Sunday, March 25, 2018

ON THE CONTRARY: "JUSTICE LEAGUE" (2017) IS REALLY A DAMN GOOD FILM! HERE'S WHY ... - by CEJ



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JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017)

Dir. - Zack Snyder 
(Joss Whedon - uncredited)
Cast: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Ezra Miller, Jason Mamoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Ciarán Hinds, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons
Screenplay - Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon  / Story - Chris Terrio, Zack Snyder / Based on Characters from D.C. Comics
Music - Danny Elfman
Dir. of Photography - 
Fabian Wagner
Editors - David Brenner, Richard Pearson, Martin Walsh
Running Time: 120 mins.
Release: 11/17/17 (U.S.)
Dist: Warner Bros. Pictures

GullCottage rating
(**** on a scale of 1-5)


VAULTED TREASURES: MOVIES YOU NEVER KNEW ABOUT, YOU FORGOT, 
... OR YOU SIMPLY JUST FORGOT TO LOVE MORE THE FIRST TIME AROUND!

     Grandmom always used the phrase "Being contrary" to politely describe one of her numerous grandkids (then eventually great grandkids) who for no discernible reason seemed to have the proverbial "bug up their ass" in wanting to do the exact opposite of what everyone else was doing ...  and wanting to do it just because it was the opposite, and not necessarily because they themselves enjoyed it more than that in which the "rest of the family pack" was engaged. Well, just to be clear, that's not our modus operandi in regards to these "On The Contrary" entries - wherein we kinda stick up for, and point out the attributes of, films which by and large have accrued a great deal of ... well, no sense in dancing around the verbiage, ... where we stick up for, and point out the positive attributes of, films which most of the general public just f**king despises.


     Our last entry about THE DARK TOWER set off a couple'a one or two "Hatfields vs. McCoys"-like online skirmishes. And that's okay, because for whatever reason nowadays to disagree about politics or organized religion is understandable and even encouraged. But to disagree and break ranks on the general consensus of a film! is somehow intolerable. So, if we can fly in the face of that sort of movement, then hey, more power, brother! We've even ("Oh, tragedy!") had people unfriend us on social media because they lost respect for our opinion and "couldn't take us seriously" when we expressed a gleeful enjoyment in a film most deemed as "summer movie trash". Well, it was either that or the semi-smart-ass response on our part in which we made it clear that "We don't take ourselves all that seriously either, so it would be kind of hypocritical to expect others to do so". At any rate, no, we're not just being contrary, but we rather like to think we're being more in line with a quote by 'ol Steven Spielberg which we just love as it makes so damn much common sense ...

     "I even get inspired by movies that aren't very good, because there's always something good in movies that are collectively thought of as a failure".


     Which is not to say that we think 2017's JUSTICE LEAGUE - from everyone's favorite cinematic three-legged dog to kick, Zack Snyder (cue the Harry Dean Stanton song from KELLY'S HEROES) - isn't very good. On the contrary (there's that phrase again!), we think it is while so much of the rest of the world disagrees. We just wanna lay out a few cinematic reasons as to why we dig it as much as we do though - reasons we think tend to get overlooked in today's length-of-a-news-bite rush to "love" or "hate" a film 100% upon first viewing, and in some cases even before it's released - y'know, based upon leaked footage, an earlier script draft which ended up making the rounds, or "buzz" via rumor and more. And oh, for those whose criteria of a film's worth is it's domination of the box office, or it's lack thereof, here's a little somethin', somethin' to consider  ...

Classics which were originally box office failures include
(L to R) BRINGING UP BABY (1938), FANTASIA (1940) and THE THING (1982)

     Keep in mind that some of what are now considered the most popular and acclaimed films in history where originally box office failures: among them BRINGING UP BABY, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (many were appalled at how "dark" it was at the time), Kubrick's 2001 (many attending it's premiere screening walked out), Disney's 1940 masterpiece FANTASIA (which after numerous theatrical re-releases wouldn't see a profit until the late 1960s), and BLADE RUNNER and John Carpenter's THE THING - both of which opened on the same day back in the summer of 1982, and crashed and burned so badly they were relegated to the second run and "Dollar Theaters" and drive-ins within three weeks.


