Director: Todd Phillips
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen
For a long time, pretty much until Christopher Nolan came along, a criticism regularly levelled at Batman films was that they seemed altogether more interested in their villains than in their titular hero. Batman’s rogues gallery, long celebrated as a strength of the comics, presented somewhat of a stumbling block for big screen adaptations. With Joker, director Todd Phillips goes a step further by doing away with the Caped Crusader completely to focus solely on Batman’s most iconic nemesis. The result is a most unusual blockbuster. A superhero movie without a superhero. A comicbook movie without a single action sequence. Instead we get a psycholgoical drama, a character study of a damaged and dangerous individual. We’ve had gritty reimaginings of comicbook stories before, but Joker is something else entirely. Continue reading
Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Mamoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons, Amber Heard, David Thewlis
While it had all sorts of problems and received a pasting from critics around the world, one thing you have to hand to Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice is that it swung for the fences. It had an idea and committed to it. It just didn’t end up being an idea which connected with audiences. Justice League, the latest film from Warner Brothers’ much maligned DC Extended Universe, is a significantly less ambitious movie. A gun shy film which shows more evidence of being chastened by the reaction to Batman vs Superman than emboldened by the success of Wonder Woman, it plays it safe and, as a result, ends up being entirely bland and largely forgettable.
Chronologically, Justice League is a sequel to Batman vs Superman rather than Wonder Woman. We find the world still mourning the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), and his passing has left it vulnerable. Winged Parademons who feed on fear have started showing up at Gotham and Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is convinced that they herald something much worse on its way. Continue reading
Director: David Ayer
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Cara Delevingne, Viola Davis, Jared Leto, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adele Akinuoye-Agbaje, Karen Fukuhara
Suicide Squad represents the brave next step in the stuttering DC Expanded Universe as, for the first time, it shifts its focus away from DC’s big two characters, Superman and Batman, instead looking to a band of misfit villains-turned-heroes. Redemption is the theme here. Redemption for these characters and redemption for the studio after the less than glowing reception of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice.
The US government is still coming to terms with the presence of meta-humans in the world after the climactic events of Batman vs Superman. What happens if the next Superman isn’t such a nice guy? Intelligence agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) proposes an initiative called Taskforce X. In exchange for reductions in their sentences, a group of highly dangerous but highly gifted criminals in Belle Reve Penitentiary are engaged to fight America’s most dangerous foes. Continue reading
Director: Zach Snyder
Starring: Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne
“Who would win a fight between…” has long been a favourite hypothetical of young comic book fans around the world. So for those boys and girls Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice must have sounded like a dream come true. Unfortunately though, if there is one audience this film is not for it is kids. In bringing together the world’s two most iconic superheroes Zach Snyder has made the darkest mainstream blockbuster in recent memory. It is a serious film without an ounce of lightness or humour that seeks to pose ethical and philosophical questions about power, but poor execution leaves it falling short of its lofty goals.
Batman vs Superman is in a number of ways a reactionary film. At an industrial level it is absolutely Warner Brothers and DC’s panicked response to the outrageous success Marvel Studios have had with their interwoven Marvel Cinematic Universe. What was originally supposed to be a straight sequel to 2013’s Man of Steel was seemingly co-opted by the studio to become the launching pad for the DC Expanded Universe. Continue reading
A three time Oscar winner, with a further nine nominations, Jack Nicholson is one of the American cinema’s most celebrated actors and a movie legend. Starting his career in the B cinema of Roger Corman, rising to prominence in the Hollywood Renaissance of the 1960s and 1970s as one of the era’s most interesting new faces, and establishing himself as the very epitome of the Hollywood movie star, Nicholson is a big personality and a bigger talent. Trying to whittle this legendary career down to six roles requires some tough decision making, and as a result some brilliant roles which easily could have made the list miss out – chief among them Robert Dupea in Five Easy Pieces, Jack Torrence in The Shining and Frank Costello in The Departed – but here it goes…
Easy Rider (1969)
With 17 films already under his belt, it was his supporting role in Hopper and Fonda’s iconic road movie Easy Rider that made turned Nicholson into a star. As the alcoholic country lawyer George Hanson, Nicholson was the conduit through which the audience were able to relate to the skittish Billy and aloof Captain America. The performance earned him the first Academy Award nomination of his career and set him up to become one of the New Hollywood’s most important actors.
So proud was Nicholson of his work on the Polanski directed, Towne scripted Chinatown that he has not played another detective since. While drawing on the hard-boiled fiction of Chandler and Hammett, Nicholson’s Jake Gittes is a softer hero than those played by Humphrey Bogart. He is out of his depth, too innocent to deal with the magnitude of society’s corruption and incapable of solving the mystery until it is too late.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
If Easy Rider was the film that made Nicholson a star, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was the film that made him an icon. Nicholson brings Ken Kesey’s anti-hero to life, drawing on his own counter-cultural anti-authority persona to make McMurphy a life-affirming force in a lifeless institution, and a worthy nemesis for Louise Fletcher’s chilling Nurse Ratched.
The deserved praise heaped on Heath Ledger for his performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight has seemingly resulted in many people forgetting just how good Nicholson was in the same role in Tim Burton’s Batman. Nicholson provides a different interpretation of the famous villain. Where Ledger’s Joker is a psychopath, Nicholson’s is a lunatic. Undoubtedly one of the great scene stealing performances in film history.
As Good as it Gets (1997)
Nicholson has enjoyed a very fruitful partnership with writer/director James L. Brooks, the high point of which was his Oscar winning performance as obsessive compulsive, romance novelist Melvin Udall in As Good as it Gets. Sharp, funny and at times vicious, Jack gets to be Jack. A character and a film that will put a smile on your face, and one of the best romantic comedies of the decade.
About Schmidt (2002)
Dipping his toe into independent cinema for the first time in decades with Alexander Payne’s About Schmidt, Nicholson produces one of the most interesting and brave performances of his career. Putting aside the over-the-top, sharp-edged persona that had become the norm in recent years, Nicholson embraced his older age, playing a quiet, widower worn-down by life. A wonderful late career reminder of the incredible talent that was the foundation of his superstardom.
By Duncan McLean
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman
With the exception of perhaps Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, no film released this year has had to contend with the immense weight of expectation that met The Dark Knight Rises, the final film in Christopher Nolan’s brilliant Dark Knight Trilogy, when it hit theatres in July. Nolan’s films had re-written the rules of comic-book movie-making, combining box office success with critical reverence.
The Dark Knight Rises sees Bruce Wayne living in self-imposed exile after the events of The Dark Knight. When the terrorist Bane releases thousands of Gotham’s most dangerous criminals from Blackgate Prison, and succeeds in prompting a class war which brings the city to its knees – all the while obscuring his even more devastating plan – it becomes apparent that Gotham has no other hope, and Wayne is forced to once again don the Bat-suit.
When the first film in the trilogy, Batman Begins, was released, much was said about this being a ‘darker’ approach to Batman. But the darkness wasn’t really anything new. Tim Burton’s films, Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992) had been dark. Frank Miller’s comic The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One had been dark. Batman had always been a character who suited a dark, gothic interpretation. Rather, what made Nolan’s take on the Batman mythology different was his intent to ground it in the real world, asking the question “How would this work in real life?” This emphasis on grounding the action in the real world then allowed for the film to engage with real world issues.
While other comic book adaptations like The Avengers and Iron Man have been incredibly successful, their pure escapism lacks the real-world relevance of Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were both very much products of the War on Terror. The Dark Knight Rises draws on the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street movement to deal with themes of revolution, capitalism and economic imbalance (as Nolan said in an interview, “You can’t really deal with Bruce Wayne without eventually acknowledging the massive wealth he’s a part of”).
Likewise, this grounding of the Batman story in a real world means that in Nolan’s films we see explorations of the consequences of Bruce Wayne’s decisions and actions. The Dark Knight Rises is a film about consequences – physical, emotional, psychological.
Each of Nolan’s three Batman films have been generically quite different. Batman Begins had a very mythological feel to it, with Bruce Wayne travelling to the farthest ends of the earth to learn his craft from a mysterious cult. The Dark Knight largely abandoned that mythological sensibility, and instead became an urban crime thriller (Nolan often compared the picture to Michael Mann’s Heat (1995)). The Dark Knight Rises again changes direction. This time Nolan is taking us into the world of the historical epic.
Whether or not you think that The Dark Knight Rises succeeds in what it is attempting, you can’t help but admire the ambition of the film. Nolan is attempting to tell a historical epic (not the persistant allusions to Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and the French Revolution) on an epic scale, resulting in filmmaking on a scale that has not been seen in Hollywood for a long, long time. The scale of the picture is immense, with this size emphasised by the fact that so much of it was shot in IMAX format. The magnitude of some of the set pieces, literally employing a cast of thousands, harks back to the epics of classical Hollywood and a style of filmmaking we just don’t see in the CGI era.
The Dark Knight Rises does not quite reach the lofty heights of its prequel, but then very few films have. It is, none the less, a very good film and a satisfying end to a very impressive trilogy. It is pleasing to see a filmmaker with the conviction to take a very popular film franchise and bring it to a close rather than giving in to the temptation to drag it out. In closing the story of Bruce Wayne with The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan has retained the integrity of what will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the key film franchises of the early 21st century.
Rating – ★★★★
Review by Duncan McLean