Justice League

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Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince, to face an even greater enemy.

The DC Extended Universe has been on a bumpy road lately, because even though I liked Man of Steel, the films that followed, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, placed this franchise in a dark state. This year, Wonder Woman helped many regain some faith in the franchise, and although I did enjoy that movie, I was very skeptical about this one. Zack Snyder returns from the previous films to direct his third film in the franchise. However, he was replaced by Joss Whedon after leaving the post-production process to cope with the tragic death of his daughter. Although I was sad for Snyder and curious about a new style that could improve on what we’ve seen before, I was afraid the end result would be extremely inconsistent. Although as a movie, the director changes aren’t too noticeable, at times this feels like the slo-mo infested Zack Snyder movies he originally shot, and other times it’s trying to be a funny and light-hearted Marvel movie. Batman v Superman was dark and slow, and although Snyder’s directing is clealry shown here, the tone is definitely tweaked and improved for the future of DC. He should have understood we don’t need a gloomy, boring, overly dramtic/metaphorical film with no emotional payoff, when you can spend more time focusing on the great superhero characters you have. Justice League feels different from the rest of the DCEU in tone and mood, but also from the new boundaries Wonder Woman set, which is unfortunate, but I was still able to have a fun time, despite a $300 million budget that still couldn’t make good CGI and a rushed, formulaic, and uneven script.

Ben Affleck once again leads the cast as the charismatic Batman, and Gal Gadot is once again fantastic and steals the screen, although the script is too reliant on the events of her solo movie to have her character arc work, and emotionally she isn’t given anything new to work with. Ezra Miller is hilarious and perfectly cast as The Flash, with a well-established backstory and great writing and humor. However, the other two new characters, Aquaman and Cyborg, are underdeveloped and given no reason for us to care about them. The writing for their characters is occasionally humorous and effective, but we can’t get invested into them too much besides Wonder Woman, even Batman fell flat from a character development stance at most times. We should have gotten standalone movies for these three characters before they all teamed up, this culmination was too rushed and hardly set up. The reason The Avengers and Marvel’s new Netflix miniseries The Defenders felt so anticipated and great were because we had already met these characters individually, and the studio took their time to get us excited when they finally interacted and had great chemistry. Here, the characters we’ve already been introduced to have already all fought together and the rest are new to the game. If DC had waited to set up great universes and backstories for all six of the League members instead of only three, we would have gotten something even more exciting and satisfying. The chemistry between the entire team was also something I hope a lot more from, the had no time to make the team feel like a real team and interact with fun banter like the Marvel teams I mentioned, instead the team’s chemistry feels absent and rushed past.cDC has done a terrible job with their villains, such as Doomsday, Enchantress, and most recently, the dull and horrible Ares, but Steppenwolf is on a whole new level of awful. His CGI is video-game quality and his motive and posing of a threat are nonexistent. There are also some underused characters (I was excited to see J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon, only for him to appear in two brief scenes), and lots of plots that are set up and go nowhere or only feel around for a short while.

The DC Extended Universe has been a huge mess, and although Justice League is a step in the right direction, it’s not as impressive as many would hope. I didn’t expect much form the movie, but the changes in tone are mostly for the better. The shorter 120-minute runtime is justified and the story feels rushed, as a plot conflict is introduced then immediately dealt with in the next scene, and although there are fun action scenes, including one taking place at Wonder Woman’s home island of Themyscira, the stakes never feel there, and the overly used slow motion from Snyder and the moral dialogue from writer Chris Terio don’t blend in well with the lighter style Joss Whedon was hoping to bring. Although I was even able to enjoy some uses of Snyder’s signature style, this feels the least like a Snyder movie like all of his films which relieved me since his style in Batman v Superman wasn’t used very well. There are scenes in which characters discuss conflicts and the ideals behind the events of the previous films, and then the comedic moments come by and that’s when it starts to not blend in. I liked the lighter, more Marvel-esque tone it was going for and it should have stuck with that. Also, a certain character’s return makes for a fun scene but definitely weakens the plot later on. When all the action ends, nothing felt emotionally satisfying or triumphant, as most of it is predictable and formulaic, and I couldn’t have cared less about the post-credits setup for who knows how many sequels. Although Wonder Woman brought this new DC universe in a much smarter direction, Justice League blends in the directing and writing styles from previous films with the positive humor and fun that fans like us were hoping for, and although this makes for an uneven and predictable plot with some fun moments and a better tone and direction than previous DC films, it ultimately isn’t a must watch unless you absolutely love these characters and the comics.

