REVIEW: Joker

I have been looking forward to Joker for several months. Joaquin Phoenix is one of my favourite actors and has been since he played Johnny Cash in ‘Walk the Line’. But after Romero, Nicholson, Hamill and Ledger (we’ll ignore Leto), could Phoenix bring something new to the character? Yes. Would this movie live up to expectations? An even bigger yes.

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Firstly, the film is set within a Gotham City of an unspecified period but somewhere in the 1980’s. This extends to a retro Warner Brothers logo which is a lovely detail. It is the period of ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘The King of Comedy’ and the seminal Batman graphic novel ‘The Killing Joke’, although in reality a period separated by more a decade. As with these key influences the setting is an amalgamation. The non-specific time frame also allows for commentary on our modern world.

Gotham is a city which is bubbling with social unrest. The elite, epitomised by Thomas Wayne, are safe within their bubble seemingly unaware of the hard times and suffering which the less fortunate people in Gotham are having to endure. News reports are inflaming the situation further with stories of giant rats feasting on the festering rubbish littering the streets due to a strike. Budget cuts are causing the removal of care services. Medications are no longer available for those who need them.

Poster 1Joaquin is Joker

Simply put Joaquin Phoenix is astonishing. He dominates the film and is in every single scene. His descent into the more maniacal Joker that we are already familiar is a shocking and at times deeply distressing journey. Phoenix’s appearance as Arthur Fleck is merely a reflection of how he has been mistreated and abused mentally and emotionally as well as physically. Malnourished. Bruised and beaten. He works as a clown but even that is not without perils. In the evening he returns home to take care of his mother and, much like his job, is also a negative experience. Fleck is not a character that you have sympathy for, instead you just pity him.

Whilst watching the movie it is difficult not to want to see that eventual metamorphosis into Joker. That’s why we bought the cinema ticket. But at the same time you don’t really want it to come because, when it does, you realise it isn’t going to be pretty. Boy, is it not pretty!

The explanation of Arthur’s laughter being an involuntary response, seemingly occurring at times of stress, anger and nervousness, was a smart way of accounting for that particular trait of Joker. Medicalising it as the result of a brain injury or impairment was, in my opinion, reaching a bit. But it also balanced with his inability to understanding comedy. Arthur has a desire to be a standup comedian but laughs at the setup rather than punchline. His sense of humour is not obscure or dark, it just isn’t funny.

Venice winnerDirected by Todd Philips

Perhaps the only genuine criticism that I can level at this film is the lack of subtlety. This should be no real surprise as it comes from the director of the Hangover trilogy. The points being made are unquestionably clear. ‘Look what happens when you don’t treat people with mental health problems appropriately’. ‘This is what happens when the wealthy defecate on the poor’. ‘A lack of gun control and the accessibility of weapons can have dangerous consequences’. ‘The media portray the wealthy in glowing terms no matter what they do’. These themes are not painted with the dexterity of a paintbrush on canvas, more like a wrecking ball smashing into a wall. But the messages are clear and that has proved to be effective.

Joker won the Best Film award at the Venice Film Festival plus others and is expected to perform well when awards season hits. That is a credit not just to Phoenix’s sensational performance but to director Todd Philips who have collectively created something truly unique. It isn’t a comic book movie in the conventional sense. The whole thing also looks incredible. A period setting, brilliantly shot and with terrific cinematography by Lawrence Sher. If you can get to an IMAX screening then I would highly recommend it.

Poster 2Violence

It is unquestionably a movie which has created controversy. Joker could quite easily be considered to be a dangerous film, capable of inciting violence in a way that ‘A Clockwork Orange’ was claimed to have influenced on its release. Much of the attention of the debate surrounds the violence which Joker instigates but that would be missing the point entirely. Fleck’s violent outbursts are as a result of the violence he himself has had to endure. Those moments are a reaction to something inflicted upon him but they become increasingly greater over-reactions. First, a physical assault. The second and third instances are based upon long-term abuse with the latter more implied and not entirely clear. Finally, a reaction to being made fun of. Instead of continuing to take the abuse Fleck lashes out in increasingly dramatic ways. Much like Gotham itself the bubbling anger and frustration boil over and the result is carnage and chaos.

