Friday, April 29, 2016

TV Review - The Walking Dead Season 6 Episodes 15 and 16


  My favorite television show, AMC’s The Walking Dead wrapped up season 6 two weeks ago by portraying the events leading up to the comic book’s iconic 100th issue that introduced mega bad guy Negan by having him beat one of the original group of zombie apocalypse survivors to death with his barbed-wire covered bat (named Lucille) in full view of the rest of our intrepid band of survivors. I don’t read the comic but since I keep up on TWD press I knew where the story line was heading. Jeffrey Dean Morgan (the Comedian from the epic movie ‘Watchmen’) had been signed up to play Negan and the second half of the current season revolved around our band of survivors having run-ins with Negan’s crew (called the ‘Saviors’), even going as far as entering into an arrangement with the nearby Hilltop community to kill Negan and his crew in return for half their food.

  With the exception of losing Denise the town doctor in an ambush during an ill-advised supply run in episode 14 everything seemed to be going according to plan for Rick and his group of survivors in the Alexandria walled community. There were a few close calls but our intrepid band of survivors had managed to kill dozens of Negan’s crew and even thought they had killed Negan himself in a raid on his compound in episode 10. In the beginning of episode 15 Rick Grimes (the leader of our band of zombie apocalypse survivors) tells his current love interest (the katana wielding Michonne) that this new world is theirs for the taking. And then everything starts going wrong. Darryl (the crossbow wielding motorcycle riding bad actor of the crew) headed out to avenge Denise’s murder and was followed by core group members Glenn, Michonne, and Rosita. All four were inexplicably taken by surprise and captured by Negan’s savior crew. The reason I say it is inexplicable is that all four have such survival skills that they should only rarely be taken by surprise and certainly not in two separate ambushes.

Carol (aka Nancy from Montclair) has turned into a reluctant killing machine...

  Then Carol left a note saying she was leaving the community and for no one to follow her. Naturally Rick and Morgan leave Alexandria to follow her. Carol has had the weirdest season 6 of all our survivors. She saved the town from the attack by the Wolves in the beginning of the season, killed the last surviving member of the Wolves in episode 9, and followed that up by killing a bunch of Negan’s followers after being kidnapped by them in episode 13. With each kill Carol has come to realize that to stay in Alexandria she will always have to kill to protect her friends so she leaves. But when confronted by a group of Saviors with only herself to defend she kills almost the entire group with an assault rifle she had sewn into the arm of her coat.

  While Rick returned to Alexandria (leaving Morgan to follow Carol), the final crisis of episode 15 erupts when pregnant Maggie starts having severe abdominal pains which lead Rick and company to gather their best fighters for a road trip to the nearest doctor at the Hilltop Colony. This set the stage for the 90 minute season finale which I found to be a gripping tale of suspense. Our survivors slowly discover that each route to the Hilltop is heavily guarded by the Saviors and slowly realize they are surrounded. I would have expected Rick to try to fight his way through but with a sick pregnant woman and plot device demands to take care of he continually backs away to try different roads but every one is barricaded. The sense of desperation is palpable until a desperate is made to reach the Hilltop doctor on foot using the RV as a distraction. The last ditch plan doesn’t work and Rick and company are surrounded by the Saviors, reunited with the captured survivors from the previous episode, and all are forced to their knees as we finally meet Negan and his barbed wire baseball bat that he calls Lucille.

  This is one of the signature moments of the comics. In issue #100 we meet Negan and Lucille for the first time. Negan gives a profanity-laced speech and tells Rick that his group now works for him and will give him half of everything they have and get from now on. To prove he means business and as a ‘punishment’ for the Saviors that were murdered by Rick’s group Negan plays a game of ‘eenie-meenie-minie-moe’ and one unfortunate survivor gets his head brutally bashed apart by Lucille. Just 2 and half hours after proclaiming the world was theirs, Rick and company are on their knees before Negan who could kill all of them if he chose and there is nothing any of them can do about it. This moment from the comics has been anticipated for years by television viewers and it finally took place in season 6. Morgan plays Negan as a man that rules the world through his brutality and enjoys it. He makes his speech, plays ‘eenie-meenie-minie-moe’ with the survivors, raises his bat and…

  And then we switch to the point of the view of the victim as they are bashed in the head with Lucille. We see Negan mockingly say ‘You’re taking it like a champ!’ through a blood covered camera lens, and fade to black. The season is over and we never find out who died.