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Thor: Ragnarok

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Two years after he helped the Avengers fight Ultron, Thor has returned to Asgard, only to find a new threat who wants to bring an end to Asgard, and he wounds up on the planet Sakaar with his old friend the Hulk and his adopted brother Loki, so he must now fight his way back in order to return to Asgard and protect it from the powerful enemy who seeks to destroy it.

Although the Marvel Cinematic Universe has delivered some of the decade’s greatest blockbusters, their Thor movies are the weakest in the franchise, despite Chris Hemsworth’s great performance as the titular character. This one, however, with much more humor, colorful sets and visuals, and a creative style offered by director Taika Waititi, is able to deliver as an entertaining Marvel film that many hoped for, but also a very smart, funny, and pleasing one. The first two Thor films, although watchable and sometimes fun, didn’t have as much depth and feeling as it could have, as Thor is a great character that can be done a lot with, but Waititi is able to grasp onto what we love about Thor, and boast it with an incredible amount of humor, gorgeous set pieces and visual backdrops, and a lot of heart as well. The return of Hemsworth, Hiddleston as Loki, and Mark Ruffalo as the tough and angry but lovable hero we know as the incredible Hulk, are very satisfying, especially Ruffalo, as he isn’t the main character but he is given plenty of time for us to enjoy his time on screen and set up a character arc that will hopefully be explored more in the next films, Ruffalo and Hemsworth once again have great chemistry, and it’s awesome to once again see the team-up of two main Avengers in one of their solo films, after we saw Captain America join forces with Black Widow in The Winter Soldier. In addition to these returning characters, we also get some great new characters, including Jeff Goldblum is the hilarious, charming dictator of the planet Sakaar, known only as The Grandmaster, Creed‘s breakout star Tessa Thompson as a complex and ass-kicking warrior named Valkyrie, Karl Urban as Asgardian warrior Skurge, and Cate Blanchett as the ruthless villain Hela, who are all great as well, and not to mention a funny motion-capture character named Korg played by director Waititi himself. The cast has plenty to offer, as well as some expected and unexpected cameos, but that’s not all that makes Ragnarok such impressive fun.

There are lots of callbacks to the other Marvel films and the popular comic book storylines in this movie, but that’s not all that will please fans. There is plenty of clever humor, and you can tell the director just wanted to poke fun at a lot of it in many scenes. Apparently, 80% of the movie’s dialogue was improvised, and this style of directing made it seem like the cast and everyone else involved had so much fun making the movie, and I sure bet they did. I’m glad that they chose to make this film a comedy, but in some scenes the humor overstayed its welcome in parts where it felt like it was time to resume the plot, and it takes too much time for those specific scenes to leave the goofy, humorous parts, but most of the humor did turn out to be effective. The characters also get some good arcs and development, although some things are left unexplained that I really hoped the movie would address, such as how Loki survived the events of the previous Thor movie. Although lots of the ambition does pay off both visually and story-wise, this didn’t feel like a groundbreaking movie in terms of Marvel films. Last year, Civil War completely ditched the classic formula that was used in the past MCU films and instead we got a dark and complex story that was completely unpredictable. Although the movies Marvel has released this year (like this one) don’t really follow the established formula too much anymore, and I wasn’t expecting something extremely unexpected from this one, the past films we saw from Marvel this year both had something new to offer. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 had a fantastic message about family that was delivered wonderfully and made it feel more heartfelt and meaningful than most the other films. Spider-Man: Homecoming‘s themes about adolescence made it also feel different and rather a coming-of-age film than the familiar movie about self-discovery and powers. In Thor: Ragnarok, Marvel pretty much shoots for the same things: lots of humor, cool action and visuals, and lots of comic book references and characters/appearances. The directing and style make it feel very exciting and light-hearted, and this movie definitely put a smile on my face, but Marvel didn’t really offer much that was new or unanticipated with the substance and overall product of this movie. What did take me by surprise was how much has changed by the end of the film. Unlike most superhero films, Ragnarok involves sacrifices with real consequences being made, and our hero has lost some important things to him by the end, which makes his journey to the next Avengers film even more exciting. We’ll just have to see how it’ll go for him this May, when we get the big team-up we’ve all been waiting for: Infinity War.

