Ruk Ranks Every Movie He Saw in 2017 (65-61)

65. The Great Wall

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This movie is more or less the definition of a meh blockbuster. There’s some neat stuff about it, like the world-building and (kinda sorta) the premise, but overall it’s super forgettable and more or less falls apart in the third act.

Ah well, at least Pedro Pascal is still getting work.

 

64. Justice League

Hoo boy. I’ve not made any secret to anyone who knows me that, Wonder Woman aside, I have not been at all impressed with DC Extended Universe. In fact, I actively consider Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad to be among some of the worst superhero movies I’ve ever seen. So Justice League was not exactly high on my expectations platter. But, since I make it habit to watch every superhero movie that comes out, good or bad, I felt I had to at least give this a chance.

And I’ll give it this. It’s a big step up from the rest of the DCEU (again, Wonder Woman excepted). Unfortunately though, just because I didn’t outright despise it doesn’t mean I think it was a very good movie. It has good moments, no doubt about that, and there wasn’t anything that outright pissed me off like those other movies. But ultimately, I just found it kinda meh. Not terrible, not all that good, just meh.

Now, to get this out of the way first, I have to talk about the awful CG. For those unfamiliar with the behind-the-scenes production nightmare of this movie, Henry Cavill, who plays the curiously-absent-from-the-marketing Superman (Did anyone seriously buy he was going to stay dead?), grew out a moustache for his role in Mission Impossible 6 and was contractually obligated to keep it throughout the filming and the marketing of the movie. Unfortunately, that clashed with the schedule for Justice League’s many reshoots. As such, rather than have Superman spontaneously grow and lose a moustache between scenes, the VFX department decided to simply CG the moustache off his face instead. Why am I bringing this up, you ask? Because it looks absolutely awful.

Seriously, I saw a bootleg screenshot of Clark’s uncanny-valley-looking face making the rounds on twitter and my immediate thought was ‘Hah, that really looks terrible. But it’s probably just one bad shot. I’m sure it can’t be that bad.’ Then the movie started, we got our opening Superman scene and my thoughts went to ‘Oh, Oh Clark no. Oh no no no.’ It looks baaaaaaad. Really bad. Like ‘opening stages in a Monster Factory episode’ bad. And this is coming from someone who was fine with CG Tarkin and Leia. Sure, there are a few scenes where Supes looks okay, but I honestly think there are less of those scenes than there are of him looking terrible. This was clearly a rush job and it shows.

It’s kind of a shame, honestly, because Superman is so much more well written in this movie and Henry Cavill finally really gets a chance to show off his charisma in the role. Seriously, forget flat brooding Superman, this was the sort of thing I was waiting for ever since Man of Steel. Right from the opening scene he feel like the sort of character he should’ve been all along. Charismatic, friendly and inspirational. Hell, he was so good in this movie I’m honestly disappointed there wasn’t more of him, that’s how good he was here. But damn if his face doesn’t look bad.

That said, I will give the moustache CG this. There are some scenes where Supes looks fine …Which is a lot more than I can say about Steppenwolf, the main villain of the piece. He is the epitome of the generic disposable comic book bad guy and a disappointment all round. At least Malekith the Accursed, the much-maligned villain of Thor: The Dark World, looked like he was actually there most of the time. Christ, Doomsday from Batman v Superman felt like he had more personality than this guy. Honestly, the action in general was kinda disappointing. There were only a couple of fights I really liked all that much, specifically the Amazonian fight and, of course, the Superman fight. The rest just felt like grey noise.

Okay, now that I’ve spent half the review complaining about moustache CGI, let’s get down to the nitty gritty of why I think this movie does and doesn’t work. First of all, on the positive side, the film cuts down on a lot of the Snyderisms that plagued Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. Which means no obnoxious editing, no convoluted motives and, most gratifyingly of all, no pseudo-philosophical gibberish designed to sound deep without any actual meaning. Thank merciful God. Even the plot, which I’ve heard a lot of people derive as too simple/exposition filled (which I to some degree agree with), still feels like an improvement over the convoluted mess BvS’s story turned out to be.

On the second positive side, there’s actual characterisation to go around for our heroes this time! Yey! Each character feels consistently written and, like, you know, an actual person! Which makes a biiiig improvement over the ‘Who needs actual characters when we have brooding?’ philosophy of MoS/BvS. And, indeed, there are a lot of really great little character moments between the cast scattered throughout the film, which I have to give a lot of kudos for. Even little relationships that I really didn’t expect to enjoy, like Cyborg and Wonder Woman.

So… why doesn’t it ultimately feel like it comes together? Well, I think it comes down to three big things. First of all, while I did mention there are a lot of great little character moments in the movie, ‘little’ is kind of the key word there. Most of these great character moments barely extend beyond a single scene and, despite clear set-ups for a character arc in many of them, none of them really follow through and go the distance. Honestly, I can’t think of a single character beat that lasts throughout the movie instead of a couple of scenes at best. Which is disappointing because, as mentioned, some of them are really damn good.

