After being the subject of rumors galore, the follow-up to last year’s ‘Batman v. Superman’ is finally here. Whether it will have any clout in the U.S. is up in the air. However, that doesn’t really matter to the suits at Warner Bros. because the international box office has made all the difference this year. Opening alongside it are a pair of PG family flicks – a goofy animated nativity story and a heartfelt kids drama – plus the limited release of a Denzel Washington crime drama that I had no idea existed until today.
DC Comics is back on the big screen with ‘Justice League‘. We’ve already seen Superman team up with Ben Affleck’s Batman and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. Now, three more unestablished characters are being thrown into the mix: The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). The new team must work together to defend Earth from an intergalactic CG bad guy named Steppenwolf. (Does anyone else sing the lyrics “Head out on the highway…” from “Born to be Wild” when hearing his name? Anyone?)
I’m torn on this one. Just like ‘Thor: Ragnarok’, I had an absolute blast with ‘Justice League’ despite its limp plot. The structure is also almost identical to ‘Ragnarok’: a flimsy villain shows up, our heroes become distracted with a second act subplot that exists only to bring another character into the group, then they duke it out. At this point, I think it’s too much to ask for quality with our comic book movies (unless it’s of the rare ‘Dark Knight’ or ‘Logan’ variety), so we have to learn to get used to them just being fun.
While ‘Justice League’ is easily the most family-friendly of the DC movies, counter-programming exists for those who want to do more than just entertain their children with CG superhero fights. From the writer/director of the excellent coming-of-age movie ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ comes ‘Wonder‘, an equally impressive and resonant drama that takes us even farther back than our teenage years. Based on a best-selling novel, the story follows a fifth grade boy named August who was born with facial deformities so severe that he’s had dozens of operations and looks drastically different from you and I. Against his will, Auggie is about to leave the safe confines of home schooling to start fifth grade at a local prep school. We see him attempt to overcome the awkward stares, mean comments and bullying through not only his perspective, but of his lonely sister, her struggling best friend and a couple other classmates. Always genuine and never forced, the beautiful little film does a great job of making you walk in someone else’s shoes. As strong as it is, ‘Wonder’ is the type of film that should be added to the mandatory viewing list for elementary-age kids. The child cast is excellent, Julia Roberts isn’t annoying, and Owen Wilson brings a nice fatherly heart.
Sony Pictures Animation has a Christmas movie in theaters that looks about as bizarre as they come. ‘The Star‘ tells the story of Christ’s birth, but not as we know it. The faith-promoting picture is told from the perspective of the animals present when Jesus was born – the wise men’s camels, the donkey that Mary rode, the row of pigeons that covered the city walls, the mice that caused a ruckus and the wolves that were out to stop them all from enjoying the first Christmas. No, I’m not making this up. Watch the trailer. It exists. The humble voice cast includes such talent as Steven Yeun (ever since I heard Glen’s sweet voice over the walkie talkie on the first episode of ‘The Walking Dead’, I’ve been dying to hear him lead an animated movie’s voice cast), Keegan-Michael Key, Gina Rodriguez, Zachary Levi, Christopher Plummer, Ving Rhames, Kelly Clarkson, Anthony Anderson, Patricia Heaton, Kris Kristofferson, Kristin Chenoweth, Mariah Carey and Oprah Winfrey. Plus, it wouldn’t be a Christmas movie without Tracy Morgan’s voice, which is prominent in the trailer. With Pixar’s ‘Coco’ (and Disney’s Olaf short film that plays before it) opening in the middle of next week, ‘The Star’ only has five days to attempt to earn its $18 million production budget back.
Has anyone heard of ‘Roman J. Israel, Esq.‘? I hadn’t until now, but after reading about it, I want to see it. Denzel Washington stars as a defense attorney who, because of the backed-up legal system and high crime rates in Los Angeles, is placed in a very dangerous situation. From Dan Gilroy (the writer/director of ‘Nightcrawler’) and with Washington and Colin Farrell in leading roles, I’ll check this one out when Sony expands it beyond this weekend’s four-screen opening.