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

……………………………………

Advertisements

Wonder Woman (2017) – Movie Review

wonder woman

In 2015, the post-credits zinger for Marvel’s Ant-Man had Evangeline Lily’s heroine, the Wasp, promised her own super suit. Her retort: “It’s about damn time.” The world echoed her sentiments. And waited. But alas: you snooze you lose, Marvel. Wonder Woman is here, loud, proud, heartfelt, and almost absurdly fun. Not to mention: in the super-super-saturated cinemas of late, it’s the first female-led superhero film in 13(?!) years? Suddenly Wasp’s pithy barb feels like the understatement of the century.

If we’re going to continue to play the Marvel card (and we should, for Wonder Woman is more akin to the MCU’s bright, mischievously fun fare than any of its sombre, melodramatic, ludicrously unironic DC precedents), director Patty Jenkins magpies the best bits of Captain America and Thor into a robustly satisfying romp. It’s a lot to juggle, simultaneously sating the twin bastions of feminism and fun in the rare superhero film expected to be About Something, but Jenkins, drawing upon nearly 80 years of fandom and iconography, is rightly confident. Her social commentary streak is as hearty as her flair for fun, and she gamely plunges into the film’s WWI setting as a potent vehicle for one of the genre’s most potent explorations of the ethics of action combat. Jenkins juxtaposing the sparkling, saturated sapphire colour scheme of Diana’s Amazon island with the sepia soot on the war-torn outside world (and just when we’d been enjoying a welcome break from the gloomy DC greys…) which succinctly feeds into Diana’s indictment of human cruelty. A superhero film sincere enough to advocate for empathy and benevolent compassion instead of revenge, justice, or simply violence? It’s a core moral streak so puppy-eyed and earnest it would verge on cornball were it not sold with a ferocious fervour heartfelt enough to trigger twinges of guilty reflection in between bites of popcorn. And that’s nothing to sneeze at.

But, paradoxically, in spite of this effective call for compassion… there’s almost never been a movie where watching someone punch things has felt so goddamn awesome. Jenkins uncorks action interludes with a zippy abandon, as balletic as they are concussively cathartic, so stupendously fun that you shouldn’t be surprised to see audience members unconsciously swept to their feet with the infectious, heady momentum (Robin Wright, in particular, nearly steals the show with a functional cameo just by making ass-kicking in a leather miniskirt look so ferociously cool). Paired with the crisply perfect period wartime décor, and especially when accompanied by her exhilarating and impossibly catchy guitar riff, Wonder Woman is the first superhero film in years where the fight scenes, rather than merely pleasant diversions, are moving, almost overwhelmingly endorphin-flooding experiences. The mere memory of Diana crumbling a clock tower or flattening a roof with single blows, or granted her very own Éowyn moment by storming into no man’s land (get it?) is enough to bring shivers of magnificence.

And that’s when the shoe drops, and the ‘women only Texas screening’-shaped elephant in the room rears its head: we’ve had decades for the exuberance of men hitting things to wear off. Wonder Woman reminds us of how much fun it can be to watch WOMEN hitting things, and how desperately rare it is. Mercilessly scrutinized under the gender policing microscope, Jenkins, cannily, doesn’t oversell her gender politics. Instead, she calmly naturalizes them by steering the film through Diana’s headstrong, take-no-sh*t character, with each feminist beat emerging naturally through her personality. It’s oodles more effective than any polarizing, dogmatic diatribe, and yields many of the film’s moments of sneaky humour. One aside in particular, where an exasperated Diana condemns petticoats and skirts for impeding high-kicks, instantly cements itself as an iconic reprieve of solidarity for women’s dressing rooms for the next century.

Still, a Wonder Woman film would be moot without the right Gal in the lead. Here, it’s indisputably clear that it’s been worth waiting for Godot. Anchored by a tempestuous, fiery charisma, Godot’s remarkable performance is just as unforgettable in her small moments of zealous humanity (her almost childlike indignation at a war counsel willing to abandon soldiers as a strategic coup, or equivalent jubilation when tasting ice cream for the first time) as she is fiercely convincing tossing tanks or bridling enemies with a glowing lasso. Supporting her, Chris Pine is at his most disarmingly hysterical and irreverently lovable here, and provides a welcome anchoring of incredulous realism when the film threatens to topple into being too steeped in mythology. Danny Huston’s Red Skull clone hits all the requisite skulking, ominously pontificating adversarial notes, but he’s nowhere near as interesting as Elena Anayu’s luridly sinister and tragic Dr. Poison, who, disappointingly, is relegated to sidekick status. Thankfully, Diana’s remarkably diverse cabal of ‘Howling Commandos’ pals remain on the right side of fun without overstaying their welcome (though Ewen Bremner is just one bug-eyed nibble of haggis away from belonging in a live action cartoon). Finally, David Thewlis’ droll prissiness perfectly befits Diana’s befuddled ambassador to the human world, even if his range isn’t quite up for the challenge plot twists demand of him.

Wonder Woman isn’t perfect – there are expanses when Jenkins’ juggernaut pacing fumbles (especially an overlong expository origin), and it toes the line of being a touch too derivative, leaning on its superhero predecessors so liberally that key emotional moments threaten to belly flop from over-familiarity. Still, it’s only a fleeting wobble of tentativeness and creative laziness, that only serves to reinforce Robin Wright’s advice: Wonder Woman is at its (/her) best when she truly believes in herself. Still, when Godot is armoured up, flashing her gauntlets and kicking through walls, the film achieves an almost peerless sense of infectious awesomeness. Will its legacy abide? Well, I’ll let the waves of young girls (and boys!) jump-kicking and slamming their forearms together when stampeding out of the auditorium of my screening speak for themselves.

 

3 out of 5 stars

………………………………

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

……………………….

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

……………………………………..

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