‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ Review: Ballet with Bullets and Blood

John Wick
Sequel escalation never felt so good as it does in John Wick: Chapter 2. It elevates everything that made the 2014 original so great: the worldbuilding, the fight choreography, the lighting and imagery, the genre throwbacks, and Keanu Reeves’ character tailor-made for the actor’s skills.

After taking his revenge for the death of his dog in the first film, John Wick thinks he can return to his quiet retirement (with a a new hound in tow). However, the sins of his past won’t let him go so easily, when an old associate Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) calls in a blood debt, it forces Wick to fight once again for his freedom and grapple with his inner demons.

Watching John Wick: Chapter 2 is a little like watching ballet for dudes. The movie drips in neon lighting and religious imagery, from the Greek pantheon to Buddha, with a dose of doves as well. It highlights the reverence for the story they’re telling, as well as reinforces the heightened reality we, the audience, are entering, a place where archetypes and ideas dwell, reigning over oblivious humans. The international and underground order of the Continental has a lot in common with the wizarding world of Harry Potter.

Chapter 2‘s motto is doubling down. From the body count to the locations to the glorious flourishes, this sequel has all the original had, dialed up. It’s more confrontational and in-your-face than the quieter, understated, and altogether simpler original, but for those who dug the mythology of a shadowy (and very polite) assassins’ guild and Wick’s inherent invincibility, it can only be a good thing.

Reeves is a bishonen, seemingly walked off the manga page. He fits gracefully in these roles, like Neo in The Matrix trilogy, where he uses his fists and guns, and does it in style. The training and discipline the actor shows in performing his own stunts, even in his 50s, is admirable. Reeves’ acting can easily be dismissed as monotone. Indeed, it took me a while to appreciate his ability. The subtlety in his quieter moments make his explosions of emotion that much more interesting to watch. That talent is perfect for a film that relies less on dialogue and more on faces, particularly the eyes.

The film continues to stack its supporting cast with able character actors, some who seemingly pop by just for the hell of it, like John Leguizamo. Common and Ruby Rose join as a couple nemeses Wick faces. Both are quite good, with my doubts about the former particularly put to rest by his performance, while Rose continues to impress in her third action role this year (after Resident Evil: The Final Chapter and xXx: Return of Xander Cage). The filmmakers wisely gave Ian McShane more dialogue to chew here while Laurence Fishburne gets an ENORMOUSLY hammy role as the Bowery King, a homeless cult leader (one thing this movie makes clear: everyone in New York, up to and including the street beggars, are assassins).

Stunt coordinator-turned-director Chad Stahelski returns from the first film, sans co-director David Leitch, who instead directed the August spy thriller The Coldest City starring Charlize Theron and James McAvoy before getting hired to direct the superhero sequel Deadpool 2. While Leitch appears to have moved on to greener pastures, Stahelski is sticking with Wick, and this entry has a hook for an inevitable third chapter.

If there is a moral to the John Wick franchise, it is: never harm an animal. If there is a second, it is: respect your stunt coordinators, because, with the right story, they can deliver some of the best action movies of the last decade. And if there’s a third, it’s that I will never tire of Keanu Reeves’ one-man army headshotting his way through Earth’s population.

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Hate Trumped Love: Why, How, And What Now?

Donald Trump is the 45th President of the United States

That vomit-inducing sentence is particularly awful for me to write, because of the crow I’ve had to eat recently (from myself mostly, because I punish myself more than anyone else can for failure). I wrote in December 2015, in the days when Trump announced his horrific Muslim ban policy, that he would lose in a landslide to Hillary Clinton. Not only did I feel confident predicting the two major party nominees, I was even more confident projecting the failure of one.

But I was wrong about which candidate.

It’s taken me a while to gather my thoughts here. These last two weeks after the election has been the repetition of the stages of grief, the growing realizations of what is to come, and the growing distress as those awful realizations slowly come true. I wrote almost two weeks ago today that I would sleep safe if Hillary Clinton was president.

I have not slept well or felt safe since America went the other way. Why did Trump win? Here’s what I missed:

  • Clinton was a worse candidate than I thought who ran a campaign with faulty assumptions

Like me, the Clinton campaign thought they knew better. I knew Hillary Clinton didn’t generate great enthusiasm personally and historically. I was aware of a deep distrust and dislike of her. I did not think these factors were greater than the monstrosity of Trump. But enough people did.

I underestimated how much antipathy for Hillary Clinton existed and how much was manufactured like a goddamn growth industry. Did Clinton do herself favors her? No, she didn’t; setting up the private email server was like cutting off her own nose to spite her face. But the sins did not justify the response, while Trump set about threatening the safety and lives of people across the globe.

Nonetheless, Clinton’s trust gap, magnified by the right-wing echo chamber, might have been mitigated if she a ran a campaign that reached out to these voters or broke through the Trump noise. But Clinton’s campaign didn’t visit Wisconsin, dashed to Michigan too late, and ended up losing white women to the avowed pussy-grabber.

  • “Missing white voters”

This leads to the second point. To defeat the diverse Obama coalition, the Republicans had two options: appeal  to minorities or go after “missing white voters.” While their autopsy post-2012 indicated the former, Trump almost literally pissed on the idea, beginning his campaign calling Mexicans “rapists” and ticking off minority group after minority group with insults and bullying. Ultimately, there were more angry white people than angry minorities and those who would stand up for them.

One reason I missed this was because the election and re-election of Barack Obama blinded me to how many of his white supporters would vote for Trump. The Democrats’ fabled “blue wall” in the Midwest proved nonexistent and Trump’s raw white supremacy powered the white voters, particularly in the Rust Belt – before a cornerstone of the Democratic coalition – to the voting booth.

These voters, incited further than ever against a toxic opponent who didn’t cater to their needs, were left with Trump. This FiveThirtyEight report about potential white voters was eye-opening about prior to the election and its more relevant than ever now. Another report from the polling analysis website showed education, not income, determined Trump support. That is, if people were uneducated, they were more likely to vote for the orange blob. Nate Silver posits several hypotheses for this evidence: uneducated voters are more likely to be racist, ignorant, or distrustful and more likely to be swayed by Trump’s raw, emotional appeal than Clinton’s thoughtful, logical one.

  • Turnout

All of this comes back to the fact that Trump got more voters where it mattered, in swing states like Florida and North Carolina, and across the Rust Belt, despite Clinton winning the popular vote by around 750,000. I thought the backlash to Trump’s insane bigotry would be substantial enough to stop him, that he would be too unacceptable to win. But the Clinton campaign did not or could not turn out the Obama coalition in any way that reflected this.

Beyond the previously-discussed failure of the blue wall, this was the first election after the Voting Rights Act was gutted in 2013. In places like Wisconsin and North Carolina, the GOP precisely disenfranchised people of color and young people, both demographics that typically vote Democratic.

