Film Review: Justice League (2017)

Dir. Zack Snyder / Joss Whedon (uncredited)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Henry Cavill, Diane Lane, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, J.K. Simmons, and Ciaran Hinds.
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 2hr
Spoiler level: MAJOR.

***I AM NOT HOLDING BACK, THIS ENTIRE REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS. SO HERE IS YOUR WARNING; MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!***

This review will be a bit more rant-y and personal opinion based, so the thoughts expressed might contain some bias.

MV5BYWVhZjZkYTItOGIwYS00NmRkLWJlYjctMWM0ZjFmMDU4ZjEzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTMxODk2OTU@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Coming on the heels of 2016’s Batman V Superman and Superman’s demise, Justice League follows Batman (Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gadot) as they attempt to recruit new heroes and “unite the league” against the threat of Steppenwolf and his parademons. Though they attempt to convince Aquaman (Momoa), The Flash (Miller), and Cyborg (Fisher) to go all in and save the world, simply coming together might not be enough to prevent the doom of the planet.

As a big JL and general DC fan, I’ll start with what I liked, then go into a bit more detail. I will say, though, that I did enjoy the film, and I think it is a better film than the RT score would indicate. No matter what the reviews say, it is worth seeing, especially because the divisive reception makes it all the more important for people/fans to forge their own opinions about it before taking someone else’s interpretation as law.

*Ezra Miller’s version of Barry Allen / The Flash. He injected some much-needed comedy and I enjoyed his running scenes.
*The new cast-members are all great, as are the returning cast.
*The humor in general was a VAST improvement over previous films. Aquaman sitting on Wonder Woman’s lasso was especially hilarious.
* Seeing the team together, onscreen, and with such an amazing cast, is a big thrill, and they have a great team vibe.
*Hearkening back to the “Lois is the key!” Flash scene from BVS. I’m pretty sure that’s what was implied, anyway.
* Green Lantern Corps Easter Egg!
*Themiscyra.
*Both post-credits scenes. I am sooooo ready for Deathstroke.

I think it is important for me to admit that Zack Snyder is one of my favorite directors due to his incredible vision, his great passion for his projects, and the fact that he always seems to want to do justice to the material he is adapting while also inserting his own ideas. His visual style is absolutely stunning, he knows how to frame a shot, and I always enjoy the color choices for his films. Though he does over-rely on slo-mo, his style is incredibly distinct, so it’s also clear (to me, at least) that both Whedon and Snyder had a hand in the final result of this film, and the contrast in style led to a disjointed tone throughout. The scenes between the two directorial styles weren’t seamless, and if two folks are going to be behind the camera, it shouldn’t feel like there are differing visions grappling for screen time. That said, I completely understand and support Snyder’s decision to leave the project, and I have nothing but respect for him for doing so, but it does make me wonder what a total Snyder film would have looked like. I think, watching the finished project, that it’s pretty obvious that there were issues during post-production and after the re-shoots. The CGI is just one example –  I’m usually pretty forgiving, but it’s jarring in some scenes.

Fortunately, Whedon inserted some much-needed humor into the film, which helped lift the grim tone of its predecessors and present more lighthearted, enjoyable moments into what has been a fairly bleak series thus far. Humor, and coherency, are the two things the DCEU films seem to be lacking the most (with the exception of WW) and while JL picks up some laughs, the plot is still thin. Also, the dialogue in general comes off as so clunky to me a lot of the time; I had the same issue with BVS. A lot of “comic-booky” dialogue does not sound good when voiced aloud, even though it is passable in speech bubbles on a page. Some of the one-liners in this film are a total “cheese-fest” and made me think, “Oh…. no.”

I’ll also admit, as blasphemous as it is, that I am one of the folks who prefers Snyder/Cavill’s portrayal of Superman. I like the dark tone, the disconnect/conflict with humanity, and the fact that he doesn’t always pull punches. I enjoyed Man of Steel quite a lot (except the final fight with Zod was WAY too long) though I wish he’d had more screen time in BVS. But in JL, the only Superman scene that stood out to me was after his reawakening, when he forgot who he was and attacked the JL members. That was excellent. But the CGI mouth was atrocious, and it was present in nearly all of his scenes, which means that most, if not all, of his spoken scenes were from re-shoots. Most of his dialogue (especially in the field with Lois) was cringey and uninspired, and very different from his previous appearances. I did like him coming in to save the day at the end, as predicable as it was, and enjoyed his new rapport with The Flash, but could have done without the “I’m a big fan of justice” bit. It’s like Superman came back to life with a sudden 180-turn in sense of humor and demeanor, and although he might be more like how Superman is “supposed to be,” he doesn’t feel like the version from this universe, and the change is too abrupt. I’m okay with the changes in general, and I look forward to future Superman appearances to see where his character goes, but I think it comes off as a total upheaval instead of a gradual shift. Then again, he probably should have had another solo film before all of this, to allow his personality to develop more, and shoving his resurrection into a 2 hour movie made it feel rushed and lacking in emotional depth.

