DC’s answer to Marvel’s Avengers, “Justice League,” is finally here, and the long- awaited big screen union of some of DC’s biggest superheroes — Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Flash and Cyborg — was worth the wait. It’s not perfect, but a definite improvement over 2016’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”
Justice League picks up not long after the tragic ending of Batman v Superman in 2016 where (spoiler!) Superman dies in an explosive showdown with the monstrous Doomsday. A new, threat is looming this time, though with the villainous Steppenwolf, who is looking to gather three mother boxes, which contain an apocalyptic power to destroy the earth. And while the newly formed Justice League proves to be a worthy opponent for Steppenwolf, the group really needs to the power of Superman to defeat him, that is, if Superman (Henry Cavill) can somehow rise from the dead.
Like other DC films, Justice League has a grittier feel than its Marvel movie counterparts, yet, this time around the tone is far lighter, more fun and has many more laughs than “Batman v Superman” or its predecessor, “Man of Steel.”
And while the film takes a good hour for the group to come together, the Justice League, when fully formed is great, from Ben Affleck as Batman, Jason Momoa as Aquaman, and Ray Fisher as Cyborg, as well as Gal Gadot and Ezra Miller as the movie’s biggest standouts as Wonder Woman and The Flash, respectively. The visual effects are spectacular as expected, but hover dangerously close to overwhelming the story.
Tom Holland puts in an amazing performance in “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” the third time an actor has assumed Spidey’s costume in the past 15 years following turns by Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield.
Following his introduction to the world of the Avengers in “Captain America: Civil War,” Peter Parker (Holland) returns to high-school life as a 15-year-old in New York City. Waiting for his next call from Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to join the Avengers for his next mission, Peter struggles with how he can best serve his friendly neighborhood as he awkwardly stumbles through adolescence
and newfound responsibility as a superhero.
The film offers a completely fresh take on Spider-Man from a film standpoint, introducing new characters and a fresh villain with the Vulture (the always great Michael Keaton). Despite his large presence in the film’s trailers and clips, Downey is only in the film about 5 minutes, but he makes the most out of every second.
Lammomter: 8.5 (out of 10)
Listen to Tim’s review of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” with Mike Compton on KQRS-FM.
Click audio player to hear Tim’s review on the “The KQ Morning Show” with Tom Barnard.
“Hacksaw Ridge” (R)
There’s no way to prepare yourself for emotional experience that is director Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge,” the compelling true story of forgotten World War II hero Desmond T. Doss, a battle medic who single-handedly saved 75 soldiers, one by one, in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. Providing an inspiring, in-depth look at Doss — the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor – “Hacksaw Ridge” is easily the best film of the year, and its message of courage and sacrifice will ech
o for generations.
Andrew Garfield is brilliant as Doss, a devout Seventh Day Adventist who, following a turbulent youth with a violent father (the always great Hugo Weaving), swore off violence of any kind. Weathering his father’s actions — which were spurred by his haunted past as a World War I veteran — Doss readily enlists in the Army, yet with caveat he does so without ever picking up a weapon. A strict believer in the Ten Commandments – specifically the Sixth Commandment of “Thou Shall Not Kill” – Doss wants to save lives instead of taking them. His determination to serve his country, however, comes at an enormous cost long before he steps foot on the battlefield.
There’s no question Gibson has led a tortured, personal existence over the past 10 years, but when the man steps foot behind the camera, incredible things happen. Flanked by excellent performances by Theresa Palmer, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey and Vince Vaughn in pivotal supporting roles, Gibson constructs a complete and utterly compelling look at Doss’ life here – with a story that extends from Doss’ time as a boy growing up in Virginia to an incredibly emotional look at his life after the war through real-life footage and testimonials by fellow soldiers. It may be the best film he’s ever done in an already stellar canon of work.
Of course, “Hacksaw Ridge” will draw attention for its brutal depiction of violence, as its intense, unforgiving battle scenes no doubt match, if not surpass, the carnage displayed in the unforgettable opening of “Saving Private Ryan.” While not for the faint of heart, the carnage in “Hacksaw Ridge” is a necessity in order for the film to get its point across. If there’s a film today that is meant to teach the sacrifices of our country’s military and the cost soldiers have paid and continue pay for our freedom, “Hacksaw Ridge” is it.
