Posts Tagged ‘Zack Snyder’

Director: Zack Snyder

Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot

As a comics reader, I’ve always been more of a Marvel fan. The same is true of the movies… for the most part. There have been exceptions to that rule, of course, notably with DC’s adaptations of Alan Moore classics V for Vendetta and Watchmen. The big-screen escapades of DC’s two most popular characters, Batman and Superman, have also piqued my interest on occasion. Of the two, Batman, being a man who has no superpowers to fall back on, is infinitely more relatable than the Last Son of Krypton.  So, of course, when it comes to a showdown between the two, I would always choose the side of the Caped Crusader. Not to mention the fact that I can count seeing Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman at the age of 7 as the event which changed me from a casual viewer to full-blown fan of movies. From 1978 to the present day, each hero’s cinematic ride has experienced the highest of highs, and (extremely) lowest of lows. 2016’s Batman v. Superman falls into neither category.

After a brief opening credits sequence which features what feels like the millionth depiction of the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne (played by “The Walking Dead” co-stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Lauren Cohan), the action moves to the climactic battle sequence from the end of 2013’s Man of Steel, where Superman (Henry Cavill) winds up causing more destruction in Metropolis than he is able to prevent in battling General Zod (Michael Shannon). Only, this time, we witness the battle from the perspective of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck).

One cannot watch this sequence without automatically thinking of 9/11, and that’s what makes this the most effective part of the movie. It also helps to establish a motive for Bruce Wayne/Batman to see Superman not as a guardian of Earth, but as a threat against it. Bruce, who has been at this superhero gig for a while now, is using a much more harshly defined sense of justice these days, which provides Clark Kent/Superman with reason to voice his opinion on the matter via Daily Planet articles.

Unlike the Superman of the 1980s, who somehow was able to convince the leaders of the world to allow him to rid the Earth of nuclear weapons, this version of Superman has a hard time assuring the U.S. government that he has our best interests at heart. He is even compelled to appear before a Senate committee hearing on the subject. Unfortunately, the hearing is interrupted by a suicide bomb, which kills everyone in attendance, including Senator June Finch (Holly Hunter). Everyone, that is, except for Superman. As it happens, this event, along with the seeds of doubt pitting Batman and Superman on opposing sides, have all been orchestrated by the unhinged head of LexCorp, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg).

Behind the scenes, Luthor has been very busy, collecting a Kryptonite sample, acquiring both Zod’s corpse and his spaceship, and also investigating the existence of metahumans. Bruce Wayne acquires both the Kryptonite and the info on meta-humans, the former to be used as a deterrent against Superman. The latter reveals to him four individuals with extraordinary gifts: the super-speedy Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller), the underwater-dwelling Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the part man, part machine Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher), as well as Amazonian Princess and daughter of Zeus, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). Bruce is already familiar with Diana, having bumped into her at a party at LexCorp. He only needs the one meeting to be able to sense that there is more to her than most men would notice.

Diana is also interested in the meta-human file, though only for a specific photo which she claims belongs to her. Bruce shares the file via e-mail, noting that this grainy black & white image from a century ago is not merely her possession, but is in fact a record of her involvement in the events of World War I. I reserve any further commentary on the matter, as the movie does, for 2017’s Wonder Woman.

The film’s promised fight finally gets underway thanks to Lex’s maneuverings, the final piece of which is the kidnapping of Martha Kent (Diane Lane), which will ensure that Superman fights Batman at Lex’s bidding, lest Martha meet a fiery end. So the two heroes fight, with Batman using Kryptonite as a means to level the playing field. Eventually, Batman gains the upper hand, but is startled by the notion that Superman’s adoptive mother and his own dead mother share the same first name. For most who have seen this movie, this scene is one of the most heavily scrutinized. It’s the jarring transition from beating the hell out of each other to suddenly being best buds which earns that criticism.

So, Batman volunteers to save Martha while Superman goes to confront Luthor. Unable to accept defeat, Luthor unveils his Plan B: the Kryptonian abomination known as Doomsday. It takes the combined efforts of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman to provide adequate defense against the monster, but only Kryptonite can kill it, and the only fragment left was used by Batman to form a spear. It falls to Superman to find and use the spear, but because of his own weakness to the shiny green rock it leaves him just as vulnerable, and thus Superman and Doomsday simultaneously kill one another.

