Anyone else tired of hearing about this dreary series from DC that lacks the imagination of the Marvel counterpart The Avengers franchise?
I am. Well, I was. Turns out to be a surprise and a good one.
Batman vs. Superman (2016) was a huge, blockbuster film that was among the most anticipated movies of the year. Though Ben Affleck was a very fine Batman/ Bruce Wayne, the rest of the film was mostly explosions, destruction and mayhem, with one other glowing exception. Gal Gadot made her first appearance as Wonder Woman and all but stole the movie. Then her stand alone film Wonder Woman (2017) was released this past June and was a huge critical hit as well as a box office smash, not to mention a potential Oscar contender for Best Picture.
Suicide Squad (2016), a DC Universe film that brought together the villains of the comics was a box office hit, notable for Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, but did not charm critics. Other than Wonder Woman, DC cannot catch a break.
Justice League feels like an atonement for Batman vs. Superman, an awareness that they got it entirely wrong. I must state it is vastly superior to Batman vs. Superman but not as good as Wonder Woman.
It also contains the worst kept spoiler in recent memory, the return of a beloved character who had died, or appeared to die in the previous film, and marks the debut of two major heroes from the DC world.
Where the film is strong is in the beginning, where Bruce Wayne and the world deal with the shocking death of Superman, thought to be indestructible. Wayne discovered too late that the Man of Steel was truly a good man, fighting for right, battling the same enemies as he was. Now, without him, he hopes to fill that void by creating the Justice League, a unique group of gifted crime fighters hand picked by Wayne. But he knows the entire world mourns the Man of Steel, as he does, and he is not sure what to do with that immense grief.
With Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) already onboard, Wayne seeks out others, inviting The Flash (Ezra Miller), a teenager with astounding powers of speed and movement; Aquaman (Jason Momoa), a god from beneath the oceans; and the half man, half machine Cyborg (Ray Fisher). Together they got to war against Stepphenwolf, an almighty and very nasty villain who has turned his wrath on the Earth.
Though the film is first and foremost an action film, it is filled with surprising humour, much of it supplied by the glowering from the deep Aquaman. It feels lighter than the previous film, more fun, less dour, even though we are dealing with grief.
The performances are a mixed bag. Gadot is again a tower of feminine strength as Diana Prince, a.k.a. Wonder Woman; that steely gaze put to great use throughout the film. Blessed with stunning beauty, she is easy to watch, but it helps that the lady can act and understands exactly who and what she is portraying.
Affleck is again very good as Bruce Wayne/Batman, mired in grief, filled with regret he could not do more to save his mighty friend, and tired of the weight of the world being placed on him. I like Affleck as Batman, I believe he does a great job and slips into the role easily.
Ezra Miller is unquestionably the finest actor in the cast. He was brilliant and frightening in We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011), and is well cast here as Barry/The Flash. Cocky, a typical smartass teenager well aware of his powers, he gives a fun performance but really goes no deeper. What you see is what you get.
I was prepared not to like Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, as he seems such a one note actor to me, all brawn, growling his lines, but he is very good in this film. His burly good looks are a perfect fit for this new (to movies) character that fans have waited years to see.
Cyborg did not work so well for me, and I really cannot blame that actor, Ray Fisher. A former athlete, rebuilt into a human cyborg with a single blazing red eye, Cyborg leaves us wondering if he is human or machine and which has the power? I just did not find him very interesting or a compelling addition to the narrative.
(SERIOUS SPOILER ALERT!)
Likely the worst kept secret of the movie year is that Henry Cavill returns as Superman, like Christ resurrected. One might think the billing suggests he is seen in dreams and flashbacks, but no, the Man of Steel is back. Personally, I have never been a fan of Cavill and his sour approach to the character, never finding any humour in the role. I think I would have a lot to laugh and smile about if I could fly, was indestructible, could see through anything but lead, and was unspeakably powerful. Christopher Reeve had the right approach to the part, and shoot me, but I liked Brandon Routh quite a lot in Superman Returns (2006), but Cavill does not do it for me. Not even the wonderful Amy Adams as Lois Lane can elevate his work, or bring joy to the character. He has the physique and granite jawed good looks, just not the personality – you want to scream at him “why so serious?”
Stepphenwolf, the villain, is voiced by the great Ciaran Hinds but the character is more or less a CGI creation, well done enough, I suppose, but I prefer villains to be flesh and blood like The Joker, The Riddler or Doc Ock.
The film was directed by Zack Snyder and Josh Whedon, the latter stepping in when a terrible family tragedy pulled Snyder out.
The portrait of grief that opens the film surprised me with its realism and searing pain. Remember Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)? The scenes after the death of Spock were powerful, the finest acting of William Shatner’s career, you could feel the weight of the loss of his friend in every word, movement and expression on his face. A limited actor at best, Shatner was quietly astounding in those scenes portraying the grief he felt at the loss of his friend. Affleck and the rest of the cast, Amy Adams in particular, achieve that level of brilliance in bringing their pain to us.
Overall, better than the previous DC grouping of heroes, fun and thoroughly entertaining. Is it a great film? No of course not, but few are.
Big visual effects-driven films like this once filled the screen with awe and wonder, but now with computer generated effects so common, it just is not a big deal anymore to see the world smashed to pieces by nature or other forces. Certainly the super hero films from DC and Marvel have taken care of a large chunk of effects- laden movies, but someone is always lurking out there with a script about the world brought to the brink of extinction by powerful forces that get out of hand.
In 2004 we had The Day After Tomorrow, a deep freeze film that saw northern North America frozen rock solid, declaring another ice age. In many ways that film resembles this film, as each is almost entirely dependent on its effects for the narrative, the cast is a group of veterans and mid-level movies stars we may or may not recognize, and the plot (what there is of it) deals with the end of civilization.
In Geostorm we get a taste of everything – multiple tornadoes touching down all at once, massive tsunamis and tidal waves crashing into cities along the ocean coasts, extraordinary heat that sees food frying on the sidewalk and wildly intense shifts in the weather that mankind simply cannot handle. And it is all very silly. Meant to be a disaster movie in the vein of 70s films such as The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Earthquake (1974) or The Towering Inferno (1974), the film has some of the attributes of those films but lacks others. Remember the sense of awe we felt when the tidal wave turned the Poseidon upside down? Or the sheer carnage when the quake decimated LA in Earthquake? We feel none of that, nothing of the kind.
There is no all-star cast in Geostorm; it’s more a collection of B-movie actors, or those on their way down.
Set in 2019, we learn that major cities have already been wiped out by crazy weather systems, but a scientist has invented a satellite that will warn when potentially dangerous systems are imminent. The system then works to shut down the system before all hell breaks loose on Earth. Of course, it goes wrong. The inventor of the satellite is fired, by his brother no less, but then asked to go into space to fix his creation when it falters.
As he strives to fix the thing, hell is indeed unfolding on earth as flash freezes happen in the tropics, hail the size of boulders crashes to the earth, the pavement sizzles, tornadoes touch down three or four at a time, it is madness. While it is a chance for the computer artists to cut loose with their artistry, we see very quickly the effects are not very good, no better than those being done on network television.
And where to start with the performances? There is not a single character that we can invest in, they are all portraying cardboard cut outs. And poorly at that.
Gerard Butler seems still stuck in 300 (2007), where he roared every line as though all those around were deaf. It is a wildly out of control performance, a performance where the director should have stepped in and said, “Less man, for God’s sake, less.” Portraying his brother, Jim Sturgess displays none of the charisma that he displayed singing the songs of The Beatles in Across the Universe (2007). None, he looks bored, he looks out of his element in every way.
Not even the great character actor Ed Harris can bring anything remotely real to the film, and frankly, he looks humiliated to be taking a pay cheque.
For three years they have worked on this film, going back for reshoot, firing actors, replacing them with others, and still they have a mess.
When a career is dead, you can feel it. People distance themselves, like rats fleeing a sinking ship. You can feel it, you can sense it, you know it in your bones. Harvey Weinstein is finished, he is career dead. He is now joined by an award-winning actor, once beloved by audiences and critics.
Despite his two Academy Awards in the 90s, you might have had trouble finding anyone who had much good to say about Kevin Spacey the person. Gifted actor, despite a penchant for smarmy, smug and smarter than everyone in the room, his career sort of nose dived after American Beauty (1999), though he came back in House of Cards on Netflix.
There was much talk and buzz surrounding his supporting performance in All the Money in the World, directed by Ridley Scott, even Oscar attention, but that is now dead.
In fact Kevin Spacey’s career is dead, done, over.
The reports coming from the set of the Netflix drama will see to it he is finished. With aggressive, bull queer behaviour, Spacey has sealed his own fate. You simply cannot get away with plunging your hands down or up the shorts of attractive young men working on set. It does not matter if you are a powerful star or not, not anymore, and it seems this has been going on for years.
While shooting The Usual Suspects (1995), it seems the attractive boyfriend of director-writer Bryan Singer caught the eye of the actor, who chased him with aggression and purpose, finally bedding him. Singer was, to say the least, displeased, and the two stopped speaking. Stories of Spacey’s chasing young men have circulated through the business for years, and in light of the current climate have come home to roost.
Harvey Weinstein is finished in the business, any business and may face jail. Netflix has cancelled House of Cards, and any Academy Award campaign for Spacey is dead. His agency has distanced itself from him and his publicist has quit. He is as dead as one can be without his heart not having stopped.
Earlier this week, Dustin Hoffman apologized for harassing a young woman on set 30 years ago. Hoffman was always known to be rude, known to crack sexual jokes and innuendoes with no care for who was around, but harassment? I doubt he will be the last we hear about.
Let us be clear – the film world is not the only business where this takes place. In the halls of power to blue collar work, sexual harassment runs rampant, and both women and men are targets. Did anyone truly doubt the existence of the casting couch? It has existed since the sound film emerged.
I suspect in the coming weeks and months we will hear more accusations directed at stars we admire, directors we know, and producers who make the films we love. At this writing, several careers are dead, but how many were thwarted because they lived in fear of being crushed by a powerful person? How many were terrified by being hounded and harassed, or even raped? How many dreams are nightmares for these victims?
I know this.
I have always tried to focus my writing, my reviews, and my profiles free of concern for how the artists live their lives. This has proven most difficult when writing about Woody Allen, who seems constantly under fire, accused by former partner Mia Farrow and her kids. What stops me from believing the stories about Allen is that no one but Farrow, no one but her children have lashed out. In a career exceeding 50 years, there have not any other accusations of child abuse. None. Actress Mariel Hemingway said Allen hit on her during the making of Manhattan (1979), but no one dug into it. None of Allen’s friends, long time co-stars and partners have stated anything similar to what Farrow is saying. And Director Roman Polanski has stated “Farrow is bat shit crazy” an opinion shared by many.
Spacey, however, is a different animal. There are multitudes of witnesses, and more than one or two accusations. His arrogance, his sense of entitlement has been his downfall. The fact he believes he can put his hands on young men because of who he is displays a blinding sense of entitlement that is supported by an arrogance that no one will ever talk.
Well, they talked. And the allegations are true. And now Spacey begins that long fall, and it is one hell of a drop.