Sunday, November 19, 2017
Movie review: Justice League
Justice League is the latest DC Comic Universe offering. The story picks up shortly after the death of Superman has plunged the world into darkness, chaos and violence.
Directed by Zack Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fischer, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, JK Simmons, Amber Heard and Ciaran Hinds
My slightly spoilery review:
I feel like in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention before we go further into this review that I am not a DC fan usually. The big shiny exception being the incredible Wonder Woman. I have felt as though most of the DC movies have been dark and dreary and have taken themselves entirely too seriously. So my expectations for this movie were not what anyone would consider “high”. What a shock it was to find myself REALLY enjoying this movie.
Our story is nothing incredibly new or unique. The world is being threatened by the evil demon Steppenwolf (voiced by Hinds) who is set on total destruction. Batman (Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gadot) realize that they are going to need more help if they hope to defeat him and save planet Earth. Enter the rest of the team: The Flash (Miller), Aquaman (Momoa) and Cyborg (Fisher). We get glimpses into each of their lives as they are being recruited. This is done without the repetition of Suicide Squad and in a way where I felt intrigued by what each new member will bring to the table. The slight spoiler here is in the resurrection of Superman (Cavill).
Where I feel this movie really scores is in the emotional components. There are some really wonky CGI problems which I was willing to overlook because I felt invested in the characters. The deep layered complexities of what it means to be a human are really explored here in a way that many superhero movies seem to miss. Adams and Lane are back as Lois Lane and Martha Kent respectively. They don't get an awful lot of red meat to work with, but they both do at the very least an adequate job in their roles. Jeremy Irons (Alfred) and JK Simmons (Commissioner Gordon) are good even though both characters are completely unnecessary.
The true winners of this movie have to be Miller and Fisher. They are complex and vulnerable and funny and I would have watched a 3 hour movie of just the two of them. Both are tasked with acting while a significant portion of their faces are covered by either a mask or cybernetic enhancements. Miller in particular really shines in this area. He is able to act with just the use of his eyes and I was thoroughly impressed with him throughout.
Justice League feels far more like a Marvel movie than any of it's predecessors. There is significantly more humor here than what's come before. Both of my showings had very vocal crowd applause and laughter. The villain being somewhat cartoonish and not actually “scary” makes this a family friendly option. My only other slight quibble would be a sort of muddy 3rd act. But my grade is a very solid 4 out of 5 stars.
Give me a Flash/Cyborg movie STAT!
Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman's selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists newfound ally Diana Prince to face an even greater threat. Together, Batman and Wonder Woman work quickly to recruit a team to stand against this newly awakened enemy. Despite the formation of an unprecedented league of heroes -- Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash -- it may be too late to save the planet from an assault of catastrophic proportions.
Release Date: Nov 17, 2017
Genres: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action
Justice League gives DC fans the big superhero team up they’ve been waiting for. It’s not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination but it’s still incredibly fun. The film had its share of behind the scenes issues, due to the death of Zack Snyder’s daughter that had Joss Whedon stepping in, and at times it does feel a bit like a Frankenstein mash up of Synder and Whedon’s styles. The first act feels a tad clunky as we catch up or meet all the heroes and are introduced to the primary villain. It feels like it could have used some smoothing out but it’s not really a huge detriment once the film finds its footing. Once it does and the characters are fleshed out we get an enjoyable superhero romp that feels like a live action version of Bruce Timm’s animated Justice League show. Established characters like Batman (Affleck is lighter and having more fun), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot is always on point) and Superman (Henry Cavill is still a great choice even with CGI weirdness on his mustache) all get their just due while intermixing with the newcomers. The newcomers all leave a lasting impression. Ezra Miller’s Flash is great fun every time he’s on screen. His manic and energetic personality translates wonderfully on screen. Miller’s got tangible chemistry with the entire cast which serves the film well. Jason Momoa brings an unbridled macho swagger to Aquaman which is a fun take on the character and it works far better than expected. Ray Fisher might be overlooked but he shouldn’t because he’s delivers one on better performances in the whole film. Anyone who’s a fan of the character from Teen Titans will instantly recognize as soon as Fisher shows up. It’s an impressive turn that can get lost in the overall shuffle but it really shouldn’t. The villain, Steppenwolf who voiced by Ciarán Hinds, isn’t memorable or terribly deep, he’s more of a mechanism to the overall plot. Hinds, to his credit, gives the character a commanding presence and he plays it loose enough that you can tell he’s enjoying the outlandish bombast of the character. The action sequences are all fun and well plotted out with the arrival of Steppenwolf on Themyscira being an impressive high point. Justice League is a film that checks all the boxes for fans and general audiences. It’s hard to see anyone not having a good time with this film especially long time DC fans.