There were also the third party candidates, which siphoned more from Clinton than from Trump. People who presumably hated Trump but disliked Clinton too much to vote for her. I won’t pretend to understand this mindset, as I look at my vote as a strategic rather than a perfect representation of my political beliefs. This wasn’t an election for splitting hairs since the divide between Clinton and Trump was so vast. Add to it my personal opinion that Johnson and Stein also suck.

There was also the matter of FBI Director James Comey’s intervention int the campaign with a poorly-worded, poorly-timed letter to Congress essentially bringing the emails back after they’d been put to bed. It measurably hurt her.

But make no mistake, FBI letter or no, the election loss is on Clinton and her campaign team.

Now, here’s reality: things are going to get really bad. 

Last Tuesday night was like a death in the family, the following days a wake for America. Beyond the affirmation of America’s racism, there was a spate of hate crimes across the countries in the days along with news of celebrations and praise by Nazis and the KKK. The nuclear arsenal is now in the hands of a vindictive, grievance-filled, fight-loving, dictatorial man-child.

Here’s what I wasn’t wrong about in my Trump diatribes: the core of his candidacy – and now administration – is white supremacy. White nationalists, Nazis and the Klu Klux Klan are rejoicing. Trump even put the aforementioned Bannon, head of the right-wing anti-information service Breitbart and a virulent racist, misogynist, and anti-Semite, in the White House! I refrained many times to many people this sentence during the campaign “If you support Trump, you support white supremacy.” More than ever, it is true.

The GOP is not only bringing the alt-right, long relegated to uncensored Internet message boards and anonymous accounts, out into the open but empowering them, giving them the permission and means to commit hate crimes with or without the backing the U.S. federal government.

It’s not just the federal government. The GOP has everything: the statehouses, the governorships, Congress and now the White House. The Supreme Court, with its ability to shape entire generations with its lifetime appointments, is within their grasps. Trump has not only run as a traditional Republican, which means tax cuts for the wealthy and elimination of the social safety net for the middle-class and poor, he ran as the most exaggerated, uninhibited Republican in decades.

He proudly boasted that he would force U.S. soldiers to torture and commit war crimes, that he would deport MILLIONS of people (which would tank the economy even if he didn’t have a Republican Congress to pass regressive tax cuts), that he would support the elimination of abortion rights and gay marriage, that he would threaten and attack First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly, that he would unravel the likes of NATO and the Paris climate agreement.

He may brag that he hires “the best people” but a Trump administration will be a corrupt kleptocracy. The saying goes “Personnel are policy?” Well, Trump hired lickspittle “normalizer” Reince Priebus as his Chief of Staff, Breitbart propagandist and avowed white supremacist Stephen Bannon as chief strategist and noted lover of both Vladimir Putin and gross falsehoods Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser. Racism and authoritarianism are the policies, people.

He may have campaigned on the promise to “drain the swamp” but the next four years will be a bonanza for lobbyists and their ilk, from the very worst industries: military contractors, oil & gas, private prisons etc.  He is already using the presidency to enrich himself and works closely with his children and family, flouting nepotism laws. He openly praises amoral, anti-American dictators who kill their own citizens, like Vladimir Putin, Kim-Jong Un, and Bashar al-Assad. And, as the moral cowardice of the vast majority elected Republicans has shown, there is nothing but complicity for Trump’s insanity.

The power of the presidency has never been greater and, through executive orders, Trump can and will erase the Obama presidency, from immigrant protections like DACA and DAPA to LGBT anti–discrimination practices to gun control measures.

His economic and foreign policy combined, if implemented, will tank the economy, whether it is the sudden absence of labor because of deportations, the grossly-disproportionate tax cuts for the rich, or the insane level of spending President-elect Trump intends for defense and/or infrastructure. Remember when Republicans hawked on the deficit? Yeah, don’t expect much of that for the next four years.

That’s the lay of the land and, it goes without saying, it ain’t good. So, what now? 

In order to win in the future, it is clear that the Democrats need a fresh start. Demographics alone won’t save them. Liberals and progressives in general need to find new ways of communicating with white voters. Some of it may involve swallowing pride, moving past identity politics, and attempting real persuasion. Whereas Trump preyed upon human fears and flaws, Democrats can and should look past the president-elect’s bluster and communicate ideas instead of reprimands. How Italy dealt with its own corrupt businessman-turned-leader Silvio Berlusconi can provide a useful roadmap.

Fighting the fascist alt-right white supremacists while connecting with the white voters they seek to court is difficult but it must be done, because while these voters’ political party have sold them on a corrupt billionaire and his cavalcade of racist supporters, demeaning wholesale demonstrably plays into the hands of said racists (the honesty of the “basket of deplorables” assessment didn’t stop it from becoming a rallying call for Trump and against Clinton). As Ana Marie Cox writes, the question now is “how to do you appeal to non-college-educated white people without being an explicit bigot?”

Liberals and progressives have to be careful with this issue, because we are the scapegoats. Even if all the terrible potential about a Trump presidency come to fruition, his voters will find a way to blame the opposition, egged on by Trump’s new GOP. It’s far easier than recognizing they were conned or that they were wrong or that maybe, just maybe, they didn’t think this Trump thing through.

Despite how disgusted the nation became with the 2016 election, the 2020 one will be even worse. Why? Because a bunch of white nationalists will have been entrenched in power for four years and they will not give it up lightly. Expect several stories to emerge before, during, and after the Trump administration about how the president-elect and his cronies abused power for personal or monetary gains. Oh, and the ethics investigations and indictments the supposedly straight-laced Republicans threatened Clinton with? They aren’t going to do that with Trump, even as he profits from his presidential position. The hypocrisy is galling.

Two contradictory things have become clear to me in the days after.

First is that, despite my social media radio silence in much of the time since Nov. 9, such a catastrophe, slow-moving as it is, requires more engagement, not less. Journalism and the news media are in the weakest state they’ve been in my lifetime, with diffusion among outlets, declining profits and abounding layoffs and newspaper closures. Factual newsgathering requires our support. Please donate or subscribe to a news service.

Second is that it is more important than ever do what we love with the ones we love as long as we can, because that time suddenly feels much less certain than it did two weeks ago. The fact that the future is uncertain and anything can happen is perhaps a trite thing to realize upon an annual election, but nothing draws life into perspective like erratic sociopath at the the helm of our nation’s proverbial ship, directing it through the an iceberg-strewn ocean.

Therapy sessions such as this post will no doubt continue unabated as long as this new awful reality does. I have no ending for this post, other than the terrible news that things will get worse before they get better. The best we can hope for is Trump is a pragmatic president who backs off his numerous immoral and illegal campaign promises, such as deporting 11 million people including children born here, cutting taxes for the rich at the expense of the poor’s safety net, taking aware healthcare from millions of people, and violating countless international agreements.

