Wonder Woman (****1/2): It’s about what you believe

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Wonder Woman – 2017

Director Patty Jenkins
Screenplay by Allen Heinberg
Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya, Lucy Davis

It’s a miracle that it took 4 movies for the DC Extended Universe to finally find a gem upon which to place its foundation.  This is the film that should shape the rest of the series if they want to find their way out of the muck and mire of the previous entries. There has been much film making talent exhibited, but no one has told a half-way decent story until Patty Jenkins and Allen Heinberg shepherded the story of one of the archetypal heroes of the last 100 years into an approachably human tale of horror, frailty, heroism and the power that compels the best in all of us: love.

The story in brief is a flashback to the events in and around WWI, where a spy (Pine) is shot down over a mystical island sanctuary of Amazon warriors, lead by a Queen (Nielsen) and her supreme General sister (Wright). The Queen’s daughter, Diana, formed out of clay and given life by the dying light of Zeus, has been groomed as a defender of the planet by her aunt, and somewhat hidden by her mother. The presence of the spy changes everything, and sets Diana off on a mission to end the war to end all wars by taking on Aries, the God of War.

The strengths in this film are many. The casting of Gadot by team Snyder might be the best thing they’ve brought to the DCEU. She is one of the brightest lights of BvS, and this story allows us to find the motivation behind her mysterious debut in that film. We see every side of her here and Gadot hits every destination in the path on the super hero journey. She shows more range than most are allowed when they wear ridiculous outfits. Hers is a fully fleshed and feeling character that uses the emotions on her sleeve as a strength of her character. She acts as a passenger of the story when necessary, but when action is required, she literally steps onto the field and changes fate, rather than surrender to it.

This is a film I am glad I saw with my girls, because while I wanted to show them women could be heroes too. When I left, I realized that I had been duped. Instead of seeing a film in which a girl acted more powerful than men, we all saw a hero that did the things in ways and for reasons that only women would do. In the end, Gadot allows herself to learn lessons without condemning herself for what might be conceived as mistakes. Everything she does is with a soft nature that is simultaneously lethal. She is here to punish the punishers, but she’s also here to gaze with wonder at the beauty of living. This is such an intricate balance to achieve, I am astounded at the performance. It’s truly a star making role that in my estimation is worthy of a nomination for an Oscar as any comic based film ever has seen since Christopher Reeve’s Superman.

This says nothing about the exceptional physicality that Gadot expresses as the Wonder Woman of the title. It is obvious that her training as a member of the Israeli military. She is a physical specimen and is enjoyable to watch as a believable warrior. There are only a few times where they make her look goofy (long jumps especially). Her actions in going house to house saving the small town are delightful and epic as any super deserves.

Having the right kind of character to counter a super is essential. As Steve Trevor, Pine has found his second great role. He is a dedicated warrior and he plays as good a mentor for the human race as Diana of Themyscira could ever want. When he breaks through the mystical barrier (somewhat weakened by Diana’s discovery of her powers, presumably) he sets off a series of events that forever changes the future of the Amazon princess, and humanity. His dedication to mission parallel’s Diana’s own, even if they are not going after the same target. It’s the difference in target that allows his character to be more than Wonder Woman’s rib, to cross reference with the Bible. Along the way, they are somewhat equal but with different roles to play.

Pine has the right kind of assured persona to play a unique second fiddle. He is not a super power, but he’s got pluck and genuine feelings for Diana, that she learns to appreciate and reciprocate. Jenkins is a pro when it comes to the development of their relationship. We see it for a romance, not for a function of plot. It’s hard to disguise something you’ve seen 1000 times and make it feel fresh. And it takes a supreme confidence to make a passionate climax to said relationship and have it shown as a light in the window on a cold night.

Jenkins’ touch is exquisitely ornate. We get a real sense of the human tragedy in such a gruesome war with a minimal amount of blood and carnage. She shows herself  and cinematographer Matthew Jensen as masters of camera placement. There is no better example of this than when Diana rushes headlong into a town that has been bombed with poison gas. We get only the barest hint of the wasted lives but the full effect of horror just by watching the consuming grief on Gadot’s face. It’s a misery worthy of Sigourney Weaver in Aliens.

