Justice League, 2017

Directed by: Zack Snyder (and Joss Whedon)

Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Henry Cavill

IMDb

Justice League wasn’t even fun. You can skip it. Suicide Squad and Batman V Superman were at least enjoyable in a ‘watching a train wreck’ kind of way, but Justice League was simply a bore. Nothing interesting is done at all, every plot development is completely expected, none of the characters go through interesting arcs and the action scenes just aren’t even that good. Strictly speaking it’s better than the aforementioned DC ensemble pieces, but not in any really meaningful way. Justice League is a nothing movie and I honestly think you should skip it.

From here on out, I’m going to spoil everything. If that’s not what you want, stop reading now. You have been warned.

Also, for obvious reasons I’m going to be alluding to The Avengers a lot.

 

The first and most glaring issue with this film is its structure. Much like Batman V. Superman, it kind of begins four times in a row, as if they brainstormed a whole bunch of ideas and decided to go with all of them instead of choosing the best one. So right off the bat, the audience is bored; none of the openings provide any real intrigue or value to the film as a whole and are actually handled pretty clumsily, which I found honestly surprising. Snyder, despite his shortcomings, is more than capable of making his shots look striking, which none of these did. Most importantly though, none of these openings actually worked to bring the team together. They just sort of happened. This kind of progression with things just ‘happening’ pervades the entire film, and by the end you feel like nothing was gained from watching.

Like Batman V Superman, there is no proper second act. There kind of is, but it essentially acts as a prelude to the climax and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Imagine if in ‘The Avengers’ immediately after capturing Loki, the team went and fought the horde of alien monsters. It felt rushed and importantly, didn’t feel earned. Not to mention, the climax wasn’t really all that fun. The editing was too fast, there was no truly interesting or iconic cinematography and it left pretty much zero impact.

The most vital thing to get right in a movie like this, though, is the characters. The filmmakers have failed these beloved icons to an epic degree. They learned 0 from Marvel’s success. By the time the Avengers was released, we had: four hero characters who had starred in their own films and two less major ones who had at least had a scene before, and the main villain had been well established. The whole experiment that was ‘The Avengers’ worked because they covered all their bases before actually going for the big one (it was also very tightly written and directed, but bear with me here). The Justice League Consists of five (six if you include spoiler-not-spoiler), of which only one had been in their own movie. Batman V Superman was close enough to being a Batman movie, so I’ll call that two. Even so, that’s more than half the main cast being introduced in this movie. The result: no one gets developed, no one is interesting and everyone feels like a watered-down version of their supposed character. The most prominent lesson that any character learns is ‘working together is good’, like that hasn’t been done to death in Hollywood genre films. In order to properly illustrate just how lame the cast is, let’s go through the list one-by-one:

Flash was uninteresting. He’s the quippiest character, and so supposedly the fan favourite, but his entire shtick is that he’s socially awkward and finds it hard to make friends. In a movie where the entire point is forcing people together, this could have been played up as an interesting challenge to overcome for the character, but they don’t do anything with it. Probably would have been helped if he had more time to be developed. Ezra Miller was fine, but the writing failed him.

Aquaman was also underdeveloped, and he was honestly kind of annoying. I didn’t mind the casting of Jason Momoa, but the characterization felt overly workshopped; his entire personality in this movie can be summed up as: ‘I’m too cool for this’, which is entirely the wrong choice for a character named ‘Aquaman’ whose powers include swimming really fast and talking to fish. He was honestly like an angsty teen, so I guess he was effective as the self-insert character for the target demographic.

Cyborg was the most interesting of the three new additions, and definitely got the most development, but that’s a low bar to overcome. Ray Fisher was put in a tough position, having to play a character with a lot of his emotions practically ripped out of him, but I think he did well under the circumstances. He reminded me a bit of Vision from the Avengers, but with much less charm. At least his design was neat and his powers were cool. The movie would have been immensely better off, however, without dealing with his backstory. They could have cut it out and had the first mention of him be in the scene where he remotely hacks the batcomputer. It would have been a much better character introduction, a much more impactful scene altogether and would have made the film flow so much better.

Wonder Woman has nothing interesting to say or do in this move. She dumps exposition, makes a few references to the more emotional moments of her movie (which I guess were supposed to count as the emotional moments in this movie) and is in general the most powerful member of the team. Nothing in her character feels like a complete creative decision, everything is a compromise. It sucks, and it’s a shame, considering how energetic and motivated she was in her own movie. None of it shines through here. Gal Gadot is still good, but she isn’t given much to work with here.

Ben Affleck honestly looks kind of bored through most of the movie. His performance was better in BVS, and as much as I appreciate the brighter and more colourful lighting in this movie, it really highlights how silly this Batman costume looks. Also, every time he starts to do something cool with a gadget or vehicle or something, it’s destroyed within seconds. He feels very un-valuable in this scenario beyond the fact that he’s the one putting the team together and hosting the meetings. Strictly speaking, he is the one dragging the plot along by its hair, but like the others, his character goes nowhere.

Superman is back! (what a surprise) And the way that they bring him back to life is honestly so dumb that it’s my favourite part of the movie. If you don’t intend to see the movie, here’s what happens: the McGuffins for this film are these three cubes (super original, guys) which ‘simultaneously create and destroy life’. So, they decide to resurrect Superman like a fucking zombie in order to essentially use him as a big gun against the villain. They spend like one minute debating the ethics of that in a scene ripped straight out of ‘Age of Ultron’ and then proceed to do it without any further debate or real consequences. They dig him up, put him in the spaceship from Man of Steel and use Flash’s speed-electricity to set off the cube and bring him back to life. Only now he’s gone mad and fights the Justice League for a bit. Probably about five minutes. Dead serious, this is probably the best part of the movie, but it’s so dumb. He also has, no joke, freeze breath, which he uses to freeze the villain’s axe thing. So much for the gritty realistic reinterpretation of Superman. His inclusion in this movie is pretty superfluous for the most part; he doesn’t have much bearing on the plot as a whole, making his death even more meaningless. What a wasted opportunity to effectively pull off the on-screen death of a globally revered icon.

Also, it is hilariously obvious in which scenes they CGI’d the moustache off of Henry Cavill’s face, it looks pretty horrible and I find it hysterical.

Steppenwolf is possibly the worst villain in any recent mainstream superhero film. If you saw Thor Ragnarok, he was essentially that fire demon guy from the very beginning of the movie. You know, the one that Taika Waititi basically played as being a joke for being so very uninteresting and clichéd. The comparison is uncanny, they even kind of look alike. He’s all about the usual ‘world domination’, ‘this world belongs to me’ bullshit that we’ve all seen before a million times, and we never get anything resembling a deeper look as to his motivations. He just kind of is this way.

He quests to find these cubes (Avengers) that will let him take over earth (Avengers) and terraform it into his home planet (Man of Steel) in service of a big tyrannical galactic Overlord (Avengers). He has attacked the earth before, thousands of years ago but was defeated (X-Men: Apocalypse) and carries a big axe hammer thing (Guardians of the Galaxy).

The soundtrack was also very dull. If there was a ‘Justice League’ theme, I didn’t notice it. I heard some variations of the original Superman (1978) theme which were kind of cool I guess, but otherwise it was very generic action movie crap.

Strictly speaking, this is a better movie than BVS and Suicide Squad. I’m not sure if I’d consider better than Man of Steel. It does have some flow to its narrative, but events lack impact and you don’t care about the characters. It, as far as I could tell, had very few plotholes, but this was the wrong lesson to learn from Batman V Superman. Plotholes are not deal breakers to the overall experience; poor narrative structure and underdeveloped characters are. Case and point: The Dark Knight Rises.

I would recommend finding something else to watch this weekend. Justice League is boring, uninteresting and not even a spectacle of a failure. It’s far from unwatchable, but it was straight up disappointing.

DC, I would seriously reconsider your current course. Stop hiring Zack Snyder as a director, he is not a good storyteller. Sure, comics are a visual medium and he’s a visual director, but this movie didn’t look good enough for it to be worth it. Let the reigns go a little. Let the directors and writers try and come up with a more creative approach to these characters. It’s paying off for Marvel. It paid off with Nolan. It will pay off again. Just do it. I believe in you.

Love,

Max.

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Blade Runner 2049, 2017

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford

IMDb

I’m not really the biggest fan of Blade Runner (yes I watched the director’s cut). I’ve watched the film twice and failed pretty hard to really connect with it either time. I get the impression that maybe if I saw it in a cinema for my first viewing I would have liked it more, but even then apparently the theatrical version is vastly inferior. So yeah, not exactly sure why, but it never really resonated with me.

Blade Runner 2049 is a different story. I fucking loved it.

I’m going to be tripping over my toes for spoilers here, but if you want to go in knowing actually nothing, the mini-review is just to go see it ASAP. It’s really good.

First off, Ryan Gosling was fantastic. He was very well suited to his character, but I still managed to disassociate the actor from the role, which is difficult with such a big name. I’m also glad that he was truly the central focus of the film, as the character was really interesting; I was constantly in a state of wanting to know more about him. The performance was pretty spot on as well. Top notch effort. Harrison Ford, by comparison, was far less interesting, but in a good way. I feared going in that he would be playing a similar role as Han Solo in The Force Awakens, a pretty ‘done’ mentor trope, and was glad to see him take a back seat. His inclusion only benefited the story, which is pretty much the opposite of what I expected.

The story is simply captivating. It’s slow and complex, but it sticks out in my mind as special, as it created a genuine mystery. Every time I thought I knew exactly where the story was going, I was wrong, but that never comes from cheap tactics such as characters lying or some bullshit like that. It was consistently because the film anticipated what kinds of assumptions I would be making. It’s very smart. Its slowness, by the way, may disappoint some, but I felt it only added to the film’s rich atmosphere.

Speaking of atmosphere, holy crap the visuals and audio. The film looks and sounds gorgeous. The filmmakers have created/updated a truly interesting and fleshed out world, and the sound design enhances the experience by somehow adding to your understanding of what living in it is like. It’s kind of hard to explain, but the way the film is scored works incredibly well to further immerse you in the film without compromising its melodic nature. Where most films would typically have a track end at the same time as its corresponding scene, here it may even crescendo into the transition and continue into the next sequence, greatly aiding the flow of the story. This is a long movie and I never got bored, I never even had proper opportunity to check my watch, and I think the audio and visuals had something to do with that. I’d also like to add that the audio mixing was done with a bit of flare that I rarely see (hear). Every film that comes out of hollywood will be made with a surround sound setup in mind, but I very rarely notice, barring gimmicks. Here is was just done really well, added another layer of cool.

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any major flaws. If I were to grasp at straws, I would say some character motivations were kind of confusing at times, but I’m pretty well convinced that they were explained and I just missed it. Similar to how I must have missed something in the first movie, because I really want to watch it again with this new viewpoint. The CGI was fantastic overall, but had two blunders for me. First was a bug, which was more or less excusable, and the other was a fully rendered character. While better than Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher in Rogue One, the technology still isn’t quite there yet. Please stop.

Blade Runner 2049 is a fantastic film, and I highly recommend going to see it in cinemas while it’s still out. Be warned, it is long and slow, but I didn’t see those as bad things at all. One of the best of the year.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, 2017

Directed by: Luc Besson

Starring: Dane Dehaan, Cara Delevigne

IMDb

Valerian and the City of a Thousand was a pretty crap movie and I had a great time watching it.
 
To be clear, there are actually some solid points to the film. The visual direction and style is pretty stimulating, a bunch of the ideas pulled from the source material were pretty unique and very neat, and surprisingly not totally played out as far as hollywood sci-fi movies are concerned. Dane Dehaan’s performance was pretty good when the script allowed him to be, and I’d be lying if the film didn’t manage to get a few laughs out of me, even if it didn’t mean to in every case.
 
The dialogue, and indeed the writing as a whole, was cringeworthy and hilarious. I didn’t buy the banter/romance between Dane Dehaan and Cara Delevigne for even a second. Still funny though.
 
Speaking of funny, Cara Delevigne’s performance was amazingly terrible. There were points where it looked like she had to struggle to remember her lines, her accent slipped between british and american liberally, and I swear the majority of her line delivery was in the style of a sitcom. I’m not sure why hollywood is so insistent on making her an actress but if this kind of performance is going to become her standard I almost hope to see her on screen more often.
 
The CGI was at an interesting level, particularly with the alien creatures. It was at a level of competency that these creatures would look fantastic if they were featuring in an animated film, but unfortunately we, the audience, are meant to buy that they exist side by side with live action human characters. It’s honestly kind of hilarious how jarring the differences are. Early on in the film there’s a jump cut from a fully CGI rendered world to a close up on Dane Dehaan and I actually laughed from how silly it looked.
 
Rihanna has what amounts to an extended cameo in the film despite how heavily the marketing focused on her presence in the film. Of the approximately 10 minutes of screen time she gets, about 2 of those are dedicated to a shapeshifting pole dancing routine, which ends up being a highlight of the film if only for the awkward reaction shots of Dane Dehaan. Her implementation into the film was incredibly dumb, and despite her evident lack in acting talent (I never saw Battleship so as far as I’m concerned this is her debut) she still ended up being one of the most endearing elements in the film.
 
 
 
One last comment is that this is one of the most explicit offenders of telling rather than showing in order to translate as much of the source material as possible. Literal minutes straight of nothing but exposition plague this film. Some of it, especially towards the end, was absolutely hilarious. Trust me. This movie is actually a great time if you have 0 expectations.
 
It tries its best to have actual tension but it never quite makes it. It has half hearted attempts at emotional moments and never comes close. No, the best parts of this movie are the laughs and some of the visuals, in addition to some neat ideas which can’t even be attributed to the film, as they were from the graphic novel.
 
It’s bad, but the good kind of bad. If you’re into that kind of thing, go ahead and enjoy.
 

Alien: Covenant, 2017

Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender
While I ultimately have a lot of mixed feelings about Alien: Covenant, my main takeaway is that I quite enjoyed it. Certainly more so than its overly confusing predecessor Prometheus. My short review: if you’re a fan of the Alien franchise, then go watch Covenant. It’s pretty good, and answers many more questions than Prometheus ever did. If you’re not a fan, this one probably won’t change your mind.
 
To get into some more specifics, I walked in not knowing how direct of a sequel to Prometheus this would be. If I had I probably would have been less enthused to go see it, but nonetheless the film captured my attention with its dedication to world-building. Like no other film in the franchise, this one successfully expands the world of they inhabit and revitalises an interest in its history and intricacies. This is so much the case, that it almost makes Prometheus feel like a prequel to Covenant, rather than the other way round. I walked out of the movie simultaneously satisfied by what I had learned about the universe of the franchise and wanting to know more, which I see as a really good thing.
 
However, I didn’t come to watch two hours of lore, I came to watch a movie, and on that front I can only call it good, but not great, with a few really great bits. H.R. Geiger’s design work resonates strongly, and I liked the aesthetic of the new world and new creatures. I also thought that Michael Fassbender was fantastic, twice as good as the last one (watch the movie, you’ll get it). It looked and sounded great overall, and I can’t think of any bad performances. It had some really excellent tension, I was literally sitting on the edge of my seat, holding my breath for bits and that’s very commendable.
 
It also had an overall quite forgettable peripheral cast. Gone are the super charismatic and memorable side characters from James Cameron’s Aliens, centred around the notably great action hero Ripley. I only really remember the characters by their stereotypes, especially the incredibly on-the-nose Tennessee (who is actually pretty enjoyable, to the film’s credit). The entire premise is kind of meh, and the story hinges on one character continuously making some terrible terrible decisions. Yep, unfortunately this movie made me want to get up out of my seat and yell “DON’T GO INTO THE BASEMENT YOU MORON” and considering this is from the same director as Alien, one of the most influential Sci-Fi and Horror movies ever, I can’t give it a pass.
 
