Wonder Woman Review

Wonder Woman is an origin story of sorts for Diana Prince a.k.a Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), the Amazon who leaves her home island of Themyscira to venture to aid the Allies in World War II. She is accompanied on her journey by Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American spy who crash landed in Themyscira after escaping from the Germans with information on their new super weapons.

I originally planned to see Wonder Woman on Tuesday, and after some delays I finally got around to it last night. The film made headlines for being the first DC Extended Universe (DCEU) film to get good reviews, currently sitting at 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. I’m not one to blindly follow reviews, but I know a lot of other people do. Relatively poor reviews for Man of Steel and horrendous ones for BatmanvSuperman led Warner Bros to force changes onto Suicide Squad that ultimately made that film worse e.g. cut out the abusive Joker and Harley Relationship, overload the film with songs to lighten the tone.

With that said, I realized that Wonder Woman was carrying the DCEU on its shoulders. This film needed to rekindle hope for the studio executives and the general audience. Did the film live up to the hype? I will say that it wasn’t amazing, but it was pretty good.

Firstly, any regular readers will know that I despise the obsession with “fun” that is rampant these days, especially when it comes to comic book films. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has a whole is committed to keeping the films light, with Kevin Feige saying the films will never be dark. There is no better example of this than Thor: Ragnarok (the Asgardian term for Doomsday) being rewritten just to lighten the tone. I have no problem with levity and fun, but it is always better when it actually fits the situation and the characters. It gets tiresome when every serious moment or line is undercut by a one-liner.

Wonder Woman definitely has more levity and “fun” than MOS and BvS, but is darker than Suicide Squad. Yet it is still better than Suicide Squad. Point being,  “fun” is not a guarantee of good, “dark” is not a guarantee of bad, and I hope studio executives don’t see Wonder Woman’s success as the sole result of its lighter tone.

The humour does work well in the film, mainly playing off Diana as a fish out of water in “Man’s World”. Gal Gadot truly shines when portraying Diana’s childlike curiosity and innocence as she learns more about Man’s World. Her performance is weaker when the script asks more of her. Fortunately, she is assisted by Chris Pine. After seeing Pine as Captain Kirk in the new Star Trek films I knew he would be great in this role and he didn’t disappoint. The character of Steve Trevor has often been used as comic relief and Pine nails that, while also deftly handling the more serious moments. Pine and Gadot are also assisted by their own rag-tag group, amongst which Sameer (Said Taghmaoui) is the stand out.

One issue that the DCEU, like the MCU has had, are its villains. The MCU has Loki as its standout, and the DCEU is still trying to find its own. On repeat viewings, The Joker is underwhelming (not just due to his screen time), Doomsday’s weak CGI and tacked on introduction didn’t help his case, and Lex Luthor…they should have cast someone else. General Zod is one of the DCEU’s better contenders, a competent villain but not a very memorable one.

Wonder Woman fights against the Nazis here, with the main focus on General Erich Ludendorff (Daniel Huston) and Isabel Maru a.k.a Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya). Although Ludendorff has more screen time, Doctor Poison was more memorable. Her mask probably helped to add to her screen presence, and I’d much rather see a slew of Doctor Poison costumes for Halloween this year than the Harley Quinn epidemic of last year. Not to take anything away from Huston either, his German accent is a bit hokey at times but overall he was enjoyable, with he and Doctor Poison forming a Joker/Harley dynamic.

Diana also has a more personal villain in the film. Many people may already know the villain I’m referring to, but I won’t delve into him too much to avoid giving too much away. Overall, the final villain’s reveal and the final fight scene could have been handled better.

A consistent issue with the DCEU has been its third act. Man of Steel still offers the best third act fight scene in my opinion, with Wonder Woman coming in second. Let’s not talk about Suicide Squad. Like BatmanvSuperman and MOS, WW’s last fight scene is somewhat hampered by some cartoonish effects. The effects in this sequence were more jarring since the visuals and action were pretty impressive up to this point. We don’t truly see Diana fight as Wonder Woman for at least fourty minutes into the film, but the fight is well worth it. I also didn’t feel like the film dragged up until this point or any other in the film.  Aside from some poor effects, my only issue with the fight scenes is that slow-motion is overused at times. Otherwise, the action is fast-paced and well-choreographed. Let’s not forget the score, with the Wonder Woman theme being reminiscent of the Donner Superman one in terms of the excitement it generates.

