Category Archives: Action/Adventure

Justice League (2017, Zack Snyder)

Justice League exists, whether intentionally or not, outside a certain kind of critical examination. Director Snyder didn’t finish post-production. Or, at least, when the studio demanded lots of reshoots, Snyder wasn’t involved in a creative capacity. The job went to Joss Whedon, who gets a co-writer credit. Are the terrible scenes Whedon’s fault or Snyder’s fault? The generic, impersonal Danny Elfman score? Seems like Whedon’s fault. The terrible part for top-billed Ben Affleck? Probably Snyder’s fault. The crappy CGI?

Well, crappy CGI in DC Comics adaptations is definitely Warner Bros.’s fault. And it gets bad in Justice League. The lack of detail on the giant, personality-free adversary (boringly voiced by Ciarán Hinds) is stunning. Again, it’s not clear if Snyder supervising post would’ve led to better action scenes. The ones in Justice League are all pretty awful. Fabian Wagner’s photography is bland, David Brenner, Richard Pearson, and Martin Walsh’s editing is at best bland. It’s much often much worse. The action sequences lack imagination on every level, whether scale or just the idea of the superheroes working together.

Justice League has no scale. Someone–Snyder, Whedon, the producers, the studio, the twenty-third test audience–decided there shouldn’t be any establishing shots if they don’t have exposition. Justice League cuts from expository scene to expository scene, except Whedon and Chris Terrio’s Frankenstein script doesn’t have any texture to it. Not when it’s the main cast, not when it’s the supporting cast. Especially not when it’s poor Diane Lane and Amy Adams. Jeremy Irons gets terribly mistreated, but it’s nothing compared to Lane and Adams.

Adams is literally reduced to broken woman. While the whole world is ceasing to function because of what happened with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, instead of being a strong character who perceivers in the aftermath, she just breaks down. Not on screen, she just tells everyone about it. Well, she tells Lane and Henry Cavill about it because she has nothing else going on.

But Lane. Poor Lane. It appears Lane’s scenes are entirely, with one exception, Whedon’s. Cavill had a mustache while doing reshoots and there’s some bad (though apparently exceptionally expensive–read rushed) CG to mask out the mustache. The result is his mouth not moving right and his teeth being scrunched. So you can kind of tell. You can kind of tell who to blame.

And it’s Whedon who reduces Lane and Adams to broken women. At least Terrio and Snyder–apparently–made Affleck a broken man. He just can’t get on after what he’s done. Except he’s not haunted about it. He’s just bad, actually. He’s really, really bad. He’s supposed to be the straight man to a team of misfit superheroes, only they’re not misfit superheroes.

Misfits need personality and the Justice League has none. Ezra Miller’s got the most as the Flash and all he does is tell wisecracks. Then there’s Ray Fisher; he gives the film’s best performance in a thankless part. Even though he’s got a lot to do in the script, Fisher gets the least story of anyone. More offensively, it wastes Joe Morton as his dad.

Jason Momoa’s Aquaman. He’s got no personality, doesn’t really do anything in the action sequences except save people occasionally–by people, I mean the other superheroes. Like all DC Comics movies, no regular people are in danger in Justice League. Well, except one family; but they’re actually trapped in a Russian version of Tremors. Otherwise, no one’s in danger. Ever.

Anyway. Momoa. It’s not his fault. More than anyone else, it’s not his fault. His part’s terribly written and the editing on his introduction scenes is atrocious.

Gal Gadot’s supposedly the real straight person on the team, because she can see through Affleck’s guff. Only Affleck wants Gadot to lead the team. Or something. They get some painful scenes together. Again, it’s unclear if it’s Whedon or Snyder, but their scenes are awful. There’s negative chemistry coming from Affleck, even when the script has him mooning over Gadot. Though he does attack her personally when he needs to make a point. Affleck’s writing is so bad. Just. Beyond bad.

Gadot’s fine. She gets the most to do in action scenes, which is either because she’s had the most successful solo movie or just because no one else’s superpowers are good for the fight scenes. Snyder’s direction of the Flash action is terrible, for example.

