Sunday, April 29, 2018

Sunday Best: Top 25 Marvel Movie Moments

With Avengers: Infinity War, it is time to reflect on the best moments from this unprecedented film franchise.

My wife and I sat down over the last few weeks and watched every MCU film leading up to Infinity War.  What hit me was how many moments I kept waiting for because I remembered them so well and I looked forward to seeing them again.

And with dozens of hours of footage, there were so many moments to go through and rank.  So feel free to discuss and dispute my order.

So here are the best 25 MCU moments.  (These do not include any scenes from Infinity War)


Click links to see scenes at

25.  First Flight - Iron Man

There are so many things that this movie had to get right.  But one of the best moments was the feeling of fun and exhilaration at Tony flying in his suit for the first time.  When he reboots the system while falling and shouts with delight, it is a joyously fun moment.

24.  Hulkbuster - Avengers: Age of Ultron

After the Hulk was established as an awesome wrecking machine, watching Tony match him in size and strength was one of the best parts of this movie.  It was great to see the sheer ferocity of the Hulk nearly derail all of Tony's technological advantages so that the result was uncertain.

23.  First Shrink - Ant-Man

The rest of the movie did not live up to the full potential that this scene gave us.  In this moment our every day world looked new, alien, and terrifying.  If the rest of the movie had been like this, it would have been a classic.

22. Hammer and Shield - Avengers

Captain America and Thor are known for their iconic weapons.  And to see them clash like that was like watching the irresistible force meet the immovable object and it brought the entire fight to a powerful conclusion.

21.  Emergence from Tube - Captain America: The First Avenger

Comic book superheroes in general have idealized physical features.  But to watch that transformation from skinny scrapper to super soldier is thrilling.  And knowing that the physique is real makes you believe Cap's epic strength.

20.  "I'm Always Angry" - Avengers

This line gave an insight into Banner that I never considered but gave illumination to Mark Ruffalo's entire performance.

19.  "We Are Groot."  - Guardians of the Galaxy

By using the line "I am Groot" as a joke the entire movie, James Gunn was able to take those three words, "We are Groot" and fill them with emotion and meaning.

18.  First Astral Projection - Doctor Strange

This scene is what set this movie apart from all the other MCU movies and gave Doctor Strange its unique flavor.

17.  Meet the Parents - Spider-Man: Homecoming

I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed, but it takes a lot to surprise me in a superhero film.  Because I'm so familiar with the genre, I can usually see the twists a mile away.  But I did a double-take when Peter went to pick up his homecoming date.  It was a clever twist on a classic Spider-Man story with Doc Ock and Aunt May.  The scene is tense and filled with subtext as we can see the wheels turning in the Vulture's mind.

16.  "I've Come to Bargain." - Doctor Strange

He wins by losing.  How brilliant and Christological.  And it was so incredibly clever with its use of time travel.

15.  Airport Fight - Captain America: Civil War

I tried to explain to a friend of mine that when I was growing up, the most fun part of playing with my action figures wasn't having the heroes fight the villains but having them fight each other.  And watching this scene transported me and I felt like I was watching my table-top toy battles on the big screen.

14.  Hulk Hits Thor - Avengers

It is such a small moment but it adds such a humorous punctuation to an epic fight moment.

13.  Return from Raid - Captain America: The First Avenger

Marvel doesn't have many iconic scores.  But the score from this movie jumps out at you when Cap first emerges and here.  But when you first see Cap emerge, you are filled with a sense of potential.  Here, you see that promise fulfilled.  Cap leads the men like Moses from Egypt.  And I love that his first words are to seek medical attention for the soldiers.  His second words are to surrender himself for defying orders.  It reveals not only his heroism but his clear moral compass.  Fantastic moment.

12.  Rooftop Chase - The Incredible Hulk

When I think of this movie, the first thing I think about are not scenes with the Hulk but Banner running from danger.  That is what impressed me the most about this film is that it was able to make the Banner moments so exciting.

11.  Cave Escape - Iron Man

This is a scene that perfectly captures the original Stan Lee comic book vision of this rich man who is now a prisoner and has to fight back with this mind.  And it was so satisfying to watch him take out his captors.  And for me, the moment he said "Thank you for saving me," to Yinsen is the turning point of Tony's life.

10.  "Only One God."  - Avengers

As a writer, I will always respect atheist Joss Whedon for this line.  It showed that he understood this character and his world view and let him show it.  This is one of the great strengths of the movie where each character has an equally strong voice.

9.  Coulson Dies - Avengers

Nearly everyone gasped in the theater when this happened.  That was the moment that we realized how much we had come to love Phil Coulson.  It was such a shocking moment that galvanizes not only the narrative, but the entire audience.

8.  Into the Ice - Captain America: The First Avenger

This scene always gets me and it embodies the heroism of Captain America.  He is so sad but he doesn't hesitate to do what is write and take himself out of the equation.  And even as he is going in, there is the unfailing optimism as he talks about his first dance that he will never get.

