THE BATMAN (2022)

This might be the best cinematic incarnation of Batman ever. More Noir crime thriller in the vein of se7en or Zodiac than your standard action blockbuster fare.

That’s likely to turn some people off it, but when that Batmobile roars to life like a godsdamned demon or The Bat walks down a black hallway lit by only the gunshots of the goons he’s taking on, it’s hard not to pick up what it’s putting down.

Pattinson’s Bat is brooding and serious, but he also recognizes he is supposed to help people. He’s also a brilliant detective — something often overlooked in favour of grander spectacle. The Batman takes place almost exclusively at night, over the span of about a week on the trail of a serial killer loose in Gotham City. It’s long and it’s slow and it’s deliberate.

The city itself feels like a strange hybrid of not quite New York, not quite Chicago, all gothic architecture and constant, miserable rain.

The Batsuit, Batmobile and all his detective gadgets all have a handmade, reappropriated feel that really adds to the grounded tone.

Soundtrack is great. Performances are all excellent. Cinematography is understated, but frequently impressive.

Could probably have been trimmed down a bit, since the final act feels a bit superfluous after a big string of satisfying resolutions, and there’s an unnecessary cameo right by the end that feels like a studio note.

Still, this feels like an absolute step in the right direction. Doesn’t quite have the big punch of the Nolan films, but I actually kind of prefer this style. Very, very promising for sequels.

Highly recommended.

THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021)

Absurdly violent, ridiculously silly and very, very entertaining.

The smartest move was definitely to just ignore that they made one of these in 2016 and throw a whole pile of fresh C-list characters into the grinder.

Never once takes itself seriously, yet manages to take enough time to bring an emotional core to each of these assholes to make the stakes stick and the action meaningful.

Soundtrack’s great, characters are fun, story is appropriately bonkers. Most importantly, it’s a good time!

Easily the best DC film, requires zero comic knowledge to enjoy.

Definitely recommended.

JUSTICE LEAGUE: The Snyder Cut (2021)

Is this an improvement over the theatrical/Whedon cut? Yes.

Is is actually a good movie now? No.

Look, I’m happy for Snyder that he got to complete his film the way that he intended, but I really don’t like his approach to any of the characters, and the storytelling swings wildly from slow and dull to heavy-handed and pretentious. This did not need to be four hours long and it’s a shocking amount of self-indulgence that kept it above the 120min mark for what essentially amounts to a retread of 2012’s The Avengers but with barely half the charm and a tenth of the colour pallet.

Primary villain Steppenwolf gets an excellent design rework and more complex motivations, but he boils down to a grey/silver redux of Loki’s role less the mischief and wit. Hell, he’s even looking for cubes and comes complete with a mindless army and a hooded go-between to the true Big Bad: Thanos…. erm, Darkseid.

Darkseid is in this! Yep. That character nobody outside of pre-existing DC fans knows anything about is introduced in flashbacks and then shows up at the end to bait for a sequel that will never come.

Instead they burn 30-odd minutes on a weird flash-forward post-apocalypse sequence so that Batman can threaten to kill Jared Leto’s Joker (in his most Ledgery portrayal) and then angry Superman can show up again and the whole thing can end on a weird downer that undoes the victory of the final battle.

It all feels so pointless. Every thirty minutes or so is something that makes you go “oh that’s pretty cool” and then we snap right out of it when Snyder does another cringeworthy needle drop. Like, the songs themselves are good songs, but he always deploys them in the most ham-fisted, obvious way and I can’t think of another director that makes me physically recoil so hard from hearing a familiar song in a film. Oh, Aquaman is a king? Here’s a pompous Nick Cave song with lyrics about a kingdom and a king cut exactly to fit a slow-motion walk into the ocean. Like, fuck, that is about as subtle as throwing a bowling ball through a plate glass window. My eyes almost rolled out of my skull and I like both Nick Cave and Momoa’s Arthur Curry (despite the movies he’s in being mediocre at best). And there’s not one but two scenes of him walking into the sea to dramatic music within 20min of one another.

What of the other characters?

Batfleck is fine. He doesn’t show up as Batman until two hours in. Jeremy Irons is a great Alfred.

Cyborg has a significantly enhanced role this time around. Ray Fisher does a good job. Sucks to hear the shoot was a nightmare for him. But… why not make his cyberspace sequences more visually distinct from the rest of the film though? It’s the same brown/orange as all the fight sequences, the same as the flashbacks, the same as the apocalypse sequences. There’s no distinction between any of the visual design, which doesn’t make it consistent or cohesive, it makes it bland.

Wonder Woman suffers hard from the fact that her next movie to release after this was set decades before this and contained several plot points that contradict dialogue in JL, as well as making her character intensely, retroactively unlikeable.

The Flash has the best visual sequences in the film but Ezra Miller’s twitchy portrayal of Barry Allen wears thin quickly. There’s something to be said for the fact that we barely see him actually moving fast too. All his speed-force shots are in slo-mo, which gives a good sense of his perpective but we don’t get enough contrast for what it’s like for those around him or what a layperson would see. Slowing things down constantly absolutely shatters the pacing, especially when slo-mo is used at other times when Flash isn’t even present because it’s Snyder’s visual crutch.

Superman is the same as he was. The weird digital lip scene is cut, he gets a colour swap on his suit, and he basically shows up as a deus ex machina in the final fight to do some good punching and that’s all.

Overall, it’s bloated, self-important, self-indulgent and self-serious. This didn’t need to be three hours long, let alone four. The “chapters” only serve to break up the runtime but don’t have much of a narrative arc distinct to them aside from loosely clustering scenes that happen around the same time in the plot without distinct through-lines.