  The Internet is up in arms over the cliffhanger. Bloggers and critics alike thought the season should have ended with us knowing who has been murdered so we could worry about how the group would move forward. I completely disagree and think this was a masterstroke by the showrunners. I have seen hundreds of videos and discussion board posts outlining various theories of who was killed. The ratings for ‘The Walking Dead’ were down this season but I would bet that the season 7 premiere will break all Walking Dead records. Who was killed is what everyone is discussing and it will be a hot topic until the season begins in October.

And in the end we are left waiting to see who got the bat...

  Who do I think was killed? The television show does not follow the comic exactly so it’s not a sure thing that Glenn will be the recipient of Lucille’s attention like he was in the comics. I’m not a big fan of trying to figure out who got Lucille by discerning the background of the victim’s point of view or the camera angles on Negan as he parades around. I believe multiple scenarios were filmed and that the showrunners are still deciding who the victim will be and it will depend on a lot of factors besides storytelling. Which actors are under contract? Are some characters so beloved that viewers tune in to watch them and may not keep watching if their favorite character is terminated? The Walking Dead has not been shy about killing major characters in the past so no one can be said to be really safe. Somehow I feel this scenario will be different. I feel the core characters are so popular that Aaron or Rosita will be up close and personal with Lucille because they are the most minor of all the characters. In any event I am happy that all the Walking Dead characters will be around in my mind until at least October.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Why buy the cow...

  The Candidates tournament to determine who would challenge Magnus Carlsen for the world chess championship finished last month in Moscow. It was an exciting tournament with four of the eight players having at least a share of first place during the second half of the tournament. The final round was particularly interesting with the two leaders Sergei Karjakin and Fabiano Caruana meeting in the last round. A win by either player would clinch the tournament while a draw would have the tournament winner decided by the game between Anand and Peter Svidler. Thanks to the arcane tie break procedure a win by Anand would force a three way tie for first which would leave Caruana the winner on the first tie break of head to head match ups between the leaders as long as he could draw his game with Karjakin. A draw or loss by Anand would give Karjakin the tie break edge by virtue of more wins if he could draw his game with Caruana. Both players seemed to play in such a way that they could gamble for a win depending on the Anand-Svidler result. When Anand and Svidler agreed to a draw, Caruana was force to play risky moves because he needed to win the game to win the tournament. His risks didn’t pay off and Karjakin won the game, the tournament, and the right to play for the World Championship.

  This will be the 25 year old Carlsen’s second title defense and his first against a member of his generation of chess players (Karjakin is 26). The tournament will be held in New York City in November. Whoever bid to have the championship in America probably liked the chances of Americans Nakamura and Caruana to win the candidates. Caruana came close while Nakamura stumbled badly in the beginning and never threatened. Even with a youthful and charismatic European world champion there will be a lot less American mainstream media attention than if one of the two Americans been the challenger.

  The candidate’s tournament was run by the Agon company, who pays FIDE (the world chess federation) for the rights to run their headline events. Agon has done a creditable job running the last world championship as well as the previous candidates matches and World rapid and Blitz championships but ran afoul of the chess press when they insisted on exclusive broadcast rights to this years’ candidates tournaments.

  Most big chess tournaments are covered by all the major chess playing servers like,, the Internet chess Club, and Not only are the games broadcast but there is commentary provided by top players (who I assume are being paid). The broadcast times and commentators are advertised in advance. As part of their agreement with FIDE, Agon has the sole broadcast rights to the events and exercised that right for this year’s candidate tournaments, threatening lawsuits against sites that had transmitted the moves.

