REVIEW: JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017)

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JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017)

Justice League is a movie fans have been waiting a long time for and while it’s not the movie we’d hoped we’d get, it is still a lot of fun. Story finds Earth under attack from an ancient being called Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) who needs three powerful ‘mother boxes’ to come to his full strength and conquer the planet. Bruce Wayne aka Batman (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) are trying to put together a team of meta humans to join in the fight. They need to convince Arthur Curry aka Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), Victor Stone aka Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and Barry Allen aka The Flash (a hilarious Ezra Miller) to unite with them to stop Steppenwolf in his tracks. But even with the heroes united, their only hope of defeating the titan and his army of pandemons, may lie six feet under in a grave in Smallville.

DC’s classic comic is brought to the screen by Zack Snyder from a story by he and Chris Terrio and a script by Terrio and Joss Whedon. Avengers director/writer Whedon was called in to finish post-production and handle re-shoots when a family tragedy forced Snyder off the project. The result is a film that is far from perfect, but is still a lot of fun. The film feels a bit incomplete despite a competent director taking over the project and it also feels edited down to the quick to get to the action faster. Ironically Batman v Superman was improved when material was added on blu-ray, but here they chose to go in the opposite direction and the film feels like it’s missing something. The first act seems particularly rushed and we really don’t get to feel the resonance of the search for the meta humans or Steppenwolf’s arrival. It all happens so quickly and it’s a bit choppy. Once the team is assembled and goes on the offensive, the movie is a lot of fun with the banter between our Justice League members being a highlight, especially from the wisecracking Flash. Their first battle brings the team up short and thus begins the quest to raise the dead, or at least one of them. Then it’s off to a fun conclusion that follows this series’ propensity for big CGI filled spectacle, but doesn’t quite seem as messy as the bloated, overlong Batman v Superman climax, in fact, it actually felt a bit short. The whole film does leave one wanting more, to be honest, but the camaraderie between the characters really goes a long way and there are some really fun dialogue and action scenes to make this an entertaining night at the movies, nonetheless. It’s not the classic hoped for, but DC is starting find it’s footing, at least in terms of tone. It kept that DC look and feel, but isn’t as gloomy or takes itself too seriously like some of the previous DCU flicks. Fabian Wagner’s cinematography helps the film appear consistent with previous entries and Danny Elfman provides the atmospheric score with some fun nods to previous hero themes.

The cast really help make up for some of the film’s shortcomings. Affleck is once again solid as Batman/Bruce Wayne. He’s a bit more upbeat here and he has some nice banter with his costars as the reluctant founder of the League. Gal Gadot once again proves she was born to play Wonder Woman and she has some nice moments, including some good chemistry with Affleck’s billionaire hero. Ezra Miller steals the flick as the sarcastic, slacker hero The Flash. He gets some of the best lines and his dorky charm fits the character perfectly. He also has solid chemistry with his co-stars. Ray Fisher is effective as the tragic, yet powerful Cyborg. He’s still learning how to use his powers and still conflicted over being Frankenstein-ed by his father and we sympathize. Jason Mamoa is good as Aquaman, but it seems his surfer-dude hero never really gets his moment in this flick. Maybe WB is holding back as James Wan’s Aquaman is the next DC flick due out. J.K. Simmons is good as Commissioner Gordon, but only has two or three scenes and Ciarán Hinds voices a somewhat imposing Steppenwolf, though he seems like just another CGI monster…but at least one with far more personality than Doomsday in BvS. As for other returning cast members, Amy Adams and Diane Lane ease back into their roles as Lois Lane and Martha Kent respectively, Irons is again perfect as the cynical Alfred and it’s no surprise that at some point Henry Cavill is going to show up…but the when and hows will be left for viewers to find out. A good cast that help get over some of the bumps in Justice League’s road.

In conclusion, Justice League still shows that DC has work to do, but at least has a fun time with it’s missteps. It does get a lot right, including some entertaining interaction between our heroes and some fun action scenes. It’s not as good a film overall as Wonder Woman, but in ways is more fun and takes itself far less seriously than MoS and BvS. The film could have used a little more time for us to appreciate the hunt for the heroes by Wayne and Diana and needed to give more weight to the appearance of it’s moderately effective villain. In all fairness, who knows what effects losing it’s director had on the final product. With Snyder away, did the studio play? Regardless of it’s issues, it’s still a fun romp that brings together some of the most famous comic book heroes of all time and even serves up, not one but two, additional scenes, one mid-credits and one post-credits…and the post-credits scene will have comic book fans talking. Go in with moderate expectations and you can have a real good time.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 heroes.

