September 6, 2021

Noel's Movie Night RECAP! Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (1974)

Welcome to another installment of my "weekly" movie night recap. Those who have been watching along might notice a few changes. I decided to leave behind the Tokusatsu Tonight (previous Tokusatsu Tuesday) moniker simply because we've already expanded well beyond that concept in threads here and there. Regardless, the viewing list remains locked in place as we continue our exploration of the evolution of kaiju flicks and Japanese effects film, but that's a foundation that we're branching off of in fun ways as we go along. We're about to hit the Kongsploitation boom of the 70s! Then the rise and career of legendary Tokusatsu director Roland Emmerich! Then if we're doing the genre fantasies of Nobuhiko Obayashi, why not go deeper with more of his work I'd love to share, since almost all of it blurs the lines of genre anyways!

So the night hasn't changed much, just the name on the sticker to reflect how far we've evolved from this initially just being an excuse to watch the Showa Godzilla line. As always, feel free to follow our viewing list on Letterboxd if you want to see where we've been and learn about updates as we get to them.

The latest feature!

GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA (1974)
aka GODZILLA VS THE BIONIC MONSTER
aka GODZILLA VS THE COSMIC MONSTER

August 22, 2021

Tokusatsu Tonight RECAP! Japan Sinks (1973)

So what is Tokusatsu Tonight? It's a movie night I've been hosting for friends that started back at the beginning of the pandemic in April 2020, and has been running for over 70 weeks and as many films at this point. It started with the idea to go thru the Showa Godzilla films, since I picked up that wonderful Criterion set. Then I decided to add the entire Toho line so we could see the broader work of the shared crews, and how they both informed and were informed by the development of said Godzilla series. Then I thew in Gamera. And Daimajin. And other odds and ends. And the entire Gamma franchise. And Yokai. And the whole thing just grew into a massive night of wonders, exploring films both familiar and obscure, mostly in chronological order, and somehow built around or peripheral to the original meaning of the word Tokusatsu: the "effects film". And while we're mostly sticking to Japan, we're taking little side trips around the world as those technicians spread their influence, and others started picking up on what they started.

This is the first post in a series that's already been running for a while. I'm not sure if I'll lever loop back and cover the films we've already watched, but you can see the full list on Letterboxd, and I'll make sure to fill in a bit of context if I ever reference back to anything.

This week's film!

JAPAN SINKS (1973)
aka TIDAL WAVE
aka THE SUBMERGENCE OF JAPAN

April 10, 2021

Noel Watches Justice League, Part 7

THEATRICAL CUT - 120 minute in.

This is great payoff for that added debate with Diana, where Bruce is back to the loner blasting his way in and leaving the door open while drawing all the parademons his way (and the sonic device paying off nicely), while the others turn to Diana and she finally takes charge and leads them in. It culminates beautifully in the exchange "This isn't the plan." "No, it's a team," even if Bruce getting defensive feels off given that Diana taking the lead is exactly what he wanted. At least give him a little sarcastic smirk or something. Unless he meant the plan was to let him die. In which case, ease up, Bruce. As always.

Much of this battle is still Snyder's footage, with snippets added in, a lot more color, and far less blood splatter from Aquaman and Wonder Woman stabbing everyone and Batman unleashing his machine guns, which is further toned down by the editing moving a lot faster and not lingering on brutality. While I eventually settled into the dehumanization of the parademons in Zack's cut, they've found a way to further soften that harshness here by making them almost literal giant bugs with green goop for blood. I'm not sure if that's better or worse. At least Joss, experienced with his vampires, added that acknowledgement up front that they aren't just brainwashed victims, they've literally been changed. It still feels odd when their destruction is played for laughs, though, like the splattered Flash bit.

Wonder Woman and Aquaman throwing down with Steppenwolf is largely the same, even as it's muted by his less imposing design and silly hat. When they're sidelined, I like how vicious he gets with Cyborg, literally cutting Victor away from the Mother Boxes and tearing him apart. Our heroes are entirely overwhelmed, having reached their endpoint. Which is the perfect time for Superman to show up. And oh how much I love seeing him in the red and blue instead of Zack's emo absolutes of black and white, and the first thing he does is speak about truth and justice instead of just barbarically whaling at and cutting into his enemy. This is a Superman who will listen to the others, strategize, pause for moments of reflection and connection with his teammates. This is the Superman who's all set to end the situation, then literally stops everything and cocks his head to the side, muttering "Civilians" before he zips off to help. You can point at the CGI lip all you want, but this is who Superman should be. This is the Superman Zack is unable to understand.

I really miss Flashpoint. That whole charge and build of Barry in the Snydercut, the fumble, the rebuild, then it being the only thing that keeps him from meeting the same fate as the rest of the team, giving him an opportunity to push himself farther than ever before in order to bring them back. That was an epic, classic moment, deeply resonant to Flash as a character and icon, and shouldn't have been scrapped from this cut. All Flash does now is get lost as he runs around, eventually saves a single truck with our lead Russian family, while being upstaged by Superman carrying an entire building. As a culmination of the civilians arc, it's nice and fulfilling, and shows some good team banter and a focus on preventing casualties, with the especially nice touch of Barry shrugging it off instead of getting jealous. But it really does rob Flash of his major moment.

In terms of how Superman can exist in a team dynamic when he's leveled so vastly higher than everyone else, I like how they play it here, that he can't be everywhere at once, so the others hold their respective grounds until he can swoop in and finish things off one at a time. From the civilians, to downing Steppenwolf, to helping Cyborg pull apart the cubes. I also love the deeply human moment of Clark and Victor connecting over not wanting to die, then sharing a laugh over their pain after the Mother Boxes are destroyed. Which is an interesting choice as you could still hold onto those boxes to turn them against the eventual arrival of Darkseid, but even that's not a setup we get here as Steppenwolf is beaten, his favorite toy is shattered, and upon feeling fear for the first time in his life, his parademons start attacking him? That's a really bizarre way to wrap everything up, even as he's sucked up in a boom tube and we never hear anything of it ever again. No promise of a return, no threat of a lingering invasion. Darkseid isn't even mentioned, let alone seen, which doesn't do much to amp us up for future chapters.

As we enter our epilogue - which thankfully isn't a full half hour - I'm fine with them shifting it from Silas's monologue about fatherhood to a new Lois article about darkness and light, shadows and hope. It works fine and feels more universal, boosts up her part in the story just a tiny bit more, and still largely plays over Snyder moments. I like that Silas is alive and now working with his son, as I'd much rather continue to explore that relationship than sweep it aside to heap more needless tragedy on Victor who's already been stuck in the depths of loss. The new Wonder Woman bit is charming, with the crooks blabbing everything due to the lasso as she entertains children. Between this and her intro, it seems like she's fixated on defending museums now. I do miss her longing to return to her island, but showing the iconic hero inspiring the populace is a nice reminder that Diana won't be hiding anymore. For Batman, thank fuck he's no longer gone through a full Frank Miller relapse with the giant tank. And for Superman, that iconic moment sings so much louder with the red and the blue, and the shades of John Williams' theme.

Post credits, the Superman v Flash race is superfluous, but charming. And the Lex/Deathstroke scene shorter yet still effective. I also love the credits playing over a cover of "Come Together" by Gary Clark Jr and Junkie XL, which is a great taste of what I wish had been more prevalent in Holkenborg's alternate score, with its superpowered base, percussive strut, and pure attitude, as it ties to the uniting of these brooding powerhouses. If the Snydercut score had been more this than ambient wailing, it would have so much more charge and energy.

SO WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE US?

Still largely up in the air. Neither cut is a great movie, yet I enjoy more of both than I don't. Neither cut stands out for me as better than the other, as both make excellent choices with the material, while fumbling others. For everything I loved discovering in Zack's, they are balanced out by everything I thought was added by Joss. For those who claim 80% of the film was reshot by Joss, no. A good 70% of this is still Zack's footage, albeit recolored and re-edited in a way that can make it feel tonally very different.

I'm again left at a stalemate over a film I've put a lot of time into examining despite having not loved it either way. Which is fine, because it stands as a fun experiment in how two very different approaches to a thing can have equal validity. Even just down to the editing. While Zack's could be ponderous and lingering at times, taking too long for its beats to play out, there's times when that expansive reveling can enhance the iconography and grandiose power of the choices and actions on display. And for as breezy and choppy as the editing can be on Joss's cut, it's also snappier, more engaging and entertaining, and does actually deepen certain character arcs and motivations. Ideally, the perfect film would be a fusion of the two, knowing when to breeze quick, and when to slow down. The problem of a uniformity of style is that there's no range to the expression. If it all moves too fast, then you risk nothing sticking. If it all moves too slow, you risk losing engagement. Both can cause an audience to drift, which is why its important to allow your story to shift gears flow between a myriad of tones and paces.

I honestly think this would best be served by a new hybrid cut, though fuck off on anyone starting a movement for it. Let's just leave it to the realm of fan edits and let the creative players move on with their lives. But for the sake of concluding things, let me at least break down my two cents a bit.

