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It’s hardly a revelation that some of the rich tycoons who run Wall Street are crooked and yet it seems like every few months we’re given a film that examines the greed inherent in the American economic system. The latest of these is Money Monster, a thriller that attempts to show how the selfish decisions of the rich can shatter the lives of the poor. Directed by Jodie Foster, it’s a film that tries to be gripping and insightful at the same time, while somehow never managing to accomplish either. This is a pretty mediocre experience that’s really only elevated by its strong cast.

It begins as just another day on Wall Street for Lee Gates (George Clooney), the host of “Money Monster”, a television show that offers advice on the stock market. Gates’s guest was supposed to be Walt Camby (Dominic West), the CEO of a company who just lost investors $800 million after their trading algorithm suffered a glitch, but Camby was unable to attend the show. Instead, Gates is treated to a much more unexpected guest: a gunman named Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell). Budwell is a blue-collar worker who lost $60,000 because of Gates’s advice to invest in Camby’s company. Budwell pulls out an explosive vest, straps it to Gates and demands that the cameras continue rolling so he can have an international platform to air his grievances about Wall Street. It’s going to take the charm of Gates and the quick thinking of the show’s director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) to ensure that everybody makes it out of this alive.

With this premise and the fact that the film occurs seemingly in real time, you would think the hostage situation would be both intense and suspenseful, but Foster’s direction doesn’t generate a lot of excitement. Her filmmaking abilities are certainly competent, but she’s unable to do anything spectacular to elevate the film above its mediocre script. If the screenplay by Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore and Jim Kouf had done more than present surface level themes of greed and corruption, Foster’s unimaginative direction wouldn’t have mattered quite as much. But both the director and the screenwriters have landed directly in the realm of mediocrity, resulting in a film that feels very middle-of-the-road.

If it hadn’t been for the solid cast, there’s a chance that Money Monster would have been completely forgettable. Clooney and Roberts lead the pack and while their performances aren’t anything spectacular, they do elevate the material a great deal. The film’s third act might get a little ridiculous, but this is still pretty watchable. It’s not until the movie ends that you’ll realize how any potential generated from the setup is squandered in a mostly forgettable experience. It might not be worth seeing in theaters, but it’s probably the perfect movie to half-watch on cable on a rainy day.

Money Monster receives 2/4

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We all love superheroes, but sometimes less is more. After having been treated to some excellent superhero team-up films like The Avengers and X-Men: Days of Future Past, it’s become clear that simply throwing a bunch of different heroes into a single movie isn’t enough to impress anymore. It no longer feels like an event to have Iron Man fighting alongside Captain America and therein lies the problem with Captain America: Civil War. It’s a film that throws together more superheroes than we’ve ever seen together on the big screen, but it lacks an interesting story or memorable action to make anything standout. If this film had come out at the beginning of the recent superhero craze it probably would have felt incredible, but it’s hard not to watch this and feel numb to its effects.

In reality, this feels like two separate films that are mushed together and the two different storylines don’t always complement each other particularly well. The first major thread involves a disagreement that brews between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). When a group of the Avengers accidentally end up killing several civilians in Lagos, the Secretary of State (William Hurt) proposes that all of the superheroes sign an accord that would prevent them from acting on their own free will. If they agree to sign this document, they would be under the control of the United Nations, who would give the Avengers orders when they see fit. Stark is in favor of signing this document, while Captain America strongly opposes it.

The other major focus of the movie involves Captain America trying to help his friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan), who has been reprogrammed by Hydra into the Winter Soldier. When the headquarters of the United Nations in Vienna is bombed, Bucky is the prime suspect, although Captain America is still determined to prove his innocence. Stark sees this attack as even more reason for the heroes to sign the accord, but he’s unable to convince Captain America. This leads to a standoff, with half of the Avengers siding with Stark and the other half siding with Captain America. It may not be an easy choice, but everybody is going to have to choose a side and stick to it.

While Civil War is being marketed as The Avengers 2.5, the focus of the film is still mostly on Captain America and Tony Stark. And you have to give Marvel credit for effectively working so many different characters into a single story, without it ever feeling like an overload. Admittedly, certain characters probably aren’t given the attention they deserve and a reveal involving Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) would have been so much more satisfying in his own movie, but things definitely could have been much worse. But even if the screenplay from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely is able to juggle so many different heroes, it’s all wasted on mediocre direction and a lack of vision from Anthony and Joe Russo.