7.  Mission Report - Captain America: Civil War

Again, I did not see this coming.  This movie did such a good job of misdirection so that the full emotional impact of this moment hits you like a ton of bricks and you realize the absolute peril our heroes are in and the moral trap that has been sprung upon them.  Watching Tony lose all of his cool and become the emotionally scarred orphan again was heartbreaking.

6.  Hammer Contest - Avengers: Age of Ultron

This is a small, fun moment that was my favorite from this movie.  But best of all is the moment when Cap moves the hammer and Thor looks terrified. 

5.  Dance Off - Guardians of the Galaxy

This moment is completely absurd and yet fits completely into the logic of the film.  It is entirely delightful and funny no matter how many times I've seen it.  Pratt sells the intensity of it with full commitment so that you almost believe that he really thinks he's going to defeat the big bad guy in a dance off.

4.  Nick Fury Appears - Iron Man

This was the moment that opened up the entire MCU.  Some people might not know that in the Ultimate version of the Marvel characters from the comic books from a few years earlier they redesigned all of the classic characters.  And in this version they decided to base Nick Fury off of Samuel L. Jackson.  So when the real Samuel L. Jackson walked out of the shadows at the end of Iron Man, it was like watching the comic book come to life in a way that I've never seen before.

3.  Opening Credits - Guardians of the Galaxy

This was one of my favorite movie-going moments because of what it did for me internally.  I've mentioned before on this blog that I was convinced that this movie was going to be Marvel's first big bomb.  Everything about it looked terrible.  I went in prepared to hate this movie.  And then the moment the credits began with that wonderfully absurd shot I completely understood the tone and vision of James Gunn and I found myself falling in love with the movie despite myself.  That's why these movie moments matter.

2.  Elevator Fight - Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I will watch this scene over and over.  The build-up is wonderfully tense and gets you into Steve's head so that we can see how observant and confident he is.  Outnumbered he gives his enemies a chance to run away.  And the fight is amazingly filmed and choreographed in that small space, punctuated by the shield retreval that emphasize how amazing Cap is.

1.  Avengers Assembled - Avengers

This is the THE Marvel movie moment.  This is the moment when we feel the merging of different franchises into one where the whole truly feels greater than the sum of its parts.  It is the moments we really see the full crew of the Avengers together for the first time and for me it is the moment that the Marvel MCU was truly born.


Saturday, April 28, 2018

Film Review: Avengers - Infinity War

Sexuality/Nudity No Objection
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

Watching this movie on the big screen, I marveled at its sheer audacity of scope.

For a comic book geek like me, stories of universal power and peril are common.  For the cost of a few dozen printed pages of art and words, you can be transported to the furthest reaches of the cosmos and populate your story with dozens and dozens of the biggest heroes in your shared universe.  But the idea of translating that to the big screen seemed impossible, not only in terms of budget, but of balance between characters, plot, theme, pacing, and spectacle.

But Avengers: Infinity War pulls off the impossible.

Trying to sum up the the entire MCU up to this point is a challenge.  If you count all of the Marvel films as part of a series, Infinity War is part 19 of the story.  (To give you an idea of how amazing that is, the James Bond films are up to 24 official films, and they have been making them since 1962).  But in order to give the most basic plot summary, this is a necessity.


-Asgard has been destroyed and the last survivors of the destruction, including Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Loki (Tom Hiddleston) , Heimdall (Idris Elba), and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) escaped on a large space ship only to be accosted by the villainous Thanos (a CGI'd Josh Brolin)

-Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is the sorcerer supreme of Earth and is the guardian of the Time Stone, one of six Infinity Stones that holds cosmic power.

-Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is engaged to be married to Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and he has been mentoring Peter Parker (Tom Holland).

-Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, Falcon (Anthony Mackie), the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), and the Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olson) are have all been fugitives from the US government since the events of Captain America: Civil War.

-Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) is king of the technologically superior nation of Wakanda

-The Guardians of the Galaxy, which includes Thanos' adoptive daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana), travels around space getting in to cosmic adventures.

-Vision (Paul Bettany), the synthetic hybrid of Tony Starks AI Jarvis and Ultron, is fused to another Infinity Stone: the Mind Stone.


Infinity War centers around Thanos and his Infinity Gauntlet, a metallic glove that is specially made to channel the power of all six infinity stones.  If Thanos gets all six stones, he will be effectively omnipotent and be able to fulfill his life-long quest: to kill half of the living beings in the universe with the snap of his fingers.  The Avengers face down Thanos throughout the cosmos and especially on Earth where two Infinity Stones reside.

One the keys to making this movie work is its villain.  Many superhero films suffer because their villain is either uninteresting or not sufficiently threatening.  Not so with Thanos.

