Tag Archives: PG-13

A Justice League Review – Lessons Learned

TITLE: Justice League
STARRING: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller
DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder
STUDIOS: Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Films, RatPac Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment, Cruel and Unusual Films
RATED: PG-13
RUN-TIME:
 120 min
RELEASED: November 17, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Justice League is a standard superhero popcorn flick. It’s nowhere near as dark, dreary, and generally abysmal as Batman v Superman. But it also doesn’t accomplish anything remotely special. It’s about a team of heroes coming together to fight a villain with a doomsday plan. Been there, done that. Several times, actually. So what we get comes off completely and utterly average.

After all these years, the first Justice League feature film is just average. What an awful, heartbreaking waste…

The plot is basic enough to surmise from the advertising. As the world continues to mourn the death of Superman, we’ve got a new big bad in town. Steppenwolf, a tyrant from the hellscape world of Apokalips, has returned to Earth after thousands of years with his army of Parademons in tow. He aims to conquer the world using the immense power of three “Mother Boxes.” Batman and Wonder Woman prepare to meet this invasion head on by assembling a team of super-powered heroes. The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman are all called to action. But in the end, they won’t be enough. For this new team to triumph, Superman must return…

Trust me, it’s a lot more exciting on paper than it is on screen.

Justice League is the culmination of the years-long comedy of errors that is the “DC Extended Universe.” Man of Steel was an adequate start, flawed as it was with it’s dreary look and overindulgent third act. It was followed by the downright dour Batman v Superman, which robbed its characters of almost any charm, heart, or likability. Suicide Squad wasted arguably pop culture’s most iconic supervillain in the Joker, but managed to be fun in a mindless hot mess sort of way. Wonder Woman was the exception that made the rule. It felt like a single vision, with purpose, heart, and passion put into it.

And so, on one the most rickety foundations in cinematic history, Justice League was built. Like Suicide Squad before it, this movie feels like a melting pot of visions, voices, and priorities clumped together to form a viable commercial product. Our director is once again Zack Snyder. But with their confidence shaken from the backlash to Batman v Superman, Warner Bros. brought in Avengers director Joss Whedon to reshape the script. Thus, we have a Joss Whedon superhero movie taking place in Zack Snyder’s grim DC Universe, under the management of a studio desperate to compete with Marvel at the box office. Hot damn! Sign me up!

One of the major missteps in Justice League is it’s choice of villain. DC Comics lore is full of baddies worthy of challenging Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Darkseid is the obvious choice. But you’ve also got big cosmic villains like Brainiac, Mongul, and Despero. Professor Ivo and the Amazo android could have made for an interesting story. Hell, team Lex Luthor up with the Joker! It sure as hell beats Steppenwolf…

Yes, Steppenwolf. A second-rate, paper-thin, poorly rendered Darkseid stand-in with an army of space bugs, a silly name, and a generic doomsday plot. This is who they came up with to face the Justice League in their debut feature film. Strictly from a cynical marketing standpoint, how the hell to you pass up slapping Darkseid, Brainiac, or Lex Luthor on t-shirts and posters, and instead opt for someone called Steppenwolf?

Justice League cost a whopping $300 million to make. That’s astounding, considering our CGI-rendered Steppenwolf looks like he was done in the late ’90s. It’s not just him, either. It’s been well documented that reshoots were done with a mustached Henry Cavill. The movie’s opening sequence wasn’t even over before Mrs. Primary Ignition turned to me and asked, “What’s up with Superman’s mouth?” Certain shots in Batman’s introduction are also extremely fake looking. Makes you wonder what the hell happened to good old fashioned stunt doubles and prosthetic make up…

Superman has a certain aura of reverence in this movie. Had that been earned or established in Man of Steel or Batman v Superman, that would have been fantastic. I’ve always been a proponent of Superman being the center, or at least part of the center, of the DC Universe. He’s certainly its moral backbone. But all this mourning we see over Superman doesn’t match the controversial figure we saw in Batman v Superman. Yes, some people loved him. But he was also the subject of protests and a congressional hearing. Lois Lane, Batman, Wonder Woman, and those who knew Superman have a reason to miss him. But based on what we saw before, there’d be a large contingent of people who’d be glad Superman died.

So now that I’ve sufficiently ripped Justice League apart, what’s there to like? What did they get right? Believe it or not, all was not lost from the get go…

Unlike in Batman v. Superman, almost all of our heroes are likable. Superman knows how to smile. Wonder Woman is compassionate, but still fierce. I’ve never needed a lot of selling on Ben Affleck’s Batman. Joss Whedon’s influence in the movie is obvious when the Dark Knight gets in a quip or two. Ezra Miller plays a socially inept Flash, who provides much of the comic relief. His costume looks absolutely ridiculous. But there’s a certain charm to him. Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is surprisingly okay as a dude bro. For a team flick, it works fine. Granted it’s not the approach I would have gone with, and they’ll obviously need to deepen his character for the Aquaman solo movie. Assuming that’s still in the pipeline after all this.

As much as this movie fell short of what it could have been, there is a certain warm and fuzzy quality to seeing these characters on the big screen together. Most of them aren’t true to the essence of the iconic characters they’re based on. But at the very least it’s cool on a superficial level to see Batman is standing next to Wonder Woman. Superman is running next to the Flash! Aquaman is in Atlantis! It’s a highly tarnished version of what we should be getting. But at least we’re getting it in some form. That counts for something.

And so, four years into the DC Extended Universe, what have we learned? What has the road to Justice League taught us? More than anything, it’s this: Darkness doesn’t equate to quality. At least not to larger audiences.

Some people point to darker tales like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen as the pinnacle of the superhero genre. But while they pushed the boundaries of how these stories and characters could work and be seen, they weren’t simply dark for the sake of darkness. The Dark Knight Returns isn’t just about an older and grittier Batman getting to punch Superman in the face. It’s about a hero returning to face a world that’s changed in his absence. Watchmen isn’t about Rorschach beating people up. It’s a look at superheroes from a different, more grounded angle. The dark tones fit the stories and the characters, not the other way around.

We also need to remember that at the end of the day these characters are meant for children. That doesn’t mean we can’t love them as adults. We don’t need to dumb them down for kids, but we can’t keep them all for ourselves either. If DC and Warner Bros. should have learned one thing from Disney and Marvel, it wasn’t the cinematic universe element. It’s that these movies can be accessible to viewers of all ages. They can be mature without being meant for mature audiences.

The blame Justice League‘s failures, creative and otherwise, falls primarily on the studio higher-ups. But the finger also needs to be pointed at Zack Snyder. He’s got a devoted fanbase that will filet me for saying so. But if Batman v Superman didn’t convince you, the fact that the first Justice League movie didn’t outperform the third Thor movie should say it all. Snyder must be kept far away from any and all future DC films. I shudder to think what this movie would have looked like without Joss Whedon’s influence. 

Superhero movies can be thrilling, emotional, and surprisingly versatile. But at their core, they aren’t complicated. Give us a hero worth rooting for, a villain worth rooting against, and a reason for them to fight. We don’t need to see a bad guy get his neck snapped, a bomb inside a jar of piss, or a city destroyed to compensate for a lack of emotional connection with the audience. 

Lessons learned. Six years and millions of dollars too late. But lessons learned…

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

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A Rogue One Review – A Force of Nostalgia

Rogue One posterTITLE: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
STARRING: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Forest Whitaker. 
DIRECTOR: Gareth Edwards
STUDIOS: Walt Disney Pictures, Lucasfilm Ltd
RATED: PG-13
RUN-TIME:
133 min
RELEASED: 
December 16, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It was pretty obvious from the get-go that Rogue One was going to be a different kind of Star Wars movie. Less a space fantasy, more ground-level combat flick. A movie that puts the war in Star Wars. If we’re going to have one of these movies a year for the foreseeable future, the franchise needs to expand its boundaries. So different is fine. But what we get here is something that simultaneously does and does not feel like the Star Wars we know. That’s a double-edged sword. Or perhaps a double-bladed lightsaber.

Rogue One tells the story of how the Rebel Alliance steals the Death Star plans before the events of A New Hope. Our main character is Jyn Erso, whose long lost father develops the plans for the battle station. She is recruited by the Rebellion’s Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) to help locate her father, who has long been forced into service by the Empire. Along for the ride are Andor’s droid K-2S0 (voiced by Alan Tudyk), defected Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), blind warrior monk Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), and mercenary Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen). Together, this small band of rebels will win a crucial victory against the Empire. But the cost will be great.

star-wars-rogue-one-jyn-ersoThat all sound vaguely familiar? It should. Like The Force Awakens last year, Rogue One is in many ways a love letter to the original 1977 Star Wars film, and there are plenty of parallels to draw. In addition to the obvious characters and imagery, Rogue One is peppered with little details, cameos, and callbacks to firmly plant it in A New Hope territory. Certain shots from the film are even mimicked once we get inside the Death Star. The plot also has numerous parallels. Our rebels sneak into enemy territory to sabotage the Empire, they dress in Imperial uniforms, there’s a droid (K-2SO in this case) manipulating things from a control room, we get a big space battle, etc. Rogue One is definitely a retro movie just as The Force Awakens was, albeit with a darker tone.

But that darker tone doesn’t necessarily help things. For so many years, a subgroup of Star Wars geeks have lamented some of the lighter elements in the movies (the Ewoks come to mind), longing for the series to focus more on the serious, dramatic, and dare I say cool side of things. To an extent, Rogue One does just that. It feels like a Platoon or Saving Private Ryan sort of movie with Star Wars stuff pasted on to it. The movie misses that sense of awe and wonder that helped make the original trilogy (and even the prequel trilogy) distinct and special. There’s nothing wrong with expanding your boundaries. But you’ve also got to remember what universe you’re in.

Rogue One, cast photoWhat’s more, these characters aren’t exactly the most memorable the franchise has produced. We understand their motivations and what drives them. But once you get past that, they’re not particularly likable or distinct. Our ensemble consists of about six people, so there’s not a lot of room for little personal moments where we get to know them as people. Case in point: Han and Leia arguing in the early minutes of The Empire Strikes Back. Or Obi-Wan talking to Luke about his father in A New Hope. When it comes to our main character, Jyn, we know what happened to her when she was a child, and we get some vague information about what she’s done as a teenager and a young adult. But outside of her starting the story as a cynic, there’s not much to her.

Ironically, the most charming character in the movie is the K-2SO, who isn’t even human. He’s got an Alfred Pennyworth, sarcastic butler thing going for him. Forest Whitaker’s character, Saw Gerrera, is the leader of an extremist group, and Jyn’s adopted father. His body is largely mechanical, and he needs the aid of a respirator. His dynamic with Jyn might have been interesting to explore as the movie progressed, but he’s only in the first half. Chirrut Imwe is fairly interesting. But again, we know so little about him.

rogue-one-darth-vaderBecause our main characters are fairly blasé, the classic Star Wars elements wind up serving as nostalgia boosters to keep us interested. Instead of being riveted by the story that’s unfolding, we’re looking at the stuff we recognize from that amazing movie from 40 years ago. It’s a nice recipe for warm fuzzies. Especially when we see some familiar Rebel faces, both at the base and in the space battle, two of which are played by actors from the prequels. In a perfect world, those nostalgia elements should be the garnish on top of an already compelling movie. But consider this: How appealing is Rogue One if you scale back Darth Vader’s involvement, and pluck out a few of those familiar faces?

Still, it’s fun to see Vader doing Vader stuff, especially when we get to the closing moments of the film. His entrance takes place on a planet from Episode III, which was a nice surprise. But here’s an opinion that might not be popular: The returning James Earl Jones sounds too kind. It’s like Mufasa is in the Darth Vader suit. In The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Jones had a fantastic growl in his voice, as if there was a rage constantly boiling under the surface. It was fitting, considering all that talk about anger, hate, and the dark side. In both Rogue One and Star Wars Rebels, he’s lost his edge. But you can’t have someone else do Vader’s voice, can you? Jones likely has the role as long as he wants it, which is how it should be. I just wish he’d release his anger…

Rogue One, image 4This is the first Star Wars movie that doesn’t have a John Williams score, which means Michael Giacchino has one of the most unenviable jobs in cinematic history. Imagine having to not only follow John Williams, but follow up on arguably his most iconic work. To his credit though, Giacchino pulls it off. He still has the classic Williams songs to work with, of course. But what he produces still feels authentic to the Star Wars universe. That’s a hell of an achievement, all things considered.

Peter Cushing returns to the role of Governor Tarkin in this movie. That was unexpected, considering he died in 1994. But through the magic of CGI, and the voice talents of Guy Henry, he’s back. It mostly works fine. Though I’d be curious to know what those who were close to Cushing think about this little trick. Also, does this mean the door is open for Alec Guinness to “return” as Obi-Wan Kenobi in future movies?

Rogue One makes for a decent viewing experience, with a lot of the bells and whistles we’ve come to expect from Star Wars. If you needed proof that the Star Wars Anthology idea can work from a creative standpoint, you now have it. But it may be the worst Star Wars film in terms of holding up to repeated viewings. All the best stuff in this movie was in A New Hope first. So given the choice, why not just watch A New Hope?

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.