This is also one of few Snyder films that I think would have benefited majorly from about 20 extra minutes, at least. Back when BVS came out and viewers got their first glimpse of Wonder Woman, her brief appearance did an excellent job of setting up and building interest in her solo film, which went on to be both a critical and commercial success. Unfortunately, JL introduces three new characters, and that feeling of “gosh, I can’t wait to see more of *character*!” is also colored with a feeling of “I wish we’d seen more of ‘so-and-so’ before this.” While I’m excited for Aquaman next year, and am doubly excited for a Flash solo outing after Miller’s stellar portrayal, I think Cyborg’s development suffered from being crammed into a movie with 2 other newbies. Ray Fisher was great as Victor, but trying to shove three new characters with elaborate backstories into a 2 hour film does not work and did Cyborg no favors. Aquaman also suffered a bit – the Atlantis reveal is kind of underwhelming, and Aquaman has few opportunities to really show off his water-based skills. Ultimately, it leaves more unanswered questions and rushed exposition instead of creating intrigue, which is a shame because although the glimpses we got of these new additions were good, they were not fulfilling. I almost wish we’d gotten at least a couple more of the solo movies out before this, so the exposition and setup could have been trimmed down for this film, as audiences would already be more familiar with these characters. The only character who really didn’t need a solo film prior to JL is Batman, and I think Affleck has performed the role extremely well thus far. Apparently the strict time restriction is due to studio interference, and this time around, I genuinely believe it was a misstep. However, a 2-hour runtime would have likely worked had we been introduced to all (or most) of the major players before this film. Also, some big names (J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Diane Lane as Martha Kent, Jeremy Irons as Alfred) are given virtually NOTHING to do but be around for a couple of scenes, and it’s a damn shame. In trying to do too much on restricted time, the film ended up doing too little.

Though I’ve seen a lot of criticism levied at the villain, I didn’t mind Steppenwolf that much. Critics and reviews made him out to be the worst CBM villain of all time, and he certainly wasn’t great, but I’d rank him above a few of Marvel’s more forgettable villains. Justin Hammer, anyone? Malekith? Ultron? CGI dodginess aside, Steppenwolf, his massive hammer/axe, and his dramatic monologues were par for the course, and no worse than the underdeveloped baddies from other films. However, I do love Ciaran Hinds, so maybe that’s my bias speaking.

In additional terms of directing, I’m not sure who we have to thank for the upskirt shots of Wonder Woman (I have my theories), but they were about 10000% unnecessary, considering her outfit is plenty short already. An absolute disservice to the character and her solo film. On the other hand, I don’t think the Amazon midriff outfits were nearly as bad as social media made them out to be, though the way they were shot was pretty pervy. Several had armor similar to their attire in WW, though the more revealing versions are definitely deserving of some side-eye. You could play devil’s advocate and say that Momoa as Aquaman fought Steppenwolf shirtless, which is equally as impractical. I, for one, was certainly looking forward to shirtless Momoa, and was not disappointed.

Unfortunately, the first phase of the rushed DCEU has tried too hard to keep up with Marvel instead of establishing itself as it’s own universe and has fallen short of the finish line. Though I enjoyed several moments of Justice League, the disappointing aspects ultimately left this viewer with a longing for “what could have been,” though a flicker of optimism remains for the future of the franchise. If you want these films to succeed, go and give JL a shot in theaters – it has a lot of box office ground to make up. I do have faith that the DCEU can turn it around, and I’m still “all in” if it means we get to see these compelling heroes onscreen for future movies. I just hope that the ensuing installments can do these characters and their evolving personalities the justice they deserve with more well-developed plots and compelling narratives.

 

Overall Rating: 7/10

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Top Superhero Film Themes

With so many superhero and comic book films coming out over the last few years, and more still looming on the horizon, I decided to scroll back through my music library and compile a list of what I consider to be the best superhero “themes” from these films. There may be a few films I haven’t seen, so certain themes might have evaded my notice, but I have witnessed the bulk of them and here are my results!

I’ve linked a Youtube video (not mine) after each selection that contains the theme, as well as the Amazon link for purchase/listening. This isn’t sponsored or anything and I don’t own the rights to these songs; just want to have a bit of fun and spread some good hero themes around!

