Justice League (2017): A Step in the Right Direction (Review)

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Justice League, the latest DC superhero film to grace the screen, almost has the mixture down pat. Perhaps a tad too much as the film does feel a bit formulaic. Still, this latest comic book hero adaptation is huge step in the right direction. There is just enough comedy to make things enjoyable and enough action to keep even the most jaded fan happy. The film is not, however, perfect.

The decision to make Barry Allen (played by Ezra Miller) not only gormless but slightly nebbish as well, reeked of Marvel’s inclusion of an overawed Spider-Boy in the latest installment of that universe. However, if one takes away that annoying element of the film, Justice League manages to entertain thoroughly.

Directed by Zack Snyder, the film had a screenplay written by Chris Terrio with later input from Joss Whedon. The story came from Snyder and Terrio together and it features the “origins” of the Justice League.

The film begins with the death of Superman, something that  directly results in the return of Steppenwolf. The angry entity is ready to wreck havoc on the denizens of planet Earth and it is his actions that cause Bruce Wayne to start the Justice League.

Diane Lane reprises her role as Martha Kent and Amy Adams returns as Lois Lane, Superman’s other half, and  Connie Nielson comes back as the Amazon Queen.

The story is fairly straight forward. There are three boxes of power (the DC version of the tesseract, if you will) that, when combined, will allow Steppenwolf to destroy earth. Batman begins to recruit his league members and the usual problems surface. These superheroes do not, as a rule, play well with others so a number of teething pains are encountered before they lose the “i” in team.

Jeremy Irons is back as Alfred. (Another mild annoyance as Michael Caine is almost the definitive Wayne butler – on the big screen but on the small screen it is personal favorite Sean Pertwee who has managed to perfectly fill Alfred’s patent leather shoes…) The butler is a major supporter of Wayne and he aids the new group in their battle with Steppenwolf.

Jason Momoa as Aquaman is good value for money as is Ray Fisher as Cyborg. J.K. Simmons is a tired Commissioner Gordon and Amber Heard has a blink and you will miss her turn as Mera.

There are things that irritate about the film however. The tendency to use Gadot’s bum as the focal point of many camera angles, for example. As the camera zooms up and in on the male protagonists, Gadot’s bottom is used almost like a fulcrum for far too many scenes on screen.

It also does not help that Justice League shows all too clearly the DC versions of Marvel heroes, and vice versa. That said, the film works well and it entertains in all the right places, despite the closeness to its Marvel counterparts.

The only thing that does not really work is the Barry Allen character but that may well be down to personal preference to the TV actor who plays The Flash on CW.

Justice League  looks brilliant and the pacing is spot on (the film runs for two hours and never once lags). The fact that personal tragedy kept Snyder from finishing his directorial duties is not obvious in the film. Joss Whedon took over the reins and managed to seamlessly carry out Snyder’s vision.

The film earns a full five stars, despite a somewhat meandering plot line, as it keeps on giving throughout. Catch it at your local cinema, grab some popcorn and enjoy this latest DC offering.

Wonder Woman (2017): A DC Ode to Powerful Women (Review)

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It is hard to believe that Wonder Woman (brought to us by the same man who dehumanized Superman – Zack Snyder; but directed by Patty Jenkins which explains so much) came at the beginning of a year that has turned into one of empowerment for females in “the business.” Gal Gadot, in her second outing as Diana “Queen of the Amazons,” proves once more that one can love a strong yet beautiful woman warrior with little effort. 

The film itself shows that, Harley Quinn aside, there are positive female role models out there in the darker verse. It also takes Wonder Woman out of those 1970’s spandex short-shorts sported by the TV version played so capably by Linda Carter.

Despite the original outcry of dismay when Gadot was cast as the lasso spinning heroine, the actress (whose face could launch a 1000 ships) brings the DC seeker of justice to living breathing life. All the emotions missing in Snyder’s version of Superman are there for the taking in this film.

Set in WWI, versus the WWII origins of Marvel’s  Captain America, Chris Pine easily plays the American spy who is running from the Germans, aka the Hun (the Nazis do not turn up for quite some time…) headed up by the maestro of acting, Danny Huston. The cast is full of familiar and well-known names, all of whom turn in splendid performances.

David Thewlis, that long, tall and talented Brit actor, who needs to be in more films damn it, kills it as the politico whom one suspects immediately of shady dealings and the crew that Pine collects to stop Huston’s character are all brilliant as well. 