Prepare for the worst.

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Election Day 2016 Final Thoughts

It’s (almost) over.

While the earthquake of the 2008 election of Barack Obama, America’s first black president, was synonymous with “hope & change,” the aftershock of the 2016 election between the first female presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the anti-Obama Donald Trump is more likely to have words associated with it like “nasty,” “pussy,” and “hate.” (I want to keep this relatively short, so I won’t spend 10 paragraphs delving into the disgusting irony that the word “pussy” was such a huge part of the election of the first Madam President).

I’m a political junkie. That this election has me even sickened by the fear and ugliness so pervasive in our country makes me sympathize with those who would be happy to never hear from a politician again, let alone the two candidates leading our political parties. We’re all at our breaking points. And I hate to be the pessimist, but it won’t end tomorrow. Even if Clinton wins, as I predicted last year, the Republican Party is forever changed and the USA, at home and aboard, is forever different.

For an election this insane, that has consumed this much of my attention, that has me attached to the Twitter feeds of my favorite journalists for the latest update, I can’t throw myself into the arms of my fellow citizens, hoping they catch me with by electing Clinton, without making my last thoughts known.

It is impossible to count the ways Trump is unsuited for Commander-in-Chief. Others have tried better than I ever could. It is not hyperbole to say his elevation would cause cause crises at home and abroad not seen in decades. Trump is kinda right what he says the world is laughing at us. But it’s the most nervous laughter imaginable, as the most powerful nation on the planet seemingly descends into self-destruction. They’re not laughing because of Clinton’s emails. They’re laughing at Trump and what he says about us.

White supremacy is at the core of the Trump candidacy and the GOP rot. The rising Obama coalition is a threat to that, as Fox News, talk radio, and Breitbart have dutifully fearmongered for the last eight years (and many before). And, thus into this grievance is born a creature seemingly made to be the apotheosis of it.

Trump may not win tonight but he has empowered a racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic underbelly of American life, particularly among white men without college degrees. He has accelerated the Republican Party’s moral decay, ripping away the dog whistles and replacing them with bullhorns. He has degraded and insulted literally millions of people to earn the support of a dying cohort of the American electorate, people who just so happen to have been used as a source of power for the GOP since the 1970s. His endorsers and backers buy into, even embrace, his self-made alternate reality even as he shows no loyalty but to anyone but himself and his selfish needs.

White supremacy is dangerous because, well, Nazis. But going deeper than that, it is dangerous for the people with the most privilege and power in society – white people – to become incited against minorities. White people are not used to being inconvenienced or in the minority; it scares them. Whereas before the GOP offered in exchange for tax cuts for their wealthy donors,

Donald Trump may not call himself a white supremacist but that is because his ego is so incomprehensibly huge, his self-awareness so nonexistent, that he cannot imagine himself as anything other than the greatest ever. He’s too stupid to see the reasons he acts how he acts or says what he says, like his white skin, his Y chromosome, or his rich inheritance. He lacks empathy and is unable to walk in another’s shoes. He simply lacks the imagination to relate to other human beings. He only cares about things he views as extensions of himself, like his career and his family and, even then, he requires them to view him as infallible in exchange for affection.

Our vote is strategic. It’s pragmatic. It is about where we fall in the annals of history. I won’t resign those I love who are of different colors, creeds, or orientations to their fates so I can have a protest vote. Voting is about more than the candidate. It is about directing the current of history.

Did you vote for Trump? Whether you accept it or not, that is an endorsement of racism. Every vote Trump gets will empower not his suffering voters looking for change (who will remain blissfully ignorant that they were taken in by a con artist) but the cavalcade of carnival barkers he’s assembled like an island of misfit toys. They are already enriching themselves, setting themselves up for future opportunities, and claiming “victory” for white nationalism.

Smart and morally-astute Republicans have refused to support Trump and, like Max Boot and Ana Navarro voted for Clinton. Paul Ryan may fruitlessly pine about his “Better Way” agenda and claim the GOP is not Trump’s party, but he has proven time and time again to be stubborn, stupid, and morally myopic, high on some imagined Randian bullshit that his party’s voters stopped giving a shit about years ago. Add to it his knowing capitulation to a man who excoriates him regularly all while holding to the absolutely-absurd belief that Trump will magically transform into a pliable and flexible guy once granted the most powerful office in the world.

America needs a functioning two-party system. Despite the constant demands for third parties, the binary is practically written into the Constitution. The Democrats cannot represent everyone, because of the aforementioned white supremacy of the GOP is kinda incompatible the Obama coalition of Hispanics, blacks, women, and Millennials, not to mention the education gap (as Trump said, he “loves the poorly educated,” GOP subtext=text).

Hillary Clinton is a flawed candidate, but not more than any other male candidate in history. Despite the right-wing media’s criminalization of her (echoing the Othering of Obama by claiming he wasn’t an American citizen), her mistakes, while mistakes certainly of arrogance and bad judgment, were no different than many other politicians.

The email server scandal, glued to her from the very beginning of her campaign, was entirely her fault but what did we learn from the various leaks? We learned journalists and campaign partisans are people and interact as such. There was moments of regrettable indiscretion, but nothing so egregious as to make the whole enterprise criminal, as FBI Director James Comey has said (then didn’t, then said again, but whatever).

While others bathe with the word “emails” I look at Clinton’s victory like Obama’s, altering the psychography of our nation in a positive but not unimpeded way. Progress is always fought tooth-and-nail, as we’ve seen all too well in this nostalgia-evoking election. Whatever Clinton’s personal flaws, the fact that we will follow the first black president with the first woman president speaks to me a hell of a lot more than any of the incoherent nonsense Trump has spewed.

I don’t view my vote as representation of myself ideologically. The world will never conform to my ideology or anyone else’s. When I walk into the voting booth, I know I’m only one rower in a ship of millions. To get somewhere specific, everyone has to row together. If everyone rowed their own way and didn’t pay attention to others, the ship may very well drift into an iceberg (an racist orange iceberg).

The story of America will be different, no matter who is in office. But, while I don’t imagine Trump will allow himself to fall gracefully in the next week or so, I do imagine what it will be like knowing the American Dream, that “anybody can be president” will be truer, our country a little more affirmed because we defeated, if only temporarily, the madman at the door.

Today is a battle. The war of ideas will continue. And we must be vigilant. But I sincerely hope I will sleep safe tonight knowing Hillary Clinton is the 45th President of the United States. Otherwise, I don’t know if I can sleep safe again.

