Skip to main content

I do… very competitive ice dancing.

Justice League
(2017)

(SPOILERS) Superheroes, and superhero movies, trade in hyperbole, so it shouldn’t be surprising that DC’s two releases this year have been responded to in like, only each at opposite ends of the spectrum. Wonder Woman was insanely over-praised in the rush to fete a female superhero finally leading a movie, crushing all nuanced criticism in its wake. Justice League, meanwhile, has been lambasted on the basis that it’s more of the same as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, only worse – to the extent there have been calls for a Zach Snyder Director’s Cut, which is quite an extent, as extents go – as it’s guilty of being an unholy clash of styles, grimdark Zach scowling in one corner and quip-happy Joss pirouetting in the other. And yes, the movie is consequently a mess, but it’s a relatively painless mess, with the sense to get in and get out again before the viewer has enough time to assess the full extent of the damage.


The manner in which Justice League has been cut to the bone, excising anything that might be considered a subplot, with occasional scenes left here or there that might have amounted to genuine ones once – Martha Kent selling the ranch – put me in mind of other ruthlessly slaughtered turkeys that studios gutted and dumped in the forlorn hope of maximisng hiding-to-nothing box office through additional screenings per day. The Avengers, for example. That is, the 1998 big screen version of the British TV series. Justice League is duly replete with the necessary, expected elements – introducing the various team members, having them meet, squabble and finally unite as a very powerful CGI menace assembles an awesome object with which it plans to subdue, subjugate and overcome the planet – but they move by at such a clip there’s never a sense that anyone’s particularly keen on the story being told; they just want to get it over and done with and hope the takings are sufficient to call it evens.


Which is curiously appropriate to DC’s game plan, if you can discern a grand design to their hasty, catch-up cinematic universe, as Justice League is a two-hour equivalent of what Marvel, in their long-game wisdom, has taken half a decade to arrive at with their Infinity Stones. Both sport an oversized, all-CGI humanoid who looks pretty shit, let’s be honest (although Marvelheads will vehemently deny Thanos looks anything less than amazeballs), hunting down the items – Mother Boxes or Infinity Stones – that will confer ultimate power over all.


Ciaran Hinds plays Steppenwolf but deserves zero blame for how entirely forgettable the character is (I mean, really, the band would have been more threatening). His gibbering Parademons make more of an impact, although they reminded me unflatteringly of Katana’s imbecilic henchman in Highlander II: The Quickening.  Steppenwolf isn’t as ridiculous as David Thewlis’ head plastered onto a buff god of war in Wonder Woman, and he’s probably no worse when it comes down to it than a number of less than scintillating Marvel heroes (if we’re going to get into brand wars), but that doesn’t make him any more acceptable. No doubt, if the mentioned Darkseid ever makes an appearance, evidently planned as the focus of the now aborted Justice League 2, he’ll also be all-CGI, all-underwhelming.


The idea, I’m guessing, is that bad guys shouldn’t matter too much, as this is all about the team up. And to some extent, that isn’t wrong – I can’t say I remember the Chitauri, particularly – although the effectiveness of this quintet/sextet (depending on what point in the movie you’re at) is variable. Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen/ The Flash is easily the highlight of the picture. Barry has the most interesting arc – fearful and erratic in his skill set, learning to conquer one and hone the other – and he’s where Whedon’s po-mo dialogue and verbal diarrhoea actually fit the character. Much of that is down to Miller’s incredibly amiable, wired performance, hugely stoked to be with genuine superheroes and entirely humble about his own abilities. It’s inevitable that Whedon will reference Pet Sematary when talking about bringing Supes back from the grave, and have Barry worry that Cyborg will consider it “racially charged” when he offers a fist bump, but Miller’s giddy-geek-jacked-on-junk-food makes the material seem almost fresh.


If Ray Fisher can’t do much with Victor Stone/Cyborg, it’s because he’s encumbered on every level. The character occupies the realm of heightened body horror to an extent even Robocop was reluctant to explore, and it’s nigh impossible to move past that effectively into a breezier, more carefree superhero narrative. Early scenes do offer something of a sop, as he rebukes his father (Joe Morton) for turning him into a monster, but without that essential pain, all you have is a guy in a crap CGI outfit. And the CGI really is crap.


Jason Momoa’s boozehound-bro meathead Arthur Curry/Aquaman has plenty of personality, but unfortunately none of it is terribly appealing. I’m mildly interested to see how they’re intending to revolve a whole movie around him, as aside from a very Whedon scene in which he shares his feelings thanks to accidentally sitting on Diana’s Lasso of Truth, his whiff of alpha-dominance is faintly obnoxious (as for flying through the air killing Parademons: well, only Snyder could make something as ridiculous as that almost work). We briefly see his soggy undersea abode, and I’m none the wiser about any of it, particularly who Amber Heard is playing and why.