The second issue, and this may require a bit of an explanation, is that… it kinda felt like the team came together a bit easily? Yeah, there were a couple of teething difficulties at the start, but once everyone is properly joined up, they’re more or less on the same page for the rest of the movie (minus mild disagreements over a couple of actions and the obligatory ‘we’re not a team’ moment). And, to be honest, that’s kinda dull. Good drama needs good conflict, after all, and God knows Steppenwolf ain’t going to provide any of that. I hate to make the dreaded Marvel comparison here, but part of what made The Avengers so great was that after the initial gathering of the team, the Avengers didn’t really get on. They fought and squabbled and while some of that was exacerbated by Loki, it was also a large part due to their personalities and aims naturally clashing. Hence why it’s all the more affecting when they put aside their differences and team-up for real in the climax. The Justice League never really has that and, as a result, their big team-up moment isn’t nearly as powerful.

Which brings me to my third issue. This movie really needed to wait until the solo movies had come out. Seriously, they spend so much time setting up the origins of Aquaman/Cyborg/Flash and then recruiting them onto the team that, while they manage to spare enough time to create a solidly grounded character for each of them (except maybe Momoa who gets kinda neglected and has a truly awful exposition-packed scene with Amber Heard), they don’t get enough time to dedicate to the actual team dynamics. Aka, the most fun stuff of a team-up movie. GOTG worked as a single-movie team-up because it managed to use its team dynamics to help establish and develop characters by the way they bounced off one another (in part thanks to the conflict between them). But this movie doesn’t try to be GOTG, it tries to be Avengers. And you can’t be Avengers while trying to fit in three separate origins. You just can’t.

To sum up, like I said before, this movie is not terrible. There are things to enjoy and compared to its non-Amazonian counterparts in the DCEU, it’s practically a work of art. But, despite all of that, I can’t really call it a good movie either. It tries, but story-wise it feels like an unfinished jigsaw, the CG needed another year or so of work and, ultimately, it never really lives up the hype and scale that the first ever Justice League movie deserves.

 

63. Fate of the Furious

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Not for nothing, but I honestly forgot this came out this year. Which is kinda weird considering how big it was and how big the others were. This one, on the other hand, just kinda went straight through me. No really lasting impact to think of.

That said, the movie itself was fine. Really, it was fine. Theron was a decent villain, the story was decent, it admittedly got kinda boring towards the end, but that’s true of a lot of blockbusters these days.

So yeah. It was fine. Just fine. Fine. Nothing special, but fine. Really. Just fine.

 

62. Wrath of Silence

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Okay, I’m assuming most people probably don’t know what this movie is. Which is perfectly legimate because I only saw this at the London Film Festival and that was mainly because I needed something to fill the gap between the other movies I was watching. Still, the premise, in which a mute martial artist returns to his hometown in search of his missing son, intrigued me and I was willing to give a shot.

My thoughts? It was fine. Just fine. Fine.

Really, it ended up being much more a slow burn than I was expecting and I’m not entirely certain it was better of for that?. Some of the action scenes decent, as were a few emotional moments and plot beats. And the director has a weird fetish with people eating that was kinda funny. (Imagine Denethor in that one scene in Return of King but less subtle.) But overall it was just fine. Not anything great or attention worthy, not anything awful either. I’m not exactly going to tell people not to see it, but there are plenty of other obscure movies on this list that are far more worthy of attention than this.

 

61. Blade of the Immortal

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Another movie I saw at the London Film Festival, Blade of the Immortal is an adaptation of a 31 volume manga series. And trust me when I say it shows. Seriously, I know people tend to complain in adaptations when people cut or change certain aspects of the original source material, but this is an excellent case study as to why that is kinda necessary sometimes.

The thing is, the movie skips from battle to battle, plot point to plot point, emotional beat to emotional beat, in a way that clearly would’ve worked in a more spread-out 31 volume manga series but in a 140 minute movie just makes everything feel absurdly rushed. None of the emotional moments are given time to breath, none of the sometimes genuinely interesting-seeming characters are given enough time to shine or grow attachment to, it’s just a mess. One particular example that stood out to me was when one of the henchmen (and one of the ones with the more unique designs at that) is revealed to have a psycho-crush on the heroine, has been sending her love letters for a period of time and is planning on killing her. This is all introduced and exposited in about 2 minutes in a scene at the end of which said character immediately dies. His plot thread comes out of nowhere, lasts barely a second and then ends unsatisfyingly. Which kinda sums up a lot of the plot threads in this movie.

Oh, and also the main heroine is awful. Really. She’s the daughter of a murdered samurai dojo teacher and the movie makes a big deal in early scenes about her being tomboyish and learning to fight with a sword and wanting to avenge her parents, but she ends alternating between being a damsel in distress or being utterly useless for the entire movie. I don’t think she even manages to beat one single person, not even in the massive sword fight near the end with hundreds of people. And while I don’t necessarily think all female characters need to kick ass to be good, she doesn’t really do anything else except whine. Really, she was just the worst.

That said, while I’ve been complaining a lot about the movie thus far, I will give it some kudos. The action is pretty damn neat, the character designs and costuming is cool and it manages to translate at least some of what I assume was quality material in the original manga. So I can’t say I completely hated it, but for Takashii Miike’s 100th film? …He’s made better.

 

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