On those Wonder Woman screenings…

You may have heard there’s been a little bit of a hullaballoo over Wonder Woman, the latest film in the ongoing DCEU. U.S. cinema chain Alamo Drafthouse announced that they will be holding special women-only screenings for the movie. As you may expect, some people flipped their shit and now it’s a big news story that just about every twat with a blog (yo) has to comment on.

If any of you are aware of comedian Richard Herring’s annual Twitter tradition, this reaction will be painfully familiar. On the Facebook post announcing the screenings, there were many grouchy comments asking when the men’s only screenings were. It’s as predictable and punctual as the German tide. This is all kinds of ridiculous, but let’s break down the actual non-issue for the thickies at the back:

a) It’s fitting. Alamo Drafthouse are known for theming their movie nights and an all-female screening is perfect. Wonder Woman is a princess of Themyscira – a utopian land populated entirely by women. It’s a fun idea. Sure, I personally wouldn’t have been able to take part, but fuck it. Not everything should cater to my needs, nor should I expect it to.

b) She was designed as a feminist icon. It’s part of the character. Wonder Woman has usually been portrayed as Superman’s equal. She’s maintained that through decades of shifting societal attitudes. If you’re a woman who takes an active interest in feminism and who likes comics, why wouldn’t you want to go to a screening with your friends and be surrounded by like-minded people?

Especially a screening of a movie that is a cultural victory for women. It’s the first “proper” solo female superhero movie of this new generation of movies (Supergirl, Elektra and Catwoman don’t really count as they were pre-shared universe explosion) and it’s also directed by a woman, namely Patty Jenkins. This shit doesn’t happen often I can see why some would want to celebrate it.

c) There will be thousands of other screenings of the movie, why the hell does it matter that one of the screenings on one night has restrictions?  It’s not even a preview of the movie. The screenings take place three days after its release. Eager fans going to midnight screenings or early showings in the first few days will have already seen it before the event takes place.

d) In regards to the men’s only screening question – is there any movie that actually warrants a male-only audience? It’d be fitting for Sausage Party, but even a lads-em-up like The Expendables, doesn’t deserve an exclusive audience.

Looking at it cynically, it’s a marketing gimmick. A damn successful one at that as it’s now an international news story and the screenings have sold out. People never like to feel like someone’s got one over on them, yet they play into the hands of outrage every time. Whenever swamp troll Katie Hopkins posts something vile, people rush to the page to read the thing they know they’re going to get angry about. The Daily Fail is counting on it. They must be making an absolute mint off her bilious shite. I think Hopkins should be called out, don’t get me wrong. I just think the approach is rather self-defeating. It’s funny how the ones who want to shut this shit down end up signal-boosting it farther than could have ever been imagined.

The only possible issue is in the scenario where a group goes to the cinema on a whim and is turned away. I could see how that could be frustrating, but how many people does that actually affect? It’s probably even less than the number a usual multiplex would inconvenience because Alamo is more of an upmarket chain with tailored dining experiences and a strictly enforced no-talking policy.  It’s not exactly the local fleapit.

If Alamo did a ladies-only screening of one of the Fifty Shades movies, no-one would give a shit. However, because this is based on a comic book and is therefore part of a scene that the vocal minority believe to be a boys’ club, it’s become an issue. These are the same people who got annoyed when Jane Foster became Thor and the new Iron Man was actually Ironheart- a fresh suit piloted by black engineering student Riri Williams.

Granted, this is one of the things that will be forgotten about in a week, but it’s still a brief light shone on some of the persistent problems that dog the comic book and movie industries and their wider fandoms. Damn near everything with the merest hint of feminism or race threatens to blow up into a Ghostbusters 2K16-sized fiasco and it’s exhausting.

So yeah, I’ll be seeing Wonder Woman soon and I’ll post my review here. As this stuff involves both comics and movies, I figured I’d stick my oar in and actually update my site for a friggin’ change.

Suicide Squad (2016)

suicide-squad-movie-characters-calendar

Something’s rotten at Warner Bros. It’s hard to exactly nail down what it is, but we’re now three films into the so-called “DC Extended Universe” and something ain’t working. Whilst Batman v Superman sucked harder than a Dyson with bills to pay, there were high hopes that Suicide Squad would be the much-needed course correction for the DCEU. After all, if WB is making supposedly heroic figures into selfish arseholes, perhaps centring an entire movie around self-centred villains was the next logical step. The Squad trailers were a bunch of fun and it had legit movie fella David Ayer writing and directing. However, as you know if you’ve spent any time on the net recently, Suicide Squad has garnered some nasty critical reviews akin to Batman v Superman‘s hefty sack of bile. Warner Bros. seem locked in to their Justice League path now and it’s depressing that they can’t seem to translate some of the genuinely great and enduring DC characters to the big screen. Suicide Squad may have broken several box office records, but this shit ain’t going to fly forever. People simply don’t want to see bad films and when the tills stop ringing- and they will- it’s going to be a sudden and harsh winter for the Woeful Boobs.

Following the events of Batman v Superman, the world is a different place. Humanity has been made aware of “metahumans” like Supes and no-nonsense government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembles a team of the baddest imprisoned villains around to fight these newer, bigger threats in exchange for time off their sentences. The team includes expert marksman Deadshot (Will Smith), insane Joker squeeze Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), crocodilian cannibal Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), ancient witch Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) and fiery gangbanger El Diablo (Jay Hernandez). Military man Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) is given the unenviable task of leading the gang of misfits. Not to mention the fact that a certain green-haired loon (Jared Leto) has plans to get his girl back and throw a spanner into the works.

Almost nothing in Suicide Squad works. It’s a jumbled mess. Story arcs are confused, flashbacks are inserted without proper care, motivations are botched and the whole thing seems to be edited and spliced together with an axe and some Blu-Tack. The main story is generic as hell and leads to a hackneyed final act complete with a giant laser shooting into the sky and an unconvincing CGI villain. It’s all over the place. Deadshot is introduced into the film multiple times. There’s also a truly baffling bit where Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang does just that, selfishly leaving the squad only to be part of the heroic slow motion walking line-up shot in the very next scene. And no, it’s not intentional. That would be giving it all far too much credit. The film is littered with these things and they’re a symptom of a far bigger problem.

The movie has been passed around and fiddled with more times than your mum. There were reshoots to apparently make the whole thing lighter in tone and the staples holding all the pages of notes together aren’t just visible, they make up the majority of the movie. WB is scared. Man of Steel shafted their shared universe plans from the get-go and Bats v Supes did nothing but compound the issues. They tried to change what kind of film Suicide Squad was as they booted it out of the door. They’re being reactionary instead of proactive. Hate to say it, but at times it feels Marvel-lite.

This panicked meddling really affects what’s on the screen. There are two “big reveals” that will elicit shrugs from the audience. One of them is especially bad, revealing information we’ve known from the start and didn’t know that certain people weren’t privy to it. Entire characters are lost in the mix. God only knows who Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag is meant to be. We’re told he’s a military hero, but in practice he’s ineffectual and looks like a strung-out junkie. Also, the less said about Cara Delevingne the better. At no point did I think of her as anything other than a model trying to act. Her third act performance and weird gyrations have to be seen to be believed. I get the feeling that Killer Croc was meant to have a bigger part. I dug him a fair bit, but he’s barely given anything to do.