An epilogue, which is mainly a teaser for the forthcoming Justice League movie, shows Batman confronting a deranged Luthor in prison, who warns of the imminent arrival of supervillain Steppenwolf (whose actual name is never mentioned), leaving Bruce Wayne with the sense that, soon, the meta-humans will be compelled to answer the call to battle. Meanwhile, a funeral is held for Superman, who is recognized in death as the hero he was never fully appreciated as in life. But there are indications that he may not be totally dead just yet…

Batman v. Superman is a fundamentally flawed movie, which is pretty much par for the course with Batman and Superman’s movies (except for 2008’s The Dark Knight). It gives us a terrific Bruce Wayne/Batman (not to mention a decent Alfred as performed by Jeremy Irons), and a not-so-great Superman. The battle scenes are great, but character behavior/motivation is a problem. Particularly depressing is the portrayal of Superman not as the ray of hope he’s been known as through the majority of his existence since 1938, but as a dark, brooding character. That’s supposed to be Batman’s territory! The whole point is for them to have two wildly contrasting outlooks on the world and life in general.

So desperate was DC to compete with Marvel Studios that it got a little too greedy. It’s never a good idea to cross pollinate two completely different comic storylines into one movie. 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand did the same thing. So did 2007’s Spider-Man 3. All it does is undermine both arcs. If you’re gonna throw in “The Death of Superman” right after his first meeting with Batman, that’s fine. A little weird, but okay. What you shouldn’t do is pass off their chronologically final confrontation from the comics (“The Dark Knight Returns”) as their first in this movie. It’s rather jarring.

This movie is neither fantastic, nor fantastically awful, although it is clear that this wasn’t the best way to introduce the DCEU (DC Expanded Universe). One thing that Batman v. Superman got fantastically right is its portrayal of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. Even her theme music is badass! The scene-stealing Gal Gadot’s performance is spot-on; so much so that, by herself, Wonder Woman gave hope that her own adventure might just give DC the boost it needed after this misstep. But that, as I said, is a subject best left for another film review.

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Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Director: Zack Snyder

Starring: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer

Few horror remakes have stirred up as much controversy among purists as 2004’s “Dawn of the Dead.” George Romero’s original 1978 film featured his commentary on consumerism and involved the story of four survivors of a zombie epidemic who sought refuge in a shopping mall. Many fans of the original, myself included, could find no real need for a remake… especially when that remake had been made by a first-time director. Fortunately, that first-timer happened to be Zack Snyder. One of the problems inherent in remaking a movie is the tendency to want to re-shoot established and popular scenes from the original. That’s fine if you’re filming your take on a stage production that has been filmed before, but when the only history a movie has IS the cinema, you need some truly outstanding performances for your movie to stand on its own. However, should the director of a remake decide only to retain the basic elements of the original while creating an all-new story, then there is still room for potential.

In a ten minute prologue, we are introduced to Ana (Sarah Polley), a nurse in a Milwaukee, Wisconsin hospital. She’s anxious to get home because she and her lover, Luis, don’t get to see each other very often because of their work schedules and have thus deemed that night “date night.” While in the shower together, they miss an important news bulletin on the television. Sure enough, the little girl who lives down the street barges into their bedroom and bites Luis. He dies from his bite while Ana frantically dials 911, getting only a busy signal. Luis re-animates and starts attacking Ana, who flees from the house via the bathroom window, minus any protective silverware…. As she hurriedly speeds away in her car, we are treated to one of the film’s first and most visually shocking scenes as we see the extent of the carnage in this previously peaceful suburban neighborhood. Trapped in traffic behind a bus where, from the Emergency Exit window, Ana can see several zombies attacking a young woman. Ana is then attacked by a man attempting to steal her car. She fights him off, but loses control of the car and slides helplessly down a hill, crashing into a tree and knocking herself unconscious.

When Ana wakes up and exits her destroyed vehicle, she meets a police officer named Kenneth (Ving Rhames, playing essentially the same character he always plays). They in turn meet up with three other survivors: television salesman Michael (Jake Weber of TV’s “Medium”), television thief Andre (Mekhi Phifer) and Andre’s pregnant wife Luda. As in the original “Dawn of the Dead,” the group decides to head for the local shopping mall. The journey there is more trecherous this time around, as these people don’t have a helicopter handy. When they get there, they find three security guards who aren’t too quick to welcome anyone else into what they perceive as their territory. Two of them, C.J. (Michael Kelly) and Bart, are the most hostile, while Terry (Kevin Zegers) is easier to negotiate with. Soon, the group goes to the roof to paint S.O.S. messages for army helicopters to read and hopefully respond to. While up there, they are contacted from across the street by gun store owner Andy (Bruce Bohne). Their conversations via dry-erase board with Andy provide some of the more amusing bits in the movie, such as the scene where Andy is shooting zombified celebrities for kicks.