The movie does two things very smartly that I was not expecting.  The first is that Thanos and his entire retinue of lieutenants are terrifying in their power.  The opening scene of the original Star Wars makes you feel like Vader and the Empire are an unstoppable juggernaut that will mow down any resistance.  Infinity War firmly establishes the same with Thanos' group in the first few minutes.  Other villains display their raw power in these types of films like Hela, Ego, or Justice League's Steppenwolf.  But the way Infinity War shows you the strength of Thanos' raw malevolence, you feel the shadow of doom looming over the entire movie waiting to cast everything into darkness.  Most super hero films leave little doubt that the heroes will triumph.  That is not the case here.

The second is that they somehow were able to extract pathos from Thanos.  This is extraordinary because he is a genocidal CGI villain.  How do you make genocide even remotely relatable?  And yet, there is a logic to his method that is understandable.  And after the above-mentioned Steppenwolf, I was worried about another flat, cartoonish animated adversary.  But I never really felt off-put by the graphics on Thanos.  You can tell that they were incredibly careful with him (though not so much with his lieutenants).

Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have created a script reminds me of two other classic movies: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and The Empire Strikes Back.  Let me be clear, those two are better movies than Infinity War (which I will explain momentarily), but the DNA of both is in this film in a few ways.  Like The Return of the King, Infinity War juggles multiple story tracks for our heroes in vastly different times and situations.  In that film you had to juggle the ring to Mount Doom, the Paths of the Dead, the Steward and his son, the defense of Minas Tirith, Eowyn and Merry secretly joining the fight, Arwen's fall, and others.  It is a very fractured plot that has to be balanced properly.  Infinity War has several disparate story groups that occasionally converge and then re-diverge.  And the groupings are often ones that you would not expect.  But you get so caught up in a particular story arch that it is almost a surprise when you return to another story thread.

I have already heard a number of people comparing this film to The Empire Strikes Back.  Very often when this comparison is made it means compared the previous film, the current movie is better, darker, and more complex.  And this is true of Infinity War (at least compared to Avengers: Age of Ultron).  The tone is definitely one of a seemingly hopeless fight against despair and death.  And the complexity of keeping all of those plot and character elements moving in an entertaining way is a real feat.

The script also caries with it Marvel's signature Whedonesque wit.  There are some who feel that this makes the stakes seem trivial.  I understand their point, but disagree.  Putting humor in relief against fear and sadness can be an effective dramatic tool.  But the reason why the Infinity War script does not rise to the same level as Return of the King or Empire Strikes Back is because the story does not go deep enough.  The other two movies pushed for some amazingly strong character development.  In this movie their are two many heroes to have a complete heroic arc.  Ironically, Thanos probably has the most well-developed emotional arc of the entire film.  Instead, Infinity War trades character depth for chemistry.  Part of the joy of this film is watching characters we love interacting in new and exciting ways.  And while this is enjoyable, it just misses the mark in making it best of the Marvel movies.

But even in that misstep, it is still one of the best top Marvel movies I have seen.

The movie is thematically about the war between two opposing ideals: Life and Death.  One of the things I saw in Thanos was the embodiment of what Pope John Paul II called the Culture of Death.  He is willing to kill any number of innocents in the name of practical prosperity.  And our heroes, by contrast are willing to lay down their own lives and defend the lives of all the innocent.  The hero's motto in the movie is "We don't trade lives."  I thought this was a beautiful summary of the value of all life.  And this view is challenged in our heroes and they may not pass the test. 

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo take a cue from Zack Snyder's Man of Steel, and give the movie a hand-held gritty feel which makes the CGI spectacle feel a bit more grounded.  And they use this style to effectively make you feel the chaotic world that our heroes find themselves in.  You almost feel at times like you are watching disaster footage and it has that same emotional effect.  All the while, they dazzle you with fantastic visuals.  They are also able to get great performances out of everyone.

Downey Jr. never ceases to amaze me as Stark.  You can feel his practiced coolness crack when his worst fears, the fears that drove him to make Ultron, come to life.  Hemsworth more drama to Thor than I have seen in a good while.  Cumberbatch was actually even more enjoyable in this film than he was in his own solo film.  And you completley become heart-breakingly invested in the romances between Vision/Scarlett Witch and Star Lord (Chris Pratt)/Gamora, in no small part due to their performances.  Pratt particularly makes Star Lord both infuriating and endearing at the same time.  And I was surprised at how much of the emotional weight of the film had to rest on Saldana's performance.  Her conflicted feelings for her evil adoptive father are contradictory and honest.  And the same is reflected in Brolin's surprisingly sympathetic performance.

I have more to say, but cannot for fear of giving anything away.  But when the credits began, everyone in the theater with me understood that they had never seen a Marvel movie like this.