That said the film could’ve been far more gratuitous in its violence. In the UK the film received only a 15 certificate so it could easily have gone further still and achieved an 18. The violence is shocking because it occurs unexpectedly. Yes the acts are inherently violent in themselves but in a lot of cases it will catch people off guard and that accentuates the shock. It is a movie full of tension but not a constant unease which elicits terror in the viewer. Uncomfortable to watch but not due to the content if taken in isolation.

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Special mention has to be made to the score by Hildur Guðnadóttir which is a work of brilliance. Mournful sounds of cello strings accentuate the tension and contribute to an unforgettable experience. It is not for the faint of heart. Whilst I did not need to see yet another version of Thomas and Martha Wayne being murdered in front of a young Bruce, it felt like an appropriate ripple as Gotham caught fire. Joker becomes a hero. A symbol for a groundswell of social unrest. Let’s hope this particular element remains where it belongs, on screen and not in reality.

I would be surprised if Joaquin Phoenix does not get award nominations for this role. Whilst it is a difficult and at times harrowing film to watch Phoenix and Philips have delivered something truly exceptional.

Review: Justice League

AE05378F-D18A-4676-962C-16E13A26ACABFollowing the tedious ‘Batman Vs Superman’ and the nightmarish ‘Suicide Squad’, The triumphant ‘Wonder Woman’ triggered optimism for the greatly anticipated ‘Justice League’. Unfortunately, the critical reception has been far less than stellar. It was therefore with great trepidation that I approached ‘Justice League’. Perhaps these low expectations helped me conclude that it’s actually not too bad.

Of course, the movie is stacked with flaws. From the predictable narrative to the generic CGI-filled fight sequences, there is plenty to find fault with. It is however difficult to appropriate blame following the loss of director Zack Snyder, a man once labelled ‘a visionary’, due to personal tragedy. In that context, the fact that the film remains vaguely coherent can be assessed to be an achievement. Unlike other recent offerings from DC on the big screen, there is a restraint and even an avoidance of the traditional grim and gritty visuals. Despite the death of Superman things seem a lot brighter visually than the murk of ‘Suicide Squad’. Things do venture back in that direction for the climax but the tones are much improved, clearly a decision based on the superior ‘Wonder Woman’ combination of dark moments within the bright instead of constant misery-inducing dullness.

6F1B0FC0-B77C-487C-A855-E5B5CD7AFF11Unfortunately, the plotting is entirely formulaic. There is little doubt from the outset that Superman would return, with death merely an inconvenience. This becomes increasingly inevitable given the presentation of the enhanced threat levels provided by the villain; Steppenwolf. Perhaps appropriately the logic behind the three cubes, one of which may or may not have been his mother, defies the understanding of mere human mortals. Steppenwolf is fairly convincing as an all-conquering destroyer so that Superman’s abilities would be required in addition to the other members of the team, the makeup of which is very deliberate.

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The Flash is the comic relief, although not a particularly funny one. Aquaman is the cool and aloof muscleman, Cyborg provides the technological wizardry and Wonder Woman is the unofficial leader. Batman in turn is less of a superhero and more of a facilitator, bringing together these gifted individuals. The Flash even draws attention to it by asking, “So what’s your superpower?” The response, “I’m rich”, although amusing reinforces that this Batman doesn’t really have a place within this team. When Superman is resurrected the gifted quartet fly to his aid. When Batman appears he may as well have been out of breath and bemoaning the buses. This hurts me as a person who has always preferred Batman to all other heroes. However, his place within this team seems largely unwarranted with Wonder Woman coming across as the real leader.

 

C18D0B6B-95B8-4A22-817A-17019D29C319Gal Gadot is the star of the piece with a sparkle and the twinkle in the eye required for a good Wonder Woman. Conversely Batfleck is just bland, lacking any edge which Keaton and Bale unquestionably brought to the role. Jason Momoa as Aquaman was flawless and badly under-utilised but I look forward to seeing the Aquaman movie in 2018. Similarly, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of Cyborg’s struggles with his new form that went underdeveloped. But do I want to see a Ben Affleck led Batman movie? Absolutely not. Ezra Miller as The Flash is in the middle of the two, tolerable but not massively engaging. Henry Cavill’s Superman also manages to generate some emotional moments when reunited with the wonderful Amy Adams as Lois Lane and of course his Mum. Outside of that there is a procession of generic action sequences until finally we reach a conclusion.

