Justice League (2017) – Movie Review

justiceleague

I went into Justice League, DC’S most recent grab at Marvel’s success, with trepidation. Other than Wonder Woman, each DCEU film has left me somewhere between “meh” and “ugh”. Even when Joss Whedon (Avengers) came in to help a grieving Snyder finish the movie, their exponentially different styles worried me, and that worry was mostly justified. Yes, Whedon’s wit does bring a welcome shine to the gloomy proceedings and, unlike Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad, keeps this movie from being an all-out slog. Still, it’s an awkward epic that can’t overcome the franchise’s dark doldrums. Just like every other superhero movie ever made, a charisma-less and bland villain with limitless power appears, bent on destroying Earth because of “reasons”. Superman still dead, the world must depend on lesser heroes to save them. Affleck is still a pretty good Batman, Flash is light-hearted fun, Aquaman is kinda cool, Cyborg is dull and dour, and Wonder Woman is still the standout. There are still certainly some interesting moments between the characters, but they’re mostly overshadowed by superhero-ethic clichés, stupid drama, bad CGI, and nonsensical logic (why are these guys such quick allies?) There really is just so much that doesn’t work: specific jokes, bad visuals, interpersonal relationships, muddy action, plot predictability. The main problem, though, is that DC and Warner Bros. think, through their previous films, they’ve given us enough reasons to care about this universe, and they haven’t. The positives here, mainly just seeing these heroes together on-screen, have left me mildly curious about the future of the franchise, but only barely. Otherwise, Justice League is easily the worst superhero movie of the year.

 

2 out of 5 stars

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) – Movie Review

batman v superman

Director Zack Snyder has proved to be the Kryptonite of this new DC universe. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is classic Snyder: visually adept yet narratively and thematically senseless. With two of the most compelling and popular characters in the world, numerous questions about purpose and responsibility are aimlessly wasted. Throw in resplendent amounts of religious and political imagery, and way too many dream sequences, and what we’re left with is a sad mishandling of what should be a powerful and (ahem) entertaining film. The opening is fantastic, as we watch Bruce Wayne and others reel from the disasters perpetrated by Superman in Man of Steel. Unfortunately from there, things go downhill fairly quickly, as story clichés (Kryptonite) and lame coincidences (Bruce and Clark’s mom have the same name! Wow!) fill a convoluted plot. Worst yet, this “action” film is overstuffed with unending amounts of ethical speeches and monologues in place of actual character connections. DC’s desperation to right their own wrongs in the destruction in Man of Steel becomes embarrassing (“Luckily that island was deserted”). Even when we aren’t being lazily spoken at or having our emotions ineffectively manipulated, the set-pieces are largely insipid and boring. As for the pluses, Affleck is great as Batman, giving a unique turn as a sloppier, older, and angrier Dark Knight. Also, for the very little we see of Gadot’s Wonder Woman, it creates an excited eagerness for her stand-alone film. However, BvS as a whole has less in common with its positives than with Eisenberg’s poorly-casted Lex Luthor: frantic, ill-thought, desperate, and truly awful.

 

2 out of 5 stars

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Comic Book Review – Superman Unchained (2013 – 2014): Deluxe Edition (The New 52)

superman unchained

After enjoying Superman’s crazed 1950’s high speculative fiction (SF) watermark—including every shade of Kryptonite—in terms of “re-boots,” I’m a huge fan of the Superman in action in Dennis O’Neil and Curt Swan’s 1971 “The Sandman Saga,” running across Superman (Vol. 1) issues: #233 – 235, 237 – 238, and 240 – 242, and edited by the magnificent Julius Schwartz.

But even Grant Morrison struggled to give us a clear distillation of New 52-era Superman, ramping up ample thematic tropes from creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s original “Fanfare for the Common Man” ethos, born and bred somewhat in Philip Wylie’s 1930 potboiler, “Gladiator.” But I still felt little kinship to the current take on the Man of Steel—that is until Batman scribe Scott Snyder (fair enough: he redefined the Dark Knight for our era in a way that genuinely works, and it appears Tom King is following up quite nicely) breathed life into a quickly flagging New 52 vision by penning an unconventional, completely cinematic buddy action film pairing Superman with Wraith, an ultra-powerful alien who, at first, gives Big Blue a run for his money as a rival.

Wraith has an actual “world view,” one completely opposed to that of the Man of Steel, as Wraith sees his having been co-opted by the government as better for the world, and Superman as the naïve new flash in the pan sailing through the skies. Wraith wants nothing of fame. He’s been performing black-ops for United States government with abandon for years. Rather than mere mid-air fisticuffs, the reader gets genuine ideologies in conflict, as the two ultra-powerful beings clearly have different things in mind in terms of what it means to protect the earth—even if that means an occasional genuflection in opposition force General Lane’s direction.

