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Schultz reviews: 'Zack Snyder's Justice League' and 'Nobody'

Schultz reviews: 'Zack Snyder's Justice League' and 'Nobody'

Carl Schultz

 

 

Zack Snyder’s “Justice League”   Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures and HBO Max, 242 Minutes, Rated R, Released March 18, 2021:

A viewer’s enjoyment of Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” is probably directly proportional to the amount of time he spends reading comic books--er, graphic novels.

In case you haven’t taken a look in the last thirty years or so, comic books have changed.  These days if you buy a Superman or Batman comic to check up on your favorite childhood superhero, you’re likely to find a brooding, solitary vigilante more interested in existential ruminations and determining his place in the cosmos than in fighting crime and subduing colorful megalomaniacs like Brainiac, The Riddler, and Lex Luthor.

The trend in cinematic Caped Crusader gravitas dates back to filmmaker Tim Burton’s steampunk-flavored reimagining of “Batman” in 1989.  As played by actor Michael Keaton, the character became a sort of tortured schizophrenic, part Phantom and part Robocop, compelled to dress as a bat and fight crime to avenge the murder of his parents, an event he witnessed as a child.  Keaton’s solemn dignity in the role was balanced in the movie by a unhinged, freestyle performance by Jack Nicholson, who pulled out all the stops as Batman’s homicidal nemesis The Joker.

Released in November 2017, “Justice League” was the third picture in a trilogy directed by filmmaker Zack Snyder, who’d previously guided the successful Superman reboot “Man of Steel” in 2013 and its sequel “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” in 2016.  Snyder needed to bail out early during the production of “Justice League” to attend to family matters following the sudden death of his adult daughter.  Principal filming had been completed and the picture assembled into a lengthy rough cut, but needed editing to tighten the narrative and reduce the film to a theater-friendly running time.

To complete the picture, distributor Warner Bros. Pictures hired former “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” writer and director Joss Whedon, with the understanding that Whedon would complete the picture as Snyder intended.  Whedon instead refilmed most of the picture, altering Snyder’s intentions and completing the film according to his own ideas.  With a budget inflated to an estimated $300 million by effectively filming the movie twice, “Justice League” became one of the most expensive productions in motion picture history.

“Justice League” was soundly excoriated by fans of DC Comics, an all-important demographic whose word-of-mouth and repeat business was necessary to recoup the movie’s budget.  The consensus among fans was that Whedon’s vision was inconsistent with the tone of other films in the series, a cardinal sin in both science fiction and comic book-based entertainment.  The result:  “Justice League” was a colossal box office disappointment--the picture lost an estimated $60 million of Warner Bros.’ investment and jeopardized future installments in the DC series.

Debuting on March 18, the version of the film now streaming on the HBO Max cable service essentially restores filmmaker Snyder’s rough cut of the picture, the one completed by the director prior to departing the production in late 2016.  Distributor Warner Bros. Pictures reportedly vetoed additional expenditures to touch up Snyder’s original vision, so the handful of new scenes filmed for the restored version of the picture were bankrolled by filmmaker Zack Snyder himself, who felt the additions were necessary to the picture’s clarity and continuity.

In Zack Snyder’s “Justice League,” following the death of Superman at the hands of the intergalactic monster Doomsday, Bruce Wayne (now played by Ben Affleck) travels the world trying to recruit an all-star team of superheroes to defend Earth against an anticipated future threat.  At first he’s not having much success (”Maybe a man who broods in a cave for a living isn’t cut out to be a recruiter,” suggests majordomo Alfred Pennyworth), but when Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) starts to help they manage to enlist The Flash, Cyborg, and finally the reluctant Aquaman (Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa).

Just in time, too--an interdimensional overlord called Steppenwolf, along with his armies of towering dragonfly-like minions, have arrived on Earth in search of the three Mother Boxes, energy-generating devices that give their owner enormous metaphysical powers.  Steppenwolf doesn’t care whose toes he has to step on in order to get them.  Matters get even worse when Steppenwolf’s enforcer DeSaad and master Darkseid of Apokolips show up and cause even more mayhem.  

It soon looks like the newly-formed team of superheroes might be in over their heads in their very first mission together...unless they can think of a way to harness the enormous supernatural power of one of the Mother Boxes and use it to resurrect the entombed Man of Steel (Henry Cavill) and bring him into the fight.

The biggest problem with Snyder’s “Justice League” is that even with a mammoth running time of 242 minutes the story the filmmakers are trying to tell is just too big for the time they have to tell it.  Separated into six segments, the individual elements of the picture still belong in different movies--it just doesn’t fit together.  Explaining the history of the Mother Boxes is fatuous, peripheral, and unnecessary to the primary story, for example, sort of like beginning “Jaws” by explaining the creation of the solar system and the history of evolution.

