Justice League (2017) – Movie Review

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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

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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)

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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

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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: War (2014) – Movie Review

DC’s “New 52”. Love it or hate it, it is here to stay. So strong is this line wide continuity reboot that it has now entered the realm of animation in the form of JUSTICE LEAGUE: WAR. Adapting the first volume of Geoff John’s and Jim Lee’s graphic novel “Justice League: Origins”, WAR is a brisk animated superhero blockbuster, heavy on action and snappy dialogue. Compared to the bleak and morally ambiguous FLASHPOINT PARADOX, WAR returns an element of fun to DC’s superheroes by crafting a tradition, clear cut “Good versus evil” tale.

Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, and more. Superpowered beings have only recently made their presence known to a suspicious world. Admired by some, but feared by most, they struggle for acceptance while fighting the good fight. A typical night on the job turns into a conflict of epic proportions when Batman and Green Lantern uncover evidence of a clandestine operation carried out by techno organic aliens. Superman gets roped in due to his alien origins and an experiment gone wrong leads to the metamorphosis of Vic Stone into a techno organic “Cyborg”. All this culminates in a full scale invasion, pulling in the likes of Wonder Woman, The Flash and Shazam, who just happen to be in the right place at the right time. Facing down the invasion forces the squabbling heroes to set aside their differences and work together.

Perhaps the best part of such superhero team ups is to see how the heroes play off each other. Thanks to an expertly written script and fine acting, our characters share memorable moments of dialogue punctuated with wit and a bit of humour. It feels like Marvel’s AVENGERS only that the humour is more controlled, more witty, and less outright comedy.

Miraculously, with so many heroes, our script gives ample development to the characters and fleshes most of them out perfectly. Cyborg’s tension with his father, Green Lantern’s over confidence in his power and Wonder Woman as the stranger in a strange land are a treat to watch. All the characters are played by an excellent bunch of actors who ease right into their roles. Special mention goes to young Zach Callison who nails Billy Batson as a streetwise but insecure kid, hiding his insecurities behind a showboating little tough guy act. Little sub-plots lend meat to the story such as Cyborg and Shazam’s issue with trust, Green Lantern learning some humility, and a budding romance between Superman and Wonder Woman. Superman himself however is a big letdown. His simplistic dialogue, and muscle bound design makes him seem like a clueless one dimensional bruiser.

Of course, what would a good superhero movie be without action? In JUSTICE LEAGUE: WAR, the action is intense and wild. Featuring a soundtrack that combines orchestral fanfare with some sinister sounding synths, essentially makes JUSTICE LEAGUE WAR sound more like the sci/fi invasion flick that it is than a traditional superhero movie. Legions of parademons storm the major cities of the world while their leader Darkseid personally confronts the heroes. Moi Animation studio brings their best to the fight scenes. The animation is smooth and dynamic, yet the level of detail remains constant. Director Jay Olivia, who also directed the superman slugfest SUPERMAN DOOMSDAY shows off some beautiful combat scenes, including a cool first-person sequence from the point of view of Wonder Woman slicing her way through a horde.

Unfortunately, the slower scenes in the movie show off some areas where the animation is lacking. With TV shows like Young Justice and Legend of Korra, the art detail in this movie is barely any better than that in the aforementioned TV series. Then there is the ubiquitous CGI used to render vehicles and parademon hordes in the background. They clash rather obviously with the 2D art, a true crime when others shows can successfully integrate cel shaded CGI into the traditional 2D animation. Some character designs are also just as iffy. While most of the characters look fantastic, with a slight Japanese anime touch, Superman looks like a dumb beefcake. Not that his simplistic dialogue helps this impression. His face is too wide, his shoulders are huge, nothing at all like the sleek and handsome Jim Lee art in the original graphic novel

And that is perhaps the greatest sin this movie commits. In touting itself as an adaptation, it makes many unnecessary changes from the original comic. Polarising your audience is never a good thing. Fans of the comic would be turned off by the changes. Not that JUSTICE LEAGUE WAR is not a good movie, it is. It succeeds in re-introducing these well known characters in a new light, and in setting up a whole new universe for subsequent animated movies to be set in. As a pilot film, not bad. But perhaps with the critical acclaim that the graphic novel got, it should not have been too much to expect more advanced animation techniques and better character designs that were closer to the comic art.

DC now has it’s New animated movie universe up and running. With a slew of great stories to tap on like THRONE OF ATLANTIS, COURT OF OWLS, ROTWORLD, DEATH OF THE FAMILY etc, here’s hoping DC puts a bit more love into the next one.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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Comic Book Review – Superman: Action Comics: The New 52 (issues 1 to 18) – 2011 to 2016

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Ok, I have to admit that writing these reviews is a little harder than I thought. I mean, how many ways can you say, “it has good art and a good story”, and vice versa. I guess I could just pad out the article by describing the plot, but I’ve never been a huge fan of that approach with entertainment reviews in general. It just seems a bit lazy.

