Justice League’s motto: Do no harm

Justice League movie logo

No major spoilers but the spoiler adverse should pass this up.

The subtitle of Justice League could be “Do No Harm.” One of the main missions of the film seems to be to repair the damage done to DC Comics characters in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

In that regard, Justice League succeeds.

(OK spoiler sensitive types bail out now.)

The film brings back Superman who had died at the end of Batman v Superman. What’s more, he’s brought back (after an understandable period of adjustment) as being….well, Superman.

With 2013’s Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, the Man of Steel was full of self doubt, unsteady and, at times, not very Superman-like. In Justice League, Henry Cavill’s Superman costume looks like it has been cleaned. It looked dirty in his previous two appearances.

Even better, Superman embraces being a hero. That’s what Superman does. The movie doesn’t have Clark Kent wink at the audience, the way comic book Clark Kent did decades ago. But it’s a big improvement. And Superman actually isn’t in the movie that much.

Other characters do a lot of the heavy lifting. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman understandably carries a lot of the load. Jason Momoa grabs attention as Aquaman, a character general audiences probably aren’t that familiar with. Ezra Miller brings a neurotic take on the Flash.

Finally, there’s Ben Affleck’s Batman. The actor took much of the brunt of criticism for Batman v Superman, which depicted the character at times as a homicidal maniac. The “do no harm” label applies here as well. Batman is more on an even keel (well, as much as a guy who dresses up in a Bat costume can). The new-look Affleck/Batman even shows some compassion at times.

The production of this film has been a bit of a soap opera. Extensive rewrites and reshoots. A large budget, raising doubts whether this movie will ever earn a dime of profit. And even having Henry Cavill’s mustache (grown for Mission: Impossible 6) digitally erased in the reshoots.

And, of course, there has been plenty of speculation whether Affleck will return as Batman. Intentional or not, a scene in the film evokes this when Affleck’s aging Bruce Wayne acknowledges he can’t keep being Batman much longer.

In the end, the movie makes the viewer forget the soap opera. That may be the biggest compliment one can provide. GRADE: B-Plus.

Justice League trailer: Many explosions, bit of humor

Warner Bros. this morning brought out a new trailer for Justice League, its big superhero movie. The film, due out Nov. 17, has been the subject of a lot of press coverage and seen extensive reshoots.

The new trailer features a lot of explosions and mayhem as Earth is imperiled with Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) leading a new team.

And there’s some humor toward the end, presumably Warners’ way of addressing criticism that 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was too dark and moody.

Speaking of Superman, this is the first Justice League trailer where he appears. But it’s still unclear how they’re going to bring him back.

Here’s the trailer:

Warner Bros.’s Batman PR problem

Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill in a Batman v Superman poster

UPDATE (July 22): Ben Affleck said at the San Diego Comic Con today he’s still playing Batman, according to numerous reports.

Among the outlets reporting on Affleck’s remarks: COLLIDER.COM, the New York DAILY NEWS and THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER.

It was the latter, in a story on Friday, that said Warner Bros. was ready to ease Affleck out of the role.

ORIGINAL POST (July 21): Just when Warner Bros.’s DC Extended Universe seems to get on track, it’s undergoing a public relations problem during the San Diego Comic Con.

You remember when the DCEU finally was getting good PR? It was just last month when Wonder Woman generated both ticket sales and positive reviews.

Just weeks later, the buzz is that Warner Bros. (aka “Mr. Warner,” this blog’s nickname for the studio) is getting ready to ease the current Batman, Ben Affleck, out of the role. At least’s that’s according to a story by Kim Masters in The Hollywood Reporter.

Affleck got top billing in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. That movie introduced Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. It did good (but sub $1 billion worldwide) business while getting terrible reviews.

Still, Affleck’s Batman created a buzz. First, it was the actor would write, direct and star in a solo Batman movie titled The Batman. Then, well, he wasn’t going to direct after all.

A new director, Matt Reeves, was hired. Initially, the buzz was that Affleck’s script would be used. Then, this month, the news came out that Affleck’s script was being jettisoned and things would start over.

Now, Affleck himself may be out. Here’s an excerpt from The Hollywood Reporter story:

(A) source with knowledge of the situation says that the studio is working on plans to usher out Affleck’s Batman — gracefully, addressing the change in some shape or form in one of the upcoming DC films. Exactly when and how that might happen has yet to be determined, but it would be wise to bet against Affleck starring in The Batman.

