Film Review: Batman vs. Superman, Dawn of Justice

Release Date: March 25, 2016

Running Time: 151 Minutes

Just as it looked like Superman would finally get a proper film franchise, one that would draw more villains and storylines from the comics instead of descending into comedic camp like the 80s’ series, Warner Brothers decided to fulfill one of the greatest dreams of comic book fans: a cinematic, on-screen Batman and Superman crossover, particularly one that would show them in a fight against each other. Superman would have to share his movie with Batman, who has really thrived on both the big and small screens as of late. However, upon its release it has met with severe critical backlash, though it will probably still make a killing at the box office (I and about fifty other people had to wait in line while the theater was emptied of the previous screening’s moviegoers). But are the poor reviews just the byproduct of snobby critics, or is this movie really a train wreck?

Sadly, it’s a case of the latter. Besides, critics have embraced plenty of superhero and other comic-based films in the past fifteen years. Batman vs. Superman is shockingly slow and needlessly dark. It throws in too many elements, as DC is trying to get a quick start to their own cinematic universe. It also seems to derive more from DC’s New 52 reboot, in which almost all of the 52 weekly comic book series are full of frowning, miserable superheroes in violent, depressing storylines. This works for Batman, but we don’t need to see Superman failing to crack one smile through an entire six-issue story arc or the Teen Titans being stuck in a contest where children kill each other.

One of the greatest flaws of Zack Snyder’s film, perhaps the worst aspect, is Superman himself. Henry Cavill is a fine actor, but his Superman is just not the shining beacon of hope that Superman should be. If you thought he spent too much time brooding in Man of Steel, wait till you see him frown his way through a two and a half hour movie, looking depressed. There’s even a montage of him doing heroic deeds, but Hans Zimmer’s score for the scene is dour and brooding, while Superman looks like he’s slowly dying from the strain of saving people. Another problem is that Batman himself is a pessimistic character. One of the things that makes his interactions with Superman and DC’s other more light-hearted heroes interesting is how his mistrust plays off against their idealistic optimism. Here they’re both frowning, scowling figures, so it looks like two mean-spirited jerks having a pissing contest instead of a clash of ideologies.

Superman is not even a main character. I felt no emotional development from him at all, aside from him being depressed about people not liking him. He disappears for long chunks of screentime while other characters talk about how horrible and dangerous he is. Superman’s supporting characters don’t fare much better. Jimmy Olsen finally gets introduced, only to have maybe one minute of screentime. Amy Adams’ Lois Lane has her own subplot about investigating an incident near the film’s beginning, but this proves unnecessary. Otherwise she’s just there to listen to the other characters monologue. Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) was actually fairly funny and got to do a little more than he did in Man of Steel, so that’s something.

One of the most controversial casting choices was five foot nine Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. For some reason none of the movies have been able to capture the essence of comic book Lex Luthor. In the Christopher Reeves films he wasn’t a mad scientist, but a criminal obsessed with real estate. In Superman Returns Bryan Singer was so taken in by nostalgia that he used this version of the character, who once again was out to create real estate. Eisenberg’s version is based off of the evil businessman Luthor, one of the greatest villains in comic books history, but for some reason he’s goofy and squirrelly, more akin to Jim Carrey’s Riddler. He doesn’t even have the benefit of a clear motivation. Does he genuinely want to protect the world from the potentially dangerous Superman and other metahumans, does he want to rule the world himself, or does he actually want to increase metahuman activity? By the film’s end, after spending over two hours lecturing on the dangers of Superman, he’s bragging about how he has sent a signal to alien invaders, quite the contradiction.

But there is a bright spot among the characters and that is Ben Affleck’s Batman. His Batman is an older, jaded figure, having operated as a costumed vigilante for twenty years. There’s even evidence of battles with the Joker and Riddler as easter eggs.  Batman, aka Bruce Wayne, opens the film witnessing Superman’s needlessly destructive battle with Zod, addressing the Man of Steel complaints of fans and critics. Naturally, he thinks the collateral damage of Superman is too great, and also that if he ever turns against humanity there’s little hope of stopping him. He thus has the clearest motivation and most development, perhaps the only development, of any of the characters. He’s the one that felt like an actual main character.

Most of the Batman scenes are quite good. He does actual detective work, something that Christian Bale’s version would have other characters do for him, and he has an amazing fight scene that looks like it came straight out of the Arkham video game series. His methods are shockingly violent when taking his comic book’s ‘no-kill” rule into account. He flat out machine guns and wrecks the cars he’s chasing and brands criminals with the bat logo. But at least he never claims that he won’t kill anyone. In Batman Begins, Christian Bale’s version vows he will never become an executioner and then ends up blowing up a palace full on ninjas. I really look forward to a solo outing starring Ben Affleck’s Caped Crusader. I also thought Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and butler Alfred Pennyworth (Jeremy Irons) were pretty cool. Wonder Woman doesn’t have much screentime, usually showing up to have a little verbal spar with Bruce Wayne. I’m definitely excited for her movie. Iron’s Alfred is a little more sarcastic than previous interpretations, but alongside Perry White he provides most of the genuine humor in the movie.