Wonder Woman offers action, levity and some great performances. Wonder Woman also doesn’t shoehorn in any links to other DC characters. The only reference to another member of the Justice League is an organic one that helps to tie the story together and give an ending that has all the “hope” so many people say the DCEU is lacking. I walked out of the theater more excited about Justice League and the other DCEU films, while also hoping that the stories don’t end up being hampered by the “fun” mentality. WW’s tone was a great mix of dark and light, not afraid to show the dark side of human nature while also countering with a level of optimism that befits the character. Superman helped to counter the darkness in Batman, and Wonder Woman helps to counter the darkness in both.

Wonder Woman- Saving The DCEU

Reviews have started pouring in and Wonder Woman looks like it is the DC Extended Universe’s (DCEU’s) first critical darling.

I have never been one to follow critics blindly, but this is still news that I am happy to hear. In my opinion, Man of Steel was a decent (7/10) film hampered by some weak acting and some pacing issues. Batman v Superman came across as a rushed buildup to the Justice League, with a terrible portrayal of Lex Luthor and a weak third act. Suicide Squad… let’s just move on.

Box office success is always imprtant to fans since a film is more likely to spawn a franchise if it is financially successful. If a film is not intended to be a franchise, financial success can still be good for fans since it is validation that other people watched something they enjoy. This is easy to understand but people often seem confused about why fans care abor critics. While the reviews may not impact my own enjoyment of a single film, they can have implications for a franchise. Batman v Superman nearly grossed one billion dollars but was still considered a box office disappointment rellative to expectations. Suicide Squad was a success financially but was critically panned. A string of films like this can cause studios to lose faith in directors or an entire film universe e.g. all the fanboys crying for the X-Men rights to back to Marvel after X:Men Apocalypse.

Wonder Woman is a chance to prove that a female led superhero film can be a critical and financial success, and that the DCEU ship can right itself. People who may have lost interest in the DCEU before, will be more likely to see Wonder Woman. If they like Wonder Woman, they’ll be more likely to see The Justice League, and so on. The DCEU can’t really be considered a failure prior to Wonder Woman, but it didn’t appear to be headed in the right direction.

One of my worries is that the good reviews are attributed SOLELY to the lighter tone. Wonder Woman‘s “fish out of water elements lend itselt to comedy; and Steve Trevor has always been depicted as comic relief as well. I have no problem with humour, but hate when it becomes part of a formula that ultimately waters down an entire world. The mentality that the DCEU films just need more “fun” is rampant online. Even The Rock expressed this mentality when discussing bringing Black Adam to the big screen. “Fun” does not fit Black Adam at all, so now we’ll likely get a bastardized version of the character. MOS and BvS are always criticized for their “depressing” tone but let’s not forget that the lighter Suicide Squad was an even worse film (according to RT).  “Fun” is not the only ingredient for good, and also does not have to be an ingredient for good. The Justice League trailers feature some humour that comes across as a cheesy response to all the MOS and BvS criticisms: “We added jokes. People will love it now.” Let’s hope the desire to add “fun” doesn’t overshadow other issues the previous DCEU films had.  There is a tendency now to tie unrelated elements of the writing back to “fun”. “Fun” becomes the root that all quality springs from in some people’s minds.

With that said, I am eager to see if Wonder Woman lives up to its hype.

The Dark Knight III: The Master Race

Note: The below article is one that I intended to upload to comicommand back in March. Since comicommand is not being updated for the moment (but will be soon), I have decided to post this article on my site instead.

I heard mixed things about The Dark Knight: Master Race but my love of Batman eventually persuaded me to check out Frank Miller’s latest foray into the character’s mythos. This series is also co-written by Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets) and follows three years after The Dark Knight Strikes Again.

In this continuity, Ray Palmer (The Atom) is successfully able to free the inhabitants of the miniaturized, bottled Kryptonian city Kandor. Not only does he free them, but he also returns them to full size. Once free, these new inhabitants set out to create a society where the strongest, their own people, rule.

Although I also have mixed thoughts about this series, which shifts from amazing to mediocre within one issue, its exploration of Superman and his people is enough to keep me reading.

