REVIEW: ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE (2021)

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ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE (2021)

Justice League was a movie fans had been waiting a long time for and was sadly, not the movie we’d hoped we’d get. Originally it was to be brought to the screen by Zack Snyder from a story and script by he and Chris Terrio. When a family tragedy forced Snyder off the project, Avengers director/writer Joss Whedon was called in to finish post-production and write and direct re-shoots. A lot of the film was changed and the result was met with less than stellar reactions from fans and critics. Now, four years later, after relentless campaigning by fans, Zack Snyder has returned to finish his version of the film and HBO Max is presenting the Snyder cut exclusively on their streaming network.

The story now opens with Superman’s (Henry Cavill) death and his final scream echoing across the planet, the effects of his loss rippling across the world. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) begins searching the planet for meta humans, as he feels an attack on earth is imminent, while the world and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) mourns Superman’s death. Earth soon does find itself under attack from an ancient being called Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds), in the name of an even more powerful being named Darkseid (Ray Porter). He needs to recover three powerful ‘mother boxes’ to come to his full strength and conquer the planet…something Steppenwolf and Darkseid failed to do once before. Batman (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) are trying to put together a team of meta humans to join in the fight. To  do that they need to convince Arthur Curry, The Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), Victor Stone aka Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and Barry “The Flash” Allen (Ezra Miller) to unite with them to stop Steppenwolf from conquering Earth and retrieving something here that Darkseid badly wants. But even with these heroes united, their only hope of defeating the villain and his army of pandemons, may lie six feet under in a grave in Smallville.

Under Snyder’s guidance the film is a lot more somber, but also packs a lot more emotional resonance. We are truly made to feel not only the difference Superman made in people’s lives, and the effects of his being gone on the mood of the world, but on his family and friends as well. It is also twice as long, at over four hours, and is presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio, which may not sit well with those used to more panoramic superhero epics. The film is far more intense in it’s violent moments and is not quite as family friendly, as was the theatrical cut, as it now carries an R rating. There is, though, a lot of character development now, Cyborg and Steppenwolf in particular, for everyone involved and this greatly improves on giving the comic book material a lot of depth and substance. Sure it takes a long time to get to the heroics, but the battles with Steppenwolf have far more weight, as now do all the characters involved. There is also a healthy amount of action added too, so the flick is far from talky. There is also the added caveat of an anti-life equation that Darkseid wants and Steppenwolf believes is here on Earth. It adds even more urgency to the proceedings and echoes of future conflict to come. We see a lot of the humor that was added to the theatrical cut removed, but it is not all doom and gloom, as there are still some nice lighter moments between characters. Obviously, there was a healthy amount of Snyder’s material still in the theatrical cut, so there are many familiar scenes, but the amount of new material, added story elements and alternate versions of sequences makes it practically an all new film. On a production level, the new FX sequences merge flawlessly in with the original material and the mood is well set by a very effective and more fitting score by Tom Holkenborg, who goes under the stage name of Junkie XL. Overall, this Justice League can stand up far better next to the Infinity War saga from it’s MCU counterparts.

The cast’s efforts in this cut are even more evident as we get much more of their strong work. Affleck is once again solid as Batman/Bruce Wayne. Batman is a bit more brooding and intense here, which is more in character, and we see where some of his lighter moments were added in the theatrical cut. Affleck shows again he is a solid caped crusader. Gal Gadot once again proves she was born to play Wonder Woman and she has some really good extended and added moments. The chemistry with Affleck’s billionaire hero is still evident, as is now with Alfred as well. Ezra Miller still steals his scenes 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 (Joe Morton) and we sympathize. Another role nicely expanded by more footage. Jason Mamoa is less the surfer dude as Aquaman. Here he gets a lot more depth and there is some foreshadowing of his adventures to come and we see his inner conflicts clearer. By now it’s no surprise that Henry Cavill returns as Superman and here is he is a more conflicted and troubled hero before deciding to resume his role as protector. No CGI erased mustaches either, but there is a foreboding black suit. J.K. Simmons is still here as Commissioner Gordon, but again only has two or three scenes. Ciarán Hinds still voices a more imposing Steppenwolf, and here he also seems to have a lot more character development and depth, as we learn more about him and his debts to Darkseid. As for other returning cast members, Amy Adams and Diane Lane ease back into their roles as Lois Lane and Martha Kent respectively and get more scenes in this cut. Irons is still perfect as the cynical Alfred and also benefits from more footage. This version also has Harry Lennix as Calvin Swanwick, who is now revealed to be Martian Manhunter, Peter Guinness as DeSaad, one of Darkseid’s generals, Willem Dafoe as Vulko, Ray Porter as Darkseid and Jared Leto returns with an absolutely chilling cameo as The Joker. A great cast, now even more evident with added performance material.

