Why Justice League became a bad Marvel movie

When the opening scene of the film happens to be something that wasn’t in the original vision for the film, the patchy nature of the film really begins to show (Upper Lip). I’ve been a big fan of Man of Steel but since then have been consistently disappointed by where Zack Snyder and company took the story. He chose a niche for these super beloved characters, He was going for a very specific and niche tone. But then something happened that really messed with that original vision. MOS, BvS and Justice League were supposed to be a part of a trilogy which Zack Snyder wanted to tell. Each bigger in ambition than the last.

The ‘something’ that I refer to is the involvement of Chris Terrio. He was brought into re-write parts of BvS. I don’t know why critics or general people don’t consider that as one of those bad hires that really spoiled the films. As far as I know he isn’t a comic book nerd and he took the steering away from Zack to redirect it into that god awful Martha Scene who everyone makes fun of now. Sure, he won Best Screenplay for Argo with Ben Affleck but this these films won’t ever be remembered as his best work.

Let’s get into Justice League. It’s a mess. Structure wise, Joss Whedon had an impossible task especially with the mandate by Warner Bros CEO to bring the film to under 2 hours to enable more theatrical screenings. They wanted money to be made from the most expensive super-hero film ever made. With a 93 Million dollar opening being the lowest ever for any DC film we all know how that turned out. It feels like vignette after vignette and skims over the origins of each of the new characters. You’re left wondering where do these people come from exactly? What do they feel about being who they are? And how do they reconcile with the fact that they happens to be gods now with these invulnerable super powers? The flash, Aquaman and Cyborg just happen to walk into scenes fully costumed and ready to fight. Another problem is the fact that most of the good moments were included in the trailers but that happens with most of these films now. Why do these films feel like extended trailers nowadays?

Danny Elfman was brought in to score the film after Junkie XL was fired from the project. He chooses to go backwards and not forwards with the choices he makes. Only Wonder Woman’s super popular theme is retained (in a weak fashion) and everything Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL did was all thrown out of the window. This score is mediocre at best. I think the score for Man of Steel is so nuanced and emotional and it still resonates with me. Anyone who has ‘an eye’ could see the reshoots and the change in the way scenes injected witty lines and characters started making self aware jokes. Maybe Zack wasn’t at his best when we was conceiving this epic plan but his vision was tampered with from the start. He needed a cohesive screenplay to support his grand visual storytelling instincts.

It was meant to be an epic on paper with a wasted cast like JK Simmons, Diane Lane, Amy Adams and Jesse Eisenberg who barely make it past two short scenes or less. Steppenwolf was always planned to be a part of a two part epic perhaps where the real baddie Darkseid tests the League to their limits. Everyone online has mentioned about the weak fully CG villain and I won’t get into it again. The death of superman is perhaps his motivation to return to the world again. A couple of scenes between Diana Prince and Bruce Wayne work and one with Jason Momoa when you look at them in isolation. A couple of scenes do make you smile with The Flash and Superman as well. But the razor thin plot, I don’t think, will make them stick. Now let me examine the crux of my feelings here. The twin director problem.

WB took a massive critical hit after BvS so they looked for what makes other films in the genre work. Everybody knows they looked at Marvel. Everybody knows they hired Joss Whedon to rewrite scenes. And Everybody knows he injects these godlike beings down to earth with humour to make them relatable. That’s fine but that was the foundation he built for the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the first two phases of films and culminating in the Avengers films. He was asked to do that again here. But what makes DC films different is the grit and realism with which it treats its worlds. That’s what made TDK movies and Man of Steel work for me. Both those films involve a story treatment by Christopher Nolan. That’s what these films don’t get now. A unique voice which has the confidence of what story it’s trying to tell and then going ahead with conviction. Unfortunately DC are trying to be like Marvel now for the approval of the general public and its moving towards mediocrity to say the least. That’s not what I’ve come to expect from these films.

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded… And everybody knows that they’re in trouble.

War For The Planet Of The Apes — A Retrospective

A great story can come from anywhere. The protagonist doesn’t even have to be human.