5.) Spider-Man 2 (2004) – Danny Elfman
Obviously I haven’t seen Tom Holland’s solo spin on our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man yet (besides his appearance in Civil War, which was excellent) but I’ll always have a place in my heart for the original Spider-Man films and Toby Maguire’s portrayal of the character. Maybe it’s because they were the first superhero films I got into, but regardless, I love both the original Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 – I actually still consider the second one to be one of the greatest superhero films to date. Not big on the third one, to be honest, but one thing is consistent throughout the three films – the music, and the amazing Spider-Man theme provided by Danny Elfman. In a way, the theme covers an “arc” – it hits different tones, from sweeping and emotional to action-packed and intense, hitting all the notes that combine to make a heroic sound. I honestly can’t even remember the theme from the second series of films; that’s not to say the music is bad, just that Elfman’s theme packed a bigger punch and has come to define the character (for me, at least.)

Here is the LINK! (Youtube)
Or purchase on Amazon: LINK!

4.) The Avengers (2012) – Alan Silvestri
Though I’ve loved nearly all of the Marvel solo hero films to date, I actually have trouble remembering the theme music for all of the individual characters; they’re all good in the moment, but none of them really “stuck” with me after the films ended. However, when the characters all teamed up for 2012’s The Avengers, they earned a new “team” theme, and it’s pretty great. It’s definitely the kind of song that will encourage you to finish the last strenuous laps of a running session or push you to the end of a difficult workout, and when it plays in the film, it’s easy to get pumped up about seeing a team of heroes take on a dastardly villain. It’s got the right blend of hype-building and morale-boosting, which is perfect for an ensemble film like The Avengers; it helps them sound like a team, instead of just looking like one.

Here is the LINK! (Youtube)
Or purchase on Amazon: LINK!

3.) Doctor Strange (2016) – Michael Giacchino
Benedict Cumberbatch’s turn as Doctor Strange is the most recent introduction into the MCU, and his theme music is very fitting for him as a character. Doctor Strange is enigmatic, sarcastic, and his ingenuity is as much as strength as his actual powers are; and since he is a “different” sort of hero than most of the other MCU characters, his theme is also a little strange – in the best way.  It’s definitely my favorite theme from the Marvel films, which isn’t much of a surprise, since Giacchino consistently delivers great themes and scores (Rogue One comes to mind as a recent non-superhero standout). I went into this film knowing very little about Doctor Strange, and emerged from the theater humming the theme song under my breath. It’s whimsical and heroic and evokes strength all at once; the perfect sound for a hero who defies the norm.

Here is the LINK(Youtube)
Or purchase on Amazon: LINK!

2.) Wonder Woman (2017) – Rupert Gregson-Williams / Junkie XL
One of the major highlights of 2016’s Batman V Superman was the introduction of Gal Gadot’s portrayal of Wonder Woman, and her solo film was released to glowing reception a little over a year later. And her theme music is absolutely BADASS – just like the character herself. The theme was initially created by Junkie XL for BvS but was also included and expanded on in the solo film, and Gregson-Williams does it justice. When this theme starts playing, it’s obviously a pulse-pounding, energetic prelude to some serious action, and it’s the perfect music to serve as the buildup and backdrop to battle. When Wonder Woman made her first appearance in BvS, this theme played to announce her arrival, and I remember sitting in the theater, listening to the music, and thinking “Wow – this is how a hero makes an entrance.” Now, every time it starts playing when Diana is fighting onscreen, I get chills; it’s everything a heroic theme should be and I hope we get to hear it in all Wonder Woman appearances to come.

Here is the LINK! (Youtube)
Or purchase from Amazon: LINK! (WW) and LINK! (BvS)

1.) The Dark Knight (2008) Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard
Though the theme from the original Batman film back in ’89 is pretty excellent as well, I think Zimmer and Howard’s theme for the caped crusader is the most definitive and powerful version thus far. Whenever this theme kicks up, it gets the energy flowing; it’s come to signify Batman as a character and really helped to mold The Dark Knight Trilogy as a whole. Like Elfman’s Spider-Man theme, this one seems to cover an arc – it hits all the notes of Batman’s character; his suffering, his heroism, his experiences, his humanity. None of these films would be what they are without their score, but I’d argue that Zimmer and Howard’s contribution to this trilogy has the biggest overall impact. It’s a theme I won’t forget, even when new incarnations of Batman take the screen; this is a theme that will endure, and whenever I think of Batman, this is the theme I associate him with. I’m still baffled the soundtrack wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar, though that’s probably because I’m biased. The Dark Knight Trilogy really revolutionized the “comic book film” genre with its gritty, dark tone and groundbreaking performances, and the music provides the a fitting, powerful soundtrack to Bale’s incarnation of the much-beloved character.

Here is the LINK! (Youtube)
Or purchase from Amazon: LINK! 