One of my biggest issues with the new 52, at least as portrayed in animated films like Justice League: War, was the relationship between Superman and Wonder Woman. When together, they are like the captain of the football team and the head cheerleader. Lois Lane wasn’t just a love interest to me. She was one of the key figures, along with Superman’s adoptive parents, that literally and figuratively kept Superman grounded. While Superman was more physically separated from his parents, Lois was a constant thread that enabled him to value human life. Growing up among humans also developed Superman’s respect for them.

In contrast, the daughter that he had with Wonder Woman grew up among Amazons and sees humans as “ants”. When the inhabitants of Kandor make their intentions clear, Lara is eager to follow them and shun her father, who she sees as a traitor to his people. She has grown up with the power granted by two of the world’s greatest heroes, along with the isolationist mindset of the Amazons.

The Kandorian leader, Quar, is a twisted version of what Superman could have been. While enemies like Zod desired the annihilation of humans, Quar expresses a paternalistic mindset that undermines human agency. In his own view, humans need to be ruled. They are the savage slaves that he wishes to civilize. Superman recognizes his power, and the advantages it gives him over the people of Earth, but he also recognizes the strength and free will of its people. Although he is better than Quar in many ways, he is not far removed from him.

 

Teen Titans: The Judas Contract Review

It is an understatement of epic proportions to say that the post-Flashpoint DC Animated Films have not lived up to their predecessors. Flashpoint, my favourite DC Animated film, was followed by Warwhich had very little going for it. Weak voice acting from a lot of the cast, weak dialogue, terrible characterizations for some characters (Wonder Woman especially) etc. The list of negatives goes on and the subsequent films did little to raise my hopes. Batman v Robin and Gods and Monsters were bright spots, which gave me hope that DC were climbing the ladder back to greatness. Then Justice League vs. Teen Titans came along, and sent my hopes spiralling into the abyss. The Killing Joke was a little disappointing, and could have cut the batgirl prelude, but was a pretty good film overall. Then we got a pretty forgettable Justice League Dark, not terrible, but nothing special earlier compared to works like Under The Red HoodSuperman vs The Elite, First Flight or even Assault on Arkham.

All of that to say, I made sure not to get my hopes up about this film.The Judas Contract (TJC) is an adaptation of the comic storyline of the same name, which I have not read. I can’t judge the film based on it’s accuracy to the comic since I have not read the comic yet and don’t want to simply Google comparisons since they’ll contain spoilers for the comics.

Overall, the film is a definite improvement over JL vs Teen Titans and War. Since the latter two films are my most hated DC animated films to date, that compliment isn’t saying much.

The most notable improvement in this film was the handling of Damian Wayne’s character. Since his introduction in Son of Batman Damian Wayne has been abrasive, stubborn, arrogant…in short, bratty. In Son of Batman, Batman vs. Robin and Bad Blood his more undesirable characteristics were also balanced out to create an anti-hero that was annoying at times, but not insufferable. Then JL vs Teen Titans undid any development the character previously received and pretty much made him Bart Simpson in a Robin suit. All improvements in terms of social skills, self-awareness, respect etc. were gone.

Spoiler: I was happy when Blue Beetle nearly killed him.

In TJC Damian is still a loner who is adjusting to working well with a team, just like his dad. He still has an attitude problem but he also looks out for his team and isn’t the petulant child we last saw in JL vs Teen Titans.

Damian, along with Beast Boy are the highlights among the Titans, with their dialogue and voice actors bringing the most life to their roles. Nightwing, one of my favourite characters, also gets to shine. We get to learn more about Starfire’s background, although she still just comes across as a two-dimension princess kindness for the most part.

The newest member, Terra, plays a pivotal role in the story and her story arc demonstrates how seemingly unsympathetic characters can still gain our sympathy. However, there is a birthday scene that was truly cringeworthy and reminded me of the DDR scene in JL vs Teen Titans.

I have to say that Deathstroke was the biggest highlight of the film. Aside from being one of my favourite DC villains, Miguel Ferrer does an amazing job as the villain. Deathstroke doesn’t have that many lines compared to some of the other characters, and his character mainly relies on charisma for the role. Ferrer brings that in spades and makes me overlook some of the weaker dialogue and relatively little screen time.

