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Justice League Review

*This review contains some spoilers, but nothing that wasn’t obvious already, really.*

You know what? I hate Superman. There, I said it.  I hate Superman, and watching Justice League reminded me exactly why I hate him. Despite being named after a team of super heroes, Justice League goes out of its way to display just how useless the rest of the team is compared to Superman alone. His super strength is stronger than Wonder Woman’s, his super speed is faster than Flash’s; plus he can fly, lift buildings, has heat vision, ice breath, and is basically indestructible. In one scene, he nonchalantly throws Batman to the side as if he’s garbage. I hate that Superman can just do anything. I hate that he makes infinitely better super heroes look like nothing by comparison. I simply, flat-out can not stand Superman.

With that out of the way, let’s get to the rest of Justice League.

Since its inception with Man of Steel in 2013, the DC Extended Universe has been a shallow attempt at recreating what Marvel has done with its Cinematic Universe. While the MCU wisely took its time in bringing its different super heroes together, the DCEU seemed to be in a desperate game of catch-up, rushing the crossover aspects together with its beyond-muddled second entry, Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The DCEU has become so needy in its desires to replicate what Marvel has accomplished, that it seems to consistently forget to make coherent movies and strong characters to justify its extended universe.

But then, earlier in 2017, we had a glimmer of hope in the form of Wonder Woman. There was a movie that told a simple super hero origin story, but had a main character who was likable and fleshed out, not to mention it actually seemed to understand human emotion. Surely Wonder Woman signified a turn for the better for the DCEU? Surely these movies would learn from past mistakes and take notes from what made Wonder Woman work?

Nope. Here comes Justice League to undo all of that goodwill Wonder Woman established.

In all fairness, Justice League isn’t as much of a disaster as Batman V. Superman, nor is it as boring as Man of Steel. But it’s still a clunky, over-bloated movie that lacks focus and, even more disappointing, lacks any heart. It wants so desperately to be on the same boat as the MCU with its shared universe, but also makes the shared universe concept feel pointless with how insignificant everyone else feels compared to Superman. If one team member can take out all the others without breaking a sweat, why should we care that there’s a team at all?

Basically, the story here is that a being from another world named Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) invades Earth looking for the three lost “Mother Boxes” which, when combined, can destroy a planet or something. And so with Superman dead after the events of Batman V. Superman, Batman tries to form the Justice League to defeat this otherworldly threat…before completely giving up on the idea and deciding to use a Mother Box to resurrect ol’ Supes because everyone is useless compared to him.

“Steppenwolf makes me miss the villains of Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World. Yes, he’s THAT bad of a character.”

In all honesty, Steppenwolf is very likely the most boring, uninteresting villain in super hero movie history. I’m not exaggerating. Ciaran Hinds’ acting abilities are entirely lost on a character who is written without the tiniest shred of depth or motivation. So much as calling him a placeholder villain is giving him too much credit. I don’t even think he has a line of dialogue that isn’t about destruction or obtaining a Mother Box (which may as well just be called Macguffins). He’s an absolute non-entity. Perhaps worst of all, he’s a CG character who is entirely unconvincing. Every time he fights with the heroes, it looks like the Justice League is grappling with a PS3 monster.

Speaking of bad visual effects, Justice League is full of them. This is a movie aiming to be a big blockbuster, but one which appears the studios behind it didn’t have enough faith to put the extra funding into it.

The CG used to hide actor Henry Cavill’s mustache has already obtained internet infamy, and with good reason. It’s downright distracting. Apparently, Cavill has an obligation to another role that requires a mustache, so he couldn’t shave it. So the filmmakers just decided to CG the area in between his nose and upper lip, and it looks as weird as it sounds. Might I suggest a better option would have been to give Superman a mustache? Sure, Superman isn’t known for having facial hair, but with how often comic books – the origins of these characters – retell, retcon and flat-out ignore certain continuities, is adding a mustache to Superman really so out of the question? I mean, come on, you’re resurrecting the dude with a magic box, but a mustache? That’s just too far. Hell, if Superman had a Tom Sellick ‘stache going on I might actually like him (slightly) more. At the very least, it would be less distracting to see Henry Cavill’s actual mustache than to have a CG band-aid over it.

“Can somebody please get this bad CG off me?!”

The unholy trinity of bad visual effects in Justice League is capped off with Cyborg (Ray Fisher), a member of the Justice League whose mostly robotic body clashes obnoxiously with the human side of his face. It just looks really bad. I mentioned PS3 graphics earlier, but now I’m starting to feel like that was maybe a bit insulting to the PS3. I would much rather look at a ten-year old PS3 game than Steppenwolf’s ugly mug or Cyborg’s…visual awkwardness.