Just as effective is the sequence towards the end when we see what it means to sacrifice with no chance at escape. The effect of the decision of both leads could not have been more effectively exhibited or embraced by the camera.

The rest of the cast is as well-chosen as played. Robin Wright is never onscreen enough. I found myself as fascinated by her scar ridden beauty as I was Charlize Theron’s Aileen Wournos in Jenkins’ other masterpiece, Monster. Jenkins and Wright know as much about telling us the story that took place off-screen as the one that took place in front of us.

Where the heck has Neilsen been?  I am happy for her inclusion, as I thought we’d never stop seeing her after her breakthrough performance in Gladiator. Then we stopped seeing her. She did very little between 2006 through 2014, but she’s getting a lot of work lately. She will be in the upcoming Justice League film and hopefully subsequent Wonder Woman sequels.

Pine’s rag-tag United Nations team is interesting if for no other reason they provide things besides muscle and firepower. Giving one of them PTSD and how Diana helps the character find a use beyond it is a refreshing departure from the stereotype.

Danny Huston hits the right note as General Erich Ludendorff, a vile and despicable real life predecessor of the Nazi movement. His work with the fictional Isabel Maru (Anaya) succinctly represents the horror that emanates from that part of the world for the first half of the 20th Century. Huston is often the best thing in bad films. This time he is a good thing in a great film.

One of the big strengths of the film is the writing of Heinberg. He really understands the journey a hero has to take to be developed into an interesting character involves more than figuring out how the weapons and the outfit works. In blending the bad characters within the framework of actual events, he is able to give strength without having to go too far to find examples of how evil works its mechanations on us mere mortals. Giving us a devil hiding in plain sight as a whisperer is a stroke of genius. Too bad they didn’t let that impulse ride to a better showdown.

The film is nearly a masterpiece, were it not for some unfortunate computer animation choices towards the end. Making the final combat a collection of big, bigger and biggest strikes is a little too close to BvS territory, when a battle of wits would have more effectively matched the tone of seduction that was being applied. It’s almost someone in the producer’s office said “Yeah, that’s nice. But more explosions would be better.”

It’s not always better. In fact, it never is anymore. If we follow the feeling that Jenkins took time to formulate and sculpt in the future, this could show the redemptive force of a woman that comic book movies could really use.

(****1/2 out of *****)

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Suicide Squad (***1/2) shall remain standing

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Suicide Squad – 2016

Writer and Director David Ayer
Starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnamen, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood, Cara Delevingne, Karen Fukuhara, Adam Beach, Alain Chanoine, Jared Leto

This movie barely got out of the gates before being slaughtered by reviews. Normally I don’t make a practice of mentioning other gasbags, because Lord knows I value my own gasbagging so much more. In the end, it all doesn’t matter too much. This time, I have to say, something dumb is afoot, and the stupidity is not on the screen.

Suicide Squad, for better or worse, is a latter day DC comic book film. The outlook is dark and more than a little hopeless. The characters are disposable, except for a few. The bad guys are an afterthought and a little too CGI heavy. The things that make one uncomfortable about portrayals in the largely sexist and violent, especially regarding The Joker (Leto) will find those same things here.

If you rule this film out because the word is that it is somehow equally miserable as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, you aren’t trying hard enough to enjoy life. In all fairness, those who did not take to that math problem of a film or it’s measurably better Director’s cut, there is a reason to approach cautiously any film in this Universe that they’ve put in Zack Snyder’s hands, as producer or otherwise.

That alone is not reason enough to avoid giving David Ayers a chance. The artist responsible for Training Day, End of Watch and Fury deserves your time. Suicide Squad would have been a worthless pile in many other hands.

The story starts in the wake of events that culminate with Superman’s death. We get a series of introductions as we get to see Federal Intelligence Operative Amanda Waller (Davis) reveal her plans. Some characters get two intross, one’s first meeting is strangely absent until they are on the tarmac. When we see what happens to this sinister agent, it becomes apparent why they did not invest too much time.