Batman. Both cuts are great in showing maturity as he comes out of his petulant tantrum that was BvS, as he focuses on saving instead of destroying, puts the gathering of others above himself, and knows when to hang back and not try to be a heavy hitter. He's still a dick in both, but I'll take the Batman of Whedon who goes too far in his spat with Diana, then grows to acknowledge and learn from it, whereas Zack's just ultimately reverts in the end to his grandiose Frank Miller posturing with that ridiculous giant tank shot.

Wonder Woman. As great as she is in the Zack film, she does lack an arc. Her taking charge as the leader of the team is present in Zack's cut, but Joss contextualizes and adds a spotlight to it, making her rise into that role feel like more of a complete story. I would leave Zack's ending of her holding the arrow, looking to return home, and leave the the entirety of the Age of Heroes backstory intact, but I don't mind softening the brutality of the Amazon fight as it's more thrilling when it's not just ultimately meaningless slaughter.

Superman. Joss not only does a better job of portraying a world who's lost Superman by framing the opening titles around it, but the darkness of his resurrection isn't as overbearing when we see him return to the light. Zack has had three chances to get the character right, but just plain doesn't get Superman, and keeps fixating on the barbarism of an unbreakable man who can hit things and gets angry with his fire eyes, and never seems to buy the hope and warmth of this farmboy god who's dedicated his life to protecting everyone he can. Joss brings that character back, along with humor and relatability which makes him human, which makes him a friend, a member of the team. And fuck the black suit. If we aren't building to a return to the red and blue, a return to the soaring symbol of hope, then what is even the point of that trip to Hot Topic.

Aquaman. While he's an entertaining presence in both cuts, neither gives him much of a character journey. Zack nailed the brooding loner reject, but he's largely a repeat of how we were first introduced to Clark in Man of Steel, as a drifter saving people where he could, but always floating back to the shadows. Zack does a better job of building the Atlanean mythos which will come into play in James Wan's spinoff, but after that introduction, he just stomps around and growls a lot. Joss laces him with more of that Jayne machismo parody he's known for, with his growling barbs taking a more comedic bent. It makes me warm to him as a character, but he still doesn't have much of a story or any form of build to payoff. He's just the team bro.

Flash. His Snydercut intro with Iris is cute, so I'd keep it, but there's not a whole lot of difference between the two cuts. Yeah, Joss adds even more comedy, but it still feels in character with the humor of the Zack cut (boob plant excluded), and I like the added bits of the "accidents" exchange and him saving just one hostage, then another, and another. So those should all stay. But oof does he lose a payoff without Flashpoint being there. I'd absolutely put that back.

Cyborg. Definitely the character who would benefit best from a hybridization. I still argue the Whedoncut gives him more personality in both performance and character exploration, getting away from the "am I machine or man" and focusing more on his sense of betrayal towards his absentee father, as well as having powers and a body he can't fully control and is afraid of. That said, Snydercut excels in making his backstory iconic and mythic with a grandeur that puts him alongside the other players. That sequence where we go into his powers, as he realizes the sheer scale and responsibility of what he's capable, that's one of my favorite sequences and absolutely needs to stay in.

Steppenwolf. I mean, fuck Steppenwolf. In both cuts. He's just a big bruiser. Snyder makes him the sad yet loyal dog of an abusive owner, while Joss makes him reverent and gleeful in his cosmic destruction, but neither is particularly interesting. Snyder definitely wins in terms of designs. His spiny plates are silly, but definitely more striking than whatever they were going for in the Joss cut. Either way, IT STILL SHOULD HAVE BEEN GRANNY GOODNESS, DAG NABBIT. Leave Darkseid in, though. If you can find a way to remove chopping Steppenwolf into pieces, that staredown through the boom tube, promising the invasion yet to come and the force all set to repel it, that's a moment worth preserving.

Lois and Martha also suffer in both versions. Joss thankfully dumped the Martian Manhunter reveal and gave Lois a tiny bit more to do, but both remain peripheral, mostly just there to further Clark's plot instead of having any of their own.

Knightmare. Honestly, I was never partial to Snyder's wet dream, and having a complete lack of it in the Whedoncut is just fine by me.

Score. I love Holkenborg, but his Snydercut score, while lovely, just didn't have any impact to me, whereas Elfman's was a celebration of iconography, both in the established themes it reprised, and the new themes it built to exist alongside.

Overall, it doesn't leave us with much settled in the end. Both films are watchable and entertaining, yet uneven, with great choices running into poor ones, and neither rises to the point of being a sweeping and fully charged experience from beginning to end. And both being the work of problematic creators doesn't help. Zack is by all accounts a good guy, but his heavy-handed themes, and repellent fixation of brutality and a juvenile concept of maturity continue to create offputting moments for me. While the material of Joss's work is easier to gel with (granted, we aren't discussing Dollhouse today), it all comes with the increasingly revealed knowledge of just how vicious and abusive he was behind the scenes, often bringing his vision about through volumes of belligerence similar to those segments of the Snydercut fandom who belligered right back against him.

Does either cut make me that exited for the newly rising demand to Restore the Snyderverse? Not really. I'm ready to be done with the bloody pounding of Zack's vision, especially since the Knightmare would be the central focus of his next film in the series, then the silly concept of Clark and Lois's powerless son become the new Batman in the wake of Bruce's death. I'm not interested in that story, nor more of the Knightmare bullshit. But I'm glad they haven't completely thrown everything out. Aquaman and Wonder Woman ran off to their own franchises, still making great use of the personas Zack was instrumental in establishing. I still haven't seen Suicide Squad, but for all the talk of the new Gunn sequel being a soft reboot, it's still carrying a lot of threads which emerged from the Snyderverse. Shazam is a great counterpoint to Zack's vision, existing alongside it but countering the darkness of abandonment and loss with genuine heart, friendship, and family. And we still need to see what this Flashpoint movie turns into, though Warner Bros. should be ashamed of how Ray Fisher's Cyborg will no longer be a part of it. It's unfortunate that both Superman and Batman are already in the midst of full reboots, because Zack's cut finally built Affleck's Batman into someone I'd like to explore more, and Whedon's cut finally gave Cavill the chance to be the charming, bright, compassionate, and soaring Superman the actor had been denied for an entire trilogy up to that point. Alas.

In closing, I've spent a whole lot of words breaking down two cuts of a film I'm still ultimately pretty ambivalent on, much as they spent a whole lot of film telling a story that still never fully worked and never fully overcame a lot of the issues behind its making. I'm glad both cuts exist and that we can have so much fun debating the pros and cons of each, the contrasts in style and focus, but that discussions is still ultimately more engaging and interesting than either of the films we're left with. I still like both, still applaud sequences and moments in both, but nor do I feel eager to revisit either again any time soon.

But before I shut this door for good, I want to hear what you think of it all. What are your thoughts on both cuts? How do you feel about the film as we learn more backstory from it having been made? How do you feel about the fandom that led to the alternate cut existing? Why is Steppenwolf?

April 9, 2021

Noel Watches Justice League, Part 6

THEATRICAL CUT - 60 minutes in.

For all the claims about Whedon reshooting 80% of the movie, the grand majority of this is Zack's footage, albeit reworked, and most of the added scenes are not in fact just humor. I really like the new Cyborg sequence of him struggling to turn off all the voices and feeds racing through his head, until he suddenly hears mention of his name, coming across Bruce's investigation and who Bruce really is. They're not only adding emotion to Cyborg's portrayal but putting him ahead of the rest of the heroes as he now just needs to figure out why they're after him.

The Age of Heroes scene truly is watered down. I don't mind the walk-and-talk reshoot for the last half which they intercut with the backstory (with Cyborg eavesdropping), but the grandiosity of that mythic sequence is something I'd much rather let Zack revel in. And god damn is this Steppenwolf design now completely overshadowed by everything he's surrounded by. They've pulled out so much that all we get now are fleeting glimpses, moments. Zack's was an entire epic in just a few minutes. While I understand much of this edit trying to condense everything for a more conventionally cinematic pace, these are the moments that really do suffer the most from it. What I do appreciate is the insert of a person being zombified into a parademon, to illustrate that loss of person, that they are just a husk of a monster now. Still doesn't make it perfect that our heroes mow them down like grass, but at least the point is made.

Recruiting Victor is largely the same. Dianna's appeal to Cyborg is partially reshot to incorporate this different personification of Cyborg, which I'm still fine with, especially the lack of the gratuitous "Fuck the world". I also like their added conversation through the computer. It's a little touch, but preferred over the cryptic message.

I'm glad Aquaman saving the sailor and walking into the waves is still here, but it's an odd place to insert the sailor having been randomly attacked by parademons. More successful is "Icky Thump" rocking his stride into the crashing water. Again, talk about moments worth reveling in.

I'm not sure why they changed the drawing in the Commissioner Gordon scenes, as the more bat-like image was such a fun callback, but I'm glad these are largely untouched. Danny Elfman bringing in his classic Batman theme feels so right. We'll get it again in the coming battle.