Because of the hiding places of the Mother Boxes--one’s in Wonder Woman’s homeland of Themyscira, and one’s in Aquaman’s kingdom of Atlantis--a big chunk of the movie is devoted to telling those stories too.  By comparison, DC Comics’ competitors at Marvel didn’t have to explain the Infinity Stones for 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War”...and they had eighteen previous movies to do it.  Steppenwolf’s also got issues to deal with in whatever hell he sprang from, and we have Superman’s mom and Lois Lane to worry about.  That’s an awful lot of information to carry around in your head while you’re watching a movie.

“Justice League” sure doesn’t shortchange us in the special effects department.  When Aquaman needs to get somewhere fast, he peels off his shirt (in slow motion, naturally), gets swallowed up by what looks like the parting of the Red Sea in “The Ten Commandments,” and rockets around underwater like a torpedo.  Since because his own 2018 movie the exuberant Jason Momoa’s become a genuine Hollywood heartthrob in his role as Aquaman, there are plenty of fans who’d be happy with just the sight of the actor peeling off his shirt and jumping into the water. It would’ve saved $10 million or so on the budget.  Live and learn.

It’s as if Snyder and company are so concerned about finally giving Warner Bros. their money’s worth that they don’t care how much information they’re putting into our brains, or how we process it.  The movie’s an improvement over the 2017 release, and even at a whopping four hours in length it seems shorter than Whedon’s two-hour cut.  Still, you might get a headache watching it--the movie’s ponderous, portentous and overcomplicated, and takes itself much, much too seriously.  Part of the function of comic books is to amuse us and entertain us.  That’s why we call them “comic books”...or used to.

For those die hard fans among us who refer to comics as ‘graphic novels’ and can quote dialogue, chapter, and verse from issues published long, long ago as easily as others can summon scriptural passages, Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” is enthusiastically recommended.  You’ll love it.  

The rest of us--those who like to laugh and have a good time, and look to movies as a source of entertainment--are advised to look elsewhere.

Also starring Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Diane Lane as Martha Kent, and Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth, with quick appearances by Billy Crudup as The Flash’s dad and Jared Leto as The Joker, Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” is rated R for violence and some language concerns.

“Nobody”   Distributed by Universal Pictures, 92 Minutes, Rated R, Released March 26, 2021:

The new movie “Nobody” relies heavily on star Bob Odenkirk’s plain old likability...which is considerable.  And that’s a good thing.

In “Nobody,” middle-aged Hutch Mansell is a typical suburban husband and dad--quiet, genial, a good father and a good neighbor putting in his time day after day.  But when thieves break into his home one night, Hutch cooperates with the robbery in the hope of avoiding violence and harm to his family...despite his teenage son’s attempt to subdue the criminals.  As a result of his passive demeanor during the home invasion, Hutch becomes the object of some scorn and ribbing by his neighbors and the police, and a certain amount of disappointment from his wife and son.

But Hutch has a secret:  A former military special forces operative once employed as a commando and assassin, the mild-mannered husband and father is actually an expert in killing and self-defense--his affable demeanor is just camouflage, a means of blending it.  With his anger and resentment ignited by the burglary, Hutch’s long-suppressed special skills are awakened, and he begins to display his dark side as a means of regaining his family’s respect and affection.  

A rollicking revenge fantasy of a movie, “Nobody” manages to squarely hit the sweet spot separating drama from comedy by mostly playing it absolutely straight.  Written by Derek Kolstad, the creator of the blockbuster “John Wick” movie franchise, “Nobody” with virtually any other actor in the leading role would likely become just another over-the-top action film, little different from “Death Wish” or “Rambo.”  But by displaying the best slow burn since Oliver Hardy, Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul”) raises the picture to another level--a razor-sharp black comedy, a Monsieur Hulot farce for the age of gun violence. 

Directed by former music video filmmaker Ilya Naishuller, “Nobody” loses its narrative flow during the third act and becomes muddled and difficult to follow, but recovers its momentum in time for a very satisfying wrap-up.  With gallons and gallons of fake blood spilled and a body count that eventually numbers into the hundreds, the film is decidedly not for the kiddies.  But “Nobody” manages to be good, solid--albeit perverse--fun for discerning adults, especially fans of the action genre.

Also starring Connie Nielsen as Hutch’s wife, Christopher Lloyd as his nursing home-bound dad, RZA as his brother and former colleague, Michael Ironside as his boss, and Aleksei Serebryakov as the psychotic Russian crime boss who targets Hutch and his family for extinction, “Nobody” is rated R for strong violence, bloody images, and drug use.

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