  The reaction from chess sites were predictably blistering. published an article and a segment in their weekly ‘Chess Center’ broadcast that explained the issue in some detail. Basically Agon is claiming their ownership of the exclusive broadcast rights to the chess tournament includes the actual moves of the games and in order to recoup their investment wants all viewers to see the games from their website. All the game moves were made available after a two hour delay.

  This is a very tricky issue. The NBA playoffs started last weekend. I could only watch the games live from ESPN, ABC, or TNT – the networks that owned the broadcast rights. If I didn’t need to see the games live I could follow their progress on any number of websites like Yahoo or any number of apps on my amazing iPod like the CBS Sportsline app. I can’t see Agon being able to block the game moves or current board position from being retransmitted but I can’t see how any other chess site would be legally allowed to broadcast commentary on those games without paying the owner of those rights.

  With the notable exception of the Internet Chess Club, most of the other web sites did not offer a live commentary of the candidates tournament but have rebounded nicely by having one or two hour recap shows after each round and advertising them as a time saving alternative to the tedious six hour live broadcast where not much is happening at any given time. That argument makes a lot of sense to me. I rarely have time to watch a six hour chess broadcast or a two and a half hour NBA game but I can watch a recap show and look in on the games progress using my computer or iPod.

  While it is more convenient to me personally to watch a broadcast of a tournament at the site of my choosing I see nothing wrong with Agon exerting their exclusive broadcast rights. Most of the chess sites that have their own broadcast only allow paid members to view them and if they are it is fairly hypocritical of them to complain about not having free access to a product they repackage and sell for profit. The Norwegian TV network NRK paid Agon for Norwegian broadcast rights to the World Championship matches until 2020. I’m sure other websites could pay Agon for similar rebroadcasting rights.

  What I think was missed in the discussion over chess broadcast rights is how financially healthy chess must be for this discussion to be had in the first place. If there was no interest or no money in chess this discussion wouldn’t have been held. The NFL has rights to the Super Bowl and non-official sponsors can’t even use that term which is why you may have noticed a lot of commercials calling it ‘The Big Game’. 50 years ago the first Super Bowl was broadcast of both NBC and CBS as a virtual giveaway game. The exclusive rights only became an issue as interest in the event peaked. When I first moved to Iowa, the collegiate Hawkeyes games were broadcast by at least 3 different radio networks who resold their broadcasts to smaller stations. When Learfield sports bought the exclusive rights to Hawkeye sports broadcasts in the late 1990’s the other three broadcasts disappeared but the money the University of Iowa received increased exponentially. If exclusive chess broadcasts have the same effect Agon and FIDE may see a similar increase in revenue.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Beagle Cuisine

It's time once again to hand the reins of the Broken Pawn over to America's favorite beagles - Daisy and Baxter who will share their thoughts on a topic close to their heart.

Hi Everyone! It’s Baxter…  and Daisy with another blog post for our readers  I think our readers could use some cheering up after Hanks last few posts, Daisy.  Indeed Baxter – all Hank seems to write about lately is people dying or television shows where people die. I’m very sad about not seeing Marilyn around but being dogs we don’t really understand too much about death.  That’s right Daisy. I’m sure the next time we see Marilyn she’ll be as happy as ever to see us.  And in the meantime we’ll see Bill and Becky and Abby and Hank and Kathy take us on lots of walks.  Life is sure good Daisy. And do you know what one of the best parts of good living is?  That’s easy Baxter! Food!!  Yes! Food! We love food and in this blog post we decided to share some of our favorite food items with our fans. 

Our favorite food is the sandwich Hank makes to take to work.  That’s right Daisy. Hank makes a sandwich every morning so he can eat it at work.  And he shares his sandwich with us, Baxter. First Hank gets the bread out of the cupboard.  He gives some bread to Oreo the Rabbit but we don’t get any bread.  I don’t know why Hank doesn’t give us any bread Baxter. We get bread when we go to the duck pond with Hank and Kathy.  I don’t know either, Daisy. It’s too bad because bread is my favorite food when that’s all there is to eat! 