In conclusion, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the flick were wanted the first time. It is a four hour opus filled with the emotional depth, character development and brooding intensity that was missing in the theatrical version. The casual viewer may find the 242 minute runtime a bit daunting, but fans of this stuff will simply eat up all the new material and it’s darker tone, though it’s nothing much darker than say the last two Avenger’s epics. It’s also satisfying to see Snyder’s vision come to light, one that is sweetly dedicated to his daughter, whose loss lead to his leaving the project initially. Now that this series is back on track, let’s see where they go with it.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) heroes.


 

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REVIEW: AQUAMAN (2018)

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AQUAMAN (2018)

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DC comics flick is a mixed bag finding our aquatic hero (Jason Momoa) coming up against his half-brother King Orm of Atlantis (Patrick Wilson). The power and conquest hungry Orm wants to take control of all the undersea kingdoms and then use their combined might to lay waste to the surface world. Princess Mera (Amber Heard) of the undersea kingdom of Xebel defies her father (Dolph Lundgren) to warn Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman and inform him that if he retrieves the Trident of Atlan, he will have the power to stop Orm and take his rightful place as king. Standing in his way is a modern day pirate with Atlantean tech and a personal grudge against Aquaman, The Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).

Superhero flick is directed by James Wan (Insidious, The Conjuring) from a screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall, based on a story by Wan, Beall and Geoff Johns. The flick is a bit of a mess, that bites off more than it can chew, though it can be a fun mess at times. The negative points are a thin story that gets poor development as the film steamrolls ahead from one set-piece to another. From the flashback meeting of Arthur’s mother Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) and his lighthouse keeper father,Thomas (Temuera Morrison), to Arthur’s first meeting/fight with Orm, to a massive undersea battle, a lot goes on in this flick. Somewhere in between all this, the film stops and goes on a Tomb Raider style quest for the trident…wasn’t that the plot of the latest Pirates of the Caribbean flick?…and then finally back to Aquaman vs Orm, the rematch. It gives the film a choppy feeling for the first hour, or so, before it settles down a bit in the last act. None of the characters get proper development, especially Black Manta, whose sub-plot could have been eliminated completely with no harm done. At least we already met Arthur in Justice League…and, by the way, where were his League pals as this was a global destruction situation. The good points are that some of the action set pieces are quite fun and Wan has a great visual eye, so the film looks sumptuous and spectacular. The undersea kingdoms are amazing, there is a stunning Star Wars-esque underwater battle at it’s climax and the film has a lot of cool creatures. The cast all get the material and play their roles with the right tone and if the story was more involving, this might have been a bit more memorable, which sadly it’s not. A good time was had overall, though it didn’t resonate once the theater lights came up.

Back to the cast, Wan has assembled a top notch one. Momoa has locked it in as Aquaman and the character has never been cooler. His bad-ass surfer boy take works very well as a modern incarnation of the DC hero and Momoa has the charm and sense of humor to overcome the thin script. Amber Heard is beautiful and resourceful as Mera. She is a strong character and is not played as a damsel and Heard makes a solid heroine out of her. Patrick Wilson is a pleasant surprise as the vengeful King Orm. Wilson is usually cast in the straight-laced good guy role and here he chews up the seaweed and scenery with just enough restraint to keep Orm from flipping over into camp. He’s a better villain than Justice’s Steppenwolf and Wonder Woman’s Ares. Rounding out the supporting cast is Nicole Kidman as a noble Queen Atlanna, Willem Dafoe as Vulko, Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as David Kane/Black Manta and Temuera Morrison as Arthur’s dad. All do good work in their roles and help keep this bloated flick from sinking.

So, Aquaman is a bit of a mess and DC still has a way to go to catch up to Marvel and set it’s cinematic universe right. The story here is thin and underdeveloped due to filmmakers being too overeager to do too many things in one film. There’s globe hopping adventure, epic undersea battles, a quest for a mystical object and a superhero battling to save the world and find his destiny. All we needed was a musical number. It has a solid cast, who get the material and a director who knows theatricality and how to make it look gorgeous. In lesser hands this might of been an awful mess, but Wan makes it an entertaining one. Overall, it’s a step back from Wonder Woman, but two steps ahead over the disappointing Justice League and the bloated Batman v Superman.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 tridents.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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BARE BONES: CONAN THE BARBARIAN and 13 ASSASSINS

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CONAN THE BARBARIAN (2011)

The original Conan flick has a legendary aura and is now fondly remembered as a classic. This Conan is no classic, but to be honest, is actually an entertaining and action packed popcorn flick that is better than the trailers led one to believe. Like Arnie’s, this Conan seeks revenge against the man who killed his father, the power hungry tyrant, Khalar Zym, who seeks to enslave all. On his way to avenge himself, he meets a woman, Tamara, who is key to the villain’s plan. Sure, it’s easy to predict there will be some sex and plenty of bloodshed before the credits roll, but the ferocity of the action does make up for the predictability and Momoa is solid enough as Conan, though obviously lacking in Arnie’s larger then life persona. Zym is played effectively by Steven Lang along with Rachel Nichols as the spunky and pretty heroine/love interest, Tamara. She and Momoa seem to have some chemistry together which helps as their relationship is given very little time between beheadings. Rose McGowan is creepy as Lang’s sorceress daughter and the always good Ron Perlman cuts a strong profile as Conan’s father. Director Marcus Nispel moves everything along at a brisk pace, stages the action well and makes it all look good. The production and FX are solid. The make-up is good as is the gallons of blood spilled. Tyler Bates score doesn’t convey the majesty of Basil Poledouris’ brilliant soundtrack for the 1982 flick, but is fine if not generic.

All in all, Conan is a fun summer flick that delivers a good time as long as you know not to expect another movie the likes of Millius’ classic. It never gives you that ‘making of a legend’ feeling we got while watching that flick, but it passed the time quickly and was never boring. Fun if not forgettable.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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13 ASSASSINS (2001)

Takashi Miike’s films can be overbearing and extremely graphic at times, such as the horrifying Audition, but with 13 Assassins he uses some nice restraint and falls back on a more traditional filmmaking style to tell this old fashioned story of a band of few going against a much larger foe. As with films like Dirty Dozen and Seven Samurai, Miike takes his time to build his plot and gather his band of assassins before setting them loose. Their target is the Shogun’s ruthless and cruel half brother who must be stopped from ever reaching the throne and replaced with a more responsible heir…if they can get past the army that guards him. The showdown in a remote village with the 13 going against over 200 is a masterful piece of filmmaking and maybe some of the finest work Miike has done in his eclectic career, as well as, one of the best action sequences of it’s kind to hit film in a long time. A great movie.

-MonsterZero NJ

three and one half stars rating

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REVIEW: BULLET TO THE HEAD (2013)

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BULLET TO THE HEAD (2013)

Sly Stallone plays Jimmy Bobo, a New Orleans hitman who, along with his partner, takes out a target. But, Jimmy and his partner are then targeted themselves by a vicious assassin, Keegan (Jason Momoa) and his partner is killed. Jimmy soon finds out that his target was a former DC cop and now reluctantly teams up with the cop’s ex-partner, Kwon (Sung Kang) to find out why the former cop was targeted and why he and his partner were double crossed. Obviously Bullet’s biggest problem is a convoluted and routine story of the usual conspiracy reaching high levels and prerequisite cover-up attempts. We even get Jimmy’s hot tattoo artist daughter, Lisa (Sarah Shahi) who exists only to be taken hostage at one point. Added to the been-there-done-that story is a slew of bad dialog including some awful Asian jokes made at Kwon’s expense. I’m not politically correct but, if you’re going to go that route, at least come up with something new and clever in the racial jokes department. The dialog in general is pretty lame so, at least a few good one liners would have been nice. Aside from the sub-par script, Walter Hill’s direction is pretty uninspired. The film is very by-the-numbers and there is little energy though, the two fights between Momoa and Stallone are fast paced and have some impact but, that’s it. What happened to the director who gave us classics like The Warriors and 48 Hours? As for the cast, despite not having much to work with, Stallone is solid. Between this, Rambo and The Expendables flicks, he plays the aging warrior well. Too bad he wasn’t doing it in a much better movie. Sung Kang is rather bland as the cop caught up in this mess but, it’s Stallone’s show and he is basically a tag along anyway. Momoa makes a good villain though and sexy Sarah Shahi is hot in the cliche’ family member/future hostage role so their reputations are safe. Rounding out the cast are Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Christian Slater as the generic and dull bad guys responsible for all the conspiracy and killing. Other then a few decent action scenes and some nice use of the New Orleans locations, there really isn’t much to recommend here unless you are a fan of one of the cast or Hill and feel you need to check it out for yourself. Completely generic and a definite misstep for Stallone during what is a nice career resurgence for him.

2 bullets!

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