Justice League (2017)

Director: Zack Snyder

Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons

Screenplay: Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon

120 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action.

 

It took me over a year to finally watch Justice League. I picked up the film last year, and I just didn’t have the nerve to see it. After all the craziness going on behind the scenes, it felt as though this film just got destroyed by problem after problem. I read some reports from early set visits on Justice League, and the overall mood was quite good. Then, the problems began. Not all of these can be blamed on any one particular person. Director Zack Snyder (300, Sucker Punch) had to step away from the film after the sudden death of a family member, a move I will never blame him for. So as far as the finished film goes, how does Justice League fair?

It’s been some time since the death of Superman (Henry Cavill, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Mission: Impossible – Fallout) at the hands of Doomsday, and the world has mostly moved on. But Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck, Argo, The Accountant) cannot. He is haunted by the power he witnessed by the enemy due to a dream he witness of winged creatures and an Armageddon in the potentially near-future. His mission is to build a team of protectors. With Diana Prince (Gal Gadot, Furious 7, Ralph Breaks the Internet) already joined up, they focus on recruiting Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa, Conan the Barbarian, Braven), Barry Allen (Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald), and Victor Stone (Ray Fisher, TV’s True Detective) to the cause. Bruce and Diana find their mission ever more difficult with the arrival of Steppenwolf, a military officer from Apokolips, in search of the mythical Mother Boxes, three cubes capable of immense power.

I’m not usually a guy for high expectations with blockbuster fare. I personally find that smaller films can have just as much impact as larger ones in the blockbuster landscape. For example, Ant-Man is a fairly low-stakes superhero film when compared to something like Avengers: Infinity War (sorry for making my point with MCU films here). The one area where this thinking doesn’t count is the team-up films. When you have a film like Justice League, it needs to be big. It needs to have those memorable set pieces. Justice League’s biggest problem is that it’s forgettable. I just watched a night or two ago and I have trouble placing most of the action. Not much of the set pieces register in my mind. That’s a problem. This should be the one that reminds fans that the DCEU has stumbled in the past but they’re making up for it here and into the future. Snyder’s departure from the film didn’t cause this problem. Warner Bros did.

In response to criticism, Warner Bros stated that Justice League would have a shorter run time. At least, that’s the statement. At no point in any of the DCEU films, outside of Man of Steel, was the run time every really an issue for me. They are lengthy films but the DCEU always kind of branded itself with an epic quality maybe even more so than the MCU was. Warner Bros responded to criticism that wasn’t really there and shorted the run time, allowing for more butts in seats to see this movie. They responded to criticism that the films are too dark. Again, not an issue that I encountered outside of the brooding Man of Steel, but I just think they respond to any criticism big or small and it damages their plan.

I found Justice League, at the time I watched it, to be more enjoyable than anticipated. I feel like it sets up the team dynamic pretty nicely, and I like where it set the trajectory of future installments of the DCEU, but as a film, it also suffers some of the problems of Avengers: Age of Ultron, where it completes some arcs we’ve seen started and starts some new arcs but the meat of the film is missing. This is especially apparent with the portrayal of Steppenwolf, performed through Mo-Cap by Ciaran Hinds, a tremendously gifted actor. Steppenwolf’s scenes were altered and sliced up, turning a potentially frightening villain into a flat, one-dimensional CG target. It kind of makes Justice League seem like another example of Suicide Squad, a film with great heroes on a flimsy mission.

I really enjoyed the few moments of interaction between members of the Justice League themselves. I just wish we had more of them. For example, Superman is on the front cover and appeared in the trailers, so it’s safe to say he’s in the movie. He’s been through a lot in this cinematic universe, and I feel like he needs screentime to really showcase it. I would liken his struggle closer to Tony Stark’s from Iron Man 3. He’s been through some shit, but he never gets the time for us to connect with him. They could have utilized Lois Lane (Amy Adams, Arrival, Enchanted) to connect us to this higher being, but they choose not to.

Ben Affleck is yet again at the top of his game here with Bruce Wayne and Batman. I’ve been saying for a long time now that he’s the best part of the DCEU and I stand by that claim. It’s a shame he’s been brunted with all these problems that have soured his experience because he’s a damn capable actor/director/writer who really could have spear-headed this whole world, but alas, that’s the way it goes.

Gal Gadot is also quite well-suited for her character. She plays Diana with a sense for saving and protecting, and it doesn’t come off all that cliché or silly. She gets more to do here than she did in Batman v Superman coming off her solo film with such high praise.

The real standout for me was Jason Momoa’s turn as Arthur Curry. He played Aquaman in such a different way than I had planned given what little the audience has to go on so far. I didn’t expect to see such a pessimistic asshole interpretation, but it’s all done in jest with an understanding of his place within the team, and I loved every scene with him as they all brimmed with fun.

I think the plotting of Justice League wasn’t wrong from the beginning, though. I remember hearing word from some of the involved crew that the film was initially to open with the large-scale battle for the Mother Boxes and a Lord of the Rings-style opening narration to set up the mysticism around these items. That intrigued me, the idea that DC was perhaps treating this film like an epic in the style of Lord of the Rings was very exciting. The finished film opens with a live-video of Superman that really just doesn’t sit well.

