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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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

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300: Rise of an Empire (2014) – Movie Review

The words spoken in the trailer by King Xerxes perched precariously atop his Health and Safety test-failed balcony provide the perfect plot summary for this action-packed sequel. Adopting an ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ approach, this second installment in the 300 franchise chooses to throw what story line there was from the first film completely out the window, and focus entirely on the things that its target audience are really interested in: blood, boobs and stylized gore. Did I mention there was blood?

Not that this is all bad though. Going into the movie it must be said that I wasn’t expecting much in terms of a deep and engaging flick, but was more there for the big screen experience of 3D guts being splattered against the camera lens, essentially what the trailer was implying. And I got exactly what I expected.

Don’t bother trying to analyse this film on too many levels as its technically a pretty awful film. But if insane stylized wars are your scene then you’re in for a treat. I can honestly say that there wasn’t really a dull moment in this film, and with character testosterone levels set to maximum (both visually and mentally), the wars themselves (of which I believe there are about five in total? – so many I lost count) proved almost better than part one.

In conclusion, if you’re a fan of clever, inventive and well-acted films, then this may not be your cup of tea. On the other hand, if you’re a Zack Snyder fan who wasn’t a fan of the first 300 because there wasn’t enough ground and pound, then bring popcorn and soda, fasten your seat belt and enjoy the ride.

7 out of 10 stars

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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