“Justice League”

The DCEU is like a kid riding a bike; they crash on the first couple of rides, but slowly get better with practice. They’ve improved with Justice League.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) learn of a new CG-villain named Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) who plots world domination. Their solution – recruit Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and The Flash (Ezra Miller) and resurrect Superman (Henry Cavill) from the dead to help them stop the new baddy.

I’m a fan of comic book movies, but I also have a love-hate relationship with Zack Snyder. I love his earlier work (Dawn of the Dead and Watchmen particularly), but his DCEU films are huge misfires. Thankfully, Justice League is an improvement. It’s a B-superhero movie that’s just lighthearted fun. I admire that Snyder and Joss Whedon (who did extensive rewrites and post-production work) treated Justice League as a lighthearted superhero flick.

There are a few occasional dark moments with the best being a brooding opening credits sequence. It uses a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” to show how hopeless the world has become without Superman. Part from that, Justice League relies on one-liners and witty banter to make the movie fun. Even Batman makes jokes, which is shocking!

The cast has great chemistry and each actor does their character justice. Mamoa plays Aquaman as a debauched rockstar, Miller plays The Flash as an antisocial nerd, and Fisher portrays Cyborg as a man torn between his humanity and robotics.

Affleck and Gadot are once again great as Batman and Wonder Woman; they both sell their characters’ conflicts and opposing views of battling Steppenwolf. Steppenwolf is where the movie suffers. There’s no substance or originality with Steppenwolf and even with the underrated Hinds playing him, I wasn’t sold. Then again, does anyone ever watch a superhero ensemble movie for the villain?

The plot is a standard save-the-world formula we’ve seen done a thousand times. However, the final act is worth the ticket admission alone, thanks to Snyder and Whedon’s portrayal of Superman. He’s not recklessly destroying cities or brooding; he’s smiling and saving villages from destruction.

The DCEU sounds like it’s on its last leg, but I’m willing to keep going back since the movies are getting better.

Grade: B

 

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“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”

After thirty minutes into “Batman v Superman”, I caught the first big red flag – there isn’t a consistent plot!

It takes place eighteen months after “Man of Steel” and Superman (Henry Cavill) is the most polarizing figure in the world. Some look at him as a god while others like Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) view him as a danger to the world. This leads to an epic (well, semi-epic) showdown between our heroes.

So, I died down my expectations after the reviews were less positive than the mediocre “Man of Steel”. “Batman v Superman” is a well-acted, action-packed spectacle (so, slight improvement over “MoS”), but with shamefully sloppy writing.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

We get a redundant introduction with the seven-hundredth depiction of Bruce witnessing his parents’ murders, but then a surprisingly redeeming scene of the climactic fight in “Man of Steel” from Bruce’s perspective. He’s our primary protagonist while Superman is our secondary. Unfortunately, neither are well-developed enough for us to be invested in their story.

There’s a point in the film where Superman is called in front of congress and watches everyone in the court room die in a terrorist attack while he can’t do anything, and then blamed by the media for their deaths. It’s a dark and effective moment, but what about Batman? Through dialogue, we learn Batman has been around for twenty years (makes sense since this is loosely based on the great “Dark Knight Returns” graphic novel).

But somehow, the media is neither praising or criticizing the bat for blowing up cars and shooting dozens of people in fights (yeah, Batman’s an 80’s action movie type in this one); he’s been doing this crap for twenty years, but the media doesn’t care? Most of Batman/Bruce Wayne’s development is done through shared scenes with his trusted butler, Alfred (a terrific Jeremy Irons) who’s always there to give Wayne wise advice.

Kent has subplots that go nowhere, including a dull romance with Lois Lane (Amy Adams); their highlight is a sensual, albeit pointless bath tub scene that makes Kent look like a horny jackass than a loving boyfriend. She’s otherwise just the damsel in distress for him to save. When that doesn’t happen, he butts heads with his editor Perry (Laurence Fishburne) over writing an article on Batman and it goes nowhere.

There’s surprisingly a lot of dream sequences that are supposed to push both heroes’ motives forward and heighten emotions, but they’re instead annoying and unnecessary. The worst being a great apocalyptic fight that leads to a confusing message from a mysterious time traveler in Bruce’s dream, and again – IT GOES NOWHERE!

You know the TV spots of the climactic fight between our protagonists? That’s pretty much the whole fight, which is roughly five of the film’s last thirty minutes. It’s still pretty badass and followed by one insane and epic fight, pitting them alongside Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) against a menacing creature called Doomsday.

So, yeah, the writing in “Batman v. Superman” is extremely hit and miss, but the editor digs the hole deeper for Zack Snyder. Some sequences are too long and others are too damn short! The film’s strongest aspect is to no surprise, its cast.

Affleck knocks it out of the park as Bruce Wayne/Batman. He was a controversial choice in 2013, but he proves himself worthy of wearing the cape and cowl, being our most vicious and brooding Batman to date. Cavill has more emotion and charisma as Superman in his second time around. Gadot is the perfect casting choice as Wonder Woman and brought the most excitement and praise out of my audience.

The only cast member I was very disappointed in was Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. He’s introduced as a god-hating, jolly rancher-eating hipster, but then he gets increasingly reminiscent of Nicolas Cage, as the film goes on. Not sure what he was going for there!

Zack Snyder has talent, but his love for unrestrained storytelling and fetish for mayhem brings a potentially amazing movie down several notches. Maybe the Director’s Cut on Blu-Ray will be an improvement.

Grade: C-