So it’s one hit against two misses for the newbies, which is the same ratio for those with whom we’re more familiar. Gal Gadot comes through the proceedings with dignity entirely intact, despite numerous arse-shots and an uptick in lowest common denominator impulses – Alfred, who clearly spends too much time on his own, talking up her potential to bachelor Bruce, Diana witheringly but indulgently noting she’s surrounded by boys rather than men – after the restraint of Wonder Woman.


Batfleck… Hang up the cape, Ben. The actor looks puffy and ill-at-ease when he isn’t in the suit, and when he (or his stunt double) is, there’s a consistent air of how ridiculous it is that his character is even attempting to impose himself on a situation where he’s entirely physically out of his depth (regardless of the number of wonderful toys he has). Indeed, it simply isn’t enough for Bruce to mention he’s already too old for this sort of thing, as we’re continually wondering why the hell he’s squatting on the edge of a girder from which he might trip and plummet to his death at any moment, or how shot his knees must be from repeatedly leaping great distances onto concrete. More damagingly, Affleck’s just plain uninteresting and uninterested. He brings nothing to the part aside from tepid competence.


In contrast, while I’d rather Henry Cavill didn’t stop being Supes, between his uncannily CGI-d out soup strainer, the incessant over-compensations for past sins against the character, and his rapid recovery from resurrection, he’d be forgiven for having had enough. The return from the grave is handled with almost amusing alacrity – at some point a subplot with a bad Supes in black was evidently dumped, on the reasonable basis that his character had already spent quite enough time glowering without yet suggesting him as discernibly Super-like – and not inconsiderable cluelessness; why didn’t the fledgling League simply bring Lois (or his mom) to see him straightaway? It would have saved multiple brutal beat downs. And then, it takes him a mere five minutes of standing around in a corn field and he’s good to go. Offhand doesn’t begin to cover it. Most wretchedly, Superman has a big old chuckle with Cyborg after defeating Steppenwolf, because, you see, Superman laughs now (see also his race with Barry; the guy’s really lightened up!) In the same vein, he refuses to stand idly by when there’s a bout city-wide destruction porn, breaking off defeating Steppenwolf to fly away and save a building full of people! Priorities, there. Ones that come across as pathetically pandering.


Justice League is every bit as garish and aesthetically distracting as the trailers suggested, but that’s Snyder’s palette of choice for you (albeit, as some comparable caps have shown, Whedon initiated significant regrading of the CGI action fest climax to make it look a little less two-tone). It’s also less frenetic than typical Snyder, probably partly because Danny Elfman’s not entirely sympathetic cues are married to the images instead of Hans Zimmer’s. 


I’m probably in the minority who considers the DC movies much of a muchness in that none of them are terrible good or straight up terrible – even Batman v Superman – and Justice League comfortably joins their ranks. While Justice League has abundant issues – and I’m not exactly itching to see whatever Lex Luther and a ridiculously bleach-blonde Deathstroke have planned next – there’s just enough Whedon pep and zip to make it a fun ride. Look, I’m fully cognisant of the guy’s creative shortcomings (putting his personal life to one side), and his undeniable talents with structure don’t really have a chance to come into play when attempting to “fix” a movie at such a late stage, meaning it’s his variable hit ratio with everyone-gives-good-gags approach to dialogue that’s to the fore (that or a moment where two characters tell each other what they’re feeling, laced with sexual innuendo, then giving a good gag), but he ensures this picture isn’t a slog. It’s probably been pruned more than was necessary, but there’s enough brio here to make the future of DC less foreboding.


Warner Bros isn’t happy, though. Very occasionally, perhaps not a silk purse but a fit-for-purpose wallet can be made out of a sow’s ear – World War Z was much better than it had any right to be, given the problems that plagued it, not least its director – so expecting miracles from course correcting Justice League by bringing in Whedon were unrealistic. And expecting audiences who’d been burned by Batman v Superman to rinse and repeat for something that appeared to nurse all the same complaints was likewise foolhardy. So they’re looking to restructure, but as long as they maintain the approach of wanting Marvel-level results “now” they’re probably continually set to stumble.


