Aquaman (2018)

Aquaman (2018) Screenwriters: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Will Beall 

Directed by: James Wan Rating: PG-13 Runtime: 2 hrs. 23 min. 

Until now, people probably never gave the role of Aquaman in live-action a ton of thought. Excluding those in the industry. It’s a massive undertaking to decently portray a mythical city in the vast depths of the ocean. In real life, and in film and TV, we focus more on our planet itself, the center of it, and certainly space. Our oceans are not a realm we look at too closely until now. 

James Wan tackles the challenges of bringing Atlantis beyond comics and animated series with vast scale, explanation, and vibrance. Is it perfect? No. I have questions about continuity with other DC films, some cultural ones, and some have to do with physics. I don’t do physics… still, it’s an impressive first take on Atlantis and underwater film in general, in live-action. 

A lot of water, CGI, and creative camera work let you enjoy a perspective of underwater living, swimming, and fighting. How do you fight underwater? With tridents, if you’re Atlantian. Basically, a giant pitchfork. Some interesting contraptions are rigged up to help with this, which is its own form of movie-making-magic. Or torture…

The trailer for this film sets the tone for an action-mystery. It’s true. It’s a journey of discovery about many things and not just for the main character. The central conflict Arthur Curry/Aquaman, played by Jason Momoa, faces is stopping his half-brother Orm, played by Patrick Wilson, from waging war on the surface world. He is aided in his journey by Amber Heard’s character, Mera. These supporting roles depict characters vital to Aquaman’s origin story and are excellent additions to bring this universe to life. A villain figure more prominent than Orm throughout the DC universe is Black Manta. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II takes on the iconic villain and costume of this character with gusto! 

Speaking of costumes, I appreciated not seeing Mera in a more revealing costume style, evident in other iterations. One, women don’t need to be half nude to be remarkable. Second, all that water work on set… that had to get cold. I know that sounds two-faced next to Aquaman, having no top on for most of the film. Yes, they’re Atlantian and are supposed to be able to tolerate it. The characters, yes, the actors, not so much. Between this film and Justice League’s water scenes with Jason Momoa, he might be part fish-man at this point. He brings a “don’t mess with me” presence to the character on screen, unlike past versions-but water doesn’t care. 

I had to stop writing at one point because I had this mental image of Jason Momoa in the original Aquaman costume design. I stopped to laugh. It couldn’t be helped. All of him in a green and orange spandex suit. It’s in your head now too. You’re welcome! Seriously, this film’s costume design is a nod to the original colors but gives him more of a presence, one that commands respect without being over the top. I dig it. 

So should Aquaman be on your watch list? Yes! It’s a fun watch. It’s not serious in the way the previous DC films are but can tie other things together. Really this should have come out before the Justice League movie. Could there be more character development in areas? Absolutely! That’s the benefit of being part of a universe with teams; it gives you more time to flesh out characters. Aquaman will be no exception, and I look forward to seeing his evolution on screen. 

-a pen lady

Justice League (2017)

Justice League: (2017) Runtime: 2hr 0min Rating: PG-13 

Studio: Warner Bros. Screenwriters: Zack Snyder, Chris Terrio 

I was beyond excited when I heard a Justice League movie was being made. It’s hands down my favorite comic team-up. Like many of you, I’m sure. 

This version of the Justice League is comprised of Wonder Woman, Batman, The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg. Bruce/Batman and Diana/Wonder Woman seek out the others to help prevent Earth’s destruction. It’s set not too long after the end of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice though it doesn’t state it specifically. 

If you haven’t seen Batman v Superman, you will be a little lost. I have a review on it, in which I state the only reason to watch it is to follow along with the movies that come after it, like this one. You can watch this movie without seeing Wonder Woman first, but her stand-alone film is excellent. 

Compared to Batman v Superman this movie is a one-eighty. This story is easier to follow along with, even though there is a plot within a plot. In terms of moving from one scene to another, it’s more smooth. I didn’t get the “this scene shouldn’t be in this movie” feeling like I did with the other one. Ben Affleck, as Batman, was a stark contrast as well. I really hated him in Batman v Superman absolutely loathed the character. Here Bruce/Batman is calm, rational, and resembles the detective with gadgets we expect. 

