The Batman


Viewed – 30 April online rental

This long running franchise has always been one of my favourite series of movies, and the character remains probably my go-to comic book hero. So when I heard they were rebooting the franchise once again, I was curious / nervous where they could possibly take this character. Turns out director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, War for the Planet of the Apes) was an assured choice for this new era. Twilight’s Robert Pattinson takes on the role of Bruce Wayne / Batman who we hear has already been at the caped vigilante ‘game’ for over a year. A series of murders of political figures have started occurring in Gotham City. The killer, calling himself The Ridler leaves cryptic clues for the police and especially Batman to follow in a race against time as the bodies pile up. Embroiled in proceedings is small-time burglar Selena Kyle / Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz), as well as local mobster The Penguin.

Reeves’ direction is suitably moody and highly atmospheric. I especially liked how he brought back Gotham as an eerie character in itself, something Tim Burton presented so well back in the day but Christopher Nolan mostly did away with in place of realism. This rendition of Batman successfully marries both the Gothic fantasy of Burton whilst retaining some of the grit of Nolan … and it works. Wayne / Batman is this time portrayed very much as a human being, capable of injury and mistakes and letting his emotions get the better of him. In this respect Pattinson is excellent – delivering a complex, damaged portrayal whilst still looking an absolute badass in the costume. I’d have like a bit more of him as Bruce Wayne though. Another surprise was Zoe Kravitz, an actress I only know as being the daughter of rocker Lennie Kravitz, but her portrayal is possibly the most complex and interesting version of Catwoman for years. Support from Jeffrey Wright as (inevitably) Commissioner Gordon and John Turturro as mob boss Falcone both bring plenty of personality also. A barely recognisable Colin Farrell is also decent as Penguin even if his character is kind of a side note. That just leaves The Ridler then, and with this role Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood) is chilling and malevolent – even if he’s no Heath Ledger (although his grand-scheme bares similarities).

I had a great time with this. It was a bit long, and may have benefited from some scenes being trimmed down, but I can’t say I ever got bored. Pattinson turned out to be a great choice and I am eager to see what more he can do with the character. The story was gripping, with an intricate plot that bared resemblance to the Zodiac murders whilst also echoing the Saw movies. This was also different enough to stand on its own yet retains enough of the mood and aesthetic to still very much be a Batman movie. What more could you ask for?

Verdict: Recommended

The Suicide Squad


Viewed – 11 December 2021 online rental

Unlike some, I didn’t hate the previous Suicide Squad movie, so another attempt under the direction of Guardians of the Galaxy ‘s James Gunn – was more than appealing. This entry has a group of misfit incarcerated villains forced into a mission with the promise of a reduction to their sentence. However mess up, try and make a run for it, and a press of a button could mean their deaths.

Like the last movie, the show stealer here is once again Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn… and even in her third movie appearance is just as much fun as ever. Along for the ride is Idris Elba, (a dead pan) John Cena and even Sylvester Stallone voicing a half-man-half-shark character.

The story’s nothing special – basically a mission to destroy a secret experiment before it falls into the wrong hands – but what brings this to life is a combination of the often very funny banter between the characters, and bombastic action that’s very violent and suitably over the top. James Gunn just really went for it here, delivering a gory, energetic action flick that’s purely focused on being entertaining. It doesn’t worry about having a message, or like many movies these days force ‘woke culture’ into its narrative, and is all the better for it.

Verdict: Recommended

Wonder Woman 1984


Viewed – 26 March 2021 online-rental

Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman, working as an archaeologist in 1984, stumbles upon a magical crystal that can grant wishes, and inadvertently brings back her dead former lover, just as the crystal falls into the hands of a power hungry oil tycoon and a nerdy colleague.