To be fair, not everything is outright horrible in Justice League. On the bright side of things, Gal Gadot returns as Wonder Woman, and is as charming as ever. Aquaman is portrayed by Jason Momoa, and actually seems to be into the character. Some of the action scenes are also decently successful in creating excitement, and unlike the oppressive “edginess and grit” of Man of Steel or Batman V. Superman, Justice League at least tries to lighten the mood at times. Sure, not all of the humor works – with the antics of the Flash (Ezra Miller) growing more exhausting as the film goes on – but I’ll take the attempt at fun over the forced brooding of Batman V. Superman any day.

Despite those few highlights, it’s hard to recommend Justice League. Even Ben Affleck’s take on Batman – one of the few positive qualities of Batman V. Superman – seems lackluster this time around, as though Affleck no longer cares following Batman V. Superman’s reception. The characters are one-dimensional, the plot is beyond thin, the pacing is cluttered and all over the place, it’s riddled with bad dialogue, and for a movie that needed to rely heavily on special effects, the effects in question are just really bad.

All that, and I haven’t even mentioned the seemingly pointless elements of the movie. A good example of this is the opening of the movie itself, which is presented as a video of Superman recorded by a couple of kids, asking the caped hero some questions after another rescue. The scene ends just as ol’ Supes is about to answer the question of “what is his favorite thing about Earth.” This scene doesn’t play into the main story, nor does it seem to have any thematic purpose. I honestly don’t know why it’s there.

At the very least, Justice League is the kind of bad movie I can get a kick out of talking about, which is more than I can say for Man of Steel or Batman V. Superman. But it’s also a blatant showcase of these DCEU movies not learning from past mistakes. And considering this is the follow-up to the delightful Wonder Woman, the results sting twice as much.

Maybe DC should just reboot this cinematic universe, but keep Wonder Woman canon and use it as the new starting point. Also, leave Superman out of it. Yeah, that’d be nice.

 

4.0

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Superman (NES) Review

Superman NES

Though video games based on licensed properties are always a bit of a gamble in terms of quality, comic book superheroes have faired a little better than most. There have been a number of good video games based on superheroes, and even sone great ones (mostly thanks to Batman). But this does not apply to Superman, who is seemingly cursed when it comes to making the transition into gaming.

Superman’s most notorious video game is his Nintendo 64 offering, which often ranks as one of the worst video games of all time. But good ol’ Superman was producing video game duds even before then, including a lackluster venture on the NES.

Superman on NES has to be one of the most boring games on the console. You play as Clark Kent, and can become Superman by entering phone booths. If you take too much damage, you revert back to Clark Kent.

Now, Clark can fight just as well as Superman (at least, as well as you can fight in this game), but only as Superman can you use your super powers, which include ice breath, flight and X-ray vision, among others.

The game is basically a sidescroller, with Clark/Supes able to jump and attack with the A and B buttons, respectively, and the select button using your assigned super power (which you can change via the pause menu). It sounds simple enough, but everything about the controls just feels way off.

The jumping is slow and floaty, and makes you feel like you’re jumping without gravity working against you. And the attack, well, I think it’s supposed to be a punch, but the animation doesn’t look any different from Clark Kent/Superman’s walk cycle, so it’s more of a nondescript lunge. What’s really weird is that if you keep punching while in the air, you’ll just stay in place. What really ruins the attack though is how awkward it is used against enemies. You can hit enemies without being particularly close to them, which makes the whole attack feel like a half-assed implementation.

Worse still are the super powers. The super powers can only be used in specific instances, with the flight ability being particularly head-scratching. Flight only works in particular areas, but there’s no visual indication as to where you can use it. If it works, you may fly to a different part of the map, or to the top of a building to fight more enemies. If it doesn’t work, you still have to watch Superman fly upward and then come back down, even though nothing comes of it. So you’re usually just wasting the flight power watching the same piece of animation over and over, and you’ll probably only effectively use it out of pure luck.

I can understand that the abilities are meant to be situational (though it would be nice to use at least some of them outside of their specific situations), but the game fails to give you any idea when you should use the super powers. It’s annoyingly cryptic.

Not that it would matter too much anyway, as the gameplay that is present just feels so flat and boring. You just walk around Metropolis and punch(?) bad guys, and not much else. There’s no fluidity to the controls, and the gameplay is never engaging.

To add insult to injury, there’s not a single NPC in the game that says anything even remotely helpful. The people of Metropolis are apparently the simplest people on Earth, as they’re only capable of saying short sentences that have no meaning. What’s worse is that the text appears so slowly, that even their shortest lines take an unnecessary amount of time.

