Justice League Review

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You can’t save the world alone.

DC Comics has some of the most iconic characters of all time. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman have been around since the early 20th century. Seeing the three together in a film was but a dream until last year with the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. With that film, the idea of the Justice League forming on the big screen started to become a reality. The DC film universe started with the fantastic Man of Steel, and then we got Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, and Wonder Woman. These films, aside from Wonder Woman, have proved controversial in reviews, especially BvS (the theatrical version isn’t terrible, but the Ultimate Edition propels it into being a stellar film). Justice League brings the light of Wonder Woman into the darker world of BvS. Zack Snyder’s style has proved decisive with many. I think his work is underrated, and honestly his films have delivered some of the best action scenes. Justice League lacks the deepness of BvS/Man of Steel, and doesn’t have the great writing of Wonder Woman. It is however an extremely enjoyable story of heroes coming together.

The core story of Justice League is Batman realizing there’s a grave threat on Earth, and only a combination of special people can stop it. Meanwhile, the death of Superman continues to be felt throughout Metropolis, and the rest of the world. I particularly liked the opening scene, which was a flashback of Superman talking to kids after a small disaster. It was brief, but it reminded viewers what kind of a hero Superman is. The tone, scenery, and music in the montage scene afterward show the effect of Superman’s death. There’s a genuine sadness as a great hero is no longer among the people.

Superman returns toward the latter half of the middle act. Since I just brought him up, let’s discuss the iconic hero. Henry Cavill’s portrayal of the character has been met with positive reception in previous films, though fault has been placed with the directing for making Superman a “brooding” character. This is mainly felt in Batman v Superman, where it’s hard to find him smiling at all. After watching the Ultimate Edition and thinking back on Man of Steel,  it’s easy to see what Zack Snyder was going for. He didn’t make Superman automatically the hero we’ve come to know and love from the comics. Rather, there’s a journey that takes place and eventually culminates in the hero’s death. Now in Justice League, Superman is a man reborn and the result is the hero we know.

When Superman tells Steppenwolf that he’s a fan of justice, the viewer knows things are about to get good. Henry Cavill delivers the definitive Man of Steel. His dialogue is reminiscent of the Superman from The Animated Series. Superman appears the least of all the heroes, but his presence is felt the greatest. It’s a little sad also because the viewer begins to think how much more exciting the film could have been from the start if Superman wasn’t saved for over halfway through.

The first half of the film centers on Batman and Wonder Woman, then together they get the team going. Ben Affleck delivers another great portrayal of the Dark Knight. It’s interesting because we see Bruce Wayne as a man changed because of his encounter with Superman in Dawn of Justice. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman continues to shine. One of the most fun scenes was her rescuing the hostages at a bank. (We get to see her reflect bullets in a scene straight out of a comic book.) Wonder Woman’s inspiring persona returns as well, as evidenced in her conversation with Cyborg. Batman and Wonder Woman work well together, and their dialogue is always fun to hear.

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The big three – Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman – all look great. It’s the other members that are a bit more mixed. The problem with a team movie like this is that there wasn’t other movies to develop the characters. The Avengers worked because audiences were already familiar with the members. Here, the story has to fully introduce Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg. There’s just not enough time, especially in Aquaman’s case. I’m not faulting Jason Momoa’s portrayal, but the writing doesn’t give viewers many reasons to care about Aquaman. There’s a scene later in the film with Steppenwolf attacking Atlantis and Mera. Aquaman arrives, and Mera gives some expository backstory. The scene came off as forced exposition to make up for a lack of Aquaman development.

