Review of “Justice League”

The world continues to mourn the death of Superman (Henry Cavill) along with those that knew and loved him: His mother Martha Kent (Diane Lane) has lost the family farm and has moved to an apartment in Metropolis. Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is only working on puff pieces for the Daily Planet newspaper. Batman (Ben Affleck) is troubled by his role in Superman’s death. He is also troubled by the appearance of winged creatures showing up in Gotham City. When he traps one against a wall it explodes leaving behind a pattern of three box shapes burned into the wall. Similar images show up in drawings made by convicted criminal and billionaire businessman Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) seized from him in prison. On Themyscira, the island home of the Amazons, a box that’s been dormant for thousands of years begins humming and shaking. A tube of energy appears above it and through that tube comes Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds), an alien destroyer of worlds. After a brief battle led by Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), Steppenwolf seizes the box and along with his army of flying parademons leaves by another tube of energy. When Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), learns of the attack she seeks out Batman to tell him the history of Steppenwolf and how he tried to take over the Earth before but was beaten back by the Amazons, a sea-dwelling civilization called the Atlanteans, humans and the gods themselves. Diana and Bruce decide to look for other people with special abilities and form a team to defeat Steppenwolf and his parademons. They know of Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) who is endowed with incredible speed that has earned him the nickname The Flash. There’s the water-dweller that aides a coastal village with food when their harbor is iced closed named Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) also called Aquaman. Finally, there’s the son of the head scientist at Star Labs that was thought to have been killed in an accident but has been merged with technology giving him the ability to hack into any computer system and more. He’s Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) but some call him Cyborg. Together this league of justice must overcome their differences and fears to work as a team to defeat Steppenwolf; but it may not be enough so a risky plan is put into place to add one final member.

If you haven’t heard about “Justice League” it must be because you’ve made an active effort to not hear any of the news this film generated. It wasn’t always good news: Director Zack Snyder left the film during post-production after the death of his daughter and Joss Whedon came in to do some sizable reshoots and the editing. While industry experts suggest Whedon’s reshoots account for about 20 percent of the film, the difference in style and tone make for a film that is inconsistent and could have used a bit more time spent with the newer characters to give them a better fleshed out reason to exist.

It’s ironic that “Justice League” could have been longer since one of the biggest criticisms of “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” was that it was far too long. This time I think Snyder and Whedon could have improved the film by showing us more about Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. While we get small nuggets about each it all feels like we are being pushed through an open house by a realtor that has somewhere else to be. We see bits and pieces but the rest goes by in a blur.

There are clear efforts to lighten the tone of “Justice League” over its DC predecessors. There are jokes approximately every three and a half minutes. While I don’t know that to be absolutely true, I get the feeling there were a great deal of focus groups and test audiences in the production of this film that guided the effort to put more laughs in the script. Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen is the source of a number of these laughs but even the usually dour Batman provides a bit of levity from time to time. The Caped Crusader even delivers one of the film’s biggest laughs while connecting a scene from “BvS” to “Justice League.” You can see there was an effort but I appreciated it.

With a cast this large and a story that moves almost as fast as the Flash, there isn’t much of an opportunity for any actor to really stick out and despite some brief moments, no one does in “Justice League.” Ezra Miller and Jason Momoa shine brightest in their fleeting time. Momoa has a very entertaining scene where he gives his true feelings about what they are facing when it is shown why he’s being so honest. Miller is quirky as the Flash. Barry Allen is insecure about his place on the team and in the world, unsure of what he adds. Batman gives him so good advice that guides him in the right direction but that uneasiness with being a hero persists. While Miller and Momoa don’t have a great deal of screen time they do the best with what they are given. Ray Fisher is given very little to do other than look sullen. His character is not dealing well with becoming part man and part machine and only begins to grow into something interesting once he takes on the mantle of hero. Fisher’s Cyborg is underutilized and is difficult to fit into these other superheroes since his is the least known of the group. Perhaps there’s a better storyline in the future for Cyborg but his appearance in “Justice League” is poorly thought out.