All the expected fun of watching an anti-Avengers struggle to be the good guys is blown out of an airlock. A bit of bite would have been welcome and some dark humour would have gone a long way, but the final product feels compromised and toothless. In terms of being funny, the quips and gags they’ve gone with are seriously poor and wouldn’t be out of place in a third-rate sitcom. It may make some of the theatre donkeys bray in their seats, but it ain’t going to tickle the funny bones of many others. There’s a real level of desperation to Suicide Squad that leaks and drips out of every pore. The licensed soundtrack full of famous, on-the-nose choices like Black Sabbath’s Paranoid , AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky seems to exist solely to cover up the awkward tonal shifts and fool the audience into feeling some semblance of fun. It’s messy, scrappy and more than a mite cynical.

Oh- just as a side note, let’s also talk about how a woman getting thumped in the face is the literal punchline of two jokes in the film. One perpetrated by Batfleck himself. Yes, they’re bad guys and there’s more context to each of them, but there’s no escaping the fact that the film wants you to laugh at both instances.

We’re going to have to mention him, so let’s chit-chat about Jared Leto’s Joker. He featured heavily in the marketing, but is only in the film briefly. He has no impact on the story whatsoever. You could take out all of his scenes and not only would you get a tighter story, the film would make just as much sense as it already does. I’m not sure what Leto’s going for with his performance but he’s pretty terrible. He’s all tics and no presence. I actually don’t mind his look (the “damaged” forehead tattoo is still as eye-rolling as ever though), but in terms of personality, he doesn’t have any. I’m always down for new interpretations of famous characters, but this isn’t any kind of recognisable take on the Clown Prince of Crime. Plus, his trademark cackle sounds like a cawing crow that’s low on batteries. All those stories of Leto going “proper method” and sending his co-stars inappropriate gifts like used condoms and a live rat are even more embarrassing now.

Despite all this, I didn’t leave Suicide Squad with white knuckles and gritted teeth like I did with Batman v Superman. It’s such a mess, yet there are a few saving graces. For starters, I was never bored. Some of the cast manage elevate the material to near-acceptable levels. Will Smith is on form. He’s reliably good and his talent and charisma actually make something of the poorly sketched Deadshot. Deadshot’s story has been reworked to make him more of a sympathetic character with a young daughter and Smith sells the fuck out of it. There’s a moment that shows Deadshot being captured by Batman (Ben Affleck) that really shone for me. It was equivalent to some of the cool Marvel cameos/crossovers and it was a brief glimpse of sunlight before we plunged face first and open-mouthed into the sewers again. Also, Margot Robbie is great. They’ve completely bungled the long-awaited movie debut of Harley Quinn, but Robbie does well in the role nonetheless. She’s a legitimate movie star and deserves more than this wanking shit. Jay Hernandez’s Diablo was surprisingly fleshed out and of all the Squadders he gets one of the only complete story arcs. Viola Davis is also suitably scary as Amanda Waller. I’m looking forward to seeing more of her in future films.

I wanted to like Suicide Squad so much, but it turned out to be a frustrating ol’ time. There is a good movie in there somewhere, but the combination of studio meddling and bullshit ideas has almost completely buried it. Would I recommend it? Probably not. Some of the movie’s cheap tricks will work on the majority of people out there, but it’s a hollow experience. I sort of, kinda liked it I think, but it’s a like so qualified with caveats and provisos it’s barely worth mentioning. Even though they went about it poorly, at least it looks like WB have learned that grimdark isn’t the only flavour out there, which I choose to see as a positive step for the future of the DCEU. Save us Wonder Woman, you’re our only hope.

large_2

 

Man of Steel (Redux)

 
Kryposhite
 

Man of Steel (2013) (Redux)

I’ve talked about Man of Steel quite a bit since it came out. It’s certainly one of the more polarising films of last year. Well, the dust has settled and I felt it was worth another look. Would the fact that my expectations have been tempered actually allow me to concentrate on what the film brings to the table rather than what it doesn’t? I’m completely torn on how to do re-tackle this one. I tried watching the film like I’d never heard of Superman before and had mixed results. Super-spoilers by the way. Don’t read if you haven’t checked out the film and intend to.

“How do you find someone who has spent a lifetime covering his tracks? You start with the urban legends that have sprung up in his wake. All of the friends of a friend who claimed to have seen him. For some, he was a guardian angel. For others, a cipher; a ghost who never quite fit in. As you work your way back in time, the stories begin to form a pattern.”

Very short plot summary. Sent from the doomed planet of Krypton, an alien child by the name of Kal-El lands on Earth and is adopted by Kansas farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane). They name him Clark. The child grows up with superhuman powers and struggles to control them. Flash forward and the now adult Clark (Henry Cavill) is trying to live a quiet life, but has become a bit of an urban legend due to his compulsion to save people with his special abilities. After saving her life, he’s hounded by investigative reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Things get much worse when the warmongering General Zod (Michael Shannon) escapes from imprisonment and threatens to destroy Earth unless Kal-El reveals himself and surrenders to him.

I really tried to get my knowledge of the character out of my head. This was a new superhero as far as I was concerned. The problem is that the film is relying on some familiarity to carry you through. Clark/Kal doesn’t really have a personality and therefore is a blank slate we have to project onto. What are his motivations? What does he want out of life? He certainly doesn’t have a character arc. He wants to save and protect people as a youth and continues to do so until the end of the film. Fine, he’s Superman Powered Flying Man after all- but he doesn’t learn anything, he doesn’t change during the events of the film. A character can totally work without any big emotional journey. Probably the best example I can think of is Judge Dredd in Dredd, but in Dredd’s case, that was the whole point. When it comes to Man of Steel, Clark is meant to be conflicted, having two incompatible ideologies from his two different Robin Hood dads duking it out in his brain. He’ll say he’s conflicted, but he doesn’t act it. Even using the film’s own logic it doesn’t work. Clark can’t help but save people and has a compulsion to do so – fine. However, the big city punch up at the end shows no effort to save anyone, apart from a few in the train station (you bet your fucking arse I’m going to come back to that scene). A little character care could have gone a long way. The film could have even kept its 9/11 allegorical ending if it wanted, but imagine how tense it would have been if Clark is punching the crap out of Zod just to put him down long enough to go and rescue people in peril/caught in the collapsing buildings/whatever. It’d be like spinning plates. He saves people from a burning building and has just managed to put them safely on the ground before WHAM! Zod slams into him at a terrifying speed, tackling him and sending the pair of them a mile away, fighting in a whole new part of the city.

The first 20 minutes of the film show a complete lack of restraint. The opening is just disjointed action, filled with noise, explosions and stuff. It’s basically the “Bayhem” Michael Bay is often criticised for. We have an action packed opening on Krypton. We then cut to bearded Clark on a boat which spots a burning oil rig. More extended action. There isn’t time to digest any of this. There’s little breathing room – it’s just an assault on the senses. After Clark saves people on the rig, he’s knocked into the ocean. To me, this little bit sums up Zack Snyder at his worst. It’s a nice, big, empty shot but Snyder fills it with two CGI whales for some on-the-nose reason for Clark to have yet another flashback to his schooldays. Somebody needs to slap Snyder’s hands away from the storyboards on occasion, because when he’s unleashed he creates an OTT shitstorm like Sucker Punch. Writer David S. Goyer and his infamous “Goyerlogue” also proves that he needs one or both Nolans to rein him in before he makes the Most Serious Film Ever and becomes a depressing singularity, sucking in joy and natural sounding dialogue with him and blinking them out of existence. There’s too much exposition and too many moments of a character saying “I’m sad/conflicted” without ever showing us.