The action sequences and visual effects that are in this version are good as well. The work done with wires and rigs, green screen, and motion capture suits are done so that I’m not questioning or raising my eyebrow at something. Ray Fisher, who plays Cyborg, is a great example of this because not one part of him is in an actual costume while filming. He even has one eye covered the whole time, so the cybernetic one can be put in correctly later. He does a great job of going through the literal movements pretending he’s got mechanical parts as he performs. That’s got to be complicated. Imagining how to move your body like that; what that would feel like to operate. 

Jason Momoa gets tattooed up, more than he naturally is, as Aquaman, and receives some pale ice-blue contacts. He pulls it off, but it takes a short bit for that adjustment to sink in. It’s a good intro to who he is and what he’s about as a character. Aquaman has a stand-alone live-action film in theaters a year after this film comes out. 

For me, the best part of the movie was The Flash/Barry Allen, played by Ezra Miller. His portrayal is a lovely mix of vulnerable, funny, and honest. This version isn’t carried seriously like recent versions of him. He (Barry) has this enthusiasm, appreciation, and awe when meeting everyone and figuring out who they are. It’s like a gobsmacked Harry Potter discovering magic for the first time. He knows he just joined something significant. His reactions are a tremendous difference from everyone else and everything else going on. Also, his suit is held together by wires. Wires! The way he moves in it, the lighting coming off of him, and it stays on. You understand he’s smart without having to say it. It’s a wonderful costume concept. I see this version growing effortlessly into the one who makes puns and quips on purpose but without being cheesy. 

As it stands, I would say put it on your watch list, but I do so with reservations. There are all these moving parts at the start of the film where each character is introduced. They are separate but come together to solve a common issue among them. The assumption is that you’ve seen the other DC films and know about these characters. I got it, but I know who the characters are, so it was OK to watch for me. For a lineup of characters with nearly eighty years of history, this movie should have been so much better. 

This is credited as being directed by Zack Snyder. Months before the film box office release in October 2017, he withdrew from the project to be with his family. Google why yourselves. At that time, the film was in post-production when Joss Whedon took over with Warner Bros. oversight. The cause of my reservations. It has been reported in multiple interviews with cast members that what made it into the box office release was not what Snyder worked on. Mainly it’s what Whedon chose to do with the project. If Joss Whedon’s name sound familiar, it’s probably because of his involvement in writing and directing The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and for his work on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 

Why is that problem? On so many levels-I’m thinking of creating another blog so I can talk with spoilers. It would probably be more of a rant. 

The trailers for the Justice League movie are a good indicator. There were a couple that was released, including the two from Comic-Con 2016 and 2017. They were the best trailers, the ones that pulled me in any way. The reality is that so much of what was in those trailers never made it into the film. Creative differences are one thing, but that much cut is like false advertisement. The others that followed, in contrast, are the first indicators of the shift. 

Some parts of this movie made me seriously wonder how much Joss Whedon knew beforehand about DC comics. If he did any research or went back and looked at the previous DC films or talked to the other films’ directors or in pre-production. Some blatant plot holes are in this film that shouldn’t have been if someone had. It’s just sloppy and lazy. 

At this point, between the screenwriters, the studio’s interference, and the directors pissing contests of whose ideas are better than the others, I’m amazed this movie was released at all. 

-a pen lady

Warner Bros. Pictures Justice League Official Trailer 1

Wonder Woman (2017)

Wonder Woman (2017)   2hr 21 min  Rating: PG-13   Studio: Warner Bros. 

Director: Patty Jenkins  Screenwriters: Allan Heinberg, Zack Snyder, Jason Fuchs

There are many parts to a film, from the script to the acting, the sets and scenes, wardrobe and editing choices, and choreography and musical arrangements. When all come together in unison, that’s magic. It’s reflected back when going to the theater and being enveloped by a movie, from beginning to end. It’s everything. The hallmark feeling every movie-goer should hope for. 

Hope, belief, and love are all parts of the first live-action, stand-alone film of Wonder Woman, starring Gal Gadot and directed by Patty Jenkins. It’s a great adaptation of the super-heroine who has endured for over seventy-five years as a cultural icon. There’s also drama and action! 