The leaders of the group are clearly Ben Affleck’s Batman and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. The pair takes turns being the grownup of the league. The fight against their foe together, bicker, nearly come to blows then realize they can never beat Steppenwolf if they don’t work together. There are no real surprises as it concerns the way the story flows or how Affleck’s and Gadot’s characters rise to the challenge of leading a team of strangers into a life and death battle. What is a surprise is how bored Affleck looks. Rumors have swirled for months that he wants out of playing Batman despite his protestations to the contrary. That talk has flared again just at the movie was released with Jake Gyllenhaal being the most mentioned name to replace Affleck. If Affleck’s performance in “Justice League” is any indication of his enthusiasm for the role then Gyllenhaal should show up for a bat suit fitting ASAP.

The story races through the fairly standard arc of the good guys being unable to defeat the bad guy on a couple of occasions, nearly coming apart due to some internal struggle then rallying to face the bad guy one more time. It is about as predictable as the return of Superman although how he’s brought back from the dead left me scratching my head. While I won’t give away any of the details, the scene at the end of “BvS” where the dirt on his casket is floating can be ignored. It’s like screenwriter Chris Terrio read the comic books where Superman returned after being killed by Doomsday and said, “You think that’s silly? Hold my beer.” The numerous moving parts of Superman’s revival are so Rube Goldberg-like in their complexity (not to mention dealing with alien technology and the physiology of an alien that’s been dead for quite some time) that even in the anything-goes world of super heroes it stretches credibility.

The weakest aspect of “Justice League” has to be the villain Steppenwolf. The issue isn’t just because he’s a CG character but that he isn’t terribly interesting. His mission is to destroy the world and we’ve seen that a million times and in better movies (*cough – The Avengers – cough*). Steppenwolf is nothing much more than a bully…granted he’s about nine feet tall, carries a glowing axe and commands an army of flying soldiers but still, he’s kind of dull as big bads go. Considering all the villains in the DC library of bad guys Steppenwolf is a dud.

“Justice League” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action. There are numerous battles with beings both human and non-human. There is no blood except for some green parademon blood. There is scattered mild foul language.

I really wanted to love “Justice League” as I was a DC Comics reader and subscriber in my youth. I was seriously invested in the lives of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and whoever else made up the rest of the league in the 1970’s. It was an escape from my humdrum life as a kid in school that desperately wanted to be a super powered hero. There’s still a little of that desire running through me despite my grown up knowledge that I’m not from Krypton, I’m not a billionaire, that getting struck by lightning won’t give me super speed, that I’m not the son of the Atlantean king, that cybernetic parts won’t let me hack into any computer system and that I’m not an Amazon princess (that last one really stings). Since I can’t be a superhero I want to be able to enjoy movies about them. “Justice League” isn’t awful but it isn’t the rapturous experience I wanted and that hurts me a little bit.

“Justice League” gets three stars out of five.

This holiday week sees two new movies arriving at theatres. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Coco—

Roman J. Israel, Esq.—

Listen to The Fractured Frame podcast on all the podcast platforms. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”

After witnessing the massive destruction in Metropolis and aiding in the rescue of some of his employees, billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) who also fights crime across the bay in Gotham City as Batman, decides measures need to be taken to protect the citizens of Earth from a being who could conceivably destroy it. Alexander “Lex” Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) agrees and uses his considerable power and wealth to gain access to the spaceship that brought General Zod (Michael Shannon) and the other Kryptonians to Earth believing there may be a way to defend against Superman (Henry Cavill) amongst its technology. Lex has also been scouring the sights where other alien technology crashed and has discovered a large glowing green rock of kryptonite. Lex knows it will weaken and possibly kill Superman and so does Batman. Meanwhile, Kentucky Senator June Finch (Holly Hunter) is holding hearings on Superman and his actions, caused by his rescue of Lois Lane (Amy Adams) from an African warlord and the deaths of several innocent villagers. Looking to gain information about Lex and his involvement in criminal activities, Bruce Wayne attends a reception at Lex’s home. While there he runs into Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) who has taken a piece of technology Bruce was using to spy on Lex. With Bruce distrustful of a super powered alien and Lex Luthor plotting and pulling strings in the background, the stage is set for a showdown of massive proportions with the last son of Krypton.

Very few movies have been as highly anticipated as “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Ever since it was announced at San Diego Comic Con in 2013, fan boys and the internet clamored for the tiniest nugget of news, set photos and fuzzy cell phone footage. The film, the kickoff of DC /Warner Bros. Pictures extended movie universe, was obviously an attempt to cash in on the comic book movie craze started by Marvel/Disney. However, instead of introducing one character at a time in their own stand-alone movies like Marvel/Disney did, DC/Warner Bros. decided to give us three of the heaviest hitters in their line up in one movie: Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. These characters and the story of the movie are meant to set up 10 or more films featuring Aquaman, Cyborg, Flash, Green Lantern and Shazam along with the super team of Justice League. I expected tons of CG special effects, explosions, destruction and the titular fight between Batman and Superman; but what I didn’t expect was such a plodding, tedious, convoluted and largely ineffective goulash of a movie.

While there isn’t much that’s good about “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” I will start with what I liked. All the worries about Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman were unfounded. Affleck handles the dual role as well as a script this bad can allow. Affleck treats both Bruce and the Bat as individuals. His performance is nuanced in a way that creates a clear division between the two even when Bruce is doing some detecting and Batman is trying to be caring and compassionate in a scene near the film’s end. Affleck may not have been everyone’s choice when his casting was announced (myself included) but he shows he’s worthy of the cape and cowl.

Gal Gadot’s casting as Wonder Woman also received a fair amount of fanboy hate; however, she also is very good. Able to be sultry as Diana Prince and a kickass warrior as Wonder Woman, Gadot’s performance should silence most of her critics. While she doesn’t have that much screen time as either character she makes quite an impression nonetheless.

Not everyone comes off as well as Affleck and Gadot as Jesse Eisenberg makes some odd and unfortunate choices in his performance as Lex Luthor. Eisenberg, either by choice or direction, turns Lex into something of a rambling madman. He gives a nearly incoherent toast at a fundraiser held at his home that sounded like he was having a mental breakdown or a stroke. His interactions with people are filled with odd and inappropriate gestures, such as putting a piece of candy in a senator’s mouth. Lex is super intelligent and obscenely wealthy but he has some serious daddy issues and a wildly inflated sense of self-importance. All these things go into making an interesting super villain but the external choices made in playing the role turn Lex into mostly a distraction rather than a threat.

Henry Cavill continues to play Clark Kent/Superman as seriously as he did in “Man of Steel.” His role in this film is nearly relegated to that of supporting player as the movie focuses primarily on Batman. Cavill is a perfect physical choice to play Superman. He may not be the best actor but he certainly has the face and body for the role. Cavill and Amy Adams still share absolutely no chemistry as a romantic couple. Their one scene where they are supposed to be playful together in a bathtub is rather uncomfortable to watch. Adams sometimes looks like she isn’t sure what to do despite her role largely being limited to either that of a supportive or concerned girlfriend to an alien.

The rest of the cast does as well as can be expected with the only standout being Jeremy Irons as Alfred. Irons manages to be a voice of reason and snark to Bruce Wayne. While Bruce usually ignores Alfred’s advice Irons delivers his lines with both a sense of concern and thoughtfulness.

The story of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is extraordinarily complicated. What it boils down to is Batman doesn’t trust Superman, Lex doesn’t like either of them so he plots to insure they battle and kill each other. That simple plan gets rolled up into congressional hearings, human trafficking, African terrorists, Russian mobsters, alien monsters and more. Wading through the labyrinthine plot will test the attention and endurance of most moviegoers. The jumpy editing doesn’t help make the story any more coherent. Scenes start and end abruptly with sudden changes of location, tone and character. It makes it so the audience is getting yanked in multiple directions for no apparent reason. It all combines to turn what should have been a fun and exciting movie into a torture test that takes childhood memories of our heroes and grinds them into dust.