The Russo Brothers have proven that they know how to film a big budget picture, but their inability to direct compelling action has become more apparent with each Marvel film they make. Their action sequences are too frantically edited, cutting way too often and refusing to let a scene breathe. In a sequence where Bucky grabs a motorcycle and hops onto it in one quick motion, the Russo Brothers cut together at least three different shots in less than a second and completely distract from what should have been a cool action moment. It’s this over-editing that creates a lack of coherence in most of these big action scenes; it’s often difficult to tell what is going on and what everybody is immediately doing.

But it’s clear that the majority of the Russo Brothers’ attention was on the big 17-minute airport fight between the two groups of heroes. And you would think that this would be the moment that dazzles the audience, making grown men feel like children again. Sadly, this isn’t the case and the extended fight sequence is blandly directed, weakly choreographed and generally uninteresting. This is an action set piece that hardly feels like an action set piece. If it wasn’t for the fan-favorite heroes at the center of this fight, hardly a single moment would feel memorable and nothing about it feels extraordinary. The Russo Brothers are certainly no Joss Whedon and the dullness of this big sequence has me worried about their involvement in the next Avengers sequel.

While the direction of this big sequence feels completely mediocre, there is one element that at least makes it somewhat fun to watch: Spider-Man. Tom Holland is a joy to watch as Spider-Man, perfectly capturing the sarcastic quips and fun nature of the web-slinging hero. It feels like casting a younger version of Spider-Man was a smart move and I can’t wait to see Holland further flesh out his character. It’s a testament to Holland’s performance that I’m much more excited for the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming than The Avengers: Infinity War. The other new addition to the cast is Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther. While he isn’t quite the scene-stealer that Spider-Man is, Black Panther is a welcome addition to the Avengers team. His unique costume and interesting background make him far more interesting than most of the other secondary heroes in the film.

The prospect of Iron Man and Captain America fighting was sure to excite Marvel fans, but the finished product is a disappointment that brings hardly anything new or interesting to the table. Remember that feeling of joy you experienced while watching The Avengers fight together for the first time? Well Captain America: Civil War has twice as many heroes doing battle with each other and it’s unable to generate even a fraction of that wonder or excitement. If all you’re looking to do is turn your brain off and stare at the screen while a dozen superheroes fight each other for a few minutes, this movie will scratch your itch. Beyond that, it’s sure to be forgotten by most when the summer movie season concludes.

Captain America: Civil War receives 2/4

A lot of people turn up their noses at overly violent films. And while violence can certainly be exploitative, it can also be effective given the right circumstances. Director Jeremy Saulnier uses violence to deliver exciting results in Green Room, a standoff thriller that is sure to shock and surprise. Like most genre films, it’s thematically shallow and character development is practically non-existent, but that hardly matters for a film about a punk rock band being held captive by a group of neo-Nazis. It’s best to just sit back and enjoy the ride, provided that you’ve got a strong stomach.

“The Ain’t Rights” are a punk rock band who are travelling the country in a large van, siphoning gas and surviving on whatever money they can scrounge up at shows. They arrive in Oregon for a gig at a small bar, but soon realize that the establishment is run by neo-Nazis. After playing a set that angers everybody in the crowd, the band leaves the stage, only to realize that all of their gear has been moved out of the green room. While being ushered out of the club, the band’s female member Sam (Alia Shawkat) realizes that she forgot her cellphone and heads back into the room, only to discover a young woman who has been stabbed to death. Pat (Anton Yelchin) and the band’s other members want to call for help, but the club’s owner (Patrick Stewart) is intent on eliminating any witnesses.

This is a film that thrives on its suspense and violence, but nothing really happens for the first 20 minutes of the movie. We watch the band drive around the country and get interviewed by a local radio DJ, but the characters are so thinly realized that it’s hard to care about anything that they’re doing. It’s not until they actually get to the bar and witness the murder that things really kick into high gear. As events begin to spiral out of control, it’s often difficult to understand what exactly is happening and why people are behaving in certain ways, but this is something that feels true to what would actually happen in a situation like this. It’s commendable that the film feels as grounded and realistic as it does, especially with its use of violence.

