There’s actually a couple of reviews here, so let’s get right to them. Tons of spoilers ahead!
I make no apologies for being a Marvel fanboy. Spider-man was my jam when I was a child, and I grew up loving the Hulk, Fantastic Four, and the whole long stable of Marvel characters. That said, I had no problems with DC titles either, and often enjoyed a Batman comic, or Swamp Thing, or even a Superman title. Some of their later imprints by the time I was an adult were putting out some spectacularly good shit, like Sandman and Doom Patrol.
DC used to put out great movies, too. The original Superman movies with Christopher Reeves were excellent, especially the second with General Zod. The first couple of Batman movies with Keaton as Bruce Wayne were fantastic. And more recently, the Christopher Nolan reboot of Batman did fantastic things for the franchise.
What the fuck happened, DC?
In between those successes, DC has put out… well… some seriously craptastic films. Wonder Woman was great, other than the ending. And I actually somewhat enjoyed Man of Steel, although I felt the desire to go artsy and brooding really went against the feel of what Superman represented. Everything else has been super spectacularly horrifically bad. Batman v. Superman was terrible, Green Lantern a mess, and Suicide Squad… just no, stop, please. No one wanted Suicide Squad. No one. (Note: Constantine was actually decent, the movie version of the Hellblazer comic, but didn’t get the love or support it deserved).
I sat down Sunday to do laundry and watch my “bad movie” for the day. Since HBO just picked up Justice League, that’s what I ended up watching. And yep, it’s pretty fucking terrible. Not like a total wreck, but DC still hasn’t figured out what makes a good story. It doesn’t know how best to use each of its characters. And it REALLY needs to understand what makes for a good villain (though to be fair, Marvel has its fair share of just really stupid villains… but at least they mostly come wrapped up in a good story to offset the weakness).
I’m going to start with the villain, Steppenwolf. Besides being a really stupid villain to choose for a movie like this, one that few folks outside of regular DC readers have any knowledge about (again, note: Marvel would have had the same problem with Thanos if they hadn’t built his presence up over several previous films), and sounding an awful lot like a 70’s rock group, the CGI generated character was just… dumb. He talked about mother a lot, and the unity, or some such nonsense. His flying insectoid minions didn’t look like much we hadn’t seen before and reminded me of a mix between Yellowjacket of Ant-man and the Red Skull’s soldiers from Captain America: The First Avenger. Great axe, though… until Superman destroyed it relatively easily. His only motivation was conquest and destruction, which given how Marvel has moved in recent years, is anathema to good villain construction. Compare that with Bushmaster of the latest Luke Cage (see review below).
The movie starts out with people dealing with the fallout of Superman’s death. Of course, we all know he’s in the film, so he can’t STAY dead. I found Ben Aflec as Bruce Wayne/Batman to be a competent choice. Wonder woman is still wonderful. Then we get Barry Gordon, the Flash, and the less I say about this poorly conceived character, the better. Just… no. He’s… not good. Not interesting. Gets a few decent gag lines, but otherwise I really disliked him. Annoying even. There’s also BorgMan, or Manborg, or Manbot, or whatever his secret identity name was (which we’re never given). Okay, it’s Cyborg. Gee… how original. Aquaman is a total douche most of the movie, but not in that awkward, I’m super cool, archaic language way Thor is. Just… a bro douche.
Somehow Bruce brings all these folks together, brings Clark Kent back to life, gets him to forgive him (after of course the requisite Superman trashing everyone battle scene). They come up with a plan, fight the villain, eventually win. It’s all performative, kind of boring, not that exciting stuff. The CGI is trash for the most part, with the nuclear facility Steppenwolf takes over looking horribly fake. So much looked “not real” in the movie, we need to know who is doing DC’s special effects and animation, because they need to be fired. No CGI is perfect (see: Banner’s head sticking out of Hulkbuster armor at end of Infinity Wars), but this was too often bad, bad, bad.
It’s hard for me to go into much depth about the writing, except to say it didn’t work. I didn’t pay as close attention as I could. But it was too slow at the beginning, too bogged down with ridiculously contrived “controversies” in the middle, and too quickly resolved at the end. I didn’t feel the heroes were seriously challenged by this destroyer of worlds. Didn’t ever feel the threat was real like I did with Thanos in IW.