Waller’s plan is the formation of a team of “metahumans” who are the baddest of bad criminals that shall be used to accomplish missions for the government. In essence, her rationale is that they need people of extraordinary ability who can take out “the next Superman,” if that one turns out to be bad. If it seems a little thin, well, so did the comic book’s premise. Who’s counting though?

These agents of misfortune are given an offer they cannot refuse in any way, then they are pushed out into their first mission. Will things work out for this crew? When it does, will they get what they are promised? Well, yes to the first question. Of course. It’s the first of a kind of film franchise that they would love to continue. As for the second question, the amount everyone gets is directly proportional to how well this film does and whether refrained from signing a multi-picture deal.

The characters are numerous and differently talented. Some of these talents are useful, some are not as much. Most importantly, are they entertaining? In large part, they are. Robbie absolutely steals the film from her catbird seat. It’s a glorious thing that we get to see Harley Quinn in all of her glory, before she’s is relegated to second banana in a later film tied to The Joker’s insane and often wearying shenanigans. There are zero moments that her mad doctor graces the screen where she is not the character most worthy of our attention.

The only one close to Robbie’s magnetism is Will Smith, who gives his career a necessary jolt with his truly identifiable Deadshot. That he’s given multiple dimensions is not a surprise. He has the chops to pull off the anti-hero that we all can rally behind. He even overcomes a tired subplot of faux-tension with an overly antagonistic Flag (Kinnamen) with charisma beyond the contrivance.

Viola Davis is convincingly charmless and ruthless as Waller. Her acting ability is better than her type of character normally gets or deserves. There is a gravity prevalent that gives the viewer confidence that Waller has the intelligence to survive, so it makes up for the film’s lack of a compelling main villain.

There are drawbacks, to be sure, that keep this film closer to average than classic. First and foremost, Leto’s Joker barely registers. It’s not that this is a bad thing for this reviewer, as the more one heard about the Dallas’ Buyers Club Oscar Winner “method acting” for this role, the more troubled the production appeared. He has a handful of scenes that are pushed to the forefront. The biggest bouts of sexism occur when we look back on his history with Robbie’s Harley Quinn. Even if you know that’s their particular kink, it is not easy to process. There is even a scene with Common that makes absolutely no sense, which – one could suppose – is the point.

This seems to be the summer of villains who don’t do shit. We’ve had some horrible antagonists with Apocalypse,  Krall and now Enchantress (Delevigne). Their job, essentially is to make big plans with the thinnest of motivations. If that seems too much, they also need to wait long enough to for the plot to bring the good guys in the vicinity where, you know, the magic happens. The effects, and especially the dialogue for Delevigne’s Enchantress approaches comically bad. This is deadening to the momentum of each film. It makes one wonder if this is what is what is forcing Marvel’s hand in their re-evaluation of the Avengers Infinity Wars. Two movies of a charmless nemesis Thanos waiting for the inevitable just seems agonizing.

Fortunately this is countered by some excellent work by the less developed characters like El Diablo, Killer Croc and Boomerang (Hernandez, Akinnuoye-Agbaje). All three provide the film with some real entertainment during points in which the story battles inertia. Courtney is a big surprise. It’s rare that he finds a role that allows him to show any amount of charm. Hernandez’ work is especially fulfilling. The marriage of character and story for El Diablo is resonant enough that it gives yet another example of Ayer’s instinct for portraying Hispanic characters with a remarkable depth and clarity. He’s caucasian, just like this reviewer. With only my experiences to draw upon, his Hispanic male characters always resonate for me.

Other things to enjoy are the cameos. I will not go into detail, other than to let you know there are more than one and they do add dimension to the film. Hang on after the credits too past the incredibly apt Twenty-One Pilots song Heathens  and a wonderful collage.

Add up the positives, subtract the negatives and it’s an easy win for Suicide Squad. This movie, especially for Robbie and Smith’s performances, will be watchable for years. If you want to find stuff to hate about the story and film, you will have no problem doing so. If one is honest, the film is definitely likable, even if it does not approach classic overall.

(***1/2 out of *****)

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (**) – Why build a miracle at all?