‘Justice League’ is clumsily put together and that is no surprise given the circumstances around it’s production. Although predictable and pedestrian in it’s storytelling Justice League is not as bad as one may have expected. That is until the after credits sequence when all positivity was washed away by the appearance of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. His spectacularly irritating performance in ‘Batman Vs Superman’ was mercifully absent from the rest of ‘Justice League’. Whilst the sight of Deathstroke was a bit exciting, Eisenberg’s Luthor is something I never ever want to see onscreen again. The prospect of Luthor building his own team of villains would see me prefer to revisit the abysmal ‘Suicide Squad’ than sit through that potential abomination. If such a project does transpire then I predict that ‘Justice League’ will be deemed a masterpiece in comparison.

For now, I’m going to watch the far more polished Avengers movies from Marvel.

REVIEW: Power Rangers (2017)

The Power Rangers from Saban are back in a new movie. Specifically a film adaptation of the origin story for the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers television series which became a global hit in the 1990’s. The series has since undergone multiple revisions including Samurai and Jungle Fury. Now given a big budget and the limitless scale of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) available does this modern reboot do the source material justice?

Firstly, some context. As a youth I was very much into the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. I had action figures. I vividly remember buying the Megazord and playing with the constituent Zords constantly. Similar memories are also held of the White Ranger’s sword, a toy which came complete with sound effects. When the original television series made its big screen debut I entered a drawing competition at the local supermarket, putting the White Ranger onto paper and actually won tickets to see the movie. These memories have resurfaced because of this film and that strikes upon the appeal of this new movie; nostalgia.

For those of us of a certain age Power Rangers strikes a chord with what we remember of the series that we became swept up with as youngsters. Additionally, actors Bryan Cranston, from Malcolm in the Middle and of course Breaking Bad, and Elizabeth Banks, who we’ve seen in Role Models, The Forty Year Old Virgin, The Hunger Games and Zack and Miri Make a Porno, draw us in even further. Banks in particular savours the freedom to go wild with the villainess Rita Repulsa. Cranston largely appears as the talking face on the wall called Zordon. However neither appears to have just shown up for the pay cheque and indeed take the process reasonably seriously. Perhaps they too were savouring the nostalgia of the project?

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This search to deliver nostalgia is indicative of the tone of the film. It is not a film for children with some particularly dark moments, the implication that Rita was pulling gold teeth out of a homeless man’s skull for instance. Unfortunately the screening I attended had two families with young children who were clearly scared in these moments. Although the 12A certificate is entirely appropriate for this film, it does not mean that it is suitable for 6 year olds even if they are accompanied by an adult. It is clearly intended for that older audience, now in adulthood, that darker tones appeal to but without straying too far away from the original. Those kids in my showing also failed to have their attention kept by the extended character development.

As with any origin story time is spent explaining the premise. However the majority of the running time is dedicated to exploring the five lead characters. My heart sank with the prospect of a Breakfast Club style setup. Happily however that was dispensed with quickly. With the change of environment, from weekend detention to a quarry, the unlikely friendship then begins to develop between the teenagers. Although a slightly generic motley crew of characters they do cover all bases. The star quarterback has dented his future with some youthful hi-jinx. A former cheerleader who didn’t quite fit the Mean Girls mould. Someone struggling with how her ‘perfect’ family would react to her sexuality. Similarly a young carer struggling to look after his sick mother. Plus the smart one on the autistic spectrum. All of these characters however are handled well. Sensitively in fact, with a subtlety often missing from most movie blockbusters.

Each of them have a point to prove. Seeking acceptance from the other outsiders they form a strong bond as a group. Those themes of friendship and acceptance add an additional layer to the generic superhero and sci-fi material that will hopefully speak to others at that impressionable age. On reflection, this process of teasing out the character back stories is too long, not that I was in a hurry to see the inevitable battle between the Zords and Goldar. However I was caught up enough in the characters that I was eager for them to get their suits which were particularly impressive given the movie level budget. Admittedly this movie is not likely to receive widespread critical acclaim. The plot and script are not likely to win any awards for instance. But some films deliver based upon what the viewer brings to it.

As a nostalgic 30-year-old I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting a story from my youth. A modern retelling with a good budget and featuring two actors who I have enjoyed in other things before. Excitingly an extra scene in the credits alludes to a further story involving the Green Ranger. Perhaps history will repeat itself and he will trigger a peak in popularity for the Power Rangers?