Justice League stumbles a lot throughout, and it had a rocky road leading to its release (can you say Mustache-gate?), but it isn’t the worst thing to come from the DCEU, and maybe that’s its biggest sin. This should have been IT. This should have been the one to really knock it out of the park. Instead, it’s mildly forgettable and very simplistic. It makes me sad because, while I still enjoyed it, there’s issues abound and I really want the DCEU to survive and thrive. This just isn’t doing it.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, click here.

For my review of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, click here.

For my review of Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Vice (2018)

Director: Adam McKay

Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Tyler Perry, Alison Pill, Jesse Plemons

Screenplay: Adam McKay

132 mins. Rated R for language and some violent images.

 

At the end of Adam McKay’s (The Other Guys, The Big Short) film Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, the narrator informs the audience that Brick, the character played by Steve Carell (Beautiful Boy, TV’s The Office), got a job working in the Bush White House. It’s nice to see McKay sticking with the narrative.

Vice is the first film about the life of a US Vice President, and it explores the political upbringing’s of the most powerful and dangerous Vice President in history, Dick Cheney (Christian Bale, The Dark Knight, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle). It’s the tale of a man of immense power and the way he ran his political career with wife Lynne (Amy Adams, Arrival, Enchanted) at his side. It’s the true enough tale of his time learning from and working with Donald Rumsfeld (Carell), spanning from his time as an intern to the most powerful man in America.

What works so well in Vice is McKay’s storytelling style. He adopts what worked well in The Big Short for this larger-than-life vision of Cheney’s life and career. His film informs the audience early on that this film is as true as it can be given Cheney’s guarded and secretive life, and he puts as much truth to the screen as possible and lets his performers and absurdist storytelling gifts fill in the rest. McKay’s far-reaching ambition is on full display here, including his post-credits scene which brings us all the way to a discussion of present-day politics.

Bale is at his best here as he disappears behind his character. The weight gain workout regimen as well as the makeup effects work wonders here, but beyond that is Bale’s amazing quality to become his character, something he does quite well here. Adams is great here as well, a loving wife who has expectations for the man she marries and will not accept anything less than perfection from him.

The supporting cast is another strength of this film, littered with special performances like Carell’s. Sam Rockwell (Moon, TV’s F is for Family), just like Bale, expertly assumes the form of George W. Bush. Tyler Perry (Diary of a Mad Black Woman, The Star) becomes Colin Powell. The performances in Vice are top-notch.

If there’s a fault in the film, it’s the difficulty in making such an unlikable man the focus of a 2-hour-plus runtime. McKay sticks close to the rule of characters: if you can’t make them likable, make them interesting, and he does just that, but as the film wears on, it does become difficult to maintain focus on Cheney with the same lightheartedness that permeates the early part of the film.

Vice is another strong outing for Adam McKay, a filmmaker who has proven to be as exciting now as he was over a decade ago when his satirical eye was used only for the purpose of comedy. His funny approach to unlikable characters offers up a different side of the coin to a filmmaker like Oliver Stone, and it is this keen eye for teaching through absurdity that makes this biographical drama such a winner. It’s runtime hurts the film a bit but McKay keeps things going pretty good aided by some astonishing acting from its principal cast. See Vice now before someone gets sued.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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[Short Film Sunday] Frozen Fever (2015)

frozenfever2015a

Director: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

Cast: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad

Screenplay: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, Marc Smith

8 mins. Rated G.

 

Frozen Fever is perhaps the best title for this week’s short film. It happens to embody the main plot of the piece and also the ongoing love for this small but mighty franchise. Everyone is apeshit for Frozen (and I mean that in the best possible way, I also really enjoyed the film).

frozenfever2015b

In this short film continuation of the original movie, released as an opener for last year’s Cinderella, we see that some major changes have to come to Arendelle since the finale of Frozen. Today is the 19th birthday for Anna (Kristen Bell, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Zootopia), and her sister Elsa (Idina Menzel, Enchanted, Rent) wants to throw a massive party to make up for the last several years of isolated birthdays. The problem: Elsa has a fever, and she can’t stop sneezing little snowmen into existence. As Kristoff (Jonathan Groff, TV’s Looking, The Normal Heart) and Olaf (Josh Gad, Love & Other Drugs, Pixels) struggles to maintain the little critters, Anna desperately tries to convince her sister to cancel the whole thing.

Frozen Fever is a cute little one-off slice of life. I liked the addition of the Snowgies, as they are termed, as they provide a little chorus for fan-favorite Olaf. I also really enjoyed the closer examination of Elsa’s powers, as it doesn’t detract from the magic of the original film. Sadly, the short doesn’t carry much weight and is, apart from the above wins, largely forgettable. “Making Today a Perfect Day,” the new song, isn’t all that entertaining or catchy upon first glance, and the short feels like more of an afterthought of unused ideas for a Frozen sequel.

frozenfever2015c

All in all, I like my franchise shorts to feel like something special for the fans, an addition to the larger mythos of the regular series that adds and progresses the story in some way. To that note, Frozen Fever both meets and misses the mark. I enjoyed it mildly and can see why any other fan would too (mostly the younglings), but it isn’t the near-perfect display that its predecessor is.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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