Tag Archives: Batman

Doing It Justice?

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So… the question: Does Justice League do justice to the Justice League? My answer is a resounding “sort of.” Overall, I found the movie entertaining and fun, and that’s the most important part as far as I’m concerned. Let us all remind ourselves that this is make-believe. On the other hand, fantasy can provide us with a different perspective from which to consider reality, and it therefore reflects reality in distorted form. While I think some reviewers have taken this whole business too seriously, it is not necessarily  inappropriate to note our personal disappointments.

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In keeping with what I just said, I will unburden myself. The script was uneven, and the dialogue ranged from good to almost wincingly bad. As an example, some of the lines given to Jason Momoa’s Aquaman character were awkward. When I watched BvS, I was struck by the quality of Gal Gadot’s screen presence as Wonder Woman, but I felt that she was a better actor than some of her lines indicated. Seeing her performance in Wonder Woman confirmed that, and I feel the same way this time around about Jason Momoa. This has me looking hopefully forward to the Aquaman movie.

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The editing was a bit choppy, especially over the first 30-40 minutes. The abrupt scene changes without much setup diminished the impact of some otherwise impressive visuals. This approach works better in the panels of a comic book than it does on the big screen.  I think an additional 15-30 minutes of runtime would have been justified.

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Let me pick a little further. Warner Brothers still needs to work a little on the quality of its characters’ costumes. They have an almost plastic quality at times. Also, the CGI occasionally looked too much like CGI, and this made the action sequences less satisfying for me. Case in point: the visual appearance of Steppenwolf  at times reminded me more of a video game than a major motion picture.  The character, however, was wonderfully voiced by Ciaran Hinds, who has previously  impressed me in some serious dramatic films.

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Had I not seen Wonder Woman, I would have said that Justice League was an improvement for the DCEU. Warner Brothers owns perhaps the most iconic superhero pantheon in comics, but they need to pay more attention to scriptwriting, costuming, and special effects quality if they hope to catch up to the MCU. The cast was stellar and could have been better utilized for the above reasons. Aside from the actors I’ve already mentioned, there were Ben Affleck (Batman), Ezra Miller (The Flash), Ray Fisher (Cyborg), and (no surprise here since it was revealed before the premiere) Henry Cavill (Superman). Add in Amy Adams (Lois Lane), J. K. Simmons (another fine character actor as Commissioner Gordon), and a cameo appearance by Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen in the 1970s, a frightened policeman this time), and you have an excellent ensemble cast.

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I’ll include the following and fanciful cast poster from daniel-morphens because it includes the Martian Manhunter being played by my brother. I hadn’t thought of it before, but this character would be right up Doug’s alley.

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Everyone who hasn’t seen the movie yet should already know that they’re bringing Superman back. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but it was my favorite scene in the movie. I thought that they finally got this character right, and his action scenes were truly impressive to my inner child. As for his unveiling/resurrection, the reactions of observers will suffice.

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Modern Pantheon: The Justice League

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All of the image credits for this post go to Alex Ross, DC Comics, and Warner Brothers. For me, the above picture represents a standard. I have mentioned in a previous post that I thought that Warner Brothers and DC had made an artistic mistake when designing the costumes of their superheroes for this franchise. I mean, why mess around? The work has already been done, and I regard the work of Alex Ross as the gold standard for the visual appearance of DC characters. It’s okay to update things a little, and I would point to the design work for Wonder Woman as a less controversial example.

I don’t normally review trailers or other promotional materials for movies since I prefer to see the finished product before writing about it, but this was too intriguing. The poster below is a step in the right direction, and I hope it is an indication of visually more satisfying things to come from the DCEU. Featured in the movie poster are Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg. I’m still not totally satisfied. After all, we’re talking about cherished images from my childhood here, but I’m willing to keep my mind open for the time being.

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You can’t go wrong with imitating an Alex Ross poster. I was enthused about the following version as well. It gives an indication that Superman isn’t going to stay dead (surprise, surprise). They might even redeem the colors in his costume. Then again, am I looking at a fan art insert? The lighting on the Kryptonian doesn’t seem to match.

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The trailer showed some good action scenes, some good dialogue, and some dialogue that still makes me wince. From the studio that brought you, “The bat’s dead; bury it,” we now have “Dressed like a bat; I can dig it.” Delivered by the king of Atlantis, no less. I read that Joss Whedon has been brought into the project, but I don’t know how much influence he’ll have since the filming was completed before he came on board. From all this, I expect that the final version of the movie will be uneven, but I think it will be worth seeing. I will test this hypothesis by firmly planting my 64-year-old derriere in a theater seat come November.

Graphic Mythology: Justice

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Although it was written by Jim Krueger and penciled by Doug Broithwaite, I purchased and read Justice (DC Comics), well, because it was painted by Alex Ross. Having said this, I can say that the artwork, as usual, is impressive. Since it is a Justice League story, it features a pantheon of superheroes including Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Flash, Aquaman, Captain Marvel, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and many more.

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But there is an additional selling point to the story: the existence of an anti-Justice League of supervillains such as Lex Luthor, Joker, Brainiac, Cheetah, and Poison Ivy. There are more characters from the extensive history of DC Comics than I care to mention here lest it become tedious.

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The splash panels of fight scenes are profuse and typically busy, as would be expected given this cast. The story is intriguing but choppy in places. There were a number of developments that were not explained to my satisfaction (visually or in writing), which made for some awkward transitions. I had more trouble following the plot than would a veteran DC Comics fan, but overall, I was able to get the gist of it. I therefore think it is worth reading but perhaps not as much as Kingdom Come or The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes, which I personally regard as more outstanding efforts. The tone of Justice is also noticeably darker.

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Some of the more interesting sequences for me involved Captain Marvel. He’s a character I’m interested in learning more about. I like the extensive use of mythology in his backstory. The same can be said for Aquaman, with whom I am less familiar.

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Two themes emerged which especially interested me. Owing to my Christian upbringing, I am well acquainted with the argument of why God doesn’t intervene more openly if he truly does exist. The first theme appears early in the story and it deals with the question of whether or not the intervention of powerful beings threatens to stunt the development of their intended beneficiaries.

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The next theme is minor but related to the first, and it involves the restraint that must be exercised by powerful beings when weaker beings turn against them. I can crush ants, but I can’t control them. The God in whom I believe could both control and crush us, but he exercises restraint in spite of our many transgressions. Rather than blaming God for not intervening when human beings commit atrocities, I see more good in requiring human beings to be accountable for their own behavior. Pardon the mini sermon. I couldn’t resist, and I recognize that this is my opinion and not necessarily that of the creators of this graphic novel. At any rate, I would have liked to see these two themes explored more fully in this medium (regardless of whether or not I would have agreed with the conclusions), but I was at least glad to see them included in the story.

If you’re looking for another graphic novel with plenty of pages of artwork by Alex Ross, this might be a gratifying read for you. All illustration credits go to DC Comics and the aforementioned artists.

 

 

Recovering Ideals (6)

The fifth segment of DC Comics’ The World’s Greatest Superheroes by Alex Ross and Paul Dini starts with a section titled, Justice League of America: Secret Origins, which provides backstories for additional members of the Justice League. Besides Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman (who have already been introduced), we are also presented with The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow, Hawkman, The Atom, and Plastic Man.

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On an additional two-page spread, some additional characters with more minor roles are shown. These include Adam Strange, Zatanna, Metamorpho, Elongated Man, Phantom Stranger, and The Red Tornado.

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Once we’ve gotten the band back together, Liberty and Justice, a story involving the Justice League, follows. Along with some good action scenes…

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… there is the main story line, which deals with how the Justice League deals with the outbreak of a mysterious extraterrestrial virus which immobilizes its victims without killing them.

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The JLA must provide crowd control in addition to their efforts at finding and administering a cure for the disease.

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The artwork is beautiful (what else?) and the pacing and style differ from those of the previous four stories. There is more dialogue, and there is less narrative. The plot is necessarily more cluttered due to the number of outstanding characters.

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This was a fun, visually satisfying read. I liked the ethics of the story as exemplified by two ideas. One is the value of family and personal relationships in providing the basis for heroism. As I’ve said before, you can’t truly care about the masses without caring for individuals. Relationships with spouses, children, and friends indicate who we are. How can we truly be  heroes when neglecting or abusing those closest to us? The second idea is the recurring theme of superheroes becoming most effective if they work with, rather than above, ordinary human beings. It affords them their greatest power (political leaders, take note). This reminds me of the recognition in Christian doctrine of God placing the limitation on himself that human beings must cooperate with him voluntarily.

Next week: back to the modern pantheon of cinema.

Recovering Ideals (1)

I’d like to expound on the DC Comics Universe of my childhood. I realize that we all have different perspectives and that reality as any one of us sees it is not necessarily reality as it is.  At the age of ten, my friends and I were idealistic. Police and soldiers were good people who protected us and only used violence when justified. Authority figures were also good and acted in our best interests. We read DC Comics, especially Superman but also Batman and Wonder Woman. Back then, heroes were heroes, and we believed in “truth, justice, and the American way.”