REVIEW: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

One of my biggest gripes about Batman Vs Superman was the movie’s very existence. I questioned what the point of it was. Rogue One however is the complete reverse. The fact that it has been created is extraordinary. It is a film that explains an important plot point in a different movie that was premiered forty years ago now. It didn’t need to be made. The Star Wars saga existed comfortably before and after Rogue One was released. But yet it provides an engaging, thoroughly enjoyable and visually impressive Star Wars film that comfortably sits alongside those which have come before and those still to follow.

Spoiler Warning! Details will be discussed that will hamper viewer enjoyment for those yet not to see it.

Unlike other simplistic ‘cash-in’ movies within franchises, incredible thought and effort has gone into delivering Rogue One. For instance, I was astonished that Peter Cushing was in it. And in it a lot! So much so that I doubted he was actually dead. Post cinema visit I had to check and yes the legendary actor, who also played Doctor Who on the big screen, passed away in 1994. There are also a number of other cameos. One is delightfully amusing and brief. Another is chilling and full of grandeur. In fact all of the sequences featuring Darth Vader are very impressive, from the horrific realities of his injuries to an astonishing ass kicking rampage which will make a whole new generation fear him. The final surprise appearance however is utterly heartbreaking given recent news but did distract me from the slightly dodgy rendering to achieve the effect of youthfulness. None of these cameos overshadow the piece and just added to the ‘this is for you fans’ joyousness.

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Overall, Rogue One is a bit bland compared to other entires in the Star Wars mythos. This is largely because the audience is obviously less invested in newer characters that are introduced for this movie. However all of these individuals are delivered well. They are unique and have suitable personalities that carry the viewer along with the story. Felicity Jones and Diego Luna were both excellent and actually the fact that they were new characters allowed for the unexpected moment when they were actually killed off. This twist added a refreshing change for Star Wars and particularly for a Disney movie!

Rogue One also finally brought the ‘war’ element to Star Wars. In addition to the spectacularly well delivered battle sequences and the fighting on the beaches, the film also creates the scale of a universal conflict. This made the planet hopping of the first act less tedious and more necessary. Another interesting direction saw the rebels presented as not simple moral crusaders. Instead it is alluded to some of the more horrific acts of being at war that these fighters have had to do. The reality of lead characters not making it out alive against the impossible odds also made for a welcome change. Sacrifices being made in this movie also made you appreciate the small battles that need to be traversed for later, more memorable victories. Time to dig out ‘A New Hope’ I think!

REVIEW: Suicide Squad

imageThe critics have been pretty scathing about this latest offering from the DC comic universe whilst fans have been very vocal with their enjoyment and aggressive towards those who have not shared their opinions. As is always my policy, only by viewing the piece can comment be made. So I have watched it and have thus formulated my own opinions. However I have found myself falling off the fence towards the opinions shared by critics.

The following will include a number of spoilers so do not hamper your own enjoyment by reading on if you intend on watching the film yourself.

Following on so quickly from the dud that was ‘Batman vs Superman’, released mere months ago, comes ‘Suicide Squad’ a tale about a group of villains from the DC Universe coming together for a special mission for the good guys, who are of course the US Government. The formulation of this squad is based on the possibility that now Superman is dead another Superman might exist and could potentially not be on the side of the authorities and therefore a terrorist. This Taskforce of unruly and uncontrollable maniacs is supposedly going to be a line of defence against the forces of darkness. It makes as much sense as two good guys (Batman and Superman) going up against each other. That being said the concept has vast potential. Antiheroes receiving the focus for an entire film fits the DC Universe much better than Marvel given the darker tones explored through the comic books and also previous film adaptations such as Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’. Sadly, the final result is nothing but a crushing disappointment.

imageThis is probably an old-fashioned idea but this film needed someone to write the plot and a scene breakdown on a piece of paper. Such a basic act would’ve revealed the well documented glaring structural problems that exist throughout. As expected, the film required a number of scenes introducing the vast cast of characters who would form Taskforce X. These introductions are not balanced in the slightest with numerous flashback sequences and a central focus on Deadshot and Harley Quinn but more of them later. Making the introductions is Amanda Waller, a Government official who has struck upon the nonsensical idea of using the most dangerous criminals to execute dangerous missions. She is deliberately unlikeable to encourage the audience to root for the squad, revisiting conspiracy-fuelled themes of distrust for authority figures.

