(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-demand video, October 2012) Horror fans won’t have to think twice about whether to see this film: The Cabin in the Woods is as essential a horror film as any in the past few years. A gleeful deconstruction of the good-old “cabin in the woods” horror scenario, it’s a commentary as much as it’s a comedy. It takes the good old tropes and plays with them until they fall apart. I have some evidence that the film won’t play very well to an audience that is unfamiliar with horror films, making it even more specially targeted (for better or for worse) to a specific public. Coming from geek-favorite co-writer Joss Whedon and co-writer/director Drew Goddard, The Cabin in the Woods is a blast-and-a-half for those in the know. Is it perfect? Of course not: one danger with parodying tropes is forgetting a few, and it sure seems as if one “upstairs sabotage” plot thread has been left dangling. (My theory involves the audience getting bored.) Still, what the film does manage to deliver is enough to mandate a viewing. It helps that The Cabin in the Woods is competently-made: Goddard knows how to deliver the laughs, and the actors do passable jobs in the roles they’re given. Kristen Connolly, Fran Kranz and Richard Jenkins stand out, by virtue of their places in the plot as much as anything else. There’s plenty of freeze-frame fun, and the film does a fine job at playing with the demands of the various genres it has taken on. For a while, The Cabin in the Woods is going to be the horror movie to watch with friends and that’s great: the horror genre was taking itself a bit seriously lately what with the icky torture-porn trend, and this is a welcome corrective. One final note about spoilers: it’s perfectly possible to spoil yourself rotten about the film, and still enjoy it immensely… so don’t panic if you think you already know too much.
(In theaters, June 2012) As much as I loathe superlatives in my movie reviews, there’s a good case for considering The Avengers as the best superhero comic-book movie adaptation ever made. While other adaptations have been better movies or been more interesting, The Avengers seems to be the first film to successfully manage the transposition of superhero comic books, in all their flawed qualities, onto the big screen. It doesn’t try to be a parody, an exploration of deeper themes using superheroes (like Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies) or an action movie with incidental superpowers: It’s a committed attempt to recreate the Marvel comic-book experience in live action, and it works about as well as this kind of storytelling can work. Protagonists fighting short inconsequential bouts among themselves? Yup. Alien menace from outer space, curiously concentrated around an urban area? Indeed. A lot of witty banter as the heroes band together as a team? Absolutely. Canny writer/director Joss Whedon has added plenty of humor, attitude and special effects to minimize the exasperating nature of fanboy-driven plotting and the result is curiously enjoyable even for people who haven’t dedicated their reading lives to following the intricate mythology of the Marvel universe. The Avengers, for Marvel Studio, is the crowning success of four years and five movies’ worth of scene-setting: it seemed like an insane gamble in 2008, but it pay off handsomely here as the headliners start interacting with each other. Robert Downey Jr. is still a star as Tony Stark, but Mark Ruffalo also does fine work as the best incarnation of Bruce Banner/The Hulk on-screen so far. It’s true that the villain is a bit weak, and that the first half-hour drags until all the pieces are assembled, but the third act fight through New York City is the brightly-lit action set-piece many superhero movies promised but never delivered until now. Still, the film is seldom as good as when the actors are talking amongst themselves, and it’s this attention to characterization that makes The Avengers work despite its limited aims as a super-hero comics adaptation. It doesn’t try to do anything else, but it’s really good at what it does.