Thor: Ragnarok isn’t one of the best Marvel movies out there, but it’s certainly a blast to watch. The creative style, great cast and visuals, and entertainment level make this one a worthy watch in theaters, and you will definitely be satisfied with the final part of Thor’s individual journey, until he will once again team up with the Avengers next May in Infinity War. Until then, the hilarious, colorful, and awesome fun this movie has to offer will be enough to make you cheer this franchise on.

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

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In Luc Besson’s sci-fi adventure set in Alpha, a vast metropolis and home to species from a thousand planets, special operatives Valerian and Laureline must find a dark force that is threatening the city and safeguard the future of the universe. There is clearly a large amount of ambition in this film that we don’t see in many movies today, and Luc Besson had a huge vision of this universe he adapted to the big screen from a French comic book series. The CGI effects in this movie are excellent, and many shots are incredible to look at. The setting of Alpha, which has planets with many different looks, is brought to life beautifully and feels like something out of a Star Trek or Star Wars movie, and so is a magnificently looking scene towards the beginning which feels almost like something out of Avatar. However, when put together with the pratical sets and effects in the film, which are minimal, that’s when the visual appeal often comes off as messy, since it’s so easy to tell what’s real and what’s fake. The action gives some great entertainment, especially when put together with the visuals, and Besson also knows what music to use in certain scenes, including some of my favorite songs like “Space Oddity” and “Stayin’ Alive”. The part the film struggles most with is the plot. The story starts off fine and somewhat exciting, but eventually more plot points get thrown in until it gets too convoluted to enjoy. I wasn’t expecting much from the trailers but at least I was able to get some entertaining sequences. I liked Besson’s approach to the world building and visual environment of the film, but the script fails to bring anything humurous or original like it tries to be. There is a plot twist thrown in towards the end of the movie that I saw coming from miles away, and although I understood the message Besson tried to convey with what is actually happening in the film, the villain reveal was extremely predictable from the moment I saw that character on screen. The original comic books inspired the look and feel of the classic 1977 Star Wars, and this movie actually had good potential to become another great intergalactic film franchise in that same genre, but with the underwhelming writing and poor critical and box office performances, I highly doubt that will happen.

