Justice League Review

Along with Netflix’s Punisher, November 17 also marked the release of Justice League. Anyone who watches my YouTube videos or has read my other articles knows that I hate the DC vs Marvel mentality that prevents people from trying to enjoy both properties. Due to my own openness to enjoy both, this weekend was an early Christmas.

After some disappointing results from BatmanvSuperman and Suicide Squad (don’t even get me started) I approached Justice League with cautious optimism. One of my biggest worries after seeing the trailers was that the studios would force more humour or “fun” into the film. Joss Whedon assisted with post-production but Ben Affleck has said that the tone was set prior to Whedon’s arrival. I have no problem with “fun” itself, but I hate the increasingly popular mentality that every comic book film has to be fun in order to be good. This mentality also leads to people targeting the tone as an issue if a film is poor. BvS had its share of issues, such as Eisenberg’s Luthor and the third act. The tone was the least of my worries but people flocked to that argument like moths to a flame. I was worried the filmmakers would now see adding more humour as the only key to success, as opposed to some better performances, character development etc.

I can say that most of the humour in the film works. There are some lines, particularly one from Batman, that felt out of place but the film didn’t end up being Thor: Ragnarok like I feared. Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) provides most of the comic relief and will probably emerge as a new fan favourite. His Flash is young and inexperienced, serving mostly as crowd control and ancillary support in the fights. While I liked the character himself, I still have to wonder why Barry was given Wally West’s personality. Any fans of the Justice League animated show will remember Wally West’s flash as the comic relief. Meanwhile, Barry Allen is a more serious character. Miller is weaker in the more dramatic scenes, which is a surprise given his performance in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Maybe my friend was onto something when he said Zack Snyder’s weakness is directing actors.

However, the majority of performances either gave us something new to like or built off what we’ve seen before. Ben Affleck’s Batman is more optimistic about his ability to impact the world with the league but still has traces of the world weary Batman that many fans are probably familiar with. He has “contingency plans” and he still knows how to push people’s buttons, as demonstrated in a scene where he confronts Wonder Woman.

Gal Gadot shines as the heart of the team, the warrior who also serves as a mother to the team’s new or reluctant members. Ray Fisher actually emerged as one of my favourite performances, but the writing and runtime doesn’t allow his character to flourish, especially in the second half. Jason Momoa is decent as Aquaman. Don’t get me wrong, he is an imposing figure on screen who has probably diminished the general public’s idea of Aquaman as a loser, but this film does lead me wondering how well he will carry a solo film.

Anyone who has seen all of the trailers or even saw BvS knows it was likely Superman would return. His return is actually tied into the plot from BvS, and is something that Batman is actively pursuing in the film. It doesn’t end up being a deus ex machina like I feared and Superman’s return actually leads to one of the film’s most memorable moments. Henry Cavill could be a wooden Superman at times but I actually enjoyed his performance here.

It is clear some scenes were cut from the film, either because we are missing parts from the trailer, or the fact that the film could have used some more time to flesh out the new Leaguers. To its credit, Justice League gives us a sense of character backstories without spending too much screen time to go in depth e.g. we learn Barry got struck by lightning and we know Cyborg was in an accident, but we don’t see it. This may be due to post-production cuts or it may have been the original cut. However, it begs the question of why ten or fifteen minutes couldn’t have been used to give Cyborg, The Flash or Aquaman some more devoted screen time. Stepping into the light is a theme of the film, not referring to tone, but referring to heroes who often work alone coming together to fight an enemy. At the beginning of the film Cyborg is still coming to terms with his new identity and takes some cues from Batman, keeping to himself while he tries to better understand his body and abilities. He makes it clear he can’t fully control his body yet and this leads to some interesting conflict, but this subplot is discarded in the film’s second half.

I hate to bring up a Marvel comparison but herein lies the advantage of doing solo films prior to the team-up. My previous paragraph could end up being null if each character got a solo film first. However, I will say that doing a team up film first can also generate more interest for a solo one. With their budgets, superhero films aren’t always guaranteed box office success. Maybe a Cyborg film done prior to Justice League would not have done as well as the studio hoped? Now, I hope the film comes to fruition due to Fisher’s performance.

Speaking of Marvel comparisons, Justice League does give us a pretty forgettable villain. I was excited to hear about Steppenwolf as the villain since it meant we could soon be getting Darkseid. The design we saw in the deleted scene of BvS is discarded here for a look that is more generic and looks poorly rendered for the majority of the film’s scenes.