The thing is, the massive San Diego convention has become a forum for studios to promote upcoming films, and not just movies based on comic books.

Justice League is the next DCEU film and a followup to Batman v Superman. It’s supposed to address some of the faults (i.e. too gloomy) present in the 2016 film.

In Batman v Superman, Affleck, who turns 45 on Aug. 15, played an older Batman. It was very much influenced by the 1986 mini-series The Dark Knight Returns by writer-artist Frank Miller. In that story, Batman comes out of retirement.

We’ll see how all this turns out. Still, it’s doubtful Mr. Warner appreciates the “Affleck is out” buzz generated by The Hollywood Reporter story.

Justice League trailer debuts

Justice League movie logo

Warner Bros. unveiled its first Justice League trailer today and it appears to address criticism that its DC superhero movies are too dark and dreary.

For example, this movie’s version of Commissioner Gordon (J.K. Simmons) tells Ben Affleck’s Batman, “It’s good to see you playing well with others again.” There are a few one liners in the trailer as well.

Warners began its “DC universe” with 2013’s Man of Steel. While the movies haven’t bombed by any means, none of the films have exceeded the $1 billion mark the way some Marvel Studios films (two Avengers films, Iron Man 3 and Captain America: Civil War) have.

Last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was intended by the studio to reach the $1 billion level. It generated global box office of $873.3 million.

That’s more than respectable but was considered disappointing in that it featured the three biggest starts of DC Comics, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. It also had an estimated budget of $250 million, so the studio needs big box office.

For those interested, take a look. Justice League debuts in November.

The DC Comics movie jinx may have been extended

Batman v Superman poster

Batman v Superman poster

In the space of about an hour, the internet flared up when Variety reported that Ben Affleck won’t direct a Batman solo film as well as starring in it.

The question is whether this marks another extension of the seeming jinx surround the DC Comics movie universe.

Variety quoted from a statement from the actor and studio Warner Bros. that said it was a joint decision for Affleck to concentrate on acting in the movie.

“It has become clear that I cannot do both jobs to the level they require,” Affleck said in the statement. “Together with the studio, I have decided to find a partner in a director who will collaborate with me on this massive film.”

It didn’t take long for stories to emerge saying the situation was more complicated.

Affleck was star-writer-director of Live by Night, a period gangster drama that bombed. The Hollywood Reporter’s story on the subject had this passage.

One insider says that Live By Night’s poor performance caused Affleck to rethink his approach to his projects after the film bombed with just $18.9 million at the box office.

Two DC Comics-based movies (Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad) were Nos. 8 and 9 in the U.S. and Nos. 7 and 10 globally, according to Box Office Mojo. Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman was in both.

Yet, both movies got terrible reviews. And despite Batman v. Superman generating $873.3 million worldwide, it was considered a disappointment that it didn’t have $1 billion in box office. Meanwhile, rival Marvel Studios’ Captain America: Civil War broke through the billion-dollar mark.

DC/Warners has been doing a mid-course correction, promoting Geoff Johns, a veteran comic book writer, into a key position for the films.

Johns has promised more optimism in the DC movies compared with Batman v. Superman, where Batman spent much of the film trying to kill Superman. Johns and Affleck co-wrote the script for the solo Batman effort, titled simply The Batman.

Warners is releasing two more DC-based movies this year with Wonder Woman and Justice League. There has been a lot of buzz about The Batman, including how it was being moved ahead of a planned Justice League sequel, according to Digital Spy and other outlets.

The studio has a lot riding on its DC Comics movies. As a result, the films are getting a lot of scrutiny. Other planned films have had delays, but Batman is the flagship.

Until The Batman signs a new director and begins filming, people are going to wonder if DC/Warners is ever going to match Marvel’s film success.

BvS: Dark and somber, but what’d you expect?

Henry Cavill after reading the latest Batman v Superman reviews

Henry Cavill after reading the latest Batman v Superman reviews

One vague spoiler awaits. There will be a warning.

Well, nobody should have been surprised.

Throughout the production of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the makers talked about how their story was real. Very real. And very serious. If you ever wanted to know what the real world would be like with superheroes, this movie would let you know.

Director Zack Snyder, a disciple of Christopher Nolan and his somber style of film making, even did some trashing talking of Marvel Studios’ Ant-Man, an escapist superhero film that was a decent hit in the summer of 2015.

After two changes in its release date, Batman v Superman is out. This time, movie critics were doing the trash talking, causing Snyder’s film to have a “fresh” rating of only 30 percent on the Rotten Tomatoes website. You have to have a lot of pans to get a score that low.