The main characters of Valerian and Laureline could have been wonderfully thought of protagonists, and I bet they are that way in the source material. Unfortunately, we are given no backstory on who these characters are and how they met, and the chemistry between the two lead actors is weak, as the romantic development between them and the development of them as the “buddy cop” duo of the film is unimaginative and hard to care for. Cara Delevingne was well-cast and delivered an amusing performance as the badass female character who has lots of heart, but Dane DeHaan is miscast and failed to deliver in the titular role. He gave the role his best, and he’s not a bad actor, but the role didn’t suit him as I didn’t feel like I could connect at all to the character with the lack of emotion he brought. Rihanna thankfully didn’t have a big role in the movie, and although her character has a fun concept and a cool scene in which she’s introduced, don’t expect this to be too big of an improvement on her awful performance in Battleship, in terms of acting. There’s also a certain well-known actor in the movie that the trailers did a good job of hiding, and although he’s more talented than all the other actors in the film, he’s completely wasted in a small and forgettable role. This movie tries to be huge, as this is both the most expensive European and independent film ever made. That may sound like this movie promises big things, but it’s ultimately crammed and although often entertaining, I did not find myself too impressed by Valerian, besides for the great CG-visuals.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has tons of great ambition and visual effects, as well as some very surprisingly entertaining scenes, but the plot and cast distract from the good this film has to offer, and make this movie an uninspired, although somewhat delightful mess that will only truly satisfy those looking for good action and terrific visual appeal.

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Wonder Woman

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Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons and trained warrior. When a pilot crashes and tells of conflict in the outside world, she leaves home to fight a war to end all wars, discovering her full powers and true destiny.

I’ve had much less faith in DC ever since the disappointments of Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad were released last year. The plot and development of the universe in both films were rushed and horribly written, yet one thing stood out to me from DC’s films last year – Gal Gadot’s performance as Wonder Woman. She brought lots of heart into the character and didn’t let me down, so DC made a wise choice by making her the lead of their next film. Here, she’s even more impressive as one of the most surprising and entertaining superhero protagonists in a long time. Gadot showed us that she had talent in her minor role in the Fast and Furious films, but she does better when she carries the film in the leading role. Her charm, emotion, charisma, and determination build a fantastic heroine who kicks ass and brings hope to not only the discouraged and devastated soldiers of the war in the film, but to the DCEU franchise and its future. If it weren’t for Gadot’s outstanding performance, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed the movie as much. I hope we see much more of her talent and her character in the future. Chris Pine is more than just the love interest, he’s also an interesting and well-written hero who has great chemistry with Gadot.

Wonder Woman not only has great leading roles but also very good directing and action scenes. If you liked seeing Wonder Woman fight alongside Batman and Superman last year, you’ll definitely enjoy seeing her beat up Germans as she deflects bullets and explosives and smashes through buildings with her shield. The action is very well-realized and although there is too much slow-motion at some points, it’s very exciting to watch how the action plays out in the film. Although the movie’s runtime isn’t too focused on action, plenty of the writing is there to develop the characters and give them interesting moments. The story of a god/goddess searching for their destiny outside of their home reminded me of Thor, and the WWI setting is reminiscent of the WWII set pieces in Captain America: The First Avenger. I loved the scenes in which Wonder Woman explores her motivation to fight, what she believes in, and her view on mankind, yet this time they made me care more about it than in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman because it isn’t delivered through slow montages and boring dialogue. Although it was produced by Zack Snyder, and he’s also credited for the story, which shows through the excessive use of slo-mo and some unbalanced pacing like in the other DC films, I’m sure glad he didn’t direct it, because Patty Jenkins was able to deliver a groundbreaking female superhero story in a much higher league than what Snyder has done. Thankfully this movie also doesn’t try to build on the universe and set up a sequel too much, it just left me wanting more films with Gadot in the main role in the future. There are villainous roles that are horribly written, including a villain reveal in the messy and CGI-heavy climactic battle that I really didn’t care about, and it took a while for me to really get into the story in the beginning, which starts with exposition and dialogue that could have used improvement. I’m glad that what follows is a fun and thrilling origin story for one of the most awesome and interesting female superheroes on the big screen.

Wonder Woman improves on DC’s underwhelming disappointments from last year, with a fantastic leading performance and well-shot action sequences. The writing could have used some improvement, but this film overall raises the bar for female superhero films and the DCEU’s potential. I can tell this won’t be the last of Gadot’s on-screen glory as the titular badass heroine.