One last thing to address is the fight scenes. This time around there’s still a lot of destruction, but it’s much more contained. The only questionable scene in this regard is the location of the final battle, an industrial area which is closed down for the night, meaning no civilians are around. Knowing people who work these kinds of jobs and having a little experience myself, I can tell you in real life they would be running many of those places 24/7.

There’s surprisingly little action, so little that the film’s first half can drag at points, not what you want for something titled Batman vs. Superman. Things do pick up in the last hour. The one that audiences were looking forward to was the actual fight between Batman and Superman. I have to say it’s not bad, but it’s nowhere near as good as the one in Dark Knight Returns, the main inspiration for this movie really. Batman struggles to face Superman’s power for the first couple minutes. Once he throws kryptonite at him, however, it turns into a really average slugfest with a questionable conclusion. The final battle is not exactly flawless, but it’s more interesting. This is kind of a spoiler, but the trailers themselves already did that. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, DC’s Trinity, faces off against Doomsday. Doomsday himself is unfortunately based off of the New 52 version, meaning he absorbs all energy directed at him and is constantly mutating, rather than being the pummeling terror he debuted as. He starts off looking like a cave troll from Lord of the Rings and despite gaining the spikes from the comic book version he still looks kind of stupid.

Overall, Batman vs. Superman is a shockingly poor movie. It’s overstuffed, convoluted, and imbued with a dark, depressing aura. DC shows that its desperate to catch up with Marvel’s cinematic universe, cramming in too much buildup for future movies. Snyder and the other creators take too much inspiration from the New 52, DC’s current crop of comics that think it’s edgy to be dark and broody. If you have a large interest in DC’s characters, this is worth seeing once. Ben Affleck’s Batman is great, Wonder Woman is neat for when she’s there, and some of the action is cool, but overall this is one big mess. I’m concerned for the DC Cinematic Universe. I’m sure at least a couple of the movies will be good at least, but if they insist on following the grimdark style moviegoers are eventually going to be fed up. Marvel’s fun, light-hearted fare with clear-cut heroes is succeeding for a reason.

Rating: 4/10

Film Review: Battle of Okinawa

The film industry is always going back to World War II, and with good reason. Such a large, well-documented conflict that affected every area of human life is full of almost limitless stories to bring to the big screen. Japan, however, has never really delved too deeply into the subject on screen. Japan in general has controversially displayed selective amnesia when it comes to this period in history, in large part due to the horrible atrocities its militaristic government orchestrated. Thus, post-war cinema in that nation usually looks to feudal era for historic inspiration. But for a few years in the 60s and 70s, several directors were willing to tackle the subject.

Curious to check out a Japanese WWII film, I got my hands on a DVD for the simply titled Battle of Okinawa, based on the last great battle of WWII. Directed by war veteran Kihachi Okamoto, it’s practically a docudrama, with much of its information culled from the memoirs of Chief of Staff Hiromichi Yahara (Tatsuya Nakadai), a rare case of a high-ranking officer who did not commit ritual suicide when faced with defeat.

One thing I was wondering was what stance Okamoto’s Battle of Okinawa would take. Would it be pro-Japanese propaganda, or perhaps a condemnation of wartime behavior? What would American soldiers be portrayed like from the other side?

Aside from inspiring Okinawan civilians to commit mass suicides, atrocities are never mentioned. As someone with a good knowledge of the Pacific War, I found it disturbing realizing that most if not all of the military characters would have been involved in rape, murder, enslavement, and the like. If there is any criticism, it is leveled at high command for failing to properly support its army, mismanaging resources, and treating its soldiers as mere cannon fodder. The film also does not portray aggressive-minded tactics in a positive light, and in fact the most interesting conflict is built around this. Chief of Staff Yahara is the voice of reason, and advocates a defensive battle taking advantage of Okinawa’s caves and hills. Theoretically this could wear down the American assault, at least keeping the enemy force stuck in a vicious battle for months. On the other side is General Isamu Cho (Tetsuro Tamba), one of the architects of the Rape of Nanking, though the film fails to mention this at all. While aware of mistakes made by high command, he himself starts to push for a grand offensive, and once he gets his wish things go really downhill. Overseeing them is their commander, Mitsuru Ushijima (Keiju Kobayashi), who I think Okamoto intended to be a calming and thoughtful figure, but ends up looking too passive and therefore too willing to go along with suicidal tactics.

The rest of the cast is rounded out by a lot of little characters. This is a docudrama, so there’s no deep study of anyone’s character, but there are standouts. The Okinawan civilians come off as very sympathetic. There’s a barber who used to be in the army who has a very optimistic attitude, students who are drafted into the army, and a group of volunteer nurses, including one former prostitute who provides some genuine, though dark, humor. The film presents the Okinawans, a minority within Japan, as pro-Japanese and eager to help out their rulers. While there were doubtlessly some genuine cases, reality was far different. The civilians were often forced against their will into doing manual labor or even fighting the invaders. The Japanese military would also use them as shields, take their food, and even commit some of the same atrocities practiced on other Asian peoples. After all, Japanese culture at the time was ridiculously arrogant and demeaning towards all non-Japanese. This isn’t to say that US troops didn’t kill them either, which is shown several times in the movie. American veterans have freely admitted that thanks to the confusion of the battle and the inability to tell some civilians apart from the Japanese, they would wind up gunning down many innocents and torching their houses. Despite the film’s refusal to accurately depict Japanese-Okinawan relations, it does a good job of showing the horror as the entire island’s culture is destroyed. Up to a third of the Okinawans were killed in the three months of the battle.