Avengers Infinity War will leave you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end and leave you with the desperate desire to see what happens next.

image by Yasir72.multan

Friday, April 27, 2018

Film Flash: Avengers - Infinity War

Avengers Infinity War poster.jpg

15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)

Most ambitious, epic superhero film. Return of the King scope, Empire Strikes Back tone.

image by Yasir72.multan

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sunday Best: Summer Box Office Predictions 2018

With the opening of Avengers Infinity War later this week, we are officially in the Summer Movie Season.

Over at Screen Junkies, they have an annual tradition of making predictions of what the top ten highest grossing films of the Summer will be.  I find this a fascinating challenge and I am usually wrong.  In 2016, I got 6 out of 10 right.  Last year, I improved to 8 out of 10.  I'm hoping for an even better score this year.  But I could have just gotten lucky with a few choices last year.

The toughest ones for me to predict are the sleeper hits, but I guess that goes without saying.  I am always curious what film will break through the noise and have legs.  Some will open big and flame out.  But I can't always be sure who.

In 2015, we had a PIXAR movie, a Jurassic movie, an Avengers movie, and a Star Wars movie (though this last one was in the winter).  And now we have the same matchup this summer.

So with little hope of being correct, here are my predictions for the top grossers:

1.  Avengers: Infinity War

Even though Age of Ultron did not win the summer box office, I think build up to this one is unprecedented and they are spring-boarding for the biggest hit of the year so far: Black Panther

2.  Solo: A Star Wars Story
Solo A Star Wars Story poster.jpg

The last three Star Wars movies released in theaters were the highest grossing films of their year.  But between the blowback on the last two and the rumors about this one, I think this will get a healthy silver medal.

3.  The Incredibles 2

Finding Dory was a PIXAR sequel that ruled the summer box office a few years ago.  I think that The Incredibles has the same level of appeal.

4.  Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom.png

There hadn't been a Jurassic movie for decades until the first Jurassic World.  So I don't think this one will have the same draw, but it will be significant because of the brand name and Chris Pratt.

5.  Deadpool 2
Deadpool 2 poster.jpg
This, I think, will be the only R-rated film on this list.  The first one engendered a lot of good-will from its fan base and I think this one will perform very well too.

6.  Ant-Man and the Wasp
Ant-Man and the Wasp poster.jpg

I think that Infinity War will be such a big hit that people will be thirsting for any window into the aftermath in the MCU.  This will raise this movie up in potential box office.

7.  Disney's Christopher Robin
Christopher Robin teaser poster.jpg
Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast were gigantic live-action hits based on animated films.  And there is so much affection for Pooh in the general culture that I think that even adults will be drawn to the heart of this story.

8.  Mission: Impossible - Fallout

MI – Fallout.jpg
The last one in the series was the 5th highest grossing film of the summer it came out.  The competition is a little bit more fierce this year and Cruise may have to pick himself up out of the bomb of last year's The Mummy.

9.  Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation
Hotel Transylvania 3 (2018) Poster.jpg

This will be the all-ages alternative to The Incredibles.  I don't think that many adults will be interested in this like The Incredibles, but parents would be fine bringing their kids here.

10.  Ocean's 8

This movie looks like an actually fun heist movie and exciting enough to draw in a crowd.  So far the marketing campaign hasn't been antagonistic like the reboot of Ghostbusters.  If they maintain that good will, I think this will be a hit.


-Life of the Party
Life of the Party.png

There are no full-out comedies on my Top 10, because comedies haven't been doing very well at the theaters and humor is so subjective.  But this could be a crossover hit.

Tag (2018 film).png

As I noted with the last film, it will come down to whether or not this movie will make people laugh.  I know that sounds obvious, but comedies are sold on good feelings and word of mouth.

Uncle Drew
Uncle Drew film.jpg

This could bring together multiple demographics together if it is marketed smartly.

Skyscraper (2018) film poster.png

The Rock makes hits.  Never underestimate his star power.


Friday, April 20, 2018

Summer Movie Season 2018

We are nearing the end of April, so it's time to look forward to one of my favorite seasons of the year: Summer movie season.

I know as a cinephile I should be more interested in when the "important" movies come out just before the major awards.  But I think the movies of summer are pure cinema and tend to be the ones remembered long after people have forgotten the plot of whatever film won the Oscar for Best Picture (it was The Shape of Water by the way, but I'm sure no one cares).

Here is a list, with a few brief thoughts of my own, including on a scale of 1-5 stars my likelihood of seeing it in theaters (1 being “Not at all” 5 being “Cannot wait!”).


