Friday, November 17, 2017

movie review: JUSTICE LEAGUE

With the fate of the DC Cinematic Universe riding on it, Justice League is successful at being a better and more coherent movie than Batman v Superman, but still falls short of what one would expect to be the epic big screen debut of the All Star team of the World's Greatest Superheroes.  Of course, the problem is that Justice League has been dealt a handicap in that it continues the misfired shared universe sculpted by Zach Snyder, when really Warner Brothers should have abandoned that continuity as fast as they did the original Batman franchise after Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin disaster.  Instead they decided to forge ahead, albeit bringing in The Avengers director Joss Whedon to take over helming the film in mid-production.  Whedon works a minor miracle by salvaging what could have been another 3 hour Snyder Gloomapalooza.

The film opens with a kid's (Billy Batson?) phone video of Superman. You can clearly see the bad CGI cover up to Henry Cavill's mustache, as his mouth looks like it had a bad reaction to a Novocain injection.  CGI appears to be DC's weak link, as Wonder Woman also suffered from bad, primitive looking CGI.  It doesn't get any better here, as Steppenwolf looks more like a video game image than an actual character, and there are too many moments where the film seems to cease being a live action movie, and turns into The Polar Express.  Even Superman and Batman's flowing capes look fake.

After a pair of really good opening action sequences, one featuring Batman and the other Wonder Woman, the film suddenly grinds to a halt as it drags down for the next 20 minutes or so focusing on introducing Cyborg and The Flash. Things pick up as the plot kicks in - a simple one of Steppenwolf wanting to destroy earth, and Bruce and Diana, reminiscent of The Blues Brothers,  trying to "put the band back together" (I expected Diana to utter "we're on a mission from God"), to stop him. But even after that, the movie has a few dragging moments.  You would think with cutting a movie from 3 hours to 2 hours with much of it re-filmed by a different director, they could have kept the pace up better, but it's not to be. It is also of note that if all the slo-mo scenes in the film were at normal speed, the movie would probably clock in at an hour and 40 minutes.

Ben Affleck returns as Bruce Wayne and Batman.  He's not the serial killer he was in Batman v Superman, moving to more traditional take, and Affleck gives a decent performance, although in a couple scenes, he has this look on his face like he's thinking "I'm only doing this for some gambling money".  He's not the best screen Batman, but he's not the worst either.  A big missed opportunity is in the scene where Barry Allen asks Bruce what his super power is, and Bruce replies "I'm rich." That was fine for the trailer, but Whedon should have re-shot it for the film. A much better line would have been if he replied in a Keaton-esque growl "I'm Batman".  Jeremy Irons returns as Alfred, and matches the great performance he gave in BvS. J.K. Simmons is introduced as Commissioner Gordon, but I thought he struck out with the character, small as the role was.  He looked and acted like J. Jonah Jameson with a walrus mustache.

Gal Gadot, so far the MVP of the DCEU, also turns in a fine performance as Diana Prince, although I found her acting slightly more wooden here than in Wonder Woman. I also noticed that she kept giving this pouty smirk that kept reminding me of a Kewpie Doll, and there were a lot of up skirt shots of her - not that I'm complaining.  The chemistry between Bruce and Diana was a high point of the movie.

Ezra Miller was introduced as Barry Allen and The Flash, in a costume that looks more Power Rangers than silver age comic book, and played the role like he was buzzed on some kind of amphetamine.  He had a couple funny lines, but for the most part I found him to be annoying, and by the middle of the movie, I was missing Grant Gustin's version a lot.

Ray Fisher plays Cyborg, and while I thought the early part of the movie devoted to his backstory dragged the film down, in the second half of the movie, he was instrumental to the plot.

Jason Momoa plays Aquaman in a performance that was part surfer-biker dude and part Batman The Brave and The Bold animated series-- though he stopped short of yelling "outrageous".

Amy Adams returns as Lois Lane in a small role.  There was no direct call back to the scene in BvS where the Flash travels back in time to tell Bruce she's the key.  Bruce just kind of knows she's the "big gun" to -SPOILER ALERT- bring the revived Superman back to his senses.  Henry Cavill, to his credit, after two other movies as Superman, finally shows some personality and charisma in the role.  This was Cavill's best performance as Superman. 