Dearest Blog: I have spent the better part of the last two days in three Justice League screenings at Marquee Cinemas, and I am now prepared to talk to you about it. This will probably get long, so grab a coffee and dive on in!
Spoiler level here will be moderate; if I talk about anything not explicitly revealed by the trailers, it will be something obvious from a quick check of the IMDB credits, or enough discussed (pre-release) to assume it was a not-actually-secret secret. Still, if you prefer to know nothing until you've seen the movie, read no further until you do.
When Superman's passing leaves the world lawless and without hope, Batman and Wonder Woman assemble a team of heroes to fill the super-sized gap.
Dear reader(s), as I so often mention, I approach every movie--whatever my predisposition towards it--with an open enough mind to be surprised to the good or to the bad. In the interest of full and fair disclosure, and to exactly no one's surprise, please note that the opinions hereafter shared are honest, but coming from a place of great affection. This movie would have had to work very hard to make me dislike it.
So let's begin at the beginning, shall we? More than a decade removed from that benchmark of superhero movie perfection, The Dark Knight, DC is trying to find its footing again. That is not my personal opinion--I love the way DC does things, and they have yet to produce a movie I didn't like--but, if the DC Universe officially rebooted following Christopher Nolan's directorial swan song, this movie represents at least an informal CTRL-ALT-DELETE, adopting an entirely different tone from the one to which we're accustomed. Even Wonder Woman, redeemer of heroic cinema and hope of all DC fans, didn't seem as much of a departure to me.
Though the future of the whole world is at stake, the tone here is light and cartoonish. It's not the choice I'd have made, but it is enjoyable and nearly all of the humor is spot on. Outside of a few missteps with Aquaman (more on that later), the funny bits are well-timed and often quite clever. (Look out for an exchange between Lois Lane and Martha Kent in the Daily Planet breakroom!) The film's overall appearance is very comic-bookish, and continues to overuse that super-slo-mo that annoyed me so much in Wonder Woman. The effects are mostly solid, but there is some oddly-dodgy CGI, most notably in scenes where the porn-stache Henry Cavill was wearing for another project was digitally removed in post production. Yes, you may utter those never-before-spoken words: "Henry Cavill's face looks bad!" and that will be why. A final note on the look of the film: for the first time in recent memory, I could actually see everything that was going on; nothing was overly dark, despite my not bothering with the 3D.
I was prepared to open this review by stating that Justice League could use more Batman. Truth be told, I got a LOT more Batman than I anticipated with such a large ensemble...though pretty much any movie could always use more Batman. (Lookin' at YOU, La La Land!) The lighter overall tone makes Ben Affleck's Bruce Wayne seem somewhat less world weary, but his perpetually bemused expression and self-imposed outsider status still make him a perfect Batman, in my opinion, the best ever. As expected, Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman is front and center throughout, and she is an absolute delight. Henry Cavill remains an ideal Superman, handsome, strong, and vanilla. Jason Momoa's Aquaman is a little too "bro" for my liking, but claims credit for some of the movie's funniest moments. Strictly for science purposes, here I shall inform you, dear and faithful reader(s), that there's a fair bit of gratuitous, but not unwelcome, shirtlessness on the parts of Messrs. Cavill and Momoa. Bring the galoshes! While all those big names are pretty terrific, the movie's highlights are Ezra Miller and Ray Fisher as The Flash and Cyborg. Miller brings a real sense of wonder and spot-on comedy skills to Barry Allen, an isolated kid who is as excited as he is overwhelmed to be asked to join such a super team. Fisher is extraordinary, turning in a natural performance that easily makes Victor Stone the most sympathetic and likable character in the film. Unsurprisingly, awards darlings Diane Lane, Jeremy Irons, and Amy Adams provide small bright spots in limited screen time. Oh, and there's Not-Gary-Oldman as the new Jim Gordon. I guess he's okay too.