     Now, with a budget just north of $300 million (entirely too much, we agree on that!), JUSTICE LEAGUE needs to make at least twice it's budget to break even. And with a global box office take of near $660 million combined with Blu-ray, DVD, streaming and other home video ancillaries, when all is said and done Warner / D.C.'s magnum opus should break even with a little bit to spare. Just putting that one out there for those who can't get let go of the concept that a film's box office determines it's ultimate worth. But that's a discussion for another day.

     As for general attitude / intent with "On The Contrary" here's a quick little excerpt from that previous THE DARK TOWER intro where we expressed how the position of "I don't care" regarding another's like or dislike of a film (or certain things in life in general) can sometimes be the most healthy outlook one can have:


     "I don't care" simply means one's opinion concerning what one likes and dislikes is based upon one's own decision making process and / or (for whatever random reasons in that infinitesimal universe) one's predilections, tastes and what fires / triggers one's own imagination regardless of the tastes, predilections et al of everyone else out there, ... or even Rotten Tomatoes' (they themselves admit) unscientific aggregate scoring process. That kind of positive "I don't care" mentality (as opposed to the negative and often self destructive kind) is not only "okay", I've always thought it downright necessary. 

     What many just can't seem to fathom however is that this doesn't mean my take is "right" while someone else's is "wrong", ... or vice versa. It just means (for whatever reason) my take is MY take, and I enjoy that take just as another should enjoy THEIRS without caring what I think or feel about it, or why. That said, this isn't any kind of "review" or "apology" or "debate bait" concerning summer 2017's film adaptation of THE DARK TOWER as directed by Nikolaj Arcel and based upon the series of novels by Stephen King. As I said, I really don't care whether you liked it or not, ... which isn't the same as "I don't care that you have an opinion". It's important and necessary that you do. Now, as long as we're all clear and cool on that ...".

     So, fast fowarding to the present, are we all cool with that?

     Alright then!



     By the way, for those familiar with how we do things here, you know we tend to believe the scientific principle that nothing happens in a vacuum. And as such not only do we explain what our observations, dissections, opinions and such are concerning a film, but why and how those viewpoints have (as with any POV on any art form) been shaped both internally via one's own past experiences as well as externally by the context of the time in which the film was made and released. For those however who wish to "opt out" of what some may consider that "psycho-babble bullsh*t", feel free to scroll down to the JUSTICE LEAGUE review proper which comes just after the white line page separator not far below the pic of Jason Mamoa standing in the wind, and just above Gal Gadot brandishing the sword. We won't be offended in the slightest.

     Scroll away. We'll give you a moment ... 

JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017)

     For those who hung around for this part (or came back to it later) - speaking of Stephen King, in one of those many wonderful forwards to his short story and other collections (and NIGHT SHIFT still rules as the greatest of 'em all, though THE BACHMAN BOOKS comes in a really close second) he delves into the wonderful (albeit murky) psychology of how and why something will appeal to one person while not being worth a hoot in hell to another. And he does so with the analogy of the screen-like mesh. According to King (and that sounds like the beginning of some GAME OF THRONES type yarn, doesn't it?) everyone's mind is a screen / mesh, and the size of the spaces between the strands comprising that screen / mesh vary from person to person.


     Daily life, with it's generally considered unimportant or random experiences and such, is the wind or water which continually passes through the mesh. And various bits of "junk", "artifacts", "leaves" and more will pass through or get caught up in said meshes depending upon the size of the spaces between the strands. So, what may just simply pass through the mesh of one person will get caught up in that of another. And Padow! - that's King's "Reader's Digest" version (if you will) of why one person's favorite color will be green while another's is blue, or why one will swear by the jazz of Thelonious Monk, and can't stand Kenny G., while for another the exact opposite will be so.