Of interest is the portrayal of the American soldiers. They barely ever appear on screen, mainly because Japan doesn’t have too many white people to use. The first onscreen encounter depicts the Japanese going up against a column of tanks, with no view of their occupants. When they finally appear, almost halfway through, their faces are half-covered by helmets. Only once, when a marine is bayoneted, does the audience see a full face. This makes the Americans look like impersonal killing machines, though to be fair Japanese soldiers were often portrayed as a bunch of babbling, kill-hungry monsters by Hollywood.

If you watch this film expecting awesome battle scenes, you will be disappointed save for some splendid explosives work. Thanks to the lack of white extras and possibly budgetary problems afflicting the Japanese movie industry at the time, it’s hard to show a full-fledged battle. There is a lot of violence. Early on groups of civilians huddle around grenades and blow themselves up, with all of the survivors grabbing branches and instruments so that they can finish each other off. This is done against the film’s oddly cheerful theme, creating an eerie soundtrack dissonance. I don’t know how accurate this is, but the Japanese are presented as doing a pretty decent job of fighting the Americans until about halfway through, when Cho gets his wish and a massive offensive is launched. Naturally, the technologically superior Americans mow down tons of Japanese. From there on it’s a losing battle which culminate in a lengthy sequence of suicides, ranging from women drinking poison to officers committing seppuku to a father hacking his own son to death. Almost every character ends up dead, though thankfully Yahara, who elicits much sympathy with his competence, makes it out alive by disguising himself as an Okinawan.

Overall, I would recommend this movie to history buffs, especially those who want to see a film from the Japanese perspective. But be warned, it does nothing to acknowledge or apologize for Japan’s war crimes. It does promote a strong anti-war message and a condemnation of an insane culture of ritual suicide. Okamoto refrains from having any of the characters speechify on the horrors of ritual suicide, opting for a more faithful presentation of how they would have acted. He also lets the visuals, what’s happening on screen, show how terrible war is and why it should be avoided in the future. It’s a brutal film that, despite its two-and-a-half hour running time, moves along nicely thanks to fast editing and a grim but fascinating portrayal of one of the last great battles of history.

As a Godzilla fan I have to mention a couple other things. Battle of Okinawa was produced by Toho, the same studio which runs the Godzilla franchise. Doing the special effects is Teruyoshi Nakano, famous for his pyrotechnics heavy work in the 1970s Kaiju films. Watch Godzilla vs. Gigan and Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla to see what I mean. This strength was valuable for Battle of Okinawa, which features tons of explosions, the highlight being a successful Japanese attack on an American airfield. Doing the music is Masaru Sato, who did a few of the Godzilla films. The main theme for the movie was actually reworked and appropriately used as the Okinawa theme in Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla. Ironically, a giant monster movie actually ended up being more accurate in its depiction of Japanese-Okinawan relations, as an old man shows bitter anger towards the Japanese (but more for ancient conflicts than WWII in particular).

Final Rating: 8/10

WWE Review: Roadblock 2016

Date: March 12, 2016

Venue: Ricoh Coliseum, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

When WWE announced a Network exclusive special between Fastlane and Wrestlemania, people were expecting a glorified house show. Originally titled the March to Wrestlemania, it was renamed Roadblock. As some of the matches were announced, interest suddenly piqued. Fans saw the possibility that the Wrestlemania event card could be reshuffled, with Roman Reigns (whose push as top babyface has not been well received) possibly facing former tag partner Dean Ambrose instead of Triple H. So in this review I share my thoughts on whether or not this event was a game-changer or a throwaway show.

The New Day (Big E & Kofi Kingston w/Xavier Woods) vs. the League of Nations (King Barrett & Sheamus) for the WWE Tag Team Titles (6/10)

The New Day come out first and gave a funny promo. It wasn’t as good as some of their earlier stuff until they introduced their special brand of cereal: Booty-O’s! They proceeded to insult the League of Nations with painful accuracy. Because really, the League of Nations, consisting of international stars Alberto Del Rio, Rusev, Sheamus, and Wade Barrett, is one of the worst factions ever. When they started they had Sheamus as world champion and Alberto Del Rio as U.S. champion (after beating John Cena clean in ten minutes no less!). But Sheamus lost his title pretty quickly (a month after winning it) and Alberto Del Rio likewise lost the U.S. title to Kallisto. Sheamus was booted out of the world title picture while Barrett and Rusev have been losing most of their matches.

The match itself was heel vs. heel, but the crowd cheered New Day, who by being so funny and entertaining are slowly morphing into babyfaces. New Day dominated the early going with a lot of tags to keep up their momentum. Barrett and Sheamus got the upper hand as they beat up Kingston for a while. Kingston finally made the tag to Big E, who was hit with a pretty neat suplex by Barrett. Later on Sheamus was set up for the tag-team version of the Big Ending, but he slipped out of it and Kingston landed on his head. Ouch!  Barrett went for the pin, which would have succeeded except that Xavier Woods got on the apron and distracted the ref. They are still bad guys. After some more back-and-forth Barrett was hit with the Big Ending and got pinned, as he usually does.