I still hate the design, but continue to enjoy this more wickedly bemused Steppenwolf. Still far from a great villain, but at least I enjoy hearing Ciaran Hinds purr out this lines more than I did his somber growling in the original take. I'm also intrigued by him referring to the boxes as Mother, with this genuinely maternal reverence.

With the invasion of the Russian nuclear town, we have the introduction of our household under siege. I'm curious to revisit how this plays out over the rest of the film, but I've never hated the Russian family the way others do. I actually like that this town in inhabited, that people are under siege. It's a microcosm of the looming invasion to come if forces aren't stopped.

Our heroes hit the island, and much of it is the same, albeit tighter with inserts. I really like the addition of Flash freaking out, having never been in a fight before, and Batman challenging him to save just one hostage. Him plucking one, then another, then another is a great little hero beat as you see him getting more into it, and definitely has a stronger narrative flow than him and Victor just running people upstairs and telling them to go faster. Victor also gets a couple extra little beats with his dad, and for all the criticisms, I like the little Batman quips of "He is tall" and "I didn't bring a sword", the latter of which is some needed levity to slightly soften him opening up on enemies with his trademark Snyder machine guns. The reason I don't mind the humor is because, for all the work Bruce did to pull this team together, once they hit the field, he has become the odd man out. He's smart, he has tools and experience, but he still can't give or take a punch on the same level as this new team of heavy hitters, which means something when you're up against a foe who can punch really damn hard.

The one sour note to this sequence is, of course, the anime boob plant. I don't know why Joss felt he had to shove Flash's face into the cleavage of Diana's stunt double unless it was to quietly live out the moment vicariously through his cinema puppets. Which sounds very Joss.

THEATRICAL CUT - 90 minutes in.

They've removed the bit of Cyborg burying the Mother Box in his mother's grave. Or his mother's... box... if you will. Which I'm ok with. That was a bit overly morbid in Zack's, and we're about to get our fill of grave desecration.

The entire batcave sequence is new. It's flatly shot against bluescreen, but I like a lot of what it adds, even beyond Flash zipping around like an excited toddler and Aquaman stealing things. I like how they put together as a team that the power of the Mother Box could resurrect Superman, which also causes a rift as Diana challenges the ethics and consequences of going down that road. I haven't talked much about the nice Bruce/Diana dynamic in both cuts. While he's been the overall strategist putting the team together, she usually steps in and takes charge in the field since she and the rest of the team are far more unbreakable than he is and are able to hit a lot harder. He's the human who knows his limits, she's the demigod warrior with literally thousands of years of experience. They have a very natural partnership in Zack's cut and most of this one, which they fall into early and maintain. And yet I like this added thread that pushes them apart with her raising very genuine concerns and pushing Bruce over his guilt for Superman's death. And Bruce... I think people misfocus this cut for making Bruce more humorous, when I think what can be offputting is that it reminds us he's a dick. He's nudged about acting on guilt, and he suddenly flies into a defensive tear down of Diana, her loss of Steve, how she's remained hidden all these years instead of being out there in the open, inspiring and leading like the symbol that Clark was. This is authentic to the character that Zack established, especially his "fraction of a chance" line which is a direct throwback to his arguments in BvS, but it reminds me why I've never been partial to this growly and petulant Frank Miller reach around, especially since much of this story has been about his maturing beyond such an attitude.

The scene with Alfred is warm, but doesn't do much beyond continue to hammer at the guilt thread and seed their "big gun" reveal. They've also ditched the whole subplot about Batman's gauntlets having the Kryptonian energy-absorbing tech, and are instead fitted to emit the annoying sounds that distract parademons. Much better is the new scene of Barry and Victor digging up Superman's grave, with the lusting after Diana having been replaced by the reflective bonding of them both being the "accidents" of the team. That's a great dynamic to add context to.

Almost the entire thread of breaking in to STAR labs has been removed, which honestly felt gratuitous in Zack's cut, given all the strings Batman and Cyborg are capable of pulling, so there's no more Silas sidequest, no more gaggle of evacuated scientists roaming around outside. After Flash's driver impression, we go directly to the Krytponian ship. The resurrection is mostly abridged Zack footage, with Cyborg's Knightmare replaced by the caution of Aquaman saying "this is a bad idea" and a still angry Diana being there for Clark, not Bruce. I'm honestly fine with less Knightmare, which continues to be more distracting than intriguing for me.

The fight with Clark is still almost entirely Zack's, with a few inserts and ADR lines added, though it does have a bit more weight in the new context of Diana's fears as she was just about ready to hope she was wrong, only to being hit hard with how she may have been right. The new confrontation with Batman reaches the darkness of an angry Superman in just a couple lines that Zack spent three films desperately grasping at, with the bitterness of "You won't let me live. You won't let me die," and the twisting of Bruce's own "Do you bleed?" on him before casually tossing Batman away like a wet blanket. And Bruce's "Yeah, something is definitely bleeding" punchline is my favorite laugh of film for just how tired and human his delivery is. I'm more than happy to get that in exchange for losing the laser absorbing gauntlets.

The real shortcoming of the sequence is Steppenwolf getting the third Mother Box, which is now entirely off screen as everyone just left it sitting there out in the open. While I still don't like the Silas sacrifice, at least there was some drama to that important beat. Given that the last few minutes of the Superman fight boil down to just Diana, then Bruce, what if Cyborg, Aquaman, and Flash were torn in their desire to help vs racing to protect and recover the Mother Box and lose another fight with Steppenwolf because they're trying to be in both places at once? Maybe that would have been too complicated and expensive to add in the reshoots, but it doesn't make their offscreen choice feel any less underwhelming.

Much has been said about the added reveal of Lois being Bruce's "big gun" to use against Clark. I still feel she was undeserved in the Zack cut, getting a few snippets of mope before wandering into this event. Though I still wish they added more to her thread, I like that this at least spins the context of her being involved, of her being a part of the plan.

The new scenes on the farm start off awkward, with the odd snark of Clark smelling good and death being "itchy", and Lois's fears about how she wasn't strong and how he'd be disappointed in her feel like an off note for the character which again really makes me wish she'd had more time and more of a thread leading up to this. The CGI lip mostly holds up as long as you don't stare at it too much, which I eventually stopped doing. I do love how they play the moments of Lois knowing she needs to send Bruce back into danger, and him hearing his mom coming before she arrive. Those were great, warm additions.

The new aftermath in the Batcave is good, though even I'm starting to feel like Barry is too much of a punchline figure with him now needing food. I do like how Aquaman's growly roughhouser quality has a more humorous edge, as Joss typically does with his machismo parodies, and the scene between he and Bruce about talking to fish is well played, especially Bruce's embarrassment after.

They really do cement the Bruce/Diana arc well, with him realizing he's put himself in the light to lead while she's lurked alone in the shadows, and it's time for them to swap to their more natural roles. This has been an important thread to add to deepen their dynamic while also exploring their individual themes. I also like how the scene is played, with her immaculate and draped in her cape, still young and strong and ready for anything, while his superhero suit is revealed to just be fabric and padding, as he lurches around like an aging man in sweats who just pushed himself way too hard at the gym, and her popping his shoulder back into place is a nice way to re-establish their friendship after the strain.

Way back, I mentioned tracking down the Mother Box by searching for the giant pink dome, so I like that they held back the dome until this point where Steppenwolf has brought the three boxes together in Unity. I would really be curious to see his reverence for the "Mother of horrors" play out with Zack's character design.

It's so refreshing for Cyborg to not have that bizarrely staged death of Silas hanging over everything, as it was so unnecessary for their search for the Mother Boxes. Dianna is absolutely right that he can tap into the energy within himself (called it!), and he's absolutely right to be afraid of doing that because he could lose control of himself, and these flickers we get of his body reacting without him really help seed that thread. And I'm so glad they scrapped the thread of the carrier not working, with him now just having a throwaway line about making it go faster.

I like the discussion of the Russian town, about "who would live there?", and acknowledging these places in the world populated by people who literally have nowhere else to go. Again, I feel this is important, showing an invasion of the downtrodden as a microcosmic preview of the invasion of us all, and heroes willing to save those downtrodden instead of falling into "goods of the many" rhetoric. This is why I like the Russian family. It's a bit overly focused, and doesn't need bits like the daughter with the bug spray, but it adds stakes of real people and real lives being caught up in all this stuff, which Zack has always been notorious about overlooking.

People drag on the scene of Arthur and the Lasso of Truth, but I love it, because it opens up his character, his humor, his fears, his hopes, better seeding this as someone I'd like to follow to a spinoff franchise. I also dig the parody of it starting off like a big damn hero speech before it gets weird, and everyone else realizing what's going on before he does.

April 8, 2021

Noel Watches Justice League, Part 5

So, was the Snydercut worth releasing?

