For a review of “Justice League,”
The silver lining of all the recent monumental failures adapting characters from the DC Comics universe into feature films has finally become clear with “Justice League.”
After slogging through the massive miscues of “Man of Steel,” “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad,” any comic book movie that is in focus would look better by comparisons.
That’s not to say “Justice League” comes close to the beautifully crafted “Wonder Woman.” But it does have enough enter taining moments to balance how the film still suffers from a disjointed plot, an opening that plays like an endless loop of prologues and some painfully bad casting. At least there is hope as long as Gal Gadot never tires of playing Wonder Woman and Ray Fisher keeps taking on the role of Cyborg.
“Justice League” opens in a world that has given into the darkness of evil after the death (?) of Superman. Things are so bad, an intergalactic world crusher knownas Steppenwolf ( Ciarán Hinds) gets his motor running and launches an invasion of Earth. All he needs are three glowing cubes— Mother Boxes — that once unified will wipe out the planet.
Steppenwolf has no problem grabbing the Mother Boxes being guarded by the Amazons and Atlanteans. Bruce Wayne/ Batman ( Ben Affleck) recognizes the problem and decides he needs a team to stop the invasion before the last cube is collected.
This is where the plot gaffes start. The last time Steppenwolf tried to conquer Earth it took an army of Amazons, Atlanteans and humans plus some help from a few gods to stop him. This time it is five heroes — one who has no super powers, another whose skills are best underwater and a third who comes across more like a very bad stand- up comic than the fastest man on Earth.
If only Superman could be brought back to life to save the day. If only.
Each character — including a reintroduction of Wonder Woman — gets their moments. There’s also time spent by Lois Lane — again played with the emotional range of a salamander by the usually excellent Amy Adams — and Martha Kent ( Diane Lane) lamenting about their loss. The efforts to create emotional moments in “Justice League” are as thin as Lex Luthor’s hairline.
The endless one- liners and wisecracks by the Flash ( Ezra Miller) gets annoying quicker than a flash. His performance would be bad enough with his goofy approach to fighting and silly looks, but it’s impossible not to compare his work to Grant Gustin, who plays the Flash in the CW Network TV series with heart, courage, compassion and brains.
Then there’s Aquaman ( Jason Momoa), one of the B- list ( or is it sea- list?) heroes in the DC Universe. His being part of the team would have made far more sense if the big final battle had been close to at least a drinking fountain. He’s a fish wrangler out of water the way his character is used and is best summarized when Batman pokes fun at Aquaman for bringing a pitchfork to an intergalactic showdown.
The only person who truly understands the right way to play a comic book hero is Gadot. Whether she’s Wonder Woman or Diana Prince, Gadot’s performance always comes with great heart and courage. She plays the character with such pride that her work is the only part of the movie that feels honest.
As for other big plot misfires, the biggest comes in the third act. The team is not having much success, and it takes a predictable super plot twist to save the day. Having the fate of Superman so obviously looming throughout the film serves only as a cheat to get to a proper conclusion.
Director Zack Snyder has not put together a complete action film since “Watchmen.” In that film, Snyder showed a great skill at blending very personal moments with plenty of fist- throwing action. Since then, his action scenes are more chaotic than cleverly controlled, and he puts together scenes where events unfold before there’s any explanation of what is happening. When he finally gets to the explanatory moments, they tend to slow the tempo of the movie.
The two best things going for “Justice League” is a running time of 119 minutes ( including secret scenes) and that it came out in the wake of somany recent stumbles with DC Comics movies. Buried under a stack of problems is a core of a good idea that could be used should the franchise continue. That core comes from a fewof the members of the hero team, not from the tease after the closing credits that if used has the potential to make a “Justice League” sequel the next flop.
“Justice League,” a Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. release is rated PG- 13 for comic book violence. Running time: 119 minutes. ★★
“Wonder” is the story of Auggie ( Jacob Tremblay), a young boy with a genetic facial deformity attending school for the first time, bravely marching into middle school while daring to be born different. You cringe along with his parents as he disappears into a sea of fifth graders as they say a quiet prayer: “Dear God, please let them be nice to him.”
His parents, Nate (Owen Wilson) and Isabel (Julia Roberts), who have sheltered Auggie, knowthey have to let him wade into those treacherous middle school waters. It might be rough, scared, hard and hurtful, but without the risk, therewould be no reward.
If this were just the tale of Auggie’s trials in the fifth grade as a new kid who’s visibly different, the filmwould be a heartwarming, possibly syrupy-sweet trifle of a tale. But what you come to discover about “Wonder” is it’s much more than just a story of one person overcoming adversity or physical setbacks. Adapted from R.J. Palacio’s book, cowritten and directed by Stephen Chbosky, “Wonder” is a story that’s enormously generous of perspective.
This isn’t just Auggie’s story and Auggie’s experience, it’s the story of so many people around him: his sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic), his friend, Jack Will (Noah Jupe), even his sister’s estranged best friend, Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell). Frequently, we cut away from Auggie’s narration and are show nthe experi-- ences of those around him, titled with chapter headings, with their own voices explaining their interpretations of events. It does get a bit messy at times, jumping into and out of perspectives, and the stories are spread a bit thin, rather than delving deeply.
However, sharing the point of viewis a smart way to illustrate the ways in which friendships are complicated by our own projections, assumptions, miscommunications and slights. While Auggie certainly has a more outwardly obvious struggle, everyone around him is struggling in their own way. And Auggie isn’t perfect, either. He’s a young boy dealing with an immensely difficult situation, but the world doesn’t always revolve around him, and he needs to be gently reminded of that sometimes.
The film also smartly undercuts its own sentimentality, never dwelling too long in the pathos or poignancy, cutting the tension with a typically 10-year-old burp or fart joke. It’s likely you will cry, but you won’t feel manipulated into doing so— those tears are rightfully earned.
The glue that holds the film together is the wonderfully warm Roberts, who even unleashes her signature laugh for a moment. She does most of the emotive heavy lifting, but, Vidovic, as Auggie’s sister Via, is a wonder herself, expressing wordlessly the burden of a sibling who doesn’t need as much attention as her brother, but hopes for some anyway. Jupe is a young star on the rise, and he’s extremely sensitive as the friend who learns that standing up for others means standing up for himself.
The messages of “Wonder,” woven throughout by the actions of the characters, and as “precepts” outlined by teacher, Mr. Browne ( Daveed Diggs), are ones we should all take to heart: to choose kindness, and to define ourselves through our deeds. These ideas are earnest, yes, and heartfelt. We could all stand to grant a little kindness to ourselves and others right about now.
“Wonder,” a Lionsgate release, is rated PG for thematic elements including bullying, and some mild language. Running time: 113 minutes. ★★★
Julia Roberts, left, and Jacob Tremblay star in the Lionsgate release “Wonder.”