Justice League (Full Review)

Dreary, uninspired, and virtually tone deaf to the decades of phenomenal source material that came before it… the more you think about it, the more Batman v Superman feels like a train wreck. But Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman showed that DC and Warner Bros. has some footing. Now comes Justice League, the original super team of marquee heroes hoping to keep the DC Extended Universe from completely derailing.

Justice_League_film_posterFollowing the events of 2016’s Dawn of Justice, Justice League begins with Batman (Ben Affleck), his trusted butler Alfred (Jeremy Irons), and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) struggling to pick up the pieces following the death of Superman (Henry Cavill). When an alien god (Ciaran Hinds) who was once thwarted by Amazons and warriors from Atlantis returns to conquer Earth, Batman and Wonder Woman must recruit more metahumans to oppose him. Joining them are nerdy speedster Barry Allen aka The Flash (Ezra Miller), macho half-man, half Atlantian Arthur Curry aka the Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) a former football star who is fused with alien technology by his father (Joe Morton) after a near fatal accident. But to prevent the apocalypse, they’ll need to quickly gel as a team and find a way to resurrect the Man of Steel himself.

Justice League is by no means a polished movie. After an untimely and unfortunate exit from Director Zack Snyder, Avengers helmsmen Joss Whedon was brought in to finish the job. It is pretty noticeable in a few cringeworthy scenes where the reshoots and edits are glaringly obvious and out of place amidst the finished product. Not helping matters is the generic plot and somewhat rushed together opening act that attempts to pull together several characters never fully introduced on screen before.

But since when does having a flimsy plot make a superhero movie not entertaining? Audiences collectively gushed over Avengers even though it was about a random alien invasion bringing together a rag tag group just the same. And several of the touted Marvel films involve finding a magical mcguffin to thwart a megalomaniac. So the overarching narrative shouldn’t distract from the excitement when the tone is balanced, the action is intense, and the chemistry between characters works.

Justice League succeeds in the most important aspects of the genre. The chemistry between the heroes works wonderfully without compromising the more serious tone of the established universe. Affleck is brooding, but slyly exuberant and more balanced as Batman this time around. Fisher brings toughness and soul as Cyborg. Miller and Momoa are both boyishly comical in their roles and Gal Gadot is just as sophisticated and elegant as she’s been in every role as the Amazon warrior. Even Henry Cavill’s Superman, who swoops in as the team’s resident cheat code in the climax (it’s not that big of a spoiler. Trust me), manages to feel like a welcomed fit amongst the group. His charming boy scout routine works well in its small dose and manages to elevate another dull showing by Amy Adams as Lois Lane.

The action, though heavy on the CGI, is well paced and exhilarating with each team member getting a moment to flex their muscle. Several sequences, including one involving Connie Nielsen and the Amazons from Wonder Woman, are downright show stoppers. More importantly, characters finally feel true to their comic cores, so DC fan boys who have been waiting for the big screen films to be as engaging as the studio’s animated properties will have enough to feel satisfied. So while Justice League doesn’t break any new narrative ground and may only be wholly memorable to comic purists, it succeeds in rectifying the wrongs of Batman v Superman and showing that the DCEU does know how to put something fun together without completely losing its knack for spectacle and an emotional foundation.

FINAL GRADE: B

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Wonder Woman (Full Review)

In baseball, when you’re losing, you don’t always need a homerun to restore the hope in your fans. Sometimes, you just need a solid base hit to get your team back into a rhythm. 2016 had two strikeouts for the DC Comics Extended Universe. Batman v Superman was the most dreary, self-indulgent superhero movie ever and Suicide Squad was a sloppy mess that had to rely on a seasoned cast to make it watchable. But now Wonder Woman is up to the plate, and after being one of the few bright spots in Batman v Superman, the most iconic superheroine in comic book history looks to get DC and Warner Bros. back in the cinematic game.

Wonder_Woman_(2017_film)Gal Gadot returns as Diana, the youngest of an island of Amazonian women created by Zeus to defend mankind from Aries, the God of War. Trained by her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright), Diana becomes the fiercest Amazonian warrior, much to the dismay of her protective mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). When a World War I spy named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes on their hidden shores, Diana embarks on a mission with him and his friends (Lucy Davis, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock) to find Aries and end the war before a German General (Danny Huston) and his chemist partner (Elena Anaya) can release a deadly gas on all of mankind.