     As such our take / conception of JUSTICE LEAGUE, and why we feel it works, is part based upon the mesh of how in our childhood years comic books in particular became the gateway into the world of the arts in general, and partly how later down the line we'd come to integrate a love of other artforms into that mental mesh-palooza. For others it may have been an English Lit class or piano lessons or other kind of artistic / creative entree, but for us the "Stargate" of entry and highly subjective opinion was the Marvel and D.C. comics of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, then various novels and films.



     Some have taken notice that on our personal social media pages we've made numerous postings of late about those "big and loud" types of genre films, and not in a negative way. But don't assume too much. (Forgive us for sounding a tad arrogant here - we all succumb to it at one time or another, but) we're fairly certain there are more beloved obscure, classic, independent, foreign and even "whacked-the-f**k-out" experimental films on our shelves and stacked on the floor in the hall over there than many folks have ever seen or maybe even heard of. So, yeah, we love those too. The last couple'a months however have seen us involved with a few projects which quite simply have been kicking our asses pretty good. Which is not to say we aren't enjoying those projects. Uh, uh! A couple of 'em are just tough, that's all. And we call that the "pick & shovel" / non sexy aspect of the creative process.


     One story in particular is a challenging juggling act of a real life contemporary group of people doing a job of which many in the general public have never heard. So, there's the flipping plates and frisbees in the air aspect of making people aware of that job, explaining why these people do it, and remaining faithful and accurate to the true-ness of things (y'know, getting the facts correct) while also remaining faithful to the needs of drama, characterization in the way of arcs and such, a narrative surprise or two, and even instilling a little humor to keep things from getting too tonally burdensome. And you want to do all of that without dropping any of those plates or frisbees. So, it's a process which is longer and harder than anticipated - and isn't that always the way? But every day we get up from the desk and say, "Damn, that came out pretty good". During those at times "non-sexy" moments of artistry we all have our means of "escape", ... our way of "releasing the valve" or "loosening the 'ol fiddle strings" for a few hours. In this respect our's has always been to remind ourselves why we wanted to do the script writing thing in the first place as a child. And as said, for us the entree was comic books, which lead to novels and music and more.

(Clockwise): THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #101 (Oct. '71), JUNGLE ACTION #19 (Jan. '76),
THE HOT ROCK film (1972), THE HOT ROCK novel (1970) 

     Back then we'd see a movie at the drive in with mom and dad and our brothers, then we'd spend the weekend drawing a 25 page comic book version of it. And that made us want to learn all we could about those movies, so we began perching at the local library like a hawk on the look-out for neighborhood pigeons - waiting for and devouring every new issue of Time, Newsweek, The New York Times and more for their movie reviews (and even ripping a few pages out from one or two of those publications to take home - and yes, today we feel guilty as hell about that!). Eventually, having gotten into the habit of scouring the New York Times Book Review, we struck upon the idea of, if a movie was to air on TV on a Saturday or Sunday night, and they had in the library the book upon which it was based, we'd often sign out the novel and spend the day reading the entire thing so we could compare it with the movie version the next day.


     We particularly remember one Saturday at age 12 where we read Donald E. Westlake's THE HOT ROCK, then watched Peter Yates' and William Goldman's film version into the wee hours of Sunday. That was an early education in film and writing one couldn't get in a semester of film class, ... at least not at age 12.

     From Donald Westlake and Michael Crichton (introduced to us via 1973's WESTWORLD and Robert Wise's 1971 film version of THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN), we then branched into both the literary and cinematic worlds of Ian Fleming, Agatha Christie and Edgar Rice Burroughs, which in time lead to "mainlining" the classics by Twain, Hemingway, Bradbury and Asimov, and we even managed to find our way into Elmore Leonard, Stephen King and freakin' Voltaire and Giraudoux no less!