I think one of the reasons it’s so hard to nail down Clark as a character is the film is almost embarrassed to be an origin story. I does everything it can to disguise the fact with the multiple flashbacks and the like. Listen, I’m wary of origin stories and I’m sick of reboots, but that’s because they usually fall into the same traps time after time, not because of the very fact that they’re retelling the same story. Batman Begins was refreshing because it was finally a decent take on the Dark Knight’s origins and removed all that crappy “Joker killed the Waynes” shit from the filmic canon. Origin stories aren’t inherently bad. Dressing shit up and pretending you’re not starting afresh is dumb. Own that shit. If you have to reboot a franchise, make sure it’s the best it can possibly be. Telling a linear story from when Kal crash lands in Kansas wouldn’t be the worst thing. We could still have all the well-done school stuff, but there would be more connective tissue, some flow to it all and, most importantly, a stronger sense of character.

Look, I get that this isn’t the Superman I watched in the animated series. I understand that. My issue is that this barely seems like Superman at all. Sure, he’s got the powers an’ shit, but where’s the crucial humanity to him? It has to be said that one of the most important characters in Superman lore, Jonathan Kent, has been royally fucked up. He’s a goddamn sociopath, When a young Clark asks, somewhat rhetorically, whether he should have let a schoolbus of his classmates die just so his identity is kept secret, there’s a short pause and Pa Kent says “…Maybe.” OK, he doesn’t have the answers, but what an odd lesson to teach a child. In common Superman lore, one of the saddest moments is when Pa Kent dies of a heart attack. Why? Because it’s the one thing Superman can’t stop. He can fly at supersonic speeds and punch clean through mountains but he can’t stop his loved ones from dying. It’s the total embodiment of mortality and the cruel chaotic way nature works. In Man of Steel, we have an unnecessary tornado sequence where Pa Kent goes back to his car to save the family dog and gets caught up in the storm. He purposefully stops Clark from saving him as some sort of grim ultimate proof that Clark should take his shoe-shittingly mental lessons about secrecy to heart. It’s really stupid and completely undermines the character, at least from my point of view. It’s a shame because I think Costner does a great job as Jonathan and given the right material could have been the ultimate father figure.

Lois Lane is another wasted opportunity. Amy Adams is usually the best thing in anything she’s in. Lois Lane is a tough character to get right, but one that Adams is more than capable of nailing. Lane starts off all promising an’ shit (she gets a sweet line about military “dick measuring”) but the film loses interest in her and she ends up just being there. When the Kryptonians take Clark on board, they also state they want a human, so Lois accepts. Why do they want a human? For collateral? Wasn’t the deal “give up Superman and we won’t blow you up”? OK, they were going to go back on that anyway, but surely they wanted people to think they were holding up their end of the bargain. It’s not explained and smacks of contrivance. The romance between Lois and Clark is rushed as hell and completely perfunctory. There’s no meat to it at all. It’s there purely because of audience expectation. It’s pandering bullshit.

Shannon’s Zod is a weird one. I like his angry take on the character, but like Clark, his motivations are muddled. It’s only just before their final battle that we learn that Zod was genetically engineered to protect Krypton’s interests. He can’t help the way he’s acting. It’s a decent idea and actually makes you feel empathy for him, but the revelation is so oddly timed. Why all of this now, just as Superman’s about to beat the super-shit out of him? This coming to light at an earlier point in the film would have fleshed out his character considerably.

It’s frustrating because there some really decent elements and cool “bits” in play. The performances are all solid, especially Cavill, Adams, Shannon and Crowe who all bring their “A” games. The action beats are all exciting and give us the kind of superhuman megafights we haven’t seen before, especially in a Superman film. The scene where Clark, suited up in the iconic red and blue, learns to fly for the first time is joyful. The bit where Jor-El tells Clark the history of Krypton through the medium of an animated metallic mural is awesome. Lois being let in at the ground floor when it comes to knowing Superman’s identity is a smart move (although I get the feeling it was only included to sidestep the shit and insight-free “Clark’s disguise is rubbish, it’s clearly Superman in glasses” schtick). Superman’s final reveal being tied into humanity’s first contact with aliens. It’s all good stuff. There’s a really smart take on the whole Superman thing in here somewhere, buried underneath the origin embarrassment and leaden writing.

So, the big controversial ending. Superman breaks Zod’s neck. He just fuckin’ kills the guy. To be honest, I don’t really have a problem with this. It makes sense. He was backed into a corner and Clark had no real other option. Zod wins in the way that Kevin Spacey’s John Doe “won” in Se7en. It’s a dark ending. If you needed proof that the film was relying on previous knowledge of the main character, this should be it. It assumes you know Superman doesn’t kill people. It’s never addressed in the film. Afterwards Clark is torn up about it, screaming in anguish. It’s powerful stuff. If they use this as a way of cementing his moral standpoint in future adventures and having Clark vow to never kill again, then it’s worth it. The film can’t help but ruin this moment by tacking on some bullshit scene about drones (ooh, topical!) and a female military captain finding him “hot”.

“Hi, Lois Lane. Welcome to The Planet.”

“Glad to be here Lois.”

Man of Steel is a frustrating mess. It messes up a chance to properly introduce a great character and confirms peoples’ biases a thousand times over when they say Superman is boring. He is boring in this film. Fucking boring. There’s nothing to him. The film refuses to stick to its guns when it comes to anything. It’s a turgid clunker with delusions of grandeur and a sense of pomposity that’s really unappealing. So, explain to me why I actually don’t hate it with the same passion that I do something like The Amazing Spider-Man. I’m not sure, really. Maybe it’s because I can see the potential here. It can be a great series, it wishes to be. It only lacks the light to show the way.

P.S. Right, I’m done talking about Man of Steel, I promise. However, I found the video below by Chronicle writer Max Landis to be informative and on the money:

Earth’s Mightiest Xeroxes: The Unfortunate Legacy of The Avengers

“We’re surrounded by shitty knock-offs!”

I’ve spoken before about studios learning the wrong lessons from box office megahits and trying to apply said lessons to whatever franchises they have, whether it suits or not. In the past few days, it’s been announced that Wonder Woman will appear in the still untitled Batman vs Superman film. The first trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 also hit, giving us not one villain as previously thought, but multiple bastards to deal with as well as massive hints at an expanded universe to come. Plus, we have X-Men: Days of Future Past and as of yesterday, X-Men: Apocalypse in the pipeline, the former promising an all-star mash-up of the established cast of the original trilogy with the swingin’ ’60s versions of the characters from First Class. I should be dancing about my room, yelling about how we live in the golden age of comic book films, but I can’t shake the feeling we’re in danger of having some monumental clusterfucks on our hands.

I’ll take them on in order. Firstly, that whole Wonder Woman thing. I’m happy that she finally gets to make an overdue appearance, but I’m pissed off that she’ll be playing third fiddle to Bats and Supes. Obviously, I have no idea how much she’ll appear in the film, but I’m pretty sure she isn’t going to be taking too much attention away from the two beefy boys. I’ve said it before, but D.C.’s attempts at creating a cinematic universe to rival Marvel’s are a fucking mess. Wonder Woman deserves her own film, not just a glorified cameo. Yeah, they may do a solo outing later on, but my guess is that they’ll be steamrolling ahead with all this Justice League stuff for the foreseeable future and are only cramming Ms. Prince in because people expect some form of introduction to the character before the big team up film, thanks to the groundwork laid by The Avengers. Warner Bros. are grasping at straws and forming a film completely out of knee-jerk reactions. All it is is a shaky response to Marvel’s throwing down of the (Infinity) gauntlet.There’s nothing to go on so far apart from internet tittle-tattle and scant announcements, but I can already feel my caution starting to overtake my anticipation. As with all these entries, I want them to be good and would be delighted if they turned out that way, it’s just I feel that Man of Steel 2: Bruce and Diana Too is not being given the care and attention it needs. We’ll see.

