Friday, March 25, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice [A Fat Jesus Film Review]

Like many of you other comic book fans, superhero nerds and "You da bomb in Phantoms, yo!" enthusiasts, "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" was finally supposed to be DC's answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Zack Synder is back directing and is aiming to set up DC's Justice League in the coming years. Henry Cavill, who I thought was alright in that film that was "Man of Steel" a few years ago, Ben Affleck aka new Batman, Jesse Eisenberg as "Mark Zuckerberg" Luthor and Gal "I don't look Amazonian, but I'm Wonder Woman" Gadot are the four leads in this. Though you could totally see that Lois Lane, played by Amy Adams, has more story and screen-time than her. Unfortunately for Synder, his track record is far from perfect and concerns that have been building as the trailers and tidbits have been filtering in are founded in a lot of places in this film. Nonetheless Warner Brothers have staked a lot in this build towards the Justice League. It's just too bad that what could've amounted to a great story, with meaningful characters and cool action, is turned into a bleak, dark decent into the egos and tragic backstories that overtake everything else in the film.

"Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" takes place in the aftermath of the General Zod and Superman (Cavill) battle in Metropolis at the end of "Man of Steel." Bruce Wanye (Affleck) is trying to get to Wanye Tower during the fight and watches and Metropolis is torn apart. Fast forward a year and a half and the world is either embracing Superman as a god that will save them or wondering if he will turn on them. Wanye is on the side that blames Superman for killing the thousands of lives. Tech mogul Lex Luthor (Eisenberg) is also under the same mindset, asking the supreme court to use newly found Kryptonite to have an ace in the hole. What follows is a cat and mouse game between Superman battling with his own identity on earth, Lex Luthor plotting a grand scheme and Batman fighting past his inner demons to take down a planet-wide threat. With Wonder Woman lurking in the background, the world will be forever changed after this battle is over.

This film goes by quickly and it's two and a half hours. Much of the first half of the film we're jumping around from location to location at blazing speeds like we're looking at different paintings while on a bullet train. Metropolis, Gotham, the desert, old Wayne Manor, along with flashbacks, dreams, phantoms and time bending. A lot of things happen, and it's though to keep an idea of where we are in the film at a given moment. It's like a machine gun of locations and scenes that could use major editing if an eventual extended cut is released, because watching this film could be pretty confusing at times. To go along with this blitz of scenery, we get a bland and similar character portrait of four characters. Lois Lane, who is eternal damsel in distress plot device and used a bait throughout the entirety of the film. Lex Luthor, who is more psychotic and unhinged, than I thought he'd be. Almost Joker-like at times for some reason. Superman, who is now earth's tangible god, is struggling over whether or not being a god is helping or hurting humanity. Batman, who is well, Batman. All of this makes for an incredibly bleak film that's very dark from start to finish. There's not much that the actors could've done with what they were given as everyone was as good as they were going to be all things considered. Ben Affleck is a great Batman and was the standout of the film for sure There's a few spots that will make you smile, but as a whole the tone is very grim and I really wasn't expecting it to be this downer. Either way the writing of these characters and the overall story is such a bad way to deal with everything that it brings up. Wonder Woman is around too, but we only get a glimpse into her powers and style. What we do see is pretty bad-ass desipte me not being totally down with her look. They shoehorned, into the middle of the film I kid you not, a scene where she looks at .AVI's of the upcoming Justice League cast (Flash. Aquaman and Cyborg). It was such a jarring, unsubtle and unnecessary scene, I wonder why it was included in the middle of the film. Take a cue from your successful rivals and be more subtle with your self promotion.

