(On Cable TV, July 2018) Let me put it this way: If this was 2010 and we’d never seen The Avengers—let alone every single MCU film since then—then Justice League would be exceptional. But it’s not 2010 and we’ve seen nearly everything that it has to offer already. I’m not necessarily saying that the film is terrible—just mediocre. I actually like quite a lot of it: I think the actors are generally good, with special mention of Ben Affleck as a grizzled Batman, Gal Gadot in a third outing as Wonder Woman, Jason Momoa as an imposing Aquaman and quite a few known names in supporting roles. I’m particularly happy that directing duties on Justice League were transferred midway through from Zach Snyder to Joss Whedon—while the reasons for the transfer were tragic, the result is a film that moves away from the dour atmosphere of the DCU-so-far and closer to the Marvel-brand of lighter, more entertaining fare. As a result, the film does have more rewatachability value than previous film. Still, let’s not overstate the “lighter and funnier” angle: Justice League is still too heavy for its own material. It’s also flawed by the nature of its story and Superman’s godlike status: much of the film is spent waiting for Jesus/Aslan/Supes to show up and resolve the problem through sheer brute force because that’s the kind of superhero power fantasy that it is, and the supporting characters may be colourful but they don’t get to save the day. It’s only one of the many things that do limit Justice League’s appeal eight years after The Avengers: It’s boldly catching up to what’s been done well already, and the déjà vu is significant.
(On Cable TV, March 2014) The problem with making a movie that consciously call back to a sub-genre fallen in disfavor is that, well, there’s usually a reason why the sub-genre has gone away. With Bullet to the Head, veteran director Walter Hill clearly tries to model his movie after the countless buddy-cop action thrillers of the eighties, a fraction of which he himself directed. And to a certain extent, there’s an interesting clash-of-the-eras in pitting Sylvester Stallone against action upstart Jason Momoa. But the final result doesn’t do much more than string along a passable action thriller: Bullet to the Head is generic to a degree that would be almost laughable if it wasn’t for the suspicion that it’s actually trying to be as generic as it can be. While the dynamic between good-cop Sung Kang and secretly-nice-assassin Stallone can be fitfully amusing, there really isn’t anything new here. Stallone looks tired in yet another self-satisfied mumbling performance, and the dialogue that the script gives him really isn’t anything worth remembering. The plot is familiar, and while the various incidents along the way often try to make Stallone’s assassin character look far cooler than he is, he simply isn’t as interesting as the script believes him to be. There’s some value to the film, one supposes, in filling late-night slots, much like its 1980s predecessors once did. But if this is old-school, then it must be remedial class.
(On Cable TV, April 2012) The problem with boring movies is that they make everything seem worse. Lame jokes in an otherwise solid film are minor blemishes, but they become almost offensive in dull movies. Gore is, at best, a necessarily evil in good films; in bad ones, it feels immature and forced. This remake of Conan the Barbarian is, in a few words, useless and charisma-free. The problem start early on, with a gory prologue leading to a lengthy young-Conan sequence that leads, years later, to a third introduction to the Conan character now fully-grown. But even with three starts, this film seems to sputter out of energy early on: A return to the kind of dull epic fantasy film we thought we’d left behind with The Scorpion King, Conan the Barbarian struggles in keeping the audience’s attention throughout its entire duration. It doesn’t succeed, to the point that the film seems to erase itself from memory as soon as the credits roll. Jason Momoa isn’t too bad as the title character; sadly, it’s the rest of the production that seems to fall around him. As far a sword-and-sorcery fantasy films go, this is routine stuff, made a bit more repellent with the gratuitous meanness and gore. Some sequences are a bit better than others (including a fight over a wooden wheel), but the initial disappointment of the film never goes away, and the end result just isn’t all that impressive. Fantasy fans will at least get the impression that the budget was spent on-screen: There are a few good images here and there. For everyone else, through, this remake compares unfavourably to the original Conan the Barbarian. Good or bad doesn’t matter when the film is just this dull.