Justice League

cvjhk3hbdisxm6vsdgukI find I have a lot to say about Justice League, though I will admit to having slept through a pretty good chunk of what was undoubtedly a CGI-tastic battle action extravaganza.  I did wake up in time to find out who won and to see the two end-credit bits, which were two of the best parts of the evening for sure.

I’ll start with what I liked best about the movie, and that will pretty much tell you what’s wrong with it.  First off, The Flash is great.  He has some really funny lines and he physically plays the role conceived for him brilliantly.  He really feeds well off the other characters and there are a half dozen memorable moments there.  I am pretty certain that the success of this character will lead us to a stand-alone movie, and maybe we’ll get to see what’s happening in his super-cool studio!  The big downside here is that his back story rushed and confused and not particularly interesting — contrived is the word I’m looking for.  Aside from that, big ups to the Flash.

Second up, the Aquaman character isn’t too bad, either. Jason Momoa is all tatted up and hip and is the big sexy male in this one (when Ben Affleck isn’t strutting around in his $1000 suit pants, that is), and they also feed him some great lines — one monologue in particular —  that set him as more than an appendage to the big three.  The Aquaman component of the story isn’t bad, though his back story is even more contrived than Flash’s.  At any rate, his charisma is such that there is definitely a marine-based superhero film in our future (and probably more “you talk to fish” jokes, as well).

And that’s pretty much the deal with the movie – the best parts are peripheral elements.  The Justice League is about Batman and Superman and Wonder Woman, and what they bring just isn’t that compelling.  What’s worse, the main villain, Steppenwolf [insert Born to Be Wild joke here] is terrible.  Here’s the thumbnail sketch:  he’s really big wrinkly dude, he wears a viking helmet and wields a big battle axe, and he’s a mama’s boy.  His interests include jumping city blocks in a single bound and ruling with absolute power, and his biggest turn on is watching Nordic television adaptations of Oedipus Rex.  Or something like that.  The best part of the Steppenwolf angle is that there is a partial answer to the question of whether vikings wore helmets with horns.

In terms of action, I would compare it to an average James Bond movie franchise on that front, particularly in terms of the forgettable villain.  There was certainly some enjoyable action, like the “pissy Superman” sequence and Batman frying one of those bug things, so, yeah.  Gal Gadot is really the best of the big three here and my guess is that the Wonder Woman franchise will thrive as long as she wants it to and so far as the powers that be don’t overdo action at expense of letting her act.  Henry Cavill as Superman is meh and Ben Affleck as Batman just makes you shake your head and wonder what could have been with him in that role.

The main story was ok enough.  It was certainly the most successful as a playful and funny DC film that I can remember.  I was also kind of feeling it with J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon.  On the other hand, poor Amy Adams and Diane Lane, big stars trotted out for pretty much nothing, and Jeremy Irons is also pretty much worthless.  In terms of acting, it was like watching a pre-season game where the people with established acting chops are sitting on the bench and we get to watch to see if the new guys can get it done (that might not be a bad metaphor for the entire project).  Maybe these stars will come out to shine in one of the many future movies that are evidently planned.

So there it is from the L&D, watchable, pretty enjoyable, funny in spots, and more than enough to make you go out and buy a Flash t-shirt. On the other hand, it was loaded with underdeveloped and mostly contrived backstories to set up future movies (though probably not for the Cyborg character, oh brother) and a worthless villain.  My guess is they will follow Marvel’s lead with having some of the League in supporting roles, such as the Iron Man presence in Spiderman: Homecoming or the Hulk in the latest Thor incarnation.

Overall, enough to get L&D’s coveted “not terrible” tag.  But it’s not great, either.  Justice League has all the drama of watching a breakout star dominate a pre-season football game: the action is there, the established players are hanging around mostly watching, and nobody really cares about the opponent or who wins.  In other words, we’re really just passing the time until Lex Luthor shows up for when they play the game for real.


Market Madness:  It’s not clear how much buzz there is about this movie.  We were in a 9:50 showing with about six people total, including one guy we continue to see and is either a kindred spirit or an L&D stalker.  We will keep you posted as more information becomes available. Recent opening nights for Thor and Spiderman played to packed houses.   Just sayin.


American Assassin



I was surprised by the scope of American Assassin. The film does a lot of globe trotting and in this way feels like the next Borne or Bond installment. If you have been reading the L & D at all you know how often I bemoan the big explosion at the end of movies. I think it should be its own genre: THE BIG EXPLOSION movie. And it’s not just action, it seems like anything outside of Jarmusch or Baumbach has one. However, I will give credit where credit is due and say that American Assassin has got an enormous explosion at the end that actually contains a lot of drama.  American Assassin is well crafted and passable for what it is.

If you are interested in turning your mind off and pretending the world is made up of easily categorized good guys and bad guys then this is right up your blindly patriotic alley.  I however have watched 6 hours of Ken Burns & Lynn Novick’s The Vietnam War since I watched American Assassin, so I am under no illusions. Spoiler Alert: Lyndon Baines Johnson lied about how good we were doing, when in fact we were losing and had no way to win.

Back to American Assassin. If you like to watch action, things blowing up, close range firing and don’t mind a little “torture-lite” this is the right thing for you. It will be cathartic. Of course, the world will have become two hours more complicated then when you entered the theater but remember, it is a movie and you can catch up. I did think that the star, Dylan O’Brien did a solid job. Shiva Negar as Annika was also convincing.  And of course, I was glad to see Michael Keaton but it did make us wonder why he did such a typical movie after such a great recent run including Spotlight, Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Spider-Man Homecoming and The Founder. I guess he has to feed the Hollywood machine sometimes too.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword


I really enjoyed King Arthur: Legend of the Sword — well, at least more than I thought I would. Charlie Hunnam, commands the screen, as he did in The Lost City of Z and Director Guy Ritchie’s frenetic editing, camera angles and EDM Light musical selections kept the fantastical plot moving.

This easily could have devolved into an endless series of video game deaths (John Wick 2, I’m looking at you) but it didn’t. There is a fairly solid script and story that goes along with all the action. Jude Law as the villainous king is played with nary a false note. Even when his actions are outlandish and difficult to reason. He was a splendid bad guy. When he and Hunnam shared the screen, the chemistry was palpable.

Once again we have a film that if nothing else serves as a parable for father and son relations. This is one of the greatest and most long lasting dynamics in storytelling. As in Lost City of Z, protagonists dealing with the actions of their fathers, whether they like it or not, becomes what their lives are about. What if the protagonist didn’t try to avenge or make good in the name of his father?  The films would be much shorter.

The final battle scene was slightly hokey and seemed more so as it dragged on. But all in all, the directorial style, stunts and special effects in this film are strong enough to deflect any slight story or vfx snafus. If you like action and adventure that still reflects a strong commitment to storytelling, I suggest King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.