The first overly violent moment is sure to draw gasps from audience members, both with its portrayal and who is in on the receiving end of it. The violence actually heightens the suspense and makes you feel like anything can happen at any given time. Like Saulnier’s last film Blue Room, it’s great to see what can be accomplished with a small budget and Green Room makes the most of its short runtime. Nice cinematography and solid performances – particularly from Patrick Stewart – help the film, but it’s a great premise and Saulnier’s assured direction that really elevate this over your average genre fare. This may be a messy film, both in its execution and violence, but it’s one that you probably don’t want to miss.

Green Room receives 3/4

College is a time of transition. It’s when people finally move out of their childhood homes and attempt to tackle the world without any adult supervision. College students are in that grey area between childhood and adulthood and this is often the time that people discover who they really are. So it makes sense that Richard Linklater’s follow-up to the ambitious and affecting Boyhood is Everybody Wants Some!!, a lighthearted look at a college baseball team on the weekend before classes begin. A spiritual successor to Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, this is another great “hanging out” movie. We don’t need plot or conflict; all we need is great characters, good conversations and a fun time.

We’re introduced to Jake (Blake Jenner) as he’s driving towards his first year of college in late summer of 1980. His car is loaded up with his belongings and he’s confidently cruising down the road while blasting The Knack’s “My Sharona”. Jake is a young pitcher who was the star of his high school baseball team. But now he’s moving onto college, where everybody on the team was the best player at their high school. He moves into a house with his fellow teammates and gets to know them on the weekend before classes begin. Along with the team’s leader Finnegan (Glen Powell) Jake and his buddies spend their days goofing around and their nights partying and picking up women. Jake develops a crush on a fellow coed named Beverly (Zoey Deutch), all the while trying to figure out his place on the team and in the world.

More than any other director, Linklater has mastered the art of the plotless movie. While most filmmakers feel the need to inject some sort of conflict in their stories, Linklater knows that this isn’t always true of real life. We don’t spend every waking minute trying to solve some sort of drama or developing a solution to an ever increasing problem. A lot of life is just spending time with other people and Linklater seems to understand that these can be the moments that have the most profound impact on us. Everybody Wants Some!! is essentially this idea boiled down to an entire weekend. We watch as Jake and his buddies play Ping-Pong, go to parties, drink beer, smoke weed and just have a good time. It’s essentially a nonstop party for the film’s two-hour runtime with enough interesting conversations that elevate it above most modern comedies.

The ensemble cast is filled of mostly unknowns, so it’s pretty surprising just how stellar everyone is. Blake Jenner is likable and reserved in a way that perfectly suits his character. He’s certainly not the most interesting person on the team, but he’s definitely the most relatable. The relationship that develops between himself and Zoey Deutch’s character is nothing short of adorable. Speaking of, Deutch is an absolute delight, managing to stand out amongst the guys and developing a character that is easy to fall in love with. Don’t be surprised when she turns into a big star. But the best character has to be Glen Powell’s Finnegan, a jock who manages to break every stereotype that’s usually associated with athletes. In a way, he becomes a father figure to Jake, helping him through the first few days of college before finally turning him loose. The cast is filled with so many characters who you would want to hangout with in real life, but none so more than Finnegan.

It’s noted by Jake that the guys on the baseball team seem to conform their personalities to whatever situation is around them. At one point the dress up in their best disco attire, the next night they’re trying to be cowboys at a honky-tonk and eventually their rocking out at a punk show. These guys are still trying to figure out who they are and they’re using these parties to find their place in the world. We go into college thinking we’re one type of person, but often come out the other side with a totally different perspective. Aside from a degree, college is about two things: self-discovery and parties. Everybody Wants Some!! effortlessly captures the feeling of both.

Everybody Wants Some!! receives 4/4

The latest Disney animated classic to receive the live-action remake treatment, Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book is a fun, light-hearted adventure full of beautiful visuals and mostly spectacular effects. It seems strange to call this film live-action considering all of the animals and environments were generated in a computer, but the fact that they seem to fit together mostly seamlessly shows how much care was put into this adaptation. It’s certainly not perfect, but it does a fine job at keeping the spirit of the original while still updating it with more adventure and thrills for modern audiences.

Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a young boy who has been raised by wolves in the jungles of India. He’s the only human in a world of animals, but he’s been fully accepted as a wolf cub and part of their pack. But not every animal in the jungle is fine with letting a human into their midst. The deadly Tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) holds an animosity toward humans and vows to kill the young boy. With the help of his wise mentor – a panther named Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) – Mowgli leaves his home in search of a human village for safety. But the journey through the jungle is not an easy one and Mowgli will have to deal with the deadly snake Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), a lazy bear named Baloo (Bill Murray) and King Louie (Christopher Walken), one of the largest beasts in the jungle.