This was a good match, but nothing too special. It wasn’t as great as New Day’s bouts with the Usos and Lucha Dragons. They did make both teams look strong.

Chris Jericho vs. Jack Swagger (5/10)

This is where Roadblock started to look like a high-class house show. Jericho came out and spent what must have been ten minutes insulting the fans and even insulting Canada. He said that he turned heel because everyone was cheering the recently-debuted AJ Styles when they should have been exalting his latest return. I actually find Jericho’s constant returns annoying. He goes on tour with his band Fozzy and then comes back for a few months to wrestle. For the first couple times it was amazing, but now it’s the same thing over and over. Some lower card heel comes out to say a bunch of rude things and then suddenly the light goes out and he makes his dramatic return. Fortunately this time he’s in a pretty good feud with AJ Styles.

Ironically, the man who would fight for the Canadian fans was American patriot Jack Swagger. He and Jericho had a pretty back-and-forth match. It was nice seeing every signature and finisher get countered, but I feel that some of the moves weren’t really clicking all too much. Also, the crowd wasn’t really into it. Jericho did a good job of making his fellow Canadians hate him with that promo, but they weren’t really buying Swagger all that much and at one point were chanting “CM Punk”. Towards the end Jericho broke up the Patriot Lock by grabbing the ref’s pants. He then applied the Walls of Jericho and got the win via submission.

Swagger can put on some good matches but I wasn’t feeling it here. The crowd didn’t help too much either. The match was also a bit of a random set-up. Sami Zayn, a native Canadian, was there. So why didn’t he defend Canada against Jericho?

Big Cass & Enzo Amore (w/Carmella) vs. the Revival (Dash Wilder & Scott Dawson) for the NXT Tag Team Titles (8/10)

I was pretty excited to see an NXT match in front of a larger crowd. Fan reaction was a bit light since not everybody has the Network and watches NXT, but enough joined in on Amore’s opening mic spiel. The story was heavily reminiscent of their NXT Takeover: London match, in that Cass and Amore just can’t seem to win the tag titles and they’re facing off against the brutally old school Revival.

In the opening the crowd got fired up when Cass started literally throwing Amore, whose character is a loudmouthed, but not that good wrestler, into the Revival, one time even over the top rope. The Revival finally got their act together and dominated Amore for a while. The best bit of this part was when Amore fought off his opponents and was nearing for a hot tag. Just as he was about to get it, Dawson just swooped in and knocked him all the way out of the ring. Amore finally tagged in Big Cass, who blasted the Revival and then tagged Amore back in for the Rocket Launcher on Wilder. Dawson stopped them and a chase ensued outside the ring, concluding with Carmella slapping Dawson. Cass then ran into the Revival’s tag team finisher, a two-man Codebreaker. Amore managed to fight both of them off for a bit, but was eventually hit with the two-man Codebreaker and pinned.

As usual with the NXT talent, this was a great match. They really got the crowd into it, which bodes well for them if they move up to the main roster. It’s always crushing to see Amore and Cass fail to win those titles, but the Revival may get their final comeuppance against another NXT team called American Alpha.

Charlotte (w/Ric Flair) vs. Natalya for the Divas Title (7/10)

Once again the signs that this is a large-scale house show were shown when it was announced that this was originally a non-title match. Some verbal sparring earlier in the day led to it being made into a title match. Since Charlotte is already locked into a triple threat at Wrestlemania with other former NXT alumni Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks, the outcome of this match was made much more obvious. Also Natalya is the daughter of pro-Canadian Jim Neidhart, so the Canadians were really behind her on this one.

The match started off with the two twisting around into different submission holds. It was nice, but a couple of them didn’t look very effective, such as Charlotte’s leg scissors which Natalya could easily punch her way out of. Charlotte finally came out on top, working on her opponent’s knee and bashing Natalya’s head into the mat. She locked on the Figure Eight a couple times, but Natalya managed to counter them into pins before getting beaten up some more. Charlotte hit the Natural Selection and went for a moonsault.  Natalya got to her feet and regained control with a powerbomb. She eventually locked on the Sharpshooter. Charlotte pulled herself closer to the ropes, where Ric Flair tried to grab her in hopes of breaking the hold. His interference caused Natalya to let go of Charlotte and yell at him, leading to the overused distraction roll-up pin.

This was actually the second longest match of the night, unusual for women’s wrestling on the main roster. I thought it was pretty good, though some of the Charlotte dominance spots dragged on.

Brock Lesnar vs. Bray Wyatt & Luke Harper (4/10)

This was supposed to just be Lesnar vs. Wyatt. Wyatt’s faction of evil swamp men had ganged up on Lesnar during the Royal Rumble to eliminate him. This was going to lead to a Wrestlemania match, but plans were changed to have Lesnar face Ambrose. Now he had a chance for revenge on Wyatt here in a one-on-one match. Wyatt said he made a deal with the devil (probably the booking team) to turn this into a handicap match because Lesnar is so freaking powerful.

