By: Kevin Jordan
Baby steps (or, I see you, Joss Whedon)
You know how when President Trump gives a speech that doesn’t contain racism, attacks, lies, or ads for his properties, certain people gush over how good or presidential he suddenly is? What’s that – too political? Okay; a different analogy. You know how when your dog doesn’t shit in your living room you gush over what a good boy he is? Oh yesh, jusht such good boy! Here’s a treat! That is where our expectations sit with DCEU movies. Thus, we have Justice League – a movie that can hold its bowels, but still chews up your couch.
Before getting into the movie, we need to talk about the movie production. Zack Snyder was roughly 80% through production when tragedy struck his personal life and he left the project. Joss Whedon was brought on to complete the project, including completion of shooting and extensive reshoots. Bringing in Whedon was a strange choice, not just because of his extensive involvement with the Marvel movies, but because he and Snyder are exactly opposite when it comes to directing and writing (Whedon also was one of the credited screenwriters on Justice League). Whedon makes movies that are usually light-hearted, quippy romps, heavy on character development and relationships. Snyder makes movies like a horny, 12-year old boy with the attention span of gnat who has perfected the perfect slo-mo shot of a just-fired shell casing falling in a drab, sepia-toned world. You will have no trouble distinguishing which parts of the movie belong to each of them. In a normal world, this contrast would doom a movie, but Whedon manages to keep the movie from ruining your carpet.
(Side note: There are also two scenes featuring Henry Cavill where his face has been poorly digitally edited to hide a moustache he wasn’t allowed to shave due to filming Mission: Impossible 6.)
What up, Joss?
(Some SPOILERS because, of course there are. It’s a review).
The problem with the DCEU is a complete lack of long-term vision beyond dollar signs. Snyder has helmed the franchise since the start and his sacrifice of narrative and storytelling for visuals and playing to the die-hard fan boy has resulted in an incoherent mess of nonsense. Wonder Woman is somewhat of an exception (a female director, Patty Jenkins, helped immensely), though still bogged down in parts by Snyder’s bullshit (again, it is obvious which parts). Justice League picks up with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) stopping a terrorist from blowing up four blocks of London, then stopping him from gunning down a bunch of bank patrons. This scene serves no purpose other than to remind you that Wonder Woman is hilariously overpowered. To be fair, it’s a decent action scene, but the bad guy’s stated motivation is to force the world to revert to a simpler time before technology. Huh? By blowing up a few buildings, Earth will be back in the Stone Age? That makes as much sense as Batman (Ben Affleck) wanting to kill Superman because “what if Superman decides to kill everyone?”
The plot of the movie is nearly as pointless as that opening scene, which is essentially forming a super team to thwart an impending alien invasion of flying insect monsters. Batman spends the first part of the movie recruiting the heroes promised in Batman v Superman to thwart the bugs. Then, a tall, devil-y looking, poorly rendered CGI guy named Steppenwolf (worst villain name ever, voiced by Ciaran Hinds) shows up via Thor’s warp tunnels to steal a mother box (worst MacGuffin name ever) from the Amazons. We learn there are three mother boxes and if Steppenwolf puts them back together, he’ll be able to destroy all civilization on Earth…or something? He refers to mother and the insect guys follow him and when they smell fear they attack and wow is this story really stupid. We even get one of Snyder’s standard flashbacks of whatever convoluted absurdity he fever-dreamed to give Steppenwolf a back story that explains nothing. As an added bonus, he says he’s finally able to return to Earth because the death of Superman left no Kryptonians on Earth. Okay, shut up. Superman (Cavill) was literally the last Kryptonian and only on Earth for 33 years. Steppenwolf was banished 5,000 years earlier, so why couldn’t he come back for the other 4,967 years? You know what – I don’t give a shit. And that is the crux of the DCEU problems.
LOOK! It’s a bird!…It’s a plane!…It’s a middle-aged balding man wearing a browncoat! While I continue workshopping that sentence, two things. One – Superman is resurrected in this movie and if you didn’t see that coming, I envy your innocence. Two – Whedon injecting some sorely needed levity into the film. The Flash is the most obvious example and has almost all of the quipping lines. But the part that makes you have hope for the future of the franchise in a non-Synder’s hands is when the Flash joins the fray in a pointless Superman-fights-the-team-scene. The scene is in slow motion to highlight the Flash’s speed and as he nears Superman, Superman turns his eyes, then his head, to look at the Flash. The surprised look on the Flash’s face is brilliant and funny and projects everything this franchise could be in a non-pre-pubescent hands.
So, this new script says…
Virtually everyone coming out of the movie said it was okay or just fine or “thank God it wasn’t as bad as Batman v Superman.” Despite Wonder Woman carrying much of the movie and Whedon injecting competence where he could, the movie was a far cry from being the pinnacle of the franchise like The Avengers was to MCU. The new characters are minimally developed, even to the point of all of them having the clichéd dead moms (seriously, all but Wonder Woman’s mom is alive, not counting Martha Kent). Don’t get me wrong, there was just enough for me to want to watch a Flash movie, Aquaman movie, and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) movie. But Amy Adams and J.K Simmons were completely wasted and I am way off the Affleck-as-Batman train. To top that all off, we get a teaser at the end of the film that is so poorly conceived that it felt like the movie was trolling us (and you have no idea how badly I want to spoil it for you). One of these days, we’re going to get the DC movie we deserve, but a smidge of progress is better than nothing. At least we didn’t have to break out the carpet cleaner this time.
Rating: Ask for half of your money back. It’s fun at times and not fun at other times, but baby steps, people.
By: Kevin Jordan
Just wait for it.
I wanted to shoehorn in some jokes about the now-completed Presidential election, but I decided that wound isn’t worth poking right now. You’ll just have to believe me when I say I was planning on a good segue into a dumb political point in Arrival, but I didn’t want the worst of the Internet hijacking a movie conversation so they can continue to bitch about emails and Russians. Just remember that no matter which way the election went, half the population was going to say we’re fucked and the other half was going to say neener-neener. Yes, that is most of America right now. That is also how I know aliens have never been here. They monitored our airwaves and decided it was best to steer clear, much like you do when you see a couple fighting with each other in the frozen aisle of the grocery store. HERB – CLEANUP ON AISLE 7.
Arrival is a movie that will probably get missed, opening between Doctor Strange and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. That is a shame because it’s better than Doctor Strange and most likely better than Fantastic Beasts. It’s also very different from those movie. Actually, it’s even different than your typical alien invasion movie. In Arrival, there’s only one explosion, no laser guns, no space scenes, and the aliens do not resemble humans, not even a tiny bit. It’s a quiet movie in which twelve alien ships show up in Earth’s skies and park themselves in random places. And I know it’s random because the movie verbalizes this more than once. They even show us a globe with bright red dots. In fact, the bulk of the movie takes place in a field in Montana.
Excited now? No? What if I told you the main plot of the movie is that the government hires a linguist, Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), to learn the aliens’ language? Ehhhh? Wait…where are you going?
Where is my assistant?
Well, now that the short-attention span people have left, you’ll be happy to know that this movie is a throwback to classical science fiction. It’s much more interested in exploring a concept like two species that don’t even think the same way laboriously learning how to communicate with each other than space battles or podracing. Kind of like Kevin Costner and the Sioux in Dances with Wolves, but without the dead bison. A large amount of time is spend with Dr. Banks as she is deciphering the aliens’ language, which is a series of circles with splotches around the edges (just picture a water ring left by your coffee mug) repeating the words she has shown them on a white board. Wait….where are you going?
In place of chase scenes and shootouts, the movie builds a palpable tension. The entire mission is to find out why the aliens have come to Earth, meaning Dr. Banks’ goal is to get them to understand the question “What is your purpose on Earth?” Think about it for a moment – what was the last alien invasion movie that spent more than eight seconds on that question?
This is where gravity gets weird.
Now you should be wondering what’s at stake in this movie that makes it so tense. Well, other countries are also trying to communicate with the aliens (and everybody is sharing, at least for a while), but they, like those readers who left this review, got impatient. And some of those countries have itchy trigger fingers. It’s paramount that Dr. Banks get an answer to the question before some idiot starts a war with intergalactic travelers. And this would be where the stupid political content comes in.
(SPOILER ALERT BEGINS)
Four soldiers decide to let their hatred and fear of foreigners get the best of them, so they decide to plant a bomb in the spaceship. This scene sucks for so many reasons, not the least of which is a commentary on a certain group of Americans who hate immigrants for wanting a better life and a shot at the mythical American dream. Yes, that first group sucks, but making them four soldiers who start shooting at their fellow soldiers to ensure the bomb is not disabled? Really? The film includes news clips of people rioting and states of emergency, providing plenty of evidence of fear and anger without stooping to making four soldiers stupid enough to believe attacking super advanced aliens is a good idea. Compounding this awful scene is the cliché of our heroes being saved as the bomb timer shows 0:01. I get that this scene was there to catalyze the conflict, but there are so many better ways they could have done this. Not to mention the aliens conveniently develop telepathy only when the bomb timer is down to a few seconds. Did you learn nothing from Galaxy Quest?
(SPOILER ALERT ENDS)
Aside from that scene, my only other complaint is that Jeremy Renner’s character, theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly, is there for no reason. You’d think he’d be there to study the alien technology, but he just giggles at their ability to manipulate gravity and his job appears to be secretary/assistant to Dr. Banks. All we ever see him doing is setting up equipment, holding Dr. Banks’ whiteboard, and occasionally staring at a computer monitor. Did the military really need a physicist for this job? On the flip side, the film pulls a gender role reversal that makes you wonder if the filmmakers deliberately made Donnelly a superficial character who only matters to one small subplot, but is otherwise pointless. In other words, he’s the minimized “other gender” who is only there for emotional support. Well played, filmmakers.
This is pretty much his whole job.
I don’t want you to think those two things ruin the movie because they really don’t. They’re just minor flaws. Nearly everything else in this movie is fantastic, from the music to the stunning visuals to the introduction of the aliens to the way the aliens’ arrival is depicted (we watch people’s reactions to the news rather than watch the news itself) to the terrific performances (rounded out by Forest Whitaker, Tzi Ma, and Michael Stuhlbarg) to the excellent screenplay and story (Eric Heisserer and Ted Chiang, respectively). Mostly, I’m glad that the filmmakers, including director Denis Villeneuve, are patient people who made a patient movie that painstakingly builds the suspense while keeping the audience in the dark on the aliens’ purpose until the end of the film. If you stayed with me for this entire review, then you’ll like Arrival as much as I did.
Rating: Don’t ask for any money back and hope we stop fighting so the aliens don’t avoid us forever.
By: Kevin Jordan
What a hot mess.
After returning home from the screening of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I didn’t know how I was going to finish a full review of this film before its Friday release. The screening was Tuesday night and there were so many things that my friend and I discussed on the drive home from the movie that I was prepared to pull a Benjamin Button review out (my old review) just to get something out on time. In fact, here’s what I was prepared to post:
“BvS is such an incoherent mess that my brain tried to cook itself during the screening. While I try to put my thoughts together for a full review, just know this – the only people who are going to like BvS are the same lunatics that defend the nonsensical Man of Steel as well as those who defend Zack Snyder as being a competent director. Also, did you know fried brains smells like burnt popcorn?”
Little did I know that Mother Nature wanted to read my full review as well, so she delivered a serious blizzard to my home town this morning. (Snow day!) Buckle up – this is going to take awhile.
On the drive home, my friend summed this movie up, saying: “If you had told me before BvS that it would be less coherent than Sucker Punch, I never would have believed you.” Upon leaving the theater, my initial comment was “at least Captain America: Civil War will be out soon to wash the taste of BvS from my brain.” For all you DC Comics nerds out there, that does not mean I’m a Marvel apologist. I loved the first two Christopher Nolan Batman flicks (the third left a lot to be desired) and I think Suicide Squad looks like it’s going to be very good. BvS is just a clusterfuck of bad writing, visuals that never stray out of the dark end of the visible light spectrum, and Snyder’s usual insistence of including as many slow-motion shots (of people or shell casings) at the expense of telling a good story. But let’s start at the beginning.
(Unlike nearly every other review out there, I’m going to SPOILER the crap out of this movie, even the end because the end is bullshit. As I’ve said many times for other movies, there is no way I can properly explain why this movie was so bad without giving specifics. Besides, you’re probably going to see this movie regardless of what I think of it. So, go see the movie, then come back and read this and be ready to agree with me. I’ll wait.)
One big question I had was if they were going to keep any of the Batman story from Nolan’s trilogy. Right off the bat, we get the scene that nobody needed to see again – little Bruce Wayne watching his parents die, then falling down the well. So, I guess we’re rebooting Batman again. As executive producer, Nolan must have been thrilled because now his very good mythology won’t be tainted by Snyder’s stink.
Anyway, turns out this opening scene is the first of many dreams/visions throughout the film. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) wakes from it on his way to Metropolis to try save the people in his building from dying during Superman (Henry Cavill) and Zod’s (Michael Shannon) battle royale at the end of Man of Steel. Even though the people are literally staring at the world engine and destruction, it takes a call from Wayne to get them to evacuate the building. I bring this up because it’s the first in a string of stupid that adds nothing to the film, but gives a convenient excuse for us to relive part of the battle and paint this version of Wayne as possibly the dumbest one in Batman history. I mean, what the hell did he think he was going to by driving into Metropolis without even so much as bringing along his Batman suit?
Cut to eighteen months later in the Nairobi desert where Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is getting ready to interview a warlord. The warlord’s security discovers a tracker on her photographer, kills him, then kills everyone in the camp, save for Lois and the warlord. Just after they leave, Superman shows up to save Lois and we get one of the very few decent scenes in the entire movie – Lois signals to Superman and Superman zips through the air, grabbing the warlord, and killing him while flying through several walls. Also, even though Superman presumably saw the entire firefight, he doesn’t go after the guys who just murdered everyone in the camp, which is important because if he had, Luthor’s plan would have died right there. So we now have a stupid Batman and a stupid Superman. Grea-a-a-a-t. This scene is also the first stage of Lex Luthor’s (Jesse Eisenberg) evil plan which is – wait for it – to kill Superman.
Why kill Superman, you ask? Just because. Seriously, the movie never gives us a motivation for Luthor’s plan, which is easily the biggest flaw in the movie. Our writers (David S. Goyer and Chris Terrio) apparently think motivations are lame because, not only is Luthor without one (the only thing we’re left with is he’s just crazy), but Batman hates Superman even more than Luthor does for the weakest of reasons ever. When Alfred confronts Wayne about it, Wayne says “he has the power to kill everyone on the planet. If there’s just a 1% chance that he might, we have to do something.” That’s flawless logic, but then doesn’t that mean that Batman should also want to kill the leaders of every nuclear-armed country on the planet? And are we only talking about people who can kill everyone? What about people who can kill thousands or hundreds or even just a handful? Do you see why this reasoning is bat-shit (sorry, couldn’t resist)? Oh, and in case you missed it, Batman’s a murderer now too (like Superman became in Man of Steel) because Snyder and company are that clueless.
So, that’s the plot of the movie, I think, and it couldn’t have been handled more terribly. For starters, the first thing we see after the “18 months later” screen, is a diver pulling up a chunk of kryptonite from the world engine that crashed near India. If you were like everyone else and wondering how Batman – a man with gadgets – could possibly have a fight lasting longer than half a second with an indestructible humanoid with super strength, super speed, super breath, and eye lasers, kryptonite still wouldn’t help since Superman could just burn a whole through Batman’s face from half a mile away. Or throw a gas truck at him. Or…you get the point. And, why are they fighting again? Superman doesn’t like vigilantism involving branding criminals with a bat symbol (which leads to their deaths in prison) and Batman has that whole 1% problem he can’t get over. Batman blames Superman for thousands of deaths, but doesn’t seem to give a shit that Superman hasn’t killed anyone else since the city battle, saved the entire world from being krypton-ized during that battle (and saving the rest of the world in the process), and saving a bunch of people after the battle from various predicaments. Is it just me or is Batman kind of a raging dick in this movie? But the kryptonite has to exist so Batman can make it into a Jesus spear with which to kill Superman (not making that up).
And you should be asking yourself at all times, why does Batman never even attempt to have a nice, calm chat with Superman or vice versa? They’re basically on the same side right – stopping criminals? There’s even a senator (Holly Hunter) who literally says “That’s how democracies work – we talk to each other.” Of course, she gets blown up almost immediately after saying it, proving that the Republicans have been right all along – terrorists are everywhere and fuck the Iran nuclear deal.
Which brings us back to Luthor’s, er…plan. He doesn’t want to just kill Superman; he wants people to hate him first, especially Batman. Blowing up the senator had the same goal as the Nairobi incident – to frame Superman for a bunch of deaths and of course it works. Because Superman always kills people with guns. And Superman can definitely cause a building to explode just by standing in it. Oh wait, nobody believes that. They even immediately identify the source of the bomb as the guy who had it in for Superman. But does anyone bother to point out that Luthor paid the guys’ bail and had a reserved chair in the senate hearing precisely because he was the bomber’s benefactor? Of course not – we’ve got more shit to blow up in slow motion.
This nonsense goes on for the entire movie. People doing things that make no sense, knowing things they couldn’t possibly know, believing things that couldn’t possibly be true. Examples:
- So, in eighteen months, metropolis has been completely rebuilt and they even had money left over for a really nice, giant Superman statue?
- How does Luthor know that Bruce Wayne is Batman and that Clark Kent is Superman and that Lois knows that Clark is Superman? This is never even hinted at.
- Why are we still doing the glasses gag? It was bad enough before, but we have facial recognition software now and Superman doesn’t exactly hide his face.
- If Batman and Luthor both want Superman dead, why not just have them work together?
- If Luthor wanted Batman to have the kryptonite, why didn’t he just give it to him instead of going through the elaborate car chase charade? (And we know he did because when he finds out Batman has stolen it, he smirks.)
- Why does Batman leave a batarang in the case containing the kryptonite? Considering it was stuck into the middle of the case, he had to have thrown it there after removing the rock.
- Since when is Gotham City just across the harbor from Metropolis?
- Why would Clark Kent be invited to a glamorous gala at Lex Luthor’s house if he is the sports beat writer?
- How the hell does Clark not know who Bruce Wayne is? You work for a newspaper and you’re Superman. WTF?!
- Why wouldn’t the Daily Planet cover the obviously sensational story about a vigilante Batman branding people? Especially since Gotham City is right there? (The editor, played by Laurence Fishburne, is fuming that he’s not covering a random football game.)
- Why wouldn’t Bruce Wayne’s secretary alert him to the returned checks (to the bomber) with the crazy red writing all over them? And why would the writing make Wayne hate Superman more? It’s not like Superman was intercepting them.
- Why did Luthor just feed that guy a Jolly Rancher? (Not making this up.)
- Why would Luthor be allowed unescorted access to an alien ship in the middle of the city?
- Would a super-advanced alien ship really be tricked into accepting a new commander by fake fingerprints? Really, not even a security question like “what was the name of your first pet?” And if it knew he wasn’t Zod (it literally says, new commander accepted), why did he need the fingerprints at all?
- If the Council of Krypton decreed that no abominations would be permitted to be made, why would they build the function into the ship? And why would the computer change its mind on the subject just because Luthor reminded it that the council was dead?
- Seriously, human blood is the key to reincarnating Zod and it has to go in his mouth? And why does Zod reincarnate into an orc? And why is Luthor always putting stuff in other dudes’ mouths (living and dead)?
- Why is Luthor a psychotic man-child who uses strong-arm mob tactics to get what he wants rather than the super-intellect that used to define his character?
- How does Batman magically know where Luthor’s men are holding Superman’s mom (Diane Lane)? And, if Superman can hear Lois screaming from underwater through concrete, why can’t he hear where his mom is?
- Who the hell is that super-hot woman dressed like Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot)? Oh, that is Wonder Woman? Good thing you told me, because this movie sure didn’t (Yes, I recognize the armor; that’s not the point).
- Why does Luthor have a bunch of files on meta-humans, complete with unique logos for each? And, what’s a meta-human?
- Also, meta-humans? Really?
- Why is Wonder Woman on that airplane while an apocalyptic battle with a Kryptonian super-orc is going on? And, how did she get her shield and sword past airport security? For that matter, how did she even fit them in her carry-on bags?
- Do you seriously expect me to believe Batman refrains from killing Superman because their moms are both named Martha?
- Do you seriously expect me to believe that Superman can survive being nuked, but can’t survive being stabbed?
- Are there any rules to these superpowers at all? Even a little bit?
- Did you guys even try to write something that made even a modicum of sense?
Whew. That was a lot and I’m sure I missed some. And if you think I’m nitpicking for the sake of nitpicking, just know that my friend and I said all of that and more in the half-hour drive from the theater to our houses. That’s how terribly written the movie was.
Now, let’s answer some other important film-y questions in case you don’t care about little things like plot and character development (of which there really was none).
Music – mostly bombastic, but was cool when Wonder Woman joined the fight.
Dialogue – a lot of bad filling in the holes when Luthor wasn’t monologuing (and wow, he pretty much never shut up).
Performances – I won’t fault any of the actors here, except maybe Eisenberg. The only character who didn’t suck was Wonder Woman and she was ridiculously underdeveloped. The actors delivered what they were directed to deliver – an angry, confusing Superman; an even angrier Batman with zero signs of being the best detective on the planet; an obnoxiously annoying and decidedly non-genius Lex Luthor (though Eisenberg was way over the top, which was his fault), a lame CGI Zod-orc, and an Alfred that is suddenly a master technician, electrical engineer, surveillance expert, and computer wizard because Batman was reimagined as an angry rage-aholic lacking the charm, charisma, cool-headedness, intelligence, and guile we expect out of the caped crusader (and Irons was criminally underused). In all seriousness, the best performance is arguably the cameo by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Yeah – I know.
Visuals – slow-motion artillery shells dropping to the floor. Massive fight scenes in sepia tones. Gadot’s jaw-dropping dresses and beauty. Afflecks ripped abs and shredded body doing pull-ups, pounding on tires, and pulling weight sleds (is he being trained by Rocky or something?). Question – how is that going to help him fight a guy who can punch a hole through the Earth? And, that Orc. Gech-h-h-h. It’s exactly what you expect from Snyder – decent fight scenes and no slow-mo he didn’t love.
Now that my brain is free of all that shit bouncing around, I feel better, but not about the movie. As I said in the beginning, the only people who are going to look past all of the awfulness of the movie are the same people who looked past all of the awfulness of Man of Steel. And Sucker Punch. And 300. Yes, as many apologists will try to say, it is just a superhero movie that is only supposed to be entertaining, but that is bullshit. Marvel has proven this trope dead wrong multiple times. Even DC, through Christopher Nolan, has proven they can make really good movies that are more than just popcorn flicks. But, even if those people were right, BvS isn’t even a decent popcorn flick because even decent popcorn flicks have coherent plots. But rather than go on for several more pages about how BvS is a bigger, hotter mess than every Bachelor relationship, I’ll leave you with my friend’s theory on why Batman is really so angry with Superman.
If Gotham and Metropolis are so close, and Superman can hear people screaming for help, why doesn’t he help people in Gotham? Says Batman, “we know you can hear us – you’re right there. We can see you.”
Rating: You should definitely save your money for Civil War, but I almost want you to see BvS just so you can see how badly they’ve handled what should have been an awesome movie. ALMOST.