Source: ABC

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State of the Slog


Hey guys,

It’s been a quiet few months here at The Slog, indeed, a quiet year after launching this site in January 2015. While I was still in school and working less, the Slog was more or less my main focus as far as writing, helping me do so consistently and freely. It’s a tool I took way too long to embrace and I look back on the 100+ posts here on the site with degrees of fondness and pride.

Writing (and I think many writers relate to this) is a potent combination of perfectionism and procrastination. As long as it is in your head and imagined, it is protected and safe. And as long as you don’t, you know, write it, the idea can remain such, unsullied by reality.

I discovered as college went on that, outside of my academics, I wrote little and read even less. What I did write was perfunctory. What I read was what I needed to read to move on to something else. I don’t know if this is common experience for those in college or pursuing writing as a vocation, but as life filled with a number of other opportunities and distractions, writing and reading for pleasure fell by the wayside. The Slog was the antidote to that, giving me a platform, however small, to be the writer I wanted to be.

I spent a lot of my time away the last few months from The Slog writing elsewhere. As is my lifelong endeavor, I worked on my book The Darkest Fate, the first volume in a fantasy series. I reconnected with my dear friend and artist John Vitale to collaborate on an untitled comic pitch that I will hopefully tell you more about soon (gotta actually write and pitch it first. You may sense a theme here).

Another project that fell by the wayside was going to be a Slog original, a reason why I created the site in the first place: my serial. I’ve long-loved episodic storytelling and wanted to bring that to short-form fiction. I even did a poll to see what I would write. The winner was Caged, a crime drama that is essentially my take on the Sherlock Holmes/Gregory House/Robert Goren archetype.

I am getting back into these projects, but slowly. Slowly is probably for the best, lest I overwhelm myself and claim defeat early in some sort of self-destructive defense stance. As of this moment, as is typical, I am way overdue on pages for my comic with John but I feel buoyed, from his encouragement and from finding my own again.

I was fortunate enough to get hired in February at Heroic Hollywood, a burgeoning site founded by noted fanboy journalist Umberto Gonzalez, who now works at The Wrap, one of the four big Hollywood trades. The site has been a boon and replaced the Slog as my primary vehicle for writing.

My passion for storytelling growing up led me to inhale film & TV like a hyperventilating hobbit and to, in turn, inhale the work of the pop culture journalists like Umberto who chronicled it. I followed the field as the blogosphere exploded in the early aughts, taking fans from message boards all the way to the sets of their favorite films. Being one of those journalists seems like a fun way to use my writing and love of storytelling.

In between, I’ve worked several jobs in and around Athens, most good experiences. Rapping, always a passion of mine, is on the backburner (which is probably in everyone’s best interests). Hip hop will always be my jam and inspiration but, as the son of paramedics, “triage” is a useful and necessary tool when it comes to goals. Perhaps there is a future for SPF, but first things first, I would like to work on my creative writing pursuits, Heroic Hollywood and posting weekly here. Once I get that down, we’ll talk blessing/cursing the Earth with my music.

The site will be updated weekly but the features will be more intermittent due to my role as a writer & editor at Heroic. I can’t, for example, review The Walking Dead season 7 regularly like I did season 6 due to reviewing Westworld at the same time. But there will be more one-off reviews of film & TV as well as columns on politics or writing and whatever else interests me.

The Slog has been my ever-present, slightly-neglected home, complete with a doorway made for confronting my fears. Obviously, it’s a doorway I don’t use enough. Too much of my time is spent confusing success with effortlessness, comfort with distraction, fear with authenticity. Combined, it’s a cocktail for self-sabotage.

Routines like that become the narratives we live, the filters for our world, the stories we repeat to ourselves. What I want now, I suppose as a consequence of writing this note, is both an outlet and liberation. To chase feelings faint as wisps of smoke without expectation. This lone post is just a start, of course, the first brick in a foundation. In the eternal quest for truth, it’s worth remembering an uncomfortable one: anything worth doing takes effort and focus.

Thanks for reading,


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‘Suicide Squad’ Review: Assembly Required

So you ordered a chair. It’s a beautiful chair, best chair you’ve ever seen, will show up all the other lame chairs in your apartment. It will really tie the room together, is what I’m saying. So you order the chair from IKEA, that’s a trusted retailer right? Awesome, your chair is on the way and best yet, you get free shipping within two days. What could possibly be better?

Well, when the chair arrives, not only is assembly required, but the pieces that did come with it are broken and, worse, others were lost on the way to your house. Turns out the two-day shipping was because IKEA needed to sell chairs and it needed them sold and shipped stat. Which is a shame, because all these broken pieces look like they would have made a nice chair. Then Jared Leto shows up out of nowhere to slap used condoms and dead rats in your face. Worst of all, the Joker doesn’t even do anything!

If the ambiguous title of “Suicide Squad review,” didn’t prime you, I am indeed talking about Suicide Squad. Someday, master classes will be done on the massive fuckups Warner Bros. made on both Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, marketing hybrids masquerading as filmmaking, because woo boy. I went in expecting bad, primed by Batman v Superman, the notorious production tumult and subsequent poor reviews. I was not prepared for what I would see next.

After Superman’s death in BvS, tough-as-nails government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has the genius idea to replace one metahuman with a bunch: Task Force X comprised of the most dangerous inmates of the Louisiana prison Belle Reve. There’s the perfect hitman Deadshot (Will Smith), the psychotic Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the alcoholic Australian thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), human crocodile Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and the flammable former gangbanger Diablo (Jay Hernandez). The “suicide squad” operates under Col. Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) and his samurai bodyguard Katana (Karen Fukhura).

That leads us to our villain, the Enchantress (Cara Delevigne), a 6,000 year-old entity possessing Dr. June Moone, who is in a relationship with Flagg. Everything about this character is atrocious, most of all her computer-generated “plan” (this all-powerful witch, who effortlessly conquers an entire American city, resorts to nonlethal combat against the squad at the climax. How nice of her).

Meanwhile, arguably the greatest comic book villain of all time, The Joker (Jared Leto) is poorly introduced and flits around in the background pining for Harley like a barely-intelligible hyena. Why the hell wasn’t he the villain? Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood and Common are also in the film for no discernible reason. Oh yeah, and Slipknot (Adam Beach), but me and the film agree on one point: fuck Slipknot.

The moment the film begins, it’s apparent something is wrong as music video vignettes introduce characters that are reintroduced in the immediate next scene. The movie has little to no idea what to do with its moving pieces. So much bad editing and pacing are papered over by so, so, so many songs.

There’s a ridiculous number of characters in this film. but honestly that’s the least of its problems, because Suicide Squad isn’t actually a movie. This is not a problem unique to this film, especially this summer movie season, but it is the most blatant I have seen yet. Squad doesn’t actually tell a story but cobbles together ideas. Saying this film has a “plot” is a disgrace to the word “plot.” There’s little-to-no concern for storytelling economy or payoffs. The only characters who have something resembling an arc are Deadshot, Quinn, Diablo and Flagg.