     Around this same time those movies (and their scores and soundtracks) lead us into a budding life long love affair with all kinds of music - from classical to jazz, R&B and funk to rock, to folk and (having developed a taste for it via film) various indigenous syles from around the globe.


    The "writing and illustrating our own comic books" part of the equation lead us for a time (before realizing we were more interested in the writing, and less in the illustrating, aspects) to the Art Institute of Philadelphia where we became close friends with photographers and fashion designers; and their worlds lead us to a greater appreciation of movie cinematographers and costume and production designers, etc. So, in a very real way ALL OF THAT was born from a love of "those damned (what some would call) dumb-assed comic books" as a child. Oh yeah, and as so many of those "dumb assed" comics back in the 1960s - 80s were also uber political, some of them became our first introduction into social awareness and the concept of social responsibility, and when necessary, the need for social protests and action. All of this to say that to this day we'll have words with those who dismiss comic books (and their filmic adaptations) as "crap", "empty headed" and "juvenile". Well, ... some of them certainly are.


     We mean, c'mon, we're not gonna pretend Pam Anderson's BARB WIRE (1996) has the same sub-strata social-political significance of Bryan Singer's X-MEN or Ryan Coogler's BLACK PANTHER, right? But you're not going to find any different kind of "popcorn movie" vs. "classic movie" or "gem of a film" vs. "sh*t of a film" ratio within the comic book film adaptation arena than that you'll find with westerns, love stories, dramas, religious movies and more all based on various other kinds of source material. So, whew!, with all the "mesh" perception / perspective stuff outta the way ...

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     We truly dig JUSTICE LEAGUE. We dug it more than we thought we would upon first viewing on that IMAX screen. And after watching it at home earlier this week we find ourselves liking it even more. We'll even cite very "film craft" reasons here as to why we feel it works like gangbusters. Many have made note of how it's a little lighter in tone (as well as in it's look) than the earlier films in Warner / D.C.'s expanded cinematic universe - MAN OF STEEL and BATMAN V. SUPERMAN. But we really love those two films as well, especially BATMAN V. SUPERMAN, which ("No, horsesh*t, Jack") shakes the pillars of our personal Little China to make our list as one of the ten best comic book movies ever made, right up there with SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, DICK TRACY and ROAD TO PERDITION - which everyone forgets (or didn't realize) was based on a comic book. Oh, sorry, ... we mean based upon a "graphic novel".

     But that's our point. We don't hold with the foolish but widely accepted notion that all comic book movies should be "light" and "fun". They should be enjoyable and engaging, absolutely! But JAWS and THE EXORCIST are enjoyable and engaging too, but no one would really classify them as "light", would they?


     You wouldn't demand that all movies based upon stage plays be the same in tone and feel just because THE KING AND I or RENT had a certain tone or feel, would you? And one wouldn't have the narrow-minded bias and hubris to say DEATH OF A SALESMAN or THE ICEMAN COMETH sucked because it was darker than OKLAHOMA, right? Well, it's the same with any source material and / or genre of film sprung from that source. Some westerns are light, and some are dark as hell. Some are character studies, actioners, or more comedic, or are social treatises. Some are even combos - like say Richard Brooks' THE PROFESSIONALS (1966) or Sydney Pollack's THE SCALPHUNTERS (1968), both of which are rollicking mash-ups of action and comedy.

     While many genuinely seem to have a hard time wrapping their noggins around the fact, it's the exact same thing / the exact same way with comics. For proof keep in mind that not only are the usual suspects - IRON MAN, THOR, BATMAN, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, WONDER WOMAN, SUPERMAN, BLACK PANTHER et al based upon comic books, but so is THE WALKING DEAD, MEN IN BLACK and the aforementioned ROAD TO PERDITION, along with A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, GHOST WORLD, AMERICAN SPLENDOR, THIRTY DAYS OF NIGHT, ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL and others. The source material "Well Of The Souls" of comic books is as vast and eclectic and deep a well as any other. So, let's stop pretending otherwise just because we personally may not want to acknowledge that "those" kinds of films and film sources deserve to sit in the front of the bus every bit as much as other more traditionally respected ones.