Avengers: Infinity War

I have been re-watching all of the Marvel movies to prepare for this.  I know that some people are fatigued by the sheer magnitude of the MCU, but this feels like the cinematic version of the great classic comic crossovers of my youth.  I already have my tickets.  (*****)

I Feel Pretty
I Feel Pretty.png

I have not found Amy Schumer funny thus far and will avoid this one. (*)


Overboard 2018 remake poster.jpg

If you are going to remake a good movie, you need to make sure that there is a compelling reason.  The gender-swapping here isn't enough (**)

Tully (2018 film).png

I used to be a big fan of Jason Reitman, but something about his work has waned over time.  I'm in no hurry to see this (**)
MAY 11

Life of the Party
Life of the Party.png

It looks like a remake of Back to School, but unlike Overboard, this has some potential.  But I'd need to see more.  (***)
MAY 18

Deadpool 2
Deadpool 2 poster.jpg

The first one had a "go for broke" insanity to it that made it work.  I'm hoping that it keeps up for this one.  (*****)
MAY 25

Solo: A Star Wars Story
Solo A Star Wars Story poster.jpg

My expectations are so incredibly low for this, that I think I may actually enjoy it immensely.  I'm hoping to be pleasantly surprised.  But because it is Star Wars, I will be there opening night.  (*****)

Mary Shelly
I love the novel Frankenstein and I found the story about its creation fascinating.  I also find the lives of Byron and Shelly incredibly interesting (though not very pleasant).  But the trailer makes this look like a sermon rather than a story.  (**)


Ocean's 8

The Ocean movies had a great deal of charm and the trailers so far have me intrigued.  The cast is good and it could be a good deal of fun (****)


The Incredibles 2

I loved the first one and I'm hoping that they continue on with the same magic.  It has an intriguing story that seems to play really well into the family dynamic.  And the visuals are once again stunning.  (*****)

Tag (2018 film).png

There is something about the insane immaturity of the premise that reminds me of me and my closest friends.  This could be good.  (****)

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom.png

The last Jurassic World was popcorn fun.  This one looks about the same but with less depth.  But I got my money's worth of thrills last time so I think I will do so again (****)


Uncle Drew
Uncle Drew film.jpg

Apparently this was a YouTube thing that they've made into a movie.  I'm unaware of any internet phenomenon like this making a successful film, but we'll see (***)

The First Purge
The First Purge poster.png

For some reason, these movies make money.  But they will continue to do so without my dollars (*)


Ant-Man and the Wasp
Ant-Man and the Wasp poster.jpg

The first one was one of the most mediocre of the MCU offerings.  But it might make for nice light fare after the trauma of Infinity War.  (****)


Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation
Hotel Transylvania 3 (2018) Poster.jpg

I didn't see the last one, so I have no intention of seeing this one unless I take my nieces and nephew (*)
Skyscraper (2018) film poster.png

The Rock is trying to make his own Die Hard, but that is a tough sell for me.  Also the physics of the poster doesn't work.  He won't make it (**)


The Equalizer 2
The Equalizer 2 poster.jpg
I thought the first one was very good, but I've never had the desire to see it again.  This one looks good as well, but I don't have a sense of urgency to see this in the theaters (***)

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.png

I hated the first one.  But it was one of my mom's favorite movies.  So I will be there opening night for her.  (*****)

Mission: Impossible - Fallout

MI – Fallout.jpg
I don't care if I am the one to say it: Ethan Hunt is the American James Bond.  And his movies are now better than Bond movies.  I look forward to these all the time and the knowledge that Cruise does his own stunts makes the spectacle all the more fun to watch.  (*****)


Disney's Christopher Robin
Christopher Robin teaser poster.jpg
The teaser made my wife cry and I admit to getting a bit emotional.  I want to see more of the story, but this could be magical.  (****)

The Spy Who Dumped Me
The Spy Who Dumped Me.png
This looks like a middling comedy, but on a slow week, it could be a couple hours of fun (***)


The Meg
The Meg teaser poster.jpg

This is like my worst nightmare come to life.  I wish it didn't look so cheesy. (**)


Alpha (film).jpg

Something about this movie repulses me.  And I don't mean morally or emotionally.  I can't put my finger on it, but the story seems so utterly pointless.  Maybe I'm wrong, but dumping the movie into the end of August is not a good sign of faith from the studio.


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sunday Best: Top 25 Superhero Movies of All Time #2 - Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

The two titular heroes, Batman and Superman, are confronting each other, with the film's logo behind them, and the film's title, credits, release date and billing below.
This was one of those movies that made me question my own perceptions.  My reaction to and judgment of this film are so at odds with the majority of film critics and online geek commentators that I honestly took stock of my thoughts to see if they were askew.

But after two years and repeated viewings, I can confidently say that the critics were wrong and I was right:

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is one of the greatest superhero films ever made.

And yes, it is better than The Dark Knight.  Why?  I shall address this point later.

As I wrote in my original review:

As I sat in the theater as the movie began, I turned to my wife and said, "I've waited my whole life to see this movie."  As a lifelong comic book geek, I have always longed to see the great characters of the DC Universe share the big screen together. 

And this movie did not disappoint.