While Oreo the rabbit gets some bread, we get the baloney!! YUM!!  Kathy gets Hank and us only the finest baloney from the Fareway store!

Anyway, after Hank puts two slices of bread out the fun really begins!  OH BOY!! After the bread is out Hank opens the refrigerator!  And he takes out the BALONEY!!  YUM!! I love baloney! YUM!! Kathy gets baloney for Hank every week from the Fareway grocery store!  Hank takes out two giant slices of baloney and puts them over the bread.  But there’s a problem Daisy! The giant slices of baloney are too big for the bread. That’s where we come in.  Hank tears off the parts of the baloney that won’t fit on the bread. Then he breaks it into little pieces and throws it to us.  YUM!! I love baloney!! YUM!!  I always catch my baloney and Baxter always misses. Hank says you can’t catch a cold, Baxter.  I just get excited and jump too early. Sometimes the baloney bounces off my nose and ends up over the fence where Oreo stays. Then I can’t get it.  Lucky for you Hank picks up the fence so you can get your baloney. One time the baloney bounced off your nose and went straight into my mouth. Hee…hee. That was a good day!  Good for you. Not for me. 

After we have our baloney, Hank goes back to the refrigerator but this time he puts away the baloney and gets out the cheese! YUM!! I love cheese!! YUM!  I like cheese too Baxter but not nearly as much as baloney. Kathy gets all different kinds of chesses at the Aldi so there is quite a variety unlike the baloney which is just…well…baloney.  Hank takes three slices of cheese out of a package and puts two and a half slices of cheese on his sandwich and then he gives us the extra half slice! YUM!!  Oreo the rabbit gets a little piece of cheese and we get the rest. Hank throws the cheese to us. Just like the baloney I always catch mine and Baxter misses his.  You don’t have to rub it in. I catch stuff once in a while! YUM!!! 

Hank gives us some cheese and puts some on the sandwich. Add a little lettuce and the sandwich is complete!  Hank makes the best sandwiches in the world! YUM!! 

After Hank puts away the cheese then he takes out the lettuce.  He gives Oreo the rabbit some lettuce but we don’t get any. That’s OK though because lettuce is one of the few foods I don’t like.  Hank tried to give me some lettuce once but I didn’t like it. Lettuce, pickles, and mushrooms are some of the very few foods I don’t eat.  There’s just one thing I can’t understand Daisy?  What’s that, Baxter?  Why Hank doesn’t just eat the sandwich when he makes it. I wouldn’t wait until I was at work before I ate a baloney sandwich.  Well, we’ve never worked Baxter but I imagine it’s so awful that Hank saves the sandwich until he gets there to cheer him up.  Like us getting a beef stick treat after our walks, Daisy?  Something like that but not quite, Baxter. 

Another one of our favorite foods is pizza! YUM!! I love pizza!  I love pizza too, Baxter. Almost every Sunday Kathy calls the Casey’s and orders a big cheese pizza.  She doesn’t get any meat on it because Kathy doesn’t eat meat. I don’t understand that.  I don’t either but luckily Hank eats meat or else we’d be the world’s only vegetarian beagles.  They probably wouldn’t let us be beagles if we didn’t love to eat meat.  Well that will NEVER happen, Baxter. We’re beagles and we love meat. But we also LOVE cheese pizza.  A few minutes after Kathy calls she leaves the house and we hang out with Hank and wait for the pizza!  Waiting is so boring but we don’t have a choice if we want to eat some pizza.  It is boring but after a little bit Kathy comes back with a box full of pizza! OH BOY!!  Casey’s pizza is normally full of cheese but last time it was mostly burnt sauce. I was so sad. 

After waiting for what seemed like hours for Kathy to get back with the pizza.... It was all burnt! Still pretty tasty, though... 