The last of the survivors arrives in an 18-wheeler that crashes into the side of the building. Emerging from the vehicle are Norma, Steve, Tucker, Frank (Matt Frewer) and his daughter Nicole (Lindy Booth), Monica, Glen and an unnamed obese woman who is already near death. After the woman dies, reanimates and is put down by Ana, the method by which the zombies are created is hypothesized. Frank has been bitten, and the group debates over how to handle the situation. When Frank dies and comes back, Kenneth is there to stop him. Next, the power goes out, and Bart is killed while they fix it. At least they get a new pet dog out of the deal!

While all of this has been going on, Andre has been forced to tie his pregnant wife to a bed, who has been infected via a scratch on her arm from when they first entered the mall. She dies as she gives birth, but poor Andre is in denial and, when Norma shoots the zombified Luda in the head, Andre and Norma kill each other. The others hear the shots and come to the scene of the bloodbath, where Ana must unfortunately kill the zombie baby. With Andy growing hungrier by the day across the street, and with everyone in the mall agreeing that they do not wish to make that their final resting place, they make arrangements to leave. They reinforce two buses and bring weapons along for the ride. Wanting to bring Andy along, they send the dog in with some food, but a couple of the zombies get in, too, and that’s all she wrote for Andy. Nicole then comandeers the 18-wheeler in a hare-brained attempt to rescue the dog. She succeeds, but must quickly hide from the zombified Andy in a closet until the others arrive. Kenneth blows Andy’s head off with a shotgun. With Nicole rescued, the group leaves on the buses. They use propane bombs to clear the road, and it works for a while until Glen accidentally kills Monica with the chainsaw, her blood splattering on the windshield, obscuring Kenneth’s vision and causing the bus to crash. After the cast is thinned out some more, those who remain get on the boat except for Michael, who was injured during their escape and elects to take his own life. There is an additional scene during the end credits, and it’s one of the movie’s few miscalculations.

The Unrated Director’s Cut contains two special features which I find enhance the experience of watching “Dawn of the Dead” (2004). “The Lost Tapes: Andy’s Terrifying Last Days Revealed” gives the audience a look at the story from Andy’s perspective, whereas the only spoken dialogue he has in “Dawn of the Dead” itself comes in audio form on a walki talki. “We Interrupt This Program” is also fascinating, for two reasons: 1) It’s done in the style of a genuine news broadcast, and as such could be considered creepier than anything that goes on in the actual movie, and 2) it marks the final on-screen performance of actor Richard Biggs, best known as Dr. Stephen Franklin from the TV series “Babylon 5.” Fittingly, he is joined by former “Babylon 5” co-star Bruce Boxleitner, who appears in voiceover only at the end as the U.S. President delivering his final public address to the nation.

No director, not even a seasoned veteran, could have likely improved upon George Romero’s original 1978 classic. That just wasn’t gonna happen. I’m gonna say it right now: I prefer the slow-moving zombies to the speed demons in this movie. But, even if you agree with me about that, there are plenty other reasons to watch and enjoy this particular remake. Many of Zack Snyder’s recognizable traits as a director can be found in this, his initial effort: the slow-motion action sequences, perfectly timed usage of popular songs… including two (Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and Air Supply’s “All Out of Love”) in elevator muzak style, and also his use of the media to give the story just the slightest hint of realism. So, if you come in already a fan of Zack Snyder’s work in “300” or “Watchmen,” or perhaps screenwriter James Gunn’s “Slither,” then give this one a chance, too.

25. Watchmen (2009)

Director: Zack Snyder

Starring: Malin Åkerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson

On the subject of movies I once believed I’d never get the chance to see, right at the top of the list for a long time stood “Watchmen.” Intimately familiar with Alan Moore’s graphic novel since I first read my father’s copy from cover to cover in 1998, I still didn’t see any hope of there ever being a screen adaptation. That is, at least, not one that could hope to be in the same ballpark as the brilliance of Alan Moore’s original work. If you only read one comic in your life, it should be “Watchmen.” The 12-issue comic series that ran from September 1986 to October 1987 plays out very much like a movie that you can read, yet is filled with so much material that I can understand why there were so many critics who deemed it “unfilmable.” Enter director Zack Snyder, who delivers us the most faithful adaptation possible of the greatest comic ever published.

