Justice League **

Fans aside, for the rest of us, there is no competition: both DC Comics and Marvel have some iconic characters that are perfect of big-screen adaptation. Sometimes they fair better in their own film, like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman and Iron Man and Captain America. Other times getting them all in one flick just means too many superhero egos to deal with/ or not enough development to care. DC Comic’s latest ensemble, Justice League, is the latter.

In this story, Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) must quickly recruit a superhero team – including The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) – to combat a newly awoken enemy after three powerful boxes to gain ultimate apocalyptic power. Part of this feat means Batman must face an old ‘nemesis’, Superman (Henry Cavill).

The thought of Batman facing Superman again, after the super dark and abysmal concept of Batman vs Superman last year, is enough to stimulate excitement for Justice League. Director Zack Snyder has a ‘second chance’ to get their power play right. The moment they meet again, however, is a damp squib, as Affleck’s Batman just feels tired. Admittedly, part of the attraction of The Dark Knight’s appeal is he has no super powers so there must come a point when the weariness sets in and it’s time to retire Alfred too (here, played by Jeremy Irons once more).

The only superhero acts as the vital glue in this is Wonder Woman, with Gadot a one-woman force but ‘missing’ a lot more costume than in her solo film this year. Are things that desperate that we have to resort to low-level, up-skirt shots of the only female character?

The only characters that are mildly interesting in addition to the female lead are The Flash and Aquaman. That said the former becomes the film’s token joker character, when his eccentricities are interesting enough to explore further, and the latter is the resident Scandi eye candy that also keeps the status quo light and entertaining but has little substance apart from that.

The other dominant force that shrouds any development in the central superhero characters is the relentless CGI – some of it not so impressive too. This is a Snyder film after all – albeit it the director had to make a swift departure at the end due to personal circumstances. Those who find the overuse of CGI in a film nauseating will cringe watching this, to the point that the effects are actually the lead character in the frame in the action moments, possibly masking the flimsy narrative and many plot holes.

Overall, Justice League is a bit of a lackluster stew. DC Comics had to get them all together, but unlike the Marvel Avengers, they just seem awkward and unconvincing together – teamwork definitely does not make the dream work here. Keep watching the credits for a big reveal… Maybe the Justice League has had a bumpy start. Now they have worked together, they need another screen outing to prove themselves…

2/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Lego Batman Movie ****

For those worried the Batman might lose his clipped, gravel-toned, conceited edge after the success of The Lego Movie (2014), fear not: Will Arnett gives his little black-clad Lego character an even bigger presence once again in an equally funny but far darker film, The Lego Batman Movie.

Bruce Wayne – aka Batman – must deal not only with Gotham City’s criminals and arch enemy The Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis), but also a new police commissioner (Barbara Gordon, voiced by Rosario Dawson) with different ideas to his own crime-busting and an orphan child he ‘forgets’ he’s adopted (voiced by Michael Cera). Is Batman going soft in his old age, and will he and his long-suffering butler and ‘surrogate dad’ Alfred (voiced by Ralph Fiennes) finally get the family unit they crave?

While Batman revels in his notoriety on screen, DC and Marvel aficionados are thrilled by the blatant mockery of the Batman-related characters from over the years, accumulating in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight versions (for example, Bane). While the first half hour of the film is sheer glee for the adults, the kids are equally thrilled by the whirling colour, jarring movement and crackers pace as they see the Lego come alive. It’s a win-win for family entertainment this half term.

However, be warned: there are some very dark moments and characters in peril that might upset younger viewers. That said everything else is fairly tame, as expected with Lego, so there is no guts and gore, but little bricks flying all over the place. Kids will always love the explosions and mayhem, as adults marvel at the evolving creativity in front of them. A lot of the best lines are in the trailer, such as why does the flying Batmobile only have one seat? Answer: last time Batman checked he only had one butt. However, there are plenty more scattered around the film to enjoy, so you are either continually smirking or laughing throughout. That’s not to say there are not flatter moments where the same jokes are over-peddled, having seen their sell-by date, but the momentum is so erratic, you are propelled onto the next scenario to truly care.