Cyborg however was a surprise hit. His story is very interesting, and the scenes with his father are engaging. Ray Fisher perfectly portrays the conflicted, yet sternly heroic character. It was a little hard to buy into Cyborg being part of the Justice League in the comics when The New 52 launched. In this film, it works. Flash is probably the most mixed of the characters. Justice League separates itself from Batman v Superman in that it has a lighter tone. Barry is a contributing factor to that tone, as he serves as the group’s comic relief. Sometimes it worked, and his scenes with his incarcerated father were genuinely emotional. But sometimes Barry is a bit much – a lot of his dialogue just doesn’t seem like what a real person would say. Barry isn’t a bad character, he’s still fun to have around most of the time.

Steppenwolf is the antagonist, and a notable one. There’s something grand to his character and dialogue. He’s not a multilayered character like the Joker from The Dark Knight, but he hardly comes off as one-note. He works as an engaging, otherworldly threat. His objective in aligning the three Mother Boxes was exciting to watch. The battle scenes against him were excellent. As I said, Zack Snyder has delivered the best action scenes in comic book films, and that continues here. The early battle with Steppenwolf plowing through the Amazons as Hippolyta attempts to race away with the Mother Box was amazingly done. The middle act battle with Steppenwolf taking on the League was also a lot of fun. And of course, the climax is exciting. Justice League does not disappoint in the action department.

There’s fun character moments throughout the film. Wonder Woman saying, “I’m old fashioned that way” to Cyborg for a face to face meeting is one example. Another example is Aquaman’s honesty to the team on the plane (the reason for that happening is too good to spoil). So, the film is fun. But it’s not a superbly written film like The Dark Knight or Logan. It’s also not as consistently good as this year’s Thor: Ragnarok. The first half is fun because of the characters and action, but there’s a lack of stellar writing. The story could have used an additional half hour to develop the members. The soundtrack is exciting, featuring the iconic Wonder Woman theme among other engaging tunes.

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Overall, Justice League is an enjoyable film. It doesn’t have the substance of Zack Snyder’s previous DC films, but it’s a fun story. That’s not to say the film is devoid of meaning – the viewer sees that Superman is the missing element, and the world feels it too. Superman is excellent, and his appearance makes the viewer greatly anticipate the upcoming Man of Steel sequel. Batman and Wonder Woman are engaging as well. Aquaman suffers from lackluster development, but Cyborg was very good. Barry is funny, but sometimes borders on being over the top. Two other characters that deserve mention are James Gordon and Alfred, both of which add to the story. (This is the definitive version of Alfred.) Also, Amy Adams delivers a genuinely emotional performance as Lois Lane. It seems there was behind the scenes changes with Justice League, which is a shame. I believe if Zack Snyder did his full vision for the movie, we could have gotten something amazing. As it stands, Justice League is far from mediocre and does the iconic comic book team justice.

8/10

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Wonder Woman Review

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Since her inception in 1941, Wonder Woman has remained not just the most famous female superhero – but also one of the biggest icons of pop culture. That’s why it’s shocking it’s taken this long for a movie about her to be made. Lesser known comic book characters like Electra and Steel have gotten feature films, but never Wonder Woman. Finally, that changed this year. Wonder Woman appeared in last year’s Batman V Superman, and while people were divisive on that film, many agreed that Gal Gadot’s brief portrayal of the character was solid. Now we get to see this version of Wonder Woman in a starring role. Director Patty Jenkins delivers a film full of heroism and inspiration. It’s a film worthy of the iconic character.

Wonder Woman as a character stands for justice, and the film does a fantastic job showing that. When Steve Trevor is forced to tell the truth on Themyscira, Diana’s reaction to it looks incredibly genuine. He says how the war has taken the lives of women and children, and the viewer knows at that moment, Diana is going to do something about it. From here, Diana continually showcases what being a hero is about. Two of the most notable scenes in the film are when she talks back to the government and when she decides to jump into battle to stop the oppression of the village of Veld. It’s inspiring, and the major reason why it’s so well done is Gal Gadot’s fantastic portrayal.

