Justice League Review

Justice League movie posterSynopsis
Batman (Ben Affleck) discovers that an alien invasion of Earth is imminent after the death of Superman (Henry Cavill). In order to combat the coming threat, he tries to bring together several of the world’s superheroes, including Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), the Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher).

Review
I have made no effort to hide my favoritism of the Marvel superhero characters over the DC ones. However, I do enjoy both studios and both have some great stories to tell. Ever since The Avengers, DC has tried to play catch up to get their Justice League on screen. With the exception of Wonder Woman, the films of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) so far have been less than enjoyable. So how did Justice League, the long-awaited big team up fare? Better than the sum of its parts, apparently.

Zack Snyder had to step away from directing duties for a while due to a family tragedy, so Joss Whedon stepped in to take over. Many were worried, including myself, that while he has a good sense of what makes a good team-up, he might take too much away from Snyder’s Justice League (for better or worse). I think it is safe to say that Snyder and Whedon have two very different directing styles and it is very apparent throughout the film. Whedon added a nice layer of humor throughout the movie that wasn’t too overpowering, like some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films can be these days, but it wasn’t a one-off thing either. Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (both directed by Snyder) were very dark and broody, way more than they should have been. While this film isn’t bright and cheerful, there is still a level of levity to keep the apocalyptic story from hitting Dawn of Justice level of gloominess. It looks to me that Whedon respected Snyder’s vision for the film but still put his signature stamp on it.

This movie is the first time we are seeing the Flash (besides a small cameo in Suicide Squad), Aquaman, and Cyborg. I really enjoyed all three new characters and who were cast in the roles. Ezra Miller as the Flash brought a great comedic relief to the film. He is a very different version of the Flash in the Arrow-verse. Aquaman, played by Jason Mamoa, didn’t want anything to do with anything and wanted to be left alone. Oh, and is apparently an alcoholic. He had my second favorite arc of the new characters of becoming less antipathetic as he works with the other members of the League, culminating in a great gag with Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth. Ray Fisher’s Cyborg has the most growth out of all of them, boasting maybe the most unique power set of the group. He initially sees his powers as a curse but eventually accepts them and gives some great moments during the final, no holds barred action sequence.

As I just mentioned, this is the first time several of the League members are being introduced. Normally, these ensemble movies feel way too long, focusing on only a few of the characters and not developing the rest cough Suicide Squad cough. This time, it actually had the opposite problem: it should have been longer! For obvious reasons, Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) had the two biggest roles in the movie. However, it still did a good job of balancing everybody, especially given three of the characters needed to be introduced. But there was still room for some more development of the new characters. I appreciate that the editors wanted to keep Justice League relatively short but I think in doing so, they only gave the bare minimum motivations we needed from these heroes. There is plenty of room for more.

While I don’t necessarily agree with DC’s approach to rush into a film about their superhero team-up group, I don’t necessarily think an origin movie was needed for every character beforehand. Yes, it definitely would have helped the audience connect with them but other ensemble movie’s have gone this route with moderate to great success. One that is coming to mind is the animated Justice League: War which boasts a similar story with the same characters. Another is Guardians of the Galaxy. Don’t get me wrong, Justice League is nowhere near as good as Guardians but my point is that it brought a team together without any prior knowledge of the characters the same way this movie does and the only reason that this is an issue is because these are well known characters and is comparable to The Avengers.

A common gripe in modern superhero films are the weak and flat villain. To bring Guardians back into the mix, I didn’t have a problem with Ronin being one-dimensional because his purpose was to bring the titular group together. Steppenwolf serves essentially the same purpose as Ronin only this time I was very disappointed. Other than “he wants to shape the Earth in his image,” he is given very little development. This is doubly disappointing given what, or rather who, he is the precursor for. Darkseid (pronounced “dark side”) is one of the Justice Leagues greatest and signature villains, often fighting on par with even Superman. There was very little hint towards any of this except for one line that only those who are familiar with the characters would pick up on. Steppenwolf is an integral part of what’s to come but it’s hard to see that given how poorly he was treated in this film.

I thought Justice League was GOOD 🙂 Not devoid of problems, it still offers a good time. A shallower-than-normal villain is really the biggest complaint from me, especially given the character’s importance. The new characters were fun and unique and meshed well with the previously established characters. I wouldn’t mind seeing a Zack Snyder Director’s Cut of the film to see how much Joss Whedon’s reshoots changed the final product or to get more character development. Overall, this is the best I could have expected from the mostly disappointing DCEU so far.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Zack Snyder – Director / Story
Chris Terrio – Screenplay / Story
Joss Whedon – Screenplay
Danny Elfman – Composer

Ben Affleck – Bruce Wayne / Batman
Gal Gadot – Diana Prince / Wonder Woman
Ezra Miller – Barry Allen / The Flash
Jason Momoa – Arthur Curry / Aquaman
Ray Fisher – Victor Stone / Cyborg
Henry Cavill – Clark Kent / Superman
Jeremy Irons – Alfred
Amy Adams – Lois Lane
Diane Lane – Martha Kent
Connie Nielsen – Queen Hippolyta
JK Simmons – Commissioner Gordon
Ciarán Hinds – Steppenwolf (voice)
Amber Heard – Mera
Joe Morton – Silas Stone

300: Rise of an Empire Review

300: Rise of an Empire movie posterSynopsis
During Xerxes’ (Rodrigo Santoro) land campaign against King Leonidas’ 300 Spartans, Athenian general Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) rallies Greek’s city states against Artemisia (Eva Green), commander the massive Persian Navy.

Review
There is no doubt that 300 was a success when came out in 2007. It may not have been a very deep movie, but it’s hyper-realism gave it a unique look. 300: Rise of an Empire is very much the same experience only more violent and sexier than before.

If you enjoyed the airbrush feel of 300 like I did, you will like it here. Rise of an Empire has the same visual style as before. The stylized violence returns as well. Although 300 offered its fair share of blood, it seemed to focus more on the strike that drew the blood, such as the sword slash or spear stab. This movie, however, held nothing back when it came to blood splatter. It reminded me of Dredd where anytime there was blood there was a ton of it.

Where the Spartans fought on land, Themistocles and his Greek army fights on the water. It makes for a different experience and set pieces. The naval battles are pretty impressive. One of the first battles has two Greek ships destroying a Persian ship by sandwiching it between their bows. It looks pretty amazing, particularly with the cinematography, and makes for a good contrast to the combat in 300.

Like it’s predecessor, Rise of an Empire is based off of a book written by Frank Miller. This time it is based off Xerxes, which hasn’t been released yet. It acts as a prequel/side-story to the events depicted in 300. It was easy to determine when the events of 300 occurred because there were brief glimpses or references to the Spartan’s actions. The plot shares many elements from before, too, such as a father-son fighting duo and the leader’s life-long friend. However, it feels like a simple rehash of the relationships in 300, rather than a new, original story.

Eva Green is by far the star of this film. She completely gets into the role of Artemisia. Very similar to Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) she proves that she is more that capable of taking care of herself, both on and off the battlefield. She is also one of the few characters given much back story or deep motivation.

Except for Artemisia, the characters aren’t very memorable. Members of the Greek army were pretty one-dimensional. They tried to make some character relationships, like a father and son, and the leader’s best friend, to expand the characters but it didn’t work as well as it did in 300. Themistocles pales in comparison to Leonidas. Sullivan Stapleton lacks the charisma of Gerard Butler and the character suffers for it.

300: Rise of an Empire is the sequel few really asked for, but somehow manages to hold its own. Visually, it shares the same hyper-realistic style that made 300 so enjoyable, and the water combat served as a nice variation to the Spartan’s land battles. Besides Eva Green’s Artemisia, who Green fully embraces, none of the main characters are very memorable. This film shares many similarities to 300 that made that film entertaining, but it feels too similar to make it really stand out as a new experience.

Rating
3/5

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Noam Murro – Director
Zack Snyder – Screenplay
Kurt Johnstad – Screenplay
Junkie XL – Composer

Sullivan Stapleton – Themistocles
Eva Green – Artemisia
Lena Headey – Queen Gorgo
Hans Matheson – Aesyklos
Callan Mulvey – Scyllias
David Wenham – Dilios
Rodrigo Santoro – Xerxes
Jack O’Connell – Calisto
Andrew Tiernan – Ephialtes
Igal Naor – King Darius
Andrew Pleavin – Daxos

300 Review

300 movie posterSynopsis
When Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his Persian army threaten Greece, King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) wishes to take his Spartan army to face him. After consulting the Ephors at Delphi, they refuse to allow him to declare war. Displeased, Leonidas takes a three hundred of his best Spartan soldiers to stop the invaders at Thermopylae.

Review
I really enjoy movies like 300; simple plot, great action and awesome visuals. Based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the same name, 300 is a fictionalized retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae during the Persian Wars. Know right away that it is not a documentary nor very accurate (read not at all) to the actual battle. But man does it look amazing.

The visual style of the film is up there as one of my favorites. The coloring over the film gives it almost an airbrushed feel, a very similar style to its source material. Most of the movie was shot using blue and green screens, with most of the environment being computer generated. It creates a very surreal look and feel that is exceptional.

Few movies offer the brutality 300 does. The first forty-five minutes or so are spent setting up the Spartans and the battle ahead, but once it starts, it goes all out. But in contrast, the non-action scenes lack something to hold my attention. During these intermittent scenes, I was just itching to get back to the action.  Although I understand it couldn’t be ninety minutes of fighting, the other scenes aren’t as interesting.

Zack Snyder was the best directorial choice for this film. This was only his second film (his first being the Dawn of the Dead remake) as director, but his style fits perfectly. His hyper-realistic style really brings an element to the movie that makes it feel unique.

A strength and a weakness of this movies is the plot. It’s very simple: Leonidas and his men fight Xerxes at the Hot Gates. Along with some politics happening back in Sparta, that’s pretty much all there is to it. This makes way for some breathtaking cinematography and action sequences. However, the action and thin plot doesn’t allow for much characterization.  So if you are looking for some deep character moments, you won’t find them here.

Sometimes it is great to just watch a movie with a simple premise. 300 may not be the most thought provoking movie out there, but what it lacks characterization, or any real story for that matter, it offers spectacular visuals and pure, unfiltered action. Zack Snyder proves that he is a specialist when it comes to working with “hyper-realism.” Visually stunning and unapologetically brutal, 300 is one of my favorite ways to kill an afternoon (pun intended).

Rating
4/5

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Zack Snyder – Director/Screenplay
Kurt Johnstad – Screenplay
Michael Gordon – Screenplay
Tyler Bates – Composer

Gerard Butler – King Leonidas
Lena Headey – Queen Gorgo
Dominic West – Theron
David Wenham – Dilios
Vincent Regan – Captain
Michael Fassbender – Stelios
Tom Wisdom – Astinos
Andrew Pleavin – Daxos
Andrew Tiernan – Ephialtes
Rodrigo Santoro – Xerxes