     Even within the superhero sphere of the comic book world so many of the most culturally iconic and popular heroes - among them SUPERMAN, WONDER WOMAN and BATMAN - have been rebooted and retrofitted so many times (darker during the Depression years, inspirational during WW2, lighter in the 1950s, downright spoofish and cartoony in the 1960s and 70s, more violent and serious in the 1980s and 90s, then more globally reflective in the post 9/11 era) that when accusing a new film or series of films of breaking canon one has to realistically ask, "Well, to which canon are you referring?". All of this to say, we very much like the darker more serious, post 9/11 tone of MAN OF STEEL and BATMAN V. SUPERMAN.


     Oh, and one more thing about Snyder's much maligned first two D.C. entries - for those who accuse those films (especially in their depiction of Superman) of being dark and non-heroic, please re-watch them while setting aside preconceived notions, and note how the characters of Batman and Superman are very much the same as they ever were. While Henry Cavill's "Clark Kent" is certainly a more realistic, middle America far cry from Christopher Reeve's endearingly bumbling depiction, his Superman is absolutely not! It's the world around him which has drastically changed since Richard Donner's 1978 film. And that is the thematic crux of MAN OF STEEL and BATMAN V. SUPERMAN - whether or not the idealism and / or life mission of those characters back in the 1940s through the 1970s still applies today (or is even possible) in a western society where most outsiders in general are viewed with a great deal of suspicion, and often greeted with violence.


     In those films the exact same Superman who was welcomed with open arms forty or fifty years ago now exists in a xenophobic world where the general "play it safe" philosophy is to "not trust them" but to deal  with outsiders with a "necessary at times?" forceful intergalactic / interdimensional "vetting process". In this regard, and with this view towards Superman, Ben Affleck's Batman of BATMAN V. SUPERMAN becomes the living embodiment of Harvey Dent's warning expressed in Christopher Nolan's THE DARK KNIGHT - in how "You either die as a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain". Snyder / Affleck's Bruce Wayne / Batman - who has been battling evil for decades - indeed does become the villain in his obsessive attempt to destroy the Man of Steel because he believes his arrival on earth to be potentially dangerous to human kind. We delve into this in detail in our GullCottage "Inherent Power Of Genre" review of BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE. Give it a look-see when you get the chance. At any rate …


     In the lighter JUSTICE LEAGUE, Batman, moved by Superman's ultimate act of self sacrifice at the climax of BATMAN V. SUPERMAN, has his faith rekindled just in time to unite with a group of "meta beings" whom not long ago he very likely would have sought to do away with every bit as much as he wanted to do away with Superman. This new character arc works incredibly well for Affleck's Bruce Wayne in the current film. So, continued kudos to those first two films for having the balls to not brush those darker post 9/11 xenophobic concepts under the carpet for the sake of "making things lighter and more fun", and to sell more toys.

     Capra didn't kowtow to that sensibility with IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. And we believe years from now more will come to appreciate the "torn from the headlines" approach, and (so-called) "darkness", of MAN OF STEEL and BATMAN V. SUPERMAN as more honest and accurate "time capsules" granting necessary insight into life in the early 21st century - that sort of thing which genre films can often do better than their more "serious minded" movieland counterparts. Heroes should be bigger and better than the worlds they inhabit. And maybe years from now when we evolve into a more humane society our superhero comics and films can once again take place against more pastel colored backdrops. But keep in mind that right now it's more our darkness against which Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman's idealism has been struggling the last five years on the big screen, ... not their own.

