Film and drama

Screen Themes: Justice League vs Murder on the Orient Express

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It’s time for some big screen entertainment, as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out two of the biggest movies at the cinema — superhero team-up Justice League and classic whodunit Murder on the Orient Express.

Justice League

Directed by Zack Snyder (2017)

In the pantheon of DC comic book movies, Wonder Woman stands proudly at the top, unchallenged by the dour Batman vs Superman and the incoherent Suicide Squad. When Zack Snyder signed on to direct Justice League, many were concerned — Snyder has always been more about visual spectacle (300, Sucker Punch) than solid storytelling and, to some nerds, Justice League is important.

I am one of those nerds. I have loved the Justice League since I was a kid, always preferring them to Marvel’s Avengers. The original combination of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern and Aquaman held a special place in my heart, and I was genuinely excited when Warner announced the movie’s release. Early reviews were mixed, but I went in with hopes high and expectations low.

The big questions: Is Justice League great? No. It’s good, but there are undeniable flaws. Is it better than Batman vs Superman? Absolutely. What about Wonder Woman? Well … it might be equally as good.

From a cast perspective, Ben Affleck has finally found his groove as Batman and may be the best Bruce Wayne since Adam West. Gal Godot once again shines as Wonder Woman and the movie drags somewhat when she’s not on screen.

*Spoiler that should be no surprise to anyone who saw the publicity for the movie.*

Henry Cavill returns as Superman, looking weirdly CG in some scenes where they had to digitally edit out his moustache. Jeremy Irons is superb as ever as a battle-ready Alfred and JK Simmons cameos as Inspector Gordon in one of the movies funnier scenes.

Newcomer Ezra Miller is fantastic as Flash, bringing an important layer of comedy to the movie and silencing any critics who said that TV Flash Grant Gustin should have been given the role. Ray Fisher doesn’t have a lot to do as Cyborg and suffers at times from some dodgy CGI, but the character definitely has potential. I’m less convinced about Jason Mamoa’s surfer-bro take on Aquaman, although he had good chemistry with Amber Heard’s Mera in the brief scenes they shared.

On the downside, another comic book movie has failed to present a compelling villain, with the role filled in Justice League by Darkseid lackey Steppenwolf. Voiced by the usually great Ciaran Hinds, Steppenwolf is a generic CGI baddie with horns and vaguely malevolent motivations. I kept waiting for Darkseid to make an appearance, but I guess they’re saving that for the sequel.

Late in the filming process, director Zack Snyder suffered a family tragedy and was replaced by Avengers director Joss Whedon, but Justice League still feels like a Snyder film. This is particularly noticeable in a couple of scenes where Wonder Woman is shot from behind and below, which felt entirely unnecessary.

Definitely worth a look for fans of the genre, Justice League marks another step in the path to a truly great DC movie. And I can’t get that cover version of 'Come Together' out of my head …

Murder on the Orient Express

Directed by Kenneth Branagh (2017)

Directed by and starring British thespian Kenneth Branagh, Murder on the Orient Express harkens back to the time when people dressed up to go to the movies and the mere inclusion of a sweeping panoramic shot of snow-capped mountains was enough to elicit gasps of wonder. Family friendly from the perspective that you could take your grandparents, this is the movie equivalent of a nice cup of tea and a digestive biscuit.

Packed with A-list actors sporting dodgy facial hair, Murder on the Orient Express is the latest adaptation of the Agatha Christie classic. Prior to this viewing, I had no connection with the story and was unaware of the twist, which may be a rare thing among literary or cinema buffs. For the few unaware, the story takes place on the titular Orient Express where a murder is committed while the train is stranded on a bridge.

Starring Johnny Depp (acting drunk or actually drunk, it’s hard to tell), Michelle Pfeiffer, Dame Judy Dench, Daisy Ridley (Rey from Star Wars), Josh Gad (Olaf from Frozen in an exceptionally dodgy mustache), Penelope Cruz, Sir Derek Jacobi, Willem Dafoe and, of course, Kenneth Branagh as the Inspector Hercule Poirot.

From a cinematic standpoint, this movie looks beautiful and fills around 20 minutes of screen time with sweeping shots of snowy vistas and speeding trains. The actors seem to be enjoying themselves (particularly Depp and Pfeiffer) and Branagh is entertaining as the exacting Poirot — his quest to find two perfect eggs is a running joke throughout the film.

Where Murder falls down from my perspective, is when it gets into the mechanics of the case. As Poroit interviewed suspects and gathered evidence, the film dragged and became something of an old-timey Law & Order, along with requisite leaps of logic. By the time we got to the big reveal the twist had been blindingly obvious for at least half an hour.

Far from a bad film, Murder on the Orient Express has been successful enough at the box office for Fox to greenlight Murder on the Nile. So if you like this one, there’s another one coming along before you know it …

The Verdict

Neither Justice League or Murder on the Orient Express are perfect movies, but both are entertaining in their own way. I’d say I enjoyed Justice League more, but that’s probably because I’ve always preferred superheroes to trains. Your results may vary.

Justice League – 7.5/10

Murder on the Orient Express – 7/10

Books by John Turnbull are now available on Amazon and Kindle. There’s supernatural thriller, Damnation’s Flame; action/romance, Reaper; black comedy, City Boy; and travel guidebook, Bar Trek: EuropeDamnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in the IA store HERE. (Free postage!)

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