When Woody Harrelson’s The Colonel invades ‘the Ape Society’ and kills Caesars younger son, he is pushed into a hell of vengeance. A test he has never really faced so far. A test of dealing with the loss of someone his own. His revengful mindset even distracts him from his tribe which was his main focus in ‘Dawn’. Koba visits him in his nightmares and he begins to wonder what he is feeling may perhaps be no different from how Koba must have felt with the years of suffering and torture from the hands of some humans. Yet the vengeance that drives him is strong and personal. He has a reason to seek the death of a human for the first time in his life.

Cinematographer Michael Seresin (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) is excellent with his wide framing of the beautiful landscapes to ground the otherwise CGI world (just apes mainly) in real snow, water and trees. The film then becomes almost like a western and we’re introduced to the brilliantly acted mute girl who is later named ‘Nova’. What felt magical to me was how the film then starts exploring elements of classical silent films in its storytelling. Certain elaborate sequences in the second act feel suspenseful and clarity of story is achieved without ever really saying much. Michael Giacchino, the composer does probably his best work here. Christian symbolism is also embedded into sequences like the X tree (instead of a typical cross) where Caesar is captured and punished.

And then we also have Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), another genius subplot in this amazing series, an ape who learns to talk by mimicking bad humans and then lives in isolation for years apparently. He provides the required comic relief in an otherwise grim setting. Woody Harrelson has another couple of amazingly paced and purposed expositional scenes with Caesar. Maurice develops as someone who’s learned empathy from the Ape leader and works to save the mute girl Nova, someone who’s not been corrupted yet. She understands the need to protect anyone or anything with potential.

The film is about loss and the need for people to hold on tightly to what keeps them going. When our support systems are wrenched away, we respond with anger and violence. And when there are things in the world that we don’t understand, we respond with fear and battles for control. All of this and so much more is woven through “War for the Planet of the Apes” in a way that often doesn’t hit you until hours or days later. When he finally gets hold of the Colonel, I realized looking at that face that Caesar will be an iconic character, one that moviegoers watch for decades to come. And these films will only grow in esteem and acclaim. Greatness always does.

Director Matt Reeves says this trilogy was Caesar’s Arc into becoming a mythical legend among the apes because he transcends his own anger in a prolonged moment filled with hate and guides his tribe into a place of safety where nature also plays its part in eliminating the problems.

He explained it as ‘A Darwinian Biblical Epic’ and I certainly felt so.

Batman V Superman (Ultimate Edition) — A Retrospective

Warner Bros received heavy slack after the release of the theatrical version after having made fantastic initial trailers and then messing it up with the 3rd act reveals in the final trailer, which was in many people’s opinion (and mine too) a poorly made film.

Removing or adding little bits and pieces here and there makes so much of a difference, doesn’t it? Well that’s exactly what happened with me as I saw this version. As I am a film student, I try to delve for the issues of rhythm and time when one is watching nay experiencing a film. First of all this version starts to move in a more comprehensible way. That I think was lacking in the theatrical version. There were so many abrupt cuts and the sense of who’s coming from where and who’s going where was very weak. In a broader sense, this version gets to see more of the Africa Sequence, more of the bullet investigation, more of Clarke Kent being Clarke Kent, a journalist (thank god!).

Problems even after the extended Cut

  1. Jesse Eisenbergs character has weak motivations. What does he know of The Batman? Why does he want to kill Superman? When was the inception of his idiosyncrasies?
  2. I think there definitely could have been a better way to introduce elements from the Justice League than an email from Bruce Wayne.
  3. I accepted the mystery surrounding the play with Wonder Woman but her character doesn’t have a well defined self sustained arc in this film. Yeah all entertainment these days is serialized I know but I’m sure we’ll love at least a subplot ending within a movie. Wonder Woman came back for the picture of hers that Luthor Had. Did she wipe that data out within the course of the movie? No.
  4. The weight of importance of events still feel shifted a bit too much towards Lois Lane and lesser towards Alexander Luthor. I think if the narrative curves would have been more of a triangle between Batman, Superman and Luthor it would have been a more engaging battle.

