Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

In what feels like seven decades in the making, two of DC’s mightiest heroes go toe to toe in an all-out no holds barred smack down. This, we’re assured by Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor several times, will be the gladiatorial fight of the century. Is it though?

Don’t let the action figures and pint sized pyjamas on sale in Kmart fool you. Batman v Superman is not a kid’s film. Nor is it even a family film. This cinematic interpretation is aimed squarely at the adults who want, nay demand, that their childhood obsessions grow up with them. This is translated into a cinematic universe where Batman tackles paedophiles and sex traffickers by branding them with a hot bat symbol, where Superman’s deeds in Man of Steel resulted in the deaths of thousands and Lex Luthor waxes lyrical about the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father and sends jars of urine to his enemies before blowing them up. This is a DC comic filtered through the lens of a bad fan fiction. This not a universe I want to live in.

It may be an old fashioned way of thinking, but superhero movies need to show their heroes being, well, super. In Batman v Superman – a title bout that doesn’t happen till around the two-hour mark – both of our heroes are rarely seen doing anything remotely so.

As Bruce Wayne/Batman, Ben Affleck is in danger of tripping over his brow due to how furrowed it is. He lives in a modern condo down river from a desolate Wayne Manor. He spends his nights with literally faceless women and having violent visions about Henry Cavill’s Superman. Having seen the blue tighted one effectively turn Metropolis to dust two years previously, the playboy millionaire is concerned for the welfare of America at the hands of aliens. In a sense, he’s the Donald Trump of superheroes.

Meanwhile, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) struggles with his work life balance as the media slowly becomes obsessed with Superman and the untold damage his heroics have caused over the years. Would it have hurt the film to have a simple scene of Clark enjoying being a superhero? Evidently so. If you enjoyed moody space Jesus in Man of Steel, you’re going to get a kick out of watching him crying in the aftermath of a terrorist attack.

Perhaps the brightest spot in the whole murky affair – and director Zack Snyder has really gone out of his way to drain this comic book movie of most hues – is Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Though even then, it’s hard not to feel her appearance would have had more effect had it not been spread thinly across every trailer in the last six months.

Later this year, Marvel will throw their own one on one into the cinema with Captain America: Civil War. It’s important to mention this, because with ten films down, Marvel has earned the right to have Captain America and Iron Man square off. This only the second film of the DC Cinematic Universe, and quite frankly everyone needs to be given time to breathe and think about what they really want to do. Sony’s aborted Amazing Spider-Man trilogy shows that trying to capture the same lightening as Marvel is going to be hard. DC can pull it off if they stop trying to rush everything and overstuff the film; spending close to three hours throwing everything at the screen in the hopes that something sticks.

There are several cameos, and (so. many.) dream sequences, that obviously hint at future adventures, which is fine. However, when a certain Justice League member turns up from the future to warn Batman about the past, and who is never referred to again for the rest of the film, its evident that DC comics doesn’t care for the casual viewer. They want the fans. They want the fan’s money. It’s marketing at it’s most cynical.

Overlong, dull and pretentious, Batman v Superman is the superhero movie that dyes its hair black, plays Lana Del Rey songs repeatedly and refuses to call Mum’s new lover Dad no matter how much Steve insists.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) by @DonDubrow

The Dark Knight pushed the mythos of Batman into the stratosphere, creating an army of followers who react angrily to any criticism of their film with a mixture of venom and close mindedness that makes religious fanatics seem rationally open to discussion and reason. The Dark Knight was a good film, half an hour too long with a spectacular performance from the late Heath Ledger as the Joker, a flip side to Batman who wreaked havoc with abandon. The Dark Knight Rises contains nothing as good as Ledger’s work (maybe Wally Pfister’s excellent cinematography?) but does provide a fitting (strangely open ended?) conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of the Bat. Suffering somewhat from the problems of cramming everyone in and tying up loose ends that have beset many a third parter of a franchise, TDKR is a long, fiercely staight faced,epic superhero film that will no doubt prove as bulletproof and indestructible to it’s devotees as it screams past $1,000,000,000 at the box office. We are going to sling a few arrows it’s way anyway….

Batman is (and always will be) a pig of a roll, a thin metaphor for the darkness within us, a Jungian cipher of confused yearning and loss. Keaton jumped after two films, fed up of being upstaged by scenery chewing villains, whilst Kilmer and Clooner brought only a muddled woodeness to their crusaders. Nolan and Bale have improved him somewhat, adding complexities of purpose and a mixed morality to this incarnation of the vigilante. Where they have excelled is in their work on Bruce Wayne, troubled, wracked with guilt and decidedly humanistic, Wayne is an excellent portrait of a haunted-behind-the-eyes billionaire, Hughesian with a dash of a Kennedy about him. TDKR showcases him perfectly, locked away from the world, broken of body and possibly mind, Bale plays him drawn, haggard and lonesome,a tall, dark, Byronic figure with a past we all know, it’s fine work from the Welshman….