Onto my pet subject: Spider-Man. I’m being honest here, I haven’t had high hopes for this one at all. The first one left me angry and it seems they have no interest in righting their wrongs. Some terrible CGI, rubbish dialogue and the baffling return of bullet time aside, there are more troubling things contained in the trailer below:

If you haven’t spent whole stretches of your life dedicated to the adventures of a smartass, spandex-wearing teen like I have, let me fill you in on what’s going on. Around the 1:14 mark, there are some recognisable villain hallmarks to be seen in the background, namely Vulture’s wings and Doc Ock’s tentacles. It seems like the trailer’s setting up the appearance of The Sinister Six, a supervillain group, pretty much the anti-Avengers, who team up to take down their common arachnid enemy. The roster has changed over the decades so it’s tough to say which line-up they’ll go with, but they could have given us the answer in this trailer and have Doc Ock, Electro, Lizard, Vulture, Rhino and the Green Goblin for their sickening sextet. If you’d have told the 10 year old me that not only would there be loads of Spider-Man films one day, but one featuring The Sinister Six, I think he would have flipped his lid. Thing is, adult me has been hurt before by Spider-Man 3 and more pertinently, The Amazing Spider-Man. Marc Webb et al have already showed they don’t “get” Spider-Man and it’s only going to get worse. I would have liked to have seen at least one more film where Spidey takes on a singular villain without the constraints of being shackled to a spider origin story before we barrel in to a big “event” picture. Having multiple villains can work, but only if a deft touch is used. They couldn’t even handle The Lizard on his own without ballsing it up, so I doubt that they’ll be able to handle three in this sequel and six in future films. They’re trying to run before the can walk. Christ, they can’t even wallcrawl properly yet. I will say this though- Dane DeHaan looks like he’s nailed Harry Osborn and I’m looking forward to see where he takes it.

The X-Men franchise is the one I’m least worried about. I believe in Bryan Singer. Whilst I would have liked another film focused on the First Class lot, I think Days of Future Past is going to be good. Singer cares about character and will hopefully be able to balance all the spinning plates. Besides the time-twisty adventures planned, there’s still a Wolverine sequel to come and spin-offs in the form of an X-Force feature, which could possibly set up a spin-off of its own in the form of a long-awaited standalone Deadpool film. There’s even talk of merging the X-Men and Fantastic Four universes, creating a Fox branded take on the Marvel universe. It’s pretty damn likely to happen too. As you may have noticed- everyone has to have their own version of The Avengers paradigm by law, apparently. If you’re still with me at this point and your brain hasn’t dribbled out of your nose, good on you.

I think the thing that annoys me is the reactionary nature of it all. Studios see the opportunity to sell 5 times as much merchandise and have jumped all over it, not taking time to figure out what made The Avengers good. It’s a fucking miracle that The Avengers worked at all and they need to respect that. In my opinion, they hired the right guy for the task. Joss Whedon had a history of making ensemble things work, from his stint as a writer on the X-Men comics to his TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. He has a great knowledge of team dynamics and has a wonderful inclusionary way where you as the reader/viewer/whatever feel like part of the team and share in their triumphs and losses. The lesson to be learned isn’t “Team-ups are in right now. Let’s copy The Avengers and cram as many fucking characters in as the screen can hold and set up our next 70 films”. It says a lot that The Avengers doesn’t work nearly as well as a standalone film as it does as a sequel to all of Marvel’s “Phase One” films up to that point. I realise they’re all rushing these things into production and trying to strike whilst the iron’s hot. Here’s the thing- that particular iron cooled a while ago, it was struck at peak heat to the tune of a billion dollars, and if I may stretch this metaphor to near-breaking point, it might be a better idea to focus on creating their own iron doodads fit for heating purposes. Marvel Studios doesn’t and shouldn’t have the monopoly on superhero team-ups, but it went about it the best way, took its time building the foundations and has already started manufacturing a second iron thingamajig (sorry, I’m swear I’m completely done with that analogy now). I think that’s the lesson that studios should be taking away from the success of The Avengers. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to team up with several other crappy little movie blogs and together, we’ll write the biggest and bestest review you ever did see. Be sure to buy the tie-in video game where you get to play as me and struggle to get over a handful of daily views!

Batfleck, D.C. and a distinct lack of Wonder

It’s easier to eat your words when they’ve been physically printed on something.

 

I talk about comics and comic adaptations a lot on here. I can’t help it, I’m a massive fan of superheroes and like it or not, superhero films are as ubiquitous now as Westerns were back in the day. Having grown up with Marvel, I’m usually more invested in what’s going on that side of the fence, but I like a lot of the D.C. roster too. I just enjoy comic book films. This isn’t a tiresome Us vs. Them, Pepsi vs. Coke scenario.

I’m totally baffled by D.C.’s cinematic strategy. It’s a fucking trainwreck. It seems that if it’s not Batman, they can’t make it work. After jealously eyeing that huge stacks of cash Marvel brought in with their shared cinematic universe and Avengers megahits, D.C. decided they wanted some of that money pie too. Man of Steel was the first step towards the long-gestating Justice League film and it shattered its ankle straight out of the gate. It was a hit, but not the fuckingmegahit they wanted. Plus, I’m sure the critical reaction to its questionable tone and lack of basic heroics stung them too. Unlike most sweaty nerds, I didn’t frost my jeans at the prospect of a Batman/Superman flick, especially as it’s a sequel to Man of Steel, not its own separate thing.

The one thing that has me interested in Man of Steel 2: Hey kids, this one has Batman!  is the casting of Ben Affleck as the Dark Knight. Honestly, I think it’s a fucking brilliant shout. Affleck is a great actor and director and I really think he’ll bring a lot to the role. The fallout from this news was mental, people bitching and moaning about Affleck and especially his role in 2003’s Daredevil.  Firstly, I would advise people to go back and watch the Director’s Cut of Daredevil and find out just how overblown the hate is for it. Secondly, even if you take into account things like Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, Gigli and Daredevil so fucking what? Affleck has proven himself a fantastic actor and director time and time again with films like Hollywoodland, Argo and The Town. He reinvented himself. I don’t see the same criticism being levelled at Matthew McConaughey, despite him slumming in dire romcoms for a while before landing some choice roles and increasing his stock as a legitimate actor. Let’s not forget the instant kneejerk responses to Michael Keaton’s casting as Batman back in ’89, or more recently, the news of Heath Ledger being cast as the Joker for The Dark Knight. I can genuinely see people eating some huge slices of humble pie when Affleck finally dons the cowl.

Anyway, the one thing that really bugs me about D.C. and their rush to get to the Justice League film is the lack of Wonder Woman. There are three core members of the Justice League: Bats, Supes and Wonders. I’d have thought D.C. would have been all over a Wonder Woman film before getting into to JL business. It’d be like an Avengers flick without Captain America. Plus, let’s face it. D.C. are lagging behind Marvel at this point. They’re rushing to compete in a market which has already been won by The Avengers. Shit, Age of Ultron will be have been out for years by the time the Justice League comes to cinemas in 2017. Here’s the thing, who’s to say there will be the same demand for superheroes in four years’ time? Maybe the bottom will have fallen out of the comic book film market by then. I hope not, but it could happen.