The beginning of the film might make you feel lost, or not if you didn’t see Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice beforehand. That’s cool. You just need to understand Wonder Woman was in that film, and that’s when she met Batman/Bruce Wayne and Superman/Kal-El/Clark Kent. She was in the trailer for that movie, so I don’t consider it a spoiler. I mention it, so you’ll get why she’s interacting with Wayne Enterprises, and you are not confused. That film was hit or miss for some fans. You can check out my review on it. 

What is an absolute hit is Lilly Aspell, the young Scottish actress that portrays young Diana. She is such a delight! For such a young actress, she is believable as Diana. Her energy, determination, and delivery are so on point. Anyone who has kids or has ever been around them understands not many have the temperament to be actors. Which is not the same as your kid being a ham. I’m sure many would have looked the part, but Lilly Aspell is the perfect precocious child to have been cast. I saw her in one of the film trailers with this “challenge accepted” face on, and I laughed. I knew I would enjoy her in the film right then. 

Other casting choices that are marvelous are the actresses that play any of the Amazonian roles. Let’s get one thing out of the way. Their costumes are modeled after the ones in history; they are accurate iterations of the outfits used in ancient times. Thousands of years ago, or today in a film, being a ‘warrior’ takes work—a lot of it. Being on horseback and doing what they do remind me of Dothraki fighters from HBO’s Game of Thrones, but these women are way more impressive! Okay, it’s remarkable choreography and editing skills that make it seem natural, too, but I’ll take it. 

Frankly, the stunt doubles/people in cinema are under-sung heroes in their own right. When actors, especially in action-heavy films, get awards for their performances, their stunt doubles should get one too. They do an incredible amount of work to make the cast look as they do. I want you to consider that for the rest of this film, or anything else you ever watch. 

Another incredible film component is picking out locations to film at. If you’re like me, you’d want to visit Paradise Island! Themyscria itself is idyllic. It’s so old, yet clean. The scale of it cinematically is an excellent vision of how it has always been depicted. The best part is that it’s not entirely CGI. All the scenes for the island were mainly shot on multiple beaches and coastline in Italy. Update your translator app and back a bag! I’m totally pumped about this movie, and at this point, you would be like five minutes in.  

Speaking of being “in,” if you are not familiar with Wonder Woman’s backstory or Greek mythology, that’s okay. Patty Jenkins’s portrayal of it deviates absolutely from actual Greek mythos in many ways. However, it’s still done so well you will follow along, okay. If you are familiar with either, it may bother you, so be prepared. Just go with it. There’s nothing you can do. It was apart of DC’s revamp ten years ago when they introduced the “new 52” to all their lineups. I like the storyline from the animated series Justice League and Justice League: Unlimited from 2001-2004. You should defiantly check that out! 

Connie Nielsen is a Danish actress who plays Queen Hippolyta. Otherwise known as Diana’s mother. Her origin change is very much tied to Dianas in the revamp. She may be Queen, but her sister, Antiope, is the General of the Amazonian army played by American actress Robin Wright. Both ooze formability, confidence, loyalty, and perfection in their respective roles. Another staple in Wonder Woman history is the character Steve Trevor, played by American actor Chris Pine. Steve Trevor comes along for the ride in Jenkins’s version in a go-with-the-flow attitude when he meets Diana. Like everything she tells him doesn’t freak him out, which I find odd in a setting of 1918… but it works. The dynamic allows for softer moments, humorous moments, and room to let the filmmaker show off some of Diana’s lesser-used but cool abilities.  

There is this slow build-up from the beginning of the film where you are shown how Diana thinks and feels about things. How she responds to people and situations and handles a crisis. She embodies a kind, ethical, strong, brave, selfless, trusting, moral, intelligent, loving person. Even as she discovers what she is, she doesn’t lose any of it. Then there is this moment when you see her, finally, as Wonder Woman. Perfection! It is your comic book heroine alive on screen. I hissed “yes!” with excitement in my theater seat. 

Those of you who are Zack Snyder fans will feel his influence on the story, particularly near the end. It doesn’t last long and blends right back in with the original tone of the movie. I was grateful for that in light of how Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice turned out. 