Amber Heard’s got one scene and makes more impression than practically anyone else.

Cavill’s performance is hard to gauge. Whedon doesn’t write him good scenes. And he’s got a giant unmoving mouth. He and Adams exhibit their usual wondrous chemistry when it’s not a Whedon shot or line. Even still, Elfman’s music ruins even the non-Whedon material. Elfman’s score doesn’t fit. It’s frantic and rushed and usually clashes with the editing.

The only thing saving Justice League from being a disaster is the film disqualifying itself from being serious enough proposition to be a disaster. You open a movie, any movie, with the single worst cover of Everybody Knows–and there have been some terrible Everybody Knows covers–but an offensively bad Everybody Knows cover… well, it’s just too stupid to take seriously enough for it to be a disaster.

Instead, Justice League is intriguingly terrible. Was Snyder’s intention worse? Maybe. I doubt it, because even with all that material’s problems, it doesn’t have Cavill with the silly CG face. But the things Whedon clearly contributed are godawful.

What a mess.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Zack Snyder; screenplay by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon, based on a story by Terrio and Zack Snyder and the comic book by Gardner Fox; director of photography, Fabian Wagner; edited by David Brenner, Richard Pearson, and Martin Walsh; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Patrick Taopoulos; produced by Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Jon Berg, and Geoff Johns; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ben Affleck (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Henry Cavill (Superman / Clark Kent), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman / Diana Prince), Ezra Miller (The Flash / Barry Allen), Jason Momoa (Aquaman / Arthur Curry), Ray Fisher (Cyborg / Victor Stone), Jeremy Irons (Alfred), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Joe Morton (Silas Stone), J.K. Simmons (Commissioner Gordon), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Amber Heard (Mera), Connie Nielsen (Queen Hippolyta), and Ciarán Hinds (Steppenwolf).


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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014, Marc Webb)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is bereft of good ideas. It’s also bereft of good music–Hans Zimmmer’s bland “superhero” score rattles the brain, bowdlerizing what might be better scenes and effect sequences. It’s impossible to know, because there’s never a single moment of music without ludicrous bombast. Who knows how it’d have played if the superhero action attempted emotional impact.

The film opens in flashback. Campbell Scott, playing Spider-Man’s dad, has an action sequence. It sets up lead Andrew Garfield’s arc for the movie. It’s about him trying to find out what happened to his parents. Except when it’s not. Second-billed Emma Stone has this arc about being broken up with Garfield. But, while it does make Garfield a little mopier than usual, it doesn’t really play into any of his arc.

Only it turns out there is no arc for Garfield because nothing interesting happened to his parents. Screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner–wow, it took three writers to produce such an awful turd of a script–anyway, they build up a big reveal and it’s nothing. They write this exaggerated scene between Garfield and aunt Sally Field where she’s hiding the truth from him and it’s going to devastate him and then it’s nothing. The screenwriters have no idea how to do narrative distance.

Neither does director Webb. Worse, Webb treats Stone like an annoyance. She already doesn’t have a part except to make out with Garfield, smile, and meet supporting cast members for a moment. And when she does have a scene, Webb ignores her performance. You spend the movie trying to remember if or why you like the character and why Garfield likes her and get nothing from the film itself. Who cares if they’re broken up? Not even the characters care.

I suppose Stone’s not bad. She just has a crap part. Garfield’s not bad either. He’s just got a crap part. But Dale DeHaan and Jamie Foxx both have crap parts and manage to be bad. With Foxx, it’s not his fault. They had no idea what to do with him, practically muting him by the end. And they’d already given him the inglorious origin of being bitten by mutant electric eels. He becomes an electric eel man. Just one who can’t be electric underwater, even though the eels got him underwater.