The Jungle Book truly is a visual feast, combining great art direction with stellar visual effects that bring all of the animals to life. There are a few moments where the real life Mowgli seems to stand out amongst all of the CGI around him, but moments like these only distract on a few occasions. For the most part, the environments and all of the animals are so realistic that audiences might believe them to be real if they only kept their mouths shut. It’s these great visuals that pull viewers into the story, even if the first fifteen minutes of the film aren’t particularly compelling. It isn’t until Mowgli begins his journey that the feeling of adventure really kicks in and, thankfully, that feeling carries throughout the rest of its runtime.

Once the journey really begins, viewers are treated to several great sequences one after another. The scene with Kaa is dark and eerie, while the scenes with Baloo are light and fun. King Louie is portrayed as a Vito Corleone –esque gangster, but the decision to have him sing may have been misguided. The voice cast for the film is stacked, so it’s no surprise that they give their animals true character and personality. The decision to have Murray voice Baloo may have been obvious, but the decision to have Johansson voice Kaa was an off-the-wall choice. Either way, the casting pays off and the film ends up being pretty delightful. You’ve taken this trip to the jungle before, but you’ve never seen it quite like this.

The Jungle Book receives 3/4

There’s just something naturally odd about a dinner party. Maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that they’re often a great setup for horror films, but they can also genuinely feel forced and uncomfortable. That feeling of receiving an invite to something that you don’t really want to attend is captured in Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation. A slow burn horror/thriller that portrays one of the most uncomfortable dinner parties in recent memories, it’s also an interesting look at grief and the loss of a child. It’s a genuinely suspenseful film that’s only hampered by an ending that fails to deliver on the promise of its first 80 minutes.

Will (Logan Marshall-Green) has received an invitation to attend a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman). Will reluctantly agrees to attend, bringing his new girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) along with them. The pair of them arrive at Will’s former home and are reunited with a group of friends that they haven’t seen in years. Eden and David have also invited two individuals whom no one else knows: the free-spirited Sadie (Lindsay Burdge) and the mysterious Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch). Will doesn’t feel comfortable at the party and his suspicions that something sinister is happening are only elevated when David and Eden begin discussing the new religious movement that they joined in Mexico. Are Will’s suspicions valid or has the return to his ex-wife and old home caused his mind to slip?

Not much happens in the first two-thirds of The Invitation, but Kusama will keep viewers enraptured with the sheer amount of tension present at the dinner party. This is a truly unsettling film and the viewer can fully feel the paranoia that’s circling through Will’s head. The screenplay by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi does a fine job at dolling out the clues and placing our protagonist in uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situations. Why does David lock the front door? Why does Eden have a bottle of pills hidden in her dresser drawer? And why do the hosts interrupt the party to show their guests a disturbing video of a woman dying? Trying to decide if Eden and David have ulterior motives or if they’re simply the worst dinner party hosts in Los Angeles is what keeps the audience engaged in the proceedings.

But then the ending arrives in the form of a giant wet noodle. What started as a taut mystery where it feels like anything can happen ends in the most predictable way possible. Once Eden and David reveal what happened on their trip to Mexico, most discernible viewers will be able to easily predict the outcome of this party. Since the majority of the film was so effective, it seemed like the film’s ending would try to do something bold and different, but it wraps things up exactly how you would expect. The strong direction, eerie concept and ominous score made this seem like it would be a truly great genre film, but the ending demotes it to nothing more than a good one.

The Invitation receives 3/4

There have been a number of video game adaptations over the years, but no film has truly embraced the first-person gaming experience quite like Hardcore Henry. This may technically be classified as a film, but this is essentially a video game through and through, with the only difference being that you don’t need a controller to experience it. Shot entirely in the first-person perspective using mounted GoPro cameras, the audience sees everything through the eyes of our protagonist Henry. It’s a unique way to shoot an entire action movie and director Ilya Naishuller is sporadically successful with his gimmicky premise. It may have its problems, but this is ultimately a rollercoaster ride that you can experience at your local multiplex.

The film begins with Henry waking up inside a high-tech laboratory, having survived a terrible accident. His wife (Haley Bennett) is a scientist who brought him back from the brink of death, giving Henry a robotic arm and leg. But shortly after Henry awakens, the laboratory is attacked by Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), a villain with telekinetic powers who hopes to create an army of mercenaries similar to Henry. Henry is able to escape from Akan’s clutches, but his wife is taken prisoner. With the help of a mysterious individual named Jmmy (Sharlto Copley), Henry is on a mission to find his wife and he’ll destroy anything and anyone who gets in his way.

