Justice League

November 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot
Directed by: Zack Snyder (“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”)
Written by: Chris Terrio (“Argo”) and Joss Whedon (“The Avengers”)

To get the obvious questions out of the way first, no, “Justice League” isn’t anywhere near as good as this summer’s “Wonder Woman,” nor is it as bad as last year’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”

It’s fine.

That this latest entry in the DC Extended Universe—Warner Bros.’ somewhat knee-jerk response to the success Marvel is having—is even coherent is a minor miracle, after months of reshoots and what must’ve been a mountain of studio notes. That the characters, including holdovers Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman and newcomers Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman, are actually fun and engaging (for the most part) is a neat surprise.

Taking place a year after the events of “BvS” left Earth without its Kryptonian hero (Henry Cavill, here softly rebooted as a corny beacon of hope instead of the grim, put-upon Jesus the previous films made him out to be), “Justice League” finds Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) working with Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) to put together a team of “meta-humans” to combat a coming threat, heralded by flying, fear-sensing bug-monster things called parademons. Turns out those things are the minions of Steppenwolf (a PlayStation 2 CGI creation voiced by Ciarán Hinds) and he’s come to Earth to re-collect some cubes called Mother Boxes to turn the planet into a recreation of his hellish homeworld, which would suck. And since Earth is now without Superman, there’s no one to stop Steppenwolf…except for the Justice League.

Like I mentioned earlier, “Justice League” is fine, even after the change late in the game from original director Zack Snyder—who stepped down due to a family tragedy—to “Avengers” director Joss Whedon. Numerous reshoots seem to have reshaped the movie dramatically, grafting Whedon-y humor onto Snyder’s shiny, grimy aesthetic. The story is boilerplate superhero bullshit, but there’s a moment in the middle of the film, when the team first fights together, that this mess gels into something entertaining—it takes you past the flaws like the truly shitty special effects, the boring-ass villain, and the short-changing of newcomers Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, and Jason Momoa. There was hope that the DCEU ship had been righted after “Wonder Woman,” released only five months ago, and “Justice League” doesn’t really answer that question in the affirmative—but maybe “not as bad as it could have been” is enough of a victory for now.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

May 1, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth
Directed by: Joss Whedon (“The Avengers”)
Written by: Joss Whedon (“The Avengers”)

This far into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as it’s called, we’ve seemed to settle on a formula as far as movies with the word “Avengers” in the title and all of the other movies shake out: the other movies are ultimately there to lead us to the next Avengers movie—2014’s excellent “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and the good-time jam “Guardians of the Galaxy” notwithstanding—providing some entertaining spectacle engineered to kick up hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office while trying their best to cover up the fact that it’s all nothing but wheel-spinning until the next Avengers team up. And yet, here we are, after a banner year for Marvel movies both critically and financially, with “Avengers: Age of UItron,” a movie that feels less like the culmination of things and more like a set up for the next damn Avengers movie.

After the events of “Thor: The Dark World” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” the powerful staff of villain Loki has ended up in the hands of Baron Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) who is using its power to experiment on humans, namely twins Wanda and Pietro Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson) in order to give them enhanced abilities. The Avengers, including Iron Man (Downey), Captain America (Evans), Thor (Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), lead an attack on Strucker’s Eastern European hideout to gain possession of the powerful artifact. Victorious, the team celebrates back in New York City, but not before Tony Stark and Bruce Banner put Stark’s computer butler Jarvis (voice of Paul Bettany) to work using the staff to create the Ultron project, an artificial intelligence charged with protecting the Earth from another alien attack. Only something goes wrong, and the Ultron that emerges is a humanity-hating android (voiced by James Spader) bent on wiping out the human race, and, of course, only the Avengers can stop him.

Writer/director/nerd messiah Joss Whedon returns to script and call the shots here after turning the first “Avengers” film into a global juggernaut and cementing Marvel Studios as a bona fide blockbuster machine. His trademark witty banter and obvious affinity for stories of ragtag teams made the initial outing something special, a fun mega-budget adventure with a real beating heart, a style used once again to great success in last year’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.”  With “Age of Ultron,” though, Whedon’s style seems lost in the excess – there is a LOT of movie to this movie – with no place to put things he likes to, so we’re left with weirdness like a Spader-voiced murderbot who cracks wise like a cast member of “Firefly.” As for the main Avengers, moments of growth and evolution from their last on screen appearances seem forgotten as well: Captain America exhibits no real fallout from the knowledge that the people he thought he was fighting for were the enemy all along, Tony Stark still has dozens of Iron Man suits even after destroying them and walking away in “Iron Man 3,” and Bruce Banner regresses to a self-doubting neurotic about his transformation into the Hulk, despite seeming to have it under control the last time the Avengers assembled.

With most of the main characters already penciled in to Marvel’s movie schedule through 2020, “Age of Ultron” feels inconsequential at best, like a place-holder at worst. When the now-obligatory mid-credits stinger is finished, you’ll be left wondering why THAT wasn’t the storyline of this adventure all along.