Another influence you will notice throughout the film is the camera work. Some movies action sequences are so hard to follow along with. The choreography and camera work make it so the viewer can’t see the potential for how awesome a fight scene could be. I’ve seen plenty of movies where I can’t tell what’s going on because everything is dark, rushed, or blurry. Or all of the above. This film shoots it’s action sequences, so you don’t get eye strain. In fact, there are a few times where it is slowed down so you can appreciate the scene in front of you. However, it’s not just for that. Like many films, Wonder Woman was shot to utilize 3D. You can view either version, in case you were wondering. 

So, should you put Wonder Woman on your watch list? Absolutely! Grab some snacks, and do it. This is a movie everyone should see. This is how DC should do their films. 

-a pen lady

Warner Bros. Pictures Offical Trailer for Wonder Woman via YouTube

Suicide Squad (2016)

Suicide Squad (2016)  Written and Directed by: David Ayer  Rating: PG-13 

Studio: Warner Bros Runtime: 2 hrs 2 mins 

So what is the Suicide Squad, and who’s in it? It’s a group of the worst criminals, human or meta-human, to be caught and imprisoned. They are…compelled to work for the government under the designation’ Task Force X’ and do black ops missions. If they die, oh well. Hence the nickname of Suicide Squad. They are controlled by Amanda Waller, played by the incomparable Viola Davis, and Col. Rick Flag, played by the gifted Joel Kinnaman. I like both of them in their respective roles, but this movie only gives you a small taste of what the characters are really capable of. Hopefully, they both show up again in the DC films. 

It took me four years to watch this movie. I only did so because I’m reviewing all the recent films in the DCEU. What kept me away? Will Smith. He’s hit or miss, mostly misses, for me if I like his characters. He plays the role of Deadshot, an expert marksman for hire. If it was just that, I might have, but then there is Jared Leto. I got an impression from the film trailers, and it didn’t change after seeing the film. I know the character of the Joker and have seen him portrayed differently over the years. Suicide Squad Joker is a gangster/mobster, trashy hot mess with a culturally appropriated wardrobe. The Joker is not in the squad. While you can’t talk about Harley Quinn’s origins without mentioning him, his character could have had less of a position in this movie. 

Dr. Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn, played by Margot Robbie, wasn’t always a coo-for-Coco Puffs, violent relishing member of society. Her story has changed a few times since she appeared in the comics in 1993. Still, she’s always, sadly, relatable more than other villains or heroes. She is smart, talented, and falls for a manipulative, violent, and abusive person. That gets her electroshock “therapy” from the Joker, endures mental abuse and brainwashing, and falls into toxic chemicals for him. The substances are what give her the white complexion, which doesn’t look good in live-action on her. I’m telling you about the character when only a sliver of it makes it into this film. You get an idea of how she got this way, but nothing to truly counter that with the villain she actually is. Taking such a layered character and presenting her as she is in this film sends a dangerous message to viewers. If someone down the cinematic road fleshes her character out I hope it’s not under the lens of a hero. 

Rounding out the squad is Killer Croc, Diablo, Captain Boomerang, and June Moone/Enchantress. Diablo and June are the only ones where the film attempts to flesh out some backstory. That’s probably only so it can move the story along, or it wouldn’t have happened. The rest are basically cannon fodder. Honestly, the Enchantress should have had a more significant role where her history was brought out more. More than the writer’s surface scratching did as justification for the weak plot and character development overall. 

Suicide Squad tries to be dim and gritty but misses the mark even amongst its attempts at violence and bullets flying everywhere. Should this be on your watch list? No. It adds nothing of consequence to the other DC films. And, it’s an insult to even the bad guys it attempts to use. 

