Monday, March 15, 2021

Zack Snyder's Justice League Is A Spellbinding Visual Wonder

After several years of hardcore fans clamouring for the Snydercut to be released, the moment of truth will be revealed to the world's audiences in just 2 days.

ZACK SNYDER'S JUSTICE LEAGUE” aka the Snydercut is set to premiere on 18 March, streaming via HBO GO for fans in Asia (*). The director's cut entailing how the 6 superheroes - Superman (Henry Cavill), Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) came together as a team - consists of hours of unseen footage and alternate dialogue. The movie is rated NC16 across Asia.

Red Dot Diva had access to an official screener a few days ago, and yes, she has watched the entire thing, all 4 hours and 2 minutes of it.

Verdict? Justice is served.

The movie is absolutely epic. A beautiful opera worthy of the DC superheroes legacy we hold dear to our hearts.

The running time of “ZACK SNYDER'S JUSTICE LEAGUE” may seem daunting, but Red Dot Diva did not feel that it was a slog at all. That itself is a testament to the skilfulness of Zack Snyder and his production team regarding the film's editing and pace. The movie is segmented into 6 parts and an epilogue.

Compared to the critically panned theatrical version in 2017 which had director Joss Whedon (who was uncredited) changing parts of the script and re-shooting several of the original scenes, “ZACK SNYDER'S JUSTICE LEAGUE” is a far superior version in many ways.




Right from the start, the movie continues from “BATMAN vs SUPERMAN”, with the world still mourning over the death of Man of Steel. An evil, galaxy-travelling warrior called Steppenwolf (CiarĂ¡n Hinds) and his horde of nasty parademons, suddenly arrive on Earth. Steppenwolf is eager to collect all three Mother Boxes - small, powerful, partially sentient devices created by alien witches. Once synchronised, the Mother Boxes will have enough cosmic power to destroy planets. Batman, with the help of Wonder Woman, race against time to form a team of superheros to prevent this disaster from happening.

As Zack Snyder is no longer hemmed in with the usual theatrical release running time of 2 hours tops, he is able to give ample time to each superhero in this re-edit. As a result, the superheroes' personal baggage and motivations for joining the team were more heartfelt. In particular, Cyborg is now the centre of it all. The film showcases how Victor Stone transforms from an angry conflicted soul who had been unwillingly resurrected by his father Silas Stone, to a place of acceptance and understanding.

Also, the added scenes relating to Barry Allen's rescue of Iris West becomes a turning point that gives him a desire to serve a higher purpose. This is such a contrast to the original 2017 film, where Barry was a bit of a nervous wreck, confessing to Batman that he was afraid, he has not done battle before and all he does is push people away and run. In fact, all of the Flash scenes in movie, where we see the concept of time from Barry Allen's viewpoint, was superbly rendered.

The plot is also more coherent, with a much appreciated backstory about the Mother Boxes and Cyborg's innate connection to one of these devices. In this version, Steppenwolf is always hot on the heels of the Mother Boxes, which leads to a number of adrenaline-pumping battle scenes, accompanied by Junkie XL's rousing score. Many of the action sequences were already in the theatrical version, but these are now edited in a more visually thrilling way.

Even better was the revelation that there is a bigger Big Bad behind Steppenwolf's anxiety and hard work. It is none other than supervillain Darkseid, a tyrant who rules Apokolips, and has an aim beyond just owning the Mother Boxes.

As for the Superman fans, his resurrection provides more meaning as the story develops, and of course, there is that classic black suit. And also, thank the goddesses, no Mustache-gate!!

In typical Snyder style, this energetic recut is audacious in its delivery, with several segments echoing the insane visual grandeur of the action movie “300”. Yet, there are touching moments of tenderness, like the Clark-Lois and "Martha Kent"-Lois scenes. The somewhat sly humour is also spot on, unlike the cringeworthy lines in Joss Whedon's take. Red Dot Diva's personal favourite segment involves a sardonic exchange between Diana and Alfred Pennyworth regarding the brewing of tea.

Of course, as in most movies there are minus points that you could pick on. Some may find the squarish 1.33 aspect of the movie unfamiliar. The movie format was filmed for the IMAX theatre, so while watching it on a regular screen, you will see the right and left sides blacked out. Having said that, it did not deter Red Dot Diva's enjoyment of the film because of the fascinating new material that was unfolding on screen.

Red Dot Diva was also disappointed that there wasn't more of Lois Lane (Amy Adams) other than her looking woefully sad regarding the loss of Clark Kent. In this regard, the 2017 movie gave Lois more due justice as an investigative journalist. A balance between both impressions of Lois Lane would have been perfect.