I would think they’d have been trying to identify gaps in the market or a way they can offer something unique- maybe like a fucking superheroine flick, something which Marvel aren’t concerning themselves with for the forseeable future. They’re making a Flash film, so why not one for everyone’s favourite Amazonian? Wonder Woman is ripe for a big budget adaptation and the only reasons I can fathom as to why they’re not pursuing it is to do with a blinkered view of the audience and basic, grotty sexism. In case you haven’t left your house for the past 10 years, superheroes are as mainstream as you can get right now. Studios are always looking to cater to the audience they don’t have rather than concentrating on the audience they do.  Why something that has the potential to bring in even more females into the multiplexes isn’t being exploited to shit is completely beyond me. Isn’t that what big business does?

To summarise:

1) Shut the fuck up ’bout Da Fleck. He’s going to be brilliant.

2) Make a Wonder Woman film, you stupid bastards.

You wouldn’t like me when I’m angsty: Why it’s time to stop copying from Batman’s notebook

Man of Feels

Like many thousands of other people, I went to see the new Superman flick Man of Steel the other day. Whilst I quite liked it, I had my problems with it. Chief of which was the fact it was the same type of joyless, po-faced, sullen comic book adap we’ve been seeing ever since Chris Nolan reinvigorated the Batman series. I know I can’t be the only one getting sick of how ridiculously seriously these films take themselves.

I’m not saying that I would prefer a Superman film that undermines the comic at every turn, pointing out how silly things are. Not at all. I love it when films have confidence in the comics and strive to make what worked on the page work on screen. Films used to take the attitude of  looking at comic series and seeing what they could salvage, but now they’re mostly interested in being faithful to the source material. I’m also not against dark and gritty adaptations. The Dark Knight trilogy is fantastic and I love stuff like Sin City, Road to Perdition and Dredd. Thing is, dark and gritty worked for Batman because Batman was all downbeat and moody to begin with. The washed-out palette and realistic approach worked because it suited the character and world that he inhabited.

Comic books are renowned for having a multitude of takes on their characters. Spider-Man alone has had so many different iterations ranging from a futuristic 2099 version to a cartoon pig known as “The Spectacular Spider-Ham” it’s hard to keep track of them all. Practically every time a new artist/writer is hired, the series is technically rebooted and some new blood gets a crack at taking on an established character. Whilst 1997’s  Batman & Robin can go drown in a bucket of piss, this is one of the reasons why I don’t mind Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever as much as most people do. As long as the core character traits are kept the same, you can remix the tone, characters and world as much as you want. It’s like Shakespeare- as long as the essence is kept the same, people don’t give a fuck what you do.

What I do have a problem with is when filmmakers artificially grit up a franchise to appeal to the emotionally stunted moody teen demographic out there. It happened with The Amazing Spider-Man and it’s happened again with Man of Steel. Both films were tasked with rebooting a franchise and making the hero relevant and cool again (the necessity of which is debatable). Both films took the “darker” route and I would argue they both sold out their characters to do it.

I’m not the biggest Superman fan ever, but I like the character a lot and have enjoyed my fair share of the comics,  films and TV shows. I even played the craptacular Superman 64 back in the day. When I bought my ticket for MoS, I expected a grittier take on the franchise, but for the basic character to remain the same altruistic saviour figure he always has been. What I got was a mopey, brooding bellend in a skintight suit. Superman’s sincerity and earnestness doesn’t have to be cheesy. They could have made it work. But no, they washed out the colours and sucked out the joy.  Where’s all the protecting and inspiring good in people? Abandoned in his own selfish quest to get to know just who he really is.

This grittification reminds me of comics in the ’80s when many heroes were like huge steroid-abusing bears, muscling their way around swearing, killing and being “mature”. Looking back on them now, it’s funny how juvenile they are. Comics have thankfully got through that awkward phase and are now more diverse and legitimately adult than ever. The film adaptations need to do this too. At this rate, the much-talked about Justice League film will be Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman et al sitting in a room chain smoking, cutting themselves and looking for “deep” pictures to put on their Tumblrs.

I think the reason that people are supposedly connecting with the Nolanised breed of films is an overall weakening of audiences’ imaginations. People just can’t suspend disbelief like they used to. Nowadays you have to explain the fuck out of everything and meet audiences three-quarters of the way. People like to think they’re too cynical and clever for the older, cheesier superhero flicks, but they really aren’t. They’re too fucking stupid to get caught up in the escapism of it all. The Nolan Bat-films worked because Batman isn’t superpowered. All his tech is plausible and only slightly science-fictiony. When you present a realistic take on Superman who, may I remind you, can fly and has laser vision, you’re forced to really think just how he can achieve flight, rather than just buy the concept. I want to believe a man can fly, not just be told it. Same problem with The Amazing Spider-Man. Using the film’s own logic, explain to me how a teenager with no income can afford to bulk-buy crates of a commercially available web-like fluid and isn’t tracked down by any competent law enforcement agency once they find out there’s an outlaw swinging around using the stuff. Over-explanation is a killer. Think of Toy Story. Did you need an explanation as to how the toys could talk and became self-aware to enjoy the film? Would it have been better if you were told that an accident at a toy factory had caused all the voice chips in the toys to work at 40,000% capacity, granting motor skills and AI? Fuck no. The toys talk when people aren’t around. Boom. Done. Let’s get on with the story.

Some people are grumbling about reaching a saturation point when it comes to superhero films. I tell you what, I’m nowhere near. However, I’m not sure if I can take another dour, shoe-gazing version of a favourite hero of mine. Films need to be confident enough in the unique charms of their chosen properties and not paint over everything with the angsty “mature” brush. Basically, they need to be adult enough to have a little fun and not do something because it worked for Batman.

Man of Steel

Hey guys, I went to see one of those “super hero” movies everyone’s been talking about!

Man of Steel (2013)

2006’s Superman Returns has a bad rep. I would argue that most of it is ill-deserved too. For one reason or another, audiences didn’t really connect with it and here we are. After pretty much dining out on Batman for the past 8 years, DC knew they had to step their game up to catch market leaders Marvel. Pre-release, I went back and forth on being excited for Man of Steel, but eventually settled on getting hyped. I rationalised it thusly: DC can’t afford for the film to suck. They still have eyes on a Justice League film and it’s not going to happen if people don’t like Superman. The script is by David S. Goyer, who has  had great success with the Dark Knight trilogy. Speaking of ol’ Bats, director Chris Nolan had taken the producer role this time and had a hand in the scripting.  All the elements are there. Director Zack Snyder has a great eye for visuals, but tends to get a bit carried away with himself (see the visually arresting but offensively shit Sucker Punch) but the down-to-earth duo of Goyer and Nolan would keep him grounded. All the time though I had a niggling voice in the back of my skull. The trailers certainly pointed towards a gritty, more realistic take on Superman. I hate this “grittification” of superhero films. Just because it worked for Batman, doesn’t mean it’s suitable for everything. We learned this lesson with the pandering, shoe-gazing The Amazing Spider-Man, which took all the fun out of Spidey and left us with an angsty chore of a film.

“My son was in the bus! He saw what Clark did!”