The only shocker, in terms of cast and actors, is the transformation of Lucy Davis (who is, perhaps, best known for playing Dianne in Shaun of the Dead) into a modern version of “Aunt Clara” from Bewitched, aka the late actress Marion Lorne.

Image courtesy of IMDb
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Elena Anaya plays the sinister and scarred doctor who plans of murdering a lot of her fellow denizens with a new gas. She is a close colleague of Huston’s murderous general and the two make a great “couple.” Cameos by Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright round out this film with yet more stand out performances. 

Make no mistake though this is Gadot’s film.  She manages to surpass Carter’s TV heroine in this “origin” story with scary ease. Jenkins skillfully moves the film and her performers through the paces with admirable snap, crackle and pop.

Wonder Woman is up for a number of awards in the upcoming Oscar race and deservedly so. The effects, with the exception of that glowing lasso, are brilliant. The sets are spot on and London, for the brief time it is on show, looks authentic.

The story itself echoes real-life complaints of how the “war to end all wars” was run by generals sitting on their bums at Whitehall (see the last season of Black Adder “Black Adder Goes Forth” for a more blackly comic reference). Diana’s rant to the room of bureaucrats who have no problem sentencing thousands of innocents to death is spot on.

WW is a long film, it runs for two hours and 21 minutes, but does not lag or bog down in the middle. There is a jab at the ridiculous concept that glasses can adequately hide a superhero’s identity (Clark Kent anyone?) and we find that Diana works for the Dark Knight himself; Bruce Wayne.

There is enough time to wonder if the special gas that Dr. Maru gives Ludendorff is meant to be a tongue in cheek jibe at Viagra, but this does not distract from the overall film. (One also wonders if Wonder Woman would be so popular with fans if she were a plain yet muscly, superhero who looked horrid in those small warrior outfits. Although at the end of the day, the conclusion is that it really does not matter. Diana is appealing because of her mindset, not her appearance, although many teen boys, and girls, might disagree.)

Wonder Woman earns a full  five stars. It entertains full stop. While it is up for a number of those little gold chaps that the Academy like to give out, it will, no doubt, be snubbed. It is, after all, a comic book film and not, for instance, Schindler’s List…

There is a good bit of violence, of the non-visceral sort, no intense cursing and no on-screen sex antics. This is a film that the entire family can enjoy. It is also amazingly pertinent at a time when the Weinsteins, and others with that “casting couch” mentality, are being drummed out of the business by some very brave and new “wonder women.”

Suicide Squad (2016): Slow and Not a Little Boring (Review)

Screen shot from Suicide Squad

Written and directed by David Ayer, Suicide Squad tries too hard to be all things to all fans. It aims for the grittiness of Deadpool  sans the ribald and very un-pc humor. “SS” also strives for an “Avengers” mash-up without the cleverness and sheer genius of the cinematic master who helmed the first two Avenger flicks, Joss Whedon.

In other words, the film attempts to “marvel-ize” a group of DC villains and the end result is a movie that is slow, muddled up and not a little boring. Had I seen this offering at the cinema, versus home theatre, leaving the premises would have involved some mild and annoyed cursing.

Watching the film at home required repeated viewings before realizing that the plot was, for the most part, non-existent. There was a mixed up middle bit, but the beginning and the end of the storyline was AWOL.  The film did not wrap things up so much as it just shambled off the screen with a metaphorical shrug of the shoulders.

There are Easter Eggs included in the film. (The entire premise of Waller’s idea revolves around Superman’s death in “Superman vs Batman: Dawn of Justice.” Ben Affleck, as the caped crusader, appears several times throughout the film appearing one last time in a sort of teaser.

Without talking about the things wrong with the backstory of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) or how Jared Leto channelled his inner Gary Busey for the voice of The Joker (Close your eyes when Leto is talking and listen. He sounds exactly like a young Gary Busey speaking in a slack-jawed manner. It is uncanny and not a little disturbing.) there are many things to point to that are just…wrong.

There are some standout performances from Robbie, Will Smith and even Leto (sort of) but the one actor who was consistently over the fence with a vengeance was Viola Davis. Davis played this one screamingly straight. Her Amanda Waller was viciously underplayed making her a humorless and downright scary agent provocateur.

