Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

It’s not good. It’s not good at all.

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‘You’ve got me? Who’s got you?’ – Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) in Richard Donner’s Superman (1978)

Ah, that sense of awe. Remember that bit in the original Superman, when Superman and Lois fly through the night sky? Remember the tagline – ‘you’ll believe a man can fly’? Not much of that magic was in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, which I re-watched last night in the build-up to its sequel, which I watched today. I’m all for a darker, de-mystified approach in films, but there’s dark and there’s drab. Thinking back to when I first watched it at the cinema years back, all I can remember about Man of Steel was that it looked dull, there wasn’t any humour and there was too many, and I mean far too many buildings collapsing amidst interminably long fight sequences. Since then I’ve watched Peter Griffin fight Homer Simpson, a fight which took them on a bus, into a power plant, in a radiation pit, up into the skies, into outer space, over a gorge and under a boulder, and it’s the kind of scrap that shows up the fighting style of Man of Steel for what it is – empty, preposterous, overdone, but without the self-aware hilarity of the Family Guy/Simpsons crossover. Man of Steel is perfectly watchable, even straight-up solid for the most part, but it totally lacked that sense of awe – none of the characters seemed remotely stunned that they were witnessing things that they’d never seen before, astonishing things like a man who could fly, spaceships and whatnot. Lois Lane walked into a derelict space craft like she was mooching around an abandoned warehouse. It was like the filmmakers had forgot what had made this kind of movie so magical. It also lacked any kind of narrative flow – Kal-El/Superman’s life up to the present day was depicted in scattershot fashion which jumped back and forth in time, and I just felt uninvolved. It didn’t help that poor Henry Cavill was given so little to work with as the title character– we never got a real sense of how he was feeling, apart from that bit when he flies for the first time. He looked pretty jazzed during that bit. The colossal destruction that pretty much took up the entirety of the second half was also pretty offensive – all those buildings falling down, the body count presumably in the thousands, and none of those lost lives were even paid any attention, and yet we’re meant to feel bad for Superman when he kills the bad guy at the end. What about all those poor sods in all those buildings? It didn’t put me in a good frame of mind for the sequel, but I’d already booked the ticket. What could I do?

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is not good. At all. It is entirely free of heart (despite various heart-to-heart scenes between characters, living and/or dead), humour, intelligence or imagination. My hackles were raised as soon as I had to sit through another depiction of Bruce Wayne losing his parents in the opening credits. Enough already! You know why Batman Returns is still the best Batman movie? Because it doesn’t make us go through all that shit again! That and it’s just the best, straight up. What follows in this new film is an experience of two halves, the first a plodding series of scenes with no momentum and incoherent logic, the second a relentless run of destruction porn and spectacular but flat action.

So yeah, about that first half – Superman is suddenly the bad guy for reasons confusingly depicted, Batman doesn’t like Superman because he was on street level when all the horrors of the Man of Steel finale took place and thinks Supes is a thoughtless god-like monster who can’t be disciplined. In fact, these flashback bits do work because it lets us in on what the filmmakers should have been concentrating on in the original film’s climax – that all those collapsing buildings had human beings in them and lots of people died during that protracted punch-up. Elsewhere, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Superman are in a relationship and their chemistry is zero-level. Maybe because we’ve not seen their romance develop at all.

Lex Luthor is also in on the film’s increasingly overcrowded action, and Jesse Eisenberg’s jittery, manic-comic/psycho turn is out of place in a film which is otherwise lantern-jawed/seriously stoic. It’s like if Jim Carrey walked in on the set of Bergman’s Cries and Whispers. He’s probably the best thing in the film, mind you, despite a fatal lack of threat – something even the previous film’s two-dimensional antagonist General Zod (Michael Shannon) managed to convey. Batman’s faithful servant Alfred is here, and with Jeremy Irons we have the worst incarnation of the character to date. His character is simply a bored-sounding run of oh-so ironic asides. He has none of the warmth of Michaels Gough or Caine.