But these bugbears were easily overlooked by Red Dot Diva as she found there was a sense of confidence and sincerity in the way Zack Snyder envisioned the epic. It was made out of an appreciation for the beloved comic book characters, together with great performances by the charismatic, gorgeous looking cast. Even if you detest Zack Snyder's style, it is hard not to appreciate Henry Cavill's chiselled features, Ben Affleck's greying gruffness, Gal Gadot's stunning gazelle-like athleticism and beauty, Jason Momoa's hunky bod framed by his long flowing hair, the utter adorableness of Ezra Miller, and Ray Fisher being regal and sombre.

Frustratingly “ZACK SNYDER'S JUSTICE LEAGUE” ends with a cliffhanger. It is a pity that this will be Zack Snyder's last DC film. After riding on a grand 4-hour adventure, including the intriguing epilogue, Red Dot Diva wishes he was able to continue with the extended universe, because she is curious to know what he has in store for the iconic DC characters.

Well, maybe, that will happen in an alternate universe.


(*) - including Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Taiwan

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Netflix's Pacific Rim: The Black Expands The Franchise's Lore in Intriguing Ways

Kaijus, mechas, anime-style action and Idris Elba. That was what made “PACIFIC RIM” the 2013 creature feature directed by Guillermo del Toro, so much fun to watch. And also Idris Elba. Mmmmm, yes ... Red Dot Diva has to mention him twice.

Five years later, the sequel “PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING” did not fare so well. It was missing the magic touch of Guillermo del Toro and screenwriter Travis Beacham. Despite the loud action sequences, the story was flat and souless. Thankfully, Netflix's new anime series “PACIFIC RIM: THE BLACK” sets things right for the franchise.

The anime series is set in Australia, where various kaiju have taken over the continent. After a terrible battle with a bunch of kaijus five years ago, the jaeger pilot parents of siblings Taylor and Hayley decided to leave them and a few other children at a remote natural sanctuary near an abandoned base of operations. They then went off with their jaeger Hunter Vertigo looking for help, with a promise to return. Since that day, the Pan Pacific Defense Corp, who are in charge of the Jaegers, had implemented an initiative called "The Black". What exactly that is, no one really knows.

Rebelling against her brother's overly-protective stance, the younger Hayley yearns to travel out of the camp to search for her parents. As Hayley secretly leaves the camp, she accidentally falls through a crack in the ground and discovers a weaponless training jaeger called Atlas Destroyer and its sardonic AI (Erica Lindbeck). Both siblings learn how to Drift with the jaeger quickly enough, but the activation of Atlas Destroyer attracts a kaiju to the campsite and things turn bloody. Taylor and Hayley had little choice but to leave their home and pilot the jaeger as far as they can, in an attempt to find their parents.

There is a lot to unpack within the first three episodes of “PACIFIC RIM: THE BLACK”. Right from the start, the series careens into an explosive Kaiju-Jaeger battle. After that, the resilient siblings barely escape from nimble footed jackal-like kaiju in a city called Meridian, encounter a ginormous red-eyed kaiju-eating kaiju, discovers a mysterious mute boy in a secret tank, and stumble upon a dangerous Aussie warlord Shane (Andy McPhee) and his posse dealing with black market goods like rare power cells.

It is a darker, bleaker, and more violent dystopian landscape, even though most scenes are filled with the bright azure skies of sunny Australia. The contrast can be jarring but compared to the first Pacific Rim movie, “PACIFIC RIM: THE BLACK” provides an interesting dimension about the sort of menace that prefers to bask in the light of day, akin to a Western monster show. There is even a classic Mexican standoff in episode 3.

When it comes to the action sequences, the animation is impressive, making all the monster thrashing and mecha smashing look seamless. It is unfortunate that, in general, the character animation is bland and lack emotional quality. Most of the times, it seems that the animators have forgotten to add facial expressions to the human characters. That said, the interactions between the siblings are earnest and moving, their actions depicting the different ways each deal with trauma and violence. It is a waste that they do not seem to have more meaningful relationships with other secondary characters in the show, other than the enigmatic 'Boy'. Credit has to given to the voice actors (especially for Hayley), whose emotive lines make up for the flaw.

What is best about “PACIFIC RIM: THE BLACK” is the surprising depth that it offers in the franchise's world building. This makes it very binge-worthy, as you feel propelled to find out more about the intriguing concepts that have been posed.

For those who love monsters, mechas and anime, you have to include “PACIFIC RIM: THE BLACK” on your Netflix watch list. It has already started streaming from 4 March 2021, and consists of 7 half-hour episodes. Even though it is a more desperate take on the Pacific Rim apocalypse, it is really enjoyable and there is much to appreciate in this new anime series.