The other villians were somewhat forgettable in my opinion, and the final fight actually proves to be one of the duller ones. Bigger is not always better.

Overall, The Judas Contract was a decent way to pass the time, but still makes me miss the older DC films even more.

Superman and The Old School

As I was scrolling through Twitter this morning and came across this gem:

I knew I had to talk about it, even if only briefly, because it captures an argument I have made time and time again. So @CaptainMarvelTalk hates the art on the right (which is just fan art if I’m not mistaken) because it makes Superman too “dark”, “gritty”, “intimidating”.

I have previously noticed that people tend to have very static fews of certain characters. Superman does typically have a boy scout persona, the typical nice guy. Does that mean every single piece of art has to depict him smiling and happy? He can’t look intimidating in a single art piece?

When I raised this point to @CaptainMarvelTalk he said that intimidation is out of character for Superman.

I then responded with this:

An iconic scene from Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come where Superman angrily bursts into a political meeting. Of course, he doesn’t kill anyone, but he is undoubtedly intimidating here. Then @CaptainMarvelTalk argues that Superman is “angry” here, not intimidating. The two can obviously overlap, and are clearly affected by audience interpretation. In the original fan art, and in Kingdom Come, Superman is floating with his eyes glowing red. If the fan art counts as intimidating, the Kingdom Come piece undoubtedly does too.

Clearly, @CaptainMarvelTalk just hates newer artistic interpretations of Superman, in favour of the old school. Instead of saying that, he nitpicks and shuts out common sense and reasoning, contradicting himself time after time during our debate. I think this is a solid example of the bias that also fuels the Marvel v DC debate and the never-ending debate about how DC is “too dark” and doesn’t have enough “fun”.

 

Justice League Trailer Thoughts

Geoff Johns was kind enough to share the new Justice League trailer with twitter this morning.

So let’s get this out of the way. I am not a Marvel v DC person. Obviously I realize there is competition between the two brand and their related movie studios. However,  I do not condone the childish mindset that I can only like the movies from one group. My favourite comic book films include DC and Marvel properties, ranging from The Dark Knight, X:Men DOFP to Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

With that said, I am cautiously optimistic about Justice League. I love the characters, especially Batman, but BatmanvSuperman and Suicide Squad have left a bad taste in my mouth. Don’t get me wrong, both films had great pieces and great moments. Overall. they felt short. Both had weak villians and weak third acts, along with some other issues.

As I watched this trailer I forgot about that for a moment. There is still no sign of Superman but I’m sure we’ll see him in the film. I am glad this film didn’t reveal too much about the plot or reveal the villain yet. We know it will be Darkseid’s uncle, Steppenwolf, and we get some glimpses of parademons (presumably) in this trailer.

From what I understand, Cyborg’s armour is derived from alien technology in the newer comics. It looks like his armour comes from a motherbox, a teleportation device Darkseid’s forces use. This motherbox appears to be the gateway that allows the parademons to reach earth. If this is the case, Cyborg could have a central role in the film and I am hoping the script and the actor can deliver.

To start, there is a lot of CGI in this trailer. Obviously that has to be the case for the visuals this story needs. The Flash looks amazing so far and his scenes are some of my favourites from the trailer. However, this trailer reminds me of 300 with the amount of computer generated backgrounds and surroundings. The scene with Batman fighting a parademon sticks out in my mind as one of the worst offenders. Maybe I wouldn’t notice as much if some of the effects looked better. Hopefully the effects are cleaned up by the time the film begins. Cyborg looks better than he did in the comic-con footage so I am hoping there is still time to improve the visuals.

With that being said, the visuals weren’t my greatest concern going into the film. Steppenwolf will hopefully provide a better villain than Doomsday, Luthor or Enchantress. This should help to strengthen the third act but won’t necessarily be enough. If the third act is just a fight filled with poor special effects, that can also cause the audience to lose interest, like I did with the last fight in BvS.

I am also hoping the desire to add more “fun” doesn’t ruin the script entirely. Obviously some characters are more light-hearted than others. However, Barry Allen has pretty much been turned into Wally West in terms of their personalities. Meanwhile it looks like they are trying to turn Bruce Wayne into Tony Stark. Obviously Bruce Wayne has the carefree, obnoxious playboy persona but the real Bruce Wayne has a drier sense of humour than the one we’ve seen so far.

Okay, time to be more positive.

Aquaman is one of my favourite superheroes, and is severely underrated by the general audience and even some comic book readers. Jason Momoa, as well as the writers, look like they’ll remedy that. I am sure that Aquaman or Flash will end up being the breakout stars of this film and possibly even the franchise. My only worry is Momoa’s acting skill, which isn’t that great from what I have seen so far. That doesn’t detract from my man crush, but it does bring up a possible issue with the film. We’ll see how he does.

In general, the action looks pretty awesome. Looking past the issue of the CGI, it looks like we’ll see some creative and memorable action sequences. It was great to see our first glimpse of J.K Simmons as Commissioner Gordon, and hear a reference to Robin since Batman is “playing well with others” again.

I can’t deny my excitement at seeing my favourite superheroes on screen together and I hope Zack Snyder delivers a film that lives up to the hype.

 

The Rock Will Lead a Black Adam Solo Film

Deja Vu

As I discussed recently, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson had a meeting with DC Entertainment to discuss the upcoming Shazam film slated for a 2019 release.  Years ago, The Rock was cast as Black Adam, the film’s villain. Little was heard about the project until The Rock’s meeting with DC, and today we have even bigger news.

Black Adam will get his own solo film, prior to the introduction of Captain Marvel (a.k.a Shazam) in a later film. Some people love this idea, I am not one of them.

I don’t believe that The Rock is a great actor, but he is still one of my favourites. His charisma is off the charts and Ballers shows that he is also developing as a more serious, dramatic actor. I follow his Instagram religiously and respect his work ethic above all else. With that said, this move comes across as one fuelled solely by Johnson’s star power. The official reason provided for the solo film is that Black Adam has a very interesting backstory that the film-makers want to have room to tell. Johnson also says that is the main reason he wanted to play Black Adam, as opposed to Captain Marvel (he was offered both parts).

However, that reason seems like a smoke screen used to rationalize a move made with star power in mind. Some people argue that it doesn’t make sense for Johnson to play a villain opposite another actor, instead of a lead. Maybe they would have a point if we weren’t living in the golden age of comic book films. Big name actors (measured by pedigree or box office power) have all had relatively small parts in comic book films, compared to relative new comers. Spoilers for The Winter Soldier: Chris Evans gets his Captain America franchise while Robert Redford plays a villain who gets killed off at the end of the film. Jamie Foxx played Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. No one said Scarlett Johansson’s star power warranted her getting a Black Widow solo film before The Avengers, and Black Widow’s backstory is also very interesting.

Black Adam may have a great backstory and he may be a great character, but he was a character created for a hero. The Joker is my favourite villain and while I love his origin in The Killing Joke, I wouldn’t want to see a Joker solo film before a Batman film. Part of what makes many villains so great is their interaction with the hero. The push and pull between different conceptions of right and wrong, the way that the characters provide foils for one another.

Additionally, The Rock emphasized that DC films would now be bringing more “optimism, hope and fun”. That does not fit with Black Adam’s backstory or his persona as a whole. If this will be a story about a slave rising to power, I hope the writers don’t throw in one-liners simply to add some “fun” in.

The Rock and DC Comics- Tonal Change

Two days ago, The Rock posted to Instagram about a meeting he had with DC Comics concerning the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). The Rock was announced as a lead for the DCEU’s Shazam (yes, the hero is actually called Captain Marvel but due to copyright issues he is just Shazam at the moment) adaptation, playing the role of the villain Black Adam.

However, there has been little word on the project since then. Henry Cavill posted a picture of he and the Rock sharing a drink in late December, fueling speculation that The Rock would make an appearance in the next Superman solo film, especially since Cavill hinted at bright things for the future.

The Rock is one of the few stars who can engage audiences off charisma alone. He is not the greatest actor, but his work on Ballers shows that he is developing. I am excited to see that the project is coming together slowly but The Rock’s summary of the meeting leaves me slightly worried.

“Had a very cool and strategic meeting with the heads of DC about their entire universe. As a hard core DC fan, to get a real sense of the tonal shifts and developments coming in these future movies has me fired up. Something we, as DC fans have all been waiting for for a very long time.

Hope, optimism & FUN.

Even when talking about the the most ruthless villain/anti-hero of all time finally coming to life. Prepare yourselves DC Universe.”

I have discussed the obsession with making comic book films “fun” before and how this belief is founded on nonsensical assumptions.

“I am not anti-fun or anti-humour. I simply do not like it when the device is overused. While some Marvel films have juggled it well, such as The Winter Soldier (2014), the Thor series has been severely brought down by terrible and consistent one-liners imho. While Loki’s humour is handled well, Jane’s (Natalie Portman) and Darcy’s (Kat Dennings) end up being the Jar Jars of the franchise. My problem is not only the overuse of humour, but how Marvel has successfully conditioned people to believe that this humour is the mark of a good comic book movie. Nowadays, any film that lacks the same level of levity is deemed too “dark”, “gritty”, “depressing, “brooding” or “pretentious”. A lot of the criticism levied towards Man of Steel (MOS) before it was even released came from this misconception. The trailers were serious in tone, nothing about them screamed “dark” or “brooding”, but people were so used to Marvel’s marketing by this point. The MOS trailers did not have enough one-liners, enough levity in comparison to Marvel’s trailers, so people were thrown off. Everything is relative, and since the MOS trailers were found to be lacking in humour, they were immediately deemed too dark.

This brings up another issue I have with Marvel’s brainwashing. I often hear people throw around the word “dark” like it is an insult in itself. As if saying a film is dark is as bad as saying the acting was terrible, the writing was terrible etc. A film can be “dark” and also be good… While Marvel has darker material in some of its films, and has Netflix shows with much darker tones (Daredevil, Jessica Jones) it appears that Marvel’s status gives it more room to experiment than any other property has. Marvel’s trailers, films and tv shows can have darker tones without people complaining about them trying to “copy Christopher Nolan”, “not being fun” etc. While Marvel is allowed to experiment, change and adapt, DC is now forced to appeal to Marvel sensibilities in order to be less divisive among audiences.”

You don’t have to tell me that BatmanvSuperman (Bvs) of Suicide Squad (SS) had issues. The villains and third act for both films sucked. Some dialogue was weak, some acting was weak, Eisenberg was a terrible Luthor etc. I am not a DC “fanboy”. I don’t think that DC can do no wrong. I just hate the fact that people believe that the solution to these films is to make them more “fun”. Some of the things added to SS to make it more fun, actually made it worse, such as the overly abundant musical segways. The emphasis on adding more “fun” in could cause the writers, directors, studios etc. to overlook other issues, such as a weak villain or weak storytelling (which is not always tied to tone). Like this writer says, “‘Justice League’ Is Reportedly “A Mess” & That’s Fine, As Long As It’s a Fun Mess.” Words can not describe how much I detest this mentality. Sadly critics and audiences will probably love the film more for its tone even if everything else is terrible.

The Justice League trailer already had me worried that the studio is putting even more pressure on the directors and writers to lighten things up. Bruce Wayne seems completely out of character, and so does Barry Allen. Wally West (Allen’s nephew-in law) is the version of The Flash that is known for being comic-relief. Allen is a more serious character, but it seems like the writers have just changed Allen completely in order to get more room for humour. Wayne can be funny as well, but I find his humour is best when it is done similarly to the dry humour we’re familiar with from Alfred.

One of the best examples of Batman’s humour, in my opinion, comes from the animated film Superman/Batman Apocalypse. After a newly arrived Supergirl damages $50,000 worth of batcave equipment, Superman asks Batman to send him the bill.  Batman then says: “On a reporter’s salary, right.”

That kind of humour adds levity, without coming across as out of character. Unlike the “more or less” exchange in The Justice League. That is the issue I have with some of the “fun” people insist on, especially because people normally ask for fun because DC is dark relative to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). When there is an insistence on having “fun” in every scene it can just kill dramatic tension. As Jeremy Jahns said in his review of Doctor Strange, “Sometimes I want an epic moment instead of a funny one.”