….which brings us to Bane, the nemesis, a primal block of crypto communist rage, kept alive via anaethetics pumped into his gigantic facial wound via an almost Vader like mask. Tom Hardy does his best (emoting the shit out of things with his eyes), but ultimately, like De Niro’s Capone in The Untouchables, it’s the weight gain that is the performance. Hardy has pumped up to a WWE level to play Bane, a man who’s special power appears to be punching really hard and suffocating anyone and everyone. In many ways, Bane is a worse role than Batman, fine in motion and violence, shots of an unmoving, eighty percent obscured face with a raspy, distorted, sometimes unintelligible, plummy, English accent screeching from the speakers are as bad as they sound.

Ignoring the two “showcase” parts is wiser. Joseph Gordon Levitt pulls on his deep voice shoes and performs admirably as a beat cop promoted to detective during the crisis. Anne Hathaway almost steals the film as Selina Kyle, a cat burgler treading a thin path of amorality. Oldman gets his east coast twang out and Modine provides a cowardly foil for Gordon Levitt to embarass. Elsewhere, a fine supporting cast, including Tom Conti as someone best described as “not English”, fill out CIA agents, thugs and money men, Morgan Freeman wears a bow tie with aplomb, Marion Cotillard wanders in from Inception and Michael Caine can’t stop giving speeches and crying.

It feel’s churlish to kick holes in a superhero flick but Nolan has infused his films with such an intelligence that this trilogy should be treated as more than a blockbuster designed to shift more Burger King meals. Any film with a budget the wrong side of $200 million that explores socialism, the 99% and Occupy Wall Street movements wants to be taken seriously (EBFS never, never wants Nolan OR Bale to do a comedy) which is where coincidence comes in. In a flawed yet majestically bruised narrative, coincidence just keeps rearing it’s ugly, lying head. Televisions spray out useful information at perfect times (a classic movie trope), people are ALWAYS in the right place at the right time, the Batwing is accessible every time something needs blowing up and by the time Bruce Wayne travels from a dusty faraway land back to Gotham, sans passport, money, food or any obvious way back into his city to locate Selina Kyle ON THE STREET intervening in a mugging all the fight to believe has taken a sharp exit.

The action sequences, spectacular dual plane opening aside, contain non of the verve or invention that made The Dark Knight so vivid. Nothing here compares to the bank heist or the truck flip from the previous film. The bike chase after the stock market heist is muddled and ponderous and an underwhelming introduction for the Batman after eight years in retirement, the Batwing ruins any tension by being a safety net after every fight (EBFS feels this whole “Bane” thing could’ve been sorted out if Batman NEVER left his stupid batcopter) and the total rip off of the Gangs of New York, stalking each other through a riot mess that precludes the finale between Bat and Bane feels cumbersome and unlikely in a gun heavy crowd. Inception’s hour long, three level, action packed finale feels fucking light years away from TDKR‘s attempts to shoehorn pathos and regret and pain into everything Batman does.

The Dark Knight Rises is epic, Wagnerian, movie making on an almost unprecedented scale. Kudos must go to all involved in even attempting such a venture and for bringing brains back to the multiplex. That it doesn’t quite work is a point to be debated but ultimately will prove futile as the Church of Batman grows in strength. At least until the inevitable reboot…..

Finally, Andrei Rublev is 174 minutes long, The Dark Knight Rises is 165 minutes in duration and no one even attempts to make a giant bell…

Agree? Then let us know, or check out the review by @noonanjohnc here.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) by @noonanjohnc

This summer sees Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy close with The Dark Knight Rises. The last sequel, The Dark Knight, separates the offices of EBFS right down the middle. One half find it a overwrought film that falls apart as soon as you start picking at the threads, whilst the other still refuses to get rid of his Joker T-shirt. What can’t be denied is that it made a lot of money and a sequel was called for. Let’s not forget that Nolan never intended any of this to be a trilogy. He had bigger plans – such as folding Paris in half and dicking about with dreams. So how does it all pan out?