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – 2016

Director Zack Snyder
Screenplay Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer
Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot

“What goes up must come down.
What must rise must fall…
And what goes on in your life
Is writing on the wall!
If all things must fall,
Why build a miracle at all?…”

Alan Parsons Project, 1978

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is not the colossal failure everyone wants to proclaim. It’s about as cumbersome as Batman’s suit during their second meeting with the weight of its self-importance. It forgets that there are two characters in the title. In terms of story, it unwinds like more a math problem. It feels like they tried to set up D.C.’s version of The Avengers in one big bloated carcass of a movie. Still, with all of that going against it, I believe it squeaks by as a film that is a passable, if not all that likable building block to a franchise. If this is The Phantom Menace, let’s hope The Justice League is not Attack of the Clones.

The thing about Zack Snyder is that I generally enjoy his view on the cinematic world. His movies are usually visual masterpieces that, while not perfect, are at least memorable. The Watchmen, still his best work, actually improved upon the comic for me by making the ending an existential question. His version of Dawn of the Dead is still the best zombie movie I have ever seen. Man of Steel is, until the last act, perhaps the best Superman film. Somehow he forgot that Kal El is supposed to lead the carnage away from civilization…and that smile on Clark Kent’s face just doesn’t jibe with so many people dead.

They barely let the credits roll when the decision was made to contort the sequel into this grab bag of scenes and pulpy carnage in Snyder’s estimation of the modern version of a D.C. story line. They conscientiously moved away from the reliable but admittedly routine chuckle a minute Marvel formula. They also moved away from moments of wonder that are best fed in moderation.

After yet another young Bruce Wayne tragic awakening scene, we get a segue into the climax of Man of Steel, with the big ship falling into the sky and Superman (Cavill) working over Zod’s soon to be corpse in the background. Bruce Wayne (Affleck) has decided to fly into Metropolis as…Bruce Wayne. In a helicopter. Even with those means, he lands the copter several blocks away and drives in, until the roads are, soon enough, impassible. Then he runs. Again, as Bruce Wayne. Why does he do this?  Because Batman might have gotten there and actually helped more people maybe?  Well probably not. The Earth itself is knocked all to hell. How is Batman going to do anything about that?  Don’t think too hard about it. They didn’t.

So Bruce Wayne lost some employees and one friend we never really get to know. That’s alright for this story, though. We lose Jimmy Olsen a few minutes later when he’s going undercover during a Lois Lane interview with a bad guy.  Superman kills the bad guy after he holds Lane hostage, but back in Gotham/Metropolis, Bruce/Batman is stewing. The world has mixed feelings about Batman, who has been operating for years. He’s taken to branding his victims lately. They also don’t know what to make of Superman. This means the two heroes find one another on the opposite side of the justice spectrum.

The writers go to some lengths to establish these feelings, but the inclusion of Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor makes a jumble of it. Luthor likely knows the identity of both when he brings them together at a party. Also at this party is Diana Prince (Gadot). We know who she is, but Bruce and Clark will not until they need her, later in the film.

Anyone who has seen even the second commercial knows what happens from this point, which made seeing it somewhat redundant. There are angles that work (Batman), some that are forced (Luthor) and some that rely too much on Lois being an investigator and not enough on her boyfriend.

For what is supposed to be a sequel, it feels more like Batman with a bunch of Superman’s supporting cast. The reason for them to battle (even in the comic) has always been a little too counter-intuitive to their supposed intelligence. Still, the fact that we do not spend more than a few frames contemplating alternate identities is a plus.

As before, Snyder puts way too much into the last act. They make some overt attempts to intimate that the battles are taking place away from populated areas, but…come on. These folks do more damage than Godzilla meeting King Kong. In the midst of this, we do get a nice, somewhat nuanced subplot with Wonder Woman that makes her upcoming movie feel more interesting than Captain America’s.

We get to see a a video collection of other “Meta humans” who have been tracked down in a method convenient to the Justice League plot, but nowhere near any sort of canon. Even more, the titular battle is halted for a reason that makes no sense. Perhaps though it is commonplace in the dark D.C. Universe for people to refer to a parent by their first name.