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality. There are numerous fights of various types throughout the film. Some are more violent and graphic than others. Guns and knives are uses and we see people shot and stabbed but there is no blood or gore. We see Superman use his heat vision to kill people in a dream sequence but that is also not graphic. One character is shown being impaled through the chest. The bathtub scene is the sensuality of the film although Gal Gadot does wear some revealing dresses as Diana Prince. Foul language amounts to two instances that I remember and both are mild.

I generally base my reviews on how entertaining I found the film. In this instance, I am tying my level of entertainment to a bodily function that I will keep as clinical as possible. When I saw “The Dark Knight” with a running time of two hours and 32 minutes I needed to go relieve myself pretty urgently by the end but wasn’t in any hurry for the movie to be over because I loved it so much. When I saw “The Avengers” in 2012 it clocked in at two hours and 23 minutes and by the end I had a full bladder. While I could feel the need to go to the bathroom, I didn’t care as I was mesmerized by what I saw on screen and didn’t want it to end. By the end of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” my bladder was again full but I was more than grateful for the film to be over so I could take care of business. If a film can’t take my mind off the need to go to the bathroom then it doesn’t have my attention and it hasn’t been entertaining. It may be a crude method of determining the quality of a movie but it is rather accurate.

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” gets one star.

This week there is only one new film in wide release so a couple of art house movies are on the radar. I’ll see and review at least one of these:

God’s Not Dead 2—

Hello, My Name is Doris—

Knight of Cups—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “The Man from UNCLE”

If there’s a saying that sums up the thinking of movie executives it must be “Everything old is new again.” So far this year we’ve had reboots or sequels to “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” “Mad Max,” “Fantastic Four,” “Jurassic Park,” “Ted,” “Magic Mike,” “Terminator,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Entourage,” “Pitch Perfect,” “Despicable Me,” “The Woman in Black,” “Taken,” “Hot Tub Time Machine,” “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” “Cinderella,” “Divergent,” “The Fast and the Furious,” “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” “Avengers,” “Poltergeist” and “Insidious.” And that’s just through the middle of August. The rest of the year has more ranging from another visit to the animated “Hotel Transylvania” as well as a galaxy far, far away for another episode of “Star Wars.” Many of these are or were greatly anticipated while others caused either a collective groan or disinterested shrug. Probably falling into the disinterested category is the big screen interpretation of a 50 year old TV show about Cold War spies from opposite sides of the Iron Curtain that work together to keep the world safe. While I was aware of “The Man from UNCLE” TV show and may have seen an episode or two, I can’t say the idea of a movie version ever crossed my mind. It apparently crossed the minds of movie executives who approached director Guy Ritchie to bring his unique visual style to this reimagining. While it certainly has style and very pretty people playing the roles, “The Man from UNCLE” doesn’t feel at all substantial.

Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) was a notorious thief in Europe until his capture by a task force of elite law enforcement. His prison sentence was suspended in exchange for using his special talents to help the CIA. Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) is a KGB agent with anger issues due in part to his treatment after his father was caught skimming funds from the Communist Party and sent to a gulag. It’s the early 1960’s and the Cold War is at its zenith. Solo is sent into East Berlin to help Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) escape to the West. Her father was a German nuclear scientist helping the Nazis in World War II try to make an atomic bomb. He has developed a way to quickly and easily enrich uranium and has recently disappeared. The CIA thinks Gaby can lead them to her father. In trying to escape, Solo and Gaby are followed by Kuryakin and a chase ensues. Solo and Gaby are able to escape. The next day, Solo’s boss Saunders (Jared Harris) reintroduces Solo and Kuryakin and, along with Illya’s KGB boss, informs the pair that they will be working together to find Gaby’s father as it is in the best interest of both sides that her father’s work not fall into the wrong hands. Gaby’s Uncle Rudi (Sylvester Groth) works for Alexander and Victoria Vinciguerra (Luca Calvani and Elizabeth Debicki), the owners of a shipping company in Rome. His late father started the company and was a fascist that supported Mussolini. The company may have ties to Nazi sympathizers. Despite their utter dislike and distrust of one another, Solo and Kuryakin must work together to find Gaby’s father and keep the world safe from Nazis with nukes.

