Movie Review: JUSTICE LEAGUE

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justice leagueWarner Bros.
2017
PG-13

“I miss the days when one’s biggest concern is exploding wind-up penguins.”

Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists newfound ally Diana Prince to face an even greater threat. Together, Batman and Wonder Woman work quickly to recruit a team to stand against this newly awakened enemy. Despite the formation of an unprecedented league of heroes — Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash — it may be too late to save the planet from an assault of catastrophic proportions.

Lead-up to the big DCEU team-up movie has not been an easy one. While I seemed to be in the minority in thinking that Man Of Steel was decent if not severely flawed, Batman V Superman was a hot mess, and Suicide Squad was also a hot mess, but at least it was a bit more entertaining. Wonder Woman was awesome, but something I consider more an exception to the rule, rather than being a positive step in the right direction for the DCEU franchise. So, it was up to Justice League to fully turn my doubts around about the viability of the series. Will Justice League prove to be the contender with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or will this prove to be its undoing, ending up like Universal’s Dark Universe?

Also, I realize this is going to be posted at the beginning of the new year, a couple of months since it premiered in theaters, but regardless, possible spoilers ahead. I won’t know until I’ve written this thing, and all.

Pretty much picking up in the aftermath of Batman V Superman, it seems the death of Superman has caught the attention of an ancient intergalactic warlord named Steppenwolf, who has tried to conquer the Earth before, but was stopped by the ancient heroes…heroes which included the Amazons, the Atlantians, and the Green Lantern Corps, among others. Now that the so-called “old gods” have disappeared, Steppenwolf has come back to retrieve three hidden alien devices that, when combined, will turn the planet into the hellish world he desires it to be. As such, Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince begin recruiting other superpowered heroes to help stop the invasion and beat it back from whence it came. Among the ranks are half-Atlantian, half-Human Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman, Speed Force-adept Barry Allen, aka the Flash, and Victor Stone, aka Cyborg. Cyborg is unique in that his powers stem from bonding with the very alien items that Steppenwolf is searching for. Even with that lineup, though, the team still seems to get their collective butts handed to them. They need to get another team member with a bit more power to go toe-to-toe with this New God. Someone…super. Some kind of super man, if you will.

Okay, fine: they resurrect Superman. I told you there would be spoilers.

So, Steppenwolf gets all three devices, goes to Russia and begins terraforming, and the superheroes plus a newly revived Superman (complete with shiny new duds) shows up, lay the smackdown, and everything ends on a happy note, with Bruce and Diana continuing with the notion of formation a league of some sort, for justice. Then the post-credits scene happens, and now I’m sad again. You’ll see what I mean when it happens.

I’ll be forthright: I went into watching Justice League with some very, very lowered expectations. Like, nearly non-existent. I was pretty much convinced that Wonder Woman was a fluke, and Justice League would continue in the same level of suckage the other two “team-up” movies in the DCEU were. But, I was proven slightly wrong.

First, the good: all the superheroes were done right. I’ve said that Ben Afleck was probably my favorite Bruce Wayne / Batman so far, and I’m sticking by it. Wonder Woman is still awe-inspiring as well as a furious butt-kicker (all apologies to Lynda Carter, you’ll always be my first Wonder Woman). As far as the newbies go: I had my doubts about Aquaman, and especially Jason “shirts make me itchy” Momoa’s kind of dude-bro vibe I got from the previews, but that actually works for the character. I was impressed. I am now interested in a possible Aquaman stand-alone if he continues playing the character, no mean feat. This iteration of the Flash, while effective as the comic relief of the group (because the world is not yet ready for Plastic Man, pity as that is), I wasn’t fully convinced he was Barry Allen. He seemed more Wally West than Allen. But, that’s the direction they took, and he played it well. The biggest surprise for me here was Cyborg, as I was convinced he was going to be regulated to background character that only comes up to give out technobabble and such. No, his arc was fairly substantial, given the time frame. And since I’ve already let the cat out of the bag, I have to say it: Superman is finally Superman. No longer is he brooding, he actually laughs at times. Even his costume is brighter than on Man Of Steel. Also, the running time is significantly less than the other movies, so it goes by in a relatively brisk pace. Which, really, brings up:

The bad: While I was glad for a nice, refreshingly shorter movie run time, I get the feeling that maybe that extra half-hour would have actually been beneficial to flesh out things a bit better. Like, with the main baddy of the film, Steppenwolf. He’s not only the most two-dimensional villain I’ve come across since the heyday of the 1990s superhero films, but his motion-capture CG rendering is the worst I’ve seen. It took a lot out of my enjoyment, as I kept thinking how hard it could have been to just use a live actor and use the CG sparingly to beef things up? Could have used some more baking time, guys.

Overall, while the action and fight scenes were breathtaking, and finally getting to see Supes back in form, Justice League seemed to fall just short of the epicness that a team up movie like this should have been. Regardless, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, and while not a complete turn-around, Justice League is a step in the right direction for the DCEU. Definitely try and catch this on a big screen some time.

Movie Review: BATMAN v SUPERMAN: Dawn Of Justice

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Batman_v_Superman_posterWarner Bros. Pictures
2016
PG-13

And now, you will fly to him, and you will battle him to the death. Black and blue. Fight night. The greatest gladiator match in the history of the world. God versus man. Day versus night! Son of Krypton versus Bat of Gotham!

It’s been nearly two years since Superman’s colossal battle with Zod devastated the city of Metropolis. The loss of life and collateral damage left many feeling angry and helpless, including crime-fighting billionaire Bruce Wayne. Convinced that Superman is now a threat to humanity, Batman embarks on a personal vendetta to end his reign on Earth, while the conniving Lex Luthor launches his own crusade against the Man of Steel.

I’m going to let everyone know right off the bat: there’s going to be spoilers in this here review. After a couple of days of chewing on the movie, after watching with some of the Exalted Geeks, it’s probably best that I let loose with my various brain droppings on this latest superhero flick unfettered.

I had no intention of watching Batman v Superman during its initial theatrical run. I wasn’t impressed with the previews. I had a feeling, like with Man Of Steel, that this particular attempt by DC to continue building its cinematic universe was going to be more dark, grim and humorless waste of time. Maybe I would watch it at the El Cheepo second-run theater; chances are, though, I would wait for the release on DVD, then take my time with renting the thing to see how it actually is. You know, like I did with Man Of Steel. But then, some of the aforementioned Exalted Geeks decided to catch an afternoon showing on the Saturday of its release, and offered me a chance to buy one of the reserved tickets. Eh, it was a Saturday. I figured, if I were to suffer, at least I have friends along to suffer with me.

So, now here we are. And I’ll just say this again: THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD. Yar. Ye be warned.

In Batman v Superman, it’s either 18 months or two years (depending on where you’re getting the plot descript from) since the events of Man Of Steel. Due to these events, Bruce Wayne has a super-sized hate on for the last son of Krypton. Also, the public opinion has been split over him, Supes being seen as either Alien Space Jesus a force for good, or a threat to the human race. Meanwhile, there’s a new player in town that also has a hate-on for Superman, the eccentric (read: insane) multi-billionaire Mark Zuckerberg Lex Luthor, who manipulates politicians’ suspicions of Superman’s true intentions to gain access to the Kryptonian space ship and the body of one General Zod. Why? To turn him into Doomsday, silly. Meanwhile, Superman is all angsty, Lois Lane has to be rescued a bunch of times, Bat-Affleck has some dream visions, and Wonder Woman shows up for…reasons. Lexie-poo kidnaps Superman’s mother, makes him and Batman fight, Batman has on his Hulk Superman buster armor(TM) and some kryptonite gas, and then they make up and fight Doomsday. But that’s okay, because that section of the city is deserted, we’re told ad nausium. Then Superman dies. Que the obligatory bagpipe rendition of “Amazing Grace”, and it’s finally done. Until the next movie.