I have mixed feelings about this match. It was advertised as one-on-one, a first time showdown between the Beast Brock Lesnar and charismatic cult leader Bray Wyatt. Wyatt tagged out at the beginning and it was just Lesnar vs. Harper. It was a decent match. Harper started off getting suplexed. Wyatt stood in the entrance aisle. Lesnar started coming after him, since he was the main target, but decided to finish off Harper. Turning around, he was greeted by Harper’s flying attack. Harper actually managed to dominate him for a good minute with his superkick and discus clothesline. Lesnar kicked out of a pin attempt and then German suplexed Harper about seven times before putting him away with the F-5. A displeased Wyatt retreated.

By not resolving Lesnar vs. Wyatt, WWE actually made the outcome of the main event more uncertain. Instead of facing Lesnar, Ambrose could beat Triple H for the title and face Roman Reigns instead. Lesnar himself would be free to have a final confrontation with Wyatt.

Sami Zayn vs. Stardust (5/10)

Sami Zayn has made it to the main roster. This was his introduction match and feels like it belongs on a house show. Stardust dominated the match, as Sami Zayn’s character is that of an underdog. Now Zayn and Stardust are both great wrestlers, but the match felt a bit lethargic, not helped by a disinterested crowd. I think the problem is that Stardust has turned into a complete jobber, so people don’t really buy that he can beat Zayn. At the end Zayn came back, suplexing Stardust into a corner and hitting the Helluva kick

Triple H vs. Dean Ambrose for the World Title (10/10)

As a warm-up for his match against Roman Reigns, HHH had a feud with Ambrose. In just three weeks everyone was invested in this feud thanks to great promo work and high levels of violence. There was even reason to believe that Ambrose could win the gold and go on to the main event of Wrestlemania. After all, Roman Reigns, the supposed hero, is getting met boos or indifference.

The crowd was actually split on who they wanted to win at the beginning. Things started off with a lot of holds. Amusingly Ambrose targeted Triple H’s large nose, biting and pulling on it. Triple H finally got control when he sent his opponent into the ring steps. He applied the Crossface Crossbreaker and the Rings of Saturn. By the way, Ambrose and HHH used a lot of other wrestlers’ submission finishers in this match. Triple H hit his signature spinebuster to stop a comeback. Ambrose finally came back with a bulldog. Both competitors failed to hit their finishers.

Ambrose got Triple H onto the floor and went for his suicide dive, but was clocked as he was coming out of the ropes. HHH started tearing up the announce table, but Ambrose turned the tide and got him back into the ring, where he locked on the Figure Four. Triple H managed to crawl his way to the ropes, but Ambrose got him again, this time with the Sharpshooter. For a really long time again Triple H managed to crawl to the ropes and really looks like he’s hurting. Coming back into the ring, he was hit with the Dirty Deeds and the referee counted to three to make Ambrose world champion!

Except one of Ambrose’s legs was under the bottom rope. The ref caught this and quickly waved off his decision before the bell could be rung. The fans were super-hot for Ambrose winning and equally let down when they learned it didn’t happen. I myself let out a “YES!” and then growled in anger. Dean Ambrose argued with the referee, enabling Triple H to roll him up. Ambrose kicked out and sent him flying to the outside. He connected with the suicide dive and put him on the announce table. He came off with an elbow, but Triple H rolled out of the way.

HHH got into the ring while Ambrose laid on the collapsed announcers’ table. He barely beat the ten count to make it back inside the ring, but in the process ran straight into a Pedigree. Triple H got the win after that.

A lot of people like this match, but say it had some flaws. I’ll admit I was incensed when Ambrose didn’t get the win because of a technicality, but I think that’s a good reaction to have. It certainly makes me want to root against Triple H. Speaking of Triple H, he was in top form here. He really helped make Ambrose look like a star with his selling and he didn’t use a bunch of run-ins or a sledgehammer to win, which was a nice change of pace. I’m giving this match a perfect rating. It kept me engrossed and I haven’t been this emotionally attached to a WWE performance since Daniel Bryan at Wrestlemania 30.

Overall

This was a good show, but it is more in line with a house show. No titles changed hands and a couple of the matches were just there. But I think WWE will bring it up fairly often especially after that main event. There is no doubt now that Dean Ambrose could and should be the next top babyface. Roman Reigns, who’s supposed to be the conquering hero, hasn’t even appeared recently and Wrestlemania is about three weeks away. Here’s hoping that event ends with a big twist.

Final Rating: 7/10

Soundtrack Review: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Composed and Conducted by: John Williams

Although Temple of Doom was another box office hit, critical reactions were heavily mixed and it obviously affected director Steven Spielberg enough that he spent a couple extra years on completing the Indiana Jones trilogy. He wanted to recapture more of the feeling of Raiders of the Lost Ark, resulting in the return of a couple supporting characters and the Nazis as the villains. Originally the third film was going to focus on Indiana Jones looking for fruit of immortality and the legendary Chinese character the Monkey King in the heart of Africa, but this was wisely replaced by a search for the Holy Grail with Indy’s own father, wonderfully played by Sean Connery, thrown into the mix.

