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Movie Review: ‘Justice League’ Plays Its Superheroes Silly and Safe

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The coming of the Justice League isn’t quite the grand superhero ensemble event of the year, but it didn’t come with the same dreadful disappointment of Batman v. Superman. This is more like a Thanksgiving dinner of an awkward family struggling to make the gathering work. They quip, quibble, babble in cliches and never entirely gel as well as they should. Still, they make the best of a familiar formula, albeit speeding past the grunt work Marvel put into defining their characters for a grand team-up.

Justice League ArticleNot long after Superman’s untimely demise, the Earth is already facing a new threat that drops on the world’s heroes as abruptly as it does the audience. Batman (Ben Affleck) has found that strange, bug-like creatures are searching for alien boxes that emit energy, dubbed Motherboxes. He doesn’t fully understand what they do but is smart enough to know that an evil scheme is afoot and that he needs a team. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is already onboard, having aided Batman once before and biding her time in Europe, working in art galleries and fighting crime every time a terrorist appears. We know enough about these characters to appreciate their candor. The heroes they hire, however, don’t have that kind of time.

Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) is quick to join the team as The Flash, living as a loner with the powers of super speed. Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) still needs a bit of time to adjust to his new robotic body to become the high-tech hero Cyborg. Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), the bearded prince of the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, is more of a reluctant frat guy, not so keen to join a team unless there’s some beer, babes or noble action involved. Even though the film loads each of them up with supporting characters, the script wastes little time detailing their origins, skating by most of them with brief explanations. Barry Allen got his powers from lightning; great. Victor Stone absorbed the powers of a Motherbox; got it. Arthur Curry talks to fish; sure, although he suggests the water does most of the talking.

The big bad for this hero gathering is surprisingly underwhelming, despite his whole destructive conquering of the world bit. Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) is a familiar villain to Wonder Woman’s people, though I’m surprised they instantly recognized him with his thorny helmet and flaming weapon, looking as though he shopped at the same store as Aries. His goals are nothing special, nor are they all that coherent. According to Wonder Woman’s jumbled account, he needs to collect three Motherboxes that will combine to turn the Earth into an apocalyptic wasteland. He keeps babbling on about the New Gods and the evil force known as Darkseid, terms that’ll breed goosebumps in DC Comics fans and head-scratching among the uninitiated.

Zack Snyder initially wrote justice League, but Joss Whedon was brought onboard to lighten up the script. You can certainly see the two contrasting forces at play here. The premise of these characters sounds dark; Barry has a dad in prison, Victor is ashamed of being a technological monster and Arthur has some issues with the lineage of Atlantis. Whedon’s writing adds some Prozac to the mixture, medicating Snyder’s dower elements into something wittier and light. I use the pharmaceutical reference because the charisma and comedy come artificial, built more to extract quick laughs than building ones.

This is most evident with the underdeveloped Aquaman, speaking more in action punctuations of “my man!” and “yeah!” than of his kingdom or his identity in the world above water. Take a look at the contrast in the film; we first see him as a stoic and silent provider for a small village, only for him to end up in the final scene as the chipper surfer dude of the League. I suppose Aquaman is now cool to the masses, even if it’s mostly because of nothing quips and a hot body. At least nobody in the audience burst out laughing when he zips through the seas.

Despite the film’s numerous attempts of falling flat on its face with jokes that are not as funny and speeches that are a tad too corny, there’s an admirable effort present for Snyder jumping gung-ho into DC’s more profound lore. About halfway through the film, the team realizes they can’t defeat Steppenwolf without Superman. How they bring him back to life is one of the weirdest plans of any superhero film, so strange that even the heroes think this might be in poor taste. Oddly enough, however, it makes sense for DC Comics. For as overly-eager as Snyder is to throw everything into Justice League, it’s a bit refreshing that he foregoes most of the time-wasting explanations of Atlantis, the Speed Force, Parademons, New Gods and Darkseid. There’s even a Green Lantern briefly mentioned in a backstory, proving that seemingly nothing is off limits for this universe.

Though Justice League stumbles and never quite finds its groove until the end of the picture, there’s better promise for this franchise’s future. Many of Snyder’s mistakes have been better resolved, graduating from letting civilians die, to excusing civilians from demolished cities, to finally saving citizens from harm’s way. There are bits and pieces of a great hero team present that start to come further and further together as the film continues. And there’s just something so satisfying about a movie where The Flash whisks civilians to safety, Wonder Woman can use her truth-telling lasso for pranks, and Superman can use his freeze-breath on his enemies. The expanded universe of DC Comics hasn’t quite reached that pique level of superhero charm, but it has at least found its way out of the incoherent darkness.