A quick scan of the internet and review of other sites critiquing comic books has produced insipid results, unfortunately. I mean, I shouldn’t really be surprised. As much as I love the medium, we’re not exactly critiquing War and Peace. Each issue has 22 pages, and story arcs tend to run five or six issues so that it can be collected into a trade paperback for sale in bookstores at a later date. That’s 110 to 132 pages, which let’s be frank, is not quite as dense as 110 pages in a novel.

Comic book writers and artists need to convey a lot of information in a very limited space, so they have to be efficient, maybe even ruthless, with what they show and what they don’t show. Which means that building comfort and creating emotional moments through connection to the characters is extremely hard for comic creators. Novelists on the other hand have the luxury of spending more time with characters and narratives, which allows the reader more time to connect with the characters and the material.

All that said, I think it’s better to review story arcs versus single issues. Especially in the case of Grant Morrison who tends to use non-linear story telling and also inculcates quite a bit of foreshadowing. His run on Action Comics is no different and for me it was best binge-consumed instead of reading each issue individually as it was released.

I don’t know if this is a symptom of his story telling style, but at times the story seems to staccato step. Almost like I skipped a page. For me, I feel like that happens quite a lot with his stories and unfortunately it makes it hard to follow the central narrative. You always feel like you’re missing something.

That said it is a really good re-introduction to Superman and he does evolve quite a bit over the story arc into a more recognisable version of the character. I also really liked the re-introduction of Brainiac and how he used this villain to introduce well know story elements from the Superman mythology, like the Fortress of Solitude.

There’s also a sub-plot/thread devoted to Mr Mxyzptlk which starts in issue one and runs for the entire series culminating in Grant’s last issue which is number 18. It is easily the most inventive interpretation of the character and fits this rebooted version of Superman quite well. I’ve never been a big fan of this villain because Superman is primarily a science fiction hero, and the magical aspect of the character has never felt congruent with Superman’s universe.

Rags Morales art is on point as usual. He is easily one of my favourite artists, dating back to his time on Forgotten Realms and some of the other D&D books of the ‘90s. His characters are kinetic, which adds motion to the story. He’s very good at displaying emotion, which adds depth to the story and he doesn’t seem to cut corners at all. Some artists will get a bit lazy and skimp on the detail, but Rags doesn’t do that. His panels/pages are always very detailed and give you allot to look at.

All in all I’d rate Grant and Rags 18 issue run on Action Comics as a solid 4 out of 5 stars.

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Comic Book Review – Final Crisis: New Edition (collecting issues 1 to 7) – 2008

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Ok. The usual disclaimer here: this review may contain spoilers, so if you haven’t read the series then it may be best to skip the main body of this review until you have.

Created by Grant Morrison, J G Jones, Carlos Pacheco plus others, it is……..just about okay. To be honest, it’s not that great. It has some good ideas, the concepts and narrative are quite brilliant, but the execution/delivery is poor and scattered, which makes it an odd read at times.

Let me explain.

Grant Morrison’s writing style is challenging to completely grasp at times. He’s sometimes so abstract, you’re not sure exactly what you’re reading. He tends to use quite a bit of foreshadowing, and when coupled with non-linear story telling it means that the series or story arc is best consumed in one sitting versus monthly or periodic installments. So, if you do decide to read this series, it’s best to do it in one sitting.

I read this series back in 2008 when it first came out and felt, like everyone, that Grant could do no wrong. I mean, he’s one of the top comic book writers of all time and he has written some great iconic stories, however this is not one of them. I really wanted to like it at the time of first reading, and it wasn’t until I read the series again recently that I was able to weight the story on its own merits.

I liked the exploration of the New Gods as an idea; their fall from Heaven to Earth after a war between Good and Evil, only to be planted in normal humans as an idea that grows and evolves, transforming the person into the respective New God. I loved the concept of delivering the anti-life equation through electronic media to infect and ultimately subjugate the Earth’s population with an idea. It’s so close to what is going on today with social media and the whole SJW culture that is infecting everything (to the point of it being detrimental). That Grant could see this as a possibility back in 2008 is brilliant on his part.

I also liked the deconstruction of the heroes, the way that he dispatched the super heroes so that the New Gods could infect and subjugate the populace.

Beyond that, it’s just weird. Libra acts as the Prophet for the coming of the New Gods by evangelizing and organising the super villains into one group to provide support for their arrival, and then he disappears in the second half of the story.

Superman and Batman are dispatched early on and then you don’t see them again until the final issue. Superman’s absence is odd and not fully explained, just briefly referenced when he reappears at the end of the series. And that’s really my problem with the story, there isn’t a central character or set of characters which carry the narrative and can be used to revolve the story around. It would have been better to tell the story from the villain’s perspective by making them the central characters.

I also wasn’t keen on the story pacing. Long arcs dedicated to Mary Marvel, without showing how she was corrupted, fighting the uninfected heroes, Supergirl in particular, I thought was unnecessary and didn’t really move the story along at all. I mean seeing these two square off against each other is fun, but maybe that should have been used for a supporting one-off story in it’s own separate book.

All that said, it is worth a read. It does have some really neat concepts, but it ultimately falls flat and fails to connect.

3 out of 5 stars.

 

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