Somewhat. I'm always game to see creators revisit a work that, for whatever reason, strayed from their intent. Rarely do we get to see it on this level, with a studio so willing to backtrack to the point where their initially preferred release is now widely considered a completely discardable waste. Especially since this was only 4 years ago, not 20 or 30, like the restored Nightbreed or the special edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

I still take pause due to the realm of the fandom who belligered this into existence through bullying of critics, creators, and fans of competing properties, and will criticize Snyder for ways in which he generalized to overlook those toxic pools and how they overlap with the increasingly vitriolic hate among not only broader fandoms, but society in general. Even played up to it with the "We live in a society" trailer stunt, which was complete bullshit as that line is nowhere in the film.

So it's a hand in hand scenario, where criticism needs to be aimed at both studio mistakes in the original production and the crowds the creator placated to so as to build the platform needed to make this happen. It brings us a handful of sequences of beautiful filmmaking which had been lost, and having this restoration does ultimately redeem the Snyderverse having existed, but that comes with the cost of giving a sense of power to people who will absolutely abuse it.

And Zack's trilogy still has its fumbles, its crass obsessions and vapid leaps over simple points. This film tries to firmly anchor the mythic elements of the DC pantheon with its simple yet grandiose themes of parents and children, heroes and sacrifice, and deeply rooted lore iconography. It largely captures that with the wayward king, the lone knight who needs to forge a team, the man desperate to push himself to go so fast it'll reverse the chaos of his life, the warrior who stands firm in her fight for peace, the child struggling to identify with the young man his parent literally made him. These are all strong stories. But the most necessary of them all, Superman, still doesn't sell, as it's so lost in its anger and darkness, its brutal conquest of any threat against his chosen world, its rejection of the colors of his soul even as he still claims to stand for hope. Superman is not Jesus. And Jesus is not a barbarian. By trying to mush this trinity of ideals together, Snyder never fulfills any of them. Much is made of how this is a story about the need for Superman, but never as anything more than muscle and power to hit things harder than the rest are capable of.

And the biggest issue with Snyder's career continues to be his mishandling of tones, how moments of heroism, friendship, family, serenity in a field, children being saved and inspired, alliances forged to save us all, are often deflated by his obsession with brutality, and blood splats, and severing of innocents, and civilians gunned down, and heroes saying "Fuck the world." Zack literally has Wonder Woman telling little girls they can be whoever they want to be while blood is dripping down the walls behind her from the men she killed. There's grit, then there's brutality. Zack wants there to be an honest edge to things, I get that. But he exaggerates that edge and never challenges his heroes to rise above it. This is a director who still refuses to understand why Batman shouldn't use a gun. Should Batman kill is a separate debate worth having and isn't a dealbreaker for me, but for someone so obsessed with mythic iconography, him not using a gun is a pretty huge fucking part of his iconography.

Other issues I have continue to be the lack of Martha and Lois, who needed much more development to add depth to their key points, which they absolutely had room for if they'd cut threads like the constant calls with DeSaad, or the troop carrier not working. I'm still pissed about the first Martian Manhunter reveal and how cheaply inconsiderate it was. The Knightcrawler is still unnecessary. The Knightmare fascinates Zack a hell of a lot more than it does me. And Steppenwolf continues to be a simple and uninvolving villain.

And yet, I did enjoy watching the film. Much like the Ultimate Edition of BvS, even if I disagree with a lot of the foundational ideas, there's something to be said for a more cohesive and coherent culmination of what was originally intended. It's overly drawn out, and there's still parts I'd cut or rearrange, but only rarely was I actively disliking things. I wasn't always swept away or emotionally moved, but it was fun, and I'm again glad that a lot of the best bits of humor from the theatrical cut I can now credit to Zack. There's also sequences like the backstory of Cyborg, the Age of Heroes, the Flashpoint run, which remain incredible examples of superhero filmmaking and show Zack at his absolute best. Also, we still get to see Aquaman shout "My man!", so I'm good.

REVISITING THE WHEDON CUT - 30 minutes in.

Within the span of three minutes, Joss manages to better convey the world morning Superman. He still uses all of Zack's shots - the broken monument, the draping "S", Lois waking up alone and visiting the tributes, Martha leaving the farm - but he adds to it, builds on the people wearing that "S", hanging it along the streets, leaving their own tributes at the memorial. Even the fears as the worst of us use this as an excuse to be awful. By making this the focus of the credits, it enters us into the world Superman left behind. Yes, even the video with the kids is charming. It's cloying, and holy fuck is the CGI lip effect bad, but I love that moment where he's asked what his favorite thing about Earth is, and he pauses, then smiles. We don't hear the answer, but instead of this being a Superman who would pensively stare and ponder at that question, he's one who has an answer.

Even the oft criticized Batman rooftop sequence is a nice touch building on that void as this one lone crook realizes his world is in for problems bigger than him. It start well, with nice classic Burton Batman staging, but I'll admit the execution does get awkward. There's times where Joss really tries to give things that Snyder sweep and almost pulls it off, and others where his more grounded tv-honed style stands out among the footage its been inserted into.

I also don't like the multiple added scenes introducing the mystery of the Mother Boxes. I get it, sewing the seeds and all, but it does make them more of a Chekov's MacGuffin that we know will come into play, whereas I prefer the way Zack did it, of introducing them during Superman's death cry, and only getting context when the Age of Heroes segment comes into play.

The recruiting of Arthur is largely the same, though with a few inserts and thankfully dropping the singing girl who creepily smells his sweater. Wonder Woman and the museum bombers is also largely Zack's footage, albeit tightened up. They don't drop them being terrorists, but the lack of blood pooling and splattering does genuinely mark a difference in the tone of how things play. What confuses me is cutting Wonder Woman's inspirational moment to the little girl, as the lightening of this cut should make that very type of scene play better.

I get that it's much tighter, but Barry's face scribble is nowhere near as great of an intro scene as Iris's car crash. It's cute, but no. As he visits his dad, I see one of the criticisms about the garish color scheme. In the insert shots, the colors pop in a really nice way that I appreciate, but any time they've recolored Zack's footage, it feels like they've cranked up the saturation of something filmed with the intent of being muted, so tones are weird, colors that blended well while soft now have a clash to them, with patches of bleed. There's times when it looks fine, but when you get those now harsh green walls of the prison set against Barry's red shirt, oof is it ugly.

I feel bad saying this knowing the controversy, but I like Ray Fisher's performance as Cyborg much better in the reshoots. We lose the grandiose backstory, the whole sequence showing him connecting to the networks of the world for the first time and learning both the scale and the responsibility of his power. I want all that back. But I like him having emotion, that instead of shutting off because he feels like a machine, he's instead furious because he sees his father as the real monster, and is locking the Mother Box away where it can't be used to hurt others. He's expressing, he's confronting, he's dragging his metal hand along the counter in a cool way. And I also like the added sense that his body is constantly evolving, that he's waking up each day to find out it can do something new. It adds so many more layers to the character which I enjoy, I just wish they hadn't thrown out so much when a great blend of the two versions could have been found.

I've been thinking about Tom Holkenborg's score a lot, and while it's nice and I'm often a fan of his work, I have to say that I prefer Elfman's score. Holkenborg's was all about ambience and emotion, which is why I think people are critical of the use of Wonder Woman's theme (which really only kicked in 3-4 times), because it's of such a different style that it stands out in contrast. With Elfman, he uses themes as their own form of mythic iconography. Superman's theme. Batman's theme. Wonder Woman's theme. Those are now a part of the mythos, and if your ultimate point with this project is to establish that mythos for the current generation, either they need new themes (which the other heroes get - I particularly like Flash's), or they pay tribute to the old ones.

The Amazon Island sequence is another case of the tones being eased down by the elimination of brutality. You still absolutely have Amazons being killed in their failed attempt to keep the Mother Box out of Steppenwolf's hands, but you don't have the bisecting and explosions of blood, and you don't have the entire chamber of Amazons perishing as they're sealed away and dropped off a cliff. Hell, when Steppenwolf cuts through the wall, you can still see the Amazons inside continuing the fight against the parademons, making the smaller tragedy of that one Amazon pinned under her horse ring much less hollow.

As for Steppenwolf, oof. His design is BAD. Like bizarre late 90s video game character bad with random plates of armor and a dinky little helmet. I can't tell if those are horns or decorative wings. That said, I'm hard pressed to say who gets Steppenwolf better. Zack has a better design, but makes him the sad yet loyal puppy of an abusive owner who only knows how to be mean. Joss's looks worse, but there's a joy to his cruelty, a bit of a smirk of personality, even as he's saying awful things to a wall of women like "You'll love me. You all will," which comes off so much worse in the context of things we now know about Joss. Either way, I still want Granny Goodness, dammit.

The scene with Lois and Martha is redone. I like that Martha is no longer a Martian Manhunter lie, and that Lois has started the process of moving on by returning to work, even if she's just doing puff pieces. But it's awkwardly staged, with that odd interruption from a coworker, the news story of the woman threatening to probe the aliens who kidnapped per husband, and the strange "thirst/hunger" slip. Zack's version of the scene was more emotional, more heartfelt and natural, even if it ended wrong. Joss is trying to break that emotion up with humor, which just makes the scene feel unfocused.

April 7, 2021

Noel Watches Justice League, Part 4

PART 6: "Something Darker"

Ah, so it IS an abandoned ghost town! So why the family then, Joss?