P.S.: While I’ve grown to despise post-credit Easter Eggs, I was delighted to stay for what made me all the more hopeful for the next Justice League outing.

[author title=”About the Author” image=”http://popstermedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/mark_mcpherson-300×221-150×150.jpg”]Movie Reviewer Mark McPherson has been all about movies since working at a video store in his youth. His talents range from video editing to animation to web development, but movies have always been his passion to write about.[/author]


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Review: “Happy Death Day 2U” Goes From Clever to Confounding

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The sequel to 2017’s fresh and giddy horror concept of Happy Death Day comes crashing in with the least remarkable discovery: why the time loop that kept making one college student repeat the same day? The previous film was interesting and clever for featuring Jessica Rothe as the college student Tree, infected with Groundhog Day syndrome where she keeps reliving the same day until she cracks the mystery of her killer. It was a unique play on the murder mystery scenario without getting bogged down in specifics. Happy Death Day 2U, unfortunately, tries to explain the looping in a manner that is as clunky as it is unnecessary.

The story catches up with Tree, relieved that she has solved the case. But now science student Ryan (Phi Vu) is infected with the looping, once more being slaughtered by a mysterious figure in the iconic baby mask. Ryan explains this to Tree who is ready to go all Edge of Tomorrow on this scenario and stop the killer again. But due to a very convoluted smattering of multiverses, time travel, dimension hopping, and time devices assembled from technobabble, Tree soon finds herself right back where she started; same day, same events, but a new killer and new relationships.

And here is where the film loses sight quickly of its fun. We spend far more time trying to decipher the logic of Ryan’s time experiment that has caused Tree’s curse than we do with the drama and comedy of a different universe. And with so little time to enjoy it, the script concocts a quick and cheap method of tying all this together. Somber moments are assembled as corny melodrama, where Tree’s loving embrace of her now-revived mother carries far less gravitas than her fiercer moments of bitterly forcing herself through the motions. Playing with the dimension shifting and repeating lives grinds to a halt of exposition because Tree hasn’t watched Back to the Future and needs to be brought up to speed. Oh, and that whole murder mystery aspect? Yeah, the baby-masked killer is still lingering but the mystery behind the new attacker seems so secondary to the time loop nonsense its easy to forget that Tree has to crack this case because she honestly doesn’t have to. What’s the point of foiling the bad guy when the whole timeline will be reset one way or another?

Clearly, the film is going more for a comedic angle than a terrifying one in how it treats time-loop scenarios and horror situations with a knowing wink. But the gags spun from such a story come off decent at best and datedly drivel at their worst. Imagine my shock when in order to steal the keys from a cartoonish campus official, an acting student puts on the most stereotypical of French outfits and poses as a blind student that gets into all sorts of wacky slapstick as she babbles in damsel-style French. I started having bad flashbacks of similar scenes from the sequel to Porky’s. The more clever bits of Tree skydiving without a parachute and taking a chug of drain cleaner in the supermarket are sadly overshadowed by the lamest of kooky college kid antics that seem as though they were ripped directly out of a forgettable 1980s teen comedy or a rejected sitcom pilot.

Happy Death Day 2U is maddening for all the potential it squanders. Think about how much more unique the story could have been if Phi Vu took control of the story with Rothe the teacher of all things murder and death, ala Edge of Tomorrow. But the story aborts too quickly and decides to once again make the story about Tree, torn between deciding on a reality to favor when there’s little time to care about any of her crucial decisions among cartoony antics. And that off-the-rails ending left such a nasty aftertaste that I’m already dreading the inevitable Happy D3ath Day, where I fear Rothe’s keen sense of rage and roar will only grow hoarse.


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“Lego” Makes Little Splash at #1 For Weekend

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As we head into February, a larger crop of films are headed to the theater to take the top spot away from films that have been dominating the top 5 for quite some time. And while most of the older films were knocked a few spots down, the champions of the weekend didn’t exactly have the grandest of debuts for being so high on the charts.

While it’s no surprise that The Lego Movie 2, the sequel to 2014’s surprise hit of an animated film, was at #1, it wasn’t by as hefty an amount as the previous movie. The animated sequel premiered at $34 million, surprisingly weak considering how strong the last film did on its first weekend. Still, it’s by far the highest of the weekend box office. Just below it at #2 was the gender-based comedy What Men Want, starring Taraji P. Henson and Tracy Morgan, coming in with $19 million. And just below that was the thriller Cold Pursuit, starring Liam Neeson and Laura Dern, at #3 with $10.8 million. And debuting even further down at #6 is the new horror film The Prodigy with a weekend debut gross of $6 million.