Similar to last year’s Mad Max: Fury Road, Hardcore Henry is essentially nonstop action from start to finish. Its first-person perspective creates a unique twist on the genre and it’s often interesting to see how it’s used. It works best when Henry is engaging in gunfights, particularly in one sequence where Henry is attempting to sneak through a building. These moments where Henry is utilizing firearms truly feel like a first-person shooter videogame and it’s fun to see how these elements translate to a motion picture. A parkour chase scene is also pretty well done, as is an awesome sequence involving Henry jumping from a motorcycle onto a mercenary’s van. But it’s the hand-to-hand combat where the first-person perspective falls apart. The camera moves around way too hectically, making the action difficult to follow and giving viewers a headache in the process.

This might be a nonstop action thrill ride, but don’t for a second think that I’m putting this on the same level as Mad Max: Fury Road. While that film had characters and a story that worked well alongside the action, the characters and story here are pretty terrible. Henry’s wife works as plot motivation and nothing more, while Akan is a lame villain with telekinetic powers which are used so sparingly that it’s a wonder why they were included at all. The only character that stands out is Sharlto Copley’s Jimmy, who is both funny and intriguing. Copley’s performance is actually pretty good and it’s a joy whenever Jimmy appears on screen. The story is pretty barebones as well, but all of these problems do seem to match the videogame aesthetic that the film is trying to achieve.

If Hardcore Henry wanted to be really ambitious, it could have tried to appear to play out in real time, with all of its cuts hidden from the audience. This would have made sense considering how the normal person doesn’t experience lapses in time throughout their day. It probably would have been nearly impossible to achieve this with the amount of action in the film, but the film could have been a new action classic if they somehow managed to pull it off. As it stands, Naishuller does an adequate job turning this premise into a feature, although perhaps a short film would have been more effective. But even though it might feel a little too long, this is still a crazy ride, filled with ridiculous action and over-the-top levels of violence. Buckle up.

Hardcore Henry receives 2.5/4

One thing I love about the magic of movies is that the possibilities are endless. You can make a film about dinosaurs terrorizing a theme park, a group of scientists who hunt ghosts, or a special boy in a magical wizarding world. The limits are only as far as the imagination of the filmmakers, so it’s strange that so many films feel completely ordinary. But every once in a while, a film like Midnight Special comes along that truly captures the wonder of cinema. It’s a heartwarming, Spielbergian sci-fi tale that has no shortage of unique ideas. These ideas are firmly handled by writer/director Jeff Nichols, who continues to establish himself as a reliable up-and-coming filmmaker. Its concepts may seem otherworldly, but the father/son relationship at the film’s center couldn’t feel more human.

While most movies deliver exposition and set things up before kicking the plot into high gear, Midnight Special drops you right into the action. It’s a very refreshing change of pace from a director who never spoon feeds his audience information. Roy (Michael Shannon) is on the run from the police with his friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) and his son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher). Alton has some form of special abilities that were being exploited by a cult led by Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepard). Having stolen his son away from this cult, Roy is on the run from the cult and the FBI, who are interested in Alton’s unique abilities. Along the way, they pick up Alton’s mother (Kirsten Dunst) and hurry towards a secret location that could hold the answers to Alton’s special gifts.

Nichols is able to capture a real sense of wonder as we get wrapped up in this tale of a family on the run. The movie is both large in its ideas and small in its scope and execution. It’s a sci-fi film that doesn’t need hundreds of millions of dollars poured into it. The most important thing here is the relationship between a father and a son, which is executed beautifully. Michael Shannon, usually known for playing villains or off-putting characters, gives one of the best performances of his career as a man willing to sacrifice anything in service of his son. And Jaeden Lieberher is half of this relationship and he nails it as well. There’s definitely something alien about his character, but their relationship feels more real than what most movies are able to achieve.

It’s the film’s final moments where things feel like they really come together, balancing emotions and action with sci-fi ideas and visuals. It’s very reminiscent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and it’s hard not get choked up watching Roy risk everything for the sake of his son. There are a few hiccups along the way, most notably the subplot involving the cult that seems to go nowhere, but it’s all worth it to get to the memorable conclusion. The sci-fi and adventure elements might be what attract viewers to Midnight Special, but it’s ultimately the personal relationships between the characters that stay with you the most.