It would be interesting, just once, to see a filmmaker try to portray Superman through the Jewish iconography of his origins rather than the Christianity he's been glommed to since. Zack sure does lay it on thick, with the resurrected deity returning home with the Magdalene bride who witnessed his resurrection at the tomb to meet his "virgin" mother whose name begins with an M. It's lush, it's lyrical, it's mythic. But it's another man's myth. Tell Superman's own. Regarding the black suit, I don't understand why. I mean, I totally understand why, because Zack Snyder thinks it's cool. But this is the point where Clark has rediscovered himself, has returned to the world he died to save, is reasserting his place as protector and spreader of hope. This is when his mythic iconography is more important and necessary than ever, not an edgy makeover. I mean, granted, he does more brutalizing than hope-inspiring in the next half hour, so maybe it's not ill fitting.

They've had a thread running for a while of Batman's troop carrier which he and Alfred spend the bulk of the film toying on in the background in order to make it work. Victor is the one it needed, apparently, to sort out its software and "make it fly". Is this a necessary act on Victor's part given how much of the story already revolves around him and the huge role he'll play in the climax? Of all the things you could cut, that troop carrier thread is just begging for the scissors. At least when we're on the carrier, we get the nice sequence of the team warming up, which is a fun bonding moment.

The whole charge to battle is great, even if a lot of it is Batman again mowing down innocent mind-controlled parademons with machine guns, and other heroes slicing them in half or impaling them on debris with giant splats of blood. This movie loves its blood splats way too much. The heroes do make a good team and play off one another nicely while all getting their big moments to shine. I'm glad Aquaman still has a "My man!" in there and still gets to surf down the collapsing building. I like that Batman is the perimeter guy, taking down enemy defenses and turning the weapons against them. He has no ability to take on Steppenwolf, so he's just clearing the way.

Another big issue with Steppenwolf is there's no real strategy to combating him. He's just a big strong guy with a very straight-forward plan and motivation, and the only plan is for everyone to hit him as hard as they can before Superman shows up to hit him even harder. There's no real out-maneuvering, no out-thinking him. It's just punch, get punched, punch, get punched. And Superman is in pure "Paint is Zack" mode, with his eyes blazing, black suit rippling, just pounding the absolute snot out of Steppenwolf and slicing his armor and bits of him off. It's certainly not a reasserting of hope and inspiration. It's just brutality.

Whatever other issues I have, Flash and Victor get some beautiful focus in this climax. From Flash's massive buildup of energy, brutally interrupted by an injury, to Victor all set to do his part until the clock ticks too far and Unity is complete. Flashpoint is astonishing, with Flash witnessing the instant annihilation of everything, and pushing himself to literally reverse the flow of time; the city, the fortress, his friends literally rebuilding from their destruction. And I love how his moment instantly passes to Victor, entering the unity, confronted with the family life he'll never again have as he literally has to rip his lost family apart in order to separate the Mother Boxes, personified in their vision as literal mothers, literal witch-like crones of their sorcerous alien technology. This sequence alone is worth the entirety of this trilogy existing. Other scenes are too, but this was heads above the highlight of Zack's entire run, and I sincerely applaud him for it.

I love the opening of the final Boom Tube, with Darkseid and his horde (hi, Granny! Wish we had more of you!) gathered for the moment of his victory only to be handed the humiliation of his fallen grumper pupper and the death of his three mothers. I'm not sure why the Mother Boxes would be destroyed instead of just going into hibernation mode again, but ok. And Zack again revels in the spilled bodily fluids as Aquaman and Wonder Woman inspirationally and heroically skewer and decapitate Steppenwolf as he sails back to his master. Even though Darkseid would have probably finished him off, too, which would at least take the blood of the act off the heroes' hands.

The day saved, we get not one, but two hero shots of the entire team, mostly so they can include Batman who was just hanging somewhere for some reason and wasn't able to participate in the group staredown with Darkseid. Which is a very silly missed opportunity on Zack's part, now that I think about it. Regardless, our league has indeed meted out justice!

EPILOGUE: A Father Twice Over

I see that they were making an arc out of Victor's emotional expression and delivery, that he was acting like a machine because he felt like a machine, but between the climax and the epilogue, he can finally be happy and comfortable in his own second skin. Which I get, but I still wish we'd gotten more glimpses of the broken heart within instead of bottling everything up in full Spock mode for most of the movie. Little moments of loss, of hope, of camaraderie with the team. Something. I am glad he finally reached that point, though, and I regret that the hell Ray Fisher was put through means we'll never likely see him get to continue Cyborg's growth, especially since he's already been excised from Flashpoint in a dick move on Warners' part.

Aquaman gets a quiet sendoff to a film I really enjoy. Diana gets to long for a home Steppenwolf told her was destroyed, and after looping back for two prequel films (I dig both), I'm hoping we'll get to see at least a third adventure for her where she does return to Amazon Island. Bruce, despite an arc that grew him out of the petulant grouch Frank Miller rendition, is shown returning so far back to that version that he's got the giant tank with that famous group of mutant punks roped up before him. I get the impulse to recapture that image, Zack, but how did that fit with where we've gone? More charming is the quiet scene of Bruce meeting Martian Manhunter, even if it is out of the blue and makes one wonder where J'onn was during the whole climax if he feels this is all worth fighting for. Superman gets his classic moment of shedding his glasses and opening his shirt to reveal the logo, though I'm still bummed it's the black suit.

What I do love is how this all plays out under the words from a father, Silas Stone, words Victor once crushed out of existence so he wouldn't have to hear them; words about heroism, sacrifice, how far people need to go to fight for what they love. It's a lovely montage, and I'm glad Zack went that route instead of just another music track.

The Lex/Deathstroke scene is largely the same as the theatrical cut, if I'm not mistaken. Shame we'll never see that Affleck film this was setting up.

Then we return to Zack's fever dream, the Knightmare, the post-Apokalyptic landscape where Bruce, Barry, and Victor have some new friends. While Amber Heard is ick, I love the idea of Mera being on the team in Arthur's absence, especially given how much she carried the Aquaman film alongside him. Deathstroke is amusing, especially the jump following the prior Lex scene. And then we get Joker. I still haven't seen Suicide Squad, so I don't know how in character Leto is to that portrayal, but I like him here, completely unable to resist needling Bruce on and on, even as Batman grumps right back at him. This is an interesting concept, a Bruce who needs the Joker to save the world from what it's become. I wonder if this was Zack's original plan, that saving the world here isn't what prevented the Knightmare, but that its possibility stretched beyond, to Darkseid's inevitable Invasion! of Earth. We've still got our corrupted Superman. Lois is still the key (a thread which certainly hasn't played out here yet). I'm curious, if this does well, will Warner give Zack the chance to see that next stage through? Or will elements just be folded into Flashpoint, which we already know features Affleck's Batman in some capacity.

And we're done. For all the jokes many (myself included) have made, Allison Crowe's cover of "Hallelujah" which plays over the end credits, in tribute to Zack's daughter, is an absolutely lovely rendition in its long instrumental build and harrowing emotion. It's perfectly bittersweet for this project reaching its culmination. Stick around, though, as I've still got a few more posts left in this writeup. You'll see.

April 6, 2021

Noel Watches Justice League, Part 3

PART 4: "Change Machine"

Our first big teamup episode begins with the still great rooftop sequence with Gordon and the Bat Signal. I like how it lingers on Batman for a moment, embracing that classic iconography, then the whole team gathers, and the 4:3 really makes use of their clustering by emphasizing their height and full figures. Again, I'm pleasantly surprised that almost all of my favorite jokes had nothing to do with Whedon as we still get the great bit of Flash being the only one who doesn't know to disappear when Gordon's back is turned. The humor in this film is both present and good, so I'm surprised by Warner was so adamant about lightening the tone. Yes, there's some harsh and violent edges I'd have softened, but that alone would make the humor already present shine brighter. You don't need to heap on more.

Everyone heads to Stryker Island for our first big team fight. Typically, at this midpoint of a team building film, you'd either have everyone stumbling over each other as they showboat or fail to strategize, or you'd see the threads of why they were always meant to be a team start weaving together. We don't really get either one here as, despite some lipservice about working together, nobody really does, and yet their individual roles also don't step on each others' toes nor spoil the scenario in any way. Wonder Woman is a tank, so she takes on Steppenwolf admirably. Batman both gives and takes a ton of hits. Cyborg and Flash feel like the odd men out. Both are sent to free the captives for some reason, with Flash just zipping back and forth not really doing anything but tell people to hurry, and Victor just carries his dad as he also tells everyone to hurry. Flash could have done this himself while Victor, also a heavy hitter, continued the fight, or Victor could have done it while Flash kept Batman from being batted around. The Flash effects are nice, especially clearing the falling rubble, but it does feel like a lack of narrative coordination to not give these two better things to do. Victor's moment with his dad is good, though.