DeHaan’s terrible. Webb’s direction of him is terrible. The writing is terrible. For a while it seems like they’re actually going to generate rapport between Garfield and DeHaan as childhood friends reunited but no. The movie’s too busy jumping between terrible subplots. DeHaan and Foxx are tied together because of evil biomedical capitalist Colm Feore. It’s stupid how much time Feore gets. Even stupider is how much time his sidekick Louis Cancelmi gets. Anything to keep Spider-Man away from Stone.

Because nothing in Garfield’s family plot has to do with Stone. They’re completely separate. He compartmentalizes, even though he apparently follows her once a day as Spider-Man, combination protection and adoration.

Once the movie gets around to the idea of teaming up Stone and Garfield to solve problems, which seems like a good idea, it’s time for the movie to end and for everyone to fall into their parts. Except then the ending takes forever. It’s exhausting. And the music is terrible. And nothing good ever happens. Not in the story, but in the narrative decisions. Amazing Spider-Man 2 is amazing because its best is unfulfilled mediocre. Nothing’s going right with this movie.

And the composite effects–Spider-Man swinging around New York City–usually look awful, like the CG lighting on the Spider-Man model is wrong. The Spider-Man scenes, when he’s not in a weak fight scene, are grating. Bad music, bad CG composite, charmless direction. Webb manages one actual great shot in the movie and cuts away too soon. Pietro Scalia and Webb like to cut a lot. Enough there are times when it’s clear Webb didn’t have coverage.

That one good shot is of Stone, naturally. It’s this brief moment where Amazing Spider-Man 2 connects the emotion of the story with the emotion of the filmmaking. Webb, Scalia, and cinematographer Dan Mindel manage this one sincere thing. I don’t even think Zimmer’s music screws it up.

Then it’s over. And Stone gets nothing, Garfield gets busy to get nothing, DeHaan gets green, and Foxx gets blue. Oh, and Sally Field gets an arc about having to go back to work to pay for Garfield’s college, even though Garfield is apparently not going to college during the movie.

Amazing Spider-Man 2 is bad. Kurtzman, Orci, and Pinker’s script is the worst thing about it. Shame Webb didn’t do anything to alleviate its defects. The returning principals–Garfield, Stone, and Field–deserved better.

Oh, and Chris Cooper is awful in his uncredited cameo. Just dreadful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Marc Webb; screenplay by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner, based on a story by Kurtzman, Orci, Pinkner, and James Vanderbilt and the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; director of photography, Dan Mindel; edited by Pietro Scalia; music by Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, Johnny Marr, Michael Einziger, and Junkie XL; production designer, Mark Friedberg; produced by Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Andrew Garfield (Spider-Man / Peter Parker), Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy), Jamie Foxx (Electro / Max Dillon), Dane DeHaan (Green Goblin / Harry Osborn), Colm Feore (Donald Menken), Felicity Jones (Felicia), Paul Giamatti (Aleksei Sytsevich), Sally Field (Aunt May), and Campbell Scott (Richard Parker).


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Masters of the Universe (1987, Gary Goddard)

Masters of the Universe is almost charming in its lack of charm. Its plot is a kitchen sink–a little Conan sword fighting here, a little Superman opening credits, a lot of Star Wars stuff (like all black “troopers” with laser guns, the skiffs from Jedi), but also lots of other popular eighties things. There’s some Back to the Future–on an extreme budget–as well as the general “troubled tragic teens” thing. And whatever else was too slight to make much of an impression.

The biggest problem, besides it being too long, too cheap, and too stupid, is cinematographer Hanania Baer. Universe has a big scale, whether in its sets or even the constant matte paintings (on the other planet, not Earth). Baer can’t shoot anything to match, not the sets, not the matte composites, not even humdrum planet Earth locations. There’s one action sequence with Dolph Lundgren and Courteney Cox fending off intergalatic bounty hunters (Empire Strikes Back) in a junk yard or warehouse. The lighting doesn’t match between shooting locations, which really screws up the suspension of disbelief, because there’s Lundgren’s sword fighting and Lundgren sword fighting is supposed to be the whole draw of the movie. He’s He-Man. He fights people with a sword.