Much Ado About Nothing

June 20, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Fran Kranz
Directed by: Joss Whedon (“The Avengers”)
Written by: Joss Whedon (“The Avengers”)

When looking for someone to adapt a literary work by a writer considered the greatest of his generation, most people wouldn’t think it would be an option to go with a guy whose claim to fame was creating a movie and TV show in the 90s about a teenage girl who slays vampires. But you’d be wrong.

In the newest adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” director/writer Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “The Avengers,”) takes a huge step away from the blockbuster hype and fandom that surrounds his name to retell a story that, honestly, didn’t have to be retold again. For whatever reason, however, Whedon disagrees and makes it his mission to give us a contemporary version of what many believe is easily one of Shakespeare’s best comedies.

What Whedon is able to do so effortlessly is take the Shakespearean language and make it resonate through daintily charming black and white scenes with actors who really add a lot of color to their characters. At its core, there is a story of infidelity, but Whedon seems to focus more on the romantic connections lost and formed between the sets of couples in the film. There is a lot of matchmaking (more than your generic romantic comedy these days), but actors like Amy Acker (“The Cabin in the Woods”), Alexis Denisof (“The Avengers”), Nathan Fillion (TV’s “Castle”), and Clark Gregg (“The Avengers”) – all of whom worked with Whedon before – own their roles, so it always feels like the relationship scenarios ring true.

Still, as fancy-free as Whedon hopes “Much Ado” is, it’s not like other versions of the story in the past haven’t done the same thing. Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 film starring Kate Beckinsale, Emma Thompson and Keanu Reeves is quite good, especially with Branagh – a Shakespeare aficionado – at the helm. Whedon’s verison might introduce the narrative in an inventive way, but it’s one of those films people are more likely to respect than fully enjoy.

Give credit to Acker though. Her take on Beatrice rivals what Thompson does with the role in Branagh’s film, which isn’t an easy task. Acker gives the character spunk. Her dialogue is delivered with a sharpness that’ll almost make you forget she’s speaking in late 16th century dialectal. Whedon gets a lot out of the cast, which worked on this film for 10 days at his own home during the summer. Anyone who can go from shooting something as extravagant as Hulk smashing faces to something as classic a Shakespearian theater has a range any filmmaker would kill to have. For that, “Much Ado” is a curiosity piece that should be seen at least once.

“Much Ado About Nothing” was screened at the 2013 South by Southwest Film Festival.

The Avengers

May 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo
Directed by: Joss Whedon (“Serenity”)
Written by: Joss Whedon (“The Cabin in the Woods”)

It happens in the second half of the highly-anticipated Marvel comic-book movie “The Avengers,” a precisely planned superhero assemblage that has been culminating since 2008’s release of both “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk” reboot (most über-nerds unfairly ignore director Ang Lee’s fascinating “Hulk” of 2003 as art-house nonsense). As “The Avengers” ensemble cast, including Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man and Chris Hemsworth as Thor, contemplate how to stop the supervillain Loki (Tom Hiddleston) from destroying the earth with his barrage of alien soldiers and machines, Captain America (Chris Evans) takes it upon himself to assign his comrades to do what each one of them does best.

“Hulk … smash,” he says, directing his bulging, green, gamma ray-infused super teammate who swiftly carries out his instructions by ripping apart serpent-like battleships running amok in NYC. It’s a phrase fanboys will be pleased to hear, especially since Marvel seemed to agree with their assessment of Lee’s aforementioned attempt, which prompted the studio to hit the reset button by plugging Edward Norton into Eric Bana’s transforming role as Bruce Banner (the role now belongs to Mark Ruffalo after creative differences arose between Marvel and Norton). From that point on, the comic-book conglomerate knew exactly what they needed their Universe to become.

“The Avengers” isn’t trying to reinvent the comic-book movie like Lee or Christopher Nolan with his “Dark Knight” trilogy. It’s evident that the studio’s main objective is mass commercial appeal and not to clutter things up with complex ideas and themes. That’s exactly what they’ve been doing over the last four years. With releases like “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger,” they wanted to give fans already invested in these characters concrete evidence no one was going to wax philosophical. They wanted big, blaring scenes capable of melting eyeballs in 3D. In the simplest of terms, they wanted to see Hulk, well, smash.

And smash he does in “The Avengers” alongside the mightiest of heroes, which first appeared together in comic books written by industry savant Stan Lee in the early ’60s. Back then, the squad was created to compete with the ever-growing popularity of DC Comics’ Justice League. While the roster has changed over the years, the modern film adaptations have chosen to follow the characters best able to sidestep their natural comic-book kitsch (sorry Ant-Man, your protruding shoulder pads are just too silly to overcome). With approximately $1.8 billion in box-office revenue worldwide, geekdom has spoken. Despite its flaws, “The Avengers” is solid entertainment.