In terms of Zack tonal issues and gratuitous violent, remember that all of these parademons being splattered and bisected and mowed down with machine guns are innocent people mentally enslaved by Darkseid. Yes, like a zombie horde, they're probably too far gone to fix, but nobody pauses for a moment to at least consider that. They just mow through in a gore spree.

The Knightcrawler (named after a worm, not a spider, despite having a spider design) is a very clunky and unnecessary vehicle that doesn't play a significant role in the scene, nor does it come up again later, so it feels very much like the Schumacher era vehicles which are just there for a toy. Though a really bland and blocky toy that I wouldn't see myself getting much play out of. At least Schumacher's glowing, bladed dildos certainly caught one's eye. No, it just ambles around a bit, then allows Bruce to open up with those machine guns (remember, this is a Bruce who uses guns), then breaks. Victor's exchange with Alfred upon taking over the Knightcrawler is fun, but it again doesn't really lead to it doing much in the scene but be a piece of ballast to ride out waves on, a role they could have filled in so many other ways.

Still, it is a fun scene. All the action choreography is nice. Wonder Woman steals the show. The bit of Flash nudging her sword back to her still feels unnecessary and ends with his weird prat fall, but it looks gorgeous. And when Aquaman finally shows up to hold back the flood of water, it's a great show of the extra power he brings to the team.

This cut has way too many repetitive phone calls between Steppenwolf and DeSaad. "Are you done yet?" "Not really." "Are you done yet?" "Getting there." "Are you done yet?" "Fingers crossed." This latest one finally feels necessary as, following Steppenwolf's vision of the Anti-Life Equation, he goes into a fanboi faint as Darkseid finally gets on the line. And Darkseid is... pretty typical. Glowering and growly. Wants the power to destroy everything so he has the power to control everything. Look, we can back and forth Darkseid and Thanos all we want, even going back to their near simultaneous debuts in the comics. They're both chonk bears with huge chins making every world they come cross bend to their ideal, but at least Thanos had that cult leader charisma, that faux compassion which made his machinations even more cruel in its self righteous justification. That's an angle I thought Engame lost a bit, making him less interesting going into the final fight as a result. Here, Darkseid is just in that angry control mode. I'm not interested in him, and continue to not be interested in Steppenwolf. Give me Granny Goodness, dammit! Beyond a fuzzy over-the-shoulder cameo!

The scene between Martha and Lois is mostly nice, with the mother quietly moving on while on trying to nudge the love who hasn't been able to. It's well played between the two. But fuck them for the reveal that Martha was just Martian Manhunter all along. Yeah, it's great seeing J'onn, and tying him to General Swanwick is an evolved fan theory I'm game for. But putting him in this scene is crass. This is a natural Martha/Lois moment, a genuine connection and confrontation between the two most important people in Clark's life. To reveal one is a lie for no real reason is shitty, and you know is going to make for an awkward conversation the next time the two inevitably do meet up again. Just a really confusing choice. Also, they give lipservice to all the memorials and Superman S-symbols around town, but for how long the story is running, they've done little to portray it outside of the single montage of Lois in the opening. Where are the scenes of Martha coming to town, seeing the tributes on every corner, hearing people spout all the opinions? You know, the setup for the reaction she's been bottling up until now. Oh that's right, there aren't any because this Martha is a lie.

The heroes gathering around their Mother Box is nice, and I love how Cyborg illustrates its history, casually walking in his letterman jacket through Nazi germany, to STAR labs, to his father's cobbled together workshop with the remains of his son hanging on the wall. I'm not always loving Ray Fischer's overly arch and cryptic delivery of almost every line, as it plays more to the machine than it does the man trapped within one, but that moment of Victor looking himself in the eye is nicely done. Even as we see our team pull together (despite Aquaman being more of a cranky dick than in the "My man!" theatrical cut), I like how this group plays off one another, how well Affleck's Batman does with his calm leadership, and everyone's reaction to their plot to resurrect Superman and the risk of turning on the box when it'll lead the enemy right to them. The Mother Boxes don't just feel like an empty fetch-quest MacGuffin in this cut, but as actual parts in the story, with relationships to characters, revelations of their own, and more meaning to their changing of hands.

PART 5: All the King's Horses

The exhuming of Clark is an odd scene. I like Aquaman and Diana finding a tiny bond, even if their Atlanean/Amazonian banter is way too dwarve/elf without the broader nuances of their characterization, even as it tries to pay lipservice to that nuance. Which is also true of Flash and Cyborg acknowledging they could dig up the grave in an instant... yet don't. As if there's something more reverential about taking their time to dig a hole while Flash wonders if Diana will date him? Better handled is the scene where Alfred accuses Bruce of being driven by his guilt. As I said earlier, I like that Batman is now more at ease and ready to believe in others instead of the gruff control freak. He speaks about faith, but I think that's Zack equating faith with trust.

You know what would have been a great way to bring Martian Mahunter into things? Him being the Secretary of Defense right when the heroes need to access STAR labs and the Superman spaceship. But nah, who needs that when they can hack in, have Flash fumble in disguise, then cause a high security evacuation that would still be heavily monitored. Even as shit goes down, there never seems to be any freakout from the staff, they just gather and gawk in the parking lot.

We have our big resurrection sequence, and it is still well played, with nice touches like the ship recognizing Kal-El's body and acknowledging Lex's mess from the last film. We see additional pods of dead Kryptonians, and I have to wonder if there was ever a plan for this action to resurrect others for future Superman/Supergirl films to play with. If so, that thread doesn't play out here. Aquaman continues to be a dick to everyone, so I am starting to argue that I prefer his characterization in the theatrical cut. Momoa is so much more fun when he's allowed to be rowdy instead of broody. Plus a guy wearing that fashionable purple scarf a few scenes back wouldn't be a brooder.

Flash's light speed zap is still well done. I like Victor's vision of the Knightmare, with it's Apokalyptic invasion, fallen heroes, and a corrupted Superman. You just know Zack would make an entire film of this if he coule [EDIT: Apparently, that WAS the plan]. The quick glimpse of Darkseid's angular Omega Beams is interesting, if overly chaotic instead of coldly efficient. When Victor suddenly protests the resurrection, it's a bummer that Bruce is growling back into his petulant angry child mode again. We don't need that Batman back, please.

Superman returns, and what I said earlier about a scene where the team keeps screwing up as an example of how far they have yet to go? That's this scene as they confront the amnesiac Superman and he turns on them. I get this scene, but Zack definitely revels in both the humiliation of everyone trying to go toe-to-toe with Clark, as well as his obsession with portraying an angry, scowling Superman with angry laser eyes beating the shit out of everyone. We've been down this road before. This is what half his screentime in BvS was. As for the devastation he's capable of, yeah, that was conveyed by the army of Kryptonians tearing everything to pieces in Man of Steel. Yes, this illustrates that, as formidable as everyone else on the team is, they don't hold a candle to the power of Superman, but this is just drawn out cruelty and character assassination. Though I do still love the moment when Flash realizes Superman can keep up with him.

It would have been great if the Martha and Lois scene, alongside actually being Martha, happened earlier in the film, so we could see Lois have a chance to step out, to try moving on and moving forward, so it would hit even stronger when the very death she's trying to escape is resurrected right before her eyes. Of course it's perfect that she's the one to get him to snap back to attention, especially after Clark unleashes all his rage on Batman (ah THAT's what the gauntlets are for!), but it doesn't give her enough of an extended arc for this to be the culmination of.

I strongly dislike the absolutely needless death of Silas Stone. They try to frame it as a noble sacrifice, but it's not. The heroes don't need to mark the location of the Mother Box when there's a gigantic dome of alien composition covering the town Steppenwolf took over, which if they can't spot, then Bruce's 6 satellites aren't really worth a damn. Not to mention they could just hone in on the Mother Box energy Victor is HIMSELF COMPOSED OF. But no, Zack just needs to rehash Watchmen imagery to cause Victor more pain. Choices like these are starting to grate on me the further in we get. Not to the point of outweighing the good, but it's definitely remaining an uneven work for me.

April 5, 2021

Noel Watches Justice League, Part 2

PART 2: The Age of Heroes

I like how the various threads are starting to build. We still only get a taste of Cyborg, but they're seeding in his connection to the Mother Box. Our intro to Silas Stone and STAR labs is good, and the tension moment with the janitor and the Parademon is effective. I'm pleased he was only captured instead of brutally slaughtered, though we still don't know what the conditions of that "capture" entail.

I see what people mean about Steppenwolf getting extra depth, but he's still a pretty one-note heavy for me. Yeah, he's tired of conquering and wants to return home, but is stuck in a loophole over some past betrayal. Okay, but I'm still not engaged in his story in any way, and him being shot down by a rock-o-gram of DeSaad is again pretty typical "henchman bullied into subservience" stuff.

I love the Aquaman sequence, saving the sailor and berating the seamen at the bar. You can argue the indulgence all you want of Arthur hammering a bottle of whisky as he walks into the massive waves in glorious slow motion as "There is a Kingdom" (yet more Nick Cave!) wails on the soundtrack, but damn is it a glorious moment that tells you all you need to know about Momoa's take on the character. Honestly, I'm surprised they had this scene play AFTER the earlier one of Bruce trying to recruit him, as his silhouette reveal on the sinking boat would make for a hell of a stronger introduction, and the recruitment scene ending with him slinking back into the waves as the local girls sing a shirt smelling ballad to him would have more impact if we'd already seen the ways he looks after this community.