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: STREETS OF FIRE (1984)

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STREETS OF FIRE (1984)

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Hot on the heels of the smash hit, Eddie Murphy debut 48 Hours, Walter Hill indulged himself with this “Rock & Roll Fable” about an up and coming rock star named Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) who is kidnaped by biker gang leader Raven (Willem Dafoe) at a concert in her home town. Her ex-soldier, ex-boyfriend Tom Cody (Michael Paré) comes to rescue her, along with her current manager/boyfriend Billy Fish (Rick Moranis) and another gruff ex-soldier McCoy (Amy Madigan). That’s kinda it, plot wise.

After a huge success with the action, buddy comedy 48 Hours, Hill took a stumble that he would never really recover from. Streets Of Fire is a bit of a mess and was a box office disappointment after the Eddie Murphy/Nick Nolte flick becoming a runaway hit. Co-written with Larry Gross, Streets is a combination 40s, 50s, 80s meets a bit of Blade Runner and never quite clicks and is definitely missing something. One of the big problems is the lack of a real story. The set-up is over within the first 40 minutes with Aim being rescued by Cody and company. The next 50 minutes is a meandering journey back home and then some soap opera level romantic melodrama when they get there. In the mean time, we wait for Dafoe’s villain to come after them, which he finally does in the last 10 minutes. Even at slightly above 90 minutes it gets tedious real fast. Another problem is that there is no energy or excitement to the action. The various fisticuffs and gunfights are very by-the-numbers and have none of the intensity of Hill’s previous films like The Warriors. On a technical level, the film looks really good, thought the time period mash-up doesn’t quite visually click either. There are some really good tunes from the music numbers on the soundtrack and Ry Cooder’s score adds some atmosphere to the proceedings. The legendary Andrew Laszlo delivers some top notch cinematography, as well. It’s that just for a “Rock & Roll Fable” there is very little “Rock & Roll” spirit in this flick and overall it’s kinda dull when all is said and done.

As for the cast they are all good enough, despite given sadly little to really do other than the lead males. Michael Paré is a solid hero. He does the smoldering intensity thing well and his loner Cody might have been more impressive in a better movie. Dafoe is also good as the slimy, somewhat androgynous Raven. His motivations for kidnapping Aim are thin, but that is the script’s fault and he is a good villain that sadly disappears for a good portion of the second half. Diane Lane is a bit bland, but again the character is little more than a damsel to be rescued and isn’t given much to do but stare with doe eyes at Cody. Rick Moranis’ douchey Billy Fish is a bit annoying, but the character is supposed to be, so we can cut him some slack. Rounding out the leads, is Amy Madigan who is fine and likable as the tough ex-solider McCoy and probably would have made even more of an impression with better material. There are supporting roles by Bill Paxton as an old friend of Cody’s, 80s icon E.G. Daily as a groupie and The Warriors Deborah Van Valkenburgh as Cody’s sister Reva, who calls him when Ellen is abducted.

This is a flick that had a lot of potential, but drops the ball with a paper thin story and delivering some very by-the-numbers action from a director who was becoming known for his action flicks. It’s a self-indulgent misfire that could have been something special with a better script and it’s director not falling asleep at the wheel. There are some now classic tunes on the soundtrack…including a couple produced by Jim Steinman, who produced Meatloaf’s classic Bat OutOf Hell album…and there is some nice 80s nostalgia, but, overall, Streets Of Fire fizzles instead of blazes. This 1984 movie has developed a bit of a cult following and there was an unofficial sequel from Albert Pyun made in 2008 called Road To Hell reuniting Paré and Van Valkenburgh as “Cody” and “sister” with Anita Leeman playing “Ellen” and Lauren Sutherland as “Mc Coy”.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 bullets.

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and the trailer to the unofficial sequel, Road ToHell…

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REVIEW: BATMAN v. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016)

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BATMAN v. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016)

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The much anticipated match-up between the two greatest comic book characters of all-time is a mess, no doubt about it, but there is a lot to like here, too. The story picks up 18 months after the battle in Metropolis between Superman and Zod and the world is starting to sour over the notion of a man with god-like powers running around of his own volition. Two men particularly being unhappy about it are billionaire Lex Luthor (a completely miscast Jesse Eisenberg) and billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck). I guess rich people hate Superman. The Dark Knight saw many Wayne Enterprises employees die in Metropolis and starts to wonder if Superman (Henry Cavill) can be trusted and Lex Luthor is more than happy to give both men a push in the confrontational direction. Will The Bat of Gotham and The Man Of Steel go head to head…and will the world survive it?