Diana has lived on an island away from mankind all her life, so it’s interesting how she reacts to things in the outside world. Her reaction to seeing a baby and ice cream for example are nice scenes. Her respect and love for people are evident, as seen in the aftermath of the Veld’s battle sequence. She stands on a rooftop as people clap and look above at her. What does she do then? She comes down to their level. She shakes hands and smiles – a truly touching scene showcasing the kind of character she is. This feels like the first time in a comic book film where we see such a powerful character on the same level with the people he/she protects.

The other main character is Steve Trevor. He’s had a long history with Wonder Woman in the comics, so it would be interesting to see how he would be used in the film. Chris Pine provides just the right amount of charisma without going overboard. Like Diana, Steve is portrayed as heroic, and becomes even more so because of her. The romance between him and Diana isn’t bad. Romance has a reputation in comic book films for being forced or poorly done, so it’s good to see a romance subplot actually passable.

Near the middle act of the film, the story introduces viewers to three characters that form Steve’s team to raid German High Command. There’s a problem with introducing a bunch of characters in the middle of a film. Not enough character or backstory is given here. We have Charlie, whom is supposed to be a sharpshooter. But what did he actually contribute? Then there’s Chief, but he also did nothing of importance. Only Sameer is given something to do. He mentions to Diana that it is his dream to be an actor, and later we get to see that acting ability in one of the film’s most hilarious scenes.

Steve’s secretary Etta Candy borders on being funny and over the top. Thankfully the film doesn’t go overboard with her. There are a few antagonists. Danny Huston as Ludendorff is a bit on the generic side, but he’s not terrible. He does his job at being a sinister army general. However, Dr. Isabel Maru (known as Dr. Poison) is far more interesting. There’s an unhinged nature to Elena Anaya’s portrayal of the doctor. The real villain however is Ares, and how his character comes together in the climax is brilliant. Though he only does big things in the last act, Ares cements himself as one of the better comic book movie antagonists.

Wonder Woman doesn’t disappoint in the action department. The early battle on Themyscira was well done. It takes a bit before the next big action sequence, but when it happens, it’s worth the wait. Diana’s stand against the German army at the village of Veld was awesome and well choreographed. It’s a nice balance between the street level Batman type of fighting and the grand Superman battles. The climax is divided into two major fight scenes, both of which are great. The showdown against Ares was a satisfying final action piece.

Though the film contains great action scenes, it’s something else that ultimately shines: the theme of love. It’s the genuine love of people that can conquer darkness and hate, as Diana displays. It’s a great message for a culture that promotes self-interest. The film’s soundtrack is strong, featuring the now iconic theme from Batman V Superman along with other quality themes. As for Themyscira, it’s a beautiful, unique setting. Though Diana’s mother, Hippolyta, doesn’t appear after the first act, she leaves a lasting impression along with Atiope.

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Overall, Wonder Woman is a great film. It’s full of genuine heroism and emotion. Gal Gadot’s portrayal of the character is perfect. She displays everything Wonder Woman is meant to be. Steve Trevor is very good as well. (Sadly, most of the other characters don’t actually do much.) The war backdrop is interesting, and provides a great sense of victory when Diana rises to combat the army in the fantastic Veld sequence. The actions scenes are well done and Ares is an excellent final boss. To love others, to do the right thing, and to be a hero is what Wonder Woman is all about.

9/10

JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. TEEN TITANS REVIEW

I’ve always been a big fan of the comic book animated films. Sadly Marvel has seemingly given up on them, but DC has continued consistently. DC has a wide array of installments, some being completely original and others being adaptions. To better align with the comics, starting with Justice League: War the films have adopted The New 52 continuity. From a business standpoint, it made sense. Unfortunately as a viewer the films have been noticeably of lesser quality than pre-52 ones. The actual League is modernized, in a negative way. Is the latest film in this universe an improvement? Interestingly, Justice League vs. Teen Titans focuses as a sequel to both Throne of Atlantis and Batman: Bad Blood. It suffers some of the same ongoing negatives as previous entries but ended up being perhaps the best New 52 film.