Midnight Special receives 3.5/4

Terrence Malick has to be the most divisive filmmaker working today.  His projects don’t cater to anyone and he offers viewers a unique, singular vision. General audiences tend to criticize his films for being slow and pretentious, while his most ardent supporters seem to worship the ground that he walks upon. In my opinion, Malick can deliver some truly rewarding viewing experiences, most notably with 2011’s brilliant The Tree of Life. But his experiments can also go too far and I think that’s the case with Knight of Cups, which is probably his least accessible film to date and that’s really saying something. Its strange structure and striking imagery will please Malick’s hardcore fans, but it also lacks any true emotional connection, something that’s an important piece of his best films.

Plot isn’t usually an important part of Malick’s films, but Knight of Cups abandons plot altogether and focuses solely on feelings and images. We’re introduced to Rick (Christian Bale), a successful Hollywood screenwriter whose life has grown empty and joyless. His marriage with a physician (Cate Blanchett) has crumbled and he now spends most of his time with beautiful models. From the women to the cars to the extravagant parties, it seems like he’s living the dream, but he’s become numb to the luxury. Malick highlights Rick’s struggle through his interaction with other people including a womanizing playboy (Antonio Banderas), his unstable brother (Wes Bentley) and a beautiful woman (Natalie Portman).

Malick has become known for his visuals and in his seventh film, he definitely does not disappoint. Aided by three-time Oscar winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, Malick creates some truly memorable images. A sequence involving dogs jumping into a pool after tennis balls is a delight and a scene in a nightclub is stunning in its use of lighting and editing. Hardly any dialogue is exchanged between characters within a scene, so the film is absolutely dependent on these unique visuals and the whispery narration from characters. It’s all intriguing to watch, but it does come across as kind of pretentious, especially since Malick’s theme of loneliness in Hollywood isn’t exactly revelatory.

But it’s the lack of a character from Christian Bale that makes the film the most frustrating. He hardly ever speaks or acts like a normal person, walking through each scene like a zombie. It’s impossible to connect with him on an emotional level when he shows about as much character as a department store mannequin. This is certainly not Bale’s fault, with the entirety of the blame falling at the feet of the director. It’s fine if Malick doesn’t want to make his films easily accessible, but this one is so inaccessible that it loses its effectiveness.

And yet, there’s still something special about it. Malick’s been an inspiration for many filmmakers, but no one can create these unique, experimental projects quite like him. The presentation is admirable, even if it’s not entirely successful. His films do tend to improve on a rewatch, so there’s always a chance that Knight of Cups could be looked at as a masterpiece in a decade or so. I think that might be pushing things a bit, but there’s something here that makes me want to give this another shot. It might not be great, but it’s undeniably an experience.

Knight of Cups receives 2.5/4

Within the last decade, audiences have been subjected to an onslaught of superhero movies. Some have been good and some have been bad, but they’ve become so numerous that what was once an event now feels like common practice. Marvel has shown that they know how to build a universe and incorporate different characters into the same movie, but DC has yet to prove themselves. That all changes with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. By incorporating the two most famous superheroes of all-time into the same film, we’ve officially hit peak comic book movie. If this film had been released ten years ago, it would have been unbelievably exciting. But after two Avengers films, this simply feels par for the course.

But regardless of the hype, the actual content of the movie is what really matters. Producer Christopher Nolan clearly was a big influence on director Zack Snyder, but Snyder’s first Batman adaptation comes nowhere near the heights set by Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Batman v Superman is a total mess, a film that places far too much emphasis on plot, while throwing character development and thematic material by the wayside. Overly serious, bloated and way too long, it’s hard to imagine anyone getting any real sense of enjoyment out of this thing.

This may be a terrible project, but it starts off on a particularly high note. We’re introduced to a young Bruce Wayne at his parents’ funeral with images from their murder edited into the scene. Snyder has always been a very visual filmmaker and this opening sequence has him doing what he does best. It’s one of the most visually arresting moments in the entire film and it helps that this sequence isn’t bogged down by plot or expository dialogue. In fact, hardly anything is said during this opening, but Snyder’s visuals tell us everything that we need to know.