From the beginning, when we see Diana as a starry eyed little girl, the movie has a charming tone to it that never ceases. All of the supporting protagonists are likable and the chemistry between Gadot and Chris Pine always comes off as genuine. Both Diana and Steve Trevor are wonderfully layered characters that uplift each other. Diana is portrayed as a strong but naïve fish out of water who learns the nuances of mankind from Trevor while he is a brave soldier who lacks faith until being inspired by her strong willed and unyielding nature.

Great chemistry between the cast is coupled with a strong dose of well timed humor that, unlike Suicide Squad, never feels forced. It should also come as no surprise to anyone that saw the character in Batman v Superman that the battle scenes are thrilling. So despite being over two hours, the movie paces beautifully with only the beginning feeling a tad slow.

Wonder Woman isn’t without some glaring flaws. There is an overuse of CGI which often clashes with the more tangible scenes in the film that feature well choreographed fights and gorgeous costumes and scenery. The movie also has some hokey moments and lacks a strong central antagonist (The final reveal seems a bit forced). So while it isn’t quite a homerun, Director Patty Jenkins does manage to make it DC’s first film that feels smart, fun, exciting, and endearing throughout. And that makes it a solid double off of the back wall and enough to give us faith in the studio again.

FINAL GRADE: B

Suicide Squad (Full Review)

Batman v Superman left many of us with a bad taste in our mouths. Not because it was glaringly awful, but because it was wildly disappointing considering how good it could’ve been and considering how good we wanted it to be. But because we love superhero movies (more than the films critics who wish the most profitable film genre would die off), we are able to get excited about the next one as if we were never scorned. Suicide Squad is the latest attempt by DC Comics and Warner Bros. at getting audiences fully on board with their cinematic universe.

Suicide_Squad_(film)_PosterForget Batman v Superman, although it takes place in the same world, Suicide Squad delivers a drastically different tone and feel. The film tells the story of Task Force X, a group of criminals assembled together by ruthless government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), to carry out a deadly mission to stop an out of control sorceress (Cara Delevingne).  If they succeed, they’ll get time off of their prison sentences; if they don’t, they’ll be blamed for everything… or die. Included in the squad are Deadshot (Will Smith) an assassin who never misses; Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), right hand woman to Batman (Ben Affleck)’s arch nemesis, The Joker (Jared Leto); El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) a fire spouting former gang banger; Boomerang (Jai Courtney), an Australian thief; and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje) a reptilian, man eater. Wrangling the team of degenerates is U.S. Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman).

DC’s last film failed partially because it was far too dreary, and it seems here as if they tried to make this one as much like a 90’s music video as possible. Sometimes this works, adding flare and humor. Other times, it just feels disorienting. But it isn’t a big issue. The horrendous narrative structure, however, that’s a completely different story.

Suicide Squad ends up being a fun mess, but a mess nonetheless. First, let’s address the messy elements. There are plenty of colorful characters with fun backgrounds and personalities here, but it appears as if Director David Ayer has shiny toys he doesn’t quite know how to play with. Some characters, like Smith’s Deadshot and Robbie’s Harley Quinn, are given plenty of moments to shine and breathe life into the sloppy story. But the majority of the Squad just seem like random pawns that are barely necessary. Characters like Katana (Karen Fukuhara), an assassin bodyguard to Rick Flag, are both irrelevant and useless. And the entire objective of the movie feels out of place and uninspired, like something out of a video game, which leads to a relatively hokey final act.

Then there’s Jared Leto’s underdeveloped and hardly pertinent Joker who’s really only here to give origin to Harley Quinn. Leto misses the mark partially because the character is poorly designed. He doesn’t need to be Heath Ledger, Jack Nickloson, Mark Hamill, or even Caesar Romero… but the Joker HAS to be charismatic and menacing to not feel annoying. This version is neither and just comes off weird for the sake of being weird. But it isn’t necessarily the actor’s fault, because The Joker should never be used as a sideshow.

But beyond the poorly placed flashbacks and inefficient juggling of characters, there is a ton of potential where something great could’ve and should’ve formed. Viola Davis is deliciously wicked as Amanda Waller. From snappy dialogue to just being a bad ass, Will Smith is phenomenal every time he’s on screen as Deadshot. Margot Robbie is perfect as Harley Quinn, and even Jai Courtney and Jay Hernandez’s characters are great when given their seldom chances. Suicide Squad isn’t a disaster, unless you expected it to be something groundbreaking. But it is a missed opportunity to create something that could’ve been DC and Warner Bros’ most exhilarating moment. Instead it’s a chaotic two hours of weak plot and a few poor attempts at endearment, saved only by a collection of talented actors.