This…was a long movie to sit through. I pretty much felt every minute of the 151 minute run time. That’s approximately two-and-a-half hours. Make a note of that, because I’m going to circle back around to that in a bit.

But first, I thought I’d get all the stuff I liked about this movie out of the way. And there was quite a bit that I did find enjoyable. Namely, the action-y bits. There was a car chase that was pretty breath taking, and of course the (too brief) throwdown between Batman and Superman and then the massive three-way team up to take down Doomsday was, in fact, epic.

I admit that I was proven wrong. Ben Affleck really is, not only a good Batman, but also a very good Bruce Wayne. Still gonna be refering to him as Bat-Affleck, thought. Because it’s hilarious. And really, I have no complaints with Henry Cavill as Superman/Clark Kent. Those two and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman do their best with the script they were given. Which brings me to this…

The story of the movie and general flow of the thing was, to put it mildly, off-puttingly disjointed. It was almost like the narrative itself was put secondary to a bunch of “This is COOL!” shots of the heroes and villains doing…stuff. And that doesn’t seem to help things when, despite its TWO AND A HALF HOUR running time, it still felt like an unfinished movie. Plot points unexplained, character motivations suddenly turning and changing for no reason, and “twists” that we all not only saw coming months away from opening night, but even the big one (that I spoiled for you in my synopsis up there) at the end, which was supposed to elicit an emotional Darth Vader-like NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! complete with jazz hands, fell with such a splat I had to check the bottom of my shoe to make sure I didn’t step in something. And that’s to say nothing of the over-the-top, completely WRONG characterization of Lex Luthor they went with. Gads, don’t get me started.

I could go on. But, I think the biggest tell was that, although the theater I was in was rather full, they were the most well-behaved and quiet fanboys and fangirls to attend a big, blockbuster featuring two iconic DC characters that was decades in the making. There was no cheering. There was no clapping. One of the Exalted Geeks I was with actually fell asleep at one point.

So, overall, I would have to say that Batman v Superman…well, it was a Zack Snyder movie. It was gorgeously shot, and the action scenes rivaled that of Michael Bay, but when all is said and done it’s just a mess. An entertaining mess, yes, but a mess none the less. I do not see myself watching it again, in any format. Not voluntarily, anyway.

Movie Review: SUPERMAN VS. THE ELITE

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Superman-Vs-The-EliteWarner Premiere
2012
PG-13

Superman’s effectiveness as a super hero comes into question when a new group of super powerful crusaders, known as “The Elite” appear on the scene, led by British public identity hero Manchester Black.  As super heroes, the Elite know no bounds, and are more than willing to kill, even on a massive scale, to stop villainy – putting them on a collision course with the ever-ethical and decidedly non-lethal Man of Steel.

Deconstructing super heroes is nothing new.  Some of the best stories in the past few decades have come from those taking a critical look at what makes a super hero tick, and what it means for society at large.  Heck, Allan Moore pretty much built his career on doing just that.  In movies, this is almost standard fare.  Even the animated superhero shows and direct-to-video movies have taken that route, giving us fanboys and girls some of the better stuff for the watchin’.  I would put Superman Vs. The Elite up there with the list of better stuff for the watchin’.

And while the whole Traditional Superhero Who Won’t Kill vs. Modern Antihero Who Will Kill angle has also been done before – the 1997 comic miniseries classic Kingdom Come springs to mind immediately – Superman Vs. The Elite is a very effective look at what happens when the phrase “the ends justify the means” is taken to its most extreme outcome.  When the traditional way of doing things is jeered at, and violence is not only accepted but cheered on.  And what happens when two polar opposite ideologies clash.

Based on the “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice & The American Way?” story in Action Comics #775 back in 2001, the script for Superman Vs. The Elite was also written by that comic’s writer, Joe Kelly, who was also responsible for the classic run on Deadpool, one of my all-time favorite titles.  The script is smart, engaging, and entertaining from beginning to end.  The voice acting was spot on, and the dialog was snappy.  Overall, Superman Vs. The Elite was a good watch and continues the great track record the DC Animated movies have had since 2006.  Recommended viewing.