The Post-9/11 world of BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016)

     That said, the slightly lighter tone of JUSTICE LEAGUE is a nice tonal change up, and it serves the story well. Kind of how the darker STAR TREK: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK ('84) was followed by the lighter THE VOYAGE HOME ('86), and the intense espionage of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE ('63) gave way to the more playful adventure of GOLDFINGER ('64), but we can accept and enjoy 'em all. Sorry, MOONRAKER doesn't count! (insert comedic drum and cymbal - Baduum Tissss!) 

     There's perhaps a bit too much CGI in the new film, and that sort of thing always tends to take one out of the immediacy of the proceedings. But that's less a problem with this film in particular, and more a problem with most films today in general. Yes, including those small scale dramatic non-genre ones - y'know, where there's a little too much effort put into making Toronto look like L.A., New York or Pittsburgh, and it becomes noticeable when you should be paying attention to the conversation two people are having on that park bench. What JUSTICE LEAGUE gets and does right however, it gets and does very right.


     We love it's script's structure. Bringing together numerous characters in any kind of crossover endeavor (even something like that Shondaland SCANDAL / HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER ratings slam dunk) is by its very nature "unrealistic" and "forced". The trick is to make the "forced"-ness go down a little easier by smoothing it over with something familiar and identifiable to the audience. We refer to this as the "narrative tour guide". For example, after the release of the film TITANIC many became aware of the whole classism thing of the upper decks being occupied by the rich while the lower class immigrants were crammed into steerage. But before the opening of James Cameron's 1997 film a great percentage of the general film going public had no idea about this interesting historical tidbit.

ROMEO & JULIET as "narrative tour guide" through unfamiliar cinematic worlds:
(L) Lower class "Romeo" and upper class "Juliet" in the historical / romance TITANIC (1997);
(R) Lychan "Romeo" and vampire "Juliet" in the action thriller UNDERWORLD (2003)

     So, Cameron (we feel quite wisely) chose to pour the historical elements of his story into the familiar-to-the-audience "narrative jello mold" of ROMEO & JULIET - this because everyone, even if they've never read Shakespeare's classic tragedy, or even seen any film rendition, knows the gist of that famous story: two lovers from warring families defiantly cross drawn lines in order to be together. So, ROMEO & JULIET becomes the audience tour guide for TITANIC. In a similar manner JUSTICE LEAGUE clevery uses the first book of J.R.R. Tolkein's LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, as its "narrative tour guide" to bring together the contemporary "fellowship" of Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and the Flash (and later Superman, of course). The film's backstory is even right out of Tolkein.


     JUSTICE LEAGUE opens with arguably the greatest sequence of any comic book movie ever. And the brilliance is in how simple and low budget it is. The world has been reeling for a couple of years since the sacrificial death of Superman. And the new film opens with amateur camera phone video footage taken by a couple of kids who happen to catch Superman in a candid moment after he's completed a herculean act of derring do. They ask him about the "S"-like symbol on his chest, and he informs them that on his home world it's not an "S", but is rather the symbol for hope. He then tells them how his father once said that "Hope can be like your car keys  - easy to lose, but if you fish around you can often find them again". And that becomes the theme of the new film - the world, as well as loner individuals like Bruce Wayne, Diana Prince, Victor Stone, Arthur Curry and Barry Allen, is / are thrust into a dangerous adventure to find its / their lost hope. And the five titular individuals find it in the last place any of them expect -  in league with others, ... in league with each other.