John Williams of course returns with a lot of new themes. There are a couple of artifact themes this time around, both evoking a strong religious feeling, without any of the ominous feeling of the other movies. The first is the primary Grail theme, which first appears in the travel cue portion of “X Marks the Spot”. Most of its appearances were absent on the original album, but restored on the 2008 release. There’s a secondary Grail theme which is also used for Henry Jones Sr, Indy’s father (as evidenced by its use in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). This warm theme makes its first appearance in “Ah, Rats!” after a statement of the primary theme and is heavily present in the film’s last cues. There’s also a small family motif which appears towards the beginning of “Canyon of the Crescent Moon” and in more loud fare in “Keeping Up with the Joneses”.

This time around there’s no love theme, but there is what I think is the strongest villain theme of the entire franchise. The Nazis get a bombastic little piece which like the primary Grail theme had most of its uses absent on the original album release. It’s strongest single performance is in “Brother of the Cruciform Sword”, but its most memorably used in “Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra”.

There’s also a couple of motifs for the opening sequence of the film, which shows Indy as a boy scout trying to take the Cross of Coronado from some gravediggers. The Cross of Coronado is represented by a little ditty with Hispanic flair. The opening villain has an appropriately generic, sinister motif, something Snidely Whiplash would use. There’s an adventurous chase motif weaved in there as well.

Original 1989 Album

The original 1989 release was nearly an hour long. It opens with “Indy’s Very First Adventure”, which covers over half of the opening sequence’s material. “X Marks the Spot” introduces the Grail theme before some low-key exploration music comes on. “Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra” is the track that gets put on John Williams compilation albums, an exciting, racing piece that conveys both peril and light-heartedness at the same time, in the same vein as “Basket Chase” from Raiders. “Ah, Rats!” starts off as more exploration music before presenting the two Grail themes. It breaks out into a perilous action cue, leading to the wonderful “Escape from Venice”, another mix of peril and light-hearted adventure.

“No Ticket” is a humorous cue that seems to go on longer than it does in the film. “The Keeper of the Grail” starts off with some goofy material and ends a little slowly, but does have a pretty good presentation of the secondary Grail theme. “Keeping Up with the Joneses” is a great, fun track, but doesn’t appear in the movie. I suspect it originally played during the airplane sequence, which ended up being mostly unscored.

My favorite action cue is “Belly of the Steel Beast”, a concert arrangement which extends the opening music from the tank battle before seguing into its climax.  “Canyon of the Crescent Moon” is a decent piece, but the Grail theme used in the film must have been temp tracked in, because it’s nowhere to be found here. “The Penitent Man Will Pass” weaves the primary Grail theme with some suspenseful music before breaking into a fanfare. “Finale & End Credits” runs over ten minutes long, with the end credits scene of course having the Raiders March, in addition to a reprise of “Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra” and a concert arrangement of the secondary Grail theme.

The original album is okay. It does have the main highlights, but as usual there is plenty of great music missing.

Rating: 8/10

Track Listing

  1. Indy’s Very First Adventure (8:11) 9/10
  2. X Marks the Spot (3:07) 7/10
  3. Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra (3:49) 10/10
  4. Ah, Rats!!! (3:36) 9/10
  5. Escape from Venice (4:21) 10/10
  6. No Ticket (2:42) 8/10
  7. The Keeper of the Grail (3:21) 7/10
  8. Keeping Up with the Joneses (3:35) 10/10
  9. Brother of the Cruciform Sword (1:53) 9/10
  10. Belly of the Steel Beast (5:26) 10/10
  11. The Canyon of the Crescent Moon (4:16) 7/10
  12. The Penitent Man Will Pass (3:23) 10/10
  13. End Credits (Raiders March) (10:36) 10/10

2008 Concord Set Album

A little less than twenty minutes was added on to the original album, which itself was arranged in chronological order. “Indy’s Very First Adventure” is now in its entirety, though unfortunately the producers decided to cut the last three minutes off and place it in its separate track (“The Boat Scene”). This really hurts the flow, as Indy’s theme is supposed to build right into “The Boat Scene”. “Journey to Austria” and “Father and Son Reunited” are just okay. “The Austrian Way” is much more interesting, the only piece of romantic music in the entire score, but played in a more seductive, femme fatale style.

“Alarm!” is frustratingly put right after “Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra” which it’s supposed to precede. It also was for some reason split from “The Austrian Way” as “The Boat Scene” was from “Indy’s Very First Adventure”. Still, it’s a good track  with same chase motif from “Scherzo” and more of the Nazi theme. “On the Tank” is the last addition to the main album, the middle portion of the tank scene. It’s great, but I wish it was inserted back into the middle of “Belly of the Steel Beast” to give the full effect of the cue’s many twists and turns.

The fourth disc includes a further quarter hour of material, most of it centered around the Grail and Nazi themes. The highlight of these is “To the Blimp”, a sinister piece that builds into the Nazi theme. “Wrong Choice, Right Choice” has the rest of the film’s final music.

The expanded release is better, but riddled with some questionable editing (or lack thereof). Perhaps there were technical difficulties or contractual problems. I’ll still give it a higher rating though for giving us another half hour of the score.

