Friday, November 17, 2017

Movie Review: JUSTICE LEAGUE

Warner Bros. Pictures
I haven't done a movie review on this site in a while -- mea culpa, I've been busy -- but I couldn't let the Justice League movie pass by without one.

Bear in mind, I liked half of Man of Steel, a third of Suicide Squad, 2/3 of Wonder Woman, and ... let's not talk about BvS. How does the League fare?

I had too many thoughts on it. Some, I admit, may not be fair, as there were quibbles and observations that are coming more from my place as a creator than as a member of the audience...

But though there was stuff I didn't like, I did like a lot of it. A whole lot.

I do want to say -- for those whose favorite version Superman started with John Byrne's revamp, this is arguably the best overall onscreen representation of the character.

Needless to say, spoilers will be HEAVY after the break, and there will be some rambling, too. (Much.)

Let's do it.




We open on a recording of Superman taken by children; they want to interview him for their podcast.

He smiles and accepts. This is the Superman I've been waiting to see. Pardon my characterization of a fictional character -- the real version. Not something defensively played for "realism" or themes arbitrarily decided as more adult, but a good man (he's at the scene of a rescue, talking with responders) that is patient and kind.

He smiled; I smiled.

When they asked him if his symbol meant hope, he said yes -- and then gave a Pa Kent anecdote that made Jonathan seem like the kind of guy who would raise a Superman. "Hope is a lot like car keys..."

And then the screen went black, and "A Warner Bros. Picture" signaled the start of the film. I was already anticipating Superman's return.

We cut to Gotham and some wonderful visuals of Batman doing what he does. The physicality here was -- in the best sense of the word -- comic booky in a way Nolan's Dark Knight was not, let alone the Burton version. And he was certainly less violent than in BvS. He's after a parademon! It explodes.

The thug Batman had chased to scare enough to draw out the parademon -- a creature attracted to fear as a food source -- sticks around with a level head to ask if the monsters have come because Superman is gone. There's no reason he wouldn't have either run away or huddled in the corner after Batman and a monster had scared him so; ludicity felt a bit off. Alfred could have asked the same question.

We segue to the world mourning Superman (the Superman shown in the two DCU films so far doesn't feel like the kind of guy that would be this missed, but it would feel accurate to the character as a whole, so we let it slide.)

A cover of "Everybody Knows" plays. I think the Leonard Cohen original may have been a bit more somber, but hey... it's nice to know Prince and David Bowie were up there with Superman. That title made me laugh out loud.

Wonder Woman's introduction now, rescuing folks from a terrorist plot in the most impressive bullets and bracelets moment depicted onscreen (followed by a clever Whedon line "...I'm a believer" that doesn't quite work as well in execution than concept.)

Many clever Whedonisms pop up and announce themselves with a neon sign and don't quite feel organic. Others work quite well.

I'm not going to go scene by scene anymore, I promise. I've only seen it once and hardly have a photographic memory. I'll just jump to stream of consciousness.

Let's talk about the Amazons. Comments were made about the costume change. To wit:

Warner Bros.
There were comments of sexism. In the context of the scene, however... most of the Amazons retained the look from Wonder Woman, cuirass and all. There weren't as many of those in a bare midriff; just a few. And it was all for a purely visual moment. The cuirass is a battle-ready look -- but it hides the abs. See the muscles in those women to the left? In a scene were Steppenwolf comes after one of three hidden Mother Boxes (the MacGuffin of the film) the Amazons try to keep it from him. They race it out of the chamber it's held in. A heavy stone door is falling as Hippolyta flees with the Mother Box... two Amazons catch it long enough to let her get past.

That catch and the rippling in their abs. That one visual cue. That's it, that's the whole reason the midriffs were bared. It was certainly a powerful image, and Snyder's interest has always been in visual. Mileage will vary, and some will still be irritated that there was a change made at all for the sake of one brief moment.

Aquaman's introduction in Iceland... was the first time I was looking at my watch. Momoa wasn't given the lines (except for once, much later) and I was kind of bummed. I think he'll do fine, but his dialogue didn't seem to get much TLC, comparatively. I also was driven nuts that he swam like a torpedo ("Arthur Curry here; I like beans. Maybe a little too much...") And Mera conjuring an air bubble at one point so that they could speak... that took me more out of the scene than somehow communicating through water... which, y'know, does carry sound.