From here, we’re thrown into the most exciting action sequence in the film: Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) dealing with the climactic showdown from Man of Steel. That film was criticized for the amount of destruction that Superman caused in his fight with Zod, but in Batman v Superman, writers Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer smartly use this destruction to motivate Batman’s vengeance against Superman. We get to watch as Bruce Wayne hurtles his vehicle right into the midst of the destruction. In one of the film’s most memorable images, Wayne is the lone individual sprinting into a dust cloud caused by a collapsing building. The visual effects are convincing and the stakes actually feel real, something that the rest of the film fails at.

But once this sequence has concluded, the film takes a spectacular nosedive in terms of quality. Superman (Henry Cavill) has become seen as a dangerous individual by a large percentage of America. This movement to have him turn himself over to the authorities is led by Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) and supported by Lex Luther (Jesse Eisenberg). Superman also has a bone to pick with Batman, a vigilante whom Superman believes is going too far in his treatment of criminals. But when Luther begins importing kryptonite and creating a new supervillain, these two heroes will have to put aside their differences to save Gotham and Metropolis.

I don’t want to generalize, but for the most part, superhero films don’t have fantastic plots. Batman v Superman is no exception to this rule. So it’s strange that there is such an emphasis on the story, when most fans really just want to see some great action sequences. The first two-thirds of this film feel like nothing more than an extended and convoluted setup for the finale. The editing here is pretty terrible, cutting between individual storylines from Batman, Superman, Lex Luther and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) that lack cohesion from the big picture of the movie. At times it feels like you’re watching loosely connected solo films from these four characters that are edited together into a final product. It all kind of makes sense in the moment, but looking back on the film, it’s difficult to say what exactly everybody was doing.

So the plot, structure and pacing isn’t great, but Snyder should be able to deliver some satisfying action, right? Sadly, other than the opening sequence, the action is pretty underwhelming. Until the final 30 minutes, there’s not a lot of action to get excited about, mostly because the action takes a backseat to the endless plot. But when we get to Batman and Superman’s big battle, it’s decent but it’s over in about five minutes. For a film titled Batman v Superman, there’s really not a lot of fighting between the two. I’m not the kind of person that craves nonstop action, but the lack of a good story and character development would have been more tolerable if there had been some more excitement in the film. And the film’s climactic moments with Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) are tolerable, but it looks overly digital and doesn’t feel like it’s grounded in the real world.

It might sound like I’m being harsh on this film – and I am – but there are still some things that I thought were handled well. We’d already been introduced to Henry Cavill’s Superman in Man of Steel, but his performance in this film is even better. Not only does he look like the perfect Superman, but he’s able to ground his character in reality and make the problems of an alien feel incredibly personal. The internet groaned when Ben Affleck was cast as the Dark Knight, but Affleck is actually a pretty great fit for the part. He’s an older Batman compared to what we’re used to, but bulkier too. His character is incredibly underdeveloped, but there’s hope that they’ll actually explore this potential in future films. In the first ever big-screen portrayal of Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot makes the character her own. This Wonder Woman is strong, but also sexy and the prospect of a Wonder Woman solo film is exciting.

It’s been said that a superhero movie is only as strong as its villain, so it’s no surprise that Jesse Eisenberg is terrible as Lex Luther. His performance is campy and way too over-the-top, resulting in a character that simply doesn’t jive with the dark tone of the movie. It’s unclear if his goofiness was intended as comic relief, but an awkward monologue that he gives at a party gets absolutely no laughs. But the worst thing about him is that his motivations are unclear. The best villains are the ones who can remain relatable, even when they’re causing chaos around them. We don’t have to believe that what they’re doing is right, but we have to believe that they do. Perhaps I missed something, but Luther’s plan is so poorly concocted that it’s impossible to say what his end game was. Did he simply hate Superman and Batman, hoping to take them both down? Or did he just want to take over the world? It’s never really made clear, which makes for a completely uninteresting villain.

Intended as the precursor to the Justice League movie, Batman v Superman does a laughably bad job at building up the DC universe. Whereas Marvel took its time, giving each character their own movie before throwing them together in The Avengers, DC lazily introduces several famous characters through a file on a computer. It’s hard to get excited about Batman and Superman’s next big screen appearance when this one lacks any truly interesting action or quiet character moments. Despite a strong opening and a nice final five minutes, this is way too much plodding setup and hardly any of the excitement that should have been delivered. The best way to sum up Batman v Superman is that it’s like the time I tried to eat my two favorite foods (cheeseburgers and sushi) in the same meal and ended up with food poisoning.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice receives 1.5/4