Justice League


Could this be Ben Affleck’s last appearance as Batman?

(2017) Superhero (Warner Brothers) Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons, Ciarán Hinds, Amber Heard, Joe Morton, Billy Crudup, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Ingvar Sigurdsson, David Thewlis, Marc McClure, Sergi Constance, Julian Lewis Jones, Salóme Gunnarsdóttir. Directed by Zach Snyder

 

With the critical and commercial success of Wonder Woman earlier this year, expectations were high that the DC Extended Universe – the comic book publisher’s cinematic arm and their version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – was at last ready to turn around after movies that were disappointing to both fans of the comics and accountants at Warner Brothers alike. That optimism proved to be unfounded as the film, though a hit at the box office was not as successful as the studio execs hoped and after another drubbing from fans and critics alike, the DCEU would eventually undergo massive restructuring. The question is was the movie really that bad?

Well, yes and no. The plot is fairly simple – a cosmic baddy known as Steppenwolf (Hinds in full motion capture splendor) is after three McGuffins called Mother Boxes secreted in various places on Earth. Batman (Affleck), ever the vigilant detective, divines that the Earth is about to come under attack but Wonder Woman (Gadot) is aware that the attack is already under way. With Superman (Cavill) out of the picture, Batman realizes they’ll need a team of superheroes to battle the nearly omnipotent Steppenwolf. He gathers the three others he’s aware of; Aquaman (Momoa) who has dominion over the ocean and those who dwell within it, Cyborg (Fisher) who is learning to adjust to his mostly machine body, and the Flash (Miller), a teen speedster very much unlike the CW version. While the latter is eager to join, the first two are reluctant until they are convinced that they are sorely needed. Massive battle sequences full of mind-numbing CGI follow.

I have to say I found the film entertaining for the most part. Momoa and Fisher make excellent heroes and in their first appearances in anything other than a brief cameo show that they are fully capable of heading up their own films – Momoa’s Aquaman is actually next on the DCEU schedule in December. Gadot and Affleck have proven themselves to be strong screen presences and both know what to do with their material and do it well. The one exception was Miller as The Flash; Snyder and his writers inexplicably went the annoying wisecracking teen route with the character which has already been tried with Quicksilver in the X-Men movies; it worked far better there. Miller is actually a really good young actor but he was sabotaged by the character who is just a jarring note that doesn’t fit in well with the rest of the team.

Snyder has a habit of using a lot of kinetic camera movement and that’s okay but given the massive amount of CGI being used in the movie the effect becomes mind-numbing and overwhelming. It’s visual overload and not in a good way. I would have preferred a little less CGI and a lot more character development but Snyder hasn’t shown the latter to be one of his strengths in any movie that he’s undertaken to date.

For me, the biggest problem with Justice League is Steppenwolf. Not so much in Hinds’ performance capture or his voice work but simply the character as written has absolutely no personality whatsoever and he just felt like a cookie cutter villain who is all like “Oh yes, I want to destroy the world because..” *yawn*

Even with all that going against that I still think that this movie gives some hope that the DCEU can turn things around. As I said there’s been a massive shake-up at the top with a new executive overseeing the franchise – Walter Hamada from New Line who helped build The Conjuring into a multi-film universe that has been as successful in every sense of the word as the DCEU has not been. Although the jury is out on whether Affleck will remain as the Batman for any further films (smart money is that he won’t), Gadot is a proven commodity and it appears both Momoa and Fisher have the ability to take a franchise film and run with it. With the Shazam movie on the horizon as well as a sequel to Wonder Woman there is still something to look forward to in the DCEU. I’m not sure they’re ready to equal Marvel’s cinematic success but there’s no reason to assume that they can’t get there.

REASONS TO GO: The film was reasonably entertaining. Momoa and Fisher acquitted themselves well. Affleck and Gadot continue to impress in their roles. There is still hope that the DCEU can turn itself around.
REASONS TO STAY: Miller’s Flash is way too annoying. The camera is too kinetic and the screen too filled with CGI, making everything look overwhelming and busy. Steppenwolf had zero personality which is a massive problem for your lead villain.
FAMILY VALUES: The film is loaded with action and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Snyder’s daughter passed away during shooting; at first he and his wife (a producer on the film) tried to stay on as a way to work through their grief but after two months both decided to step down to spend time with their family. Joss Whedon stepped in and completed post-production as well as overseeing some reshoots
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/19/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 40% positive reviews. Metacritic: 45/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Avengers: Age of Ultron
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Kangaroo: A Love/Hate Story

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Ice Age: Continental Drift


 

Ice Age: Continental Drift

Scrat is only a little bit obsessed.