Rating: 9/10

Track Listing

  1. Indy’s Very First Adventure (12:00) 9/10
  2. The Boat Scene (2:23) 9/10
  3. X Marks the Spot (3:12) 7/10
  4. Ah, Rats!!! (3:40) 9/10
  5. Escape from Venice (4:22) 10/10
  6. Journey to Austria (0:38) 6/10
  7. Father and Son Reunited (1:49) 5/10
  8. The Austrian Way (2:40) 7/10
  9. Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra (3:49) 10/10
  10. Alarm! (3:06) 10/10
  11. No Ticket (2:45) 8/10
  12. Keeping Up with the Joneses (3:37) 10/10
  13. Brother of the Cruciform Sword (1:57) 9/10
  14. On the Tank (3:38) 9/10
  15. Belly of the Steel Beast (5:29) 10/10
  16. The Canyon of the Crescent Moon (4:16) 7/10
  17. The Penitent Man Will Pass (3:23) 10/10
  18. The Keeper of the Grail (3:24) 7/10
  19. Finale & End Credits (10:40) 10/10

From the Fifth Disc

6. Father’s Study (2:27) 10/10

7. Marcus is Captured/To Berlin (1:55) 9/10

8. To the Blimp (2:04) 10/10

9. The Blimp Turns Around (1:30) 8/10

10. Death of Kazim (2:27) 6/10

11. Wrong Choice, Right Choice (4:36) 8/10

Overall

Last Crusade is my favorite Indiana Jones movie, but it doesn’t have the best score. There is a good amount of material that’s not really that engaging. Raiders of the Lost Ark and Temple of Doom are consistently exciting to listen to. The themes themselves are still of the same high quality and there’s a lot more emotion to appreciate because of the presence of Indy’s father. I heavily recommend this album and hope that a proper two-disc complete score is released someday.

Final Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Gods of Egypt

Release Date: February 26, 2016

Running Time: 127 Minutes

Gods of Egypt is an expensive retelling of Egyptian mythology, chiefly Horus’ war with Set. Thought up in 2012 and filmed in 2014, the film for some reason took until early 2016 to get its theatrical release, perhaps from heavy amounts of post-production for all the CGI. Due to a stupid-looking trailer and the hiring of white actors for the roles of Ancient Egyptians, general movie audiences were already against the motion picture before its release, resulting in what is easily a major box office flop. As of the time of this review it’s made about half of its budget back.

The main plot centers on Horus, who after having his eyes pulled out and his father Osiris murdered, sulks in a tomb. Set, Osiris’ murder, takes over Egypt. Things change for Horus when human thief Bek (Brenton Thwaites) hands him back one of his eyes. The two embark on a quest to restore the kingdom for Horus and get revenge of Set.

I should probably talk about the casting first, as it generated great controversy. Since Gods of Egypt was filmed in Australia, money was saved by hiring many Australian actors. Arguably a few of the native peoples could have been used, but most of Australia’s more well regarded actors are white. No such excuse exists for the hiring of white Europeans like Gerald Butler (Set) and Nikolaj-Coster Waldeau (Horus). I have to admit it was pretty hilarious to hear the grand Egyptian god of the desert roaring in a Scottish accent. That’s not to say the cast is all-white. Thoth is played by African-American Chadwick Boseman, who also attempts a more African accent. Elodie Young, a French actress of mixed descent, looks quite right for major Egyptian goddess Hathor.

The director, Alex Proyas, has defended his casting decisions and deviations from historical accuracy by saying that his film is set in an alternate world. This would seem to be the case, as the world is both flat and Egypt-centric as presented in the original myths. The question is, does the film succeed in spite of white-washed casting and complaints about accuracy?

Not really. It isn’t the complete pile of crap that many critics are saying it is. It’s fun and has some really cool visuals. Where it really fails is in its screenwriting. Gods of Egypt tries really hard to have a lot of humor like the Marvel movies. It seems every time something dangerous or serious is happening, a quip just has to be made. A more epic, serious movie would have been much better, especially since the jokes more often than not don’t land. One exception is the vain, overly honest, knowledge-obsessed Thoth, who is legitimately funny.

This film is CGI heavy, perhaps too much. It looks like actual landscapes were filmed, but the senses can potentially be overloaded by all the perfect architecture, computer-generated animals, and crazy colors. Even when people are talking in a desert the sky is CGI red like they’re trapped ina  video game. The creatures themselves don’t look realistic either, however well-designed they may be. Fans of Egyptian history will also be displeased to see some of the aesthetic choices, such as a European crown instead of the tall pharaoh hats during the coronation scene.

Almost the entire character list is made up of the gods themselves. I didn’t find any of the performances awful unless you count Gerald Butler’s over-acting, which I found entertaining. Also entertaining was Ra (Geoffrey Rush), who does a good job of portraying a wise and weary primal deity. Assisting the cast of gods is the human thief Bek, who seems to be permanently stuck in an optimistic, naïve state. In the interest of spoilers I won’t give away his main storyline. It’s sympathetic enough, but despite the films’ efforts I didn’t find his character all too endearing. In fact, he was annoying.