-a pen lady

Top Image: Warner Bros. Pictures Suicide Squad image via Forbes. Trailer: Warner Bros. Pictures Offical Suicide Squad Trailer 1 via YouTube

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) Directed: Zack Snyder   

Screenwriters: David S. Goyer & Chris Terrio  Runtime: 2 hrs. 32 min Rating: PG-13

Studio: Warner Bros. & Ratpac Entertainment

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice isn’t the dawn of any justice. None for the characters’ many iterations over the decades. Nor for the fans of DC Comics who have only ever been given Batman up to this point. It’s like Warner Bros was incapable and unwilling to try anything other than Batman until now. Couple that and the direction the screenwriters took to create this movie with future projects in mind…there isn’t any point in trying to stay neutral in this review. I won’t spoil anything that’s not in a trailer or isn’t backstory to any character in a way that will ruin something. 

This film is set a year and a half after the battle over Metropolis occurs in 2013’s Man of Steel. (See Review) The movie starts off from Bruce Wayne’s perspective of being on the ground that day in Metropolis. From his point of view, Superman is just as culpable as the other Kryptonians. Like he did it on purpose. It’s the driving force that makes Bruce seek to destroy Superman before he goes bad. Take this mindset into consideration, along with the mommy and daddy issues that are repeatedly brought up. What has been created is an uptight man with resources in desperate need of anger management and PTSD therapy. I can’t decide if what I detest the most is Ben Affleck playing Batman/Bruce Wayne or how the character is written. 

Bruce wants to stop Superman based on the chance he might go bad one day. At this point, Bruce has been Batman for around two decades and is jaded and calloused. He’s not a cautious detective; he’s untrustworthy on an unhealthy paranoid level. There’s actually no detective version of him to be seen in this film. Okay, Gotham got to him. That mentality extends throughout the movie. Pair that with Lex Luthor’s mindset. Yep, Lex and Bruce think Superman needs to die. Honestly, that’s not a spoiler. What could go wrong? 

Lex is played by Jesse Eisenberg, a considerably younger take on the character who has always been older than Superman/Clark. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. An older Lex has more years to be justified in his questionable life choices and the path that got him there. Here it also means his dad is dead much sooner. That doesn’t matter for this story, but it could be problematic for future stories. Eisenberg plays eccentric well and plays up the neurotic psycho angle here. His acting isn’t the issue, but his script is. Lex is all over the place with his attempts to stick it to Superman and others that get in his way. Including his weird and overly conversed god/devil and good/evil rhetoric. This Lex is all about the “paradoxical,” but someone forgot to tell the screenwriters what a real paradox is. So, Lex comes off as just manic instead of goal-oriented. 

Woven in all of this is Diana Prince cropping up in multiple places. That’s Wonder Woman to all you non-comic lovers out there. Gal Gadot was cast for this iconic character, and she is a fantastic embodiment of Wonder Woman. Her addition is done well, mysterious and not over-stated, but that’s okay, all things what they are. Honestly, her character’s place in this film is to help facilitate Warner Bros. dropping Wonder Woman’s stand-alone film after this one and setting up for the Justice League movie after that. 

Bruce and Lex are paranoid, and Clark is still dealing with his feelings about his place in the world, especially now that his Superman persona is out there. This film really drives that point as well. Should there be a Superman? Who is he accountable to, and should he be? Is he or is he not the savior figure some have put on him? Is he just a political tool or just some person out there to do good for the sake of good? My take-away from all that noise is, are you team Batman or team Superman in this version? Then ask yourself why. 

I have to say that the scene transitions in this film are lazy if done at all. The movie’s pace is continuously tripped up by this, and the BIZARRE and disjointed “dreams” of Bruce’s just thrown in. A disgusting reminder that Bruce has needed therapy for years, and ignoring one’s mental health is a self-destructive idea. These scenes had NO place in the film. It’s like someone copy and pasted in snippets from another version. I mention it because I don’t want you, the viewer, to feel lost or that you missed something. At one point, I thought about walking out of the theater—an action I’ve only done two times in 25-years of seeing movies on my own. 

Zack Snyder is the director of this mentally scaring, shit-car-filled train wreck. But he didn’t write the script, David Goyer and Chris Terrio did. Directors get all the blame. Goyer also wrote Man of Steel with Christopher Nolan. Nolan understands these characters, or at least how to do a great Batman. Someone, please, give Mr. Nolan the screenwriting reigns from now on. While I’m not a fan of Snyder’s entire body of works, it’s not fair to blame him for a horrible plot and unrealistic character development. 