After the opening credit sequence, Batman v. Superman picks up during the final battle in Man of Steel.  But what director Zach Snyder skillfully does is keep the camera at street level as Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) races through the chaos to his friends at the Metropolis' branch of Wayne Financial.  This scene is tense and harrowing.  Even though I saw it in the previews, the shot of Bruce running straight into the dust clouds still give me that visceral flashback to all the footage from 9/11.  And by keeping the camera at street level, Snyder visually sets up the contrast of perspectives between our main heroes:  Superman (Henry Cavill) is isolated from humanity because he is so far above and Batman is filled with fear and rage by all the damage felt below.


So what is so great about this film?

1.  Best Cinematic Batman.  I know I may get some hate for this, but Ben Affleck's Batman is the best representation of the comic book Batman I have ever seen on the big screen.  This is not a knock against Michael Keaton or Christian Bale.  But Affleck's Batman is a grizzled, war-scared veteran of the war on crime; he is a hulking wall of muscle that seethes with righteous rage, and he projects a sharp intelligence.  The killing part is still very problematic, but otherwise it is like the Batman from the comic books came to life on the screen.

[I would add here why this movie is superior to The Dark Knight.  It ultimately hinges on the portrayal of Batman.  Visually, he is much better in this film.  He is a mountain of mostrous muscle hiding in the shadows.  He is terrifying.  And he is obsessed in a way that is beyond Nolan's Batman.  In the Nolan trilogy, Bruce wanted to ultimately inspire people to be good and then leave the stage.  The Batman in Snyder's movie is one who has never left the stage nor will he ever.  The Batcave is his tomb and his costume is his shroud.  Alfred sees this and laments it with sarcasm.  But the ultimate place of departure is in its move from fear to trust.  Bruce makes the very rational argument that if there is even a 1% chance that Superman is the enemy, then they must kill him.  How can you ever really know if you can trust someone.  And the only way for that to be removed beyond a shadow of a doubt is for them to lay down your life.  The Dark Knight ends with the heroes embracing a lie (though this gets resolved in the sequel).  Batman v. Superman ends with the redemption of Batman's spirit.]

2.  Visual Spectacle.  Man of Steel was very much an atypical Snyder film, with its hard lighting and non-stationary camera work in physical locations rather than green screen.  In Batman v. Superman, the director melts the Man of Steel aesthetic with sometime closer to what we've seen of him in 300 and Watchmen.  Surprisingly both styles blend very well.  I love the fact that Snyder forces his actors to put on real muscle bulk.  Even in the midst of fighting CGI monsters you always have a concrete sense of the heroes' strength.  The action sequences were high-octane, visually rich moments.  Some have complained about the darkness (visual, not tonal) of the movie.  There is some truth to this because much of the film takes place at night, but it is nowhere near as murky as parts of previous superhero fare like Hulk and Superman Returns

3.  Scale.  Batman v. Superman is without a doubt a transitional movie, which is why its subtitle is Dawn of Justice.  It bridges Man of Steel to the Justice League movies.  Many people have pointed this out as a flaw.  I don't see it that way.  I'm reminded of Obi-wan's words to Luke, "You've taken your first step into a larger world."  Perhaps it is my affinity for comic book storytelling that makes this so much palatable to me than to others.  For example, a typical Geoff Johns-written comic story would have an epic story arc that would feature one or two scenes that would plant the seeds for the next epic story arc.  The same is true of Batman v. Superman.  Some may see these scenes as unnecessary diversions.  I see them as intriguing windows into the future.

4.  Religion.  As a Catholic, you have no idea how delighted it makes me to see the most basic exercise of belief in a big summer blockbuster.  Towards the beginning as a man believes he is about to die, he prays to God to have mercy on his soul.  Later when a terrible decision is made, one listener makes the sign of the cross and prays.  Perhaps I am only a spiritually starving man cheering at cinematic breadcrumbs.  But between these and what we saw in Man of Steel, I cannot believe that this positive portrayal of faith is an accident.  Lex Luthor is one of the best movie representations of the modern anti-theist.  Superman stands in here for the concrete example of a Higher Power.  Friedrich Nietzsche said that there could not be any gods because if there were he could not stand to not be a god himself.  Luthor embodies that philosophy perfectly.  He is that mix of Nietzsche and Frankenstein that hates a world made in God's image and wants to remake it in his own.  And whoever wrote the script must have read CS Lewis, because Luthor perfectly summarize the only argument that claims to disprove God: The Problem of Pain.  And while Luthor casts his anti-theism on Superman it is important to note that Superman does not see himself as a Christ figure.  Some have criticized this film's Superman as being too angsty.  But it fits perfectly with the portrayal of a man who is hailed by the masses as a savior when he knows too well his own flaws. 

5.  Emotion.  (MILD SPOILER THIS PARAGRAPH)  It should come as no shock that since Batman and Superman are heroes, their fight comes to a not-all-together-tragic end.  What stops the fight is an emotional revelation that is so basic, so simple, that I can understand why some might feel it to be corny.  But this key emotional tether is so primal that I completely bought into its resolution.  CS Lewis said that friendship arises when two people realize that they see the same truth.  That is what I felt when I watched the end of their fight.  The relationships all around were very potent and added so much nice texture to the story.