Despite everyone and their dog knowing Superman’s origin story, Man of Steel tells the tale of Kal-El (Henry Cavill), an humanoid alien who was shipped off the dying planet of Krypton as a baby by his parents and sent to Earth, where he was raised by the Kents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane). Whilst on Earth, Kal-El (named “Clark” by the Kents) discovers he possesses superhuman abilities, like super-strength, laser vision and with enough practice, flight.  After keeping his identity semi-secret for decades, it all starts coming undone when intrepid investigative journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams) starts digging around following various urban legends about a mysterious man’s superhuman feats. Clark is forced to come out of hiding when fellow Kryptonian and war-mongering bastard General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his group of thugs threaten to commit planet-wide genocide unless Kal-El gives himself up. Reading that back, I realised Man of Steel‘s story is solid. It’s a fresh take on the familiar and it works. The cast are all great too. Cavill is a brilliant lead, Adams nails a tricky role and Shannon is a fantastic villain. Star of the show for me though was Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent. The Kents are integral to the Superman story as they give him his morality and understanding of the human race. Costner gives some wonderful speeches to the young Clark that manage to be genuinely affecting. I want him as my dad.

The film’s opening didn’t give me a lot of hope for the rest of it. We see Supes’ dad, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) arguing with the council over Krypton’s future, then a takeover attempt by Zod. Jor-El takes it upon himself to steal this thing and blah blah blah. There’s an awful bit where he calls a big CGI dragonfly/bat thing and rides it amidst explosions and all sorts of shit. It was a CGI nightmare akin to Attack of the Clones-  just packing the screen with as much CGI as it can handle. It all goes a bit Avatar with the flying beast, then a bit Matrix as we see babies in pods. I felt my heart sink. Was this it? Thankfully, the film pulls it round, but it was a scary 20 minutes, I tells ya.

I suppose the two main criticisms of Superman Returns were its retro cornball approach to the mythos and lack of action. Both of which are answered here with varying degrees of success. The film takes on Superman’s origins as a course of solemn duty more than anything else. It takes itself very seriously and I think that’s my main problem with it. I also think by taking this approach, DC are just confirming the misconception that Superman is a boring hero. Yeah, he’s practically invulnerable and has nearly all the powers, but he has the weight of humanity on his shoulders. He can punch a meteor into dust, but he can’t stop the people he cares for from being endangered or dying. None of that really comes through in the film. Superman’s just another introspective hero douche. I think they rushed the Lois/Clark thing too. I didn’t buy the love angle for one minute and I wish they’d held off until a sequel.

In action terms, things have been kicked up a fucktillion notches. The film can barely go 5 minutes without some big sequence happening and I loved it. The superhuman smackdowns between Zod’s crew and Superman are incredibly well done and injections of much-needed fun. I never got tired of watching people getting punched with the force of a freight train and flying backwards through debris and various shameless corporate tie-in buildings. Superman’s final fight with Zod is a proper climax too. Metropolis gets leveled and it’s genuinely thrilling stuff. I was exhausted and deafened by the time it was all over, but I was still pretty content.

“He will be an outcast. They’ll kill him!”

“How? He’ll be a god to them.”

Man of Steel is an odd one. Instead of a bold step to try and bring DC up to the Marvel benchmark, it’s a strange case of trying to make a square peg fit a round hole. Putting the all-American bastion of good through the dark ‘n gritty filter doesn’t work. It’s all a mite too cynical for me. Levity isn’t a bad word. You can have earnest without being corny. The Captain America flick is a great example. In this film, characters are almost embarrassed to call him “Superman” and that’s part of the problem. Man of Steel certainly isn’t bad. I liked a lot of the elements, but it didn’t hang together as a whole. The tone is also all wrong. For fuck’s sake, it’s Superman! Let’s try and have a little fun when sequel time rolls around, eh?

The Dark Knight Rises

So yes, a review of the film everyone is talking about (partially for unbelievably tragic reasons.) I can’t think of much else to say. It’s the motherflippin’ Dark Knight Rises. You know the score.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

It’s pretty safe to say that The Dark Knight Rises has been 2012’s most anticipated film. Geeks and non-geeks alike have been waiting with bated breath for the final installment of the Dark Knight trilogy, a film that not only marks the end of Christopher Nolan’s stint behind the camera, but also Christian Bale’s time in the batsuit. It’s been a fantastic ride, but even the best rollercoasters have to come to a stop.

Don’t worry, Master Wayne. It takes a little time to get back into the swing of things.”

After the events of The Dark Knight, Batman has been gone for 8 years. An older, more physically enfeebled Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a Howard Hughes-type recluse, barely leaving his bedroom and tended to, as always, by his faithful butler Alfred (Michael Caine). However, it seems he’s not needed as thanks to the Dent Act, the streets are clean and safe- leaving Comissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) with a massive moral quandry on his hands.Wayne is forced to become the Bat once more when a hulking great mercenary by the name of Bane (Tom Hardy) who aims to send Gotham into turmoil, aided by his army of incredibly loyal followers. Also cat-burglar and seeming moral vacuum Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) and rookie hot-headed cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are in it but it’s annoying me I’m still typing a fucking plot summary rather than reviewing the film. The plot is solid and probably the least convoluted of the trilogy. Without spoiling too much, although it has elements of The Dark Knight, it has more in common with Batman Begins. The returning cast are the best they’ve been, with Michael Caine making me tear up a few times.

The newcomers also bring their A-game. Anne Hathaway is awesome as Selina Kyle (she’s never referred to as “Catwoman” in the script), giving the film a sorely needed fun injection every now and again with all the unremitting bleakness, misery and bum-gazing going on. Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a lot with what initially seems like a largely pointless and uninteresting role as John Blake, a young, intuitive policeman. He brings real depth to what could have been a thankless part. Marion Cotilliard is predictably great as the mysterious billionaire investor Marion Tate, who for the first time since the late Rachel Dawes believes in Bruce Wayne, rather than just his nocturnal alter-ego. As is the case with everything Batman, the villains are the real talking point and Bane is no exception. He is one scary motherfucker. Hardy does a great job giving Bane some personality considering 80% of his face is covered by a speech-garbling mask. Certainly this is the first time we feel that Batman is out of his depth physically, which gives us some fantastic showdowns between the two. He’s just not as interesting as The Joker or even Scarecrow. He’s a bulked up Ra’s al Ghul, filled with the same “Gotham must burn” League of Shadows philosophy we’ve seen before. It doesn’t help that Batman is absent from most of the film, leaving the film to uncomfortably rest on Bane’s considerable shoulders.

Time to lay the cards on the table. I think …Rises is the weakest of the trilogy. That’s not to say it’s bad, because it isn’t at all. It just doesn’t quite stack up to the the previous installments. Considering I love the first two films so much I consider them family members, this is still a huge, although admittedly backhanded, compliment. For the first time in a Nolanverse film, I was getting a bit bored, especially in the middle where the film is desperately struggling to keep up with its own plot. As I said earlier, the plot isn’t as complicated as previous films, but still has a lot of threads to keep track of, some of which aren’t kept as taut as others. …Rises is a smart film, but its misplaced some of its I.Q. points since 2008. Unlike previous entries, the social relevance aspect (The Dark Knight being a huge allegory for the War on Terror and the “any means necessary” approach) seems forced. There are distinct parallels drawn between the #Occupy movement, raging against the 1% and the global recession but it’s handled with such inelegance that I didn’t care. All those political undercurrents were woven in to The Dark Knight so carefully you could easily miss them. …Rises’ social commentary just sits on top of the plot, like oil on water. I know what you’re probably thinking: “Big fuckin’ deal, it’s Batman, dickhead- not Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.”* and that’s true, I wasn’t rubbing my hands with glee in the queue because I was looking forward to some searing satire, I was looking forward to Bats kicking arse. It just stood out to me is all. Now get the fuck off my case, imaginary douche. What I’m saying is that it just doesn’t feel as clever as the other films. This is also present in the dialogue, which is nowhere near as memorable or as quotable as it has been, with a fair few clumsy lines littered here and there.The pacing was also a slight problem. The film felt like one of those extended/director’s cuts you get. There are a lot of scenes that add nice little character moments, but sacrifice pacing for them. I wouldn’t go as far to call it overindulgent, but it is a little bloated.