I also have to mention the musical score by Danny Elfman.  It is the best score in any of the DCEU films (and better than the scores in the Nolan Batman films), and it helps elevate the film.  Hearing refrains of his classic Batman theme and the classic John Williams Superman theme really drives this movie to be better than perhaps it really is. It would have been cool if Elfman worked in a reprise of the original Super Friends theme, but alas he did not.

There are -SPOILER ALERT- two post credit scenes, the second one at the very end of the credits brings back Superman's arch enemy and introduces a certain terminator.

Justice League is a fun movie that is enjoyable when it isn't being dragged down by slow moments or being distracted by inferior CGI. Like Affleck's Batman, its not the best, but its not the worst either.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Billy Batson is cast!

Today it was announced that Disney Channel actor Asher Angel has been cast as Billy Batson. It is somewhat surprising and kind of ironic an actor from the Disney organization has been tapped to play DC's Captain Marvel alter ego. In the last couple days, reports surfaced that 20 year old Grace Fulton is in negotiations to play an unnamed role heavily rumored to be Mary Batson, and Mark Strong is in negotiations to play Dr. Sivana.  Regarding the Mark Strong reports, I am somewhat discontent considering he is 6 foot 1 and if he is cast opposed to a more traditional pick like Jackie Earle Haley or Michael D. Cohen or even Joe Pesci or Martin Short, then it seems like further confirmation this will be a Curse of Shazam movie.  Stay tuned for more casting reports as they occur.

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Friday, November 3, 2017

movie review: THOR RAGNAROK

After the dismal Nolan-wannabe film Thor The Dark World , Thor Ragnarok is like the rebirth of the Joel Schumacher style of superhero movies. Director Taika Waititi not only channels Schumacher, but also Tim Story (despite the amount of hate his Fantastic Four movies get, they were the blueprint or prototype for the MCU), and even a bit of William Dozier.  With Ragnarok, camp is back and it is back with a bang. Such high camp, that Cate Blanchett, who plays Hela, and Jeff Goldblum, who plays the Grandmaster, could have very well stepped right out of a third season episode of Dozier's Batman TV series or Schumacher's Batman & Robin. But despite all this... or maybe because of it, Ragnorok is actually a very entertaining movie.  You could say it is the "Anti-Snyder" super hero movie.

Way back when the first Thor movie was released, lamenting that the filmmakers jettisoned the Dr Donald Blake aspect, and Thor's helmet, I said Thor's two biggest gimmicks were his hammer and helmet. Well, now they also got rid of his hammer, and shaved his head for good measure. But before the hammer goes bye-bye, there is one cool transformation reminiscent of the classic Blake into Thor transformation.

A cornerstone of the MCU movies is that they really are no longer solo movies, but all team ups to some extent, and here we have the Hulk essentially the co-star of Ragnarok, a nod to Thor's very first live action incarnation, in the TV special The Incredible Hulk Returns. Intentional or not, Hemsworth even briefly wears a helmet that looks just like the one worn by Eric Alan Kramer.

Like all recent superhero movies, the script tells a non-linear story that jumps all over the place and sometimes loses the viewer, but the entertainment factor here negates any flaws in the script. Basically, the plot deals with Thor's older sister Hela attempting to take over Asgard, while Thor and Loki end up trapped on Sakaar and have to deal with the Grandmaster and the hedonistic society he has set up. We find out where the Hulk has been since Avengers Age of Ultron, and we are introduced to Valkyrie, played wonderfully by Tessa Thompson.  They ultimately team up to go against the Grandmaster, then go after Hela.  There are also cameos by Doctor Strange and Black Widow. With better CGI than Schumacher or Story ever had, Waititi keeps the pace up and makes this warehouse rave of a movie consistent and avoids sluggish moments. Chris Hemsworth really shines as a comedic and campy Thor. The more comedic the character is, the more natural and engaging he is in the role, compared to his phoned-in performance for overly grim and serious The Dark World.  The lightning aura that emits from Thor could pose a problem for David F. Sandberg if he wants to do a similar effect with Captain Marvel, as he could be accused of copying.

Tom Hiddleson continues to make Loki walk a tightrope between hero and villain (I expect Dwayne Johnson to take a similar if more brutal route with Black Adam), and Mark Ruffalo returns as the Hulk and Bruce Banner. Also be on the lookout for a WTF cameo by Matt Damon. This is easily the most enjoyable of the Thor movies, but if you are someone who hated Schumacher's Batman movies or Story's Fantastic Four movies, you might have a hard time enjoying Ragnarok.