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: James Wan
Starring: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temuera Morrison
Having largely stuck with the big guns up to this point – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, even Suicide Squad made a point of including DC’s most iconic villain, the Joker – Warner Brothers’ DC Extended Universe ventures out into the relative unknown for the first time with James Wan’s Aquaman. To those outside the comicbook community, Aquaman has always seemed a bit weird. His superhero skillset – breathing underwater, swimming really fast, talking to sea creatures – would seem to have a narrow applicability. But having been introduced in Justice League, Arthur Curry is given the chance to front his own blockbuster, and try and show the world what Aquaman is all about. 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: Patty Jenkins
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, Elena Anaya, David Thewlis
Since first appearing back in 1941, Diana, princess of the Amazons, also known as Wonder Woman, has been one of the most iconic members of DC Comics’ stable of characters. Yet for some reason (can anyone hazard a guess?), while there have been eight Batman movies, and seven Superman movies, Wonder Woman has never been given her own feature film adaptation. Until now. As well as being the character’s first movie, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is also the first film in either the DC or Marvel cinematic universes to have a female protagonist, and is both the first superhero movie and first blockbuster with a budget of over $100 million to be helmed by a female director. All of this means that Wonder Woman will be unfairly saddled with the burden of representation, with many people ready to make sweeping generalisations about the commercial viability of female centric and female directed blockbusters based on its performance. Luckily then, Jenkins’ film is not only good, it is exactly the shot in the arm that the much maligned DC Extended Universe needed. 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
Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne
After successfully resurrecting the dormant Batman franchise with his Dark Knight Trilogy, DC Comics and Warner Brothers turned to Christopher Nolan with a far greater challenge: Superman. At a time when audiences seem to prefer their heroes flawed, either with a sense of damage and menace (Batman) or an overly well-developed ego (Iron Man), was there still a market for an idealistic boy scout in a blue suit who fights for truth, justice and the American way?
Whereas the last attempt to resurrect the franchise, Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, tried to follow on from the Christopher Reeve series, Man of Steel takes us back to the beginning. Rather than working chronologically, the film jumps back and forth, relying heavily on flashbacks to fill in the story of how Kal-El became Clark Kent and then Superman – a handy device to avoid the usual origin story problem of requiring the audience to wait too long before Superman starts being super. No sooner has Clark learned the truth about his heritage, he is called upon to protect his adopted home from invaders from his ancestral home, with the banished Kryptonian military leader General Zod mounting an invasion of Earth, with the intention of establishing it as a new Krypton.
The “invaders from outer space” nature of the threat in Man of Steel makes it feel more akin to Transformers or Independence Day than other spandex-clad superhero movies. That is the biggest difference between this and previous screen adaptations: Man of Steel is a science-fiction movie rather than a fantasy. It looks like a science fiction movie, with the ice-crystal set designs of the Christopher Reeve films abandoned for a design seemingly more inspired by Ridley Scott’s Alien, and it sounds like a science-fiction movie, complete with terrible dialogue about world engines, codexes and Phantom drives.
Like many a Superman adaptation before it, Man of Steel flirts with the allusion of Superman as a Christ figure – an ironic tradition given the hero was the product of Jewish creators Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster. Our hero’s father, Jor-El, tells his son, “You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you. They will stumble. They will fall. But in time they will join you in the sun. In time you will help them accomplish wonders.” The Christ allusions in Man of Steel aren’t as overt as they have been in the past – in Superman Returns he was “the light to show them the way,” literally sacrificing himself for the sake of humanity only to be resurrected a couple of days later – instead preferring to focus on the idea of Superman being a symbol of hope.
With Nolan acting as producer, directorial duties were given to Zack Snyder, who is known for his highly stylised use of digital effects in films like 300, Sucker Punch and Watchmen. While he sticks to a pretty simple aesthetic here, his experience with digital effects results in the most visually impressive Superman film yet made, with the little touches – like the way you see the sound barrier being cracked when Superman flies away – being more impressive than the huge effects we are used to seeing in this kind of movie.
A big movie like this one presented as an epic story needs a big-time cast to carry it. British actor Henry Cavill makes for a good Superman, with the appropriate combination of broad chest, chiselled jaw and trustworthy eyes. Amy Adams gets more to work with than past Lois Lanes, with her incarnation of the plucky journalist being courageous, resourceful, and finally intelligent enough to be able to recognise the object of her affection even when he puts on glasses. But it is the depth and quality of the supporting cast which really helps to give the film an epic quality, with the likes of Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner and Lawrence Fishburne all putting in solid supporting turns.
While it is certain to perform strongly at the box office, ultimately Man of Steel runs into the same issues that Superman stories always seem to: that the build-up is more interesting than the climax. In this case the interest is in the existential journey of a young Clark Kent who is trying to work out who he is, why he is here and what he should do with his abilities, and in the way people respond to him and what he represents. But an adventure story climax requires a level of threat that is hard to muster when your hero is practically invincible. In this case he has an adversary who is equally invincible, and watching two of them hitting each other starts to get a bit tedious after a while.
Rating – ★★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean