Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021): The Strength is in the Details

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is a film that I did not expect to like as much as I did. I enjoyed “Man of Steel” and hated “Batman v. Superman” and on top of that the studio’s Frankensteined version that originally came out was the only film I hated enough to walk out on it was so awful. This film solved those issues in regards to the initial walkout though. Basically reshoots and studio interference are death for any vision. I will sit through a flawed awful film if in the end it is still consistent as a story in tone and narrative. This film has that and is really good. It is only in the flaws of prior films where the flaws really come to the surface and if you are willing to sit through a 4 hour film, this is well worth your time.

The film was directed by Zack Snyder and written by Chris Terrio.

The film follows Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) as he attempts to remake the world in the image of his world Apocalypse as Bruce Wayne / Batman (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince / Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) unite meta-humans in an attempt to stop him.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Thomas Holkenborg also known as Junkie XL’s rocking soundtrack works well here at elevating action scenes and expressing the stakes. This film is slow and reflective for characters (it is 4 hours long) and his soundtrack embraces this as he adds to the emotion of what the characters are going through.

The Tone – Unlike the trash original “Justice League” that took jokes and cleverness for character development this one has a somber tone and sticks to it. This film feels like the world is at stake and we see that in the characters and their relationships. This made the film work and fixed the tonal clashes of my initial experience of the Snyder/Whedon/Studio Theatrical cut.

The Action – The action is good and unlike the awful CGI scenes of the theatrical cut, this all looks good. When Steppenwolf hits people with his axe, you feel it. The Paredemons feel like a threat as well as you see them successfully defeat people throughout the film. We also have real stakes. No scenes felt staged like Batman and the thief in the original. Every action scene advances character or plot and you learn something you didn’t know before. Each fight with Steppenwolf is interesting and has loss and stakes. It isn’t just a videogame cutscene. You get to see the character relationships and what the loss of people means.

The Minor Characters – The minor characters are one of the strongest parts of this film. Whether it is Commissioner Gordon, Oliver Stone, Alfred or Queen Hippolyta…each of their scenes advance the plot. The only characters who don’t really work are those tied to Superman, which I will mention later.

Queen Hippolyta – Queen Hippolyta is awesome! In this we see just how much she is willing to risk to stop Steppenwolf as well as how connected she is to her people. She holds her own against the Old God on multiple occasions and seeing her in the original battle in the flashback gave power to how much Steppenwolf has to fear in her. Connie Nielsen gives her so much empathy as we see her fight to save as many of her people as she can and send the warning signal to her daughter Diana.

Commissioner Gordon – I hope we get to see more J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon as the scenes he has here he obviosuly shines in. He is one of my favorite actors and he is one of the few people besides Diana Prince and Alfred who can call Bruce Wayne out. I’d say just to see him and some of the other minor character again I’d want to see DC let Snyder finish this Trilogy of “Justice League” films.

Alfred Pennyworth – Jeremy Irons was one of the few things I liked in “Batman v. Superman” and he continues to shine here as we see him be standoffish with the rest of the Justice League but grow to trust them. His heart is looking after a man who has a death wish and because of that you can get how broken he is. In this his mini-arc is finding that reason to some degree as he sees he is no longer Bruce Wayne’s only confidant.

Steppenwolf and the Old Gods – We get DeSaad as the voice of Darkseid and Granny Goodness at the end besides Steppenwolf attempting to get back into Darkseid’s good graces. The motivation is very Ronan from ‘Guardians of the Galaxy” without the betrayal. For this reason I was interested. Why do they follow Darkseid? For me the mystery worked here as we saw that Steppenwolf’s entire motivation was to please. Also, the Old Gods have fascinating lore I’d recommend to any comic readers.

The Justice League – The Justice League finally works in live action with the core team! I mean I didn’t even make it to the united team the writing and filming was so bad in the original cut but here I cared about most of them. The weakest link ends up being Superman, which I will get into later.

Arthur Curry / Aquaman – Aquaman does not feel like a bro in this. You see how he goes out of his way to help isolated communities and how conflicted he is between being an Atlantean and human. Here the conflict works and it strengthens Jason Momoa’s characterization unlike the drinking douchebro cut that didn’t even show that the community he was helping was cut off from the world. The strength is in the details and this film fills those details in. I cared about Aquaman and found him more likable here than in his own film.

Barry Allen / The Flash – Ezra Miller’s Flash still has some cringe in this but he mostly works as this is a somber film so we get more than jokes. His scene with his dad in prison was powerful and I wish we had got his origin story. He goes back in time in this and I feel like him experiencing the Speedforce was needed for that step. In this film we don’t get his relationship to the Speedforce so it doesn’t work the way it did in the CW “Flash” show.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Ben Affleck is good in this. This is clearly a Batman living with major regret after “Batman v. Superman” so I get why he is risking his life and going martyr complex in the final battle. I also like that the team came to save him and Superman forgave him. All these contributed to his character growth. I also liked the romantic tension between him and Diana Prince as it showed both of them healing but their core trust issues.

Victor Stone / Cyborg – After everything Joss Whedon put Ray Fisher through I’m glad he got to be fully explored as a character here. Here he is a stronger character than Batman and the Flash as we see how his relationship to his parents defines him and his noble nature as he hacks the bank to help a single mom and risks his life to stop Steppenwolf. This is my favorite version of the character besides “Teen Titans” and here he has the depth and nuance you don’t see in the DC animated films. I hope we get to see Ray Fisher play him again. He is awesome.

Diana Prince / Wonder Woman – Gal Gadot is still the best part of the DCEU for me. I thought for her films are flawed but great and here seeing her avenge her people with the killing blow to Steppenwolf as well as her growing relationship with Bruce Wayne worked. She has been around for so long and because of it knows the Old Gods lore but isn’t defined by it. She is what Superman could be if he chose to be human, for whatever reason that isn’t what Snyder hasn’t chosen so Wonder Woman has picked that up, whether it is saving civilians and taking the time to listen to someone she saved or taking on Steppenwolf and the Old Gods…she walks both worlds in a way Superman in the DCEU has never been able to.

The End of the World Epilogue – In the epilogue we get a dream sequence from Batman where he is with Mera, Flash, Cyborg, Deathstroke and the Leto’s Joker as they all work together to stop a Superman who is serving Darkseid after Lois is killed. It is full “Injustice League” universe and I liked it as this potential future would be fun to explore in a mini-series or film. This combo of characters is intriguing and shouldn’t work so I’m curious how they’d “Mad Max” it and win against Superman who shows up at the end to fight them before Bruce Wayne wakes up from the vision.

Martian Manhunter – Martian Manhunter shows up voiced by Harry Lennix who appeared in both prior Superman related films as a military leader. He is a great actor and seeing him in that role as appreciated as Martian Manhunter is one of my favorite DC characters. I wish he’d been in the final battle though.

Heroes and their Dads – This film is all about dads and their relationships to their sons. Victor makes peace with his dad over the course of the film before he dies, Barry is motivated to save his dad in prison and in the aftercredits Joker even calls out Bruce for letting Robin die as he was his surrogate dad. Steppenwolf also treats Darkseid as a dad he wants to be back in the good graces with. Dads define this film film and it adds nuance to a lot of these characters.

The Cons:

Flash and the Speed Force Setup – So Flash just knows the Speed Force and this film never explains it. We get how Darkseid, Mother Boxes and so much other stuff works but Barry Allen’s origin is never explained or shown. This makes his reversing the heroes loss feel hollow, which is basically the Flash tripping at the end. Everything was there and this could easily have been a 3 minute scene to fix.

The Superman Motivation Hole – Superman comes back with no memories and is destroying the Justice League until Lois Lane shows up. Why he remembers her or showing he remembers her is never shown. This is a huge hole given that Cyborg had visions of Superman serving Darkseid ending the world if he is brought back. So this motivation hole is still there. The how he remembered is still a major issue the film never addresses.

Lois Lane and Martha Kent – Zack Snyder films are terrible at writing women. This is me just taking “Man of Steel,” “Batman v. Superman” and “Watchmen” into account, which is my experience with Snyder’s films. Lois and Martha are mourning figures with no agency. The world is burning around them and the only moment of character is Lois saving Bruce from Superman…that is it. It is brief and we don’t get her motivation either. Superman and everyone he is connected to is the weakest part of this film.

This was a really good but flawed film. I respect it being broken up into parts and the fact that Zack Snyder made this in honor of his daughter is powerful. This is the film that the theatrical cut should have been. There is tone, motivation and heart here that didn’t exist in the studio monstrosity of the original. Seriously, if you are a DC fan and are good with watching a 4 hour film this is well worth your time. I look forward to watching this film again if sequels aren’t made and this is the final. This film is flawed, good and a favorite DC film after today.

Final Score: 8.7 / 10 I would watch this again. It is good, flawed but works.

Here was my experience of the original “Justice League” film: https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/11/28/i-walked-out-of-justice-league/

The Little Things (2021): A Solid Neo-Noir That Almost Has a Voice

The Little Things (2021)

For a film released during January, this was a good film. It isn’t great as it fails to use any character who isn’t a main character really well but the core mystery and exploration of our leads creates a compelling Neo-Noir Crime Thriller that is well worth checking out if you have HBO Max.

The film was directed and written by John Lee Hancock.

The film follows Deputy Sheriff Joe Deacon (Denzil Washington) when he is pulled into a case that rising detective Jimmy Baxter (Rami Malek) that reminds him of an unsolved case, leading to them to try to put together the pieces to solve it.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – The world of this film takes place in California and in it we get a diverse array of the landscapes. From dingy areas with gentlemen’s clubs and quickie marts to the expanses of desert or lakes. This was smart as it made this world feel real and didn’t confine the story to the city only.

The Threat of Sparma – Jared Leto is really good at doing creepy. In this he is the primary suspect (though we never learn fully if he did it) who had a collection of articles of the killings going on. In this he gets into Baxter’s and Deacon’s head which eventually leads to Baxter accidently killing him and us never finding out if he was in fact the murder.

Deacon and Baxter – Denzel Washington is one of my favorite actors and seeing him as the detective with the chip on his shoulder facing his guilt related to the case was really well done. He adds intensity to all of his scenes but also vulnerability when he finally open up to Baxter. His hardened perspective was contrasted by Rami Malek’s more idealistic Baxter and you see in their relationship how they find a reason to live again. This was my first time seeing Malek in anything and the guy is a fantastic actor. This is as much his story and Deacon’s and the film was strongest in their interactions.

An Exploration of Guilt and Obsession – Deacon is driven by obsession for when he accidently killed a suspect when he was hunting for the serial killer. This defines all his actions and why he doesn’t care and is driven only for himself. His obsession is eventually captured by Baxter and becomes personal with how Sparma tries to get into his head and play off his vulnerabilities. Sparma also captures the obsession that is a theme of the film.

The Cons:

Pacing – Near the last third of the film it becomes way too long and we spend a lot of time just driving. These scenes could have been cut for more character development of any of the leads or support characters and the film would have been better for it.

Lack of Women’s Voice – Women are the victims, co-workers, mothers and the daughters but we never get any of the perspectives. This is a huge misuse of the script given how central they are to the plot and the hunting of the serial killer. You have all these characters, use them. The woman who was explored at all was Flo and her relationship to Deacon.

This was a good film that had the potential to be great. If the pacing issues and lack of women’s voice had been corrected this could have easily been one of the better thrillers out there. Sadly, that was not the case. The film is still strong though and that is due to how the main leads are explored and their performances. Denzel Washington is one of my favorite actors and this film helps capture why and it was great to see Rami Malek’s acting for the first time.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10

Blade Runner 2049 (2017): A Sci. Fi. Exploration on the Purpose of People and the Individual

    “Blade Runner 2049” is a great sequel. I want to get that out of the way right now. This is the way to properly do a sequel as the world still feels like the same world, the new characters are interesting and the themes in the first film are explored…though a bit more blatantly than the first film. You also do not need to have seen “Blade Runner” to appreciate this film. The main character and his arc stands strong on it’s own and there are entirely new factions than existed in the first film. Before I get into spoilers, you should go see this film. Seriously, the main flaws that bring it down are how some of the female characters are handled and the fact that it is much longer so there are points that it does drag. Besides those factors, it is a favorite sci. fi. film of mine now, just like the first film.

“Blade Runner 2049” was directed by Denis Villeneuve, written by Hampton Fancher (who co-wrote the original) and Michael Green and was produced by Andrew A. Kosove, Broderick Johnson, Bud and Cynthia Yorkin.

The story takes place 30 years after the original “Blade Runner.” Worldwide famine hit and it was thanks to genetic engineering by Wallace Corp. who rescued humankind and bought out Tyrell Corp. They than created new replicants that were docile and would not rebel, though Police still hunted down past models and “retire” them. These police are still known as Blade Runners. K is a new replicant hunting down past models and must unfold the mystery surrounding the past models agenda.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Universe – The universe is expanded upon in this film. We see the irradiated city beyond Los Angeles, we go to Las Vegas and see what future Vegas was like as a dead city and of course the nitty gritty of the poorer areas of the city that K travels to and lives. We also see how technology has advanced as Wallace Corp. has invented holograms with complicated A.I. and of course the difference between past and current replicants.

The Factions Vying for Power – There are quite a few factions vying for power with the largest being the Replicant Rebellion, the Police and Wallace Corporation who sees themselves above the law. What comes of the struggle is still open as the CEO of Wallace Corp (played creepily by Jared Leto, who gives the guy a major God Complex) but the mcguffin is never discovered and the pin drop hasn’t happened. War has not come yet, there has only been movement.

The Replicant Military Squad – I wanted to watch a movie about these guys. There is Batista who was their combat medic and helps Rachel have her child, there is the replicant rebel leader Freysha who is waiting for the right time to reveal the child so the replicants can become free and a few others we do not meet. They were so cool and they are the ones who help K find meaning beyond himself when he realizes his memories belong to the child and not himself.

Personhood, Identity and Joi – In the past film personhood and identity are explored through replicants, in this their humanity is known and the question is brought up with Joi an A.I. designed to keep whomever bought them happy. We see her have agency through the film but all the things are to make K happy so the question is whether she does it out of programming or out of genuine desire and love. The film leaves it ambiguous, which makes it one of the more stronger arcs of the story.

Lt. Joshi and Moral Complexity – Robin Wright owns it as Lt. Joshi. She’s presented as prejudiced initially and barely treats K as a human being and talks about her fear of the replicants rebelling but we see her defend K against the Wallace Terminator and we see that even though she isn’t good, she valued K as more than just an asset of the police force.

K’s Arc – K’s arc is finding meaning beyond himself. He first finds meaning in his relationship with Joi, until he fully realizes she like him was designed for others…he finds it in memory, believing he is the child, until he learns from the rebel faction that those memories were implanted and after he is alone he saves Deckard so Deckard can meet his daughter and the rebellion remain protected. He finds meaning and dies, no longer being a tool of the police force or his own desires.

Okay: Deckard – Deckard is the weakest part of this film. Harrison Ford does a good job but he wasn’t needed. The point was the child and the replicant rebellion, and he is a part of that but not the whole part. There is one part I actually wanted him to die since after you find out that K isn’t his son, his arc felt played out. If they make a third movie I hope we don’t see him again. He wasn’t bad but I’d have rather more time was spent exploring the rebel leader or Lt. Joshi.

The Cons: The Women Who Serve – First, there are a lot of women in this film and some of them like the rebel leader and Lt. Joshi are in powerful roles. The other part is women are mostly sex objects in this . I get that this is part of the world but the first film had more self awareness along those lines and it is never really addressed. The role of Jois in this reality is only seen through one who fell in love with one and because it goes unaddressed it became problematic. Doesn’t keep it from being a favorite film or a great film but it was a missed opportunity given personhood is such a major theme of the story.

If you enjoyed the first film you will love this one…if you enjoy meditative sci. fi. like the first film, you will enjoy this film. This is smart science fiction that treats the audience seriously and expects you to pay attention. There is so much going on and the mystery, though a tad predictable is a lot of fun because it is driven by K’s story. This is a focused narrative, which the first film really didn’t have. I still prefer the ambiguous nature of the first film, and I think the replicants are more intriguing. I’d take the 4 who Deckard is hunting down over any of the replicants in this film…but this film is still a beautiful work of art that is well worth your time. In the end, it is worth watching to return back to the Blade Runner universe and see just how many more layers are given to this wonderfully complex world that is so much like our own.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

Suicide Squad (2016): The DC Cinematic Universe Finally Discovers Fun

Suicide Squad poster

     Why couldn’t DC have given us a film like this sooner? This is a film that still is dark but shows that you can have fun and be dark, this is a film with a soul. It isn’t a great film by any stretch of the imagination but this is the fun that DC has needed for a very long time in their movies. This is the core reason, besides some great performances and characters that really make this a film worthy of checking out.

SPOILERS ahead

       “Suicide Squad” was directed and written by David Ayer and produced by Charles Roven and Richard Suckle.

      The film involves Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) putting together a group of meta-humans to work under the radar for the U.S. Government. Things go wrong though when one of the group, Enchantress (Carla Delevinge) rebels as well as the threat of the Joker (Jared Leto) who is seeking to save Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) from Waller and her organization.

The Pros: The Aesthetic – The aesthetic of this film is wonderful! This is a film of color contrasts where you have bright pinks, whites, red and purples with dark grey hues. Doing this ended up illustrating the personalities of our protagonists against the world they were a part of and reacted to.

The Tone – The tone is dark but there is humor that runs throughout it. This is a film that knows our heroes are crazy and broken so embraces it and lets them be themselves. This tone is a huge part of what makes this film work.

The Soundtrack – Steven Price did a great job choosing the songs for this album. We here Eminem, Queen and countless other songs that help capture the roaring crazy of our heroes and their world and situation.

The World – The world is a dark nihilistic world in which there are no heroes and a moral grey exists in all choices where there are less bad options but no good ones (Superman being celebrated for example I’d consider moral grey, he was never a hero to me in these last two films). Because of this it allows moral complexity to our protagonists and everyone’s shadow or light is revealed over the course of the film. There is good and bad that exist in all the characters in this film and no real villain besides Enchantress.

Amanda Waller – Viola Davis is amazing as Waller. She puts the Squad in line on multiple occasions and we never see her really break. She also manages to blackmail Batman into covering up her Squad’s operation and she doesn’t bat an eye when he threatens her. She knows she is the one who breaks people for the greater ends and we see that so many times in this film.

Bruce Wayne/Batman – Batman is the reason Deadshot and Harley are in prison as Batman saved Harley from drowning when her and the Joker were on a rampage and Waller gave Batman a tip to take out Deadshot when he was around. The after credits scene was him and Waller making a deal with him getting more info on the Justice League in return for him covering up the events of the film. Ben Affleck really is great in this role.

The Joker – Leto’s Joker isn’t scary, he’s a lot of fun though. The man is a high energy gangster who is all about Harley and ruling over the gangs of Gotham. In this film his soul goal is the rescuing of Harley and it ends with him succeeding. Can’t wait to see him in action again against this world’s “Heroes.”

The Squad – The chemistry between the Squad is what really drives the film. If they had no chemistry this film wouldn’t have worked and would have been a throwaway rental rather than the good film that it is.

Captain Boomerang – Jai Courtney can act! After some of his past performances I didn’t think he could since he comes off as so bland. As Boomerang he is wonderful though as he fights and trolls everyone around him but shows that he can step up for others as we witness in the final fight.

Kantana – Kantana has the Sword of Souls that holds her husband’s as she took it from the man who killed him with it and has been avenging him since. She is awesome and I wanted to see more of her character. She is the serious character contrasted by the more laid back nature that everyone else has.

El Diablo – A gangster who accidentally killed his family with his fire power and is redeemed when he uses his power to stop the villains and save the team. I liked him and felt he should have had more interactions with the team before the end.

Killer Croc – Croc is amazing and my favorite character in this film besides Waller, Joker and Harley. He is fun, comfortable in who he is and shows he has humanity and that rejection by people won’t stop him from helping them.

Deadshot – Will Smith was alright…Deadshot having a daughter humanized him and his humor worked. At times it was hard to see Deadshot since it felt like the celebrity of Will Smith melted through but other times it was clearly Smith’s version of Deadshot so I have to respect him for that. He had great chemistry with those around him and Smith’s Deadshot never stopped being an anti-hero.

Harley Quinn – Margot Robbie owned this role! Also I have to say, I’ve wanted to see live action Harley on film for a long time. Margot owns this role and I hope she gets her spinoff film. In this we see her agency in regards to the Joker with the implication that the two of them have always been broken and that’s why there is something strange between them. Can’t wait to see where her story goes after Joker broke her out at the end! The Squad was like family to her, now we’ll see if that was all words and wanting someone since she thought Mr. J was dead or if she actually meant it.

Okay: Col. Flagg – Bland protagonist overall but I like that he kept threatening the crazies. He was a person who wanted control and could never be Waller so in the end lost control and was part of the Squad.

Enchantress – A Gozeresque villain who does a lot of damage and could have been a lot more. Her “Ring” Witch form is great and I liked her in the final fight, but her motivation was weak. Everyone wants to rule the world…give us more…

The Cons: The Government – Faceless agents except for Waller. This was a missed opportunity since we could have seen more people than Waller who have valid reasons to question and be against the Justice League.

Slipknot – Shows up and has his head blown off. No character at all.

Slow Motion Action – I hate slowing down fights, this slowdown almost ruined the final fight which had been fine prior. There is no reason to do this and it is stupid almost every single time it is used.

Too Much Tell Not Enough Show – We get a lot of backstories told to us that should have been shown in character interaction not Waller or someone else telling us the backstory. The Squad’s chemistry could have easily revealed those stories naturally.

    At the end of the day this was a good film that I would recommend. DC finally discovered these things called jokes and fun and actually managed to use them! See Snyder, these aren’t alien concepts! I didn’t like Ayer’s bullet time stuff but he did a good job of choosing this cast and letting their natural chemistry flow through the sometimes stilted dialogue. This is a flawed film but it is a film I’d watch again if only for the soundtrack and all the scenes with Joker, Harley, Killer Croc and Amanda Waller. DC, pay attention to this film, don’t lose the ability to laugh at yourself and have fun. The Suicide Squad new this and in the end it was part of the reason I cared about what happened to them. Ayer has finally brought humor and heart to a franchise that has desperately needed it.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10