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

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In the fifth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Captain Jack Sparrow is pursued by an old rival, Captain Salazar, who along with his crew of ghost pirates has escaped from the Devil’s Triangle, and is determined to kill every pirate at sea. Jack seeks the Trident of Poseidon, a powerful artifact that grants its possessor total control over the seas, in order to defeat Salazar.

Disney has benefited with billions of dollars from this popular franchise based on the famous Disneyland ride, so it’s no surprise that they’ve gone and made a fifth one. Dead Men Tell No Tales is not the worst of the series but it’s not the return to form that many fans were hoping for. I did not walk in with high expectations so I can’t say I was disappointed, but I was not impressed either. Johnny Depp is back as Jack Sparrow, one of the most popular live action heroes of our time, and he’s still entertaining in the role, but his character barely serves a point in the plot this time around. He has lots of screen time and makes lots of jokes throughout but he’s never developed at all or given a reason to be there other than the fact that the villain wants revenge on him. Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario play two new protagonists to the series, and they both deliver solid performances, but their character arcs aren’t interesting enough to carry the film along. Javier Bardem stars as a frightening villain who starts out interesting but the dialogue and CGI make his character feel more comedic then threatening. Geoffrey Rush is also back as Hector Barbossa and is made a big part of the plot but his character’s writing failed to interest me.

I was never a huge fan of the series, but even those who loved the first few films won’t get much that they’re hoping for besides entertainment. The plot that drives the characters and the film forward are nothing near as compelling as the first film offered. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley didn’t reprise their roles in the last film, and here, they don’t appear much, either. The new young protagonists and the story that revolves around them just couldn’t fill that void or push the story forward well enough. There are some entertaining action scenes, such as a scene in which a bank is being robbed (not just the money, but the entire building is being dragged away), as well as one in which an execution is thwarted. There are moments that managed to entertain me and make me laugh, and shots that are done well, but the writers couldn’t come up with a story and character arcs that the audience could also enjoy. There are many magical concepts and backstories that were introduced but none of them made much sense or excited me at all. The movie doesn’t conclude terribly, but the post-credits scene sets up the potential sequel that I won’t be looking forward to.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales isn’t the sequel many were hoping for, and although it will manage to entertain viewers, especially younger audiences and fans of the previous films, but the uninspired and boring storyline and character arcs make this film far from the saga’s best use of its potential. You may like it for its action, but there are films in theaters right now that you’ll probably like much better, like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Alien: Covenant, and the new DC film Wonder Woman, which hits theaters this Friday.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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It’s been three years since Guardians of the Galaxy was released and became a huge hit for Marvel, and finally the Guardians have returned to the big screen in Vol. 2. This time, the Guardians travel throughout the cosmos as they help Peter Quill learn more about his true parentage. Thankfully, James Gunn knows how to make a standout superhero film for the second time. Vol. 2 doesn’t lose the charm, heart, and humor that made the first one so great. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, and Vin Diesel are all still so brilliant and hilarious as the dysfunctional family who must save the galaxy for the second time. There’s something so refreshing about their characters that brings a smile to my face. Michael Rooker, Sean Gunn, and Karen Gillan also return from the first film, and their characters are explored much more interestingly this time. I was also impressed by newcomer Pom Klementieff as Mantis, a charming new member of the Guardians.

With a great visual style, script, and action sequences, James Gunn shows he can make a Marvel film that’s special and heartfelt. Guardians Vol. 2 feels somewhat distinct from the classic MCU formula, and isn’t too caught up with setting up a universe, but with bringing the best out of its characters and visuals. If you loved Awesome Mix Vol. 1, prepare for another great soundtrack in Awesome Mix Vol. 2, which includes some great songs that are used very well in the film. It’s been a while since the first film came out, and the first one felt so fresh and new when it was released, but by now the visuals and humorous style don’t feel as new and special as they did back then, but I can’t really blame the film for that. There are a few characters that are useless and I wish did more, and there’s a twist thrown in that was foreshadowed a little too much, but it feels different than what Marvel has done before. However, Gunn’s creative style makes this movie as entertaining and awesome as it should be. He knows how to make a great soundtrack and shoot action sequences very well, and he even pays homage to Hitchcock’s North by Northwest in a certain scene. Also, stay during the credits for not one, but five post-credit scenes after the film.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is another great Marvel feature with a terrific cast, an excellent soundtrack, great action and visuals, and a script that doesn’t feel as well-realized and fresh as the first film, but this movie still demonstrates James Gunn’s great talent when it comes to making huge blockbusters, and leaves you excited for Vol. 3.