Plot wise, Justice League seems a little scattered, especially at the start. Much like the whole of Suicide Squad, the early parts of JL are more like a bunch of small stories than one cohesive larger one. Ultimately the pieces start fitting together, but it's a feeling the movie never quite shakes. My personal taste leans strongly towards the grittier, more real Nolan-verse, but I think Justice League works well as an attempt to reinvent the DC Universe as more fun and less grim. Missteps in the humor are rare, and there's nothing that feels shoehorned in, as I so often complain of Marvel movies in general and Tony Stark's one-liners in particular. A well-defined message makes it easy to excuse a few ridiculously hokey lines. (Hokey lines, are, after all, a Super-staple!) There's a peripheral hint at possible romance between Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince, and--if I don't especially need romance in my superhero fare--I don't mind this pairing either. Justice League is more than accessible enough for a casual fan to enjoy, but there are plenty of fanboy moments too. Though the climactic battle scene bogs down just a hair, Justice League also succeeds in one way that no other costumed hero picture has in recent memory: It runs shy of the two-hour mark. This is a smart decision and a trend I hope both DC and Marvel will continue. There are two post credits scenes--one (far as I could tell) merely amusing and the other functional and thrilling. I enthusiastically encourage you to stay for both.
A few random thoughts that I couldn't weave in anywhere else:
Why is Wonder Woman always grunting like she's constipated? None of the men do that.
Momoa's Arthur Curry always sounds like a guy who's about to drop a Limp Bizkit track at karaoke.
Weird that Alfred spent this movie dressed like a member of the Newsies ensemble...??
Justice League runs 119 minutes and is rated PG13 for "sequences of sci-fi (??) violence and action."
By now, you've probably seen a bunch of professional critics complaining about Justice League, but my Facebook feed is full of people saying they loved it and can't wait to see it again. I've seen it three times, and am proud to throw in my lot with the "can't wait to see it again" crowd. It may not be perfect, but it's pretty great. Of a possible nine Weasleys, Justice League gets eight and a half.
Fangirl points: Batman! (DUH!) Billy Crudup! Holt McCallany!
Until next time...
Sunday, November 12, 2017
Belgian Detective Hercule Poirot probes the mystery of a murdered American tycoon aboard the legendary Orient Express as 20th Century Fox and producers Ridley Scott, Simon Kinberg, and Mark Gordon bring Agatha Christie's classic whodunit back to the big screen. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi
Director: Kenneth Branagh, Mark Gordon
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp
Release Date: Nov 10, 2017
Genres: Detective Film, Drama, Mystery
Rated PG-13 for violence and thematic elements
Murder on the Orient Express is a solid and lavishly directed throwback murder mystery. Kenneth Branagh, lover of all things classical, directs his film with a steady hand, keeping everything visually stimulating even during some of the slower portions. Branagh does fine work pulling double duty as Hercule Poirot, one of Agatha Christie’s most beloved characters. It’s an interesting iteration of the character that captures his quirks and mannerisms while infusing him with a tinge of sadness. Branagh is front and center for the majority of the film but the impressive ensemble is given plenty of time to shine with Michelle Pfeiffer and Daisy Ridley leaving the biggest impression. The central mystery, which is over 80 years old, isn’t terribly complex and fairly common knowledge so there is a lack of urgency to the whole thing. Kenneth Branagh clearly loves the material and it comes through on screen but I’m not sure if people will be rushing to revisit it after the initial viewing.