The film is dark. Oh Lord is it dark. It feels like we have a giant boot to the neck for most of the 2.5 hour running time. If they were going for serious, the settled for constant heart attack inducing stress. Why do we have to make this world so dark?  It’s okay to see amazing things without seeing several caskets roll by throughout the film.

Who do we blame?  Most of it belongs to Charles Roven and Team Snyder. This whole format is in their guiding hands for now. The story provided by Goyer and altered by Terrio feels piecemeal. Goyer is on the hook for the two Justice League films. The franchise feels like a deeper hole than even they were anticipating. Word has it that there are a series of re-shoots even this late in the game to Suicide Squad in order to brighten the tone, even just a little.

It’s not that I hate this film. It’s got some good, albeit disconnected moments. The task of entering the DC Universe mid-step means it will necessarily be different than the origin story heavy Marvel Universe. A used universe is fine with this reviewer. It just shouldn’t have to require one to watch Blade Runner to lighten the mood afterword.

(** out of *****)

Bearing the weight of the Man of Steel

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Man of Steel – 2013

Director Zack Snyder
Starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne, Diane Lane, Christopher Meloni, Ayelet Zurer
Screenplay David S. Goyer

Well documented are the difficulties of making a movie about a man with no weaknesses.  As good a Superman as Christopher Reeve was, there was really nothing for him to do after he beat Terrance Stamp’s General Zod way back in Superman II.  It took 2 more movies before they realized it.  The beautiful but flawed Superman Returns showed that, even with better special effects and an extreme emphasis on character development, they had nothing to fall back on but a literal sea of Kryptonite.  Now, with the help of Christopher Nolan, savior of the Batman franchise, the push was towards darkness and the weight of morality.  It is a bold decision, and one that nearly succeeds.  This Man of Steel has more death and destruction than any super hero film I have ever seen.  Yes, that includes The Avengers and the third Transformers film…combined.

The story starts out on the doomed planet of Krypton.  We get extensive back story that explains (for the most part) the reason for the planet’s demise and the actual sins of General Zod, which are closer to an insane nobility than unchecked arrogance as presented in the Reeve franchise.  Crowe, Shannon and Zurer are all exceptional here, as is the variety of living beings present.  It starts to make sense.

Once on earth, we are presented with a story for Kal-El in the same winding and flashback fashion that we got to see in Batman Begins.  It’s at this point that Man of Steel is at its most daring.  We get to see what makes him the son of Jonathan and Martha Kent (Costner and Lane) in contrast to what it means to be the son of Jor-El (Crowe) and Laura (Zurer).  The contrast is interesting, and it really encourages an interest in his development.  All of this dovetails very nicely with the introduction of Amy Adams as Lois Lane.  Thankfully, she avoids the playful pluckiness of Kidder, who had made the character her own opposite Reeve.  Instead, we get a mostly believable journalist who ruled as much by her conscience as her desire for the story.

From here, the film takes its most jarring turns.  Shannon is every bit the equal of Stamp in the role of the antagonist.  His vitriol, mixed with an unexpected intelligence, creates a worthy adversary for Superman.  There is a leap into megalomania which would seem inconsistent with all but the most irrational beings and it wreaks havoc on the rest of the film.  The result is a mixture of destruction and exposition that is curiously ill-fitting.  What we see is breathtakingly horrific, and decisive.  The very next moment, we hear its reasoning verbalized.  The explanations seem more the “just in case you don’t follow” variety.  That aside, Shannon is riveting and worth every moment on-screen.  He is hands down the best actor around now.

Superman is the hero that started everything.  He is also the end of all heroes.  There is no DC Universe without him.  There is just Batman, and a bunch of one offs.  Cavill does a great job here, working well with all he is given, and my God what a winning smile.  There could not be a better director for visual effects, save Del Toro or Jackson.  Even so, it’s a barrage of destruction that comes close to overwhelming everything else that the story is attempting to build.  For this I have to blame the writer.  We see decision foisted upon the hero answered with such a casual quip it’s quite shocking.  One can’t imagine that I could make such a decision.  Then there is the ending.  It’s impossible to imagine anyone could smile after all that happens.  But then, there still is hope.  We do have Superman.