Author Scott Snyder hurls many a plot-thread into the air, and Jim Lee illustrates each with gusto, even managing to make the character design on Wraith rise above, say, the mere Mongul homage it could have been. Collected as a nice stand-alone book, the story is filled with funny asides that work, such as Lana Lang’s comment to Lois Lane, regarding Wonder woman: “Did you know they’re dating?” Between that and Wraith acting as an only marginally accepted mentor as the two ultimately have to team, forging Superman’s best outing since Kurt Buseik’s all-too-brief run.

 

4 out of 5 stars

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Superman Returns (2006) – Movie Review

superman returns

Like many other people, the character of Superman has always been a firm favourite of mine dating back to my childhood. Christopher Reeve’s Superman made me believe a man could fly, with the light-hearted ‘Lois and Clark’ series seeing me through the Nineties.

‘Superman Returns’ is set five years after Christopher Reeve’s ‘Superman II’ (thankfully ignoring the events in the lacklustre ‘Superman III and IV’). Superman, after five years of searching for the remains of his home planet Krypton, has returned to Earth to resume his life as Clark Kent only to find things moved on without him. Lois Lane is now mother to five-year-old son Jason and engaged to Perry White’s nephew Richard. She is also thoroughly disenchanted with Superman although it soon becomes clear there is much unresolved feelings between the two. But between juggling his conflicting emotions for Lois and his duties to protecting the population, Superman has to face his arch-enemy Lex Luthor, who has stolen the crystals from the Fortress of Solitude and is intent on using them to rule the world.

It was never going to be easy Brandon Routh to step into Christopher Reeve’s shoes but he takes it in his stride, managing to capture the bumbling but kindly nature of Clark and the strong, reserved demeanour of a Superman who strives to find a balance between his alien heritage and the life he has made for himself on Earth. He makes the role his own yet does well in succeeding where Reeve left off. Kate Bosworth was also another surprise. I was very disappointed in her casting initially but seeing her perform in the film left me realising that she was perfect for the job as she portrays the cocky and determined yet vulnerable Lois to a tee. Kevin Spacey was great as the obsessive, slightly unhinged Luthor who possesses a real hatred for our hero while Parker Posey gave us a nicely-portrayed ‘shades of grey’ character in Kitty, a villain with a heart. Even the little moppet who played Jason gave a decent performance without being wooden or grating.

What I loved most about the film is that it delivered an interesting storyline that didn’t reject the first two ‘Superman’ films, which are classics in the heart of any Superman fan and had already done a good job in covering the origins story. But at the same time, it didn’t shirk in giving us deeper insights into the character of Superman, the solitary hero and the man who just wants to fit in. What was a pleasant surprise was that the film also refused to dumb down to small children in the audience, which is a growing problem with many Hollywood films that over-dose on infantile humour to appeal to kids resulting in boredom for anyone over fourteen. There was humour, some on a level to make children laugh, but overall there was a nice mix of action, romance and darkness aimed more at an older audience. They even avoid the clichéd pitfall of portraying Lois’ love interest to be a sanctimonious twit and instead he came across as a genuinely nice guy who shows that it’s understandable why she has problems choosing between him and Superman

In fact, my only real problem was that there wasn’t enough interaction between Lois and Clark, which would have been nice as Clark’s jealousy towards his alter-ego and the attention Lois lavishes on him is a large part of the story yet in the film, you felt as if Clark and Superman really were two different people with Clark just being some rather random guy. However, it can be over-looked by the fact that Clark was so happy to just have Lois’ attention that he didn’t care whether it was projected onto himself in his real personality or on Superman.

For anyone who has yet to see the film, I do recommend it and don’t allow yourself to be put off by nitpickers complaining about the actors’ being too young (better they be a shade on the younger side than going the ‘Smallville’ route where you have adults in their late twenties and thirties prancing around pretending to be teens and just looking ridiculous for it) or that the film is too long (even the eight-year-olds in the audience sat quietly, glued to the screen, for the entire film) or that it’s bland (no more so than ‘Spiderman’). I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed it.

 

9 out of 10 stars

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Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox – Movie Review

Normally it’s said, “the book is better than the movie”, however with DC Entertainment’s Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox it’s the opposite.

Based on the graphic novel Flashpoint by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert; Barry Allen wakes up in a timeline similar to the one he calls home, but quickly discovers several startling differences. For starters: his mother is alive, Iris his wife is married to someone else, and he is without his abilities. While the Justice League doesn’t exist in this timeline; they are represented by different versions of themselves. In a world where villains are heroes and heroes are villains, the Flash will need to find help from unlikely “heroes” in order to restore the timeline, hopefully before the war between Aquaman and Wonder Woman destroys the world.

Jay Oliva returns to direct Flashpoint Paradox, since the last DC animated feature film Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Parts 1 & 2, and with fan favorites returning such as Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Dana Delany as Lois Lane, and Nathan Fillion as Hal Jordan this should be quite the production. Adding weight to the already impressive cast is Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle) as Cyborg, Sam Daly as Superman (son of Tim Daly who voiced Superman in the animated TV show), and Kevin McKidd as the alternate Batman.