There’s a standalone Batman movie, unlikely to feature Batfleck, but the latest suggestion is that he will appear in the Barry Allen timeline reboot Flashpoint, which would make sense as an exit strategy, where WB/DC can pick and choose which characters they want to keep and who to recast (not that it really matters with a universe already as woollily built as this). Robert Zemeckis was being talked about for that one – he needs a hit – and Warners rightly perceives that Flash went down well in Justice League. On the other hand, they also seem to think Aquaman did. Well, they have to; his solo movie’s already in the can.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Prepare the Heathen’s Stand! By order of purification!

Apostle (2018)
(SPOILERS) Another week, another undercooked Netflix flick from an undeniably talented director. What’s up with their quality control? Do they have any? Are they so set on attracting an embarrassment of creatives, they give them carte blanche, to hell with whether the results are any good or not? Apostle's an ungainly folk-horror mashup of The Wicker Man (most obviously, but without the remotest trace of that screenplay's finesse) and any cult-centric Brit horror movie you’d care to think of (including Ben Wheatley's, himself an exponent of similar influences-on-sleeve filmmaking with Kill List), taking in tropes from Hammer, torture porn, and pagan lore but revealing nothing much that's different or original beyond them.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

You can’t just outsource your entire life.

Tully (2018)
(SPOILERS) A major twist is revealed in the last fifteen minutes of Tully, one I'll happily admit not to have seen coming, but it says something about the movie that it failed to affect my misgivings over the picture up to that point either way. About the worst thing you can say about a twist is that it leaves you shrugging.

Outstanding. Now, let’s bite off all the heads and pile them up in the corner.

Venom (2018)
(SPOILERS) A 29% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes can't be wrong, can it? To go by the number of one-star reviews Sony’s attempt to kick-start their own shred of the Marvel-verse has received, you’d think it was the new Battlefield Earth, or Highlander II: The Quickening. Fortunately, it's far from that level of ignominy. And while it’s also a considerable distance from showing the polish and assuredness of the official Disney movies, it nevertheless manages to establish its own crudely winning sense of identity.

Well, you did take advantage of a drunken sailor.

Tomb Raider (2018)
(SPOILERS) There's evidently an appetite out there for a decent Tomb Raider movie, given that the lousy 2001 incarnation was successful enough to spawn a (lousy) sequel, and that this lousier reboot, scarcely conceivably, may have attracted enough bums on seats to do likewise. If we're going to distinguish between order of demerits, we could characterise the Angelina Jolie movies as both pretty bad; Tomb Raider, in contrast, is unforgivably tedious.

If you want to have a staring contest with me, you will lose.

Phantom Thread (2017)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps surprisingly not the lowest grossing of last year's Best Picture Oscar nominees (that was Call Me by Your Name) but certainly the one with the least buzz as a genuine contender, subjected as Phantom Thread was to a range of views from masterpiece (the critics) to drudge (a fair selection of general viewers). The mixed reaction wasn’t so very far from Paul Thomas Anderson's earlier The Master, and one suspects the nomination was more to do with the golden glow of Daniel Day-Lewis in his first role in half a decade (and last ever, if he's to be believed) than mass Academy rapture with the picture. Which is ironic, as the relatively unknown Vicky Krieps steals the film from under him.

The whole thing should just be your fucking nose!

A Star is Born (2018)
(SPOILERS) A shoe-in for Best Picture Oscar? Perhaps not, since it will have to beat at very least Roma and First Man to claim the prize, but this latest version of A Star is Born still comes laden with more acclaim than the previous three versions put together (and that's with a Best Picture nod for the 1937 original). While the film doesn't quite reach the consistent heights suggested by the majority of critics, who have evacuated their adjectival bowels lavishing it with superlatives, it's undoubtedly a remarkably well-made, stunningly acted piece, and perhaps even more notably, only rarely feels like its succumbing to just how familiar this tale of rise to, and parallel fall from, stardom has become.

Yes, cake is my weakness.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)
(SPOILERS) Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is good fun, and sometimes, that’s enough. It doesn’t break any new ground, and the establishing act is considerably better than the rather rote plotting and character development that follows, but Jake Kasdan’s semi-sequel more than justifies the decision to return to the stomping ground of the tepid 1995 original, a movie sold on its pixels, and is comfortably able to coast on the selling point of hormonal teenagers embodying grown adults.

This is by some distance Kasdan’s biggest movie, and he benefits considerably from Gyula Pados’s cinematography. Kasdan isn’t, I’d suggest, a natural with action set pieces, and the best sequences are clearly prevized ones he’d have little control over (a helicopter chase, most notably). I’m guessing Pados was brought aboard because of his work on Predators and the Maze Runners (although not the lusher first movie), and he lends the picture a suitably verdant veneer. Wh…

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …