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Josh Reviews Justice League!

Warner Brothers and DC’s new film, Justice League, is a milestone in their efforts to chase after the achievements of Marvel’s cinematic universe.  But whereas Marvel’s last decade-worth of films has seen a remarkably cohesive, gradual unfolding and expansion of a universe’s worth of characters and story-lines, DC/Warners’ efforts have been, well, let’s say a little more stumbling.

Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy was enormously successful, critically and commercially, but those films were a self-contained series.  Once that wrapped up with The Dark Knight Rises, DC/Warners began working to create their own interconnected cinematic universe.  Green Lantern failed, but Man of Steel seemed like a stronger first step, though that film was not quite the smash DC/Warners was likely hoping for, and it met with a mixed reaction from fans and critics.  (Overall I enjoy the film and I like a lot of the visual choices that Zack Snyder and his team made, though the film is undermined by several critical story-choices that don’t work and an ill-conceived ending.)  Whereas Marvel introduced its heroes gradually, though their own solo films, DC/Warners moved to jump-start their shared super-hero universe with 2016’s Batman v. Superman, which was intended to lead into the first part of a two-part Justice League film.  But while it made money, Batman v. Superman was roundly (and accurately) criticized for being an overly-long, overly-dour mess with an incoherent plot and flat characters.  (The extended version actually improves upon many of the film’s flaws, but not nearly enough to consider the film “good.”).  Suicide Squad was supposed to be a hip, fun shot-in-the-arm for DC/Warners’ super-hero film series, but I thought it was even worse than Batman v. Superman.  Only Wonder Woman was a true success, telling a fun, solid story with real characters that connected with the fans.

With their films failing to connect with audiences, DC/Warners began to curtail their ambitious plans that were laid out back in 2014.  Suddenly the two-part Justice League epic became a single film; who knows if we will ever see a sequel, or whether any of the other promised solo films (a Flash film, a Cyborg film, another try at Green Lantern, a solo Batman film starring Ben Affleck, a Man of Steel 2) will ever actually come to be.

Meanwhile, following Batman v. Superman’s critical drubbing, reports came out about efforts to rework and reshape Justice League, in an attempt to inject some of the lightness and optimism that has proven so successful with the Marvel films.  (The degree to which Zack Snyder, who directed Man of Steel, Batman and Superman, and Justice League, was on board with these changes is somewhat … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Wonder Woman

June 12th, 2017
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Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is a delight, a thrilling spectacle whose heart is 100% in the right place, focusing on a hero who is fierce and brave, a skilled warrior, who nevertheless prizes loyalty and love above all else.  It’s hard to believe it’s taken so long for a Wonder Woman movie to get made (or for any female super-hero, for that matter, to have an opportunity to headline their own big-budget film) (and no, I’m not forgetting about the dismal Elektra or Catwoman, try though I might).  It’s fantastic that this movie exists, and even more exciting that it’s so great, washing away the stink of Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad.  Yes, the movie has flaws (most notably the lame CGI punch-fest of an ending), but what works far outshines any chinks in the armor.

DC and Warner Brothers, clearly jealous of the success that Marvel Studios has had with their interconnected cinematic universe, tried to jump-start a DC universe with Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad.  Rather than having the patience to introduce their characters one-by-one in their own films, before then building to a crossover film (like Marvel’s The Avengers), Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad threw the audience into an already-existing universe in media res.  Had the films been good, that approach might have been an exciting way to differentiate the DC films from the Marvel ones.  It might have been cool to jump into a DC universe that was already well-underway, with lots of backstory and characters for us to discover.  But sadly, both Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad stunk, with nonsensical plots and nonexistent characters.  They were also painful in their desperate desire to be “adult.”  It’s interesting to imagine a DC cinematic universe in which Man of Steel had been followed up, not with those two turkeys, but with Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman.  The one-two-punch of those films would have left me chomping at the bit to see where the DC universe would go from there.

Wonder Woman has a brief framing sequence that acknowledges the wider DC movie universe, but thankfully the rest of the film is a completely stand-alone story that stands on its own two feet as opposed to being an advertisement for future adventures.  (Part of me wishes even that short framing sequence wasn’t in the film, though I can understand why DC/Warner Brothers wanted it there.)

I applaud whoever had the courage to make this film a period piece, rather than setting it in the modern day.  And setting the film in WWI, rather than WWII, is even better.  This gives the film a flavor and texture that differentiates it from so many … [continued]

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Josh Actually Doesn’t Hate the Extended “Ultimate Edition” of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice!

So, yeah, I wrote a pretty scathing review of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and also of the DC follow-up film Suicide Squad.  I wouldn’t have imagined that I’d be in any sort of rush to watch Batman v Superman again any time soon (or even ever).  But when I read that Warner Brothers was releasing a new cut of Batman v. Superman (I’m just refusing to keep writing out Dawn of Justice, OK?) with almost thirty minutes added into the film, I found that, despite myself, I was intrigued.  Thirty minutes is a lot of additional footage.  Was it possible that this longer cut salvaged the mess that I had seen in the theatre?  I doubted that this was a Kingdom of Heaven situation (in which a truncated to the point of being almost nonsensical version was released to theatres and was rightfully savaged by critics as being terrible; and then when Ridley Scott’s much-longer director’s cut was released to DVD we all discovered that the film was, lo and behold, almost a masterpiece), but was there a chance this longer version might salvage the film?  I was dubious but, like Fox Mulder, I wanted to believe.

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Well, I am pleased to report that the “Ultimate Edition” of Batman v Superman is actually, wait for it, not entirely terrible!  It is actually sort of almost OK.

Most of the major flaws of Zack Snyder’s film remain.  The film almost completely misunderstands the characters of both Batman and Superman, turning Superman into a dopey, wishey-washy moron and Batman into a criminal-murdering crazy-person.  The film’s version of Lex Luthor is lame and criminally disappointing.  The way glimpses of all the Justice League characters are inartfully shoehorned into the movie is painful, and Batman’s long dream/vision/whatever of a future in which Darkseid controls Earth and Superman is his lackey is head-scratchingly confusing and totally out of place stuck in the middle of the film.  The entire extended climax is a disaster, in which Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman don’t talk to one another at all while spending an inordinate amount of time punching an ugly, horrible CGI creation and Superman sacrifices himself for no reason when Wonder Woman (who doesn’t happen to be deathly allergic to Kryptonite) could have easily killed Doomsday with that spear.

But the new material provides a lot of useful connective tissue for the film’s various interwoven stories, and at last I can understand what Zack Snyder’s vision was for the film: a dark, complex epic that attempted to blend the ultra-serious and “grounded” approach that Christopher Nolan used so successfully in his trilogy of Batman films with more of an embrace of large-scale super-powers … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Well, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice isn’t the catastrophe that I’d thought it would be based on the terrible trailers, but that doesn’t mean it’s anything approaching a good movie.  The film is fun to watch, in a brain-dead sort of way.  Seeing Batman and Superman (and Wonder Woman) on screen together is certainly a thrill, but the movie is such a disjointed mess, such a blatant advertisement for the next ten DC universe super-hero movies that Warner Brothers wants to make, that it barely functions as a movie despite (or because of?) its lengthy run-time.

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Let’s start with what the film does well.  Let’s not forget what a groundbreaking thing it is to have Superman and Batman on screen together.  In this age of the Marvel Cinematic Universe it’s easy to forget that no one has ever done what Marvel has so successfully done, creating a shared universe in which the super-hero characters can team up together in one another’s movies.  This is still a pretty cool thing.  A Batman/Superman crossover movie has been talked about for a while now — and Warner Brothers came very, very close to making one about a decade ago (I believe a billboard for that aborted project can be seen in the Will Smith I am Legend film) but it’s never actually happened until now.  This sort of crossover is commonplace for comic book fans, but seeing it happen in a live-action movie is still pretty exciting.  I love seeing these characters together (and wish that they were actually together more in this long movie, but wait, let’s hold my litany of complaints for another few paragraphs), and it’s great fun seeing Clark Kent use his super-powers to listen in on Bruce Wayne’s earpiece communications with Alfred, or to see Batman and Superman slug it out underneath the bat-signal.

This film’s biggest success is its depiction of Batman.  I absolutely love Ben Affleck in the role.  I think it’s a great choice that, rather than re-tell the Batman origin yet again, instead the filmmakers decided to give us an old, grizzled Batman, one who has already been operating in the shadows for years before Superman’s arrival on the scene.  This is a brand-new movie version of Batman, and it works like gangbusters.  Director Zack Snyder has borrowed heavily from the depiction of an old Batman in Frank Miller’s iconic, wonderful “last Batman story” from 1986, The Dark Knight Returns.  This is not a version of Batman that I ever expected to see on-screen, and I love it.  It makes a lot of sense to contrast a bitter Batman with the more noble, idealistic Superman (except that this movie’s near-total betrayal of the … [continued]