We were sad but Hank was really upset. Maybe he’ll go to Dominos from now on for our pizza needs.  He probably would have if the Dominos was still a few blocks away but they moved to the south of town near the Wal-Mart a few months ago.  Anyway, Hank gets three slices of pizza and we crowd around him until he gives us some!  We always get some of the crust and Hank also gives us some of the cheese.  Once Hank is done then we crowd around Kathy. She doesn't like us crowding around us but she almost always gives us some pizza to get rid of us.  That just makes us crowd around her more!  Of course we do. After all, we are beagles. HELLO!!  YUM!! I love Pizza! Even this week’s shriveled burnt out pizza! YUM!! 

Kathy cooks food all the other days except Sunday.  Hank never cooks, Daisy! I wonder why that it is.  He heats up a can of soup occasionally and but that’s about it.  Sometimes Hank opens a can of corn and eats it out of the can. I wonder why Hank never cooks.  That’s easy Baxter! If you could make a baloney sandwich anytime you wanted why would you need to cook anything?  That’s right! I forgot about that! I love baloney sandwiches! YUM!! 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

TV Binge Review - Daredevil Season 2

Daredevil Season 2 features Jon Bernthal as the iconic Punisher!

  When the pundits of the future review the innovations of the 2010’s the decision by Netflix to release entire seasons of their hourly web shows will be near the top of the lists. For decades the only way to watch an episodic television show was to make sure you were stationed in front of your television at the same time on the same day each week or you were out of luck until reruns. With the advent of videotape and Tivo it became possible to record a television show to watch later. The internet allowed television networks to afford viewers the opportunity to view shows on demand but there was still the issue of only one new episode made being available each week.

  When Netflix released entire seasons of ‘House Of Cards’ and ‘Orange is The New Black’ in 2013 there were plenty of skeptics who wondered if monthly subscribers would only pay for the service when their favorite shows were released. The skeptics were wrong. If anything Netflix and their imitators (Hulu and Amazon) have enjoyed greater customer loyalty because being able to watch a brand-new season of a favorite show is such a customer-centric idea that waiting each week even for a show like ‘The Walking Dead’ seems viewer-unfriendly by comparison.

  Last month Netflix released all 13 episodes of the second season of Daredevil, the Marvel Comics based blind superhero that has super senses to go along with incredible fighting skills. I loved last year’s season mostly due to the brilliant performance of Vincent D’Onofrio as the Kingpin and was eager to see the new season. I watched four episodes last week and binge-watched the final nine episodes over the weekend.

   Daredevil is set in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood on New York City along with Netflix’s companion Marvel super hero shows Jessica Jones and the soon to be released Luke Cage. The neighborhood is highly romanticized with a disproportionate number of poor honest working people and petty thieves living among the wealthy capitalists, mobsters, and well-to-do. Daredevil patrols his streets by night and helps downtrodden citizens by day in his true identity of Matt Murdock the blind attorney with his partners Foggy Nelson and Karen Page.

  The second season gets off to a great start with the introduction of Frank Castle (aka The Punisher) who is systematically attacking the mob gangs in Hell’s Kitchen that were present when his family was murdered in a nearby carousel. Castle is played by Jon Bernthal who is best known as Shane from the first two seasons of AMC’s The Walking Dead. Bernthal did a creditable job as the Punisher. He showed enough fighting skills to be a believable as a hand to hand combat expert and ruthlessly using bullets as his weapon of first choice. There was a bone shivering scene where Castle and Daredevil are on an apartment rooftop when Castle is confronted by an elderly man who heads up to the roof and wants to know what is going on. Castle engages the man with his New York accent and military talk all the while having a gun pointed at the old man from the other side of the rooftop access door ready to blow his brains out if he ventures from the entrance to the actual rooftop.

  The first four episodes feature great Punisher action against the gangs of New York as well some fights with Daredevil with the only dull moments when the Punisher and Daredevil have a long philosophical discussion about whether killing killers is justified. By the end of the fourth episode Daredevil helps the Punisher escape from an ambush only to give him up to the police whereupon he convinces his law partner Foggy Nelson to have their firm provide the Punisher’s legal defense. It seemed like a short burst of Punisher action but them Matt Murdock has a reunion with his old girlfriend Elektra.