We’ll get this out of the way first: Damien is still extremely annoying. Ever since debuting in Son of Batman, DC has been focused on making him a central focus in the films. Why? Who really knows. Surely they can see just about every line he has is terrible. He’s been doing nothing but disobeying orders and being rebellious since his first appearance, which is no different here. At the very least in the climax his character arc comes full circle in an admittedly well written sequence. In theory going forward he will be developed as a character, but time will tell.

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These movies usually start out with a great action sequence, and it’s no different here. We have the League battling the Legion of Doom. The actual fights are well animated, but Lex Luthor is written so cheaply. This wouldn’t be a bad thing too much if not for the fact the after credits sequence for Throne of Atlantis exists. There he apparently was enlisting Ocean Master to join with him in thematic fashion. None of that is mentioned in this film, instead making Luthor cannon fodder. One has to imagine if DC simply abandoned this plot point in favor of moving in another direction. At the very least, the Wonder Woman/Cheetah fight is probably their best encounter in animation.

Obviously the big draw is to see the team battle the Teen Titans. Like the Batman vs. Robin title, it’s a little misleading since the fight isn’t much of a focus at all. This could be a disappointment for those hoping to see a throw-down between the two teams. The next biggest draw then is of course the Titans themselves. This is their first major animation appearance since the show’s incarnation ended in 2006. (The slapstick comedy known as Teen Titans GO! doesn’t count.) It’s interesting seeing Starfire as the leader here, and she does an excellent job of it.

Blue Beetle was a bizarre choice to include. I suppose he was put there to be the Cyborg of the group. Besides rescuing Cyborg, he doesn’t do anything of major importance, but he wasn’t bad either. Beast Boy is pretty much lifted straight from the comics. Aside from one awful line near the end, he’s written as genuinely funny. (Perhaps the best line was when he said “awkward call to Batman” after Damien was literally fried.) Raven was a surprising highlight. One could say the story even revolved around her. Her backstory is somewhat similar to Damien’s, so it was interesting to see how the two connected. Her character arc was great to watch, and she had the best lines showing that she doesn’t have to give into evil. Taissa Farmiga did a terrific job voicing her.

Superman unfortunately spends most of the movie looking like a joke. This is consistent with his previous New 52 film appearances, which is a pale representation of the character we admire. Thankfully, the writing picks up with him in the climax where he actually feels like Superman. Batman is solid throughout, and the dialogue between him and Cyborg was fun to watch. Wonder Woman is very good, with perhaps her best appearance so far in the New 52 series. The League however appears rather unreasonable when they confront the Titans about Raven. Surely at least Flash would have objected to taking her by force.

The film has a few notable plot holes, the main ones which take place in Trigon’s hellish realm. Beast Boy randomly reacts to the environment, but goes back to normal some seconds later. The reason for this isn’t given and came off as rather odd. Another thing is that shouldn’t all these demons be working together? So why were they grabbing away Damien’s opponent when the latter was on the same side as them? This made no sense. Trigon like in his Teen Titans show appearance is a great antagonist to have around. His dialogue is perfect classic overlord fare. As basically the devil of DC, his taunting dialogue to Raven was very good, and of course the latter’s response even better. The climax offers a grand final battle. It’s not that fast-paced due to the large nature of the threat, but still gives a sense of climatic dread since the League members are getting thrown around. The soundtrack isn’t bad, though at the same time a little forgettable.

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Overall, Justice League vs. Teen Titans is a surprisingly solid entry in the DC animated film series. The story progresses nicely with the right amount of dialogue and action. The Titans were very good, (there’s a sense of thematic awe when we see the Tower for the first time) and hopefully they get to appear in another film. (Based on the mid-credits scene, it’s more than likely.) The story at the core however is not a vs, rather about a person defying her evil heritage. Raven was a fantastic focus and easily made the movie. The League mostly is solid this time around. Damien is still unbelievably annoying, and sadly it looks like he isn’t going away anytime soon. Still, if it’s one New 52 film you should check out, it’s this one.