The scene at the beginning of the film, where she doggedly cuts and chews her bloody filet mignon  while delivering her plan with a bland monotone between bites is brilliant. She is the “Dirty Harriet” in this scenario, with the steak taking the place of the hotdog that Eastwood’s stoic detective chews while blasting bad guys into oblivion.

Davis’ performance never wavers from that dogmatic and taciturn delivery. Her character is not pleasant. She is this way for a reason, however, the superhero from Krypton is gone and Waller knows that meta-humans are the answer.

The Flash (played by “We Need to Talk About Kevin” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” actor Ezra Miller) shows up ever so  briefly, in a blink and you will miss it cameo times two, to reaffirm the meta-human connection, and it is Barry Allan, along with Bruce Wayne that adds some heroic bona fides to the proceedings.

One of the problems with Suicide Squad has to do with the very ambiguity of the players. Waller callously, and illegally, murders the FBI agents who set up and monitor her team’s first outing. When Enchantress, aka June Moon (Cara Delevingne) rebels against the cold boss lady, Waller  repeatedly stabs the witch’s heart with a pencil. 

When the leader of the “good guys” is that harsh and vindictive, it is hard to be impressed with the gang of villains playing good guys to save themselves some jail time.

Overall, Suicide Squad is a shaky 3 star film. The effects are good but with a practically nonexistent plot they are, for the most part, wasted. The storyline, such as it is, wanders terribly and by the end of the film one feels that the time spent watching this DC mess was an annoying waste of time.

Have a look at the trailer and see what you think. Be warned, however, this is one that requires repeated viewing. Even then, the end result is confusion and a tired acceptance that this was a “miss.”

Legends of Tomorrow: Outlaw Country – Setting up a Cross-Over (Review)

Johnathon Schaech as Jonah Hex

Legends of Tomorrow “Outlaw Country” sees the Legends return to the land of Jonah Hex, aka the old west. There is a time quake in 1874 Liberty, Colorado caused by a time pirate hunting down Dwarf Star ore.

A local land baron, Quentin Turnbull kills the pirate and uses what the dead man told him to start his own territory in the west.  The Legends, bar Dr. Stein who is having health issues, go to fix the timeline aberration.

Stein is having painful visions, of a  woman, and he has Gideon run repeated brain scans to find out what is going on.  Gideon finds nothing.

Apart from allowing the storyline to head back to Hex, and to save him from being lynched, it also gives us a deeper look into Mick’s psyche. Vixen and he bond, after their adventure, and she offers to help him control the animal inside him.

Jefferson talks to “his other half” and between the two of them they figure out that Stein has altered his own past.  The woman he is seeing in those visions appears to be a woman he loves.

Jackson says Clarissa will be angry and Stein wonders if there is even a Clarissa to “go back to.”

The dwarf star alloy the team recover will help Ray Palmer construct another atom suit. In the meantime, he makes Citizen Steel a suit of his own.

By the end of the episode, Hex has decided he can take orders from a woman and Captain Lance comes in to say that “our friends in 2016 need our help.”

This seems to indicate the huge The Flash, Supergirl, Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow cross-over “Invasion!” which is set to air on 29 November for The Flash universe. The episode airs 1 December for the Legends-verse and 30 November for Arrow.  Supergirl gets her call to action on “Medusa” which airs on 28 November. Fans will want to watch the episodes in order.

Cue excitement and keen anticipation for this epic CW event.

“Outlaw Country” was another fun episode.  It allowed the ever brilliant Jeff Fahey to show that no one fills a bad guy’s boots like he does.  It also looks like some new friendships have been formed amongst the Legends and Palmer is well on his way to getting a replacement suit.

There were the same old problems dealing with western wardrobe. The hats, that look like the cheapest versions of cowboy hats found in Halloween costumes the world over, were constantly changing shape; even when no one has touched them.

It is also interesting to note that the Legends are not comfortable on horseback. Apart from the one scene where they ride into the  shot (on magically created horses) the team operated on foot, even walking down the western town’s main street rather than riding.

The reminder that Mick Rory, aka Heat Wave, is, at heart, a pyromaniac who also loves to blow things up was brilliant. As was the moment where Ray Palmer talked about his lack of abilities without the atom suit.

(Palmer also got some good lines with his little “hero in training” speech he gave Nick Heywood.)

Legends of Tomorrow will be back on 1 December for “Invasion!” to help the other superheroes on CW  stop the Dominators.

Cast:

Guest starring Johnathon Schaech as Jonah Hex and Jeff Fahey as Quentin Turnbull.