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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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“Captain Marvel” Retains Top Slot at the Box Office

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It’s no surprise that in its second weekend, the first Marvel Cinematic Universe of 2019 is still riding high. Captain Marvel, the latest in the MCU with Brie Larson starring as the lead, generated another $69 million over the weekend, placing its domestic total at $266 million. Tallying up the international box office, the film’s global total to date is $760 million. Despite the online controversy, the film is looking to be another strong box office smash for Disney and Marvel.

As for the premieres for the weekend, and there were plenty, they were all over the map. Just below Captain Marvel was the animated adventure Wonder Park, bringing in $16 million, another film with controversy when the director’s name was removed from the picture after sexual harassment charges. Five Feet Apart, the dying teen drama about a romance amid cystic fibrosis, only came in at #3 with a weekend gross of $13 million. And debuting the lowest in the top 10 for debuts was Captive State, a sci-fi dystopian tale, only making $3 million. The film debuted so low the little film No Manches Frida 2 was able to sneak about it at #6 with a gross of $3.8 million.

Drops were fairly low all around for the returning films, mostly because Captain Marvel was dominating the previous weekend. The only milestone worth noting is that The LEGO Movie 2, after six weeks at the box office, finally cracked $100 million. And the sun is now setting on Green Book’s post-Oscar run by coming in at #10 for the final weekend of its top 10 run over the past few weeks.

View the full top ten weekend box office results below:

Captain Marvel ($69,318,000)

Wonder Park ($16,000,000)

Five Feet Apart ($13,150,000)

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($9,345,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($8,085,000)

No Manches Frida 2 ($3,894,000)

Captive State ($3,163,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($2,135,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($1,900,000)

Green Book ($1,277,000)

Next weekend, Captain Marvel may very well have some competition when Jordan Peele’s new horror film Us hits over 3,600 theaters.


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“Dragon” Continues To Soar, “Funeral” Close Behind, “Green Book” Back

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With little competition for the weekend, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third in the animated fantasy saga, was able to secure the box office once more. In its second weekend, the animated epic made $30 million to push its domestic total to $97 million. So far the film has done about the same as the previous film and is on track to stay in the top 10 for a few more weeks in March.

Debuts this weekend were small with one big exception. Tyler Perry’s latest Madea film, A Madea Family Funeral, naturally made a relatively big splash with its dedicated audience. Starting at #2, the film made $27 million for its first weekend. No word on the budget yet but it’s most likely on a budget as most Tyler Perry productions are, so it’s safe to call this a success, especially for debuting with a box office so close to Dragon.

The rest of the premieres were not as strong at all. Greta, the new thriller starring Chloe Moretz, debuted all the way down at #8 with $4.5 million box office. To be fair, however, the film was in a constant battle for its spot as three other films also reported earnings around $4 million for the weekend. Of note, Green Book, fresh off winning the Academy Award for Best Picture one weekend ago, splashed back into more theaters to arise even higher in the top 10 with its domestic total now sitting at $73 million. Don’t count on it remaining there long as bigger blockbusters will be swooping as we plow through the last remnants of winter movies.

Check out the full listing of the top 10 box office weekend results below:

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($30,046,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($27,050,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($7,000,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($6,615,000)

Green Book ($4,711,000)

Fighting With My Family ($4,691,284)

Isn’t it Romantic ($4,645,000)

Greta ($4,585,000)

What Men Want ($2,700,000)

Happy Death Day 2U ($2,516,000)

Next weekend is once again all about Marvel as their latest superhero solo film, Captain Marvel, will be appearing in 4,100 theaters.


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Review: “Captain Marvel” is a Solidly Sensational Sci-Fi Adventure

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Captain Marvel joins the ranks of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a much different way. She slides into the MCU via a twisty sci-fi adventure of the 1990s, before the Avengers were formed. And though the film does serve as a strong bridge picture that answers a few more questions about the Marvel universe, the film quickly becomes its own thing and gives its hero a real identity as the powerful addition to the superhero ensemble.

Brie Larson plays Carol Danvers, a woman not sure if she’s a human pilot of Earth or a soldier of the Kree empire’s Starforce. There’s little time to explore these conflicting visions she’s having when there’s special energy powers to control and a war being waged against the shape-shifting Skrull alien creatures. A detour to 1990s Earth gives her a bit of time to find out more while also hunting down some more Skrulls, leading to some interesting scenarios when combatting aliens that could look like old ladies.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) ..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019

Carol’s landing on Earth leads to treading down familiar Marvel timeline territory as well as evoking plenty of dated 1990s bits. What started drawing me into the picture was how the film holds itself back from the obvious. The 1990s setting is used for some gags of video stores and Windows 95, sure, but never goes the extra mile of becoming an aggravating reference fest, keeping a certain vibe the way Guardians of the Galaxy embraced the 1970s and 1980s. And just like that film, there’s a nostalgic soundtrack to boot, with choice tracks for just the right cue.

Samuel L. Jackson pops up in the film as a younger Nick Fury with his two eyes still intact. He teams up with Carol in her intergalactic spy adventure and thankfully never goes to the booming lengths he was known for that decade. And the filmmakers could have easily made this younger Fury go full Die Hard 3 or Pulp Fiction but he never does, always keeping that cool persona he has been known for in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..L to R: Att-Lass (Algenis Perez Soto), Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Minn-Erva (Gemma Chan)..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019

But the one aspect that is never shunned and built up grandly is the aspect of female empowerment. Danvers is established as a woman who doesn’t have a clear identity or mindful nature of galactic politics and has to build herself up when she realizes she may be a very powerful pawn in a big game of intergalactic chess. Her memories are that of always being told to back off from non-traditional activities for girls and, sure enough, she rises up to become the smirking and energy-shooting hero when the final piece of her character puzzle is pieced together. It’s just unfortunate that the film spends so much time doing the building amid a twisty sci-fi spy story that Brie never gets a moment to shine as brightly as she could, despite a very enthusiastic third-act closer.

If we’re being blunt, no, Captain Marvel doesn’t quite have the same gravity to be a cultural milestone of a comic book movie. Where others have pointed to Black Panther as not the first the most insightful and cultural of black-led superhero movies, I doubt many will look towards Captain Marvel as the grandest of female-led comic book movies, making its motives known with the power and subtlety of a supernova. But, in terms of what the film is aiming towards, it doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone and that’s perhaps the point. I just wish that Captain Marvel’s astounding powers to destroy starships and aliens had a much bigger punch for a picture that wants to obliterate the glass ceiling and merely cuts a narrow hole within the MCU. It’s a nice hole, mind you, and still weaves a capable and compelling sci-fi adventure with a surprisingly more engaging finale than most Marvel solos.


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