(**** out of *****)

Immortals: More Fighting and Chicks in Sepia Tone

Immortals – 2011


Directed by Tarsem Singh
Starring Henry Cavill, Freda Pinto, Mickey Rourke, John Hurt, Stephen Dorff, Luke Evans, Isabel Lucas, Kellan Lutz
Screenplay by Charley and Vlas Parlapanides

At the beginning of Immortals, Zeus, in his “Old Man” disguise, gives the following exposition:

When this world was still young, long before man or beast roamed these lands, there was a war in the heavens. Immortals, once thoughts incapable of death, discovered they had the power to kill one another. Lost in this war was a weapon of unimaginable power, the Epirus bow. The victors declared themselves Gods, while the vanquished were renamed Titans and forever imprisoned within the bowels of Mount Tartarus. Eons passed, mankind flourished and the great war receded from memory. But the evil that once was has reemerged.”

So, in the first 5 minutes we find that the invincibility promised by the title is really just a bunch of words.  You are immortal, until you are not, and even then, the you are not dead, just Titans stuck inside a mountain.  Oh, and there is a new bad guy now…and don’t forget the bow.  Yeah.

Tarsem Singh has a very unique vision for creating a visual palette in his films.  At any particular time, when you freeze the frame, it stands like a painting.  When you add the physiques of Henry Cavill, Freida Pinto and, yes, even the ‘roided up Mickey Rourke, it’s stuff that you don’t see everyday.  For the viewing of the immaculately beautiful Freida Pinto alone, it may be worth watching Immortals.  Indeed, you get to see more of her than has ever been revealed before.  Work of art.

Problem is, the story is all over the place, and nowhere at all.  Although there is more of a coherent story-line than I have seen in an Singh storyline before, the script is still, essentially, an excuse to move from one scenic spot to the next, and back and on to another.  If you have seen either of the Clash of the Titans, you have seen this before.  Gods watch over humans, pontificate and then they get involved.  Then they promise that is the last of their involvement, until they need to get involved again.

As for acting,  one can’t say whether anything we are viewing can qualify.  Mickey Rourke leads the way as Hyperion with dialogue that literally requires one to turn on the subtitles to decipher.  Cavill, Dorff and Pinto seem confused most of the time.  The actors who play the Gods seem depressed.  Everyone who gives information to Hyperion ends up dead.  Everyone he sends out to brutalize the good guys die too.  John Hurt, as Zeus in Old Man disguise, looks as though he is having a good time.  He enjoys these types of paychecks just like Donald Sutherland would, I suppose.

One can safely assume what they are going to get in a movie of this nature.  300 was a fluke, in that it caught an actor and director in peak form.  It really wasn’t much better than Immortals, even with its Frank Miller roots. Singh was looking to make an action film “done in Renaissance painting style.”  I suppose they got that.  If you are looking for any of these images, or any of the loose affiliations to Greek Mythology to carry any amount of sense, you may be a little let down.  My guess is not much, though.

As for that bow, it’s not really clear how it was all that awesome.  One is apt to think it might have been there only for a couple of 3D shots, and that is about it.

(** out of *****)

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night – Brandon got a raw deal

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night – 2011

Directed by Kevin Munroe

Starring Brandon Routh, Sam Huntington, Anita Briem, Peter Stormare, Taye Diggs, Kurt Angle, Brian Steele

Written by Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenhiemer

“There was only one way to get into Corpus House, if you weren’t a vampire,” intones Routh, in a voice over as Dylan Dog, paranormal investigator, about one long hour into …Dead of Night, “And that was as a ghoul, addicted to their blood.  Luckily I knew the game.  All I needed was proof.”

Minutes later, the same voice over gives us, “See?  That’s just what this case needed.  A seven foot tall, flesh eating zombie.  Which begs the question: are there any people left in New Orleans?”

Almost directly after, we get his voice, forcing a smile as it says, “It’s a shame that Slake turned out to be a dead-end.  Literally.  Fortunately, his driver’s license lead me straight to his crummy apartment.”

