Snyder particularly stumbles in the final 20 minutes of the film. The convoluted story jumps around so much that it will make your head spin. There are a dozen different potential endings (“Oh, the film’s over now? Uh, guess not.”) that ramble on and on. It’s as if the film is comprised of a bunch of puzzle pieces that were dumped on the table and haphazardly stuck together in all the wrong places. None of the pieces fit together correctly and half of the story doesn’t make any sense. Even Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is given little to do. By the time she shows up to save the day (translation: to dine on the meager, leftover action scraps), I had already lost interest.

Not everything is terrible, however, and I’ll give credit where credit is due. The movie starts off strong and builds momentum — for about the first 30 minutes. After that, it begins a gradual and then a drastically sharp decline. Thankfully the film is jam-packed with talented actors who make even the most unwatchable scenes watchable. The standouts are the reliable Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Jeremy Irons (Alfred) and Laurence Fishburne (Perry). Diane Lane, Scoot McNairy and Holly Hunter bring their A-game too — and balance out the completely wooden Henry Cavill as Superman (seriously, how did this guy get the job in the first place?). The dividing line as far as performances go will undoubtedly be Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor). Eisenberg plays the famed villain with an amusing over-the-top, psychotically weird bravado. He thoroughly fills the void left by Michael Shannon as Zod — and we all know that Shannon is the undisputed master of the ‘playing to the balcony’ style of over-acting.

There were two unintentionally funny moments too. Near the end, the characters discuss trying to put together a team to fight for justice. Rather than causing excitement, it made me feel a little embarrassed as I know I was witnessing the set-up of what will amount to nothing more than a low-rent version of the Avengers. Second, Aquaman shows up! His very brief cameo got a (deservedly) big laugh from my audience.

I know my readers will see this movie regardless of any positive or negative reviews, but you’ve been warned. There’s nothing fun nor exciting nor spectacular about this unsatisfying film, and there should be. Instead, it is (sadly) a messy, boring yawn.

MATT SAYS:

Let’s be honest with one another here: you’re not reading my review to help you decide whether you want to see “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” You are either going to see it, or you’re not; it’s just that type of movie. You’re reading my review because you want to know how I felt about it, and see whether my opinion agrees with yours. I hope you’ll tell me in the comments.

Now that we understand one another, game on.

First, if you’re reading this before you see the movie, a tip so that you don’t waste your time: there’s no post-credits scene. I waited for one, and I promise it’s not there. The Marvel movies have taught us all to expect them, and I was more than a little disappointed to not get one. I was impressed, however, by the sheer size of the visual effects team on this movie. There were about 3-4 minutes of screen crawl time devoted just to VFX credits. Wow!

Now to the review. I liked the SIZE of the movie. Not the run time, just the scope. I love it when a big event movie feels like a big event movie. There’s something viscerally appealing about these movies where larger-than-life characters are introduced and the score and deep bass tones announce to you “THIS IS IMPORTANT.” When events occur in other places around the world, they actually feel like they are happening somewhere else, which makes sense because in the credits I counted something like 6 different filming locations scattered all across the globe. You only get this kind of scope and scale with these massive-budget, big event movies. I love that because when you’re watching it – particularly when it’s with one of the first audiences to see the movie – you really have the sense that you’re actually part of something. Enjoying a big movie like this one with an audience that is all keyed up to see it is a sensation that cannot be duplicated at home. To me, that is the very essence of the theatrical experience, and why streaming, on-demand, and home video will never completely replace movie theaters.

That said, at times the movie was TOO big. There were too many storylines, too many things happening, to keep the nice, tight focus that could have made this movie great. As someone who has seen every superhero movie but has read none of the comic books and has missed all of the recent DC-based t.v. shows, I felt lost at times. There are plenty of things that must have been Easter eggs but were lost on me (which is okay – that’s the very essence of an Easter egg), but at some times I felt a little bit lost and confused. The story seems to take place in a line of continuity that includes the recent “Dark Knight” movies as well as the last “Superman” movie, but I’m not entirely sure.

In fact, I didn’t start really enjoying “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” until about 75 minutes into its substantial running time. There was an excessive amount of screen time devoted to cinematic throat-clearing and way too much prelude to the actual conflict. Which might be okay, but really not much of anything happened by way of action until about the 75-minute mark. I understand the need to set up the conflict, but there was maybe a little too much set-up here with scenes that definitely could have been trimmed.

This movie obviously rises and falls on the strength of the Batman – Superman conflict, and I’m pleased to report that it worked well. I’m still not entirely sold on Batman’s motivation, but to me the trickier part has to be convincing us that Superman could be perceived as a bad guy, and that he would be capable of killing Batman. On this, the film succeeds. This Superman is not the goody-goody, flag-waving Christopher Reeve version; this is a mortal with faults, flaws, doubts, and weaknesses. He’s pulled in different directions and tortured by near-constant public criticism of the death toll of his collateral damage.  He sees the Batman as an antihero and disagrees with his moral code, and it’s not unrealistic to think that one of them very possibly could kill the other. This is all convincing and compelling stuff, and the strength of the movie.

Plus, there’s actually a clear winner in the conflict, which defied my expectations.

Its flaws, other than the overly long exposition, are in an overly heavy use of computer-generated effects. Whereas “The Dark Knight” gave us a tactilely rich world that felt realistic, “Dawn of Justice” relies a little too much on CG (it was no surprise to me that the VFX team was massive). Fast-cutting shots are (once again) overused and the picture suffers from having to operate in a PG-13 environment where punches are pulled and consequences are ignored. As a rule, overuse of CG takes me out of the film and makes me care less about what’s happening, which undermines the strength of the story.”Batman v Superman” was no exception.