Book Review: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE MAN OF TOMORROW?

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superman 423 Action_Comics_583

Superman #423 / Action Comics #583
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Curt Swan

Behold, the last Superman story ever told.  Well, the last Silver Age Superman story ever told, anyway…

The year was 1985, a time of great creativity and upheaval in the DC camp.  Both Alan Moore and Frank Miller revolutionized the way we viewed comics with their landmarks Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns stories, respectively.  The maxi-series Crisis On Infinite Earths massively cleaned up fifty years of comic continuity problems by completely resetting many key characters and getting rid of others into one coherent earth.  Which meant completely revising and revamping character histories to reflect this reset.

Before John Byrne was to do his work on Superman’s origin in the Man Of Steel mini, DC wanted to put a final story to the era of the Superman of Earth-1.  To that end, they gave Alan Moore free reign at sending the Man Of Steel off with a bang.

And what a bang it was.

Considered by many to be perhaps the greatest Superman story ever, “Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?” starts things off with a reporter interviewing the former Lois Lane (now Mrs. Elliot) about the last days of Superman for a Superman Memorial Edition of the Daily Planet newspaper.  She recounts how, in those last days, everything seemed to go completely wrong for Supes.  Lex Luthor gets possesed by Brainiac.  Bizarro goes completely homicidal, then commits suicide.  The Toyman and The Prankster unexpectedly out Clark Kent as Superman.  Then all hell breaks loose, as every single villain in Supes’ rogue gallery make a stab for him and his loved ones.  To that end, Superman decides that the best way to save his close friends and loved ones is to take them all to his fortress of solitude, where Luthor/Brainiac and the Kryptonite Man, along with some of the futuristic Legion of Super Villains (remember, it was the Silver Age) gather in a bid to finally take Superman down.  In the deadly wake, Superman finally realizes who’s behind all the madness.  And it’s not who you’d expect.

This story…beautiful.  I own this in a TPB, collecting both the issues.  It is, by far, one of Alan Moore’s best stories.  His ability to take the Silver Age and give it depth and realism while still retaining that Silver Age charm is at its peak here.  Curt Swan, longtime artist for DC and considered to be the best Superman artist, is equally at his peak.

If you read only one Silver Age story of Superman, make sure it’s this one.  Top notch stuff…

Book Review: FOR THE MAN WHO HAS EVERYTHING

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superman-annual11Superman Annual #11 [1985]
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Dave Gibbons

“Happy birthday, Kryptonian. I give you… oblivion.”

And another one in a row to feature Alan Moore’s writing.  Not so much of a theme, or obsession as well (even though one could argue the point), but this stands as perhaps a testament to Moore’s incredible ability to really get into the head of the comic characters he works on.  Be it his classic run on Swamp Thing, his legendary retooling of Marvel Man (Miracle Man here in the States), the Bat-Man mythos in “The Killing Joke”, or even the ones he created himself, his stories are more or less a look into what goes on inside the heads of superheroes.

In “For The Man Who Has Everything”, Moore deftly gets to the inner conflict within Kal-El, what his secret desires are, and what could have been, as Superman, on his birthday, is visited by Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman, and discover that interplanetary despot Mongul has already crashed the party and given Supes his gift- a Black Mercy, which is a parasite that grafts itself to the host and gives said host hallucinogenic experiences of their very heart’s desire.  Fighting ensues for the life of Superman, who is trapped inside his head, living out the life he always wanted.

The greatest part of this story culminates when, after the Black Mercy is taken off of him, he realizes what Mongul has done, and in his rage, Superman takes Mongul out with his heat vision, saying only one word: “Burn.”  Chilling.

While the original comic is relatively cheep, the paper stock isn’t exactly of the same quality that comics nowadays are printed on.  This story has been reprinted in a trade paperback that has all of Moore’s work he did for DC back in the day, so check that out.  You won’t be disappointed, I’m sure…