When we go underwater, I like that the lush sealife and choral colors of Atlantis gel well with the James Wan spinoff film. While still a bit saturated, Snyder manages to convey warmth from his greens and blues, even as it's a home Aquaman keeps at bay, never poking in beyond the outskirts. Vulko showing up is typical hero's journey stuff, and I'm still not sure if a trident is still a trident when it has five prongs instead of three, but I guess it sounds better than quident. Still, well played by Dafoe.

Speaking of wailing on the soundtrack, Holkenborg is going for a lot of ambience in these early chapters, when I'm more used to melodic themes from him. Especially with the Amazons, with a woman's choir straight out of Hans Zimmer's Gladiator score. That one time during the museum scene where Wonder Woman's electric cello theme kicked in felt very sudden (if very welcome) because it was such a departure from the rest of the score, so I'm curious how this will play over the rest of the film. I remember Danny Elfman's score from the Whedon cut making strong use of established Batman and Superman themes. I doubt we'll get that here, but it's definitely a thread I want to keep watching for.

The scene of the Amazons does add the level of mourning it needs to reflect on the slaughter of their battle with Steppenwolf, mixed with their anxiety over crossing a line to reach out to manworld in a way they haven't for thousands of years. While it's a bit of Tomb Raider silliness, I enjoy Wonder Woman descending into an abyssal crypt where the arrow acts as a key to a chamber showing the entire story of Darkseid's past invasion, which she traverses without getting a smudge on her crisp white fashionable outfit.

I like this warmer personality of Bruce, which appears to not entirely be a reinvention of the Whedon cut. By shifting his obsessive commitment from defeating Superman to honoring him, he feels looser, challenging himself to open up and reach out to others more, when he could have just been wallowing in his guilt. Not only does this lead to more fun Alfred interplay, but I really like the partnership that's being forged with Diana as they put their heads together.

I loved the Age of Heroes backstory sequence in the theatrical cut, and I love it even more here. This is pure Snyder mythological iconography craftsmanship, and the mix of Amazons, Vikings, Mongols, Zulus, Atlanteans, and scaled up bodybuilder gods taking on a blend of alien scifi and sorcery straight out of a Leigh Brackett novel is such grandiose goodness. Darkseid is played well in his power and fury, as well as his defeat and humiliation. The Green Lantern bit continues to amuse, even with the added gore. It's a really exciting piece of filmmaking.

PART 3: Beloved Mother, Beloved Son

Enter Barry Allen. The Iris West sequence is really quite nice, with a lovely use of his powers (even if Iris should be shattering from such sudden changes to her momentum) and some great humor with the dogs. I very much enjoy Ezra Miller's take on Barry, as someone scattered, yet committed, who's still always late everywhere because he's constantly flinging himself in 100 different directions with a hyperactive desperation. The scene with Billy Crudup as his father is nice, giving us a fuel behind that desperation and his sense of justice. As a viewer of the Flash tv series, we've seen all these beats before, but there's nothing wrong with seeing them again, and this executes them well.

When Barry returns to his stronghold, I'm surprised how much of the dialogue between him and Bruce came from this original cut, as much of it has the bouncy wit I'd more typically expect of Whedon. Barry instantly signing on, saying he needs friends, my favorite exchange ("What's your superpower?" "I'm rich.") all sing just as well as they did in the theatrical version. I love that, of all the heroes, Barry isn't brooding over the fact he has powers. His conflict is that he's fighting a system which requires time and patience, which his powers can't push any faster. And while I wasn't originally a fan of his suit design, with it's busy and chaotic plates and straps, it's growing on me, and I like that Zack is allowing the red to be vibrant.

Cyborg finally gets his much celebrated fleshing out. Amidst all the slow mo football fetishization and brooding over absent fathers, I like how they slip in the revelation that he hacked the schools computer system, not to benefit himself, but to support a student struggling with issues outside of school. This will be a theme, him pulling for the underdog, even as he sees himself as a monster beneath them, who can't help himself, so he'll help who he can. As the accident happens and he loses his mom, suddenly becoming the main concern of the father who's unhurt just because he wasn't there, that's great stuff. Even then, Silas remains absent. He has so much he wants to teach his son about who Victor now is and can be, but the only way he can say it is by leaving behind a tape recorder instead of talking to his son face-to-face.

I have my concerns with just how uber powerful they've made Cyborg, giving him a near god level access to computer systems so he could bankrupt the world or wipe it out in a nuclear holocaust if he wanted. Yet, I like how this gives even more weight to their spin on "With great power comes great responsibility." In a sense, it's an echo of Pa Kent telling Superman to hold back, to not use his abilities, but it plays better here as it's a push for Victor to experiment and explore, but to hold himself to certain lines that could have apocalyptic consequences if he recklessly crosses them. And I like how this is illustrated, with him parsing through all the data, all the millions of people and billions of transactions which swirl through any given day, to focus on one woman, one waitress, struggling to raise her boys, with groceries she can't afford and an apartment she's being evicted from, even as she donates tip change to those who need it even more. His solution is a little pat and breezes over broader complications which could result from a sudden spike to her bank account, but I like that she's someone in Victor's area that he can see, that he can physically witness as the change he's capable of bringing to the world. I also like how this is all set against him learning how to fly for the first time, showing the many paths he's starting to take to become comfortable with who he is.

The confrontation with Diana is okay. The "f-bomb" felt overly snippy after the spurt of growth he'd just gone through, and Diana's story of Steve doesn't really parallel Victor's situation enough to be a motivator for changing his mind. No, it makes sense that he'd back off. It gets a bit weird with his hiding place of choice for the Mother Box being to dig up his own mother's grave, but the reversal of violating her ground almost kinda fits the reversal of him being motivated by the abduction of his absent father? I guess? It's strange.

The Atlantean thread is more Steppenwolf being Steppenwolf, splatting people against stones and hacking them to pieces, with Zack especially reveling in the under water blood clouds. Mera's powers are well used in how she thwarts Steppenwolf with air bubbles and collapsing vacuums, and I always love the body horror of peeling the water out of someone's body. Arthur's arrival gives us some more good Momoa shots, and despite some gripes I had abbout effects earlier, they're nailing everything in this chapter. The interplay between Arthur and Mera is nice, with her revelations setting up his spinoff film without feeling like too dangling of a thread.

Steppenwolf uses the two Mother Boxes to create the dome around the nuclear town he's hijacked in Russia, and I know people complain about Whedon's addition of the holed up family, but where are the people? Is this town uninhabited, or have the parademons already picked them clean? Diana and Alfred get a lovely scene with tea and Kryptonian tech, paralleling a thread in STAR labs, and I'm curious where this tech is going. There's a moment with Lois and Superman's cape, but it's brief. Still waiting for her grief to be more deeply explored. I like the scene with JK Simmons as Commissioner Gordon, doing a clever spin on media sightings of vampire bat men from Tim Burton's first film.

A lot happened this chapter, dancing around the various new teammates and furthering of our threads, but it legitimately is pulling together well. I'm engaged.

April 4, 2021

Noel Watches Justice League, Part 1

I don't know what to call this. It's not refined and focused enough to be a review. I don't feel it's important and in depth enough to be proper analysis. I guess this is just good old fashioned blogging as I freely stream my thoughts into words as I ramble on about a thing. Like I used to years and years ago. Enjoy.

I'm pretty ambivalent when it comes to Zack Snyder. I don't hate the man. I find him sincere and engaged with the stories he wants to tell, and by all accounts, he sounds like a deeply kind and considerate man to work with. I also feel he has genuine skill as a craftsman, composing impeccably detailed images that stick with a viewer. The problem for me is he puts so much work into crafting the images, and the major beats of his stories, that he gets sidetracked from the builds needed to give those images full emotional weight and impact, the drives and motives to string them from just being images into being a narrative.

Take for example Superman killing Zod in Man of Steel. I actually don't have a problem with that in concept because, while I understand many finding that an offputting deviation from Superman's iconography, a story is absolutely allowed to challenge and subvert that iconography. The problem is the build that brings us there, focusing so much on the two fighters and the devastating path they're cutting through, that Superman never takes in the populace being ravaged by this, never pauses to see the people being genuinely affected, the lives being wiped out in an instant, ending with only a couple "too little too late" civilians meant to drive him to the breaking point of that snap being the only solution available to save everyone. Yes, BvS absolutely does marvelously spin that sequence with Bruce Wayne's street level view of the battle, the populace directly affected, and Bruce's friends and colleagues being slaughtered. But Superman is the one who needed that perspective, that loss, that witness to horror and devastation as the drive to make the choice he does. But he doesn't get that, and so the iconic snap rings hollow.

