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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Film Review: Wonder Woman (2017)

Dir: Patty Jenkins
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis
Runtime: 2hr 21min
Spoiler Level: Light, discussion of any spoilers will take place under a “Continue Reading” tag and will be preceded by a bolded warning.

Though reactions to 2016’s Batman V Superman were polarizing at best, Gal Gadot’s debut as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman garnered a significant amount of praise. Her role in the film also served as the beloved character’s first (and long overdue) silver screen appearance, and set the stage for her very own film – arguably the first major superhero movie to focus on a female character, if you ignore Elektra and Catwoman, as I do. And may I just say… IT’S ABOUT TIME.

images.jpgPersonally, I’m not a lifelong Wonder Woman fan, so my first real introduction to her (outside of Cartoon Network’s old Justice League show) was Batman V Superman, and though her screen time was limited, her impact was huge and she was one of the major highlights of the film – and it piqued my interest for her solo outing. Her initial appearance created some buzz, but also raised some questions… the main one being, can a superhero film centered on a female hero succeed in a male-dominated genre?

At last, we have an answer: and Wonder Woman totally delivers. Not only can it stand against some of the more “landmark” superhero films, it qualifies as one of the better ones – and Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince / Wonder Woman carries the film with just as much (if not more) strength as her fellow DC counterparts and even the Marvel tentpoles, like Captain America and Iron Man.

Wonder Woman follows the titular hero from her idyllic childhood on the mythical island of Themyscira to her eventual involvement in the War to End All Wars. As she strives to defeat the cause of hatred in the hearts of mankind, Diana discovers that the world outside her isolated island home is not the place she thought it was and she struggles to determine what her role should be – or if she belongs in the world of men at all.

DC has burned us before (I mean, I didn’t bother with Suicide Squad but I got the gist)  but where previous installments fell into horrendous spirals of “too much” and “not enough” in various categories, often coming across as more convoluted than captivating, Wonder Woman is a solid superhero outing with an excellent cast, superb music, jaw-dropping action, and an engaging story that is a thrill from start to finish.

As far as casting goes, DC has done pretty well so far, and Wonder Woman is no exception. Gal Gadot is equal parts charming and intense – she pulls off the ultimate badassery of the titular character as she campaigns against evil, while also channeling the earnest naivete and curiosity of Diana as she strives to navigate the intricacies of the world of men. Chris Pine is affable, yet serious as Steve Trevor, an army captain who introduces Diana to the world outside of Themyscira and supports her in her mission against Ares, offering his guidance and witty remarks. Their chemistry is electric, and their interactions are both a source of humor and heart throughout the film. The supporting cast is full of great performances – with Connie Nielsen as Hippolyta, Robin Wright as Antiope, David Thewlis as Patrick Morgan, Danny Huston as Ludendorff, Elena Anaya as Doctor Poison, Lucy Davis as Etta Candy, Saïd Taghmaoui as Sameer, Ewen Bremner as Charlie, and Eugene Brave Rock as Chief – but really, it’s Gadot and Pine who steal the show with their emotionally-charged, dynamic partnership. I legit cared about both of them; they created reasons to be invested in their individual arcs, their relationship, and the overall plot.

Where most DC films thus far have fallen short on the “humor” track, Wonder Woman’s got humor and charisma without completely losing the darker, gritty tone of its predecessors. Parts of the film do feel hopeless; the saccharine “everything will be okay” sheen perpetuated by comic book films is peeled away to reveal real, raw darkness – some of which cannot be defeated entirely. The action is mostly superb, the pacing is decent, and the scenery is gorgeous; it’s one of the most visually-engrossing films I’ve seen this year, as it successfully portrays the bleakness of war-torn Europe, utopian beauty of Themyscira, and the grey gloom of early 20th century London. The music, composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams, builds on the previously-introduced Wonder Woman theme from BvS (which is SO FREAKING GOOD) and generates new pulse-pounding accompaniment to Diana’s battles and the landscape of WWI. All in all, this film does a great job of maintaining balance – where previous films have either been “too much” or “not enough” or some catastrophic fusion of the two, Wonder Woman stays on course and the end result is a film that essentially fires on all cylinders, despite a couple of stumbles.

For a movie that is starring a woman and is helmed by a woman, the “feminist theme” of the narrative is not overt or over the top. It’s woven naturally into the dialogue and through the actions of the characters, but there’s no harping; no soapbox preaching. Basically, Diana doesn’t talk about kicking ass – she just does it, and in spectacular fashion, too. The film also carries a powerful message about the nature of man, and delivers it exceptionally well. It’s a theme that many superhero films have heralded in the past, but this film manages to do so in a way that feels fresh and new, not just a regurgitation of the same old stereotypical tropes.

Of course, as with all good movies, there are some negatives. Parts of the dialogue in the third act toe the line of heavy-handed on the corn front, but there’s always a sprinkle of cheese or two in a film adapted from comic books, so it’s not exceptionally bothersome. The action is a bit hard to follow at times, with the frequent slo-mo and CGI and pacing switches, but I’ve come to expect that as par for the course when it comes to DC films. Though the action gets a bit distracting at a few points, the fight sequences are absolutely beautiful 95% of the time. The “No Man’s Land” bit in particular is, to put it bluntly, f*cking BRILLIANT.

Say what you want about Zack Snyder, but it’s pretty obvious that he cares 1000% about the properties he/DC is adapting to the big screen. He didn’t direct this one (I love him, but that’s probably a good thing), and yet, his influence is definitely felt in some areas (the slo-mo, the fight scenes, his typical trademarks, the story) and if we hadn’t gotten a glimpse of Diana in BvS first, the buzz surrounding this film might not have reached such a high mark on the hype-o-meter. He’s made some missteps, and DC/Warner Bros have definitely mishandled things in the universe thus far, but if this film is any indication, the daughter of Zeus may have steered this franchise back on course.

Under the stellar direction of Patty Jenkins (I am soooooo looking forward to seeing more from her), for the first time, a DC film actually comes across more of a sleek, polished machine with heart rather than a muddled mess that tries too hard, with a clear and coherent story, some of the best action scenes to come out of a superhero film in recent memory, and a cast of charming, compelling characters that it is easy and exciting to root for. Jenkins succeeds in portraying the softer side of Diana coupled with her incredible strength in a superhero origin tale that is engaging from the sands of Themyscira to a snowy war-torn village. The DCEU has been off to a stumbling start, but hopefully the bombastic Wonder Woman will help garner some momentum that will carry into November’s upcoming Justice League and beyond.

Overall rating: 9/10

WARNING: SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT. DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE SPOILED.

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