Steppenwolf’s plot revolves around the Mother Boxes, three devices that can combine to turn any planet into the hellish environment of his homeworld (awesome getting a reference to Apokolips). The majority of Steppenwolf’s screen time is spent in search of the Mother Boxes, which leads to a memorable fight with the Amazons and some great fights with the League.

Wonder Woman shines as the battlefield MVP for most of the film. The Flash and Aquaman get their moments as well, while Cyborg serves his own purpose. It is an old joke that Batman would be useless against physically powerful villains but decades of comics show him fighting far more powerful foes with the use of gadgets and tactics. We get some of that here but there is also plenty of time when Batman is removed from his plane or bat mobile and ends up being the weakest link. Even when he is fighting one thug at the beginning of the film he is able to execute some stunning acrobatics (complete with slo-mo) but then still takes a lot of time to take down one person when compared to his speed in the warehouse fight in the first film. Now, this film makes it clear he is getting older and is more beaten up than ever, but his prowess ends up being inconsistent throughout the film.

While CGI provides us some great shots, such as Flash’s Sistine Chapel moment, it also gives us many other scenes where CGI simply seems unnecessary or poorly rendered. The fights fights are hampered by poor CGI in places, especially for the parademons. Like Steppenwolf himself, the parademons looked better in BvS (the Knightmare scene). Additionally, the fights are somewhat diminished by the fact that we aren’t as emotionally invested since the villain isn’t that interesting. He is physically powerful and imposing but so are his opponents, we need more than that to interest us. Ciaran Hinds’s voice acting sadly seems wasted. Steppenwolf has some good lines but overall he felt like another placeholder villain with a pretty generic motive that was provided simply so the league could have something to fight.

A film should not be judged simply for what it sets up, but I have to give the theatrical cut some credit for its ability to weave in other characters and worlds in its concise running time. We get a brief glimpse of Atlantis and glimpses of important characters from other worlds, such as the Greek Gods and Green Lanterns. There are two post-credits scenes and the second one leads well into the future DCEU movies, while also providing a glimpse of a character many fans have been waiting for.

Overall, Wonder Woman is still my favourite DCEU film, but there are some things that I liked about the Justice League movie. The final fight is more entertaining, which is probably unfair since the fight combines our favourite characters. Justice League is hampered by some of the same issues from its predecessors but still surpasses BvS Suicide Squad and after some thought I might have to say it beats Man of Steel. I might revisit this ranking in a week though.

For now:

  1. Wonder Woman
  2. Justice League
  3. Man of Steel
  4. Batman V Superman
  5. Suicide Squad

Kingsman, Justice League and The Last Jedi

Now that I have seen It, these films are my most anticipated blockbusters for the rest of the year.  I thought I would take this post to discuss some of my hopes (and worries) for each film. The films are listed in the order of their release dates, not by anticipation. The Last Jedi is my most anticipated, with Kingsman second and Justice League third.

  1. Kingsman: The Secret Service

I thought the first Kingsman looked somewhat generic when I saw the first trailer, but I was pleasantly surprised to see a witty, well-paced, action-packed deconstruction and parody of the Bond films and spy films as a whole. Taron Egerton gave us an amazing performance as “Eggsy” and Colin Firth had a believable turn as an action hero with plenty of gravitas. Whenever I watch Liam Neeson’s jilted choreography in Taken 2 my mind comes back to this film as an example of how to execute an action scene with an older actor.

Between the action, the performances, the attacks on spy cliches etc., Kingsman was a film that felt like a rare treasure. That is why I was not excited to hear about a sequel. I was worried that the sequel would not be able to capture the magic of the first. The trailers have given me some hope but I can’t completely ignore the voice in my head that tells me this film might feel like a cheap cash grab.

It will be good to see Colin Firth on screen again but I can’t help but feel like his character’s reappearance cheapens his death in the first film. I am excited to see Pedro Pascal, who is probably best known as Prince Oberyn on Game of Thrones. While I don’t usually like Channing Tatum, I find that he does well in comedic or semi-comedic roles like the one he will likely have here as Agent Tequila. To his credit, Tatum also had a surprisingly good serious turn in Tarantino’s Hateful Eight.

The action we’ve seen so far looks like it is doing its best to top the first, but I hope that the action isn’t the only thing that is better.

2. Justice League

Now, to say that the DCEU has had mixed reviews would be an understatement. Man of Steel got so much hate that even the editor of Rotten Tomatoes wondered why its rating was so low.  BatmanvSuperman and Suicide Squad both followed that up with even worse reviews, and then Wonder Woman mercifully gave the DCEU its first fresh film. I don’t judge a film purely by what others think but it is a fact that bad word of mouth can negatively affect a film’s earnings.  A slate of films deemed weak by the general public would definitely hamper Justice League.

One thing that has bothered me since I saw the Comic-Con teaser for this film was the seemingly drastic shift in tone. One-liners abound from every character, including a Barry Allen whose personality seems transplanted from Wally West (his nephew-in-law who also becomes The Flash). I don’t agree that Man of Steel or BvS were “dark and gritty” like a lot of people say. Like I’ve previously discussed the films are dark in comparison to the stable of light fair Marvel has pumped out since 2008 (with the exception of their Netflix shows). A comic book film that doesn’t have one-liners every five minutes becomes “depressing”, it lacks “fun”. This is regardless of whether fun fits the character or storyline. People might say this Marvel v DC is a conspiracy but answer me why the darker Marvel Netflix shows don’t get swarmed by the same comments complaining about their lack of “fun”. The Defenders is the lightest one so far and even that is still miles darker than anything the MCU has put on the silver screen.

All of this to say that I was worried the Justice League was being made with a conscious effort to throw in as many one-liners as possible and make it fun. Let’s not forget, Suicide Squad is more “fun” than BatmanvSuperman and it has a slightly lower RT score at the moment (25% to Bvs’s 27%).  Throwing in more music in post-production and writing plenty of jokes didn’t help it overcome its other issues. “Fun” isn’t enough to make a film good and a “dark” tone isn’t enough to make it bad.

Moving on.

I have no problem with special effects themselves but there are a lot of weak looking shots in the marketing so far. There are scenes where it is far too obvious that everything but the actors are computer generated. The floor, the backgrounds, the sky all look fake. Cyborg in particular looks terrible when he is directly beside any of the other members of the league. I don’t mean that they are just stylized a la 300, I mean they are just poorly rendered. I am hoping that the film looks better by the time it’s in theatres.

My hopes were high hearing about the Justice League finally making it to the big screen. I have rewatched the animated series numerous times and have unashamedly daydreamed of finally seeing this film. I can’t help but think that it would have been better to see some more solo films prior to this team-up, but I have to admit that this approach could have some benefits. Characters that were either not well known or respected before, such as Aquaman can shine in a team setting first, which will help to boost sales of their solo film. However, Marvel has to get credit for being able to build a great brand on the backs of characters that were relatively unpopular. Some people probably never though Iron Man or Captain America would be on Spider-Man’s level in terms of box office receipts but Marvel pulled that off.

Additionally, while I have a man crush on Jason Momoa I am worried that his acting will be a painful weak link in this film. If some of his other performances are any indication, we could be in for a painful two hours, especially if his character gets a lot of lines.

3. The Last Jedi

Last, but not least.

The Force Awakens was a rehash of A New Hope, but it did bring some new things to the table. Namely a continuation of our beloved characters from the original trilogy, along with Rey and Finn.

One of the things that bothered me most about TFA was the almost cruel bait and switch for Finn’s progression. He was marketed as another Jedi, and then ends up being comic relief that is incapacitated by the end of the film. John Boyega has said that Finn’s character will shine more in the sequel and I hope that’s true.

In true nerd fashion, Daisy Ridley quickly became my biggest celebrity crush. Fanboying aside, her performance was great and I was also able to ignore most of the Mary Sue complaints since her character progression almost mirrored Luke’s. However, her progression did draw more attention to the paltry one Finn received.

Rogue One actually helped to increase my anticipation for this film, giving us an exciting and different Star Wars story that could have become a cheap cash-in or a rehash.

With a different director on board for this film, and the successful box office run of TFA, I hope The Last Jedi will give us something new as well.

Luke Skywalker is back and although I found Mark Hamill’s acting somewhat weak in the original trilogy, he has developed greatly as a voice actor and film actor since his last outing in the Star Wars universe. Coincidentally, his most recent performance I can recall is in Kingsman.

It will be bittersweet to see Carrie Fisher on screen for the last time, presumably with Princess Leia being killed off out of respect for the actor. I remember that one of my aunts passed away around the same time, and that I couldn’t help but think that it was a powerful testament to how death links us all. Let’s allow entertainment to link us as well.

Justice League Trailer Thoughts

Geoff Johns was kind enough to share the new Justice League trailer with twitter this morning.

So let’s get this out of the way. I am not a Marvel v DC person. Obviously I realize there is competition between the two brand and their related movie studios. However,  I do not condone the childish mindset that I can only like the movies from one group. My favourite comic book films include DC and Marvel properties, ranging from The Dark Knight, X:Men DOFP to Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

With that said, I am cautiously optimistic about Justice League. I love the characters, especially Batman, but BatmanvSuperman and Suicide Squad have left a bad taste in my mouth. Don’t get me wrong, both films had great pieces and great moments. Overall. they felt short. Both had weak villians and weak third acts, along with some other issues.

As I watched this trailer I forgot about that for a moment. There is still no sign of Superman but I’m sure we’ll see him in the film. I am glad this film didn’t reveal too much about the plot or reveal the villain yet. We know it will be Darkseid’s uncle, Steppenwolf, and we get some glimpses of parademons (presumably) in this trailer.

From what I understand, Cyborg’s armour is derived from alien technology in the newer comics. It looks like his armour comes from a motherbox, a teleportation device Darkseid’s forces use. This motherbox appears to be the gateway that allows the parademons to reach earth. If this is the case, Cyborg could have a central role in the film and I am hoping the script and the actor can deliver.

To start, there is a lot of CGI in this trailer. Obviously that has to be the case for the visuals this story needs. The Flash looks amazing so far and his scenes are some of my favourites from the trailer. However, this trailer reminds me of 300 with the amount of computer generated backgrounds and surroundings. The scene with Batman fighting a parademon sticks out in my mind as one of the worst offenders. Maybe I wouldn’t notice as much if some of the effects looked better. Hopefully the effects are cleaned up by the time the film begins. Cyborg looks better than he did in the comic-con footage so I am hoping there is still time to improve the visuals.

With that being said, the visuals weren’t my greatest concern going into the film. Steppenwolf will hopefully provide a better villain than Doomsday, Luthor or Enchantress. This should help to strengthen the third act but won’t necessarily be enough. If the third act is just a fight filled with poor special effects, that can also cause the audience to lose interest, like I did with the last fight in BvS.

I am also hoping the desire to add more “fun” doesn’t ruin the script entirely. Obviously some characters are more light-hearted than others. However, Barry Allen has pretty much been turned into Wally West in terms of their personalities. Meanwhile it looks like they are trying to turn Bruce Wayne into Tony Stark. Obviously Bruce Wayne has the carefree, obnoxious playboy persona but the real Bruce Wayne has a drier sense of humour than the one we’ve seen so far.

Okay, time to be more positive.

Aquaman is one of my favourite superheroes, and is severely underrated by the general audience and even some comic book readers. Jason Momoa, as well as the writers, look like they’ll remedy that. I am sure that Aquaman or Flash will end up being the breakout stars of this film and possibly even the franchise. My only worry is Momoa’s acting skill, which isn’t that great from what I have seen so far. That doesn’t detract from my man crush, but it does bring up a possible issue with the film. We’ll see how he does.

In general, the action looks pretty awesome. Looking past the issue of the CGI, it looks like we’ll see some creative and memorable action sequences. It was great to see our first glimpse of J.K Simmons as Commissioner Gordon, and hear a reference to Robin since Batman is “playing well with others” again.

I can’t deny my excitement at seeing my favourite superheroes on screen together and I hope Zack Snyder delivers a film that lives up to the hype.

 

Third Time The Charm for The Flash?

the-flash-ezra-miller

The Flash (2018), starring Ezra Miller, was originally going to be directed by Seth Grahame-Smith. The Flash would have marked Smith’s directorial debut. Prior to his appointment as director, Smith served as a writer for the film adaptation of his novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Smith seemed like an odd choice at the time but I didn’t want to worry too much since unlikely or unknown directors have made great films previously. A great recent example are the Russo Brothers and their work with Captain America: Winter Soldier and Civil War.

landscape_showbiz-seth-grahame-smith

Smith later left the project due to unspecified creative differences in late April. Five months ago, director Rick Famuyiwa (Dope) signed on to direct. This also seemed like an odd choice, since Rick’s latest work was far removed in terms of genre and scale. However, I realized that Dope‘s tone could work very well for a Flash film. Although Barry Allen’s stories are not always light-hearted a character as people may think (e.g. Flashpoint Paradox) there is still a lot of room for humour in the series. Out of all the upcoming solo films, humour belongs in The Flash the most. The Flash was also one of my most anticipated solo films, after The Batman and Wonder Woman.

rick

 

Today, Famuyiwa also left the project due to creative differences. I am sure there are other directors out there who can step up to the plate and do a great job. Having two directors drop out is worrisome, but I am more worried about what this can indicate. BatmanvSuperman and Suicide Squad both suffered from changes made by Warner Bros. in post production. The uncut version of BatmanvSuperman is much more coherent, and Suicide Squad had its first hour drowned in pop songs to make it more light-hearted.

I am now worried that the creative differences in both cases were due to ideas Warner Bros insisted on; ones that will bring the final film down yet again.  I am more worried about this since the creative differences pop up months after a new director is attached. It appears WB may like their original pitch but have more grievances as more directorial decisions come to light. I respect Smith and Famuyiwa for sticking to their vision and not becoming corporate slaves who simply want to make a blockbuster film for the exposure and money. I can’t imagine how hard that decision must be.

Another troubling aspect is that The Flash is set for a March 2018 release date. 2016 is nearly over and a director is not even signed on yet. Smith’s script is still being used but filming will obviously come to a halt without a director. The film will likely need almost a year to film, plus post-production. It is likely the release date could be pushed back at this point.

Let’s hope the third director is the final one. Will the studio opt for another unknown director, an indie one, or will they try to get a bigger name? The problem is that a bigger name may wish to stay clear of a project that two directors have already left. Any director may take two directors leaving as a bad sign. Plenty of fans do and events like this are also an early Christmas present for Marvel fans trapped in the “Marvel V DC” mentality.

Let’s see what happens.

justice-league-first-image

Kingdom Come: Gods and Humans

Hello everyone,

Check out my latest post on comicommand.com or read it below:

Kingdom Come

Written by Cadeem Lalor

I started reading Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come (1996) just earlier today. Kingdom Come follows an alternate reality where a new hero, Magog, became a revered figure after killing The Joker. Meanwhile, the public’s long gestating fatigue with Superman’s “boy scout” persona led him to go into exile. With Superman gone, the rest of the league followed. Ten years later, the world is overrun by a new legion of super-powered beings that lack the moral fortitude and care for human life that the Justice League had. It was a title that came with a lot of hype, but I believe it has managed to live up to expectations. Within five pages, it got me thinking about something.

In the story, Norman McCay acts as a vessel for the Spectre, and also serves as a narrator of sorts. As he ruminates on the past he remembers a friend who recently passed away. He remembers his friend missing the human desire for achievement, manifested through competitions such as the Nobel Prize or the Olympics. In this world, where people are surrounded by god-like beings, it makes sense that human achievement is no longer as valued. Yet I don’t believe the question has ever been approached in such a way. Many comic books and adaptations bring up the issue of humans admiring, mistrusting or fearing super-humans. Yet none of the ones I have read have examined how social and political institutions or functions could change due to a new breed of people. Humans are used to being the center of life on Earth. Our collective achievements are what give everyday life meaning. Would we be as motivated to work out, knowing that there is a race of people whose strength we can never attain. Would we be as motivated to achieve academically if we know that the end goal, a lucrative career or recognition likely won’t come?

Competitions like The Olympics and Nobel Prize can be mired by a host of issues, but they are fundamentally meant to celebrate competition and human skill. Each event is a testament to the will and training of the people competing. Meanwhile the Nobel Prize serves as a chronicle of scientific, economic and literary advancement. With these events, we see humans striving to understand more of their world and attempt to take away power from gods, giving more power to the people. In the world of Kingdom Come, humans have given up on deciding their own destiny. They are at the mercy of super-humans. Even when Superman and the Justice League return, the public does not immediately feel empowered, they only shift their burden to new figures. Perhaps one group of super-humans makes the issue more obvious, but the issues persist either way. While the humans seek hope, there is little to come.