Except he gets a gun too. A laser gun. It’s got to be lasers because Lundgren’s sword can deflect them. Slow lasers.

However, if Masters of the Universe has a draw–which is questionable–it’s either going to be Frank Langella’s performance as the Emperor. Sorry, sorry, no, he’s Skeletor. Who wants to be master of the universe, which is like emperor. David Odell’s script stays as third grade as it can for the otherworldly stuff and seeing Langella take the childish dialogue and fill it with ludicrous energy and threat… it’s cool. It’s not really cool enough to be a draw, however, because the material’s still thin and Langella’s in a goofy skull mask, with zero character motivation (his rivalry with Lundgren lacks explaination and chemistry). The other possible draw is Bill Conti’s score. It too isn’t good, but it’s Bill Conti doing a Star Wars score. Though, again, more Return of the Jedi.

On Earth–wait, wait, there’s sort of an E.T. thing going on with Billy Barty. He plays this inventor who comes up with a musical key thing to take the action to Earth. Sort of E.T., mixed with Yoda, mixed with Wicket. Producers Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan apparently really thought they had the goods here to supplant Star Wars.

I mean, maybe the Holiday Special.

Richard Edlund handles the special effects. Some of them are okay. The interdimensional gateway is often okay. It’s not at the end, but earlier, sure. The composite shots with the flying vehicles are terrible. Bad enough you hope Edlund didn’t do them. The guy worked on the original Star Wars after all. You want to give him the benefit of the doubt.

So you don’t see it for the special effects. Or the fight choreography. Or any of the acting.

Though Jon Cypher is frighteningly good in his part. He’s got on this big costume too and he’s still good. It’s amazing he could keep a straight face. Ditto, though to a lesser extent, for Chelsea Field. She’s Cypher’s daughter. She makes wisecracks. Some of them sort of connect.

Cox and Robert Duncan McNeill are teenagers who come across Lundgren, Cypher, Field, and Barty as that crew searches for a way back home. Cox’s parents have tragically died and so she’s leaving boyfriend McNeill to start over in New Jersey. She’s not even going to get to go to her high school graduation. The Earth ground situation really doesn’t make any sense. The other world ground situation is actually sort of neat in an effecient way. Langella has won his war of conquest and Lundgren and friends are now outlaws. Means you don’t have to show the big battle scenes or even the immediate aftermath, just the political ramifications playing out.

Cox and McNeill don’t even have enough material to have caricatures. They have sketched caricatures. They’re both affable, though neither is particularly dynamic. They both seem way too old.

Maybe it’s just Baer photographing them poorly.

For the rest of the cast, it’s just getting through without embarrassing yourself too much. Lundgren’s running around in armored speedos. He manages not to embarrass himself too much. Meg Foster similiar keeps herself afloat without actually having to be any good. After them the supporting cast just gets worse and worse.

Like James Tolkan (the principal from Back to the Future). He’s playing tough bald, long leather jacket cop who can’t figure out he’s in an intergalatic battle zone. He doesn’t keep himself afloat, though he’s never exactly bad. None of the performances–at least for the people not in costumes–are ever bad enough to give Universe that campy charm. They’re also never bad enough to elicit sympathy.

Not even Christina Pickles, who’s a hostage the entire picture.

It’s mildly ambitious? Not incompetent. It’s just trying for too much with what it can do, budget-wise. Along with no one having any confidence in Lundgren. He gets so little to do, including his sword fights and shoot-outs, it’s not clear whether or not he’d be able to do more or fail at it.

Masters of the Universe is a cinematic shrug.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Gary Goddard; screenplay by David Odell, based on the toys by Mattel; director of photography, Hanania Baer; edited by Anne V. Coates; music by Bill Conti; production designer, William Stout; produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus; released by The Cannon Group.