Quinn’s infamous relationship with Joker is an excellent example of the film’s arrogance. There is absolutely no set up and no reason for audiences to believe in Quinn’s transformation because at no point do we see a charismatic Joker on-screen. The film banks entirely on audiences’ already knowing and accepting Harley Quinn and her abusive relationship with a clown psychopath. Speaking of which, remember how The Dark Knight spent 6 minutes brilliantly setting up Heath Ledger in the role for the payoff at the end? Here, Leto is shoved in the audiences’ face, constantly leering and being a general creep. His Joker is uninteresting, either because his scenes were cut or his take on the character is just fundamentally annoying and stupid.

On the flip side, there is an absurd amount of talent on display here and not even the butchered story and pacing can prevent stars like Smith and Robbie from shining. It’s refreshing to see Smith having so much fun again and while he doesn’t go as dark as I hoped, he straddles the line between villain and antihero admirably. Robbie is an excellent Quinn, understanding the subtly of her psychosis even though the film presents an unnecessarily violent version of her origin story in flashbacks. Hernandez is the standout among the supporting cast while Kinnaman and Courtney acquit themselves well despite boring characters. Davis is fine and Delevigne is wasted.

More surprising than the film being bad is it having virtually the same problems every DCEU film has up until this point – nothing is planned, everything is reactive and nobody has any hands on the steering wheel. This one is even more “moments over scenes” than Batman v Superman, if that’s possible. I’d feel bad for Ayer and Zack Snyder for getting skull-fucked by corporate, but these are two of the bro-iest directors in Hollywood, churning out macho entertainment such as 300 or Fury. We (and WB execs) really should have known they’d turn the DCEU into a broad examination of toxic masculinity (I plan on writing a column on this).

After Suicide Squad, all I have is questions, namely how did something with so much potential end up so awful? Why did this movie need all of these characters? Why did it need the umpteenth “death by CGI” plot? The film is the equivalent a plate piled with food from a buffet line, the pile so high it devolves into a morass of conflicting flavors. There is no care for what goes together or what works; it’s all about packing in as much as possible, as quickly as possible. What a waste.

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X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) – Review


The rise of a mutant god means the stakes have never been higher for the X-Men and yet, this sixth entry in the series is the most vacuous and without consequence of the franchise. As Marvel innovates within its model and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice tried (and failed, admittedly) to claim its own unique tone, X-Men: Apocalypse only stands out as a rote and repetitious. After 16 years of watching these films, audiences expect better.

Apocalypse is not as unrelentingly dark and deary as Batman v Superman but neither does it have the sharp character moments and interactions that made Civil War so joyous. While the former and latter veered in opposite directions with failure and success respectively, this entry in superhero canon accomplishes nothing of note. Say what you will about Batman v Superman (and I have) but you will not forget Granny’s Peach Tea after watching that movie.

It’s 1983 and a new day for mutants. In the decade since their reveal, they have earned a begrudging acceptance in wider society, allowing Charles Xavier’s School for the Gifted to flourish with young, familiar faces like Scott Summers and Jean Grey. Abroad, Raven aka Mystique works alone rescuing mutants from exploitation and Erik aka Magneto has started anew with a wife and daughter. Enter Apocalypse, a 2,000 year-old Egyptian mutant purported to be the world’s first, whose worshippers have awakened from hibernation.

A lot of the film’s choppy pacing can be attributed to the script from Simon Kinberg (based on a story by director Bryan Singer – back for his fourth go-around – and his X2 cohorts). It is exacerbated by surprisingly-sloppy editing, something unexpected coming from a director who pulled off the time travel juggling act with aplomb in Days of Future Past. There’s little sense of narrative arc or cohesiveness. When turns or payoffs are clearly meant to happen, they have diminished weight and feel more perfunctory than earned.

What does stand out are sequences, like whenever Evan Peters’ Quicksilver is showing off his powers or Wolverine’s extended cameo. Notably, both are echoes or revisions of previous popular parts of X-Men canon, as if reiterating how little this film has to offer the series

While getting a ton of marketing attention, the subtitular villain and his Four Horsemen are generic and their plot for world dominion is really stupid and, worse, a copy of a X2. The fact that Singer rounded up that films writers just to essentially remake it speaks volumes about the wheel-spinning neutrality he’s stuck the franchise in. There’s little sense of why they join Apocalypse, since he isn’t particularly charismatic or compelling.

Isaac is not as bad as I feared but that’s only because my expectations were so low that I expected a character assassination. Instead, we get two or three moments of Oscar Isaac straining to act through the makeup and the rest of the film he’s indistinguishable from the other doomsday villains who lack the resonance to make us fear them. For a film titled after him, he’s is its biggest disappointment.

Fassbender is outstanding but isn’t he always? His Magneto is a tortured Byronic hero of the tallest order but that the film just gives him absolution for his crimes (he commits genocide in this film, make no mistake) is laughable. McAvoy’s Professor X acts a fine counterpoint but, whether it’s his boyish looks or what, he still lacks the gravitas to believe in his naive wisdom. Lawrence is fine; there are hints of a story arc of her accepting her new role as hero but it’s pretty obviously an excuse to keep her happy and out of the makeup chair. Hoult is good as well, but underutilized again.

The young cast is good and the little glimmers of them just being teenagers was enough to get me to care about characters like Cyclops, mostly thanks to good work from Tye Sheridan. Sophie Turner also does the best with what she has, with the promise of a larger role to come. Shipp is good but largely wasted as an Apocalypse lackey for most of the film. Kodi Smit-McPhee is the standout as the adorable Nightcrawler. Poor Rose Byrne gets the shortest of the short sticks, basically acting as an exposition sex doll for Professor X.

Even writing this review, I struggle to remember what this movie was. It attempts to balance emotional devastation with snarky quips, to give two sides coherent development but both are half-hearted. Its cardinal sin is forgetting to be about something. This is a film with all the ingredients to a successful X-Men flick but none of the heart or depth.

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Captain America: Civil War (2016) – Review

Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War is as exemplary as any Marvel film about what they can and have achieved. It uses the past 12 films as a huge canvas to paint a personal story. It maintains the insane balancing act of telling, first and foremost, a Captain America story, second an Avengers movie and third, the thirteenth film in the ongoing MCU series. The film mentions that, as in our universe, it’s been eight years since the Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) revealed himself as Iron Man.  So much has changed since then, but Civil War proves Marvel remains ahead of the curve.

After an Avengers mission against in Africa goes awry, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and his team of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff) and The Vision (Paul Bettany) are ordered by the new secretary of state Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt), with the support of Stark, to sign the Sokovia Accords, a registration act that would put the Avengers under the authority of the United Nations.

The Accords issue becomes more complicated with re-entrance of Cap’s best friend and fellow time traveler Bucky Barnes aka Winter Soldier, who becomes a lightning rod that draws the new king of Wakanda T’Challa aka Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and the mysterious Zemo (Daniel Bruhl), both with their own agendas for Bucky. And that’s not even mentioning Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) or the new Spider-Man (Tom Holland).

The fact that it is as good as it is obfuscates any flaws that lurk beneath the surface. Because directors Anthony & Joe Russo have complete tonal and narrative control, they can indulge in expert misdirection, juggling the largest cast of superheroes in any movie yet.

They compose beautiful shots and translate comic book action better than anyone. The airport scene that sees the Team Iron Man and Team Cap full-on fighting gives due to every character, whether it’s Hawkeye or Vision. Amazingly visceral fight scenes mirror and feed off the intensely personal story, one that doesn’t pull punches but doesn’t feel gratuitous. When we are horrified, it has a point and that makes it all the more potent.

Cap’s story from the beginning has been inextricable from Bucky’s. In the comics, he began as a rote sidekick, an asswipe of the highest order. But later writers re-imagined him as Cap’s competent peer and then his popularity exploded with Ed Brubaker’s Winter Soldier story, which was the basis for the previous Cap film.

While the filmmakers likened that film to a political thriller, they curiously cast Civil War as a psychological thriller. At one point, they said they were inspired by the uber-dark serial killer thriller Se7en. Let’s put it this way: Aa Devin Faraci points out in the latest Heroic Insider, upon seeing the film it actually makes complete sense.

In this film, amidst the massive set pieces and fight scenes, it’s the moments of character stakes that stick out; when Tony and Cap are in a room, when the Avengers pair off such as Vision and Scarlet Witch, Falcon and Bucky, Spidey and Tony, the list goes on. These relationships establish the stakes.

We as an audience didn’t need to think these people were going to fucking murder each other to buy why they’d go at it. What I was skeptical of prior, how they would treat what amounts to a “family dispute” with gravitas, I was completely sold on during. This is a movie that understands payoff in a way most other movies are almost allergic to nowadays.

It’s long but it doesn’t feel overly stuffed because even the lesser roles get character beats and miniarcs. Everyone from Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) and Hurt, missing since Marvel’s red-headed stepchild The Incredible Hulk (and they should bring him back again as Red Hulk, just saying) get a chance to shine. They also craft a villain as good or better than Loki, in Zemo, a righteous antagonist whose lack of superpowers somehow makes him all the more threatening. A great villain in a universe that has been steadily improving in the area.

Black Panther was hands-down my favorite character and, while his solo film was already at the top of my Marvel must-see list thanks to director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed) it’s Chadwick Boseman’s controlled rage, his soulful yet furious balancing act of a performance and fucking killer dialogue (consisting mostly of badass boasts delivered badassly) elevate it into the stratosphere. The mid-credits scene is a Black Panther tease and I can’t even praise it anymore because it’s so good.

Everyone is also talking about Spider-Man and he’s truly as good as they say. He pops in and out of the film very easily and feels natural, which was a shock actually. Holland’s rapport with Downey is nice but it’s the other bug hero Scott Lang aka Ant-Man that I think is even better with the best reveal of the movie given to him. But yet again, how all these characters bounce off each other is so natural and effortless and evocative of each character that you can’t help but be swept up in it, along with inevitable comparisons.

The elephant in the room is the film’s rival, the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice of it all. First, the films are as similar as we we suspected. They’re so similar that not comparing them almost doesn’t make sense. Second, in almost every regard Civil War is better. It’s almost a factual statement (but not, because it’s my opinion, natch). It performs all the tasks that the former did with none of the flaws i.e. orchestrating a legitimate rivalry between heroes into epic fights motivated by a secret villain and introducing a ton of new elements. Compare the introductions of Spider-Man and Black Panther to what they did with Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman and there’s little to talk about. But I’m not here to shit on either, just get perspective.

Captain America: Civil War succeeds on its own terms. Where others’ would zig, the Russo brothers and Kevin Feige zagged because they know the story they are telling. Why? Because they have past decades of rich veins to tap for further decades to come. Do you have a favorite comic book? Hell, a favorite comic panel? Chances are you’ll see in the next 10-15 years. And you can probably bet as of today that Marvel will be leading the way.

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The Walking Dead 6.16: Last Day on Earth – Review

The Walking Dead

Don’t worry, fellow The Walking Dead fans. The show heard the criticism from this season (especially prevalent over the last two episodes) and responded accordingly – by supersizing the finale to 90 minutes to cram in every single poor storytelling choice and character decision they could. The irony was that they still denied viewers a satisfying climax, instead going with the tired who-is-dead? for the third fucking time this season. Except this time, the audience has to wait six months to get an answer.

Like me, a lot of viewers are rightfully upset and a lot of critics are walking away. The producers can defend it all they want and they’ll probably have the ratings and “fuck you” money to get away with it. But the show has become a stunningly predictable slog with a propensity for foot-shooting almost at every turn. This was the worst conceivable version of a finale. Let’s recap.

With Maggie suffering from labor pains and Denise dead, Rick put together a team including Carl, Sasha, Abraham, Eugene and Aaron to take her to Hilltop for medical help, leaving Fr. Gabriel and Spencer in charge of Alexandria’s defense (one of Rick’s many questionable leadership decisions this episode).

What follows is precisely this: they drive, hit a roadblock contrived by the Saviors (a blockade of cars, a chain of zombies, a pile of logs etc.) rinse, repeat. Literally, that is the plot of this “special” 90 minute episode. But really all this nonsense does is reinforce that “plot” has been a nonentity the final three episodes this season, with characters going on mad dashes from the safety of Alexandria’s walls per script requirements.

It also continues a trend I hate: villains keeping the heroes alive way past suspension of disbelief. The Saviors’ herding of our survivors as part of Negan’s mind game was reminiscent of the way Terminus did the same to get our survivors trapped in a train car in the other, superior Walking Dead cliffhanger finale of Season 4.

Instead, the show meanders into narrative brick walls every few episodes, to the point that it seems not only intentional but malicious. Given the amount of dirty storytelling tricks played this season, it seems like the producers and showrunners are deeply out of touch of the wants and needs of the audience. No amount of semantics will change the fact that the ending withholding Negan’s victim, regardless of their identity, only lessens the impact of the death.

The last time the show actually fulfilled a promise like that was season 4’s midseason finale “Too Far Gone,” the final prison/Governor episode that understood audience expectations and delivered in an gratifying way. But even that was only after an entire third season that built to a prison battle . . . that happened next year!