Problem but not really a problem

  1. I now trust the tone that these two movies have had. This cut made me put aside my notions of Batman (Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale/Animated Series) and let me think, Hey! Show me what story you’re telling. Let’s see how it goes with this Batman. Man of Steel wasn’t linear (I enjoy that movie a lot) and this is a complicated series of events too. We haven’t seen the past of this branding, murdering and fucked up Batman. Which is fine! He has a solo movie coming. I know! So there’s a story for that perhaps.

Problems solved after the Ultimate Cut

  1. The Martha moment somehow for the first time felt less cheesy to me. It felt a little more weighted but not enough. I guess the point was to introduce the idea to Bruce Wayne that Superman also has a mother (He is human) and he sees himself as the criminal who killed his own mother which makes him piece it all together (because he is “the” detective).
  2. Clarke Kent is developed a little more as a journalist which was seriously lacking before so I cared more for his sacrifice.
  3. A couple of very “comic book brought to life” moments are added like the opening of bottles in the Africa sequence, cops watching a Metropolis vs Gotham football game, new introductions/shots to many such scenes.
  4. Superman wants to care about people (He is shown coming back down after the bomb blast at the senate hearing to help people which is crucial information) but he’s been in a sort of a depression (forever it seems cause he doesn’t smile!) except for the bits in Man of Steel when he first flew.
  5. The warehouse fight involving Batman and Doomsday fight involving the trinity has more intense shots (Rated R) are more cohesive/flow better. More Fun.
  6. The funeral sequence has beautiful slow motion shots of empty roads and the Daily Planet and a lot of Man of Steel recall. I think this is a nice end for the non smiling/Self Serious Superman and we’ll see him smile more in Justice League I’m sure.

When I look back at this (edited post) I do feel the film tried to do too much in one movie. It felt like little bit of a setup for Justice League and Wonder Woman and The Batman while trying to a Man of Steel sequel. Visually its brilliant but plot wise convoluted.

Overall the film feels like an operatic epic with huge ambitions but maybe some of us still won’t like that very thing.

Spiderman Homecoming — A Retrospective

The battle of New York in Marvel’s first Avengers films has had an impact on all earth bound MCU movies, since it did happen, in 2012. Also every studio feels the pressure of making a cinematic universe now. So to be able to contain a “story” within one movie nowadays is becoming a rare thing. The recent wonder woman movie handled it best by book ending the film by a voice over and virtual communication with Bruce Wayne.

The first thing that hits you about Spiderman Homecoming is the youthful gushing energy of the character that’s so reminiscent of the comics. The world is based in smartphones and YouTube which grounds the film to a level which is a fresh change from cosmic or Greek God adventures. We know we’ll go back to that (In November) but this story is about a high school kid and who doesn’t like that? Now I want this to be a change of format cause I’m split on this film.

Spoilers ahead:

The Good

The best scene of the film is with Tom Holland, Laura Harrier (Liz, the girl who plays the crush) and ‘The Birdman’ himself Micheal Keaton in a car. The simple nature of shots of the great actor as his understanding of the detail (That apparently random kid, Peter Parker is Spiderman) changes is phenomenal storytelling. The highest possible quality for me. Also the pacing, is smooth throughout the film. My IMAX screening was without an interval yet I didn’t look at my watch once which is always a good sign. Most times 3D is annoying still but looking down the Washington Monument Sequence gave me a physical reaction of trying to find my ground while looking down how far the ground is and the next shot was Spiderman doing just that. I love the fact that this film is about growing up with real life problems of being a kid and dealing with an aunt and her life and dealing with friends and girls in high school. The fact that all his friends think he is a douche bag but he’s only doing the right thing by leaving them at a party when a explosion happens nearby. That’s a tough choice for anyone who knows his potential. This is what makes Spiderman unique from other heroes and these are the gods we do worship in modern times so.

Other things that I thought were cool

Genetic diversity

The Suit and the fact that Jennifer Connelly (married to Paul Bettany aka Vision aka Jarvis) gives the OS Voice.