On the Reynolds’ scale of “First Avengers film” to “Plan B from Outer Space” I have to give this a 4 of 10. They tried, they reached… they failed somewhat spectacularly, but with just enough decent parts to make you go “meh.” Oh, and DC… please get a real Lex Luthor, the one you have now is a serious fail.
Luke Cage, Season II:
I was a pretty big fan of the first Luke Cage. I liked the use of the setting, the connection with black culture and history, and most of the main characters. Right up until the end, it was a fun ride, but that costume the bad guy had to fight Luke? Ugh.
Second season did everything the first did, did it much better, and gave us a villain worthy not only of Powerman, but of the whole Marvel pantheon.
Starting with the villain, it’s easy to see why Marvel is in a groove. Bushmaster isn’t just running around randomly trying to be badass. No, this guy has real motives for his actions. There’s a rich history that’s revealed over the course of thirteen episodes that gives us a sense of weight and tragedy to Bushmaster’s story. The villain is incredibly played by Mustafa Shakir, who brings pathos and dignity to what could have been a snarling, ludicrous stereotype. He menaces when he wants to, but then you see the side of him with his family, a soccer loving Jamaican who loves them. Which makes his whole arc in this series doubly tragic when all the bad things happen. And he’s a very worthy opponent for Luke, nearly as strong, almost as invulnerable, and a heck of a lot better at fighting.
The writing is crisp, the acting well done. There is a scene early in the season where Luke and Claire, his lover, have a fight over his growing anger and temper, which leads to a blowup. Leads to a hole in the wall. The scene is so well played and acted, every note hit perfectly, the writing brilliantly revealing nuances of their characters. Just their faces as they both realize where they are headed is so perfectly done. I respected most of all that they didn’t spend the rest of the season having Luke run around trying to get her back, it would have been totally out of character for him (though I really disliked the very last scenes of the season, but that’s a personal opinion that doesn’t dim all the amazing stuff that came before). The writers did their most with the subjects at hand. Family. Harlem. The black experience in America. Absolutely spot on from first episode to last.
In all honesty, Marvel shone with this season. The characters were all incredibly well played, nuanced, written as more than just empty paper objects to be pushed around in a scene. Even minor henchmen like Sugar, and obnoxious fools like Piranha, get their moments to reveal so much more about who they are, what they are, what has happened to them to lead them to this moment, this choice. Misty got a wonderful redemption, restoration arc as well. Colleen Wing gets in the show for a bit, and Danny Rand shows up and is slightly less annoying than usual with some much better advice (but his fight scene was still pathetically poor… someone please get this guy to train, and train HARD!). There was hardly a character I didn’t love, whether they were good or bad.
Hardly… except one. Shades. Oh my god, I’m soooooo tired of this man. I don’t get anything about him. I don’t get the relationship between him and Mariah at all, don’t feel the chemistry they are supposed to have. Only in the final episodes of the season did he start to slot in correctly, and then only because he turned on Mariah and snitched. Then lost his deal with the cops when she… well. You’ll see. But I’ve never really liked this character, he’s the odd man out in an otherwise spectacular show. The actor who plays him is competent enough, but all of his emotional levels feel exactly the same, like he’s fronting all the time whether being loving, hating, or psychotic. Please, don’t bring him back for season three.
For a Netflix show, they did well enough with special effects. They have limited budgets, but gave Luke plenty of scenes of getting shot, holding grenades blowing up, crashing through walls, doors, off bridges. Luke and Jessica should be similar, but Marvel seems to do a better job of showing Luke being super strong than Jessica. Not sure why.
On the Reynolds’ wrap scale from “Star Wars: A New Hope” to “Star Wars: The Phantom Menance,” I’m giving this 10 out of 10. It’s everything you can want in a Marvel series, and more.
Note: I was going to add a review of the first half of Agents of Shield, Season Five, but I think I’ll do the whole thing later. It’s been interesting to watch, and I have Some Thoughts.