On top of all of this, the game is just downright ugly, probably one of the worst-looking games on the NES. The characters have a cartoonishly stumpy look to them, which was probably the result of rushing the game, as opposed to any attempt at a novel art direction for the property. The colors are garish, and the backgrounds bland. It’s just a very ugly game. Complimenting the ugly visuals is a ghastly, irritating soundtrack (the game never even bothers making a synthesized attempt at John Williams’ Superman theme).

Superman on NES is one of the worst games on the system, though it currently ranks as the second-worst game to star the Man of Steel. It’s so boring and so bland. There’s nothing ‘super’ about it.

 

1.5

Injustice: Gods Among Us Review

Injustice

DC crossovers are always a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, the comic book giant has created some of the world’s most iconic superheroes. On the other hand, many of their properties don’t mesh naturally with the others, whereas Marvel’s series feel more properly linked together. While the latter element of DC crossovers has lead to some disastrously muddled movies in recent times, the idea does fit a bit better into the world of video games. A great example of this is 2013’s Injustice: Gods Among Us, a fighting game built around the DC Universe from the creators of Mortal Kombat.

In short, Injustice: Gods Among Us is a really good fighter that uses the DC license to its benefit. It has a wide variety of DC heroes and villains – from the obvious picks like Superman, Batman and the Joker, to relatively obscure choices like Solomon Grundy and Deathstroke (unfortunately my favorite DC villain, The Scarecrow, doesn’t make the playable roster) – as well as some fun, original ideas for the fighting genre.

While it’s true that most of the game’s basics will be nothing new to those familiar with the genre – with the game following the tried-and-true format laid down by Street Fighter 2 – Injustice does have a few new tricks up its sleeve.

For starters, not only does each character play differently from the others, but many of them have gameplay-altering abilities (Flash, for example, can “speed up” so his opponents move in slow-motion until they land a hit, while Wonder Woman can switch from her fists and whip to a sword and shield). The stages also have interactive elements, which can be used to varying effects depending on the character (Superman might throw a car at his opponent, while the Joker would simply blow it up). Perhaps most notably, the character’s extravagant special moves can be countered in quicktime events, with players waging on a set amount of stored-up power, which can result in taking more damage or even healing a bit of health from blocking the move, depending on how much energy was wagered.

These aforementioned special moves are as ridiculous as those from Mortal Kombat, though appropriately less gruesome. Superman takes his opponent into the atmosphere before sending them crashing back down to Earth, The Flash runs around the world to deliver a single, devastating punch, while Aquaman sends a tidal wave crashing down on his enemies and follows it up with vicious sharks. They’re appropriately outlandish, and when combined with the character variety and level features, it makes Injustice a fighter that’s full of surprises.

Injustice also has a pretty strong sense of balance, as I haven’t really noticed any characters to have significant advantages or disadvantages with their play styles. Though I do have to admit certain moves are a little too easy to spam repeatedly (I myself have a little too much fun throwing laughing gas canisters as the Joker).

The multiplayer modes are what will keep players coming back to Injustice for more, with some additional modes providing some extra fun, but it should be noted that the game features a pretty impressive single player campaign as well. Unlike most fighting games, in which each character has their own campaign and fights a set number of characters with minimal plot, Injustice: Gods Among Us instead has a singular, cinematic story that spans twelve “chapters,” each one starring a different character.

The plot sees a number of Earth’s heroes, such as Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Aquaman, as well as the Joker, mysteriously teleported to another dimension. In this alternate world, Joker had managed to temporarily poison Superman’s mind, with the Man of Steel then destroying all of Metropolis and all who lived there during his manipulation, including his own family. Overrun with grief, Superman murdered the Joker and conquered the Earth, to ensure order under his newfound dictatorial delusions. Any heroes who oppose Superman’s new regime are killed, with the exception of Batman, who has created a resistance and brought the heroes from the more traditional timeline to help aide him in bringing down Superman’s rule.

InjusticeIt is a pretty fun story that introduces some good concepts, like an alternate Lex Luthor, who is a law abiding citizen working undercover with Batman to help end Superman’s regime, and even a few quicktime events before certain fights, to determine whether you start the match with an advantage or disadvantage. But the story isn’t without its flaws in both narrative and gameplay.

For starters, each chapter is composed of four fights. That may not sound like much of a problem, but after the first few chapters, it becomes incredibly formulaic, and just feels like a means to pad things out. You may even roll your eyes at how frequently the current character conveniently runs into exactly two opponents to be fought in succession in one segment of their story, and then conveniently bumps into two more soon after. You can’t help but feel that some chapters would have been better with either more or less to them, instead of following its four fights rule to such an obsessive-compulsive extent.

Another downside is that the story can get a little silly, despite presenting itself as dead serious. The number of times the plot rapidly jumps around just to be sure to include specific characters is a bit pandering, and much of the plot’s focus between the different dimensions comes off as fanfictiony gobbledygook. On the bright side, it’s never as muddled as Batman V. Superman, and it’s certainly a lot more fun, but the serious tone often clashes with the rather ridiculous goings-on within the story.

With all that said, Injustice: Gods Among Us is still one of the better fighting games released in recent years. It has a sense of variety and polish that, frankly, the Mortal Kombat games themselves don’t have. And as far as I’m concerned, any excuse to have Batman characters beat Superman to a pulp is a good one.

 

7.5

Superman (Nintendo 64) Review

Superman 64

Superman has had a rough history in regards to his transitions into the medium of video games, but none quite so infamous as his Nintendo 64 venture. This 1999 title – more famously known as “Superman 64” due to the console’s habit of dropping a “64” in the titles of its games – is widely considered to be one of the worst video games of all time. That reputation isn’t undeserved, as Superman 64 was broken in its day, and age has only magnified its notorious attributes.

I’ve already used the word “broken” to describe the game, and I’m not sure I could think of a more appropriate word to describe it, with the possible exception of “unfinished.” Superman 64 is supposedly a 3D action game, but it is void of so many basic video game elements it barely passes as a game at all.

Superman 64In regards to gameplay, you more or less just fly around going through rings or lifting cars, or walking on the ground fighting bad guys. There’s really no way to go more in-depth about the gameplay, because that’s literally all there is to it. The aforementioned “flying through rings” segments are easily the most excessive, and show up with such frequency that you may think the game is playing a sick joke on you. It couldn’t be more monotonous.

If the repetition of its bare-bones gameplay weren’t bad enough, the game is also plagued by some of the worst controls in video game history. The flying segments feel so awkward you’ll probably miss a good number of those ever-present rings even when steering dead-on in their direction. Somehow, the controls when walking are even worse. Combat, in particular, is so clunky that all you really do is mash the buttons, with your strikes hitting or missing your enemies seemingly at random.

To top all that off, Superman 64 suffers from a dreadful presentation. The plot supposedly revolves around Lex Luthor kidnapping Superman’s friends and trapping them in a “virtual world,” and Superman giving chase. This “plot” is explained via a single text box within a cinematic that probably lasts all of ten seconds, at which point players are immediately thrust into the game’s first ring segment without so much as a tutorial or any explanation. Couple that with the fact that the game’s visuals look worse than most of the N64’s earlier titles, and the music consists of the same stock, faux-heroic, seconds-long loop repeated over and over, and the whole experience just becomes an assault on the senses.

Further frustration occurs with the game’s often cryptic nature. There was one segment in the game’s first stage where the objective was to freeze three tornados with Superman’s ice breath, without explaining how you even use the ice breath to begin with. It felt like I struck gold when I realized the pause menu includes a list of the game’s controls, and that the ice breath is used by pressing the C-up button on the N64 controller. But when I attempted to freeze the tornados, nothing happened for the first several tries (with each failure sending me back to the ring segments). I only discovered by pure accident that you have to at first find a power-up before Superman can use his ice breath. Not that it ended up making much difference, since I still managed to fail the mission a few times even with this knowledge (not only does Superman have to be holding still directly in front of the tornados in order for the ice breath to work, but a number of times I still saw the “Lex Wins” screen even as I got rid of the third tornado).

Superman 64That may be a bit of ranting on my part for what is ultimately one small segment of the game, but that segment somehow represents the bigger picture of Superman 64. There’s not a single aspect of the game that feels even close to finished. In fact, I might argue that every element of the game feels like it barely even began. The mechanics are horrible when they even work at all. You’ll often fall through the levels or run into countless other glitches. Barely anything is explained to the player (and when it is, the text boxes appear so briefly you might miss them if you blink. It’s as if the text boxes just want to hurry up and get out of the game). And you’re so persistently haunted by those dreadful rings you may have nightmares about them.

Is Superman 64 one of the worst video games of all time? Oh, most definitely.

 

1

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice Review

Batman V Superman

A few years ago, I discovered a webcomic called Axe Cop, which is a series of stories told from the mind of a child, but illustrated by said child’s adult brother. As you might expect, the series is pretty random and hilarious, as it is told simply through the spontaneity of a child’s mind. Logic is thrown out the window and a parade of crazy characters are humorously crammed together with very little consistency.