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Beauty and the Beast (2017)

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The tale as old as time returns to the big screen, this time in live-action, revisiting the classical story of a cursed, monstrous-looking prince and a beautiful young woman who fall in love. Disney has been remaking a lot of their best known films lately, including Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, and The Jungle Book, so it wasn’t a huge surprise that a remake of another one of the most influential and timeless animated films was being released. Although Beauty and the Beast shares many similarities with the original film, it’s still wonderfully heartfelt and entertaining. Emma Watson is perfectly cast as Belle, who brings lots of courage and heart to her character and the film, and she contributes her great voice to some of the film’s best musical numbers. Though Dan Stevens may not yet be quite a well-known actor, his leading performance in Marvel and FX’s hit series Legion, and now in this as the menacing Beast, demonstrate his excellent talent and his career is sure to soar from here. Luke Evans is well-cast as Gaston, who is bright but menacing and does justice to the original incarnation of the character. Kevin Kline is also great as Belle’s father, but my favorite of the cast has to be Josh Gad as Gaston’s hilarious and charming sidekick LeFou. Gad seems to be Disney’s favorite, first having played the lovable snowman Olaf in Frozen, and now he’s given more hilarity, great lines, and even another musical number, all of which you won’t forget. LeFou wasn’t a standout character for me before, but Gad entertained and surprised me like I thought no one could in the role. Also fantastic are the voices of Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts.

What makes Beauty and the Beast such a fun time is that although the story is pretty much the same as we know it to be, it’s still able to use the talents of its great cast, writing, and directing to bring new elements and twists into the iconic visuals and story we love. There isn’t much you can re-imagine very easily with this Disney classic, unlike last year’s The Jungle Book, which almost felt like a new adventure because its visuals made the film feel like a very new experience. Beauty and the Beast doesn’t do that as well, as the story doesn’t stride away from what’s already been established, but the director still makes similar shots and scenes interesting in a new medium. Although you already know the story, the film breathes new light into the visuals, humor, and style of the film. It’s very familiar yet exciting at the same time. The costumes and sets are gorgeous, but not as much of the budget is put into the CGI, which is solid but could have been better, especially the motion capture work on the Beast. It’s unfortunate that Hollywood will soon remake every movie we love because of how much money they’ll make off of it, but this movie is able to preserve the magic Disney had created with it before and re-imagine it on the big screen. It is still a remake, but it’s one that will inspire kids who are new to the plot, and fill older generations and especially fans with nostalgia. The movie sticks to the musical nature of the animated film,  so expect recreations of your favorite musical numbers, including “Belle”, “Gaston”, “Be our Guest”, and of course, the most famous “Beauty and the Beast”, just to name a few. These scenes are well-choreographed and the songs are so timeless that you still want to go back and listen to them after you watch the movie. Even if you know how the story ends, the movie will still make you rethink the film’s themes, want to sing and dance to the songs, and applaud at the end, like my entire audience did.

Beauty and the Beast follows the established formula that we know, but thankfully it’s not too familiar to not be enjoyed, with a great cast and visual appeal that do justice to its source material. Disney is coming at us with a handful of remakes, and thankfully this turns out to be one of the better ones. If you’re looking to revisit a classic or just have a good time at the movies with your family, then I’ll definitely recommend going out and paying to watch this on the big screen.

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