Other characters drift in and out – only Laurence Fishburne as Daily Planet editor Perry White gets to enjoy anything close to a good line. Scenes follow dream sequences follow scenes that I think were dream sequences (I didn’t know what the hell was going on), some Kryptonite is thrown into the mix (surprise, surprise) and the whole thing is so patchily put together, so lacking in any kind of coherent continuity that I wondered if this first half was an edit made up of scenes from a whole series of Batman/Superman films that were made but never released. How come there was no sense of Metropolis having to rebuild itself after all the damaged wreaked in the first film? It’s probably because we’re not being asked to give a shit. No time for that, there’s a newly minted Metropolis to destroy! Oh yeah, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot)’s somewhere amongst all of this, though we don’t see her as such until very late in the film. Some other DC characters make little appearances, and unless you really, really give a shit about that sort of thing, these little moments won’t get your motor running. In fact, you may just wonder who these people are.

The second half is just a load of utterly exhausting action, and seriously, none of it is exciting. In fact, it may represent the apex/nadir of explosion-fuelled, fatigue-inducing, city-flattening, bum-numbing chaos outside of a Michael Bay movie. Snyder is seemingly just interested in widespread destruction – he doesn’t seem to care about things like peril, danger, excitement or tension, just in having two or three people beating the shit out of each other, but given our opponents are either near-invincible aliens, armour-plated nutters or rock monsters, there’s no real sense of pain being inflicted, or a flesh, blood and sweat conflict. It’s just punch, punch, punch/kick, kick, kick/get thrown through that building, this building, that building. It’s almost perversely tedious. In another scene, Batman beats the living shit out of some bad guys and I didn’t even know who the fuck they were. They were just anonymous lackeys. They might as well have been cardboard cut-outs in a shoot-out range. The afore-mentioned rock monster is like the equivalent of the bonus boss you get to unlock if you pick up all the secret scrolls/chaos emeralds/mystic turds in a video game. All the while I was watching it I was aware that because Wonder Woman hadn’t shown up to join the battle, it meant the film was far from over. When she does show up, it’s simply the same thing as ‘PLAYER 3 HAS JOINED THE GAME’. Who is this character? Why do I care about the fact that I don’t care? Because this film should have been great, and I’m pissed off. As for Batman, Ben Affleck pulls off all the right solemn expressions, stern physicality and gravelly vocals (aided this time by a vocoder, which makes more sense than Christian Bale seemingly eating broken glass to get the desired effect) but his Caped Crusader is lost in all this mess – introducing him as a co-star instead of giving him his own film to begin with him has done the actor no favours. Affleck hasn’t been given a chance to establish himself in the role, and him being thrust into Superman’s storyline sells this incarnation of the character short. I know we all know who Batman is, and we have an established awareness of the character’s history, but poor Affleck hasn’t been given any time to settle into the role, or make it his own, so his swiftly established anger towards Superman is shoehorned into the Man of Steel universe too quickly. Additionally, the resolution to all of this rivalry is settled very unconvincingly towards the end. All I’ll say is that it’s very convenient that Martha seems to be the go-to name for superheroes’ mothers. Most unforgivably, Batman’s new suit looks stupid. He looks like Fat Iron Man from Avengers: Age of Ultron but not as funny. He also reminds me of Emperor Zurg from Toy Story – their pained grunts are identical. We also get that thing that pisses me off more than anything in superhero films – someone dies, but it’s then teased that they’re not really dead. What’s the point in having any emotional investment in characters that are only going to be resurrected? It’s just manipulative.

There are a few good moments in the film. There must be, because I would have walked out. I just can’t remember what they were. After that final hour of non-stop scrapping, my recent memory banks had melted. I do remember that there was some dialogue near the end about the final boss feeding off energy to make itself stronger. It wouldn’t have had much luck with me – my energy levels were utterly depleted by the end, and they’re pretty much gone now, so I’ll start winding down.

The thing is, the film’s going to be flippin’ huge. The queues in the cinema today were massive. If the word-of-mouth turns out to be bad, then hopefully it’ll steer the series in another direction, but in the meantime I think the mere notion of Batman V Superman is a guaranteed, irresistible draw. Even someone like me, who didn’t think much of Man of Steel, still went to see this. You’ll hear it’s meant to be rubbish, but you’ll still want to see it, just to get your own opinion. I heard it was crap, I still went to see it. To paraphrase The Matrix, no one can be told just how rubbish this film is. You have to see it for yourself. I’ll simply fizzle out by stating that this film is a colossal waste of money. Their money. Your money. Anyone’s money.