If I had to compare Gods of Egypt to anything else, I would choose the Clash of the Titans remake and its awful sequel Wrath of the Titans in that it’s a hyper, CGI-fueled retelling of old myths. The main contrast is in how the gods are portrayed. In most movies and shows based on Greek myths, the gods are (rather correctly) portrayed as jerkasses who act on their whims and emotions and who humanity must eventually rebel against. Most of the deities in Gods of Egypt are more noble, though still flawed. The authority of Ra and Horus are considered good for the universe, not destructive.

Gods of Egypt is not a great movie and though I enjoyed it I can’t even call it a good one. I recommend a theatrical viewing only if you want to have a fun, silly way to kill a couple hours, or perhaps you want to support a mythology-based movie, of which there aren’t very many outside of Greek-inspired tales.

Rating: 4/10

Being a mythology buff, I’d like to go into more detail about how the various Egyptian gods are portrayed in Gods of Egypt. There will be spoilers in this section. First I want to address a specific scene.

Osiris is ready to coronate Horus in front of all the gods and people (save Ra, who is off on his space boat keeping the world safe from Apophis). Set comes in and signals an army of humans and monster-gods to take things over. Osiris demands him to stop and Set stabs him to death for his troubles. Horus takes on his battle form to fight him. What bugs me about this scene is how all of the gods, some who are shown to have great fighting capabilities later on, all cower and quiver like a bunch of wussies. You’ve got Thoth and Isis, two masters of magic. And it’s not like the original myths where Set was trying to murder Osiris and his family but wasn’t out to be an awful ruler. Here he’s openly declaring that he will turn all humans into slaves and rig the afterlife to generate more revenue for him. Why don’t they do something? Why do they let him get away with it and fight him later instead of nipping his takeover in the bud?

Anat and Astarte (Abbey Lee and Yaya Deng): The two Near Eastern goddesses are actually in this movie, though instead of being Set’s wives they are presented as his military commanders, riding snakes into battle. Myth buffs hoping to see them finally on the big screen will be disappointed, as they are little more than henchwomen, not two of the most popular female deities of the ancient world.

Anubis (Goran D. Kleut): Anubis is portrayed as usual as a dog-headed deity. Also as usual he is mistakenly presented as the main god of death, though this time he’s just doing his job and isn’t some evil god of darkness.

Apophis: The great serpent is accurately depicted as trying to engulf the universe in chaos. The special effects team decided to make him a worm instead of a snake, with three circular rows of teeth. Initially just a cameo, he does play a larger part in the film’s climax.

Hathor (Elodie Yung): The goddess of love is presented as a bit mischievous and serves as the love interest of Horus. Thankfully they didn’t equate the role of goddess of love with a lusty whore and she’s a strong character in her own right. She fights through magic, her lion form of Sekhmet not mentioned or used. Her hat has cow horns, a nice callout to her cow form. There’s some weird backstory about her being indebted to demons of the underworld.

Horus (Nikolaj-Coster Waldeau): The main character of the movie, Horus is an okay character. He spends a lot of his time complaining and he utters many of the not-funny quips. His winged falcon battle form is pretty cool though.

Isis (Rachael Blake): Thanks to a certain terrorist organization in the Middle East, Isis’ role is tremendously reduced. As Horus’ mother in the myths, she was heavily present, using her sorcery and guile to aid her son in his war against Set. It’s a shame that fears over associating with an army of Jihadists had my favorite Egyptian deity reduced to the role of “mother” (she is never referred to by name!). She just helplessly reacts to what happens in the opening and then dies offscreen of grief. You won’t see the beautiful, intelligent, and protective character of myth here.

Nephthys (Emma Boothe): Referred to as a goddess of protection instead as one of darkness, death, and night, Nephthys is an okay character. To my appreciation they acknowledge that she was married to Set in the myths. She’s one of the last holdouts against Set’s rule in the film.

Osiris (Bryan Brown): Osiris is the wise father of Horus and gets killed off to kickstart the story. No mention is made of him eventually being resurrected as the green-skinned god of the dead. In contradiction to the myths, Horus is already born before his murder, instead of having Isis reassemble his corpse in order to produce an heir.

Ra (Geoffrey Rush): Like in the myths, Ra is dragging the sun around the earth, in this film literally doing so by tying it to his ship with a chain. What’s absent is the many gods who usually would assist him in battling Apophis. Here he’s all by himself, which does make him more badass. He also serves as the wise mentor figure for Horus.

Set (Gerald Butler): Set was villainous in the myths, but here he’s an absolute bastard. They rip off Hades’ backstory form Clash of the Titans, making him the jealous brother stuck with the least desired realm, in this case the desert. Like Horus he has a pretty awesome armored battle form, based on the mysterious Set animal. He’s an entertaining villain, even though he engages in all kinds of villain clichés.

Thoth (Chadwick Boseman): Thoth is depicted as an aloof nerd who is obsessed with obtaining all knowledge. His mastery over sorcery is only hinted at and he is shown using his brain. It was very amusing to watch him struggle with a riddle when my friend sitting next to me in the theater solved in instantly. The film doesn’t mention any association with the ibis bird or baboon.