6.  Performances.  I already mentioned Affleck, but the rest of the cast is great.  Adams shows the contradictory fear and thrill of a mortal in love with a god.  Cavill's Superman is weighed down with the responsibility of every success and failure of his mission.  Jeremy Irons as Alfred is such a wonderfully touching turn, wrapped in humorous cynicism.  Godot, though she has little screen time, has great screen presence.  There are many who hate Eisenberg's portrayal of Luther and I do understand why.  It is whiney and fidgety and awkward.  Based on the trailers, I was prepared to hate it too.  But I think I understand what he was going for: he is the demasculanized nerd who thinks he knows better.  He is the internet activist "anti-bully" bully.  Like so many who were bullied by the stronger, Lex hates the strong because they are strong.  My observation of social media outrage was very much in keeping with Eisenberg's performance.   How often do we see people online attack with insane bile rather than offer something positive? 

7.  Darkness to light.  (MILD SPOILERS THIS PARAGRAPH)  There are many who have said that the film is too dark.  I read an excellent review, with which I disagree, that compared the optimism of Aunt May's hero speech in Spider-Man 2 with the cynicism of Batman v. Superman.  It is true that this movie is full of angst, self-doubt, and cynicism.  Batman's mindset in much of the movie is that we have to kill Superman before he threatens all of humanity.  Superman's mindset is that he doesn't know if he can keep helping if his actions can potentially hurt others and the world turns on him.  But that is not where the movie ends.  I cannot go into much detail here for fear of spoilers.  Yet I can say that the whole point of the cynicism is to create a dramatic conflict that leads to trust.  That trust is hard-won, but because of that it feels earned and not forced.  This movie is very dark, but opens to the light.  That is why it is called Dawn of Justice.

And as I wrote in a later post upon the release of the ultimate edition:

1.  Becoming

I think the thing that most people misunderstood about this movie was this: Batman and Superman are not the heroes we know and love yet.  This can be very confusing especially since Superman had his origin movie in Man of Steel and we witnessed the unconnected but influential Dark Knight Trilogy by Christopher Nolan.  But in this movie Batman kills.  Superman is filled with angst.  These are things that we usually do not find in these icons.  But when the film begins they are not yet icons. They are in the processes of becoming the heroes we know.  This goes against what we've seen in most superhero team ups.  The Avengers is a great film and there is some level of character development.  But the main heroes are already who they are by the time they get together.  But Batman and Superman are not who they should be when the movie begins.  It will be the influence of each other that will teach Superman to be resolute in his convictions and Batman to see hope in a hopeless world.

I give Zack Snyder a lot of credit for taking this journey, because it is much riskier.  I remember watching the first season of Arrow and being disgusted that they had Oliver Queen kill people.  This was antithetical to the character.  But it wasn't until about the middle of the second season that I understood that they were showing how Oliver moves from darkness to the light.  And that is what they are doing with Batman and Superman.

2.  Understanding Luthor. 

The biggest holdback for me was the portrayal of Lex Luthor.  In the comics, Lex is strong, domineering alpha-male.  He is a shark in an Armani suit.  He exudes power with the lightest gesture or touch.

But Eisenberg's Lex is a rage-spewing science geek.  It was difficult to understand and accept it.  But once I did, it felt like a wonderful critique of the modern man.  Clark and Bruce are archetypes of traditional masculinity, both physically and in personality.    Those who don't live up to those standards will either idolize or demonize them for it.  Lex has chosen to demonize.

They are everything he is not.  He is the perfect embodiment of the "anti-bully" bully.  These are the people that experience some kind of abuse from someone stronger and so they feel justified in releasing their venom on anyone they think belongs in that group.  You see it in high school when the nerds hate the popular jocks and the perfect cheerleaders for no other reason than they are not like them.  You see it online when the Twitter Inquisition tears down someone who breaks with popular ideology.  These are the people who hate the idea of anyone being happier or better than they are and so must tear them down.

I saw this especially in the scene where Lex taunts Superman with the polaroids of his mother.  There is a triumphant exhilaration at bringing a god to his knees that you can see in his pipsqueak face.  There is a hatred of Superman's heroism, his manliness, and his power because Lex, like so many men today, lacks these qualities. 

It's interesting because this is almost the reason Batman hates him as well.  He tells Superman that he isn't brave: "Men are brave."  In Superman he sees someone who hasn't really acted and risked anything.  From Batman's perspective, he is a man with unearned power.  Batman had to train and work and sacrifice to become who he is.  Superman is someone born into his abilities and because he didn't earn his power, he doesn't respect it an therefore cannot be trusted with it.

But Lex will embrace any abomination for his ends.  And once I embraced this movie's version of Lex Luthor, I appreciated it on another level.  He literally plays God by creating new life in his warped image.  He is Dr. Frankenstein, the new Prometheus.