A lot of the negativity surrounding this has been a bit much. Granted, the writing can seem rushed, at least initially, forcing plot threads to develop rather lazily and convenient (Kristen Wiig’s Barbara / The Cheetah at first discovers she’s developing powers – because she can suddenly walk in heels?!). There’s also forced wokeness (because, of course), supposedly pointing out ‘toxic masculinity’ in two blatant scenes involving a woman walking alone and getting approached by leering men. Yet when the movie steps away from such elements, it’s actually a lot of fun. Gal Gadot is great, and continues to be a wonderful find as Wonder Woman – she just exudes charisma and presence every second she’s on screen. Pedro Pascal is also enjoyably nutty as villain Maxwell Lord. I’m also a fan of Kristen Wiig who again proves very watchable, even if her character takes a little too long to get going.

Patty Jenkins’ sequel struggles to live up to the first movie and the story is rather silly and not exactly grounded, but still entertained me and as wishes are granted and the world started to fall into anarchy … I was glued. Gal Gadot and Chris Pine again have good chemistry, and the action is decent, even if for my liking there was too much swinging around and flying (similar to the first movie). Yet it was exciting in places (with a stand out White House sequence) and with a message about being careful what you wish for – the closing moments had a lot of heart. Yeah it’s a bit cheesy at times and a touch over the top – but I still had a good time.

Verdict: Good

Birds of Prey


Viewed – 18 February 2019

… and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

Some of my favourite movies are pleasant surprises. I went into this with not very high expectations and you know what? I really enjoyed it. It’s a simple movie at heart; a diamond falls into the wrong hands, a pick pocket kid steals it causing bad guys to go hunting for her, whilst at the same time anti-hero Harley Quinn fresh off a break up with former boyfriend The Joker finds herself the target of cops and crooks.

The alternative Avengers?

Yeah I wasn’t here for the story either, but when you consider Margot Robbie’s Quinn was the only redeeming aspect of the mostly forgettable Suicide Squad, another crack of the whip with this off-kilter character I was certainly up for. She doesn’t disappoint, narrating and carrying the movie in a whirlwind showcase of the actress’s screen magnetism and comic timing. Add to this decent support from Mary Elizabeth Winstead as an avenging assassin and especially Ewan McGregor having a ball as villain Black Mask, and with several stand out fights and action scenes … I was thoroughly entertained. For a mostly female lead vehicle it didn’t shove some feminist agenda down one’s throat either.

It’s plot and structure are a little messy, but the movie wisely plays with this as a representation of how Harley Quinn thinks. Rosie Perez seems a bit out of place though, and characterisation other than the lead is fairly basic. Yet with enjoyable dialogue, a goofy sense of humour and a memorable villain, this was far from the disaster some critics (and that disappointing box office) would have you believe.

Verdict: Recommended

Joker


Viewed – 08 October 2019. Cinema

I didn’t get the most positive impression upon seeing the trailer for this. Although I believed Joaquin Phoenix was an ideal casting for the clown prince of crime … the realistic approach and the fact the movie looked simply like a guy laughing a lot and acting a bit strange didn’t fill me with excitement. There’s more to Joker than being a clown and a bit of a weirdo … but thankfully having sat through this, such feats are swept aside as director Todd Phillips delivers precisely the origin story fitting to the iconic character.

Phoenix plays Arthur, a guy with more than a few mental problems, not helped by an over dependant mother, a thankless job as a street performer, hopeless aspirations to be a stand-up comedian and living in a city that doesn’t give a damn. However with a girl next door who catches his eye, not all is bad. That is until a series of events finds him sinking further into madness and eventually finding a confidence in himself – as the Joker is manifested. Welcome support comes from Robert DeNiro as a chat show host but this is clearly Phoenix’s show and despite (favourable) comparisons to Nicholson & Ledger, he somehow makes the character his own in a complex, at times heart-breaking – yet still menacing portrayal.

This can be seen as a snapshot of our current society. It’s a brave exploration of how the powers that be can create a monster. At the same time, the movie plays cleverly with the viewers interpretation of what is real and what is fantasised . In the closing moments this approach is almost its undoing but with very strong echoes of Taxi Driver and even Black Swan I still came away surprised and particularly impressed. A must-see.

Verdict: 5 /5