So yeah, mixed bag. Overall, it is a good time, and definitely worthwhile for fans of the series, but it’s a far cry from the first two films.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, 2017

Directed by: James Gunn

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker

IMDb
I think Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 bares many similarities to Avengers: Age of Ultron. Both films had a lot to live up to, both tried valiantly to outdo their predecessor in every aspect, both are very entertaining movies. Both don’t quite live up to the impossible expectations.

How does one outdo Guardians 1? Apparently the answer is take the aspect most praised and play them up tenfold. As a result, the soundtrack is back and more prominent than ever. The humorous tone was praised, so the sequel was given many more jokes. To be perfectly clear, each of these aspects taken individually make for a really good time. The issue is balance. The first film worked so well because it managed to balance its own quirky style with the typical marvel movie formula. Guardians 2 feels overloaded, unbalanced.

Not helping in the slightest is the story, which I feel is Guardians 2’s biggest shortcoming. Instead of one story, the film opts to tell about three or four, and none of them are really all that original. Honestly, they’re all pretty predictable. The first film wasn’t really anything all that special when it came to story, but what I can give it is that it was one thing, it was pretty tight.

All this said, I really enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. I’m still working on my ability to communicate my feelings towards movies, especially while criticising them. To be as clear as I can: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn’t even a bad movie that I enjoyed bits of à la Batman V Superman or Suicide Squad. It’s a good movie, that entertained me thoroughly, but I couldn’t help but feel a tad let down. My expectations were a bit too high, and I criticise because I care.

The film did better its predecessor in a few respects, however. Depictions of much of the peripheral cast was much better. I really enjoyed spending more time with Drax, Yandu, and Rocket. Also, in its attempts to out-scope the previous film, it actually succeeded in setting up some awesome scenarios. Overall, the cinematography was also better, some really beautiful shots. The movie was really colourful and was overall really enjoyable to look at.

If you were planning on see Guardians 2, I say go right ahead, you’ll enjoy yourself.

Colossal, 2016

Directed by: Nacho Vigalondo
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis
Colossal came right out of nowhere and really surprised me. Before last week I hadn’t even heard of it, but after seeing it, I think it’s disappointing that it’s gone so under the radar.
 
To those that don’t know, the premise is that a failing alcoholic writer (Anne Hathaway) returns to her small home town after her boyfriend kicks her out. At the same time, a giant monster appears out of nowhere and starts attacking Seoul. After noticing a pattern, she realises she was the monster all along.
Not metaphorically, she is literally the monster. It’s weird, hard to describe, and super original.
 
I have to applaud the movie for its originality, it’s not quite like anything I’ve seen before, plot-wise, which is so rare in hollywood. It also falls into a sub-genre of film which I have a particular affection for: Films with a sci-fi/fantasy element, but are ultimately very human stories set in a real-world environment. Stories that focus on the human condition through the lens of the fantastical element. Notable examples of such films include Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind, Inception, Chronicle and Swiss Army Man. (Almost all of these are among my all time favourite movies btw)
 
Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis both give great performances as the leads, and not to spoil the plot, they develop a very interesting dynamic.
 
The film gives a really satisfying blend of tones, balancing funny, charming, intense and honestly kind of horrifying at points. Not to say it’s without flaws: I didn’t love the side characters, Dan Stevens plays Hathaway’s boyfriend and he’s a bit of a typical controlling, untrusting boyfriend. Also, there were a few points that the film was trying portray horrifying situations, but they came off a bit silly and hard to take seriously. They, however, were only small blemishes on an overall really good product.
 
 
Anyway, if you can catch it before it fades into obscurity, I definitely recommend you go watch it!

Logan, 2017

Directed by: James Mangold 

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen

IMDb

Logan was fucking fantastic. Emphasis on the word fuck, the film certainly loves to use it.

And there really is a certain catharsis to finally see the character actually acting the way you imagine he would, no longer bound to a single ‘fuck’ per film, to conform to the American Rating system’s version of ‘M for mature audiences’ (PG-13). I’ve been hoping to see a no-holds-barred Wolverine movie for years, and now in a post-Deadpool world, Fox finally has the guts to pull it off. If you’ve ever wished to see Wolverine drunkenly slash someone’s head in half, this movie was made for you.

Beyond the rating, the film does a good job of sticking to the grim, personal tone and themes presented to us in the trailer. Barring a few clichés, this is a very different comic book movie, and in contrast to last year’s very derivative X-Men Apocalypse, I found that very refreshing. Even Deadpool thrived on the very tropes that it incessantly mocked, so I applaud the producers for allowing this movie to happen.

The story is good, the new characters are memorable, and the cinematography did it’s job more than adequately. The best aspects of Logan, however, were Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and the action scenes. These actors own their characters, and have done for the last 17 years. I have little more to say than they totally nailed it. The action really steals the show though, it’s what fans of the character have been waiting years for. It’s unapologetically brutal, well shot and doesn’t feel choreographed, it feels raw. It’s awesome.

I’m slightly hesitant to call this the best X-Men film. It’s so distinct from the rest of the franchise in its themes and characters. It is, however, probably the best film in the franchise.

It’s a little long, at 2 hours 21 minutes, but I don’t really see that as too bad of a criticism as I loved every second. I know I tend to go nuts over comic book/ superhero flicks, so if you feel like taking this all with a grain of salt, feel free, but this is definitely one of the better ones out there. Go see it.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, 2016

Directed by: Gareth Edwards

Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk

IMDb

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review:
Recently I’ve been getting more and more behind the idea of spin-offs; they allow for more creative freedom than main-series franchise films while simultaneously giving us a new perspective on a world which we’ve grown to know and love, the most notable recent example being Fantastic Beasts.
Rogue One, I feel, struggles in that it tries to have its cake and eat it too. It clearly wants to be its own story with its own interesting and original characters, but it’s weighed down by tonnes of fan service, references to the other films and too many of the admittedly likeable characters. Before anyone jumps to conclusions; this is not a negative review, I quite enjoyed it and think it’s worth seeing, but it is lacking in a number areas.
The story had a very simple goal to accomplish: tell the story of how the Death Star plans were retrieved prior to episode IV. It got too convoluted. For example, the first five or so scenes all took place on different planets with different characters and I got so lost so fast. That said, like I mentioned earlier, I really liked all of the new characters, my favourite being K2-SO, (he’s so snarky I love it), with a really good design, good animation and excellent writing. The cast all did a great job and I’m sure that among these characters will be some people’s favourite Star Wars characters overall.
Speaking of animation, they computer generate a couple of characters to make them look the age they would have back in ’79 and they just don’t quite pull it off. I can’t put my finger on what exactly makes it unconvincing, but it’s there, and it’s distracting. Also, Vader looks wrong too. Hard to put my finger on it, but it just looks like some dude wearing a Vader costume, as opposed to the badass villain we all love making his triumphant return to screen. The visual style overall is phenomenal however, closely following the composition and attention to detail in the world’s exemplified in The Force Awakens.
Ultimately, this looks and feels like a Star Wars spin-off, but it simply doesn’t have the expert construction and care that the likes of The Force Awakens had for me to call it great. It’s fine, with moments of true greatness sprinkled about, and with very memorable and likeable characters and a couple of really grand and epic scenes. It was clearly made to be seen on the big screen, so if you’re going to see it, do it right.
It’s not the best Star movie of the year (Arrival)
It’s not the best Wars movie of the year (Hacksaw Ridge)
It’s not even the best Star Wars movie shown this year (TFA)
But it was certainly entertaining and if you like Star Wars I’m sure you’ll love it.