Lammometer: 10 (out of 10)
“Doctor Strange” (PG-13)
While this year’s “Captain America: Civil War” ranks among the best films in Marvel’s amazing run since 2008’s “Iron Man,” the studio’s latest entry is just what the doctor ordered when it comes to keeping the sprawling superhero narrative fresh. Much different than Marvel’s superhero movie entries, “Doctor Strange” still fits within the framework of the overall story the studio is assembling, and the presence of Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a welcome one as the story moves forward.
Cumberbatch perfectly embodies Steven Strange, an arrogant neurosurgeon who loses his gift of saving lives in the operating room when his hands are severely damaged in a car crash. Feeling helpless, Strange’s path to leads him to Katmandu, where he hopes leading a mystical guru known as “The Ancient One” (a brilliant Tilda Swinton) will teach him the power to heal with his mind. As it turns out, Strange is much more gifted than he realizes, and if he properly harnesses his power of sorcery, he’ll be able to battle forces in the mystical realm that pose threats to the physical world.
While the visual effects in “Doctor Strange” are brilliant, they sometimes get in the way of the story. Still, the film – which co-stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams and Mads Mikkelsen – is entertaining throughout, right up until the very end of the end credits. Stick around, as per Marvel tradition, the sequences (there are two of them) help set up chapters in upcoming “Avengers” adventures.
Mahershala Ali and Alfre Woodard in “Luke Cage” (photo: Netflix)
It’s been an eventful year for Oscar-nominated actress Alfre Woodard, who had the rare opportunity to act in not one, but two different projects in the Marvel Universe. After making a brief but pivotal appearance opposite her longtime friend Robert Downey Jr. in the summer blockbuster feature “Captain America: Civil War,” Woodard is now playing a major role in the new Netflix superhero drama “Luke Cage.”
Woodard said the common denominator in the superhero projects was the novel idea of story first, then visual effects. Having characters with superhuman abilities is all well and good, Woodard said, yet those abilities are less likely to enthrall a viewer unless there’s substance there.
“You can have all the special effects in the world and pour hundreds of millions of dollars into them, but so many times people walk out of these films and say, ‘Of all the execs involved, didn’t anybody read the script?'” Woodard said in a recent phone conversation from Los Angeles. “No matter how much technology we have, it comes down to the stories and storytellers.”
Now streaming on Netflix, “Luke Cage” is based on the indestructible Marvel Comics character who debuted in print in 1972. Having first made an appearance in Marvel’s New York City-set Netflix series “Jessica Jones” last year, Luke Cage (Mike Colter) returns in this new series to his Harlem roots to hopefully blend into the background and keep his superhuman strength and impenetrable skin a secret.
But when a vicious club owner, Cornell Stokes (Mahershala Ali), and his cousin, Councilwoman Mariah Dillard (Woodard), start wreaking havoc in the neighborhood, Luke has no choice but to emerge from the shadows to protect the innocent people they are targeting.
Woodard chalks the success of “Luke Cage” up to the show’s creator and showrunner, Cheo Hodari Coker, who studied journalism at Stanford — background Woodard believes helps inform the look and feel of the series.
“Cheo’s an amazing man. He understands, appreciates and revels in the culture and the history of Harlem,” Woodard said. “He’s also a hip-hop aficionado. He’s the first journalist to realize that hip-hop was not just a passing phase and would be a successful world culture for generations. He brings all that creative intelligence to telling the stories to ‘Luke Cage.’ That’s why I signed on, and I have not been disappointed any step of the way.”
Playing Mariah over the course of several episodes instead of in a movie is a dream for Woodard, who thrives on developing a character over a longer period of time rather than trying to squeeze everything about her into a two-hour frame. On the whole, Woodard, 63, doesn’t think Mariah should be flat-out labeled as a corrupt politician, but just a person who happens to be a councilwoman with ambitions — albeit ambitions she’s been blinded by.
“It’s not just politicians who are like this. The role is not about how much we are willing to sink (to get things done), but how much we’re willing to wager to do what we think is right or helpful,” Woodard said.
Ultimately, Woodard said, Mariah is far from being a one-note villain.
“I love Mariah because I think she is very complex, as we all are, and I love being able to play somebody that we all run into in real life. She has all the cuts and bruises, yet she has a sunny side,” Woodard said. “As an actor, I love that. I feel like she’s a real human being. In this case, people may feel like, ‘I can identify with them’ until the character’s life takes a dramatic turn and then go, ‘Oh, my God. I couldn’t go all the way there.’
“But that’s why we tell stories,” Woodard added. “To entertain, yes, but also to have audiences reflect and imagine themselves in these situations.”
Original Interviews, Reviews & More By Tim Lammers