Now that this whole hashtag has run its course I hope everyone can just bloody move on and start making new things instead of shovelling 20 indie movie budgets at a monstrosity like this. For all those celebrating this an unquestioned masterpiece, I ask:

This?

This is what you have been insufferable about for the last four years? This is what was worth harassment campaigns and nearly ruining peoples’ lives? It’s not worth any of that. It’s not visionary or groundbreaking in any way that could justify its $400m+ budget. It’s not even very entertaining.

If you haven’t seen it, don’t burn four hours of your life on it. If you love it, I don’t understand you. Just let the Snyderverse die off now.

Shazam is still the best DC film. At least that one was fun to watch.

PS. The 4:3 aspect ratio is stupid. You’re not “getting more information” if you’re cutting a third out of every single screen this will be watched on. Want more height in the frame? Pull back further in the shot. Widescreen is standard now for a reason, dammit! It was shot for IMAX? It’s not being watched on IMAX!

PPS. What was the point of the “Unite the Seven” marketing? There are five characters in most of this film, six when Superman gets revived. The other DC characters that make appearances aren’t part of the Justic League for the entire film.

WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2020)

Eh.

Feels like an 80s movie through and through, from direction to VFX composition, it’s as much the aesthetic of the Donner-era Superman as anything else.

Thing is, there’s some super-sketchy political messaging in there regarding the Middle East, and the final hopeful climax of the film that sees all the people of the world renouncing their wishes to heal the chaos… well, it’s kinda far-fetched for 2020, even in a pulpy superhero film.

The pacing is slow and it treads on its own feet trying to tell you its themes rather than embodying them and there’s really no iconic moments that match the No Man’s Land sequence in the first.

As a blockbuster it’s fine. Serviceable, a bit naïvely optimistic and uncritical of the world it uses as its backdrop and regularly too-convenient in its plot devices. All tell, no show. Even the chemistry between Gadot and Pine is stunted compared to the last round. Pascal looks like he’s having fun, at least.

Dodgy CGI all over the place, but it’s a pandemic film so it’s hard to judge too harshly even though we have television shows with better output this year. Unfortunately it does the same videogame boss battle climax the last one did.

Overall, never really rises above “okay”. Hard to even find a lot to highlight — I watched this just hours ago and it’s already smudged together. Can’t even work up enough passion to rage post about it.

Probably skip it.

HARLEY QUINN (s01/02)

A motherf***ing charming, bloody delight.

You might feel inclined to dismiss this for its proximity to the aggressively mediocre SUICIDE SQUAD film, or that on the surface it looks wannabe-DEADPOOL edgy — it’s really anything but!

Think of it as Adult Swim-toned Elseworlds DC universe satire wrapped around a sort of romantic comedy and garnished with all the obscenities and gory violence they can cram in. I’m talking people decaptiated by an ice-skating routine and an alcoholic Commissioner Gordon obsessed with trying to make an emotionally distant Batman his bestie.

Thanks to sharp writing, tonnes of heart, a stellar voice cast and some of the funniest characterisations in the DC canon this one’s way better than expected.

Two seasons, fingers crossed for a third and beyond cos this is a gem.

BIRDS OF PREY (2020)

A movie with an identity crisis: trying at once to step away from the pre-existing DCU while at the same time still allowing itself to be shaped by it in all the wrong ways.

I don’t really care a whole lot for the sort of post-production face-tattoo neon-edgelord style that SUICIDE SQUAD had going on, and I really feel like this was a pretense deserving of a few more polish and tighten passes on the script and some snappier direction more akin to a SCOTT PILGRIM or a DEADPOOL than the fairly middling thing that’s happening here.

The titular “Birds of Prey” don’t even really enter into it until the last part of the final act for some fairly stagey action sequences and it never really coheres into the sort of character piece it wants to be. Everyone except Harley (Robbie, who looks like she’s having a blast) is just sort of “in the movie” for the most part.

There’s some good stunts and the performances hit all the notes but it’s cut together in a way that feels like an afterthought rather than an intention.

Low mid-tier DCU, not the worst, but felt (like Harley herself) to be too defined by the shadow it’s trying to escape from under.

REVIEW SPECTACULAR SIX

Somehow I’ve managed to run up a backlog of stuff to review while editing my novel, and I’ve not the time to paint up something for each of these so here’s a handy bundle all in one place!

JOHN MULANEY & THE SNACK LUNCH BUNCH
UNCUT GEMS
MARRIAGE STORY
UNDER THE SILVER LAKE
THE GOOD PLACE (finale)
BOJACK HORSEMAN (finale)
FINAL SPACE (s01)
WHAT DID JACK DO?
TITANS (s01/02)

Enjoy!

Continue reading “REVIEW SPECTACULAR SIX”

JOKER (2019)

I took a while getting around to this largely because the hyperbole was exhausting, and look, having literally just watched it, I still don’t really see the need for an origin story for a fundamentally enigmatic character, even if this is the best version of that story we were ever going to get.

It’s incredibly well shot and put together, Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is fantastic and there are real moments of greatness… but it didn’t really elevate into some magical realm of reverence for me like so much of the conversation about it was trying to convince me that it was.

It’s good, worth a watch, especially if you’re a fan of TAXI DRIVER. It’s a film that people are bound to take the wrong messages away from – every generation has a FIGHT CLUB except this is not quite as dark or brilliant as it wants to be.

SIDE NOTE: I’m interested to see if Matt Reeves/Robert Pattinson’s THE BATMAN is going to pick up in the continuity given this box office success.