Look at its AMC sibling Breaking Bad. That was a show that wrung every decision for every ounce of drama. Everything had consequences, everything matter, the show was constantly evolving and changing within the framework of Walt’s descent/ascent as a meth kingpin. The Walking Dead doesn’t come close to that but you can tell it wants to. It needs to.

But when you have to hit preconceived beats, the writers end up coasting over drama beats others would milk. Like, how is Carl dealing with one eye? Seems like a big change. Haven’t heard a word on Glenn’s crisis after taking his first life since the show had to bother. Is Rosita actually a character? Why is Spencer around? All these strands exist indepedent of the narrative, not because of it. Thus, the show feels destined and predetermined as opposed to organic and natural.

A lot of these problems are probably traceable to creator/producer Robert Kirkman, who has always been insistent the show follow the comic to a large degree. In my opinion, a big reason Darabont left in Season 2, beyond budgetary constraints by AMC, was that Kirkman wanted to follow the comic and he was interested tangents like the CDC (which Kirkman didn’t like) and hanging out on a farm. At the time, it worked to boot Darabont but now the show is little more than a few years behind the comic and its attempts to “remix” classic moments, like tonight’s Negan/Lucille introduction, lack the necessary dramatic power.

I haven’t even mentioned the Carol/Morgan side-story, which as I’ve written about all season, worked for me . . . until this episode. Once again, recap: Morgan finds her, loses her, Carol gets shot by the survivor Savior from last week’s confrontation (who inexplicably went on a suicide mission instead of driving away) Morgan finds her again, kills the Savior (a moment which should feel weighty but doesn’t), then gets helped by two armored dudes on horseback. They’re members of the Kingdom, another new community led by Ezekiel, a former zookeeper with a pet tiger(!), whom I imagine we’ll be meeting this fall. I’m glad Lennie James is sticking around for Season 7 but is it just me, or did Carol seriously under-react to getting shot?

The ending scene and cliffhanger shittily resolved last week’s “cliffhanger” of Dwight shooting Daryl by simply showing us a bloody Daryl. Awesome. Between Carol and him, bullet wounds seem positively minor. We got our monologue dose of Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan and we got another bloody camera lens to end an episode. This isn’t a cliffhanger that asks possibilities. It’s just an excuse to tease out a death for six months. Any sense of dread built by the episode or Negan’s game was drained by a lack of consequence. Oops, see you in October!

It didn’t succeed in exciting me for Season 7, which will open on the crushed-in skull of the victim, presumably. As far as what to expect when it returns, I think the first fall half of the season will be the reign of Negan that will open up the show to adapt the epic All-Out War arc for the second half in winter/spring 2017.

In the meantime, I’ll be reviewing Game of Thrones Season 6, just as I did Season 5 last year, but doing it for Heroic Hollywood, the premiere site for pop culture buffs like me! It’s an exciting step up and I hope you’ll follow me there. And you can always get other reviews and updates right here on the Slog. Until October, fellow Dead-heads!

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The Walking Dead 6.15: East – Review

The Walking Dead

C’mon, The Walking Dead, Multiple beginnings? I thought Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice had the worst opening act of the weekend but the first ten minutes of the sixth season penultimate episode “East” was rough.

A Carol-focus is a good thing but opening flashforward was unnecessary and the montage – touching on the romances of Rick/Michonne, Glenn/Maggie and Abraham/Sasha/Rosita felt out of place after the scene between Carol and Tobin.

Daryl, clearly wracked with guilt over Denise’s death last week, runs off after his nemesis Dwight. Glenn, Michonne and Rosita run after Daryl without consulting Rick, who prompty takes off himself after Carol with Morgan, ordering Abraham, Sasha and Tobin to be prepared. Do as I say, not as I do, eh Rick? God, writing that series of un-events was painful. It feels like way-obvious pawn-moving on the writers’ part.

That said, there is always redemption in The Walking Dead, if not by the story but the characters. For example, Melissa McBride’s performance this week went a long way to clarifying Carol’s journey more, which seemed to go off the rails in recent weeks. At first, her evolution seemed panicked and rushed, but reflection of Morgan’s influence and her experience in episode 13 and suddenly I can see the thread emerge: she has a crisis of conscience and of fear, and she’s running.

Carol’s inner turmoil is endlessly fascinating and McBride’s scene of her breaking down in front of the Saviors, who think she’s weak when actually she just doesn’t want to kill them is heartbreaking. Wish I could say the same of the circumstances the show has put its characters, which feel less tragic and more arbitrary.

Glenn, Michonne and Rosita catch up to Daryl. Glenn’s speech backfires when not only Daryl refuses to let go but Rosita joins him. The duos part ways in probably the most ill-advised “let’s split up gang” since Scooby Doo. This turns sour immediately when Glenn and Michonne are captured by Dwight and his crew of Saviors.*

*Why do the Saviors not blow these people away? I get that they run the zombie apocalypse version of a protection racket and need able bodies but Rick’s group has slaughtered over 40 Saviors by my count. You’d think somebody with an itchy trigger finger and lust for vengeance would’ve killed someone by now. Or maybe it’s just indicative of the absolute hold Negan and his rules have on his minions.

I felt we didn’t get enough Rick and Morgan this season, so it’s nice to have this episode provided some great moments between the two on the search for Carol. After finding the aftermath of Carol’s encounter with the Saviors, they set out on foot on her trail, tailed by a wounded Savior. Rick and Morgan encounter a rando in “armor” supposedly looking for his horse. OK. Morgan forces Rick to let him escape by deflecting his gunfire and finally confesses about his earlier encounters with the Wolf, in and out of Alexandria. Rick is pissed but Morgan informs him the chain of events led to the Wolf saving Denise and she saving Carl. Morgan insists he continue alone and the two men part ways with a sweet callback-to-a-callback of his missing protein bar (SPOILER: Michonne totally took it).

I feel Morgan’s humanity has become essential to this show and would hate to see him go next week, either as an addition or replacement of Glenn’s death. It’s beyond my love of Lennie James; Morgan represents civilization and a pull away from the ruthless, survivalist world Rick inhabits. Way back in the premiere, I was most fascinated by the show seemingly taking a page from another AMC juggernaut Breaking Bad and shading the hero darker and darker. It didn’t become a huge theme of the season but, perhaps like Morgan’s jail cell, it’s a setup for things even further down the line than we imagined.


We end with a fairly pathetic attempt at a cliffhanger. Daryl and Rosita, attempting to rescue Glenn and Michonne (stupidly, I might add), are unsurprisingly ambushed by Dwight and his Saviors. Dwight shoots Daryl, but all the viewer sees is blood splatter on the camera as it fades to black, and Dwight says, “You’ll be alright.” (100% cheapening an already lazy trope).

It sucks and is evocative of last fall’s #IsGlennDead debacle. Why the show keeps cycling these tired conventions is baffling. Does it think it’s a hot feature, like yoga pants? Like addicts, can they not stay away from lazy subterfuge? Is the stubborn refusal to bend to critical analysis a sign of tonal control or “fuck you” money?