(2012) Animated Feature (20th Century Fox) Starring the voices of Ray Romano, Queen Latifah, Denis Leary, John Leguizamo, Peter Dinklage, Seann William Scott, Wanda Sykes, Aziz Ansari, Jennifer Lopez, Drake, Keke Palmer, Heather Morris, Joy Behar, Nicki Minaj, Josh Gad, Alan Tudyk, Nick Frost, JB Smoove, Chris Wedge. Directed by Steve Martino and Michael Thumeier

 

There isn’t much we wouldn’t do for our families. We’d put our lives on the line to defend them. We’d do things that we don’t like doing to make things work. We’d go as far as we had to just to get together with them. Even though we fight like cats and dogs sometimes, when it comes down to it, our families are everything.

Manny the Mastodon (Romano) thinks so too. After everything he’s been through, his wife Ellie (Latifah) is the apple of his eye. His daughter Peaches (Palmer) is now a teenager (we saw her getting born in the last Ice Age movie) and like most teenagers, she’s terribly concerned with hanging out with the right crowd. She has her eye on Ethan (Drake), the dreamboat who has his own little entourage, although her BFF Louis (Gad), a kind of mole, is far nicer and cares about her as a mastodon…er, person.

Scrat (Wedge) the obsessive squirrel has tried to plant his acorn right in the center of things. Unfortunately, his determination has led to the cataclysmic break-up of the super-continent into the seven continents we know today. That action has inadvertently separated Manny from his family although fortunately Diego (Leary) the saber-toothed tiger is with him as is Sid the Sloth (Leguizamo) and his feisty but not altogether there Granny (Sykes).

They are floating about the sea on an ice floe when they run into Captain Gutt (Dinklage), an orangutan pirate who is also the self-styled ruler of the sea. His right hand woman is Shira (Lopez) who may just be a more ruthless cat than Diego, although you know the two are going to fall for each other. You know it.

Meanwhile, back at home the continental upheaval is taking its toll as Ellie is trying to lead the others to safety while Peaches alternately worries for her dad (who she had words with just before things went south) and still trying to fit in with the cool clique, while Louis frets. Will Manny ever see his family again?

The first Ice Age movies were pretty good and I enjoyed the camaraderie between the main trio of Manny, Diego and Sid. With each passing film more characters have been added into the mix and the films have been getting on the bloated side. As with the third film in the series, there seems to be less fun in the mix. You get the sense that this is just a paycheck for everyone involved, from the studio head on down to the animators and the voice talent. Sykes dos make a welcome addition, although her character is an insulting steroetype for the elderly which is disheartening. Still, she has some of the funniest moments in the film.

One thing it does have going for it is the 3D. I think it’s fair to say that the entire film revolves around 3 so that if you see it in 2D, you miss quite a bit. I don’t often recommend the upcharge but it is worth it here. However, don’t expect much logic or sense. As Sid says to Granny, “We fought dinosaurs. It didn’t make sense, but it sure was exciting.” Although I’d have to question the exciting part. Still, this is a feature length cartoon, not a lesson in history, zoology or geology.

As always, my favorite segments are the ones involving Scrat the Squirrel. This time, an awful lot of them already have appeared in the short films that Scrat has starred in which is a further sign that this franchise is running out of gas. I think it’s fair to say that I got a sense that I’ve seen it all before throughout the film, but in the case of Scrat I literally have.

There’s enough here to keep the small kids happy (and there were plenty of them even at the later showing that I attended which in itself is pretty sad – parents who keep their kids up to see a movie past their bedtime should have their heads examined) but the parents who go with them are going to be counting the minutes until the movie is over – and at a running time of well over an hour and a half, that’s a lot of minutes.

REASONS TO GO: The Scrat sequences are always entertaining. Smaller children will love it (although kids 3rd grade and older might turn their noses up at it as being for little kids).

REASONS TO STAY: Really, there isn’t much here that hasn’t been done before.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the humor is a little bit rude (although not much) – and some of the cartoon violence might upset the very little.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Captain Gutt was supposed to have been voiced by Jeremy Renner, but his busy schedule precluded it so Peter Dinklage was cast instead.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/21/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 39% positive reviews. Metacritic: 48/100. The reviews are pretty negative.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ice Age: The Meltdown

SCRAT LOVERS: While much of the footage with Scrat was shown initially in the short Scrat’s Continental Crack-Up that accompanied Rio, there are plenty of new scenes that highlight the obsessive squirrel.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Oxford Murders

Journey 2: Mysterious Island


Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

My name...is Michael Caine.

(2012) Family (New Line) Dwayne Johnson, Michael Caine, Josh Hutcherson, Vanessa Hudgens, Luis Guzman, Kristin Davis, Anna Colwell, Stephen Caudill, Branscombe Richmond, Walter Bankson. Directed by Brad Peyton

 

Jules Verne was one of the great science fiction writers of all-time. Among the things he presaged in his works included submarines and space travel. His books are some of the most beloved ever written. They’ve been made into movies many times over, some of them becoming classics of cinema as well (I’m looking at you, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea).

This won’t be. In fact, there is almost nothing in common with Verne’s Mysterious Island other than the title and that they’re both set on an island. Billed as a sequel to 2008’s Journey to the Center of the Earth (but only retaining Hutcherson from that cast), the movie starts out with Sean Anderson (Hutcherson) attempting to elude the police on his motorbike.

It turns out that the reason the cops were chasing him, other than for driving a motorbike, was that he’d broken into a satellite dish shack to boost the signal of a message he believes is from his grandfather, two years missing. Unfortunately, it’s in code so Sean can’t be sure.

Needless to say this doesn’t sit well with his mother (Davis, played by Jane Wheeler in the original) who has since remarried, to ex-Navy code breaker Hank (Johnson) who Sean is having trouble bonding with his well-muscled stepdad. That code breaking stint comes in handy as Hank helps Sean solve the code and locate Grandpa in the South Pacific. Sean is raring to go fetch.

However, like any sensible stepdad, he is willing to fly with his troubled stepson to Palau (close to where the signal originated from) to charter a helicopter to the island which apparently is in a stretch of ocean where nothing exists. Piloting the ‘copter is Gabato (Guzman), also known as plucky comedy relief and his comely daughter Kailani (Hudgens), also known as gratuitous tank top and Daisy Dukes wearer.

The four take off for the island that nobody thinks exists in a patch of ocean known for its extreme storms. Yeah, Hank’s parenting skills are right up there with the parents of Sparta; danger? Leave the weak ones in the snow to die.

Anyway, predictably the storms wreck the copter and the four are stranded on the island where elephants are the size of Chihuahuas and lizards are the size of city busses. After a run in with an angry mama lizard after a stroll through an egg field that the team of “Top Chef” could turn into an amazing omelet (complete with an attack from a grouchy lizard embryo), the castaways run into dear old Grandpa, Alexander Anderson (Caine) who has built himself a nice little treehouse and MacGyvered a radio out of a spoon and a watch…or something like that.

However, there’s a problem. The island is sinking and they have only a few days to get away before their real estate with an ocean view gets a whole lot closer to water – and on top of that those pesky Class 5 hurricanes (with fancy water spouts) are still hanging around the island. Their only hope may lie with a 150 year old vessel that may or may not exist.

Like the first movie, the environment is nearly all CGI as well as all of the critters both large and small. Given the tropical setting, it’s a little bit of “Lost” with a whole lot of Disney. While the mouse house isn’t responsible for any of this, there’s an element of theme park attraction here and in a good way. The movie has a sunny energy that takes your mind off of things for the hour and a half you’re watching it.

Much of the reason for that is Dwayne Johnson. He’s become a genuine movie star, elevating every movie he appears in, and this one is no exception. Johnson’s charm carries the movie – he even sings the old Sam Cooke chestnut “What a Wonderful World” while accompanying himself on the ukulele. Yes, the Rock sings. Deal with it.

Hutcherson hasn’t yet impressed me as a lead. He’s a bit on the wooden side and lacks the charisma to really take over a scene and make it his own and the colorless Hudgens generates no sparks with him. Caine plays a bit of the rascal here, which he does as well as anybody. His banter with Johnson make some of the movies best moments.

That said, the CGI can be a little weak and the conceit that the Island is the remains of Atlantis makes absolutely no sense – the island was supposed to be in the Atlantic ocean, not the South Pacific for one thing. Also, the set for Atlantis has a tile mural that says “Atlantis.” In English. Makes it look more like a Bahamian resort than an ancient civilization, dude.

Like the first movie, the intent is to go family first and adventure second. Therefore the critters – including giant bees, ants, centipedes and spiders – never feel too dangerous and the five never seem to be in too much danger. A little more tension might have made this a better movie.

Still it’s entertaining enough, with plenty of eye candy and lots of easy charm, mainly courtesy of Johnson. Like the movie’s predecessor it isn’t going to win a lot of kudos from Jules Verne’s fans but it is a movie likely to keep both young and old interested. Nothing wrong with that.

REASONS TO GO: Dwayne Johnson is at his best here and Caine is always reliable. Some fairly whimsical moments.

REASONS TO STAY: Weak CGI in places and a real lack of imagination in the Atlantis scenes. Tried too hard to be family-friendly and wound up missing a real sense of jeopardy.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few scenes with critters that might be too frightening for the impressionable, as well as a couple of mildly bad words here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Both Dwayne Johnson, who is the lead here, and Brendan Fraser, who was the lead in the first movie, played characters in The Mummy Returns and Caine played Captain Nemo (whose submarine the Nautilus makes an appearance here) in the 1997 version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/20/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 43% positive reviews. Metacritic: 41/100. The reviews are fairly mixed but trending towards the negative.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Journey to the Center of the Earth

JULES VERNE LOVERS: References three of his novels (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Mysterious Island and From the Earth to the Moon) as well as being the sequel to a movie loosely based on a fourth (Journey to the Center of the Earth). The author himself appears photographically on the walls of Sean’s bedroom.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Vow