This movie should have been the beginning of what DC fans have dreamed of for decades, especially in the shadow of Marvel’s cinematic universe, our own superhero team-up. You have the founding trio of the Justice League in this film, decades of stories to choose from and build upon, and this film is what fans got instead. 

So why should you put Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice on your watch list? To help you follow along in the other movies after this. So you understand the backstories of how certain characters met, why they are together, or are against one another. However, don’t fall into the comparison trap of DC movies vs. Marvel ones. That’s a decade-old dance that started with the actual comics. Take each as they are and look at it as good and bad from within each respective universe. 

Warner Bros. Pictures 2015 Comic-Con trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice via YouTube

-A Pen Lady

Man of Steel (2013)

Man of Steel (2013)   Runtime: 2 hr 22 min Rating: PG-13

Directed: Zack Snyder    Screenwriters: Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer

Studio: Warner Bros. & Legendary Pictures

Henry Cavill takes on the role of the beloved and iconic comic superhero, Superman. In Zack Snyders adaptation Clark Kent seeks to learn where he came from and, ultimately, acceptance on Earth under the moniker of “Superman.” 

No story of Superman’s origin comes without Martha and Johnathan Kent. Diane Lane and Kevin Costner are perfect fits as the embodiments of the salt of the earth couple responsible for the humanity at Clark’s core. 

This re-telling of Clark/Kal-El’s origin story is presented in smaller nuggets of memories that feel organic as they weave in and out of the storyline. The viewer can see Clark’s progression and struggles. Clark learns as a teenager that he’s an alien- because, ya know, high school isn’t hard enough, but that only helps him understand why he’s ‘not normal.’ Logically, he still wonders where he comes from. The film starts with his adult self out in the world seeking answers to that exact question. That need to learn where he came from and why go hand in hand with the movies other driving questions, ‘is the world ready for me? Am I ready?’ 

Most humans don’t measure their lives on how their character is judged by the world. So they can’t imagine if their very existence was the embodiment of someone else’s hope and beliefs. That this existence, not life, will forever be judged on their choices, their character. The adversary to Clark/Kal-El’s internal struggles judges his choices too, and from that, we see the external conflict through fight scenes. 

A few of the things I really appreciate in this film are the rig and harness work for the choreography on the flight and fight sequences. They’re impressive if you think of how fast Kryptonians move on Earth. With all the shooting and explosions, you have to appreciate all that physicality and timing required to pull it off. What you thought I was gonna give specifics? That would have meant spoilers! 

Compared to the Earth’s military forces, the Kryptonians’ technology and equipment are in stark contrast, yet not unbelievably. It’s not cheesy or over the top-it’s explained in ways that any viewer can follow along with. One scene/aspect of the story gave me a very ‘Matrix-like’ vibe. 

Henry Cavill as Superman, not just because he physically looks like a great Superman/Clark Kent but because of his presence. The way he delivers the character. His ability to take the script and what the character needs to do physically comes off so naturally. Yes, he looks good in the suit too. Honestly, I was distracted by his calf muscles a few times in that suit. Dang! He’s an ideal casting choice that makes you think there can’t ever be another actor who would do as well with a character with so many required layers. 

Clark is never without Lois, and Amy Adams is such a believable incarnation of her iconic character. She’s soft and human at all the right moments, but not delicate. Yet never loses the ‘never takes crap off of anyone’ attribute that drives Lois home as an award-winning writer. Some iterations of Lois have been too feminine, and others to tom-boyish. This version is an excellent mix of both critical aspects to her. 

So, is The Man of Steel worth your time? YES! It has drama, action, and charm rolled together in a well-told, developed story and a cast that is a perfect fit for their respective roles with great performances. Not sure yet because I don’t include details that spoil the magic? That’s cool. Just do an internet search for any of the three trailers that came out before the film’s debut. I’d recommend the second or third (the third one is below). By viewing them, you’ll get a much better feel for what I’m saying. Don’t worry if you’ve never read a comic before or know nothing about Superman; it won’t matter. This movie should be on your watch list! 

-a pen lady

Warner Bros. Pictures Offical Trailer #3 of Man of Steel via YouTube