  Elektra is a key figure in the Frank Miller reboot of the Daredevil franchise in the 1980’s. An old college girlfriend of Murdock’s, Elektra is a martial artist assassin trained by the same mysterious ‘Stick’ that trained Daredevil and played a role in season one. Once Elektra shows up the action slows significantly since we need to be shown the obligatory flashbacks to their college romance which ends when Elektra kidnaps the man who killed Murdock’s father and offers him to Matt to murder and exact his revenge. Elektra is in town to break into the Roxxon corporation headquarters and steal information concerning some mysterious shipments and hires the services of Murdock’s law firm but is really hiring Matt to helper her as Daredevil. There are a couple of suspenseful scenes with the Murdock and Elektra in formal dress at a Roxxon party, eluding hordes of goons, and obtaining the information but for the most part Elektra was a plot device to introduce the nefarious band of ninja assassins known as ‘The Hand’, reintroduce Stick, drive a wedge between Murdock and his law partner since fighting as Daredevil leaves Matt too tired to participate in their defense of the Punisher, and also disrupt Murdock’s budding romance with legal aide Karen Page when she finds Elektra sleeping in Murdock’s bed.

  After the four fairly dull episodes featuring Elektra, the action finally resumes with the reintroduction of the Kingpin in prison having a conversation with the Punisher. The Kingpin tells the Punisher of a cell block boss that has information on the murder of the Punisher’s family and arranges a meeting. Just as Kingpin planned, the Punisher kills the cell block boss leaving the Kingpin to rule the prison. Also as the Kingpin planned the entire cell block of murderers and thieves tried to kill the Punisher to avenge their boss’s death. But as the Kingpin did not plan the Punisher then proceeds to murder the entire cell block so Kingpin arranges to help the Punisher break out of prison so he can consolidate his control without interference. As in season one, D’Onofrio stole the show with his portrayal of the Kingpin as a Shakespearean larger than life character. He has a scene with Murdock where he admits to his role in the prison events and flies into a fit of rage when Murdock dares to mention his love interest’s (Vanessa) name.

  Once the Punisher is back on the loose the story splits into two arcs: Daredevil, Elektra, and Stick fight the Hand and each other while the Punisher and Karen Page try to find the drug dealer named ‘The Blacksmith’ that killed his family.As much as I liked watching Daredevil fight hundreds of ninjas it tended to blur into the same fight after a while, spiced up only when Elektra kills Stick’s minions after another series of lengthy flashbacks. The Punisher arc held a lot more of my interest with a concrete resolution as the Punisher gets justice, buries the past by burning his family home, and becomes the Punisher full-time (not before lending Daredevil a helping hand in his final ninja battle).

  I liked season two but not nearly as much as season one. The fight scenes with the ninja warriors are cool to watch once or twice but I lost my interest after their fifth or sixth appearance. Like the ninjas, the ‘Stick’ character was also overused. After one episode his curmudgeonly blind wise man/warrior act got pretty tedious. The Punisher and Kingpin were fantastic and should have been the main plot instead of the Stick/Elektra/ninja war that dominated the last 9 episodes of the season. The only other quibble I had with the season was how Daredevil and the Punisher would regularly get battered, bruised, broken, and bloodied but while Punisher would stay black and blue for episodes, Daredevil would look healed and be back fighting in time for the next scene, even when he had a crossbow bold go straight through his chest!