It’s hard not to like “The Man from UNCLE.” From the far flung international locales to the witty banter, the film is designed to be interesting to both the eye and ear. Director Guy Ritchie pulled a few pages from films of the past to embed the notion that this is a 1960’s film that just happens to have 21st century actors in it. The action scenes are tight with little wasted space and the story zips along almost faster than the audience can keep up. It has all the makings of a giant money maker that should launch a franchise. Then why did I feel like I’d just walked through a sprinkler when I intended to jump into the deep end of the pool? I should have been soaked head to toe in nostalgia and international intrigue but instead I feel practically bone dry.

Perhaps the fault lies in setting the story in the early 1960’s: Kennedy is president, the Soviets are perceived to be the biggest threat to freedom and the scourge of Nazism isn’t that far in the rearview mirror. While I certainly remember the old USSR and the fear that the world would fall under totalitarian rule, it isn’t something I look back on with fondness or warm feelings. “The Man from UNCLE” seems to long for the day when our enemies were much easier to identify and target. Moving the story into modern times would have been easy as the U.S. and Russia don’t get along much better now than they did back then. Preventing a terrorist group from getting their hands on a nuclear device would seem to be an easy enough translation from the 1960’s to now since that’s one of the intelligence community’s biggest fears. Drop the Nazis and put in ISIL and you have a modern story that could throw in a few digs at NSA eavesdropping on all our calls and emails. It could have felt more relevant while also being a globetrotting romp.

Maybe it is due to the heroes having only a small amount of trouble in dealing with the bad guys. In the latest “Mission: Impossible” movie, Ethan Hunt gets put through the ringer a couple of times. He actually seems to be in some peril. Neither Napoleon Solo nor Illya Kuryakin is in any real trouble during the course of the story. They do get in a few tight spots but get out practically unscathed. When the heroes of a story appear to be able to cruise through any danger it makes the whole thing seem unimportant.

Despite the setting and lightness of tone, “The Man from UNCLE” still manages to be entertaining. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer make a winning team of likable secret agents that have a begrudging respect for each other. Cavill’s Solo is the more James Bond-like with a command of several languages, a love of fine wines and a winning way with the ladies. A nice counterpart to that is Hammer’s Kuyrakin. The stereotypical ice-cold Soviet agent that has a warm spot buried deep in the Siberia of his soul, Kuryakin has knowledge of fashion as well as a number of ways he can kill someone with his bare hands. Both agents possess skills complimentary to the other. Throwing Alicia Vikander into the mix as the master mechanic Gaby Teller and you have a team that can handle just about any situation that is thrown their way.

Director Guy Ritchie keeps the action moving from scene to scene with very little wasted time. Ritchie’s style is quite recognizable with the occasional odd camera angle, the uniqueness of the soundtrack and the use of quick flashbacks that show what happened in scenes just a few minutes earlier. Ritchie keeps the eye moving along with the story and that helps to keep the momentum at a fast pace.

“The Man from UNCLE” is rated PG-13 for action/violence, some suggestive content and partial nudity. There are several fist fights with one resulting in the death of a character from a stab wound. There is a scene of torture using an electric chair. Several nameless henchmen are shot. One character is shot at point blank range. There is very little blood shown. There are some sexually suggestive sounds heard over a radio. We see a topless woman in silhouette and get a brief glance of side breast. Foul language is widely scattered and mild.

“The Man from UNCLE” is a stylish and witty spy romp that puts to full use the fashion and look of the 1960’s. It is about as substantial as cotton candy and may leave the viewer with a feeling of “that was nice” but that’s about all. Apparently audiences want more than “nice” since it was left in the dust by “Straight Outta Compton” and came in third at the box office behind “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” which is in its third week. I enjoyed the film and think it is worth seeing but I can’t say it’s great.

“The Man from UNCLE” gets four stars out of five.

Three new flicks this week and at least one of them will get a once over by yours truly.

American Ultra—

Hitman: Agent 47—

Sinister 2—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.