Why I’m Wrong

Have I insulted your favorite film? Praised a picture you just can't stand? Here's your chance to set me straight. E-mail your opinion to comments@larsenonfilm.com and they'll be posted on this page.

Batman v Superman outclasses Avengers

I had bought advance tickets for Batman v Superman and was mildly excited for it. Then I read your review and everyone else’s review and dread swept over me. But I already had the tickets and at worst it would be a night out with friends and we could laugh about it. But it wasn’t terrible at all. How could everyone else but me be so wrong? (I don’t know why this keeps surprising me, but it does). Was it a great film? No. Did it have problems? Yes, definitely. Does it deserve one star or deserve all of the critical pooping on that it received? No! Absolutely not. I can’t convince every Tom, Dick and Idiot on the Internet that this is a good movie, but maybe I can try and move your needle from detesting to at least recognize that the film has some merit — especially compared with other comic book movies that everyone, including you, seem to praise more.

First, the imagery. You recognized this a bit in your review. The Bruce Wayne parents’ scene was the best of the 1,052 film versions we’ve seen. It was the shortest but most powerful of any of the movie renditions; it didn’t need the full narrative; just cuts of the violence interspersed with the funeral was very emotional. Generally, I thought the visual style was great throughout. I loved the scenes at the burnt down Wayne mansion. All that Bruce has tried to achieve and in the end, all he’s done is burn down his parents’ house. I loved the views of Metropolis across the water from Gotham. These two sides of the same coin — bright shiny Metropolis full of potential and hope looking across at dingy, depressed Gotham full of apathy and despair — reflecting our reality. I love how Batman was shot up close, so we are in the trenches with him as he fights. The action is visceral and real, especially compared to most Snyder films (or even the Nolan Batman). Superman was always a speck on the horizon, far removed and flying faster than our eyes can track. We could only hope that he lingered long enough to touch him. We don’t even see him rescuing the family on the roof, he just flies far above them in the sun —almost like it’s enough for that family to know that he is there.

Second, the themes. This was where you had the most issue and the story is a bit of a mess. Your review was something about tomatoes and motivation. (And I don’t want to watch you eating tomatoes by the way.) If anything, I think the movie tried too hard to convince you why these two had to fight. And maybe the idea of Superman’s immediate motivation being to save his mother was cheesy, but set aside cynicism and accept that idea as a classic comic book story and consider it within the general themes of the film, and it works. So the film shows all of these ways that Lex is trying to manipulate these two men (and he obviously knows their secret identities, which is kinda cool and I appreciated it just being left unsaid) but look past all of that and consider the motivation for Batman. He is a broken, defeated man in many ways. Like you said he is tired. Purposefully shown that way. He’s been doing this for 20 years and has accomplished nothing. His guilt about his parents still overwhelms him as evidenced by the dream sequence at the grave. He has seen good men gone bad. Perhaps things are worse because of him than without him. For every criminal he takes down at least another pops up. They are more violent, more armed because of him. And for as long as he’s been doing this he is a curiosity, a myth, a topic for debate. But Superman. Here he is and there are statutes for him, great monuments. There are no Batman statutes. Superman is a god and is worshipped — for what? For destroying a city or for saving a city? The 9/11 type imagery of Bruce Wayne going into the dust was also a great visual. And the movie does what no other superhero movie does, it explores what happens after the epic fight and the people it affected. These two super powered beings level a city and kill thousands. This movie posits the consequences of these events. The movie had emotional impact and was more than just oh isn’t it neat to watch them fight. You said on Filmspotting that Superman is boring. I agree, he can be very boring because in conflict he can’t lose. Yet here he does lose. Didn’t you enjoy the fight a little bit? The action was manageable at least — not 10 heroes fighting 1,000 villains in CGI whack-a-mole. OK a few walls got broken, but they obviously weren’t up to code — I blame the city inspectors. But the idea of the consequences of Superman is not boring, it is interesting.

These themes were not perfectly realized for sure. And the score was abysmal. I felt like it was a bad 50s score that was far too dramatic — compared with the lighter touch of the Dark Knight score. So there were a lot of problems with the execution. But I ask that you consider this: can you not give the movie a little quarter if only because it asks the audience to deal with compelling issues? Even if the theme of God versus man was too on the nose at least it was there. And maybe for a comic book movie on the nose is better than nothing at all or even better than too subtle.