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The Real Ghostbusters Episode 32: Ragnarok and Roll (1986)

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Of all the punny titles in this series, ‘Ragnarok and Roll’ is probably the most pun-tastic. Yeah, it was the ghostbusters that got this word into the mainstream, not Marvel and the third Thor film decades later. Speaking of best, this episode is definitely one of the absolute finest ever. Despite the very happy ending, this is one hell of a dark episode, probably the bleakest and most foreboding one of the lot. It’s also very funny in places, further evidence of Straczynski being able to combine chills with chuckles. Essentially, Ragnarok means The End of the World, and unlike earlier episode ‘Knock, Knock’, which restricted its apocalypse to the relatively small New York subway system, here the horrors are worldwide.

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The opening is incredibly ominous, with one of the show’s most eerie themes – we see two figures ascend a scary mountain path during a thunderstorm, one a handsome blonde, the other a (bless ‘im) rather ugly little man. When they reach the summit, there stands tall and forebodingly a ziggurat with a frightening red and black aura. This place don’t look good. Indeed, the blonde says, ‘this is where it begins and this is where it ends’. ‘I hate it when he talks like that!’, the little one bemoans, puncturing the tension with just the right amount of humour. Now it must be said that these two guys have great voices – the blonde – Jeremy – sounds like a mix of Ray and Elvis Presley. The little one – Ditillio – sounds a little like Egon, not to mention a little like the dirty sheets ghost from ‘The Old College Spirit’ – and is a generally melancholic sad sack. These are two of the best one-off characters in the series – they have unusual chemistry, great dialogue and a great look. Jeremy takes the time to look at a photo of a pretty blonde, but it gets blown out of his hands by all that bad weather.

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Ditillio offers Jeremy, a scroll but it is knocked out of his hands. Jeremy does not needs the scroll to remember its words – they are inscribed upon his soul and upon his heart. That must have been pretty painful, Ditillio adds. After all, he had a tattoo once and – woah! Lightning strikes. That tattoo line is bloody funny. I really love Ditillio, a great character. No time for jokes, the spell must commence. I’m not a hardcore Lord of the Rings fan, but those references to Khazad-Dum are deliberate nods to Tolkien. The spell itself is pretty intense, and it culminates with Jeremy being consumed with a flash of red lightning. Time passes, Ditillio emerges from the shock of the blast, but he can tell something’s wrong. Jeremy turns round from the ziggurat to face him and – blimey! – he doesn’t look good. His face is deathly pale, his nose has disappeared, his eyes are filled with a weird wash of blue wave and his eyes are deeply sinister. It’s like he’s wearing a mask. Seriously, Demon Jeremy masks should have been a Halloween fixture after this episode, but it just never happened. This is a scary opening to the episode, and could give the wee little ones nightmares.

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DiTillio pleads with Jeremy that there must be another way. There isn’t, apparently. The world is a cruel place and must be destroyed, according to Jeremy, who produces a flute and plays a very sad piece of music that, no lie, is really quite lovely. The Real Ghostbusters truly had the edge on the musical front. As he plays, part of the nearby rock face collapses and a very spooky demon’s face appears in the already scary sky. It clearly likes Jeremy’s tune, but scowls when the melody stops.

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Turns out Jeremy is holding off the apocalypse until he gets to New York, which is where he will unleash his ’emissaries’, and here we get a really cool close up of his eyes, the insides of which show the cityscape of the Big Apple, after which we cut to the guys in the city (apocalyptic weather, natch) taking on some little bat-like demons of particularly foreboding note who are seemingly immune to the powers of the proton beams, and it doesn’t have anything to do with buying discount proton packs. No, this is not good, and Egon doesn’t like it. If Egon doesn’t like it, it’s really not good. Supernatural energy is skyrocketing, not just in the city, but worldwide, and New York is the centre of all this madness. Meanwhile, Jeremy and DiTillio have just got off their boat travelling from wherever it is they came from. Where was it? It didn’t look very local.