Broken and reclusive, Bruce Wayne (Bale) has spent eight years living solely in the east wing of Wayne manor. With the Batman still wanted for the murder of Harvey Dent and his childhood sweetheart dead, Wayne has chosen to cut himself off from the Gotham elite. At a charity event he is hosting, but not attending, the catering staff swap stories about the potentially disfigured Wayne; the host seemingly not knowing or caring that he is becoming ever more mythical than his own alter ego. For Wayne it’s more about hiding from his past actions. And this theme runs throughout the film, not just with Wayne but with those whose lives he’s touched. From his butler Alfred (Michael Caine) hiding his emotions and the actions he took in the previous film, to the newly appointed Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldham) struggling to cope with the lies surrounding Dent’s death and the subsequent career boost it has given him. Even newcomer Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), who is Catwoman in everything but name, wants to keep her past on the low-down.

Throw into the mix uber terrorist, Bane (Thomas Hardy) and salt of the earth cop, John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and, as the kids says, shit is going to go down.

Up front, if you’re expecting this final part of the trilogy to be a toe gazing affair, with some of the trailers being less than action filled, then be assured that Nolan’s set pieces are fantastic. The terror Bane unleashes at a football game is awesome. And we mean that in the awe inspiring fashion, not the ‘dude, I bought an iPad and it’s awesome’ kind of affair. To be honest though, we genuinely expected nothing less from a man that gave us zero-G fighting in a hotel corridor. Everything has been so beautifully realised that you wish all movies could be like this, regardless of genre.

It’s interesting that the selling point of Nolan’s Dark Knight Universe has been about keeping everything as realistic as possible – not always successfully, with The Dark Knight’s Two-Face proving to be just a little bit too out there – and yet, Rises is probably the most comic book out of the three. Mixing as it does, the storylines of Knightfall, No Man’s Land and, shudder, The Dark Knight Returns.

And that is what needs to be understood, regardless of who is behind the camera, this is a superhero movie. Is Thor a piece of Shakespearean tragedy because Kenneth Branagh directed? No, we only really remember an Aussie punching a rock beast in the head whilst Natalie Portman looked on doe-eyed. What we’re trying to say is that there are, have and will always be lofty expectations for a film when you mention a director of Nolan’s calibre is on board. Could you imagine what would happen nowadays if Kubrick was alive and shipping Tom Cruise over to the UK for a reboot of Hong Kong Phooey?

Nolan is, without a doubt, a genius. He never looks down at his audience; treating them with respect and making no assumptions about what they can take in. However, to compare Rises to Inception, Memento and The Prestige in terms of story seems unfair. Aside from a few twisty turny points, this is a very straight forward affair, and if that sounds like we’re damning it with faint praise, we’re really not. We’re just aware that some people are going into Rises thinking ‘Nolan, expand my mind damn you!’ and being disappointed that they’ve been presented with nothing more than a story about a man dressed as a flying rat. If you didn’t buy into the other two, then you’re not going to buy into this.

Yes, it’s very linear in its move to the end, but it’s the way Nolan weaves cameos and scenes from the first two into the overall film that make you appreciate that it is one part of a dark, brooding whole. Something that The Amazing Spider-Man clearly wants to do, but frankly doesn’t have the mileage yet.

In terms of cast, it’s probably Michael Caine that rises to the top of the pile. His scenes with Bale are emotional, truthful and show what a class act he actually is. At the bottom end of the scale, we have Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anne Hathaway. Hathaway doesn’t do much apart from shake her fist at Bruce Wayne, Batman and Bane respectively. It’s fair to say that a lot more was done with the character of Catwoman in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. A little more time spent giving her a backstory other than ‘I wanna get out of the crime scene, see?’ and there would definitely be a bit more weigh to her role. We love Gordon-Levitt but, continuing his frowning from Inception, he really does very little apart from bounce between the characters, engaging them in conversation and signposting the ending to come.

Finally, we come to our antagonist, the mighty Bane; who we last saw in Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin. Bane, a Latin criminal mastermind and all out badass, was reduced to a cookie cutter henchman in a wrestling mask. In Nolan’s Rises, Bane is introduced through a literal airplane kidnapping scene that goes some way to showing that he is more than capable of standing toe to toe with the Batman. Hardy’s choice of giving Bane an eloquent, reedy voice contrasts wonderfully with the brick outhouse that is his physique. Bane feels like a definite threat to Batman. Whereas The Dark Knight saw the Joker running like an agent of chaos dizzy on lemonade, Bane is a disciplined agent of order who doesn’t see the Batman as an enemy but simply an obstacle to be overcome.

And yes, for fear of receiving death threats and being unable to review on, there are some issues that mean Rises is not completely perfect. In the third act, there is a plot hole so huge that no amount of pub discussion and conjecture will ever successfully fill it. It will only ever be determined in fan fiction, and with Nolan’s attention to detail it grates that he let this slip by.

There’s also that problem of exposition. Sometimes it’s better to show something rather than say it and this is certainly true in Rises. When a character is having their raison d’être explained, it’s a lot more believable if it isn’t spelt out by someone being beaten up by said character. Inception just about got away with it because there was so much going on, you had to have a moment to explain, but here it just grinds the film down to a snail’s pace.

With The Amazing Spider-Man showing what happens when you let the suits control your product, it’s comforting to know that there are people like Nolan who, despite the commercial nature of their product, are willing to put their whole being into something. Nolan will never return to this universe and the sad truth is that DC will want another reboot as they gear up for their Justice League movie. Until then, let us be comforted in the knowledge that this is the tidemark from which all other superhero movies should be measured. Simply a joy from beginning to end.

Agree? Then let us know, or check out the review by @DonDubrow here.

Batman: Year one (2011)

Moody, moody, moody moody Batman… Batmaan… Batmaaaaan.

The key word, if you haven’t already guessed, is moody. The latest straight to DVD movie from the DC stable, Batman: Year one, is based on the comic series by Frank Miller of the same name, which in turn was the basis for Christopher Nolan’s equally moody Batman Begins. If you’re comic aficionado or just happen to have seen Sin City, you’ll know what to expect from Miller’s tale of the Caped Crusader’s first steps into crime fighting.

Inner monologues that sound like the same person no matter who is talking? Check.

Laughable attempts to make everything seem grown up? Check. Selina Kyle AKA Catwoman is a prostitute, Batman says ‘fuck’ and 90% of the fight scenes happen in Gotham’s red light district.

That sneaky feeling this is all a bit misogynistic? Check. As well Catwoman being a lady of the night (did I mention that?) who looks after a 12 year old prostitute, the only other strong female character is merely used as a plot device for the soon-to-be Commissioner Gordon to have his end away with.

As this is a serious film about serious grown up things – did I mention Batman says fuck? –  there is a huge effort to ground this all in reality. A commendable effort that is somewhat skewed by the fact that everyone appears to have unbelievable superhuman strength. If it’s Gordon kick boxing like Sagat from Street Fighter II, it’s Selina Kyle leaping out of a four storey building before landing safely on concrete and Bruce Wayne punching a pile of bricks to dust before kicking a tree in half. Seriously. In half.

Yes, this is a cartoon world, films have to earn your suspension of disbelief. A man dressing as a bat is going to be difficult already without him having to ability to beat the shit out of oaks.

The plot hangs around a series of snapshots taken during the course of 12 months. Whilst this makes for interesting viewing, some sub-plots are picked up and dropped quicker than an X-Factor winner. Depending on how you look at this, this can be a bit frustrating. How come Batman’s life journey is acceptably concluded whilst Catwoman’s is left open?

It’s not all bad. The minimalist animation works is effective and the denouement is equally low key (if you count babies falling from a bridge low-key), which goes some way to showing that the film can do subtlety when it can be bothered.

Overall, Year One isn’t so much a bad film as a missed opportunity. It has a criminally short running time (just over 60 minutes) and there is just not enough of an attempt made to get inside the head of Bruce Wayne. Did I mention it’s incredibly moody? I’m not saying Batman needs to light a fart or anything, but the darkness would contrast better if it was up against some lighter moments.

Oh yeah, Batman says ‘fuck’.


Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)

The plot loosely follows the Red Hood storyline as Batman finds himself up against a new mobster in town. Who is the mysterious Red Hood and what is his need for vengenace? Well, if you know your comics, then you already know the answer. And if you don’t, then no worries. Unlike their live action movie, Green Lantern, DC make sure they signpost all their exposition with the subtlety of being accosted by a rhino.

Woah, and boy, did someone got out of the wrong side of the bed. That’s the only way to explain how moody this film actually is. Everyone is so angry. Batman, Robin, Nightwing, the Joker… Clearly trying to mimic Christopher Nolan’s efforts, Red Hood tries to cling to grim reality. This only serves to make the genuine comic book moments stand out like a sore thumb; robot ninjas, Neil Patrick Harris, ability to leap ONTO church roofs… Nolan undestanding that you can’t have any of of these if you want to make the story of a man who dresses up as a bat as real as possible, ignore robot ninjas.

There’s much else to say about Under the Red Hood. For all it’s grittiness, it’s as light and fluffy as Ben 10. It’s the cinematic equivalent of Scotch mist. If I have to say something good, then I will leave you with the one stand out scene which shows that Futurama’s John DiMaggio is no Mark Hamill, but he makes a pretty okay Joker.

G’night folks.