  Elodie Yung as Elektra seemed to be more focused on being mysterious and exotic than displaying how Elektra was torn between being a cold-blooded assassin that tries to lure Daredevil to her lifestyle to switching to Daredevil’s philosophy of not killing to back again. With compelling characters like Kingpin and the Punisher it was a shame that most of the season focused on ninja fights, Elektra, and Stick, especially since the three main characters were much better and more well-defined than in the first season. Charlie Cox gave a good performance as Daredevil and I enjoyed how he was torn between his morality against killing vs. his feelings for his assassin girlfriend. Elden Henson as Franklin "Foggy" Nelson (Murdock’s law partner) got rid of a lot of his juvenile joking around and turned into an accomplished trial attorney during the Punisher trial. My favorite arc among the regulars belonged to legal secretary Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) who called off her budding romance with Murdock and morphed into an investigative reporter like Ben Ulrich was in season one, providing a way for the viewers to get to know the Punisher without having Daredevil locked into his whereabouts and plans.

  If there is a season three of Daredevil (and I have no reason to think there won’t be) the stage is set for a remake of the ‘Born Again’ plotline from the comics. The Kingpin has taken a personal interest in all things Matt Murdock (and has the time to put the pieces of the puzzle together) while Murdock revealed his Daredevil identity to Karen Page in the seasons final scene. The other possibility is the continuation of the Elektra death/purification/rebirth storyline as part of yet another battle with the Hand. D’Onofrio is currently working as the Wizard of Oz in the NBC show ‘Emerald City’ and if that show is a success the possibility of the Kingpin making more than a token appearance is minimal. While I don’t want to wish ill will on anyone here’s hoping ‘Emerald City’ shuts down so the Kingpin can make it back for season three of Daredevil.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Movie Review - Batman v Superman - Dawn of Justice

The long awaited Batman vs. Superman movie. These two should be on film more than once every 3 or 4 years.

  The DC Comics superhero movie ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ came out last weekend. This is the first Batman sighting since 2012’s ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ ended the Christian Nolan Batman trilogy and Superman’s first appearance since the 2013 ‘Man of Steel’ rebooted the Superman character on the big screen. The movie has garnered mostly unfavorable reviews which didn’t surprise me since I have been hearing criticism since the announcement that Ben Affleck was to play Batman. I paid no attention to the reviews but I did pay three hours and $24 to take Kathy and Matt to see it on Saturday Night.

  We went to the same Marshalltown Iowa Fridley Theatre that wouldn’t give me a refill of my $4.50 soda because the $11 popcorn/soda combo I bought didn’t include the slightly bigger $5 soda cup. This was my first visit to the Fridley Theatre since that infamous day last November and I decided to keep my 11 dollars in my pocket and let the Fridley Theatre have their 20 cents of soda syrup and mountain of popcorn that they slather with that orange goopy artery clogging stuff that they pour on it if you ask for butter. The movie theater was about a quarter full if you count the occasionally screaming baby in the row behind us. I was surprised at the smallish crowd but since the movie has made $200 million worldwide in it’s first two nights I assume most people went early.

  This movie takes place two years after the near destruction of Metropolis in the ‘Man of Steel’ movie with the plot driven by the reactions of billionaire Bruce Wayne (also known as the Batman) and billionaire scientist Lex Luthor to the presence of a super powered alien on their planet. Both billionaires come to the conclusion that Superman must be destroyed. Luthor discovers a Kryptonite meteor and sets about smuggling it into the country when the government refuses to give him carte blanch to weaponize it while Batman sets about trying to steal the Kryptonite from Luthor. Meanwhile Superman is just doing his thing – enjoying his romance with Lois Lane, reporting for the Daily Planet as Clark Kent, and saving people whenever he can.

  Ben Affleck plays an older Bruce Wayne who recollects being in Metropolis while Superman’s battle with General Zod destroys much of midtown Metropolis including Wayne’s skyscraper. Affleck’s Wayne is more over the edge violent than recent versions. He brands criminals with a bat symbol and has nightmares of his parent’s deaths, shooting criminals, and his parents bursting from their tombs as zombies as he goes to visit them. I suppose this unhinging is necessary to explain Wayne’s decision to steal Kryptonite from Luthor and use it to murder Superman since Batman is not normally a murderer.