FINAL GRADE: C+

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Full Review)

batman_v_superman_dawn_of_justice_ver8Forget the ‘v’ for versus, the idea of having Batman and Superman, two of the most iconic superheroes in all of pop culture, on the big screen together for the first time is enough to make even the tiniest of action movie fans giddy. As for me, you don’t have to know me, personally, to know who I side with. Simply skim through my favorite superhero movies and the love for the Dark Knight becomes pretty apparent. As for the overpowered Superman, my feelings toward him have always been the exact opposite. I respect the character, but I’ve always found him boring. That being said, I am on the side that thoroughly enjoyed Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. While most found its story dry and its action over the top, I appreciated the story’s ability to make Superman relatively relatable and I enjoyed the Dragon Ball Z-esque action sequences. So, needless to say, I was incredibly excited to see Snyder step into the director’s chair again as DC Comics attempts to create a cinematic universe akin to their rivals over at Marvel.

If you aren’t as familiar with the various comics as I am, then you’re probably unaware that Batman and Superman have always had a rocky relationship usually stemming from their conflicting styles: Superman, the boy scout and Batman, the fear mongering aggressor. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice sews the seeds of that conflict early by placing Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) at ground zero of Metropolis during the climactic battle from Man of Steel as buildings are destroyed and countless people are killed in the crossfire. From there, the world splits between people like Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) who either love or worship Superman (Henry Cavill), and the people like Bruce Wayne or Metropolis billionaire Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) who fear his power or loathe him for his constant collateral damage.

For starters, put your worries of Ben Affleck’s Batman aside. He is good, albeit brutal, in his portrayal of a weary and war torn Bruce Wayne. Good enough to warrant another solo Batman outing. The action sequences featuring the caped crusader are some of the best in the movie, and I’m not just saying that because of my obvious bias. Jeremy Irons is also a fantastic addition as Wayne’s butler, Alfred. Even the Dawn of Justice elements are not as shoe horned as some might have anticipated. Gal Gadot provides a perfect appetizer for the Wonder Woman character that will be expanded upon in future films.

Now let’s address what doesn’t work. I gave Snyder a pass for his pacing issues in Man of Steel, but here they are even more glaring. From the opening sequence that reminds us of Batman’s origin it is clearly evident that we are watching a Zack Snyder movie thanks to operatic music and overkill on slow motion graphics. There are seven live-action Batman movies in existence (eight if your’re counting this), not to mention countless animated films, television shows, and video games. Do we really need a long opening montage to remind us of the hero’s origin? Things like this coupled with some dragging scenes regarding Lois Lane researching a stray bullet, could’ve been noticeably shortened or cut to make the film less than three hours and make it feel less sluggish. The movie attempts to break the dragging tone with Jesse Eisenberg’s quirky portrayal of Lex Luthor, which mostly misses with the exception of one or two really riveting moments.

But pacing isn’t the biggest problem with the movie. My biggest gripe is the one fans and casual movie goers will likely have as opposed to film critics, and that is the relative false advertising. Instead of calling the movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it should be called “The Philosophy of Superman’s Existence… featuring Batman… with a few Justice League Cameos”. Instead of focusing on the conflicting nature of the two iconic heroes and highlighting their greatest strengths and flaws, the movie meanders through its first half while wallowing in its own philosophical ideals. Sure, several excellent points are raised thanks to some great quotes from Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch and some solid banter between Clark Kent and his boss, Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), but that’s not what the studio spent two years marketing to potential audiences.

We were told that it would be, as Lex Luthor puts it, “God vs. Man. Day vs. Night. Son of Krypton vs. Bat of Gotham”. Yet, when the fight finally does come around, it goes by too fast and its set up seems so forced that the film could almost exist without it altogether. And because of that, even though the last act is full of eye popping action, it seems so thrown together that it isn’t quite enough to justify the weight of the buildup.

It isn’t quite fair to compare this film, or any DC film, to what Marvel has built. DC is attempting a more serious tone to establish a unique feel and there is nothing wrong with that. But if you’re going to be gloomy, wake us up here and there with some action (ala Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy). And if you’re going to have action, give it more purpose. Otherwise you end up with a film like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a movie so hell bent on being thought provokingly serious that it doesn’t stop to appreciate its iconic heroes and revel in the fact that we’re watching a fantasy. There are some great shoutouts to classic DC Comics and the hints at things to come should give purists hope for DC’s cinematic future. But a movie featuring arguably the most popular superheroes of all time deserves better than sub-par.

FINAL GRADE: C-