Ciarán Hinds as the D.C. supervillain Steppenwolf

     The Tolkein element? As JUSTICE LEAGUE  progresses we go back in time to a backstory where D.C.'s classic intergalactic villain Steppenwolf (in the film portrayed - with a little makeup and CGI assist - by Ciarán Hinds, best known from films like MUNICH, and as Gaius Julius Caesar in HBO's ROME) attempts to invade earth. And just as in THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, where the lords of Elves, Dwarves and Men are each given Rings of Power, then have to band together to repel the invasion of the Dark Lord Sauron, so too (according to JUSTICE LEAGUE) did earth's Amazons (Wonder Woman's ancestors), Atlanteans (Aquaman's people) and humans (oh, and if you look quickly you'll also notice some Olympian gods and members of the Green Lantern Corps in there too) unite to defeat Steppenwolf. Rather than "Rings of Power" however, each of the three races are given one third of what comes to be known as the "mother box" - an all powerful device sought by Steppenwolf, which can fold, bend and manipulate time and physical matter. After Steppenwolf is repelled each race then hides their third of that "mother box" device presumably for all eternity.

Three long hidden pieces to a puzzle propels JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017)

     Centuries later in the present day, when the existence of Amazons and Atlanteans have to humans become the stuff of myth, ... and where humans themselves are divided and at war with one another, Steppenwolf is revitalized and returns to the only world which ever defeated and drove him and his armies back across the cosmos. He in turn steals the "mother boxes" from the Amazons and Atlanteans, and as he goes after the box hidden eons ago by the race of man, a new "fellowship" must be forged by the representatives of those former allies; this new fellowship in the form of Wonder Woman and Aquaman representing their races, and Batman, Cyborg and the Flash representing humanity.

Director Zack Snyder

     That’s a very nice classic structure to bring the diverse "metas" together. And we also very much enjoy the "finding three parts of a whole" structure which is the narrative engine which moves the film's 2nd Act along.

     Over the years this has personally become one of our favorite 2nd Act "mechanisms" when done right. And two of the best ever examples of “done rights” are surely seen in Sergio Leone’s THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966) - with each of the three main characters in possession of one part of the location / map to a Civil War gold box, and in Ray Harryhausen's THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1973) - where there is a race between Sinbad and the villainous sorcerer Koura to find three hidden pieces of a golden tablet, which when all are brought together form a map to a long lost "Fountain of Destiny and Untold Riches").

Three long hidden pieces to a puzzle propels THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY (1966)
and THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1973)

     In JUSTICE LEAGUE the “three pieces to one whole” 2nd Act mechanism is impressively realized in Steppenwolf’s efforts to bring the three "boxes" together to form the intergalactic equivalent of a hydrogen bomb which can allow beings from one end of the cosmos to pour, H.P. Lovecrat-like, into another. Very nice indeed! And as a simple exercise in well wrought script structure it's a masterpiece of efficient elegance - the spine / narrative central nervous system from which a great many themes and characters branch.

     Film craft stuff outta the way, in the garden variety level of plain old fashioned enjoyment JUSTICE LEAGUE delivers as well. In spite of that aforementioned little bit of too much CGI, the narrative is fast and contains action set pieces which are slick, memorable and a helluva lotta fun. Danny Elfman’s musical score is a big orchestral welcome return wonder for the ears - he integrating elements of John Williams’ original SUPERMAN motifs, Hans Zimmer & Tom Holkenborg (aka “Junkie XL)’s MAN OF STEEL theme and electro-tribal Wonder Woman rift from BATMAN V. SUPERMAN, along with his own BATMAN theme from the Tim Burton films and a plethora of new material - our personal favorite of which is the magical / other-worldly / pseudo “math based” musical I.D. for The Flash.

Composer Danny Elfman

     Character-wise the script (credited to Zack Snyder, Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon) doesn't skimp on giving the iconic superheroes and superhumans a few very human blemishes. We always loved how Patty Jenkins' WONDER WOMAN painted the title character as sincere, brave and compassionate while far from perfect. In that film Gal Gadot's Diana was also naive, a little too self-assured and even selfish when she comes to realize the corruptibility of mankind. In fact so much that she at first decides to leave mankind to blow itself to hell in war. And it's only the self-sacrifice of Steve Trevor which causes her to rethink things and ultimately act otherwise.