Imagine taking a similarly non sequitur method of storytelling, but removing the charm and humor, as well as the innocence of knowing it stemmed from a child’s mind. Now take that empty shell and stretch it to nearly three hours of brooding and explosions, and you have something of an idea of what Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is like.

Perhaps I’m just a tad bit biased, since I’ve always been more of a Batman fan than a fan of DC itself, so I’ve always hated to see DC’s heroes crossover with one another (if I made a Batman vs. Superman movie, it would consist of Batman wearing a suit of pure Kryptonite, thus weakening Superman and allowing Batman to beat the Man of Steel into a pulp within the first five minutes, and then proceed to being strictly a Batman movie). But I did try to go into Batman V Superman with an open mind.

Now, I will admit the movie did have some good points: I feel the concerns over Ben Affleck being the new Batman can be set aside, since his performance was one of the film’s highlights, and it gives promise for the upcoming standalone Batman reboot. There were a few entertaining moments, and the fact that such things exist at all in the movie automatically makes it better than 2013’s Man of Steel. And I must say I did actually enjoy the titular battle between the two superheroes.

The problem is that it’s all too obvious that the movie is trying to replicate what Marvel has achieved with their shared cinematic universe, and it does way too much way too soon. The reason why the Marvel Cinematic Universe is working is because they built up to it. Marvel had five standalone movies released before they packaged the established heroes together for The Avengers, with each of those standalone films giving hints at what was to come. Here, we simply had Man of Steel, which was strictly a Superman movie, and now we’re diving head-first into the bigger DC universe in one go. The end results make Batman V Superman play more like bits and pieces of many different movies, as opposed to one big one.

Batman V SupermanWe are given snippets of Batman’s origin story in the film’s first scene (which is probably the way to go with it, we all know Batman’s origin story so well that we don’t need to spend too much time with it). And we fast forward to the events of Man of Steel, where the reckless lummox known as Superman carelessly creates insurmountable collateral damage during his grudge match with General Zod, as a more heroic Bruce Wayne looks on.

This gives Bruce Wayne a reasonable fear of Superman. If ol’ Supes can cause that much destruction when trying to save people, what can he do if he turns against mankind? So Bruce Wayne/Batman makes it a priority to discover a means of taking down Superman, should the need come to pass.

Meanwhile, Lex Luthor (who for some reason isn’t portrayed by Bryan Cranston) is hatching a scheme to take down Superman by framing him for various acts of violence and slowly turning mankind against him (adding fuel to Batman’s fire in the process), and discovers the powers of Kryptonite, and the effects it has on the otherwise invincible Superman, setting a bigger plot in motion.

The setup is decent enough, but once the movie starts to drop obvious hints and glimpses at future movies, it starts becoming a bit of a mess. Wonder Woman also plays a part in the movie, without ever having a real reason to be a part of it. Other DC heroes are also given cameos, because fan service. We even get a few mentions of the Joker, which only end up making us wish we were watching The Dark Knight instead. Also, Doomsday squeezes his way into this movie.

It’s not just the amount of characters and goings-on that are the problem with Batman V Superman, but its way of going about them as well. So many elements feel rushed, so many scenes feel episodic and clunky, and so much of what could have been a compelling story is drown in way too many sub-plots. One scene even depicts Bruce Wayne having a dream/vision of a potential future should his fears of Superman come to fruition. But instead of intrigue, the scene in question only ends up creating confusion, as it begins so abruptly and cascades so rapidly it may even produce an unintentional chuckle or two.

Another big problem with the movie is Superman himself, who comes across as an entirely unlikable hypocrite. He criticizes Batman for his vigilante ways, and as Clark Kent he makes it his mission to smear Batman’s name in the papers. Superman, who takes the law into his own hands on countless occasions, judges and condemns someone else for doing the exact same thing. At least Batman doesn’t have countless innocent lives on his hands due to recklessness.

I suppose being the Batman supporter that I am, I should be happy that Batman is inarguably in the right in this movie. The problem is that it still tries to depict Superman as a heroic savior-like figure, when his actions make him come off as a self-aggrandizing, hypocritical jackass.

Between the movie’s insistence on cramming in as many elements from the DC universe as possible, it’s plodding pacing and clunky editing, and one half of the titular combatants being downright unlikable, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is just a loud mess of a movie. There are a few diamonds in the rough (again, a Ben Affleck Batman movie actually has promise), but the film’s desire to compete with what Marvel has accomplished in a dozen films in one single movie makes it incoherent.

Simply put, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice isn’t a very good super hero movie. It’s especially not a good Batman movie. The fact that it lacks humor and charm also makes it a pretty bad Axe Cop movie.

 

3.0