Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Travesty of Justice (to a Promising Premise)

Batman v Superman is a movie that has director Zack Snyder trying hard to marry two worlds – a world that is inhabited with DC Comics characters and another world, enamored with Marvel Comics characters, that has already been shown how an extended Cinematic Universe should look, and indeed looks, like. So you have Warner Bros. and Zack Snyder teaming up to cobble together a DC Comics alternative universe and to pit one superhero against another just in time, before Paramount and Marvel steal their thunder with their own interpretation of a similar scenario – only they are trying a little too hard.

That is the problem plaguing the movie for the better part of its run-time – trying hard to quickly establish things or rather, to make you believe things, without having much to show for it. For example, you must believe Batman is fed up with Superman’s God-like reverence from the masses, because Zack Snyder shows a single scene of Batman getting miffed at the newspaper headlines. You must tell yourself the world is on the brink of yet another catastrophe because the characters are saying something on those lines, looking into, perhaps, a crystal ball that is never shown. You must convince yourself that Batman and Superman are in a conflict of war-like proportions – and, since they never showed a real buildup – simply because the movie title says so. You are asked to take huge leaps of faith and logic, because Zack Snyder wants you to never be sure about what really is happening up until the big reveal, which, after it arrives, is deliberately drowned in noise and chaos so Snyder can stretch the aura of mystification half an hour longer. On the way, you never know the reason behind why Superman would suddenly turn up in the middle of Batman’s daily business and let him know he let him off out of mercy. You never know how Lois Lane knows that the spear that she threw away held the key to annihilating the newest monster in Metropolis.

Add to that the mix and match of the different universes that Zack Snyder is attempting. Despite having made it amply clear ahead of the movie’s release that his universe was different to that of Nolan’s, he still imbues his universe with a forced darkness that evokes the ambience of Nolan’s, while also borrowing for his Batman, traits, most notably, the dead-pan, from the pre-Christian Bale incarnations. The problem with this forced grimness is that it draws itself to unnecessary comparisons with Nolan’s creation – and fails miserably at it because the bar has been set so high by both Nolan and Bale – while simultaneously flying in the face of the slightly upbeat mood of the same universe portrayed in Man of Steel. And if the intention was to show a Superman in deep conflict, a sign of the times he is living in, then it is back to the initial problem – you must believe without being made to spontaneously believe, that Superman is in turmoil.

The movie is hobbled by poor direction and banal dialogue, if not by tunnel vision and hammy or wooden acting. Visual effects are run-of-the-mill, and Ben Affleck is just OK as Batman – he is no Bale after all. Jesse Eisenberg goes over-the-top and strangely strikes you as a white version of Shah Rukh Khan in virtually every movie of his (ever). Amy Adams, Henry Cavill, and Gal Gadot, in that order, try to hold on to dear life in a floundering ship. Jeremy Irons’ cocky, wise-crack Englishman Alfred is an apology of a replacement for Michael Caine’s fatherly, sympathetic portrayal. But not all is hopeless though, since the best moments are reserved for the last half-hour, that is, after Wonder Woman appears and joins forces with the other two, when the movie begins to become bearable. From there on, it is uphill for the movie – reaching its zenith in the very last shot – but by then you wonder if it was an uptick two hours too late.

6/10

The Revenant: Gory, Tragic, Ultimately Daunting

If you have been waiting for months to watch ‘The Revenant’, be forewarned it is not one for the faint-hearted. That this could be the case is alluded to five minutes into the runtime, when you have barely settled in for, perhaps, a popcorn-munching, cola-guzzling, sweet-faced Leo-watching binge that you are yanked out of your cosiness by a violent attack scene, thereby preparing you for a possible further assault of bloodiness, and thrusting you into a sustained state of alertness and stoicism. You will need a lot of those – either those or a deep slumber – for there is no let-up in the gore and violence following that. Whether it be the bear-mauling or arrows piercing foreheads & torsos and jutting out from the other side or axes slashing off appendages or mauled & mangled flesh or even Nature doing its thing, director Iñárritu’s goriness is remarkably realistic in detail and in-the-face – as opposed to the sanguine tongue-in-cheekiness of, say, Tarantino.

What emerges, slowly, is the surprising evolution of Tom Hardy’s acting – when you had had dismissed him as simply an improved version of Vin Diesel. With the evil on his face and in his voice – and as opposed to the over-the-top portrayal of evil in TDKR – so palpable you would actually hate him. Then there is Lubezki’s camera work- conjuring up angles and heights, sneaking into corners you would not expect, contributing to so much of the in-the-face visceral nature of the visual that sometimes the only respite you could get is by looking away. But then you would also miss his wizardry.

That brings us to Leonardo’s performance. It is hard to calibrate Leonardo’s acquittal – seasoned that he is – against the backdrop of the overwhelming circumstances depicted in the movie. Leonardo has pulled off quite a list of challenging roles in the past, where it was hard to discern Leo the man from the character he played – but here, where he speaks all of ten lines distributed equally over the first 10 minutes and the last 20 minutes, you are left to wonder whether he would be far ahead of the pack were his peers also to portray the daunting hardships that Hugh Glass must go through. In other words, it is a cakewalk for him, or maybe, the effortlessness is to blame. Which is to say, if he wins an Oscar this time, it was because he has been long owed one.

Meanwhile, director Iñárritu, in going for the jugular, does pull off the gore and treachery of circumstances in glorious detail but then he cannot stop any intended themes of relationships – between man & nature, civilisation & savagery, man & family – from submerging in that very sea of blood and breathtaking scenery. One theme in particular – visions and whispers of his dead wife – falls short in eliciting any sense of connect. Then you could fault him for the runtime, and since he is also partly credited with the screenplay, for also the story, because it feels incredulous that a character should be faced with insurmountable clichéd tragedy after tragedy, and also come up trumps in the end. In short, Iñárritu did better on ‘Birdman’.

Ultimately, however, ‘The Revenant’ descends into revenge saga territory, and by the time Glass has finally laid hands on Fitz (Hardy)- and you knew he would half an hour into the movie- you are left wishing you were over with it already, for only after you have freed yourself from the overpowering grip of it all, can you sit down to objectively separate the performances of the crew from the grandeur of the gore.