Not long after first reading “Watchmen,” I started putting together a mock cast for the movie. It was filled with big-name actors, largely based on who I thought the characters as drawn most closely resembled. I had recently watched “Murder in the First” with Christian Slater and Kevin Bacon, and thought based on his performance that Kevin Bacon would make an ideal Rorschach… I was a teenager, what do you expect? While Bacon might have done an okay job, I’m happy to say that Zack Snyder made the right move in casting Jackie Earle Haley. From Rorschach’s opening journal entry, it is clear there was never anyone else who could have worn the mask and fedora of the vigilante conspiracy theorist.

The “Watchmen” comic series was originally to have featured characters from the defunct Charlton Comics, a company whose run lasted from 1946 to 1985. DC Comics had approached Alan Moore with the idea of reintroducing said characters, but changed their minds when they realized his story would leave them with very little they could do with their new acquisitions afterward. Instead, the agreement was that Moore would change the identities of the costumed heroes in his story. For the record: The Question became Rorschach, Blue Beetle became Nite Owl, The Peacemaker became The Comedian, Captain Atom became Dr. Manhattan, and Thunderbolt became Ozymandias. Silk Spectre, meanwhile, is a combination of no less than three different characters (only one of which, Nightshade, originated from Charlton).

With one exception, they are all mere costumed crime fighters. The only one who qualifies as superhuman is Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) who, as the human John Osterman, was pulled apart at the atomic level in an accident at a science lab, and since reintegrating himself he has exhibited almost godlike abilities. Dr. Manhattan’s only remaining connection with humanity lies in his relationship with Laurie Jupiter (Malin Åkerman), a.k.a. Silk Spectre. By 1985, he and the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) are the only members of their team still sanctioned by and working for the U.S. government. All others, except for the defiant Rorschach, have complied with a law passed in 1977 which effectively banned masked vigilantism. When the Comedian is murdered in the movie’s opening scene, Rorschach springs in to action, sensing a plot to do away with the former members of the Watchmen team one by one.

Although Rorschach is without a doubt the most entertaining character of the movie, the one charcter who I can get behind the most is his friend and former partner, Daniel Dreiberg, who once fought crime as the very Batman-like Nite Owl. Since 1977, he has been reminiscing of days long gone. It’s sad, but it also feels very realistic, thanks to a terrific effort from actor Patrick Wilson in bringing his character to life.

Just as important as the characters in “Watchmen” is its setting and its music. The alternate 1985 where Richard Nixon is in his fifth term as President and war with the Soviet Union seems inevitable is realized to perfection. Zack Snyder’s attention to detail in this regard is nothing short of remarkable. Every song that is referenced in the graphic novel makes an appearance here. One extra addition is “99 Luftballons” by Nena, appropriate not only for the time period but also its apocalyptic subject matter. My favorite, however, is “All Along the Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix.

Never before or since has a theatrical experience left me as breathless as did the midnight showing of “Watchmen” I attended on March 6th, 2009. As with the film adaptation of “V for Vendetta,” my favorite sequences from the graphic novel are easily my favorite parts of the movie:

1) Rorschach in prison. After being framed for the one murder he didn’t commit, Rorschach runs afoul of some of the hoodlums he helped put behind bars, killing one in a gruesome manner after his own life is threatened. Rorschach also puts up with a psychiatrist whom he rightly accuses of being more interested in making a name for himself than truly wanting to help anyone, telling him his origin story. The details of how the man we know as Rorschach came to see the world in black and white are slightly altered, if only to avoid plagiarizing the movie “Mad Max,” but the effect is the same. But best by far is his point of view that it is not he who should be in fear for his life while incarcerated, but rather his fellow inmates who should fear for theirs.

2) Laurie appeals to Dr. Manhattan’s humanity. After Laurie leaves Dr. Manhattan for Daniel, and after Dr. Manhattan has been accused of giving cancer to many people who were close to him, he leaves Earth for Mars. Later, he brings Laurie there because he can see the future as well as he can the present or the past (indeed, time has little meaning to this former watchmaker anymore) and he knows she’s going to try to convince him to come back to Earth. He can see that something catastrophic is in Earth’s future, but he no longer has interest in our little blue world or the people who inhabit it. It’s only after a discussion about Laurie’s parentage that Dr. Manhattan comes to appreciate the miracle of human life. It’s the most beautiful moment of the graphic novel, and the movie’s version gets it exactly right.

As popular as the comic book/superhero film is right now, and as common as it is now to see many of those films turn into franchises with multiple sequels, this was never the purpose or intent of “Watchmen.” The movie didn’t achieve the box office success that anyone had hoped for, so it’s just as well. As much fun as this movie is, you’ll know by the time it’s over that the story has reached a logical conclusion. Nothing ever ends, but that doesn’t mean that “what comes next” can’t be left up to our imagination.