  Apart from the whole murdering Superman thing, I liked Affleck’s performance as both Wayne and Batman. Affleck’s Bruce Wayne persona was mostly all business with none of Bale’s playboy act in the last Batman iteration. The action scenes as Batman were less acrobatic than Bale’s version but far more powerful (possibly due to an augmented suit). I especially liked how Affleck’s Batman seemed massive but didn’t use Bale’s Vader-esque voice. Batman is the scariest, most remorseless superhero on the planet and Affleck brought that aspect to the forefront.

  Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent/Superman has more of a social conscience than ‘Man of Steel’ but is still the same wooden character except for one playful moment in the beginning of the film where Kent jumps into Lois Lane’s bathtub fully clothed which let the audience know that they were an item and that Lane was aware of Superman’s identity. I like the alien in a strange land take but there was no advancement of this character. Superman just goes about his business saving lives and except for the one early bathtub scene with Lane and a confrontation with Batman he pretty much sticks to his strong silent type routine. I don’t see this Superman ever being the franchise cornerstone until his brooding angst is defined to the point where he becomes the unwelcoming protector of an untrusting planet by virtues of his ‘super-ness’.

  The villain of the piece is Lex Luthor played by Jesse Eisenberg. In the comics I remember Lex Luthor as a scientific genius and ruthless businessman who truly believes the world would be better off if he ran it. Eisenberg’s Luthor is a spoiled rich kid who happens to be a super genius. This film had Luthor trying to act like The Joker (Batman’s arch-enemy) having him make silly jokes and uttering nonsensical off hand comments. I get that The Joker is probably the biggest movie property DC Comics has (watch and see - this year’s Suicide Squad movie be the year’s biggest box office hit) but there is no reason to try to make an iconic villain like Lex Luthor a clownish character. A good model for Luthor would be Vince D’Onofrio’s Kingpin in Netflix’s Daredevil season 1 – a larger than life character that carries himself with grandeur and a stone cold killer. Luthor was at his best when he blows up the US Capitol building to create distrust of Superman and creates the fearsome Doomsday with Kryptonian technology and the corpse of General Zod. In those scenes he seems like a cold blooded genius but when he coerces Superman into rescuing his kidnapped mother by killing Batman he was back to being a juvenile prankster instead of an evil billionaire that gets what he want any way possible.

  This movie was meant to be the launching point for DC’s Justice League group of super heroes to compete with Marvel’s Avengers and there was the briefest of nods to various other DC properties. Aquaman and the Flash make brief appearances on some computer data Wayne hacks from Lex Luthor’s headquarters. The only hero to make a live appearance is a heroine – Wonder Woman (who isn’t called that) who has a random meeting with Bruce Wayne when he is hacking Luthor’s data. Wonder Woman has a big role in the climactic fight scene with Doomsday but otherwise was a plot device that did nothing for the movie except to make it longer. If DC really wants to compete with Marvel on the movie front they will have to get their heroes out in the theaters a lot more often then every three or four years. While it took DC 3 years to get Superman on film for the second time, Marvel has gotten their heroes in multiple films thanks to crossing over characters in multiple movies. By the time DC actually gets around to havin Flash, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman in their next movie their appearance in this file will have been forgotten about.

  The fight between Batman and Superman was epic as well as their eventual teaming up with Wonder Woman to fight Doomsday. I left the movie theatre feeling entertained but not like I saw an epic film like the ‘The Dark Knight’. I think the film would have been better served by telling the story from either Batman or Superman’s point of view and cutting out the time spent integrating Wonder Woman into the plot and one less Bruce Wayne nightmare about the death of his parents to bring it to two hours. This movie would have been a great Batman film or a mediocre Superman film. Instead it tried to be both a Batman and a Superman movie and ended up being unfocused and far too long. Batman fans will really like his movie, Superman fans will be lukewarm towards it, action movie fans will think it was way too long, and non comic book fans will wonder of they can get a refund. I’m a Batman fan and really liked this movie except that it was too long and there wasn’t enough Batman since there can never be enough Batman for my taste.