8/10

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE REVIEW

I remember the immense hype at Comic-Con 2013 when they first showed the Batman/Superman logo. The only thing that could match it was the unveiling of the Age of Ultron, but even then BVS completely overtook the film world. The two characters are some of the oldest in comics and two of the greatest heroes in the genre. Both have enjoyed success on the big screen, though Batman more so. The two have united in many cartoons, most notably in the legendary World’s Finest three-parter. (Which was collected as the Batman/Superman Movie, a must have if you haven’t seen it!) A film starring the two had been in development, but eventually fell through. With 2013’s MAN OF STEEL, DC started their version of a cinematic universe. DAWN OF JUSTICE is perhaps the decade’s most awaited film crossover, and rightly so. It’s almost surreal watching the two together on the big screen, but is the story surrounding the encounter good? Well, here’s the thing: it’s not written that well but if you’re a comic fan it’s certainly an event.

We now live in a world where we can see Batman dodging blows from Doomsday on the big screen. Twenty years ago this kind of stuff was the subject of fan fictions. Seeing Batman in his Dark Knight Returns armor throwing Superman around makes the film worth the price of admission alone. The film’s incredible climax however doesn’t negate the mediocre writing found throughout. (Mostly in the first half.) Also all of the trailers and marketing made it seem like that this was going to be an all-out action movie. The film surprisingly doesn’t have any real fight scenes for the first hour & a half. The two characters meet up at the halfway mark in a well written sequence, but the reason why we’re coming down to watch this, as Lex Luthor puts it: “the greatest gladiator match in the history of mankind” doesn’t happen until the climax. The film went the route of having a lot of exposition, and then making the climax one action sequence after another. I think the formula of having a couple of scattered fight scenes and then one big one an the end is better than what Dawn of Justice did.

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Going into the film I thought a probable negative would be that it’s trying to be too many things. On the onset it’s being a Man of Steel sequel, a Batman reboot, and a Justice League setup. The film actually does a good job with these without feeling overloaded. I do think it was a mistake of marketing to announce all the cameos and updates on the League film, because it would have been far better to see them without the prior knowledge in mind. At the core, this is a Batman/Superman story with a cool appearance from Wonder Woman. But as I said, the writing isn’t spectacular, and when compared to a film like THE DARK KNIGHT, it looks pale in comparison.

I thought Henry Cavill was very solid as Clark Kent/Superman in Man of Steel. His appearance here was pretty good, but there are quite a few questionable scenes, which is more due to the writing. For one thing in the India sequence there’s a very empty death and then Superman comes out of nowhere to help Lois. Why couldn’t he have come a few moments earlier? I’m also not a fan of the line, “No one stays good in this world.” These type of lines characters like Captain America and Superman should never be found saying. Another thing is that after a major explosion sequence, Superman disappears, instead of saying something. It’s only natural that the people would assume the worst in this case. Superman’s portrayal wasn’t bad, but certainly could have been a lot better. He is an icon of hope, but the film chose not to utilize this major aspect of the character. Instead it decided to take a more political look at what Superman means to the world at this point in time. I do find this aspect intriguing, and it’s neither overplayed nor underplayed. I just wish the hopeful aspect of his character was a factor, but it’s sadly not. At the very least, Clark Kent’s portrayal was spot on, much like the version from the classic Adventures of Superman days.

The film smartly shows the climatic  Man of Steel fight scene with Superman and Zod from another perspective: Bruce Wayne’s. Not only does this give us our first look at why Batman grows to dislike Superman, but we also see that intense battle from the people’s point of view. Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman was a shocking choice for most at first, but by the time the film started to roll around people began to accept it, and even happily anticipate it. Affleck portrayed an older Batman very well, and I’m eager to see him in his own solo film. The reasoning used for Batman’s justification of ending Superman is interesting, (if there’s even a slight chance someone with all that power could turn against us) but can be hypocritical when you consider that there’s at least two instances where Batman himself kills people. With his expertise and gadgets, he could equally be a menace and thus could use his own logic on himself.