Back to dialogue -- Cyborg and Flash got a little bit more of the TLC; Vic Stone got two lines that stuck with me -- his response to his dad telling him he wasn't a monster (which was a great response and really displayed a character in one moment) and his later aside to Batman "--While you were being an asshole..."

Flash suffered (for me) solely by virtue of a comparison to the several-years deep performance of Grant Gustin on TV. Ezra Miller did well with decent material, and was very likable. Lotta quips, most of which worked.

Batman... Affleck looked tired. He looked like he didn't want to be there. And, looking at what I feel is a plot misstep of BvS, Batman having been on the job for 20 years just feels off. It's something I think Flashpoint is going to change -- or else something that will be retconned and ignored.

The music cues! I was listening hard for the Elfman Batman theme (it was hard to hear over the SFX of the scene itself) and the Williams Superman theme was just barely more noticeable -- but it was, and it was at a great point.

I'll get back to the characters in a bit; now I want to talk some story.

Overall plot backstory: thousands of years ago, Steppenwolf showed up to turn the earth into another Apololips. He was driven away by a coalition of Amazons, Greek gods, Atlanteans, Green Lanterns (!) and men. The three Mother Boxes, the devices that would've transformed Earth, are divvied up and hidden away for safekeeping. Steppenwolf is driven away, and perhaps a little mad by his first defeat.

We cut back to the present. He returns. He easily gets the Mother Boxes from Themyscira and Atlantis. He gets the Mother Box hidden by mankind just after the League uses it to resuscitate Superman. Superman goes a bit nuts, but Lois is brought in to calm him down and remind him of his life as Clark Kent. Then the League stops Steppenwolf's plan, and we end.

With me?

Okay. On its surface, not too bad. A simple story. It mostly holds... but some details do not -- again, some past choices affecting things for the worse -- and some others are inexplicable.

In BvS. Superman dies. Clark Kent could have been considered lost -- and then hey, he's been found! He was wounded, he lost his memory, whatever. But no; they buried Clark as well, and with a showy funeral. (Showy maybe because a famous billionaire attended.) They raided his grave, they called him Clark in public, in the internet world, those dots would eventually connect. It was a lazy bit of plotting and it was because of past choices.

Wonder Woman hiding from the world for a century was, at least, addressed.

But they bring Superman back. And he's... not quite all there. Memories, yes. He remembers and doesn't like Batman (there is an amusing callback to "Do you bleed?") The League -- through Cyborg's automated defenses -- attacks Superman first, and we got to see a great bit of fighting action. The presentation of super speed -- Flash moving his fastest, everything frozen, and Superman's eyes tracking him... was a great bit.

Superman doesn't stop until Lois (a famed reporter who was engaged to Clark Kent... and aren't they in Metropolis?) starts calling Superman by that name. He flies off, goes to the Kent farm, gets his head right.

The League preps to go after Steppenwolf, in a backwater rural Russian town where the villain plans to start the conversion (sorry, Unity) to an Apololiptian hellscape.

The FX rendering Steppenwolf did look a little bit like the cinematics in any given PS3 and above level Elder Scrolls game, but that's okay... and he got one of the best lines of the movie, noting that Wonder Woman had the blood of the old gods in her.

"The old gods died."

A direct Kirby lift, and it was great.

Anyways, back to the showdown. They're fighting parademons, trying to help the townsfolk, doing their thing, and finally, Superman shows up.

"I've always been a big fan of truth. And justice." BOOM.

He fights, he rescues people, he saves the day, and it felt right.

The pacing of this film was uneven -- nothing felt missing, but scenes ended abruptly. Efficient but lazy explanations and credibility straining moments showed their faces. Paying for the roadblocks of past story choices.

All of these things, and some ups and downs in dialogue, bothered me as a writer. I think they could have been fixed, but maybe not under the circumstances that were presented to the filmmakers. It is what it is.

I've specifically left out reactions to a few things (okay, Momoa's Aquaman sitting on the golden lasso was, well, gold) and it may sound to some like I'm being overcritical.

But I'm going again, and I'm buying the movie -- because what didn't work didn't work, but what did work was wonderful and made me feel good for watching it.

Superman's mid-credits racing of the Flash.

Batman having not just a dry sense of humor, but a knowledge of himself. (That came out in his discussion of Superman -- "He's more human than me.")

When it could, this movie ignored past DCU films, and that felt weird. But the characters felt right, and that was worth a lot.

You're not going to get a star rating or a number value... just that for all the quibbles, this comic book guy felt like he was seeing old friends, some for the first time in a long while.

And I loved that.


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