Most notably "Batman v Superman" brings up the idea of God, having a god, hating god or not believing in a god altogether. Not only that, if this god were real and in front of us, do (or can we) control him. Superman is now this earth's god. Saving people in dire need and keeping a semblance of peace seemingly anywhere in the world. The, of course, United States government is the lead on possibly corralling Superman. But it's never fleshed out as more than an outspoken senator trying to get Superman to come before the court. For a bit, we're shown what Superman has done in the 18 months since the first film. At times we're shown him saving a woman in a crowd of worshipers, while in others there's a huge crowd aiming to have his head. But this is all it ever amounts to. Batman tries to keep the "idea" alive, but as the film moves along it becomes less about this big world changing man and more and more about the plot moving forward and the bad guys being triumphed over. You could argue the slow ending after the final climactic battle brings the idea full circle, but if it hadn't been forgotten amidst the CGI beat down before the closing moments would have felt better than it did. I certainly don't think Superman, or one overall god, would be the man who unites the world into one kumbaya either. Though that idea is nice, I'd rather not have religious wars and attacks, I don't think one man alone will ever untie the world in a perfect way like this. All this is muddied because of the backstories and inner turmoil of Superman and Batman seeping into everything, so it's all a moot point anyway.

All in all "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" is a long film that feels completely rushed, has bland characters and only alright CGI. Even Affleck and the Wonder Woman dive in couldn't help a lot of this. The dark tone is at times overwhelming and the choices for the characters personalities is odd at best. I thought the drama build amidst all of this was good and if the character insight and development was better, it could've be great. The action, when it does ramp up near the end is pretty fun, though I wish they had chosen one iconic story instead of mashing two (The Dark Knight and The Death of Superman) into this film. Can we get Snyder away from superheros too, he peaked at "The Watchmen." I'm not sure if I actually liked the film yet, but I know for sure I didn't hate it. There's good things and a lot of missteps that people will no doubt harp on relentlessly. This is probably worthy of the hate it's getting, but that doesn't mean that it's that bad. This is a dark toned film with iconic characters and alright action. Let's just hope the rest of the build to Justice League isn't this middle of the road. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Zootopia [A Fat Jesus Film Review]

This is the first big animated release of 2016, "Zootopia!" Disney, at this point, is releasing two, sometimes even three, if we're including Pixar, films a year. They are all pretty awesome too. So whenever Disney Animation releases a film, even sans Pixar, they are well worth all of our time. With recent hits like "Tangled," "Frozen," "Wreck-It Ralph" and last years "Big Hero 6," "Zootopia" has been on my radar ever since they released the hilarious Sloth trailer last year. I went into to this only knowing it would be a police-like mystery set in a world where the population is anthropomorphic animals. I left it feeling good. I laughed and I was entertained, but I was also a bit surprised, cause at times "Zootopia" really makes you think. It's not just mindless, fun animation film, it gets you thinking about what's going on in our world a little bit as well.

"Zootopia" follows the story of Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) as she becomes the first bunny to become a police officer in the ZPD (Zootopia Police Department), a dream she has had ever since she was a little rabbit. She is assigned by Mayor Leodore Lionheart (JK Simmons) to the ZPD 1st Precinct. Unfortunately, she is assigned by Police Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) to parking duty, while most of the other force is looking for a bunch missing animals from all around Zootopia. One day, Judy unknowingly helps a fox, Nicholas Wilde (Jason Bateman), and his "son" con a bunch of people and make some cash in a seedy way. The next day, in a way to redeem herself, she takes part in a police chase of Duke Weaselton (Alan Tudyk) through the rodent part of Zootopia, eventually catching him. She is chastised by Bogo, due to all the damage that was done. Before she is fired, she agrees to help one of the missing animals' wife, look for her husband. Bogo gives Judy 48 hours to find the missing otter and she quickly figures out that one of the last people to see Mr. Otterton was in fact, Nick. Judy returns the favor by hustling Nick and the unlikely duo of a fox and a rabbit begin an investigation into what is happening to all of these animals.