This story puts the Flash center stage; Justin Chambers does a more than adequate job as the Flash, but some of his lines suffered from either weak deliveries or were just too ridged. However his opposite in the movie Professor Zoom is voiced by C. Thomas Howell, and he give a solid performance, even though most of the dialogue was lifted straight from the comic books.

James Krieg wrote the screenplay and struck a nice balance adapting the five main issues while incorporating story elements from the additional 20 tie-ins. What we end up with is a well-constructed story; even if it feels abrupt (it’s only 75 minutes). Considering this story could have been bogged down with too many characters and stories, the liberties Krieg takes not only flesh out the world but kept the story self-contained.

The inclusion of Lex Luthor aiding Deathstroke to find the WMDs Aquaman possesses was a nice touch instead of the convoluted original Deathstroke pirate story. Whereas the Kraken was at least in one of the tie-ins and actually served as a better alternative to a gigantic amazon, but the addition of a Cerberus and a Minotaur feels more like an anime checklist requirement.

The animation style is heavily influenced by modern day anime (think the Second Renaissance from the Animatrix) it isn’t too distracting. With that said though it isn’t very flattering for the alternate versions of Aquaman and Wonder Woman, but it does add to the already emaciated Superman. It also helps to detail the violence in the war between Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and “surface dwellers”; which might leave viewers feeling drained seeing a world without hope or heroes, and ravished by death.

This might be a case of be careful what you wish for, because this movie is a departure from the kid friendly animated movies we’ve come to expect from the studio that brought us Batman: The Animated Series. Although it’s rated PG-13 it is unlike any other DC animated movie in terms of excitement, shock value, and violence, which at times could be distracting. As Jay Oliva set the bar for gloom and violence in The Dark Knight Returns and raised it in this film. What can audiences expect from 2014′s Justice League: War?

Overall the film does a better job telling the story than the graphic novel. It clearly defines the conflict the Flash has and adds suspense & tension to the decision he ultimately has to make. Where the graphic novel felt bland and even anti-climactic, the movie conveys the emotional and climatic moments in a more effective manner.

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox succeeds wildly where the comic fell flat. By incorporating choice elements from the comic event tie-ins to the main narrative, it hits all the right notes to not only create an intense thriller, but also prove that Flash can carry his own film.

This is a seriously hardcore cartoon with lots of brutal violence, and while sometimes the line is crossed, it’s generally a good amount of fun, especially when Batman is involved.

 

9 out of 10

 

 

Man of Steel (2013) – Movie Review

man of steel

I was afraid that this movie would be crushed by the weight of the marketing effort from Warner Brothers and the resultant raised expectations. I mean 3 trailers and 9 TV spots which contained approximately 15 minutes of the film, plus the Gillette, Twizzler and Mr Clean commercials, and OKAY I get it Warner Brothers! You want us to see your movie!!

Fortunately, it doesn’t disappoint. The marriage between David Goyer’s character driven storytelling and Zach Snyder’s signature visual style works perfectly, as I hoped it would. I thought Snyder in particular out did himself with rich visuals that carried through the muted tones and darker colour palette of the film. Goyer’s story can almost be described as ‘Superman Begins’ as it uses the same approach and story structure as Batman Begins, but ultimately finds its own voice and tone which prevents it from feeling too much like the first Nolan Batman film. As a result, a lot of time is spent exploring the journey of Clark/Kal-el with the supporting characters present only to inform the audience of the protagonist, which also means they are not fully developed and therefore come across as one dimensional. This is not meant as criticism, and I’m not surprised that other reviewers found character development to be lacking because of this. The story is not designed to have rich supporting characters, it’s about Clark’s character, his journey and growth, and that’s it. The exception to this is Lois Lane who is present enough in the film to give us a good feel for the character, which is a true reflection of the comic book, and I’m really looking forward to her being developed even further in future installments.

The acting itself is solid which is what you would expect from a cast of this caliber, yet no one performance outshines the other and there was never a moment for me where I thought the actor cast for a particular role was the wrong choice. Henry Cavill, in particular, IS Superman. This film, however, is not perfect. There are a few head-scratching and perhaps WTF moments, BUT the good parts in the movie far, far outweigh the bad, so I’m willing to turn a blind eye to these bad moments and embrace this film in aggregate as a brilliant, outstanding effort. My nipples stiffen just thinking about it.

All that being said, if you are of the opinion that the Christopher Reeve films, and Bryan Singer’s love letter to Donner, is the true version of Superman, then you’ll likely have a hard time embracing this version. Also, if you are one of those who habitually “multi-task” and split your attention between a psychoactive mobile device and what’s happening on the big screen (and unfortunately there were many of you in the theatre last night), I’m afraid you aren’t going to enjoy it very much either. This film has just enough story that if you miss a bit while held hostage to your devices’ virtual delights, you’ll become lost and all that will remain are the film’s action sequences. But, maybe that’s all you want.

 

10 out of 10