3.  The Role of God

Perhaps I am reading way too much into this small moment, but the scene of the man praying before his death gets me every time.  He doesn't pray to God to rescue him.  He doesn't ask God where He is?  The man even addresses God by the title, "Creator of Heaven and Earth," a very creedal title.  And his one prayer is for mercy on his soul.  This means a lot to me because as someone who is steeped in the pop culture, particularly that of superheroes, this display of Christian spirituality is so very rare.  Yes, there are some references here and there spread throughout comic book movies, but this felt very real to me.  I could see myself praying these words in moments of calamity.

But I like that Snyder uses Superman more as an analogy for religion rather than the direct comparison, which would have way too much baggage.  That isn't to say that he avoids the existential implications of this.  He does not go so far as he did in Watchmen when the arrival of Dr. Manhattan causes someone to say "God is real and he's an American."  But he does show a world that is in upheaval at the revelation of Superman.  Notice how movies like Thor don't deal with the real world implications of a "god" living among the humans and what that would mean for some in our society. 

But mainly, what I found so striking was the religious imagery was so strong in pointing out good and evil.  Lex's wild atheism is clearly evil.  And Superman's sacrificial love is purely good.  I love the Pieta shot towards the end.  Not only does this occur after laying down his life, but you can see crosses in the background.  He becomes even more of a Christ figure than in Man of Steel.  His death not only saves everyone from the unkillable Doomsday, it redeems Batman and brings Wonder Woman to the fight. 

The reason this is so refreshing is that I usually have my defenses up when God is brought up in the pop culture.  Usually he referenced in order to sucker punch the faith.  But here, the view that is on the side of traditional religious sentiment is on the side of goodness.

4.  Visual Beauty

I have Zack Snyder ranked as the 19th greatest director of all time.  I may have to move him up a few notches.  His flayer for kinetic, dynamic visual storytelling has been known for a long time.  But I was struck by how well he was able to tell the story and get the emotions with the visuals.  This was the first time I noticed the visual symmetry of the first shot of the film with the last.  And movie is filled with great visual parallelism between Bruce, Clark, and Lex.

I read some complaints about the retelling of the origin story of Batman.  But this scene was actually incredibly short and important: it set the emotional reality for Bruce Wayne.  His world is literally turned upside down and he falls into a pit from which the only escape is the bat.  And I have never seen the death of Martha and Thomas Wayne done with such tragically poetic cinematography.

I found I could not take my eyes off of this movie.  Everything in it was fascinating to watch. 

5.  My Favorite Alfred

Jeremy Irons' Alfred Pennyworth gets very little screen time.  But he is now my favorite movie Alfred.  Michael Caine was fantastic as the paternal stalwart companion.  But Irons' Alfred is filled with sarcastic bite that constantly pulls at Bruce to get out of his death spiral but you never question that Alfred will follow him into the jaws of death.

6. Primal Emotions

This movie is about primal things.  I think if we an understand that it will unlock a lot of the character keys.  Notice the shot of Bruce holding the orphan child as he looks at Superman.  Bruce became an orphan and was powerless to save his parents.  But when he holds that child, orphaned like him, you can see him project that rage onto Superman.  The murder of his parents created the primal rage and fear and understanding that makes his hatred of Superman make so much emotional sense.

Lex is the child of abuse.  He will always be the boy who was hurt by his father, the original bully.  That pain broke him and he projected his rage onto Superman too.

Clark's love is also primal.  Lex knows that the first love of his life is his mother.  Superman is reduced to a helpless child when his mother is in danger because of that primal love.

And this is where the key turning point rings hollow for many people but not for me.  Many believed the use of the name "Martha" was a cheesy cop out.  I disagree.  Remember, Bruce became Batman because of his failure to save Martha and Thomas.  The mention of saving Martha would obviously give him pause.  But when he learns that Martha is the name of Clark's mother, he is able to make an emotional connection he had not even considered.  Remember, he said that Superman wasn't brave because "Men are brave."  That means that he does not see Superman as a man.  He is an alien threat like the invaders from Independence Day.  But the moment he realizes that in his last moments, all Superman wants to do is save his mother Martha, Batman cannot help but see him as a man.  And not just a man: he is a son trying to save his mommy.

That is the primal connection between Batman and Superman and that works perfectly for me.

7.  Great Dialogue

I love the dialogue of this movie.  I found it witty, philosophical, evocative, and provocative.  The characters raise questions that your mind chews on like "Must there be a Superman?"  The conversation between Clark and Bruce when they first meet has such wonderfully delicious subtext and Bruce begins to peel back the facade the angrier he gets.  I love it when he calls Clark "son" in such an emasculating tone. 

I hope that more and more people come around to see the genius of this film and that it will eventually have the esteem it deserves as the second greatest superhero film of all time.

Stay tuned for #1