Despite spending that paragraph above slagging the film off, consider me a critic by exception. Everything else is awesome. The scale of this film is off the fuckin’ chain. There are scenes with hundreds of extras that justify the price of IMAX alone. If you can see it in IMAX, do. Nolan loves the format and filmed half of the film in super-resolution IMAX-o-vision and it adds a real sense of scope to everything. There are so many things that worked too. I loved the huge set-pieces, including Bane’s seige on Wall Street, leading to a fantastic exchange between him and a sharp-suited prick banker, who explains that the money isn’t real so it can’t be stolen, to which Bane replies “Then why are you people here?”. Genius. The opening plane scene is also jaw-droppingly good and really feels like an old-school James Bond setpiece. Somebody give Nolan a shot at directing the CraigHulk as Bond. They’ll make magic together, trust me. Also the scene that nerdy people like me have been expecting ever since we heard Bane was in it was worth the wait. It’s just as brutal and bad-ass as I wished it would be. In terms of the quieter moments, every scene Alfred has with Bruce is superbly written and incredibly touching. Hats off to both Bale and Caine. There are also some neat little references to both the previous films and the comic book lore dotted around that made me squeal like a Japanese anime schoolgirl.

“I won’t bury you. I buried enough members of the Wayne family.”


The Dark Knight Rises is damn good. It’s just not as good as we’ve (possibly unfairly) come to expect from Nolan. The watermark set by The Dark Knight is ridiculously high and it’s a tough act to follow. The thing that really tickles my pleasure lobe is that even at its worst, …Rises kicks the shit out of 90% of the current mainstream, multi-million dollar offerings. The film series has never pandered or patronised and I’m so pleased that people are responding en masse to this kind of filmmaking. The Dark Knight trilogy is now one of the best trilogies around- up there with Toy Story and Lord of the Rings. Whilst sceptical about the already announced Batman reboot, the film does hint at the direction they with, which I definitely approve of. …Rises is one of those films I think will improve on multiple viewings. There’s a lot packed into the 164 minute runtime, it’s just spread unevenly. You’ll laugh, you’ll definitely cry, but mostly you’ll walk out of the screening thanking whatever deity you pray to that another franchise wasn’t sullied forever. Highly recommended.

*I just noticed in my original draft this read  “Tinker Sailor Soldier Spy” which is a very different kind of film that I’m surprised they haven’t made yet.

The Dark Knight (Redux)

“Interesting” sidenote on this one. The Dark Knight was the first film I attempted to review. I emerged from the cinema completely shellshocked and felt compelled to write about what I’d just witnessed.  So I did. On MySpace. Took me a while to realise this was akin to yelling “Fire!” as the Titanic went down, but I realised I liked writing about stuff I loved ( a revelation to me, a no-brainer for everyone else) so here we are, in this grotty little corner. All because of Batman.

The Dark Knight (2008) (Redux)

How does one say anything about The Dark Knight without their voice immediately becoming lost amongst the hyperbolic masses? It’s a tough thing to do. If you’re anything like me (and I hope for your sake you’re not) the more something is trumpeted about, the less likely you are to bother with it. That’s largely irrelevant here however, as statistically, you’ve seen the film multiple times, own it on a shiny disc and have been working on your terrible Batman/Joker impressions ever since 2008. To the five people who haven’t been living in a Batcave these past four years, let me try and explain what makes The Dark Knight so extraordinary.

“Do you wanna know how I got these scars?”

The thing to understand is that The Dark Knight was always going to be big, but just how big it turned out to be surprised everyone. Elements started coming together before release (thanks in part to a revolutionary viral marketing campaign), before things started snowballing right up until release date. For starters, Batman Begins had introduced and won a lot of people over to the Nolanverse and its new, gritty take on The Caped Crusader, so naturally these people wanted more. Secondly, instead of facing secondary, lower-level villains like Ra’s al Ghul and Scarecrow, ol’ Bats would be squaring off against his most famous adversary, The Joker. Thirdly came an element that nobody could have foreseen- the tragic death of Heath Ledger mere months before the film was due to come out. This undeniably pushed knowledge of the film beyond the reach of even the most ambitious marketing drive. Amongst the grief and sad head-shakings about a life cut short, a morbid curiosity about Ledger’s last completed role started to rise- a phenomenon that also helped Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. People were champing at the bit to see this film and luckily, it turned out to be an astounding piece of work. If Batman Begins was all about laying solid foundations, The Dark Knight was about escalation, or, as The Joker himself so aptly puts it: “aggressive expansion”.

With the criminal stranglehold on Gotham City loosened by the tireless work of Batman (Christian Bale) and Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), regular street thugs are running scared from the Batsignal. However, when an unpredictable goon in clown make-up shows up calling himself “The Joker” (Heath Ledger), the gangs turn to him to get rid of their bat problem. Meanwhile, a new hope for Gotham emerges in the shape of the new District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), who Bruce Wayne hopes will turn into the reason to hang up the cape and cowl. Things are slightly more complicated as Dent is dating Wayne’s old flame Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, replacing Katie Holmes). This is about as good as it gets for not only comic book adaptations, but films in general. The plot is slick, tight, compelling and immersive, treating the audience like they’ve got a brain in their head (still a rarity in blockbuster filmmaking). Take away the costumed sillies and you’ve got yourself a damn fine thriller in its own right. The cast, once again, are fantastic, with the possible exception of Maggie Gyllenhaal, who seems to be holding back her acting talent seen in things like Secretary for another artsy-type film. This is pure speculation of course and she’s certainly not bad, I just can’t shake the feeling she’s not as into it as everyone else. As I said in my Batman Begins review, I would have liked Katie Holmes to have reprised her role, especially as the emotional pay-offs for the Rachel Dawes character are in this one.

The smack-in-the-face obvious stand-out is Heath Ledger’s Joker, who gives the film a manic energy and a genuine menace. For the first time on-screen, The Joker is scary. This is a far cry from Nicholson’s portrayal, who came across as a wacky uncle, rather than the demented psychopath we’re presented with here. You can never quite get a handle on Ledger’s Joker. He’s unsettling, sinister and devious but amusing and incredibly entertaining at the same time. He also gets most of the best lines, with some of my favourite moments of the film being his insane diatribes, such as his conflicting stories about how he got his trademark scars to goading a policeman about how many of his friends he’s killed. Ledger deservedly won the Oscar for this portrayal. Oh- and to all the people who said he won it “just because he died”, fuck you- it’s all there on screen. It’s truly a powerhouse performance and one I never get sick of seeing.