What better way to appease the geeks than with one of their own? Directed by cult favorite Joss Whedon (TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel”), “The Avengers” is pumped with exciting action sequences and razor-sharp special effects that can compete with anything Marvel has ever put out. Known for his clever writing ability (screw Buffy, the dude wrote Darlene’s “To Whom it Concerns” poem during a Season 2 episode of “Roseanne!”), Whedon’s dialogue is perfect for more charismatic characters like industrialist playboy Tony Stark — though far less so for characters like Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and the always doltish Thor, who unfortunately doesn’t provide much oomph to the already ordinary storyline. It starts with Thor’s evil brother Loki, a flimsily written antagonist who is able to get his hands on a powerful cube known as the Tesseract, which holds the key to unlimited sustainable energy. With the planet on the brink of destruction, S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) rallies his all-star team together to (trumpet fanfare) save the human race. Before they can do that, however, the Avengers must experience some growing pains as a diverse superhero unit and quibble like kids on the playground. It’s during these fight scenes that fanboy fantasies come true. Watching Thor’s hammer slam down onto Captain America’s shield is the stuff of epic wonder. Other amazing feats of action bliss include the Hulk intercepting a fighter pilot as he ejects from a damaged jet, and Stark changing into his Iron Man suit in midair.

While the narrative itself leaves much to be desired, Whedon, who also has the overrated meta horror movie “The Cabin in the Woods” out at theaters, does have a knack for hilarious pop-culture references, snappy one-liners that get every character involved, and some physical comedy. It all keeps the story from falling into too many past superhero pitfalls. “The Avengers” may not divert much from the typical superhero blueprint, but what hardcore Marvel enthusiast would really want that anyway?

The Cabin in the Woods

April 14, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchinson
Directed by: Drew Goddard (debut)
Written by: Joss Whedon (“Firefly”) and Drew Goddard (“Cloverfield”)

The horror-film collaboration from cult-favorite Joss Whedon (TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly”) and “Cloverfield” writer Drew Goddard has been long discussed. Completed in late 2009, “The Cabin in the Woods” had been shelved for three years due to the financial woes at MGM. But with a new home at Lionsgate, and the not-so coincidental impending release of Whedon’s “The Avengers,” the film is finally seeing the light of day. With Goddard stepping behind the camera for the first time and Whedon penning the screenplay, “Cabin” is a somewhat meta horror/comedy that unfortunately falls into the same trappings of the genre it’s satirizing.

As a group of five friends travel to a remote cabin in the woods, they find strange and sinister things beginning to happen all around them. Meanwhile, in a secret bunker underground, a group of scientists watch the group of campers on video screens. Their task? To play a sort of puppet master to the horrors happening inside the cabin.

Led by Kristen Connolly (TV’s “Guiding Light”), “Cabin” features a large cast of lesser known actors. While none of the characters are particularly fleshed out, Connolly does a decent job as the typical innocent virgin you’d find in other cliché horror movies. A pre-“Thor” Chris Hemsworth joins the cast and is given the role of the stereotypical high-school jock. Even though he looks way too old to be in high school, the character is poked fun at by always carrying a football and wearing a letterman jacket. The most interesting characters are Bradley Whitford (TV’s “The West Wing”) and Academy Award-nominee Richard Jenkins (“The Visitor”), who play the two scientists watching the events take place from their mysterious base. A lot of the winking and jabs at the horror genre are written into the script for Whitford and Jenkins. Their dialogue almost serves as a kind of commentary track you’d find in the special features of a DVD.

From early on in the film, it is obvious that Whedon and Goddard aim to present their audience with a familiar horror movie set-up and then turn everything on its side and change the game. The issue? Even though it’s by design, it’s still painfully familiar. The kids are picked off one by one in traditional slasher- movie style. The kids fall into traps horror fans are accustomed to and nothing is very original. The early twists are also extremely obvious from the get-go. Whedon and Goddard try to separate their film from the typical horror movie by subtly making fun of the situations, but the concept fails because many of its working parts are far too similar to generic horror to register as parody. The humor is extremely hit or miss and the film isn’t particularly frightening, save for the occasional cheap jump scare. While the audience should know that things are cliché by design, it’s hard to tell when they’re supposed to be in on the joke.

Without giving away the ultra-protected details, the final act of the film culminates into what amounts to every genre fan’s fantasy.  Although underwhelming and gimmicky, the scenes that take place around this particular event are the first in the film that felt remotely original. It’s pretty clear Whedon and Goddard made this film to ridicule what modern horror has become. The problem, however, lies in the execution. They end up spending far too much time (at least an hour of the 95 minute runtime) creating a generic horror film. Unfortunately, their commentary isn’t sharp or engaging enough and as a result, they’ve created a mediocre entry of their own.

This film was screened as a part of SXSW 2012.