There's other examples throughout Zack's filmography, like the iconic Martha moment in BvS, heavily diluted both through awkward delivery and the fact that both Marthas are barely featured in any significant way beyond tiny flashbacks or a single phone call before an abduction. Or in Watchmen where Silk Spectre and Night Owl brutally ravage thugs in an alley to show what they're capable of, in a way which completely fails to demonstrate a contrast between their experienced fighting abilities and the savagery Rorschach is meant to be the notorious unleasher of. Or Pa Kent's "maybe you should" in MoS, which is a perfectly valid point to be raising in the face of potentially losing his child, but fumbles any form of significant payoff to give it the philosophical and emotional arc which would make that line pivotal.

That's my main problem with Zack. He knows the big moments he wants to hit, and they are strong and valid moments, but narrows his focus on making those moments as big and striking as he can, losing sight of the necessity of how a story is supposed to build to those moments to give them weight and context. He's like a grand illustrator trying to make a comic, and each panel and page is gorgeous to look at, but he doesn't know how to flow those images into a build of dramatic weight.

I didn't see Man of Steel in theaters, just a couple of times at home. I don't hate it. Even with a Superman who's more dour and aimless, and trying to figure out how he fits into this new planet he calls a home, I felt it had moments of warmth and humanity. Pa Kent had an awkward ark, but Ma was great. Jor-El and Zod are well played. The story is perfectly fine in structure and plot beats. But like a Michael Bay Transformers film, once the third act kicks in, the action is relentless, endless, and so caught up in the scale of the devastation it's capable of unleashing, wiping out both Smallville and Metropolis, that it lacks the emotions which would make such devastation legitimately devastating. It's big, it's loud, it's cool, it's badass. But it's hollow. A sad Superman can work, but there's nothing moving about his sadness, nothing gripping about his disconnect, nothing inspiring about his journey. Even the romance with Lois feels empty and sudden, there because it's the iconography they're expected to follow even as it's being ignored. I don't hate the film, but nor do I particularly care for it.

Out of pure curiosity, I did see Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in theaters. That one I strongly disliked. The whiny petulance of Batman, the doubling down on Superman's dour disconnect, the randomness of how it sets up the pieces of Justice League. Yes, Wonder Woman is amazing. But the film sure as hell doesn't adequately build to her before she shows up to rightfully dominate the final act. The Lex story isn't so much a hot mess as a soggy and overly caffeinated one. The film is just so mean and bitter, even as it tries to sweep, never fully justifying why Batman is willing to go SO FAR to a point where Batman is absolutely not a hero in this world. He's an angry rich man with a chip on his shoulder so big he makes a point of letting everyone know it's that chip which he's savagely beating them with. I finally watched the "Ultimate Cut" a few weeks ago, and while it absolutely does flow better and is a more cohesively told narrative, it still doesn't fix the foundational issues which put me off in theaters.

I have also seen the original release of Justice League in theaters, again out of curiosity. The story was a mix of empty fetch quests and random snarkness. The visuals swung from Zack's moments of sweeping dour grandeur to Joss's more conventional, and occasionally quite cheaply rendered, jaunts. I did like the addition of humor, though. It worked for me, not only in humanizing the characters beyond their overwrought operatic grandeur, but in their interplay and dynamics as a team. It was a mess of a movie, but it had me rooting for these people and looking forward to more, which we thankfully got with a pair of Wonder Womans (I quite enjoy both - yes BOTH), and an Aquaman (love it's goofy colorful splendour). And I do hope they keep going, that we get some more interplay between members of this team. That WW and Auqs keep building, that Flash does well with his Flashpoint multiverse, that Shazam gets to bleed over. Yeah, I know Batman has already been rebooted (multiple times) and Superman is about to follow suit, but I hope they don't fully abandon a line which just needs renovation instead of being burned to its foundations.

Which I guess is why I'm okay with the Snydercut existing. I expect it'll have Zack's impeccable craftsmanship of powerful images, just as I expect it'll fumble the emotional builds needed to give those images their fullest power. Not to mention the heaps of indulgence in how far this has spiraled beyond what he originally intended it to be, and the entitled way he and his producer wife not only complain about losing their vision when that's the daily life of every blockbuster screenwriter in the industry, but in how they've played to the nastier side of their fandom, generalizing it all as supporters vs haters, and ignoring those using aggressive harassment to belliger into existence something out of pure spite, and very little has been done to parse them from those legitimately curious to see an alternate film with a growing mythos to its making. Which is where I fall. Not that I'm particularly eager, but I'm always curious to see alternate takes on a story and mapping out how they compare and contrast. Which is what led me here.

Without further ado, it's time to hit play.

TITLE SCENE

I do like this, the idea of Superman's death cry being so powerful that it reverberates around the world, carrying us to the various characters and Mother Boxes which will play into the story. I wish the music emphasized this a little more strongly, but I'm pretty game to take anything Tom Holkenborg is willing to give me.

PART 1: "Don't count on it, Batman."

I'm liking the fullscreen ratio. I know it was a controversial choice, especially in this age of 16:9 displays, but even on my 4K Roku tv, I watch tons of old cartoons and movies, and even have a VHS hookup for rare occasions, so letterboxing on the sides is something I'm well used to. I like how Zack uses it here, emphasizing height and vertical dynamics to enhance his towering mythic themes. I wish the color pallet wasn't so desaturated, with Wonder Woman's reds and blues having some actual pop instead of just being slightly tinted shades of dark leather, but at least it's not the full black & white or heavy sepia tone he occasionally threatened us with.

So far, it's not a bad build. Batman meeting Aquaman is still largely the same, if shot better. I see we can't fully credit Joss with adding humor to the picture as, like a lot of Zack's work, there are some genuine laughs there, some nice banter, especially with Alfred. It's not overbearing snark nor even particularly witty, but it has a warmth that I'm fine with. Even as he throws in "shithole" and "f-bombs" from time to time just to show how grown up and mature he is.

There's a bit of Martha leaving the farm and Lois having a slow mo musical montage of mourning set to Nick Cave's "Distant Sky". Which wouldn't have been a bad song to play under the credits of Superman's reverberating death cry, now that I think of it. I'm curious to see how this thread builds, since both characters felt very tacked on in the theatrical cut.

Wonder Woman's big action sequence in the museum is another tonal issue typical of Zack. On the one hand, it's a genuinely exciting sequence with marvelously choreographed and dynamically composed action, and a great intro for Diana to swoop into the story, even ending on a little superhero inspiration message. But it swings overly dark on the villain side with them just being terrorists there to slaughter hundreds, innocent people gunned down in their wake in pools of blood, those insisted upon "f-bombs", and even Diana hurling people into walls so hard that big blood splats are left behind. It reminds me of the big prison break scene in Watchmen, where Rorschach saws the man's arms off. It gets so caught up in drooling over every angle of its gore effects that it loses the impact and character of the moment and distracts from the broader scene. This is the conundrum of Zack, that he's equally intricate and absent minded, obsessively focuses while missing underlying yet obvious points. I mean, why have that inspirational message to little girls in a film where little girls are walled out of the intended viewing audience?

This feeling carries on with the stand of the Amazons. Yes, they're badass warriors with their muscle-baring bikinis and giant hammers, who fight bravely and die with honor, but the pure level of their slaughter, the fetishization of their sacrifice, is Zack bathing in the memories of his 300 days. What should be inspirational as they pass the MacGuffin box along a line of fallen warriors is instead offputting and sad, not because of the senseless tragedy of it all, but for how hollowly it misplays that tragedy. Compare this to the famous Vader sequence from Rogue One. It's the same basic concept of him slaughtering rebel troops as they pass the stolen plans along a line before it narrowly escapes. Here, it never escapes. Steppenwolf still gets what he was after, and the tragedy of hundreds of honed warriors cut down in the prime of their lives is centered on mourning one woman squashed under her horse. It's dynamically choreographed, but I'm not emotionally engaged by it because the sacrifice has no thematic relevance, the tragedy has no culmination. It just goes on for a while, then stops.

And if we can't fully credit Whedon for the humor, we also can't fully blame him for the cheap and rushed effects. Some of these shots, while well composed, are very obvious in their blue screen composites and stiff actor plates. When you see the army ride in at the end, and every Amazon is an individual actor pretending to ride a horse that's CGI'd in after, it just doesn't hold the magic that this charge to battle should carry.

I still hate Steppenwolf. He's a very typical sub-boss, spouting off empty lines of religious adoration of the master he serves as he hits people hard with a big axe, and his pointy new armor doesn't change any of it. I still argue this role should have been filled by Granny Goodness. Like a full on Bea Arthur sassy Granny Goodness.

I'm curious how these chapters will continue to break up. From the title, I figured this would have more focus on Batman trying to assemble the team, but we only get one scene of that before drifting off and settling with the Amazons for a while.

April 22, 2020

[Schumacast] Tim Burton's Batman Films

Before taking on the infamous Joel Schumacher era of Batman cinema, Angie and I first look at Tim Burton's Batman and Batman Returns, as well as the 1966 Batman movie, Batmania, and our overall experience with the caped crusader. Check it out here.