To be clear however there is no immediate threat that requires the formation of the Suicide Squad. Such is the abysmal plotting, the squad’s formation creates the threat that they end up battling. Amanda Waller manufactures the peril herself as before the team is even formed one of the members goes rogue, the Enchantress.

imageCara Delevingne is a model trying to act and frankly it comes across that way. She is the most bland villainess to hang an entire movie on. The key to any good drama is to create peril with an imposing and believable villain. It is no wonder that when it really matters her dialogue is heavily manipulated by voice effects in an attempt to add gravitas and threat which Delevingne is simply incapable of delivering. As the movie reaches is climax the Enchantress has created a Stargate in the sky because magic is the perfect excuse for yet another CGI monstrosity that looks visually impressive but lacks meaning or intelligent thought. Similarly, her faceless soldiers are meaningless fodder to add jeopardy and her brother, another CGI creation which is particularly unconvincing.

imagePart of the Enchantress’ backstory is that this mythical being, worshipped as a God by an unidentified Central American civilisation, has taken over the body of archaeologist June Moon. She in turn is the love interest of Rick Flag, the military man charged with controlling the unruly Suicide Squad. His character is quite strong, admittedly with questionable motivation but he is a solid presence in the film and shares the lead with the only major actor Will Smith as Deadshot with the two characters providing an engaging double act throughout.

imageDeadshot is the real lead of the piece, sharing entertains exchanges with Rick Flag. This is unsurprising given the casting of consistent leading man and box office draw, Will Smith. The appearance of such a familiar star does mean that Deadshot’s mask is only worn briefly so as not to conceal the film’s top star. Deadshot does however receive the most attention regarding his backstory. In fact Deadshot receives three introductions all of which are focused on his daughter. Whilst it is of course difficult to be separated from your child the point is excessively laboured and frankly he may be a talented shot but he could always get a job at Wallmart to provide for his daughter instead of choosing the life of the hitman. Fortunately Smith’s ability as the wise-cracking lead, mirroring Robert Downey Jr’s Ironman for Marvel, showcase those skills honed in other summer blockbusters such as ‘Independence Day’ and ‘Men in Black’. This influence is crucial in making the chaos presented remotely passable for viewers.

Other members of the Suicide Squad receive much less attention. Diablo is particularly interesting, seemingly underestimating his power and ending up incinerating his wife and children, but even this could’ve been presented clearer. Killer Croc is also very well realised but is presented as a simple monster. Similarly, Katana and Boomerang are given very little introduction but the latter is at least particularly entertaining outside of the fight sequences. Shamefully the character of Slipknot is not even introduced properly but appears only to get killed, such is the amateurish plotting to prove a point as to why the squad are participating in this madness. With so many characters it was always a tall order to give them equal coverage but that possibility is extinguished as the limelight is instead hogged by Harley Quinn.

imageThe character of Harley Quinn is intriguing, corrupted by the Joker and choosing to follow in his crazed footsteps. Margot Robbie is tasked with bringing her to the screen and is very entertaining as the pigtailed lunatic. However, Harley is completely over sexualised, bordering on the grotesque mysogynistic. Sexually licking the bars of her cell is one thing but deliberate shots of her hotpants and rear end are simply unnecessary. Her impractical outfit is then maximised by a predictable rain shower which allows for Harley’s entry into a wet t-shirt contest. Whilst I am sure none of the suits involved in constructing this film are even remotely aware of the popularity of Harley Quinn with cosplayers but the sexualised image presented in this film is going to be replicated by teenage girls. As a result all those involved, from the film makers to the distributor, have a responsibility to consider how these images are going to impact on their audience. Another individual hampered by the decisions made regarding their onscreen appearance is the Joker.

imageJared Leto’s Joker is an irrelevance in the film. Whereas Ben Affleck’s Batman makes a few cameos over the two hour duration, the Joker can only be described as having an extended cameo. I’m not sure if I was expecting more of him during the film but watching Leto’s portrayal I am grateful that his appearances were limited. He has to provide the worst onscreen version of the Joker ever. It is a modern interpretation but that results in an image conscious gangster, hanging out in nightclubs, covered in bling and tattoos. He is unpredictable and manic, capable of spinning on a razor blade but the Joker’s unpredictability should also extend to his image. The sinister false smile is sadly now only a tattoo on the back of his left hand. Making the Joker look like a typical gangster, save for the green hair, reduces him instead of elevating him above stereotypes. This gangster image therefore smothers what interesting aspects Leto was attempting to bring to the role. The one successful line is when the Joker declares that he is “just going to hurt you, really, really badly”. Leto is stripped back and delivers the line in a truly sinister manner, it is just a shame that there is so little else that matches this high point.

