“Justice League” Develops Banality into a Harrowing and Tiresome Art Form

If a committee of Warner Brothers executives got together to work their way through a 300 million dollar paint-by-numbers, it would look like Justice League.

With the odds stacked against it, no expectations, and the fate of exactly nothing of importance hanging in the balance, Justice League is still an utter disappointment.  The DC Extended Universe (DCEU) was recently buoyed by the impressive Wonder Woman film from Patty Jenkins earlier this year, but the franchise is back aground.  Justice League features a hodgepodge of messy scenes, poor storytelling, terrible CGI, lackluster characters, and no real stakes.  These failures are becoming hallmarks of Warner Brothers ill-advised attempts at a grittier version of Marvel, and the embarrassments are becoming too numerous to count.  I guess we’ll do our best.

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Taika Waititi’s “Thor: Ragnarok” Again Shows Marvel is Best with an Artist at the Helm

The Thor franchise may be the most unbalanced in all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), home to what is perhaps the worst film in the whole MCU (Thor: The Dark World) as well as one of the stronger and more distinctive origin stories. Counting those two films and the Avengers movies, Thor: Ragnarok would be the fifth appearance of the God of Lightning, at it was entirely possible that the character and the particular comedic tone surrounding him would start to feel a little stale. Fortunately, we have Taika Waititi – a visionary comedic filmmaker perfectly at home playing in the MCU’s ever-expanding sandbox.

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“Spider-Man: Homecoming” Does Whatever a Spider Can to Be Unique and Fun

Though he has only a pair of independent films to his name, director Jon Watts (Clown, Cop Car) sure knows his way around a friendly neighborhood Spider-man.  The product of a team-up between Sony and Marvel Studios, Spider-man: Homecoming places the iconic webslinger in high school.  This choice dictates many aspects of the film, from the story and characters all the way down to the sense of humor and the overarching themes of growing into one’s responsibilities.  At the very least, it certainly establishes Watts’s version of Spider-man as different, which is absolutely crucial given that this is the third iteration of Peter Parker in the last 15 years.

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The Heroism of “Wonder Woman” Is Worth Celebrating

It seems folly to discuss Wonder Woman outside of the greater context of the DC Extended Universe, but Patty Jenkins’s film begs to be discussed in isolation – it’s simply in another stratosphere.  So, that’s it; that’s all the comparison to the DCEU that will be contained in this review.  The rest of the time will be spent heralding Wonder Woman as a superhero film that knows precisely how to tell a refreshing origin story, establish stakes and pathos in a fantastic world, and champion a powerful theme of heroism, strength, and love.  With a stunning performance from Gal Gadot, a brilliant fish-out-of-water skeleton, and action sequences that contain spectacle and depth, Wonder Woman is potent storytelling.

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“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” – Definitely a Chapter from the Same Book

Guardians of the Galaxy was always the most overtly comedic franchise in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and Vol. 2 follows in those footsteps.  Most films in the MCU employ humor, but none are governed by the success of references, call-backs, meta-humor, and jokes quite like Guardians.  As a result, one’s appreciation for this sequel is going to be heavily dependent on whether or not these attempts at humor land.  If you feel like some of the jokes are a little forced, are over-reliant on pop culture reference, or attempt to recreate similar gags from the original, then you’re going to find Vol. 2 a little derivative and strained.  Otherwise, you’ll have a good time.

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“Logan” Leverages its Hard-R Rating, Stellar Performances, and Engaging Action To Deliver an Outstanding Wolverine Send-Off

Logan, James Mangold’s conclusion to the Wolverine franchise, dispenses with a safe approach to the comic book genre in favor of careful characterization, genuine emotion, and tactful storytelling.  It is an unabashed hard-R action movie bursting with violence, gore, and harsh language.  But, Mangold and company employ the R-rating towards more than blood and F-bombs (though there’s plenty of each).  By withdrawing the film from the purview of children spectators, Logan is able to tell a more patient and delicate story without compromise.  Instead of a frenetic pace that plays down to the attention span of teenagers and rabid fanpersons, the culmination of the Wolverine trilogy adopts a more practiced approach to super-hero storytelling that rewards on every level and will encourage repeat viewings.

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Despite “Out There” Visuals, Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” Is as Safe as They Come

For a film meant to expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) into the novel territory of alternate dimensions and mind-bending magic, Doctor Strange sure does play it safe.  Though many of the visuals are fascinating, some are overly show-offy, like an elaborate ornament on an otherwise bland facade.  The acting talent and the performances that they deliver are impressive, but they are relied upon to prop up a flimsy story that inadequately introduces us to this new facet of the MCU.  Similarly, most of the characters are unbalanced, uneven, and inconsistent – as though the filmmakers were afraid of allowing Dr. Strange to be too much of an asshole.  Finally, aside from an innovative and interesting climactic sequence, the plot is about as by-the-numbers as one can imagine.  Overall, this is the disquieting flaw of Doctor Strange:  the eye-popping visuals are in direct aesthetic conflict with the safeness of the narrative and thematic choices.  The result is a reasonable entry into the MCU, but a film which isn’t appreciably better than the average origin story.

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“Suicide Squad” is Doomed from the Start by a Lack of Focus, Clarity

With Suicide Squad, writer/director David Ayer has accomplished little beyond kicking the can that is the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) down the road another ten months, leaving us all to hope that maybe, just maybe, Wonder Woman will be the first good DCEU film.  Between a crowded cast of thin characters, a banal and cookie-cutter plot, and a confused jumble of non-themes and stylistic choices, the film is bereft of quality in almost every sense.  Though some top-level performances generate intriguing characters, they are utterly squandered by the surrounding issues and ultimately leave Suicide Squad with a very scattered, up-and-down feel.  While it may not be as unintelligible or frenzied as Batman v. Superman, Ayer’s film possesses the greater flaw:  a bland story.

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How to Improve “Suicide Squad”: Reduce Character Count and Add Zombies

So, Suicide Squad is a flaming heap of garbage, but how do we fix it?  That’s the focus of this piece.  I have a more standard review of the film as a companion piece to this, which is linked above, but in the meantime I decided to present this piece as a reasonable means to improve upon the film.  Suffice to say, this post will contain spoilers for the film beyond what is normal for a review, as I have to discuss intricate plot details.  So, if you’re sensitive to spoilers, you’ve been sufficiently warned.  If you’re still game, what follows will be my humble proposal for how one could avoid the pitfalls that befell Suicide Squad and ultimately arrive at an overall superior film.

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