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Lex Luthor is no stranger to the live action world, appearing in almost every Superman film to date. Jessie Eisenberg brings something different to the table. He’s definitely a good actor, but as Luthor the writing went a little too crazy. He was basically the only comic relief of the film, but it was more bizarre than genuinely funny. The conversation he had with Finch in his house was so terribly written I had to question what the writers were thinking. A lot of his lines are unrealistic, and there’s this strange scene where he feeds a Jolly Rancher to a senator…and the latter just stands there! The writing then throws us this one-sentence backstory on why he hates Superman, which is out of left field. This version of Luthor is far different than the iconic one we’ve seen in the 90’s Animated Series. I don’t think anyone would dispute that’s the Luthor we would have rather seen. Honestly the best thing about this incarnation was the King Kong shirt he was wearing earlier in the movie.

As expected, Gal Gadot didn’t appear too much as Wonder Woman, but when she did she completely nailed the role. Her big intro scene is one of the film’s highlights.  Amy Adams as Lois Lane wasn’t bad in Man of Steel. What was bad was the completely tacked-on romance at the end. (There was no build up to it at all.) At least here the romance feels organic. Her role as hardcore journalist, damsel, and encourager is identical to the comics, and Amy plays each of these parts well.

Even though the first half has some mediocre writing and odd scenes (the Batman dream sequence was rather long) there’s certainly things to like too. Superman overhearing Bruce’s secret conversation with Alfred was classic comic book fare. The Batmobile sequence was also one of the best car chase scenes in recent history. The references to the Joker were fantastic. Now, obviously the best part of the film is the actual confrontation between the two characters. Director Zack Snyder set a precedent in Man of Steel of how comic book fight scenes with characters like these should be done. As expected, the fight here is more down to earth, but this isn’t a bad thing. The battle is satisfying and the choreography is excellent. One forgets the mediocre writing from here on out until the credits start to roll.

The way the fight scene comes about however is a little questionable. If Superman had revealed right away what was going on, the battle could have been avoided. But predictably Superman doesn’t directly say the reason why he’s there, instead letting the battle happen. Then afterward things turn around unnaturally fast. One of the most unexpected aspects  of the film was throwing in Doomsday. Once again, it was a mistake unveiling him before the film came out. (Imagine being in the theater and hearing the word Doomsday without having the prior knowledge.) The monster made for a nice final conflict. Still, he’s worthy of his own movie, not being thrown into the final 20 minutes of one. The soundtrack is very solid. There are a lot of standout themes, such as the one which played during the Batmobile sequence and Wonder Woman’s emergence. There are some questionable themes however, such as the out of place early Lex Luthor one.

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Overall, DAWN OF JUSTICE is an event film, but not a greatly written one. There are numerous parts of the film that just weren’t done very well. (Keefe not knowing who Luthor is for example was pretty farfetched.) The actual conflict between the two characters doesn’t disappoint however. (There’s even a clear winner.) Zack Snyder still directs the best fight scenes to be put on a comic book book film. Ben Affleck as Batman is definitely a primary highlight, delivering an iconic portrayal of the character. Superman is more on the mixed side. His character was on point in Man of Steel, but seems to have regressed a bit here. The story progression was also better in that film. Here the major confrontation is saved for almost last. It’s an interesting formula, but the questionable writing and the cringe-worthy Lex Luthor takes away from the first half. Even though this paragraph sounds negative, the film is still engaging and despite not having many fight scenes, it’s never actually boring. Wonder Woman was great and the ending was completely shocking. With better handling of the story the film could have been a masterpiece.

7/10