     In JUSTICE LEAGUE she and Bruce Wayne philosophically go head-to-head when debating an action with the potential to be either positive or extremely negative in an AGE OF ULTRON sort of way! During these moments another brittle layer in Diana's emotional armor is exposed just as within Bruce there is exposed a hidden layer of seemingly unforgivable guilt.


Amy Adams as Lois Lane

     Take heart though. Those aspects don't cloak entire portions of the film in any kind of "Oh woe is me; behold mine angst!" neuvo-Morrissey manner. It's pretty much relegated to one powerful scene - the results of which are in time worked out in a couple of later scenes. Just enough dramatic imperfections to make the characters identifiable and a little more interesting, but not enough to bog down the proceedings, take away from the lighter tone, and (thank the Cinema Gods!) not elongate the film's running time - which here comes in at a lean and mean 120 mins.

     We mean, let's face it, as much as we want our money's worth (especially with IMAX prices these days) there's very little reason - outside of perhaps the good one of being a climactic entry in a series, or the bad one of having an inflated opinion of it's own importance - for a genre series entry to stretch into a 2 1/2 hr. (and sometimes near 3 hr.) running time. And yeah, we're talkin' you PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, TRANSFORMERS and even HARRY POTTER here. We love 'ya, but come on!



     Gadot, Affleck and Cavill are good, ... in fact damn good! But the ribbon this time around goes to the new kids on the block. With very little time to be introduced to audiences, and to make an impression worthy of his character standing alongside D.C.'s "big three" heroes, stage actor Ray Fisher gives perhaps the least known D.C. icon here - Victor Stone (aka "Cyborg") - a tragic humanity which is palpable. It's a remarkable (and genuinely subtle) achievement within the context of a 2 hr. film with so much else and so much other techno fire and fury on it's plate. Ezra Miller you may remember from THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER and TRAINWRECK. But here as Barry Allen (aka "The Flash") he hilariously steals every frame of every scene he's in with his own real life wiriness and hyped-to-the-max demeanor which totally befits a character with an extremely accelerated physiology / metabolism.

Ray Fisher as Victor Stone (aka "Cyborg")

    Certainly the most stylistically removed from the original depiction in the comic books is Jason Mamoa as Arthur Curry (aka "Aquaman") - who in JUSTICE LEAGUE is just a straight-up bad-ass. By the way, did you know that Mamoa was a marine biology major in college? Rather fitting, huh? Having recently completed filming late last year, his standalone AQUAMAN film (directed by INSIDIOUS and FURIOUS 7's James Wan) is slated for release in December 2018, and it has already begun generating extremely positive buzz within the industry based upon viewings of its presently-in-the-editing-bay footage.


     All in all JUSTICE LEAGUE is what anyone interested in not just a comic book adaptation, but a damn good night at the movies (or in front of the TV, sound cranked up, with the family) could want. Lots of action, characters with whom you fall in love, a little pathos, some humor, restored hope, ... and a whole lotta kicking of bad guy ass! In an odd way, in spite of its script's structural indeptedness to THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, every time we re-view it now we come away with it reminding us of kinda / sorta more of the same feeling we have after re-watching Aldrich's THE DIRTY DOZEN - y'know, only without having most of the characters killed off at the end! Like we said, JUSTICE LEAGUE is considerably lighter than that. Ultimately though, taking someone's mind and childlike soul back to memories of enjoying THE DIRTY DOZEN, ... we mean, hey, that's not such bad filmic company to be in, is it?

     Why does JUSTICE LEAGUE remind us of that World War II classic?


     Hell if we know. That's just the way things process within our own personal mental mesh. And, while that may not be good enough for some, it's damn well more than enough for us. Because, just as that rag tag group of World War II screw-ups learned, so does a new rag tag group of meta-humans come to discover the greatest truth in all of adventure movie cinema  ...

     You can't save the world alone.

     After such an enjoyable cinematic ride, why would you ever want 'em too?


                                                                                                                     CEJ