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We were children of the Silver Age of Comics. For capes, my friends and I wore towels either tucked into our tee shirts or carefully safety-pinned around our necks, and we argued about who got to be the real Superman. Well, yeah, sometimes we squabbled or even fought, but we were good kids. My best friend and I volunteered to be traffic safety crossing guards (the diagonal belt and badge were cool), and our group in general befriended and stuck up for the little guys and the outcasts. One of our friends was so overweight he looked round, but we never made fun of him. We defended him when others picked on him. We had empathy and conscience, and our pre-adolescent society was one of inclusion and safety.

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Then came junior high school, high school, and increasing social pressure with its trademark betrayals and altered values. We became overshadowed by an awareness of racism, riots, the protests against the war in Viet Nam, abuses of power by our government, and the Kent State shootings. Resistance to the status quo became the new coin of the social realm. Some of my friends’ parents started getting divorces. With this greater awareness and disillusionment, we lost a good many of our childhood ideals.

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Even now, society tends toward the sarcastic and the cynical. We’ve been let down so many times that our first reaction is often skepticism when we are confronted by something good. I have noticed a trend in which people discard ideals on the basis of other people failing to live up to them. Very recently, I have had to remind myself that the ideal society of my youth never really existed, but that isn’t the whole story. I knew people, including my own parents, who truly lived by their ideals, and there were enough of them that they made the world better. The value in an ideal is that when people reach for it, society is better off. When a good ideal is discarded, too many people stop trying.

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Getting back to my DC aspirations of the Silver Age, I recently purchased and read a graphic novel that brought all of it back. The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes by Paul Dini and Alex Ross does a masterful job of combining the historical ideals of perhaps the most iconic superheroes in comic book history with a modern awareness that the world we live in is indeed a very flawed place. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Captain Marvel are featured in narratives which apply their virtues to real world problems with understandably mixed results. What I like about these stories is that they use fictional characters to focus our attention on the potential hero within each of us and that they do this without being heavy-handed.

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This is one of my favorite graphic novels, right up there with Kingdom Come and Marvels (my opinion, of course). And guess who the illustrator for both of those was? The panels are visually satisfying, the writing for the most part substantial, and the stories entertaining. In upcoming posts, I will examine some of the individual stories in this impressive collection.

Oh, and fifty-three years later, my buddies and I are still close.

The Modern Pantheon: Wonder Woman

 

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I finally got around to renting Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016, directed by Zack Snyder; image credits to Warner Brothers). Let me get my critiques out of the way first:

1)  It had an impressive ensemble cast (including Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Jesse Eisenberg, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Amy Adams, and Gal Gadot), of which it could have made more effective use.

2) It was reasonably entertaining, but the plot was choppy, requiring too much prior knowledge of the characters from DC Comics, especially Aquaman, the Flash, and Cyborg. I had to watch the extras to make sense of the sequence in which these additional characters are introduced.

3) I wish the screenwriting had been better (see 2). Some bits of dialogue made me wince.

4) Some of the action sequences seemed choreographed and unconvincing. Others were quite good.

5) To my sixty-three-year-old eyes (which remember the Silver Age of DC), the CGI effects were often chaotic to the point of being visually unsatisfying. There were notable exceptions. For the purposes of my blog, I will cite the introduction of Wonder Woman.

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Gal Gadot was not given enough lines this time around for me to get much of a sense of the depth and breadth of this character. I was, however, pleased to see that her character was given an intriguing set-up (impossibly young and impossibly old as evidenced by an old photograph) and that she was given a commendable measure of stature and dignity. Wonder Woman is perhaps the most iconic of all female superheroes, and she is more properly mythological. I say this in spite of the “battle of the gods” references made to the contest between Superman and Batman (Aquaman also has  a mythological pedigree, but this was not really explained in this particular movie).

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I had seen Gal Gadot in one other movie and was given the impression that there is more to this actress than meets the eye. After a quick word search, I learned that she had served in the Israeli military. She completed some rigorous physical training, and this lends credibility to her performance in some of the action sequences. Of the three main characters in this movie, I felt that Wonder Woman was the most effectively portrayed. Her appearance was a fairly impressive bright spot in a plot which I felt could have used some help.

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Having seen the trailers for the upcoming Wonder Woman release, I think that this movie could be the best of the DC cinematic universe, so far. I look forward to reviewing it, and I hope that it turns out to be a truly worthy representation of this character. From her inception, she has had attached to her what I consider some unnecessarily kinky baggage. As I have mentioned in my Graphic Mythology category, there are some honorable aspects to her character, and I would like to see more emphasis given to these.

So now, after a hefty head start by Marvel, we have the DC cinematic universe to keep track of. Hopefully, this is a work in progress and will improve in the future.