Worth 1000 Words #2: Poetry and The Dark Knight

There are a lot of things in this world that, when combined, make a perfect pair. Peanut butter and jelly, for instance. Cheese and crackers. Cereal and milk. Chips and salsa – or, alternatively, chips and guacamole. But some pairings are not so obvious… like Batman and Walt Whitman.

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Me, circa 2012, deep in speech mode.

I decided to explore this unusual combo for my Major Authors/Walt Whitman class while I was at university. After struggling for several days to nail down a topic for my 20-30 page paper, I realized that there are only a few subjects that I know anything of substance about, and one of those topics is Batman. So, while sitting in an airport, I emailed my professor, asking “How far out of the box are we allowed to go with our paper topic?” Her response was: “Box =========>Topic,” thus assuring me that I could be as unorthodox as I desired. After presenting her with my ideas, she granted me her approval, and I set to work, scouring my many Batman-related resources and a well-worn copy of Leaves of Grass to achieve what was probably the best paper of my academic career… with the possible exception of a Tron: Legacy paper, which I am very fond of.

This paper led to me becoming an undergraduate presenter at the 2012 national PCA/ACA conference in Boston, MA. George Takei was the guest speaker that year, and there were so many amazing presentations and intriguing concepts that I instantly felt out-of-place upon my arrival. Since I would be making my presentation on the second day of the conference, my friend and I sat in on the first day of undergraduate presentations to get an idea of what I was going to endure. It was going well, at first. There was a presentation about The Vampire Diaries, one about gender equality. Then one girl gave a presentation about politics (I forget exactly what it was about, but it was very informative and she was well-spoken) and a man in the audience absolutely RIPPED HER TO SHREDS with questions. I was sitting in the back and could FEEL this girl’s bewilderment as this man tore into her, and there was nothing she could say to counter his scathing remarks. She just sank down in her seat and fell silent. It was mortifying to witness, and I began to fear for my life. What if the same thing happened to me? If someone questioned me like that after my presentation I would crumple like an autumn leaf! I CANNOT HANDLE THE PRESSURE.

After a night of nonstop worrying and listening to some tracks from The Dark Knight soundtrack to calm my anxiety, the next day arrived, relentlessly swift, and I walked into the conference room where my presentation was to take place. There were five of us set to present, and I was third in the roster. I was also the ONLY person who did not dress formally. The other four students were in suits, dress shirts, and proper business attire. One girl wore a dress. Me? I was in ripped jeans and a Batman T-shirt. No one informed me that there was a dress code.

My entourage was in the audience, ready to cheer me on. I had a fancy power-point presentation all set up, and even offered to let the other students use my laptop for their own presentations, so we wouldn’t have to shift cords and switch outlets. One girl gratefully took me up on the offer, but the professor of the first presenter snidely informed me that her student “would prefer to use his OWN laptop.” Okay. Great start.

Things went from bad to worse when our moderator/chair showed up… and it was the same man who lambasted the girl from the presentation I saw the day before. I very nearly fainted when I saw him walk in, and my friend and I exchanged a look of pure horror. I was doomed. DOOMED. Even the Caped Crusader couldn’t save me from this.

Anyway, I was, glaringly, the odd man out of this group. The first student presented something about football and hegemony, and the second something about Scottish nationalism. Both very esteemed topics. I wish I could say I remembered anything about their projects, but I don’t, because I was too busy ruminating my pending demise to really pay attention, which doesn’t imply anything about their speeches. Really, I was too anxious to absorb anything other than my own fear, and kept repeating, “Why did I agree to do this? WHY? WHYYYY?” over and over in my head.

My turn came. I drew in a deep breath, and, though my voice shook at the start, I launched into my presentation, which I’d practiced rigorously for a week. My power-point was masterful, featuring only the best transitions. I nailed the quotes, and the points of comparison. It was a blur of poetry and justice, and the memory of my own presentation is somewhat hazy in my head, but I remember the burst of applause, and the ensuing relief when I finished.

The final two presenters went, and then it was time for the final hurdle; QUESTION TIME. Naturally, a voice said, “I’ve got a question. For Miss *real last name*”

It was the moderator, of course.

I inhaled deeply, ready to be eviscerated, and he proceeded to tell me that he enjoyed my presentation and wanted to know what I thought about Adam West’s portrayal of Batman in relation to Whitman, to which I gave a reply of how Batman has somehow, in each of his incarnations, reflected society at the time, and then something about Whitman’s poetry doing the same. He nodded, satisfied, and then fielded the remainder of the questions, several of which were directed to me. I survived.

Better yet? I triumphed, in the face of fear and doubt. And now, when I get nervous about things like this, I ask myself only one question: What would Batman/Walt Whitman do?