Starring Dolph Lundgren (He-Man), Frank Langella (Skeletor), Courteney Cox (Julie Winston), Robert Duncan McNeill (Kevin Corrigan), Jon Cypher (Duncan), Chelsea Field (Teela), Meg Foster (Evil-Lyn), Billy Barty (Gwildor), James Tolkan (Detective Lubic), Robert Towers (Karg), Anthony De Longis (Blade), and Christina Pickles (Sorceress of Castle Grayskull)


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All Is Lost (2013, J.C. Chandor)

All Is Lost is the harrowing tale of an unnamed man (Robert Redford) on his damaged yacht in the Indian Ocean. The film runs 106 minutes. It’s harrowing for all of them. Director Chandor knows how to harrow.

The film has a mundane reality about it. Redford has no back story, no character development, almost no “character” at all. The film opens with a mildly damaging voiceover from Redford; he’s doing a combination apology and goodbye. There’s no indication of who he’s addressing–wife, child, maybe he’s a CEO who sailed off on his yacht after Bernie Madoffing, it doesn’t matter. All Is Lost is about Redford’s struggle during a constantly harrowing experience, with failure more and more certain with each passing moment.

But the opening voiceover informs how the viewer perceives Redford and his actions. Well, except when Chandor’s just dirt cheap about it. Redford risks his life (more than usual) to save a package, opens to reveal a gift, then takes a long pause to consider whether he wants to read the note. Chandor dangles revelation and rescue in front of the viewer throughout. But Redford can’t see it, because then he couldn’t be stoic. And Redford’s stoicism is impressive.

Anyway, one damage is how the voiceover affects viewer interpretation of Redford’s behavior. He has maybe six lines of dialogue after his opening voiceover; five of them are on the radio and the sixth is a single word. The other damage is how that opening voiceover fits into the narrative. Voicever, film title card, then a title card setting the film back eight days. Presumably, Redford’s not going to make the recording for eight days. So what’s going to happen in between?

Lots of harrowing boating things, starting with Redford’s yacht colliding with a shipping container while Redford’s asleep below deck. Bad things frequently happen in the film when Redford’s asleep. He’s either a heavy sleeper or a slow waker.

Once the shipping container situation is resolved, which takes most of the “first act,” other disasters befall Redford and he has to try to figure his way out of them. Chandor does a fantastic job making Redford’s actions make sense. Redford’s not talking, most viewers aren’t going to understand his seamanship activites. Chandor’s juggling quite a bit. Redford’s strong performance makes it all work. While Chandor’s composition is good–though occasionally too fixated on the pretty–and Pete Beaudreau’s editing is phenomenal, Redford’s bringing the humanity. He never voices his fears or anything else, which is frustrating since the opening voiceover is very talky; Redford’s just doing it with his psychical perfomance, his expressions, how he moves around the yacht interiors and exteriors.

Going into the second act, the film downshifts. Summary storytelling is over for a while. Redford’s broken yacht is about to get hit by a huge storm. Is he going to survive? Is something else going to go terribly wrong?

And it does. And then something else. And something else. Redford’s sprinting through a micro-disaster movie (which actually might best describe All Is Lost), which changes the pace of the film quite a bit. Then Chandor changes it again around halfway through.

Redford can weather a lot of the pacing issues. Only because the film asks so little of him after a certain point. The more difficult Redford’s reality becomes, the more Chandor pulls away, only to dangle the narrative red herring again. But the movie’s in a far different place and Chandor and Redford have already had some successes. Red herrings can’t bring it home.

Though the herring is so well-prepared, it ends up righting the yacht enough to recover a bit.

Good music from Alex Ebert. Frank G. DeMarco’s photography is fine. The film goes for realism most of the time and DeMarco delivers it. Beaudreau’s editing is the technical standout.

All Is Lost has a great performance from Robert Redford. He just can’t save the ship–Chandor’s style and narrative clash throughout the film, without ever sustaining the right rhythm.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by J.C. Chandor; director of photography, Frank G. DeMarco; edited by Pete Beaudreau; music by Alex Ebert; production designer, John Goldsmith; produced by Neal Dodson, Anna Gerb, Justin Nappi, and Teddy Schwarzman; released by Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions.

Starring Robert Redford.


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