 

imageI cannot understand how the final product can possibly be the vision which the director David Ayer had set out with when embarking on the project. It is a textbook example of a studio corrupting their own output based on the reactions of the public to other movies. For example jokes are inserted, not skilfully but in a manner akin to dropping an anvil onto an orchestra and expecting a symphony, because Deadpool’s wit entertained audiences. Similarly, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ featured a brilliant soundtrack, presented as a mix-tape which entertains both Star Lord during the story as well as the watching audience but the retro tracks also juxtapose so well with the futuristic alien visuals. Suicide Squad however just drops recognisable tunes into the edit with no connection whatsoever to the visuals. The most appropriate word to describe it is ‘cynical’.

DC have been playing catchup with Marvel’s movie offerings but instead of embracing the differences they have simply attempted to replicate their successful formula. Suicide Squad is a missed opportunity that is so poorly executed but because it has drawn massive business at the Box Office it will be declared a success. The standalone Wonder Woman movie looks promising and hopefully will not be clouded by the influence or appearance of another superhero to distract from the plot. DC’s inevitable response to Marvel’s Avengers will of course follow with the Justice League movie. Given the deeply flawed offerings of ‘Batman vs Superman’ and now ‘Suicide Squad’ the Justice League movie has to be approached with a significant amount of trepidation.

REVIEW: Batman V Superman

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Batman v Superman has received much critical analysis and I thought I would offer my opinions having viewed the film. Plot spoilers will follow so do not read on if you wish to retain your own enjoyment of the movie.

Firstly, let’s start with ‘Man of Steel’, Zack Synder’s first foray into the film world with Superman upon which sets the scene for this second movie. Whilst it proved divisive I didn’t mind it too much but questioned why there was a need for yet another retelling of Superman’s origins beside legal reasoning. That feeling resurfaced in the early stages of Batman v Superman as yet again we see another retelling of the demise of Bruce Wayne’s parents and the imagery of a young Master Wayne engulfed by bats. This is an early indicator of how grim the tone of the tale is going to be with no lighter moments whatsoever in the entire two and a half hour experience. However, the purpose of this movie is clear, to set up a ‘Justice League’ release to rival Marvel’s Avengers series. The subtitle ‘Dawn of Justice’ obviously alludes to the Justice League and curiously much of the publicity included the fact that Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot, also featured in the movie. Perhaps this was a deliberate method used by the studios of avoiding spoilers by broadcasting spoilers themselves. It’s title also broadcasts the plot as it can be easily concluded that there would be at least one epic battle between Batman and Superman. However, that creates many of the flaws that hamper the film.

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Superman is one of the most difficult characters in fiction because he is so powerful, the impervious ‘man of steel’ means that any effective drama necessitates that he loses his power and therefore Kryptonite is needed to make his battle with the merely human Batman competitive. Similarly, Ben Affleck’s Batman requires an armoured suit so as to withstand the blows delivered by the son of Krypton and his descent into paranoia regarding the supposed danger presented by Superman muddies the water even further. Viewers are subjected to confusing hallucinations or dream sequences that emphasize his paranoia with no real indicator as to why it has been triggered other than one of the more intriguing areas that the film does explore, the human toll taken by citywide destruction caused by battling superheroes. Similarly, Superman’s reasoning for disliking Batman, triggering the inevitable conflict, is wafer thin in construction and is easily dismissed by the simple coincidence of both heroes mother’s sharing a first name.

Batman-v-Superman-poster-previewThe alien Kryptonite element centres around Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, a frankly hideous portrayal, spouting nonsensical verbal diarrhoea in an attempt to convey the character’s lunacy. Similarly suffering from the story is Lois Lane, often pointed to as a beacon to other media of how to portray female characters as strong-willed and empowering. Instead, Lois is reduced to the role of ‘damsel in distress’ not once but thrice, Superman’s ‘spidey-sense’ tingling whenever his beloved is in danger no matter where on the planet she is. In contrast Ben Affleck’s portrayal of Batman is strong, an aging caped crusader no longer at his peak and given more room to strike up an entertaining relationship with Jeremy Irons as Alfred and it seems only a matter of time before a stand alone Batfleck-flick is released. Hopefully, it will be a lot tighter in construction than this film’s effort.

