Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Justice League

Everybody Knows
"Well, I'm All About Truth. But, I'm Also a Big Fan of Justice."

I'll try to stay on point here; my instinct in writing is to explore the way "the voice of the mob" is so inconsistent when it comes to addressing what is actually IN the movie Justice League. What might have charmed before is now criticized, skewing to some different perspective in the space of one film's production history. I've read some reviews and just shake my head (there's a romantic scene between Batman and Wonder Woman? Where? The main villain is unknown—everybody knew Surtur from Thor: Ragnarok? Would they have preferred Starro the Conquerer, the space-starfish, or Kanjar Ro whom everybody is aware of*) What am I seeing that they are not? What are their prejudices, their already-made assumptions that I walked in without? One of Roger Ebert's most-used quotes in his writings was Robert Warshow's "A man goes to the movies. A critic must be honest enough to admit that he is that man." Reading some of the reviews (after ACTUALLY seeing the movie) I'm suspecting a lot of hidden agendas and preconceived notions that made it into print. I'm suspecting dishonesty. Frankly, I'm not surprised. And disappointed. But, not in the movie...

Oh, yeah...there's a movie.
Justice League is short for a super-hero flick, especially for a team super-hero flick—just a minute shy of two hours.** For a film of the golden age that's a bit longish, but those films were a lot more 'tight" and thought out than today's multi-media extravaganzas with long lists of writers and several special effects studios involved, all trying to cram as much material into a movie as they can. There have been some changes in the scenario—what was planned as two films have been scoped down to one, which (I suspect, with no evidence to back it up, that the makers were going to bring in Darkseid—the big bad New God in the DC Universe, created by Jack Kirby, for the second film but have backed off on the idea) will streamline the first as a stand-alone film and do some shorter films, in the meantime, just to give the series some flexibility). It gives the first movie some "air" to flesh out new characters (three major ones are introduced, with some star-filled back-story) and keep things fairly simple. After all, we're just getting used to Ben Affleck as "The Batman," Jeremy irons as Alfred, and now we have J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon.
All that business makes the movie start out a little messy, fluidity-wise. We have five people to visit and try to understand (there is a pre-credits sequence and an eloquent Main Title set to a Leonard Cohen tune, but we'll get to that): Batman is doing his usual thing terrorizing Gotham criminals on rooftops. but seems to have a hidden agenda here—using the mug's fear to attract a Parademon-one of Jack Kirby's Fourth World flying minnions, which takes him on a night-flight he doesn't quite expect***; Wonder Woman takes down a group of zealous terrorists trying to blow up a bank; Wayne goes up north to investigate the story of a man named Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) who helps a fishing town get through its tough winters; Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) goes to prison to visit his father (Billy Crudup), accused of killing his mother, in prison; and, Silas Stone (Joe Morton) a researcher at S.T.A.R. Labs, after accepting a co-worker's condolences for the death of his son, Victor (Ray Fisher), goes home to his apartment to find that his son—3/5 of his body replaced with an alien cybernetic technology—now has jets in his heels that allows him to hover. "Couldn't do that last night" says Victor. Things are changing.
Superman (Henry Cavill) is dead. The world mourns (because you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone). Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is working on fluff pieces at The Daily Planet. Ma Kent (Diane Lane) has moved from the Kent farm as it's been foreclosed. Batman is having nightmares that the world may be ending and has started trying to recruit a team of super-heroes to take the place of Superman, feeling guilty about the role he played in his death. "You're out of your mind, Bruce Wayne," says Arthur Curry when he rejects his offer.

"Doesn't mean I'm wrong," he counters.
He's not wrong. Things are starting to accelerate. The alien-tech "mother-box" Silas used to save his son's life has attracted a predatory group of parademons and boom-tubing right behind them is the Fourth World assassin Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds). There are three of those "boxes" Wayne notices from the scribblings of Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg—stay for the second of two inter-credit sequences), but what they import he has no idea. While he works to try and decipher them, Steppenwolf attacks Themyscira, Wonder Woman's home, and captures the box in their safe-keeping. We're given their story—seems there was an ancient war between the Gods and the New Gods for possession of the Earth in which the three boxes played a hand. There was a battle of the Amazons and the Atlanteans—Arthur Curry's ancestors—along with the ancient Gods and even a Green Lantern to prevent the invasion. Steppenwolf having been stopped, the boxes were separated for safe-keeping—one on Themyscira, one in Atlantis, one on Earth—to prevent such dimensional breaches from happening again.
If this all sounds like "The Fellowship of the Mother-Boxes" you would be right. But, whatever it seems like, Steppenwolf has one of the three gizmo's and Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen)uses a long-forgotten signal to alert the world of Man about the theft. But, it's not men who will understand the message, it will be her daughter, Diana. Meanwhile Curry (or Aquaman, if you'd rather) goes back to Atlantis just in time to see Steppenwolf take on Atlantean guards and Mera (Amber Heard—impressive until she talks) to grab the second Mother-Box. The two events are enough to amp up Bruce and Diana's recruiting efforts to form the, Justice League, as they bring in Barry Allen's "Flash" and Vic Stone's "Cyborg" ("We're the two accidents," says Allen) into the fold.
But, it isn't enough. When the four barely escape being drowned by Gotham Harbor only due to a save by Aquaman, Batman comes up with a hair-brain scheme—just like Luthor brought Zod back to life and the nother-box brought Vic back to human form he wants to use it to bring Superman back from the dead, an idea that horrifies Wonder Woman, the two start taking shots at each other and Diana slams Batman into a wall. But, "I was doing calculations while you were being an asshole," says Cyborg, and it quickly becomes apparent that his character is going to be a combination deus ex machina and swiss army knife.
They do bring back Superman, and he ain't too happy about it. In fact, he's so pissed he takes on the four super's, holding them at bay, knocking them all cold, leaving him to take a particularly good grip on Batman's throat and asking him "do you bleed?" He will, but not before he's confronted by another of Batman's ingenious counter-moves, this one far more empathetic than kryptonite vapors and piercing sonics.
"Oh, crap...he's not happy..."
A lot of detail there, but I've gone into just the basic stuff. The rest of the move entails how the Justice 5 deal with Superman, and how the Justice 6 deal with Steppenwolf. It is hard to see where director Zack Snyder (who left the project in mid-post-production) and Joss Whedon (who replaced him after scripting some scenes—and I would guess he did the first prologue, the inter-credit scenes, and some resolution once they'd determined not to follow up with a "Darkseid Invades" scenario) begins. That's good. If Whedon did—tops—20% of the movie (as official, non-speculating sources say), then a lot of what makes Justice League successful is Snyder's work (working from Chris Terrio's script). There are his usual sequences of "moments" rather than dramatically flowing scenes, but fewer of them, and while that causes some confusion in some places, for the most part things flow pretty well, and then really get going once all the hero- and wool-gathering cease to be a concern. Plus, the tone lightens considerably with the hero-interactions with some nice interactions that get to the bone of what makes these super-heroes unique.
There are things that annoy me, slightly, but few. The opening sequences are clunky and, though I can see why, dramatically, the director would put us back into his gloomy Snyderverse—so that we can emerge from it at the end—it creates a dread that he's going to keep us there and audience-defenses go up resisting it...and the movie. And I can't say enough what a bad move it was to start with what the movie's first scene is: a camera-phone's footage of Superman that does absolutely no good and goes nowhere. It ends with Supes being asked "What do you love about the planet Earth?" and an awkward pause while he looks off into space. That this is the footage they brought Cavill back for is a waste, not helped by the fact the CGI to hide his mustache doesn't completely work. facial hair changes the way one's mouth moves and it is readily apparent he's "had some work done." To start off with such a faulty sequence smacks of arrogance and more than a little hubris (it should be noted, however, that this is where the effects are the most egregious—despite some internet "experts'" opinion to the contrary—Henry Cavill, if you've ever watched Man of Steel, some angles expose that he just has an odd upper lip).
Still, the movie so much better than reviews and the prevalent click-snark would have you believe. The performances are great. There's been some grousing about Affleck's Bruce Wayne being a bit of a drag. Well, no shit. That's the character, the same one that was praised to the skies in Batman v. Superman, which was all of one movie ago. How soon we forget. How fickle we are. Gail Gadot, of course, steals every scene she's in, and that in itself is some sort of super-power beyond human ken. Jason Momoa has the unenviable task of playing Aquaman—the perpetual DC super-hero joke—but, darn, if he doesn't make it work, even if the character is less regally "The King of the Seas" and more WWE bad-ass. Ezra Miller is all hyper-kinetic neuroticism as Barry Allen and I wouldn't have thought that it would "play:, if he wasn't so effective doing it. And Ray Fisher's Vic Stone could have been the piece's "gloomy gus" if the character's steel-enforced pluck didn't come shining through. 
So much of the criticism's are for what's not there—no black Super-suit (that was just internet speculation with no real basis in fact) or any other of the rumors that were mere fan-boy wish-lists, and no romance between Diana and Bruce—EW's Dana Schwartz (callin' you out for this bullshit) reported that a woman near-by in hr screening theater moaned "oh no" for a scene when Wonder Woman "goes to dress Batman's wounds." She pulled his arm back into its socket. This was emblematic of "sexual chemistry" in her "tweet's". I don't know what "sexual chemistry" you have with your sports-therapist, but wrenching pain ain't normal. And, either a visit to the optometrist or a psychiatrist is in order before your next movie review (and I wouldn't go agreeing with random idiots, either). The quality of click-bait seems to be declining precipitously.
"oh no"....Yeah. No. 
The villain of the thing, Steppenwolf, was criticized for being "unknown." I think most critics could count on one finger what Justice League villains are "knowable"—that being Lex Luthor (as he's appeared in the majority of "Superman" movies). After that, google comes into play. That Steppenwolf is one of Jack Kirby's lesser creations**** is true, he's part of ensemble, filled with all sorts of odd creations from his DC work. But he's functional, and one should only go back "to the well" of using the same antagonist rarely. The CGI work on the character is remarkable, though—it's amazing how jaded we've come about how computer graphics really can create uncanny life-forms, although I though Steppenwolf more often looked like Hugh Jackman (I have yet to see a representation of the character on the internet—most pictures have been of toys or "fan-art", another reason to not believing "the bait" and actually seeing for one self.
But, I'm spending too much time on the negative, especially the capriciously negative. What did I really like?

Finally, after three movies, "they" got Superman right. In Justice League, Bruce Wayne opines that Superman "was a beacon." I'm not sure how he knows this as, in the previous movie, Wayne spent his time horrified at the destruction the character caused in his wake (it's interesting to me that Snyder spends a lot of time in his movies explaining the upsetting things in his past movies), and actively trying to stop and/or kill him. What 'beacon" is he speaking of? Not the gloomy, depressed outsider-alien of Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman. The "scary monster" dark_Superman that has been unfortunately fashionable and seemingly relevant of late. Maybe he's thinking of a nostalgic view of Superman—you know, Christopher Reeve's Superman, the one who fights for "truth, justice and the American way." Zack Snyder (and Christopher Nolan, let us not forget, who started these things and is still executive producer on Justice League) has never shown us "that" Superman, the inspiring one. Until now. When "that" Superman shows up late in the film, and Henry Cavill (honest to God) inhabits him like it's the easiest thing in the world, it is a breath of fresh air, a tonic, like a weight has been taken off the film and the DC Cinematic Universe. That's the guy we want to see. The guy who can make Vic Stone laugh despite the pain. The guy who can call "The Flash" "slow-poke" and spur him on. The inspiring one. The beacon. The one that has been sorely missed. Justice League gets that so right.

And it's about bloody time.

* sarcasm alert.

** Marvel's films and the DC films of Warner Brothers have been clocking in at 2 1/2 hours—the extended cut of Batman v. Superman ran close to 3 hours. Interestingly, Snyder's longer film "feels" less long than the cut version. This happens. I remember seeing a 2 1/2 chronological cut of Once Upon a Time in America (Paramount Studio interference) that seemed interminable, but Sergio Leone's 3 1/2 version never gave a sense of time breezed along, despite being an hour longer.

*** And here's an odd thing that I'll leave out of the upcoming "Things That Bother Me" section: After his little "Superman and Lois" flight through the Gotham night with the Parademon, some guy comes up to him and says "what was that?" and Batman goes into a long explanation to him. Is this some stranger?  But my assumption was it's the robber that Batman bat-lassoed before.This guy's a criminal, right? What's Batman doing "just" talking to him—shouldn't he be arresting him? If it's some random stranger on some random rooftop the Parademon dropped him onto, shouldn't the guy's first words be—"W'oh! Do you know who you are? You're The Batman! I thought you were a myth! Are you? I can't believe I'm talking to the Batman. Can I take a selfie?" This is one of those elements of sloppy film-making that either Snyder committed, or was created due to the re-shoot editing process (which is supposed to ELIMINATE such things).

**** Here's any interesting test for critics—name some other Jack Kirby characters. You'll basically be describing the vasts of the last few Marvel movies. The guy was "everywhere."

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