The Straits Times
24 March 2016
Zack Snyder doesn't make movies for people; he makes them for bros. Or dudes. Or dudebros. And video game players. Which is why I found the experience of watching Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice (PG13, 152 minutes, now showing, 1 star) a lot like walking into the winning team's locker room after a rugby match. It's sweaty, grunty, loud, self-congratulatory and, if movies had smells, pungent.
Director Snyder hates story. They get in the way of the important stuff, like having two sets of fists punch their way to emotional closure.
That is why you never understand why Batman (Ben Affleck) hates Superman so much that he wants the Man of Steel (Henry Cavill) dead. Bruce Wayne does mutter something to Alfred (Jeremy Irons) about saving the world from unchecked power, but nowhere in the script does it have Wayne pause to question his own right to vigilantism.
That would be thoughtful, and having self-awareness is not what this movie is about. For example, there is a long Rocky-style montage in which Wayne works out, in the most manly way possible - not with actual gym equipment (that would be for wussies) but with lorry tyres.
He is developing abs so he can be fitter, to beat up a guy who can crush a small planet between his arms. How many push-ups would it take? What timing on the 2.4 km run would be enough?
Displays of beefiness, in all its forms, are the point, sense be damned.
The plot is dead simple, but in between there is a lot of stuff that Snyder thinks is deep, such as arguments about how as Foreign Talent, the Kryptonian ubermensch cannot be trusted, even with his superhero Employment Pass. He is Donald Trump's worst nightmare, stealing jobs from local costumed vigilantes.
Another dead-end sub-thread is his liability for the battle damage to Metropolis, caused by the events of Man Of Steel (2013).
Real journalists are enlisted to spell out the arguments on televisions in the background, announcing - no, hammering you over the head with how important these moral and political issues are, so that you will go home believing you got smarter watching this, instead of dumber. If you saw Snyder's Watchmen (2009), this first-year philosophy course stuff is old hat.
In any case, both threads vanish in a puff of smoke midway, to make way for another incomprehensible thread, when Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) kicks off his plan for... what, it's never clear. But never mind, there's a mini-ad in there for upcoming franchises Aquaman and The Flash, so book your tickets early.
The climax of the film is an ear-splitting fight, in which one set of computer pixels fights another set of computer pixels, but what happens is never clear because Snyder likes flicker edits, dark shadows, smoke and camera lenses with a coating of grime.
But you walk away with a sense-impression that something big hit something bigger and then everything blew up.
The battles are like the ending of this movie - Snyder can't decide what he wants so he puts everything in, creating three false endings before the credits roll.
For a film that is aware of its own silliness, and revels in it, try Pee-Wee's Big Holiday (PG, 90 minutes, now showing on Netflix, 3.5 stars) - if you can put aside the strangeness of watching Paul Reubens, a 63-year-old man, play a child in everything but appearance.
The first movie featuring the Pee-Wee character in almost three decades sees Reubens meet movie star Joe Manganiello (playing himself), who convinces the eternal boy to break his vow of never leaving his hometown, Fairville. Pee-Wee heads out to New York City and immediately runs into trouble on the road.
A lot of the jokes are physical, and not just from Pee-Wee's Rube Goldberg contraptions. There's plenty of surreal fun in Fairville, a town that stayed in the 1950s while the rest of American moved on.
Pee-Wee's mix of Pollyanna optimism and ignorance about the modern world drives the comedy - fans of the sister Netflix show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt will see a resemblance between Kimmy and Pee-Wee.
Kimmy's world is more grounded in reality than Pee-Wee's, but both feature plenty of sweetness and an anarchic sense of fun, providing some respite in a comedy landscape littered with too much snark.
See photos related to Batman V Superman in the gallery below.
This article was first published on March 24, 2016.
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