As for the rest of the film, it’s astounding. The writing is great and the score is especially awesome (with the usually happy-to-rest-on-his-laurels Hans Zimmer re-teaming with James Newton Howard to build on the amazing work they did on the Batman Begins soundtrack.) With such an emphasis on story and dialogue, you’d think the ball would be dropped by adding in some generic action beats. However, the action manages to be jaw-dropping whilst keeping it realistic. There’s the famous chase through the streets of Gotham which introduces the cool-as-hell Batpod and culminates in a huge 18-wheeler being flipped. You will believe a truck can fly. The opening bank heist is incredibly well done too. It sets up the film beautifully.

My favourite scene that doesn’t feature gravity-defying vehicles is the interrogation scene where Batman and The Joker have a nice little sit-down before it all goes to hell. To me, this defines The Dark Knight as a whole. In the wrong hands, this scene could have been infamous, up there with the “nuking the fridge” bit in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, as it’s basically a man in unconvincing clown make-up taunting a gravelly-voiced knob in fetish gear armour with silly little bat ears. However, in practice it’s an uneasy, shocking scene that reminds me of a similar bit in L.A. Confidential where Russell Crowe’s Bud White loses his rag with a detainee. The scene is so good, I’m trying my utmost to not quit this review, jam the Blu-ray in the player and lose myself in it all over again. It honestly gets better every time I see it.

I was trying to think about any problems I had with the film and the only one I have is the dialogue given to the cop driving the armoured truck. He seems to think he’s in a standard jokey action adventure, rather than one of the bleakest populist films in recent memory. Lines like “I didn’t sign up for this!” seem really out of place. This reaches a nadir when the Joker orders his men to “rack ’em up”- shoot metal cables into the path of a police helicopter to take it down. The cables do the job and we cut back to out piggly friend who says “That’s not good!”, followed by more heli-destruction and another cut back to Sgt. Snout: “OK, that is not good!”. I can’t help thinking: “Your colleagues/friends are almost certainly dead, or at the very least seriously injured AND you’ve lost your air support in one fell swoop. You’re being hounded by a psychopath and his cronies with shitloads of weaponry and all you can do is spout shit action phrases?!”. It’s a nitpick, sure, but it really does bug me and it’s especially noticeable when surrounded by so much awesome.

“You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

In my not-at-all humble opinion, The Dark Knight is not only the best comic book adaptation but one of the best films in the last ten years. It’s one of those films that will be an eternal favourite, something I pop on when I want to be reminded of how good films can be. It’s not just the film you deserve, it’s the film you need.

Batman Begins (Redux)

When looking at the daily stats on this blog, I’m always fascinated by the old reviews of mine that pop up. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor always manages a few hits, for instance. Thing is, I went back and re-read some of my earlier reviews and was shocked at how short and poorly written they were. They were superficial and made no attempt at getting down to the filmic nitty-gritty. So, I decided to do a redux review of some of them, so I can have a better representation of my current thoughts available. Plus, it’s an opportunity to revisit some great films. Rather than do a George Lucas i.e. replacing the original and burning the negatives, I thought I’d do a separate one. Also, I originally did this for The People’s Movies, where the archive of my stuff can be found here.

Batman Begins (2005) (Redux)

 

As great as the genre-defining hallmark The Dark Knight is, I think it’s fair to say that it wouldn’t have been half as good without having the solid foundation of Batman Begins to build on. Until 2005, the (live-action) Batman adaptations were some of the best examples of wasted potential. Previous directors never really “got” Batman. He wasn’t a Gothic, limsy-wristed tragic poem of a man, stalking an Art Deco hellhole, nor was he a family-friendly, camp, action figure peddler who inhabited a headache-inducing neon nightmare. Christopher Nolan had a healthy respect for what made the comics great and, more importantly, knew that the most interesting way to get the audience to connect with the character was to get under the cowl and into the mind of the Bat.

“You must become more than just a man in the mind of your opponent.”

In case 1) you haven’t seen it or 2) can’t decipher that cryptic-as-fuck title, Batman Begins is, unsurprisingly, about Batman beginning, exploring the origins of the Dark Knight and giving the series the reboot it so sorely needed. After his rich and powerful parents are shot and killed by a opportunistic mugger, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is recruited to the League of Shadows by the mysterious Ducard (Liam Neeson), a group of ninja assassins who believe it is their duty to purge the decadent and corrupt elements of society. Rejecting their judge, jury and executioner mentality, Wayne returns to Gotham City and uses his company’s money and technology to dole out vigilante justice as Batman. Gotham is a shadow of its former self with widespread corruption, mostly leading back to powerful mob boss Falcone (Tom Wilkinson). There’s also a new threat in the form of Dr. Crane (Cillian Murphy) a creepy psychopharmacologist (that’s a real thing, I didn’t just lean on the keyboard) who experiments on his patients and has shady dealings with Falcone. Batman vows to end the Gotham’s decay with the help of rare good cop Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), tech genius Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), tenacious assistant D.A. and childhood friend Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) and loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine).

Batman Begins is a refreshingly realistic and smart take on the Batman mythos. It chops and changes some of the most memorable comic stories like The Man Who Falls and The Long Halloween and manages to bring these various elements together into a solid, cohesive narrative. Yes, it is kind of silly to have a real, psychological take on what basically boils down to a nutter in a rubber bat costume, but you won’t question it for a second when you watch it. The cast are uniformly great. I feel Katie Holmes has been unfairly maligned as Rachel Dawes and it’s a shame she didn’t get to reprise the role in The Dark Knight as I think she would have silenced her critics. Stand-out of the film for me is Cillian Murphy who gives an unsettling, uncanny performance as Dr. Crane/Scarecrow, a man who possesses a stare that could melt Kevlar. Dude’s scary before he pulls the burlap hood over his head.

I’m hugely thankful for Nolan and David S. Goyer not messing up the Wayne’s deaths. In Burton’s Batman, they were shot by the man who would later turn into the Joker, a lazy attempt to add a personal stake in defeating the villain (see also: Spider-Man 3). What Burton (and Raimi) failed to realise is by doing that, you completely invalidate the reason why these heroes continue doing what they do. Once Keaton’s Batman defeated the Joker, why did he continue fighting crime? To have the culprit be just a random mugger means that Batman isn’t just seeking vengeance. He’s fighting something a lot more conceptual than that. Nolan understood this and to implicate that it may have even partly been Bruce’s father’s fault for not acting is a masterstroke. Batman is all about the guilt.

There’s something very scientific and methodical in Nolan’s approach. Everything that is iconic to Batman is explained in a satisfactory and believable way. For example, Batman’s gadgets are Waynetech’s abandoned military contracts, deemed too expensive for use. The new Batmobile, the Tumbler, exemplifies the new Nolanverse. It’s functional, realistic, anti-camp (unlike previous flimsier models) and undeniably kick-ass. My only real problem is with the origin of the Bat signal, where Batman leaves the unconscious Falcone lashed to a huge spotlight, creating a rudimentary bat shadow in the sky. I just can’t stop thinking about the heat those things pump out and the fact that Falcone would be sizzling like a cheap steak by the time the police cut him down.

“Bats frighten me. It’s time my enemies shared my dread.”

Until rewatching it for this review, my opinion had always been that Batman Begins was very good, but The Dark Knight was the one that knocked it out of the park. Whilst I still believe that The Dark Knight is the superior film, it’s by a lot smaller margin than I originally thought. Batman Begins is a truly fantastic film. It’s the New Hope to TDK’s Empire Strikes Back and I don’t say that lightly.