Also, from a family perspective, there are morals aplenty to subconsciously be embedded in your little one’s psyche. This film is all about the importance not only of family and not being able to do it all on your own, but also (eventually) mutual respect – so important in today’s political environment. However, you don’t feel like you’re being bombarded with condescending messages like in some Disney flicks to the point of nausea. Little orphan Dick – who becomes ‘pantless’ Robin – is so adorably chirpy and excitable that you can’t help but be swept up in his gratitude as Batman gives him a chance in life. Of course, there are lots of delicious moments to savour as Batman tries to adapt to fatherhood while Alfred tries to control his ward’s inner child – cue wrong PC password moment that will have you rolling your eyes in recognition and in stitches.

The Lego Batman Movie is a Lego rollercoaster of a ride with highs and lows, and perhaps too many characters than it can handle on one screen and use to full comedic potential. Nevertheless, it is a marvel of an animation with a good pounding heart – plus you’ll all be quoting Batman in Arnett’s gruff tones for days to come.

4/5 stars

By @Filmgazer

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Interstellar ****

Interstellar

With concerns about our planet’s ailing health, and our renewed interest in what lies ‘out there’ among the stars, The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan’s new apocalyptic sci-fi Interstellar couldn’t come at a better time to play on our fears and curiosity. It’s set in a parallel ‘now’ on Earth that feels alien, even though it could just been around the corner as a possible reality. This odious atmosphere creates civil unrest and an instinct to literally explore our wider horizons. In this sense, we tap into the lead characters’ strong will to survive.

As the Earth’s atmosphere is changing, making it increasingly uninhabitable, a team of explorers that include farmer and former NASA space shuttle engineer/pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and scientist Amelia (Anne Hathaway) are launched into space to find a possible planet that can sustain our existence in another faraway galaxy.

Naturally Nolan, the film has a foreboding presence made all the more disturbing by our imaginations running riot. The ‘enemy’ is mankind itself that has created the current situation. Nolan skilfully compares man’s selfish nature in a couple of intimate subplots with the universe itself (and their insignificance to it). The result makes us seem more ignorant and vulnerable. It is a sobering realisation.

Although there is a sense of urgency as the explorers navigate new worlds, Nolan’s film never seems rushed. There is a natural passing of time, even as the explorers’ aging process stands still. In fact, there is a wealth of information to Interstellar to digest – too much sometimes when it comes to the quantum physics angle. In true Nolan style, he delivers one of his most cerebral films yet. This is not a film for parking your brain outside the cinema. It requires an investment and then some – possibly a second viewing.

With the likes of award-winning actors McConaughey and Hathaway on board, Nolan’s film matches its wealth of subject matter with a richness of A-class acting talent. McConaughey is fully engaging as Cooper, a family-centric father who has to make the ultimate sacrifice. It feels like the part the actor has been waiting for, after recent winning performances. McConaughey is no stranger to having to dominate the frame while surrounded by or causing controversy. Cooper has an edgy side, making him a fascinating to watch. He is also our ‘guide’ throughout the adventure. What happens to him and Hathaway’s characters is head-scratching stuff. Again, attention needs to be paid to get the most out of Interstellar.

Enveloping the human drama is some stunning production design and cinematography as each landscape is as much an organic player. This gives the film an additional dimension to be studied. There are also pockets of action as things go less than smoothly on the mission, counterbalanced by activity back home that heightens tension and breaks up the mind-blowing science on offer. Beware an (unintentionally) amusing element at times when Nolan’s answer to the universe appears to be ‘love conquers all’. Maybe it does.

Interstellar is a powerful smorgasbord of scientific and faith-related ideas wrapped up in an intergalactic adventure. It blows the mind in its reasoning while simplifying the importance of us preserving our quality of life and our communications. This is Nolan in scintillating freefall. Just tune in for the ride or you will get left behind.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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