Who knows? At this point, we need Negan to shake things this repetition up.

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) – Review

Batman v Superman: Dawn of JusticeBatman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has all the problems we feared it would. This is Iron Man 2 on steroids. It’s a stepping stone, a get-rich-quick scheme by by a desperate studio Warner Bros. to ape the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Zack Snyder makes a macho-as-hell film that turns the titular characters into solipsistic Ubermensch. Meanwhile, the immense pressure to redeem Man of Steel, introduce Batman and the entire D.C. universe while actually telling a story proves too much for this single film to bear.


Opening with a retellings of the murder of Bruce’s parents (cameos by Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Lauren Cohan) and Man of Steels climax from Bruce Wayne’s (Ben Affleck) perspective, it quickly establishes itself as a movie with a lot on its plate and little in the way of momentum. Two years after the last film, Superman (Henry Cavill) has become the world’s savior but remains controversial and even hated in some circles. The film’s events drive Batman to see him as a global threat and confront him while Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) manipulates both sides from behind the scenes.

A lot of stuff happens in between, none of it clear or linear. And none of this mentions the sprawling supporting cast featuring returnees Amy Adams, Diane Lane and Laurence Fishburne, newcomers like Jeremy Irons and Gal Gadot as the very first big screen Wonder Woman and the cameos by three future Justice Leaguers – The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). And that’s even not including Doomsday, the Superman villain-turned-Orc ripoff. This movie is huge.

The film’s weaknesses intertwine corporate interests with aggressive Snyder-ism. This isn’t a movie but a morass. The first act’s editing is objectively terrible, a mess of scenes with little sense of flow between them. It feels pieced-together, a patchwork and hodgepodge of scenarios and ideas, some interesting some not but none given time to breath in between nonsense plot threads. No one is introduced in ways that properly set up their characters because of this. It feels very rearranged.

The film gets a shot-in-the-arm in the second act when it introduces Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince, otherwise known as Wonder Woman. Hey playfulness is sorely missed when she is not on-screen; the middle part of the film where she and Bruce attempt to steal from Luthor could have been a fun Thomas Crown Affair-like caper. Instead, the film barely notices before moving on.

The film is as dark as has been said. In Snyder’s conception, these “heroes” are ultimately fascistic figures who impose their will on the world instead of representations of ideals. The film mocks the idea of “justice” and gives almost no quarter to idealism. This is a blockbuster superhero movie with human trafficking, mass murder and torture. Were any of these things necessary to make the film “realistic?”

Snyder (and the film) argues that the D.C. superheroes are akin to the Greek gods, the cultural idols of our time. However, he also makes them as petulant, vengeful and angry as the Greek pantheon was. They were power-hungry and acted without quarter; that is exactly how the film portrays Batman and Superman.

Each character’s struggle, ostensibly the heart of the film and what drives them to fight, is opaque and dour. Occasionally, I would relate to Bruce’s feeling of helplessness or Clark’s damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation. But these windows are brief.

We are told Superman is adored for the good he’s done. But we see little of either. Happiness is nonexistent in this D.C. universe and, per the actual definition of superheroes, they don’t exist in it either yet. In fact, the movie goes out of its way to tell us that Superman, as we know him, is 1930s bullshit and we’d better get used to this “real” Superman.

Batman displays uncharacteristic recklessness with the lives of others. While previous big-screen Batmen were hardly saints, it’s rarely been this blatant about his lack of concern for loss of life. And it stands even more starkly after three fucking years of people bitching about Superman killing Zod. You think they would have learned.

Maybe the saddest part is that there are rich ideas at play but the filmmakers are constrained by so many factors that they drown out whatever insights the film could’ve offered. And by God does the Fridge Logic of this movie suck. Nothing makes sense in hindsight. It barely passes muster in the theater.

Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is failed by either the script or the actor, both of which never convince the audience that Luthor is anything other than a twitchy, obviously-evil psychopath. There could have been a contrast to Bruce’s own dual identities. You can see parts where the tone of the scene changes based on Luthor’s persona cracking and his darkness shows through. But he is never particularly charismatic or persuasive. In fact, the opposite. Even when supposedly “sweet-talking” a senator (Holly Hunter), he always comes off as mustache-twirling villain.

What is the audience supposed to walk away with from this film? There’s very little sense of completion; the only character who comes close in Affleck, who takes Batman from a raging Superman hater to honoring him by founding the Justice League. It’s the only arc that remotely works. Gadot isn’t given enough to do and Cavill remains a subpar Clark Kent / Superman. I wish I could say he’s grown with the character, but he’s mopey and aimless in this film.

This problem is encapsulated by an early scene set in Africa. Lois Lane is there on assignment because it makes her look “tough” as a character. But we all know it’s a set-up for something Superman-related. However, once this is revealed, a bunch of goons kill everyone. Superman doesn’t show up till the end and even then, he’s focused solely on saving his girlfriend. This Superman is not optimistic. This Superman was not raised to believe in the best of humanity but the worst. But, at the same time, the film wants Superman to be Superman, saving people and doing selfless deeds. It’s in-congruent and Cavill and the script can never sell the dilemma or even spell out the dilemma with clear stakes.

Batman has a dream/vision without explanation (dubbed the “Knightmare”) in the midst of the film depicting Earth as the domain of Darkseid with Superman as the leader of  Nazi-looking stormtroopers and Batman as a desert revolutionary. It’s a blatant copy of the worst part of Marvel movies (i.e. whenever Thanos has popped up the last four years) to tease events several years and films away. It’s meant to double as an illustration of Batman’s stakes and Lois’ role as Superman’s tether to humanity but like the rest of the film it’s muddled and quickly forgotten in the cacophony. It’s as bad as Thor’s infamous cave scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Now what is the film telling us by showing us the Africa scene and dictator Superman? We already know Superman can’t save everyone; every conversation about Man of Steel over the past three years has concerned the destruction of Metropolis. This point needs no reiteration yet the film opens with the same question, repeated. And then, it doesn’t even illustrate an improved Superman. He doesn’t, for example, stop the murders before they happen. He only shows up too late. The film undermines the very idea of heroes so, by the end, when they have to do heroic things and Bruce delivers a closing monologue, it feels false and cheap.

What is a superhero, in its most basic form? If you ask most people, the answer will probably involve “powers” and a drive to do good with them. Really, those are the two most defining characteristics of traditional superheroes. Wish-fulfillment is elemental to all these characters. They are who we wish we could be, what we wish we could do. But when the “heroes” are devoid of joy, self-pitying and vicious because it’s “realistic?” They are no longer the characters that have captivated for decades. That’s the biggest failure of the film.

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