The script by Chris Terrio and David Goyer is simply all over the place and a lot of it doesn’t gel. The reasons for Superman’s alter ego Clark Kent to suddenly become so concerned with the activities of The Batman in Gotham is never really clear, as it also doesn’t really completely work that Wayne would develop such an intense hatred for Superman, since he has done a lot of good. The first hour of the film bounces back and forth between a bunch of story-lines, including one about a possible conspiracy to frame Superman for death’s he’s not responsible for and a mysterious woman (Gal Gadot) that keeps popping up in Bruce Wayne’s life. It’s very fractured and takes over an hour to settle into a grove. Zack Snyder is a brilliant visual director, but I never felt he was a strong storyteller and with a very weak and fractured story, it is all the more obvious. The film wanders back and forth without much purpose in the first act when Snyder has little going on that he can turn into spectacle. There is some solid action within the film, though and some nice personal moments, too, but it all comes crashing down when Snyder delivers an even more overblown finale than with Man Of Steel. At that point the overlong film is already getting tiresome, we get an apocalyptic battle with Doomsday and then the film goes on for another 15 minutes, or so, for a very morose conclusion. The battle between Bats and Supes was starting to turn the film around somewhat, then Snyder throws in Doomsday and the film collapses under the weight of more bombastic destruction with a generic CGI monster that generates no menace, whatsoever. Throw in a somber and mopey Superman, some pointless dream sequences and the totally miscalculated portrayal of a creepy Lex Luthor by Eisenberg and it basically is a mess with a few shining moments.

So, what was there to like about it…and surprisingly there is a lot to like. First off, Ben Affleck makes an awesome Bruce Wayne and Batman. While story-wise I wasn’t really sold on his intense hatred for Superman, the character itself was different than we have seen previously, yet really nailed the darkness and the whole Bat persona. His action scenes also really rock and capture the ferocity of a man working out his own inner turmoil. Another very pleasant surprise is Wonder Woman. Gal Gadot isn’t the strongest actress, but when she wades into battle during the climax, she steals the show. Another character the film nails and she was a lot of fun to watch and really lays into Doomsday like a badass. As for the battle between Superman and Batman, it was the highlight of the film and here Snyder showed some surprising restraint. Also we get to really see Batman’s ingenuity and preparedness come to bare as he battles someone who could squash him easily. It’s a shame they had to sully the moment by going into extra innings with Doomsday…though they did need a reason for the World’s Finest to unite. It’s just too bad it’s back to over-the-top and out of control. Obviously the FX are top notch, the film looks great and there is another solid score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL.

The cast are a solid except for you-know-who. Cavill is good as Superman, but the script has him pouting and grimacing in anger most of the time and it’s disappointing that we see so little of the hope Superman is supposed to bring. Affleck is great as both Bruce Wayne and Batman. He portrays a man starting to show the effects of aging, who has his own demons and bitterness to deal with and which also motivates him. As Batman, he is truly intimidating and his fight scenes are really nasty and intense like they should be. As his loyal butler Alfred, Jeremy Irons is impeccable and gives us a man who we believe can actually take care of and assist both Bruce Wayne and The Dark Knight. He has a subtle smart-ass quality that really worked. Gal Gadot is a little wooden in her dialog sequences as Diana Prince, but when Wonder Woman joins the fun, she gives her the fire and spirit of a true amazon warrior. She really does steal the scenes she’s in, once she is in battle. Now the big question…Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, what were they thinking? Not everything he does is bad and his part is badly written, but he was more Renfield or Gollum than super villain and his Luthor seems too unhinged to be in control of a multi-billion dollar empire. He comes across as that weird uncle that makes everyone uncomfortable, not a formidable opponent for our heroes. Amy Adams is good again as Lois Lane, but isn’t given much to do but be a damsel in distress. The same goes for Diane Lane. A waste of both their talents as is the same for the barely seen Lawrence Fishburn as Perry White.

So, the eagerly awaited meeting and mash-up of the World’s Finest is a bit of a mess and a mixed bag. On one hand, it delivers a great new Batman, a scene stealing Wonder Woman and a well-done battle between The Dark Knight and The Last Son Of Krypton. On the other hand it’s way too long, gives us a creepy and far too eccentric Lex Luthor, has a really muddled first act and follows up the Bats/Supes battle royal with a ridiculously overblown orgy of destruction featuring a generic CGI monster. There is a lot to like here, but, overall, this dream match is more of a dream mess.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 World’s Finest.

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