Batman-v-Superman-battle-posters-featured-imageIt is a shame that the film disappoints because underneath the effects-heavy bravado is a fascinating story which questions how the elevation of Superman to that of a God has the potential to divide humanity. This is based on the fear that if this all powerful alien chose to he could wipe out the residents of planet Earth. Similarly, as he is defined as an American icon where does his jurisdiction end and what of the costs of his actions, particularly to the human lives affected and even those ended? Sadly, that line of questioning is swiftly disposed of as more destructive battles drag out the run-time even further with an invented Kryptonian monster used to unite the warring caped heroes with the randomly introduced Wonder Woman so as to set up the Justice League movies to follow.

There is one line in the film where Perry White states categorically that “Nobody cares about Clark Kent taking on the Batman”, which if true would not bode well for the box office takings. With the extraordinary number of superhero movies being released over the forthcoming years, from Marvel and DC, it is a concern that suddenly the bubble might burst and viewer apathy might take hold as they tire of the endless genre with little that is new and fresh to draw the attention. Unfortunately, films which miss the mark like this one might bring forward this apathy sooner than should be the case.

REVIEW: Spectre

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Spoiler warning! This review will include information which will hamper your enjoyment of the movie if you haven’t seen it so stop reading until you have watched the film.

Spectre is the 24th official James Bond film and the fourth to star Daniel Craig. After the fine departure from James Bond tradition in Skyfall, Spectre is a return to first principles. A film franchise which has surpassed 50 years is likely to have a successful formula and Bond 24 follows it to the letter but to assume that using a familiar method makes the result predictable discounts the enjoyable journey which the viewer takes. Admittedly, it does follow the traditional format, we find Bond in the field, a struggle which he overcomes, titles, visit M, visit Q, back out into the field, following leads until he faces the villain in their lair, overcoming improbable odds to become victorious. Clearly it is a system that works and if you enjoy James Bond movies, as I do, you will enjoy this one also.

The plot and imagery, beginning with the first bullet hole crack teasers and continued into the title sequence, focuses on an organisation which like an octopus has all-encompassing tentacles reaching across the world. That organisation is Spectre, a familiar name in James Bond history, mentioned in the very first movie Dr No in 1962 and an octopus insignia had even been seen in Thunderball for example. With Christoph Waltz cast as the villain of the piece it was not a gigantic leap of faith to conclude he would be Ernst Stavro Blofeld and even by the end of Spectre he has acquired the familiar facial scar worn by Donald Pleasence in his portrayal of the character. To call this film a rehash or homage of past glories would be far off the mark.

007-bond-spectre-2Spectre brings to a conclusion the four Daniel Craig Bond films, culminating in the complete tying up of a storyline which began in 2006 with Casino Royale. His second film, Quantum of Solace, alluded to this overarching organisation and I am pleased to have had that story brought together in what one can only presume is Daniel Craig’s final outing as 007. He has been a captivating Bond, ably delivering both the witty one-liners and the physical action scenes which have revitalised the brand and brought it into the 21st Century competing with the successful Bourne trilogy. But Craig is just the lead in a spectacular ensemble cast.

Christoph Waltz is fantastic casting with his understated menace accompanied by the experienced performance of Ralph Fiennes. This is also a movie for the newer faces, the physically dominating Dave (Batista) Bautista a perfect henchman, Andrew Scott and Ben Whishaw nailing their characters. For a series of films which is often derided as being chauvinistic the three actresses deliver equally strong performances with each having a role to play in the unfolding drama.

As expected the film sequences are beautiful, shot in a variety of locations including Mexico City, Austria and Morocco. All of the expected boxes are ticked with stunt vehicles on land with a car chase through the streets of Rome, helicopters in the air and boats on the water. There is even a fight sequence on a train evoking memories of From Russia With Love (1963) and a record-breaking film stunt explosion, setting the standards once more for the action movie genre.

Whilst Spectre sticks to the tried and tested formula there is also a move away from the norm in its conclusion, Bond not just gets the girl but keeps her and drives off into the sunset. Although, the final credits reveal that James Bond Will Return, it seems that Daniel Craig will not. His time as Bond is neatly concluded by Spectre and unlike the calamitous Die Another Day which brought to an end Pierce Brosnan’s time with the Walther PPK, Craig finishes on a high. In another 20 years it may be considered to be a classic example of a 007 movie because of the formulaic pathway taken during it’s run time.