Aside from the thriller Miss Bala taking the biggest dip of the weekend at 60%, most returning films took very low drops in box office. The lowest drops were for the heartwarming dramas of The Upside and Green Book, only dropping 16% and 18% respectively. Finally being knocked out of the top 5 was Aquaman with a current domestic gross of $328 million and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse with $179 million.

Check out the full top 10 for the weekend below:

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part ($34,400,000)

What Men Want ($19,000,000)

Cold Pursuit ($10,800,000)

The Upside ($7,220,000)

Glass ($6,422,000)

The Prodigy ($6,004,403)

Green Book ($3,567,000)

Aquaman ($3,300,000)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ($3,040,000)

Miss Bala ($2,725,000)

Next weekend will be Valentine’s Day weekend where romantic comedy will do battle against futuristic cyborgs and bloody curses. Isn’t It Romantic, the romantic comedy satire starring Rebel Wilson, will hit over 3,300 theaters. Happy Death Day 2U, the horror sequel about a woman who can’t stop by dying, will premiere to 3,000 theaters. And Alita: Battle Angel, the dystopian sci-fi adventure based on the classic manga, will premiere to 3,700 theaters.


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Review: “The LEGO Movie 2” Builds More of the Same

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There’s was such an inspiring surprise behind 2014’s The LEGO Movie that resculpted the landscape of property-based movies. LEGO already had several animated features on home video but the first theatrical film of the classic and still-popular toy brought things to a whole new level of entertainment. It managed to merge a positive message about family and creativity while still being a self-aware showcase of various franchises. But with The LEGO Movie 2, the originality mostly evaporates by following too close to the manual.

The problem is that this sequel tries to double itself up in the wrong areas. It begins where the first film left off, with the younger-targeted Duplo toys invading the LEGO world. They seem friendly and innocent at first but then terror strikes and the world is sent into chaos. Five years later, the LEGO community has grown defensive against the Duplos as a more Mad Max society. It’s an identifiable landscape for the likes of the hardened Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and the goofily-gritty Batman (Will Arnett) but not for the plucky Emmet (Chris Pratt). Even in the face of war threatening all that is brick, Emmet still jams to his tunes, drinks sugary coffee, and holds out for a better life.

The Duplos seemed to have evolved as well. A spaceship kidnaps most of the key characters and brings them to the questionably devious Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) of the Systar System. The Queen wants to marry Batman in hopes of bringing about some secret plan she assures everyone is not evil, which Wildstyle doesn’t buy so easily. It’s up to both her and Emmet to save their friends and the LEGO universe by halting the wedding with the help of the space outlaw, Rex. If they don’t, an evil prophecy could be fulfilled of Ar-mom-ageddon where everyone will be banished to the bin of Storage.

All the verbiage comes with the obvious referential gags that don’t surprise much past what the first film accomplished. The story obviously steers towards the live-action tale of a brother and sister learning to come together with age. A sweet lesson but one that can be seen coming a mile away without any twists, despite a solid supporting performance by Maya Rudolph as the mother. Within the LEGO world, however, there are a handful of twists that don’t rattle the cage but at least give it a good kick. We learn more about Wildstyle’s background, Emmet’s desire to be tougher, Batman’s feelings about settling down, and the true plan of the girly toys. And while the twist of all these characters are telegraphed, they’re at least presented in a manner manic enough to keep up with the fast and frantic pacing of the comedy and action.

What didn’t let me down as much were the songs which are more abundant and pleasing than the previous film. Even though the film’s new catchy song is literally called “Catchy Song” with the lyrics “This song is gonna get stuck inside your head” repeated over and over, I can’t deny there’s a twinge of truth to its absurdity. I also really enjoyed a revision of “Everything is Awesome” and a bouncy song by Haddish about trying to make Batman jealous.

The LEGO Movie 2 proceeds as most sequels do by repeating what works, only providing a few more dashes of absurdity and surprise. But after two LEGO theatrical spin-offs since the first film, the bag of tricks is starting to wear thin, to the point where cameos must literally be pointed out to the audience with the guest characters addressed by celebrity name and profession. And that winking nature can only go so far, even when pointing out the sloppy logic of time travel and how all of this is just within the imagination of a boy. There’s still a bit of fun to be had within the knowing and playful nature of the picture but the age is certainly showing as it may be time to pack this franchise up for storage before it gets too weird for its own good.


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