Robert Downey Jr. being a bad-ass and Gwyneth Paltrow “peppered” in.

The Bad

The fact that this isn’t a self contained story and all threads will move on to the other films sucks. I don’t like it. I wanna complain about it. This feels like a TV episode where things happen but almost nothing is resolved. I don’t know if this is unfortunate or if this is the “new way” some films will be. The third act showdown in the night sky, on the plane is generic to say the least with no real stakes explained or expressed. This Spiderman film does not still have that moment or the emotional heart we’ve come to expect in Spiderman films. Looking back at Spiderman 2 where it played out in a operatic fashion with a ticking clock and something scientific at stake (like clean free nuclear energy at the cost of an egotistical and equally brilliant scientist, Doc Ock played brilliantly by Alfred Molina). I do feel this film does not not have ‘that’ moment.

P.S. Chris Evans as Captain America is the boss.

Wonder Woman – Savior of the DCEU

If you don’t know (or feel) the cultural significance of Wonder Woman right now let me just put it in your conscious once again. Wonder Woman is a 75 year old character who’s ‘never’ had a large screen adaptation ever till now. She considered a part of the trinity of the most popular comic book characters ever. Yet she’s never had a movie because people believed it will never make as much money as Batman and Superman. Recent reports show Wonder Woman has grossed more than BvS in the US Box Office. Could any sane person say this even 5 years ago? Think of all those people who are getting represented for the first time ever on screen. If you’re a white or brown dude, like myself, we’ll never in its full capacity, grasp the meaning
of seeing someone relatable do the things we want to do. But if you’re a 14 year old girl who sees this powerful and strong willed woman fighting for peace and not obeying the words of a war general who sits comfortably while giving orders to soldiers to shed blood instead of doing it himself, you are being brought up just fine.

Now as a film it’s no secret that Wonder Woman is heavily influenced from Richard Donner’s Superman. In tone (a couple of scenes taken directly from it to pay homage) and with the pacing, yes but Wonder Woman is essentially a god unlike Superman. She’s a myth and she’s all powerful and righteous. What they (DC) do manage to do is tell a comprehensible and complete story. In the modern world of flashy trailer like editing or meaningless Bayhem, we do get a human story from an idolized god figure. A story where not everything went well. They did not live happily ever after, Diana has her delusions of mankind busted and yet she chooses to trust the imperfections of man. She makes a conscious decision to love inspire of the prevalent hate of a World War. That’s whats resonant and unique. The fact that Patty Jenkins (The Director) was given the creative license to portray a singular vision is great. There are some special moments in the film which will stand the test of (and grow with) time. This version will be the quintessential wonder woman origin for this generation. And that is huge. Chris Pine will forever be Steve Trevor and Gal Gadot will always be wonder woman for some no matter how many remakes they make. That’s the power of this film.

Now it’s not perfect but no film is. Our own subjective desires entail us to nitpick but there is little petty minds like myself can do anything about the fact that I felt the pacing in the second half could’ve been improved. But that’s probably the YouTube attention span of my mind talking. If this was 1975, people wouldn’t mind it being longer. Gal Gadot is, I don’t know, one day I’d say she’s the perfect casting choice because of the charm in her smile and the physicality but on another day, I would prefer someone who’s accent didn’t take me out of it. Again I am just a dumbfuck sitting and judging. The movie was great. It made me emotional at times. The chemistry between Chris Pine and Gal Gadot was infectious and the writing was smart and deliberate. Patty Jenkins made this movie with heart and passion because of what this film needed to do. The fact that she did empower the character of Wonder Woman without having to downgrade or diminish the male counterpart, Chris Pine, is truly admirable and respect worthy. Their love wasn’t cynical at any stage and it was framed with a romance of a time gone by. I was a fucking mess when she leaps off from a platform in the comtemporary world (was it london?) and her intensly powerful theme song plays which fades into black and the credits roll.

Now Wonder Woman means a lot more in the DCEU going forward than ever before.