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Back at HQ, Janine has helped put together a map detailing all the recent supernatural events, the only catch being that in working with so many sharp tacks, she’s hurt her fingers. Don’t worry, Peter says, as soon as they get a chance they’ll send her to a vet. See, this episode isn’t all doom and gloom, especially when Janine reveals that Egon had promised he would transplant Peter’s brain into a chicken the next time he made fun of her. No time for jokes though, as the map reveals that the centre of all this disturbance is a house occupied by… Jeremy’s ex-girlfriend Cindy, who already suspects the reasons for all this chaos. It turns out that Jeremy Whittington, for that is his full name, was so besotted with Cindy that he wanted to marry her, but she turned him down, saying she wasn’t ready. As a result Jeremy became somewhat upset, or ‘went nuts, bonkers, wonkies, loopy, loonies, crackers’, as Peter suggests. The others aren’t impressed with Peter’s lack of tact, and Egon suggests Cindy pays no attention to him… ‘we never do’. See how hapless Peter looks during Egon’s put-down.

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We find out from Cindy’s photo album just who lovable DiTillio is – turns out Jeremy saved him from being hit by a car years back and they’ve been companions ever since. Also, Jeremy sent Cindy a letter in the post that predicted all the present-day terrors, and in it there’s a message that apparently ‘only three people in the world’ can decipher. Is there any point asking if Egon is one of the three? Not really, Egon says. He reads the letter, and it turns out that it’s all just a single word.

Ragnarok.

The letter is given a once-over with the PKE meter, and yep, the meter EXPLODES! How many of these things do they get through? What’s more, can you imagine the kind of power that sheet of paper must have been in contact with to produce that kind of effect on the meter? No? Do you want to? Not unless you want nightmares for the rest of your life! It’s no big deal, Peter says – the fact that they haven’t blown up a house in days means this is actually good going for them. Meanwhile, Jeremy decides to proceed with the next stage in ‘The Symphony of Destruction’, and so the lovely, bleak flute melody continues, and when he means symphony of destruction, you better believe he means it. Janine calls the guys and tells them to turn the telly on – all HECK’s breaking loose. Bless the TV censors. She’s not kidding though, the WORLD IS ENDING. Seriously. Volcanoes erupting. Floods. Earthquakes. Cyclones. The biggest tidal wave ever.

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This carnage is presented to us in the form of still, seemingly illustrated images, edited together with the motif of a camera’s shutter opening and closing. It’s all bleakly matter of fact and despite not showing any death, is clearly hinting as such. Mass evacuations are taking place. Forget all previous episodes – ‘Ragnarok and Roll’, admittedly with an on-screen body count of zero, is nevertheless responsible for a death toll in the thousands, probably millions. I came home from school to watch this chaos. No wonder I ended up so warped.

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Anyway, what does Ragnarok mean? Obviously, it’s no shock to us and Egon, but for the others, the imminent prospect of THE END OF THE WORLD takes them by surprise. Egon’s sober reporting of ‘there are a lot of words for it, but it all adds up to the same thing’ is chilling stuff. Maurice LaMarche’s performance as Egon should never be underrated. He gives the serious stuff weight, brings the fear when it’s needed. Cindy realises that it’s all down to Jeremy. Maybe she should have married him. What can be done? It doesn’t look good, Egon laments.

End of Act One.

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We need a little relief after that, so act two begins with a phoney soothsayer exclaiming that the end of the world is nigh, but for a mere five dollars, this prophet can guide the guys on the way to reprieve or something like that. When Peter says that, yes, Armageddon days really are here today, the old man panics and realises that he’ll have to find a new line of work. Note that the cinema in the background during this scene appears to be showing Ghostbusters. Remember, in the Real Ghostbusters universe, the film does exist – see earlier episode ‘Take Two’. Jeremy and DiTillio have set up base at the top of a very tall tower, and similarities to the ending of the original film are starting to seep in. There are even scary dog statues on the edge of the roof. He’s gleefully observing the panic beneath him, while DiTillio makes some ill-advised gesture to the sickness in enjoying all this horror. Jeremy turns to him and questions his loyalty, and when a man with that face starts giving you the third degree, you’d better yield. DiTillio’s climb-down is nevertheless a pretty sarcastic response to a possessed, god-like monster, going through the motions already – ‘no, my master- you alone have my loyalty, my trust, my heart [Jeremy throttles him]…my throat!’