I'm half surprised there wasn't some sort of scene in black and white at some point in this film to give at least a little bit of a nod to the crime noir genre. This film is bursting with top notch animation from start to finish that has really been Disney Animation's m.o. for the past couple of films. Not just focusing on character design and story, which were both good in this film, but the overall look and feel of a huge bustling city. Take Zootopia from this film or think about San Fansokyo from "Big Hero 6." Zootopia is divided into a ton of different areas for all different types of animals and we didn't even see them all in the film. What we did see looked fantastic. Downtown city life, rural farm land, a cold and snowy tundra, a glimpse of a desert, a lush rain forest and even a huge imposing waterfall complete with haunting fog. 

There's a bunch of different backdrops in the film and they all look good and work well within the confines of the story we're being told. The animation, design of the characters and everything going on around them was great as well. Buildings, cars, streets and the like all have a unique charm or feel to them in a given scene. There's humor in Judy meter maid cart, there a twinge of horror when Nick and Judy are in the icy cold limo and there bustling action in the subway car scene. This is amplified by the fact these animals look good. The fur, horns, hooves, tails, etc on a given animal look great, and even though most are wearing some form of clothing, you don't lose the sense they are animals underneath all of it. Judy and Nick stand out the most as you see them for most of the duration. They're never an eye sore, as most everything you see in this film looks polished. The voice acting is top notch as well and Goodwin and Bateman provide great depth to this bunny and fox combo. The additional voices such as Simmons, Elba, Tudyk, Jenny Slate, Tommy Chong and Octavia Spencer add depth to the supporting cast that has a lot of good moments throughout the film. Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake are awesome as Judy's parents too.

The story itself is pretty engaging as well. Beyond the main plot, there's a lot of things Disney likes to sneak in for parents to notice or lessons that we all can learn from. Starting with the plot and throwing things in, the mystery aspect, with the double twist was done pretty well. Though it felt a little rushed moving towards the final act, the pay off and ending scenes were really good. The humor, songs and colorful animation will keep the kids happy, while the adults have a pretty fun mystery to try and unravel. There are chase scenes, running gags, nods to horror, Breaking Bad and The Godfather, all while keeping the colorful theme of entertaining everyone from start to finish. 

The biggest thing I wasn't expecting was the parallel to real life we got from Judy. This will probably be the most spoilery part of my review, so if you don't want that, skip to my last paragraph. Judy is a flawed character with lofty goals and ideals as well. She finally reaches these goals at a point in the film, but then shows a side of her that I wasn't expecting. We'd seen her good nature and loyalty throughout the whole film and suddenly she is discriminating against the "predators" she'd been saying the whole time were only part of history. Throughout the film, she thinks that "Zootopia" is free of all the animalistic impulses of their ancestors and insists she does not think the animals that used to hunt her kind, would do so now. I don't think this makes Judy a bad character, it makes her like us in a lot of ways. Racism, or in "Zootopia" 'preadtorism,' is something we don't shine a light on in ourselves. We see it, we know it happens, but we never think we're the ones doing it, until we actually do it. I don't want to get preachy in this review, but we think of ourselves as past it. That "racism is just in the past," or, "someone else is doing it, not me, "when there is clearly a ton of it still going on today. In the film it brought Judy to her lowest point, the point where she had to make a change and make amends. Now, us as humans can do the same thing. Realize there is still racism, or predatorism, out there and don't turn a blind eye to it and call someone out if they're doing it. It's a simple lesson for kids to begin to grasp watching this, while giving us adults something substantial to chew on.

"Zootopia" is a wonderfully animated film with a great score, a fun, colorful world and characters that will make you laugh as well as think. The film is just a shade under two hours, but it never feels too long or too draggy, so you can hunker down and prepare to get engrossed. The finale might be rushed a little bit as well, but nothing is glaringly wrong about this film. It has got to be the earliest of front runners for the 2017 Oscars, and rightfully so. The message, the voice acting, especially by Goodwin and Bateman, and the overall look and feel of "Zootopia" is one that anyone can get into. This is an animated film that kids and adults will equally enjoy. I can say that I already cannot wait to give this one a second viewing. "Zootopia" is one you shouldn't pass up.