A recurring criticism is the movie is dour and dark. The San Francisco Examiner’s reviewer says “everything is shrouded in a kind of black sludge.”

Again, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Snyder directed 2013’s Man of Steel (with Nolan co-producing and co-plotting) where the costume of Superman (Henry Cavill) has such dark shades of blue, red and yellow it looks as if the uniform actually is dirty.

Vague spoiler follows.

To give Man of Steel more intellectual heft, there is some religious imagery. (Filmmakers often look to the Bible and Shakespeare to add gravitas to their efforts.)

Snyder continues that in Batman v Superman to the point it seems like opening on Easter weekend was planned all along, even though it wasn’t.

The thing is, the movie isn’t as bad as some of the reviews suggest. Not the biggest endorsement, admittedly but it’s the best we can do.

Ben Affleck is good as Batman, even if this version shows signs of finally going off his rocker for good. Ditto for Jeremy Irons as Alfred. The blog’s favorite moment is when Alfred reminds his employer that it was Bruce Wayne, acting almost like a spy, who got a key piece of information rather than Batman punching out a lot of guys.

Cavill is fine in what’s an almost thankless role because this seems more like a Batman film with Superman as a supporting player rather than co-leading character.

The filmmakers did experiment with Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), making him much younger than previous incarnations. Think an evil Mark Zuckerberg (played by Eisenberg in The Social Network). The results are uneven but it was an attempt on a different take. I thought the Gal Gadot version of Wonder Woman was a plus, but again it’s definitely a supporting character. Overall, at 151 minutes, it’s too long but better superhero movies have the same fault.

Warner Bros. has a lot riding on the movie as it tries to get competitive with Marvel in superhero films. Despite the reviews, Batman v Superman generated $27.7 million in Thursday night showings in the U.S. and Canada, according to the Deadline: Hollywood website.

Batman v Superman needs a $1 billion global box office to be seen as a success, so Warner executives had to be pleased with the results despite the baby seal treatment by the critics.

UPDATE: It turns out Snyder did, well, pee on one key part of the Superman mythos. The Spy Commander missed it, but New York magazine’s Vulture website caught it. If you want to see what, or who, it was click on the link.

Critics get out the knives for Batman v Superman

Batman v Superman poster

Batman v Superman poster

As Jack Benny used to say, “Well!”

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Warner Bros. answer to Marvel Studios’ extended superhero franchise opens Friday. It’s not going over well with critics — at all. The movie has a 37 percent “fresh” rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website (as of 6 p.m. Wedneday, New York time) that collects reviews.

But it’s not just the low rating. Critics who’ve attended advance showings apparently have been inspired to rip the film with Ben Affleck as Batman and Henry Cavill as Superman.

So, here’s a non-spoiler sampling of the pans along with some praise.

A.O. SCOTT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: ” Intellectual pretension, long an occupational hazard in the superhero business, has been elevated to a creative principle. …(Director Zack) Snyder, for his part, deploys signifiers of importance without having anything much to say.”

SOREN ANDERSEN, THE SEATTLE TIMES: “The powers that be at Warner gave director Zack Snyder (“Man of Steel,” “300”) a budget of $250 million, according to published reports, and what he has given in return is a movie that treats the audience as an enemy, a victim.”

LAWRENCE TOPPMAN, THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER: “The score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL reaches the decibel level of a departing 767, the fireballs quadruple in size and frequency…And the story, like the testicles of a weightlifter on steroids, dwindles away to nothing.”

DUSTIN PUTMAN: THEFILMFILE.COM: “By understanding the massively damaging events in “Man of Steel” should be tackled head-on rather than swept under the rug, director Zack Snyder has made a suggestive, blemished, but ultimately superior follow-up, a work worth deconstructing and pondering.”
COLIN COLVERT, MINNEAPOIS STAR TRIBUNE: “They should have called it “Batmeh v Supermeh. Running 153 minutes, with a swollen budget of $250 million, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is pure overpriced, overproduced, overlong pulp. It is an interesting idea of a film created by people who have no earthly idea how to do it.”
NICHOLAS BARBER, BBC: “Snyder and his team have taken their Batman from the pages of Frank Miller’s game-changing graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns, and as a result they get just about everything right, from Wayne’s banter with his prickly butler, Alfred (Jeremy Irons), to the sleek-yet-sturdy Batmobile.”