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It’s time for the emissaries Jeremy hinted at earlier to reveal themselves at last, and the build-up is immense. Except that they look just like those bat creatures we saw earlier, so I guess they were here all the time. Hmm. Bit of a let down, that reveal. Still, they’re formidable monsters and just as mean and invincible as they were earlier, and they have no consideration for automobiles, as they bring down destruction on a small portion of Ecto-1, which really upsets Ray. Peter suggests they have a talk about Ray’s priorities later. If there is a later, Winston warns. ‘You know, you’re really no fun anymore’, Peter remarks.

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The protons are still not working though. Are these bat-things even ghosts? One thing’s for sure, they’re jokers – they even take the time to laugh mockingly at their would-be captors. Cindy can’t handle all this mockery, and wasting time on these evil monkeys is pointless when the organ grinder himself is up there on top of that building, and he’s about to perform the final stanza of the Symphony of Destruction. Better hurry up though, because the roads are erupting and the floods are coming in. DiTillio is scared. No worries, Jeremy says – they’ll be safe, in service of the darkness that follows. Hmm, great deal. DiTillio nevertheless thinks this all might be a little much. They are interrupted by the guys and Cindy. Jeremy is proton-blasted, but Cindy pleads with the guys to talk to him, and why should two lovebirds be separated at a time like this? Besides, Peter says, the beams aren’t working. Cindy’s pleas to end all this madness have just as much effect as the beams (Jeremy’s delivery of ‘that’s the way it’s gotta be darlin’ is perfect), so unfortunately the only thing to do is put the proton packs on ‘simultaneous overload’, which will probably end up killing them all, but at least the world will be saved. Short of actually saying ‘crossing the streams’, this ending plays a lot like a conclusion we already know and love. The guys’ imminent death is treated by Peter as a blaze of glory-level great plan. Sentiments are shared between them of how much fun its been working together. It’s great to go out like this, I suppose, like heroes. And then Egon says, to himself.

‘Janine’.

Wow. What a great little moment.

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No time for regrets though, as a gust of wind blows Cindy towards the edge of the building, and Ditillio, saving her, ends up over the side and hanging for dear life. Jeremy tries to help, but his friend wants none of it – so begins a speech about how this ‘small, twisted, ugly’ man never let the world crush his spirits, and that he’s still human, unlike Jeremy, whose selfish, indulgent behaviour has brought about the apocalypse. It’s a little on the nose, this speech, while the show’s most sentimental, guitar-hero theme plays throughout, but hey, it’s a children’s cartoon, and it gets the job done, because Jeremy promises to call off the end of the world and DiTillio accepts his rescue.

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Jeremy as starts to play a very pretty flute melody that counteracts all the horror he’s created., driving the demon and the emissaries bananas (like with me when I listen to Olly Murs), making the latter disappear, but the demon in the sky wants to stick around, so he blasts Jeremy with all his power, stopping the melody from being performed. The guys give the demon a return attack of proton power and he dies a ghoulish death, his face almost becoming a rough sketch of itself before disappearing.

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A weakened Jeremy asks for the others to help him, to give him strength to keep on playing, and so the melody is completed, with all the destruction being literally reversed, resulting in, I’m assuming, the resurrection of all those people who were presumably killed before. As cop-outs go, this is identical to, but not as annoying as, the ending to Superman, where the Man of Steel literally flew around the world in order to reverse time and stop an earthquake. I let The Real Ghostbusters off the hook because I applaud the writers for having the nerve to temporarily go this far in the first place – of course they weren’t going to let so many people die and stay dead. Think of the children! Still, the swift happy ending does feel remarkably sudden, and before we know it, it’s all sunny skies, renewed friendships and hugs. The thing is, will Jeremy and Cindy get back together? As rifts in relationships go, that was pretty hardcore. Can they move on from all of that? We’ll never know.

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