This is why I’m baffled. You gave Avengers 3 stars — meaning one star away from perfect. Avengers: Age of Ultron got 2 stars — so twice as good as Batman v Superman. This movie was at least as good as Avengers and had to be better than Avengers 2. I left the first Avengers and almost instantly forgot what happened and didn’t care. Do you remember the plot of Avengers? It’s a Brigadoon that only exists while we watch it. It has no gravity to its characters or to its plot to keep it in our minds. Absent Robert Downey Jr.’s charm and the colorful spectacle of these characters bonking heads, there isn’t much left.  And Avengers 2 was far worse — far, far worse than Avengers — but you gave it a whole 1 more star than Batman v Superman! I contend that Batman v Superman was more visually interesting, more thoughtful and at least tried to do something great — even if it didn’t succeed — than at least Avengers 2. Every other big movie is a comic book movie. Do you want them to be more thoughtful and visually compelling or more colorful action without consequences?

From: Nick Bohl

Chi-Raq unravels Spike Lee’s legacy

Chi-Raq marks a low point for Spike Lee in a career that I didn’t think could get much lower. After a series of disappointing films (Red Hook SummerOldboy, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus), I had hope that Chi-Raq might be a return to form for a director who cut his teeth on stories about contemporary Black America. Unfortunately, I didn’t just find Chi-Raq to be abysmal, but this film made me call into question Lee’s entire back catalog.

I realized, in the days after viewing Chi-Raq, that Lee has never created fully realized female characters. His films routinely reduce women to sexual objects. In fact, the only female characters with a hint of depth or humanity are those played by his sister, as if he can only see humanity in a woman of his same lineage. In his greatest triumphs like Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X and School Daze, we (myself included) glossed over his tacit misogyny in order to focus on the exquisite filmmaking. There is no such filmmaking here, and the lack of even a hint of cinematic quality reveals Chi-Raq as a repository of racist and sexist attitudes.

In Chi-Raq, Lee doesn’t even bother to give his female characters jobs, interests or, in several cases, names. The women here are reduced to walking vaginas and wailing mothers. In Lee’s view of Chicago, all black people are interested in two things: f*#!ing and killing. Lee perpetuates negative stereotypes about black people and leans into them with such ferocity that it seems like there must be a twist coming. I mean, he can’t possibly make the climax (pun intended) of the film … a sex off? In a comedy bereft of humor, the joke is on us.

Joel Coen has described directing as “tone management.” I’m not sure I fully agree, but if that is the case, Lee fails miserably as Chi-Raq ping pongs between a child’s funeral, a cartoon, Confederate-obsessed general, an over-the-top horndog mayor and a supposedly heartfelt plea to pray for a city that is drowning in violence.  I actually felt embarrassed for the actors at times, particularly in the closing scenes, where the characters have decided to put on what looks like a school assembly to resolve all of Chicago’s issues in one fell swoop.

There are many egregious sins in Chi-Raq, but perhaps the most damning is the fact that young black men and boys, the ones who are in equal measure the victims and perpetrators of this horrific violence, are nowhere to be found. Nick Cannon is 35 and Wesley Snipes is old enough to be his dad. The people Lee is supposedly trying to reach with this film aren’t even represented. I don’t expect a film to solve deep issues of race and class that have crippled our country for centuries, but I do expect a filmmaker who once had vision to bring more humanity to his own people than Spike Lee has in Chi-Raq.

From: Destiny Lilly

Crimson Peak suffers from saggy second half

I’m a big del Toro fan (since The Devil’s Backbone), so I walked into this movie very positively inclined. And there was so much enjoyable in this film, I wondered why it left me lukewarm. When I saw the red mud oozing up through the floorboards, I giggled in the theater, and I thought, “OK, del Toro is making a satire on the genre.” But even though the performances were big, the movie didn’t go over the top ENOUGH to commit to a satirical, gonzo version of itself. So it was too silly for me to take seriously, and too serious for me to enjoy its extremes.
After further discussion with my husband, we think the real problem is in the saggy second half of the movie, after they get to the house but before the climactic ending. There’s a lot of repetition – “this is spooky, Edith discovers something, here is a scary ghost.” We were both glancing at our watches during this section. With judicious editing taking about 20 minutes out of this section, del Toro could have cranked up the tension and kept us anxiously building to the climax of the end. I really think everything else could have stayed the same and the movie would have been much better.
From: Jen Small