Finally, when talking to the erstwhile Jimmy Olsen, now playing Marcus, his newly made zombie friend, we get the most poignant line of all:

“You are dead.  Now you can pity yourself and die a slow, miserable death.  Or you can define yourself as you want to.”

This is life (or death) after Superman.  Literally.

What can be said about Brandon Routh’s Superman Returns?  It was a near masterpiece, which introduced the world at large to Brandon Routh.  It was his big ticket to the Christopher Reeve express train to stardom.  Well, aside from his own 4 Superman movies, Reeve’s star never really ascended past Somewhere in Time.  That was alright, though.  He turned down a bevy of film roles (including Lethal Weapon, Pretty Woman and Romancing the Stone), that would have remade him several times over.  He was his own man who had a lot going for him besides a quest for stardom.

What can be said about Routh’s Dylan Dog: Dead of Night?  Not nearly a masterpiece.  Quite a piece of crap, for the most part.  But, it has its moments, mostly provided by Huntington’s Marcus, waking up to the fact that his life as a mortal is history.

The voice over is a tough medium.  Much like writing an email, it is very hard for the average person to correctly express themselves when talking over the action of a movie.  Some of our best voice over artists, like Morgan Freeman, make it look easy.  Brandon Routh has talents, to be sure.  Talking over the movie is not one of them.

One of the many problems for Dylan Dogg, it seems, is the comic book (based in Italy) is legendary, both for its humor and the high quality of the story.  They poured $20 million into making this film.  I am not sure how much they paid for the script, but I am guessing it was a little much. Several of the lines fall flat as they deserve to, while others lose their power to an ineffective voice over.

The effects, while not great, do nothing to distract or distinguish the film.  The zombies, werewolves and vampires of the film are all pretty low key, while the last nemesis, Belial, looks like something out of Tom Cruise’s Legend.  A world where the undead hold as much credence as the dead, one would think that the characters would be a little more interesting to look at, much more listen to.

The pacing of this film is an absolute wreck.  One moment they are in a mad car chase with a vampire.  The next moment, with the vampire literally vanquished on a street sign, they walk calmly down the street, past him, moving the story forward with boring exposition.  There are somber, boring speeches, by usually good actors, like Storemare, immediately followed up with a fight, to no particular reason or effect by one of his minions (Angle) on the way out the door.  Routh does the best he can with this material.  He approaches each dis-joined scene with no concept of how it will be screwed up in editing.

Routh was good in his first significant post Superman role, as Todd Ingram in the wonderful Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but that did not bring an onslaught of major offers, either.  Most of his activity since he donned the cape has been in movies that get shelved (Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse), roles that get cut (The Informers), decent direct to video fare (Sam Jackson’s intense Unthinkable) or rumors in significant projects (The Walking Dead) that never materialize into reality.  He has been on TV (Chuck), but it’s only a supporting role.

Mainly, though, Routh waited around for the inevitable sequel to the decently successful but not Dark Knight level success of Superman Returns.  As properties transferred, rights expired and people involved with his version of Superman departed, the odds grew longer that Routh was ever going to be Clark Kent again.  Finally, once Zack Snider decided in November of 2010 that Henry Cavill would play the role, all hopes had pretty much dried up into dust.  So now, Routh goes the way of Eric Bana, Edward Norton, even Tobey McGuire.  Because of Christopher Nolan’s twin (soon to be a trio of) masterpieces, reboots are the rage.  While there was plenty of reason to give the old Batman series a kick in the junk, these other re-fresheners are not guaranteed successes built on dead franchise carcasses.  There was plenty of life left in the cars now out on the lot, with the rest of the clunkers.

So, like so many capable workers, Routh got a layoff.  He got experience, with the faint stain of failure, which, quite unfairly, seems to follow him around.  The result is movies like this, which don’t do much for his reputation, but feel like a risk without much chance of reward.  For that reason, I will continue to follow him, like I do, Bana, Norton and others.  I’ve not been a superhero, but I have been laid off.

(** out of *****)