 

 

 

Third Time The Charm for The Flash?

the-flash-ezra-miller

The Flash (2018), starring Ezra Miller, was originally going to be directed by Seth Grahame-Smith. The Flash would have marked Smith’s directorial debut. Prior to his appointment as director, Smith served as a writer for the film adaptation of his novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Smith seemed like an odd choice at the time but I didn’t want to worry too much since unlikely or unknown directors have made great films previously. A great recent example are the Russo Brothers and their work with Captain America: Winter Soldier and Civil War.

landscape_showbiz-seth-grahame-smith

Smith later left the project due to unspecified creative differences in late April. Five months ago, director Rick Famuyiwa (Dope) signed on to direct. This also seemed like an odd choice, since Rick’s latest work was far removed in terms of genre and scale. However, I realized that Dope‘s tone could work very well for a Flash film. Although Barry Allen’s stories are not always light-hearted a character as people may think (e.g. Flashpoint Paradox) there is still a lot of room for humour in the series. Out of all the upcoming solo films, humour belongs in The Flash the most. The Flash was also one of my most anticipated solo films, after The Batman and Wonder Woman.

rick

 

Today, Famuyiwa also left the project due to creative differences. I am sure there are other directors out there who can step up to the plate and do a great job. Having two directors drop out is worrisome, but I am more worried about what this can indicate. BatmanvSuperman and Suicide Squad both suffered from changes made by Warner Bros. in post production. The uncut version of BatmanvSuperman is much more coherent, and Suicide Squad had its first hour drowned in pop songs to make it more light-hearted.

I am now worried that the creative differences in both cases were due to ideas Warner Bros insisted on; ones that will bring the final film down yet again.  I am more worried about this since the creative differences pop up months after a new director is attached. It appears WB may like their original pitch but have more grievances as more directorial decisions come to light. I respect Smith and Famuyiwa for sticking to their vision and not becoming corporate slaves who simply want to make a blockbuster film for the exposure and money. I can’t imagine how hard that decision must be.

Another troubling aspect is that The Flash is set for a March 2018 release date. 2016 is nearly over and a director is not even signed on yet. Smith’s script is still being used but filming will obviously come to a halt without a director. The film will likely need almost a year to film, plus post-production. It is likely the release date could be pushed back at this point.

Let’s hope the third director is the final one. Will the studio opt for another unknown director, an indie one, or will they try to get a bigger name? The problem is that a bigger name may wish to stay clear of a project that two directors have already left. Any director may take two directors leaving as a bad sign. Plenty of fans do and events like this are also an early Christmas present for Marvel fans trapped in the “Marvel V DC” mentality.

Let’s see what happens.

justice-league-first-image

The Killing Joke Review

the-killing-joke

While DC is struggling to get critical approval with its live-action films, as the (partly) undeserved roasting of BatmanvSuperman and Suicide Squad demonstrate, they have an impressive record of success with their animated features. In my opinion, the quality of the DC Universe Animated Original Movies (DCUAOM) has declined in recent years with Justice League: War and Son of Batman. However, there have been some bright spots such as Gods and Monsters, Assault on Arkham and Batman vs. Robin. I was hoping that The Killing Joke would continue that trend. It isn’t a bad film, but as a whole, it does not measure up to some of the aforementioned bright spots.

As a spoiler- free summary, this story involves The Joker escaping from Arkham Asylum and kidnapping Barbara Gordon (Batgirl). There will be some relatively minor spoilers throughout this review. I haven’t read the graphic novel in years and I wanted to do so before seeing this film. However, I ended up rushing ahead and watching the film first. For that reason, I won’t be able to compare this film to the finer details of the comic.

I was told by friends that the film added a prelude that explained more of Barbara Gordon’s backstory, prior to her kidnapping. A little research online also showed that this section also resulted in most of the criticism for the film. I tried to ignore these critiques and form my own opinions so that I wouldn’t unfairly bash the film. I have to say that some of the criticism is justified.

The most valuable insights that come from this prelude are:

  • Barbara still views crime-fighting as a thrill, not an unhealthy obsession the way Batman does
  • Conflict over this issue is what led to Barbara ending her role as Batgirl

These two insights are valuable, but my issue is some of the execution. The Batgirl prelude centers around a single criminal, Paris Franz, who becomes obsessed with Batgirl. However, Franz’s obsession is more like a delusional and arrogant fanboy, as opposed to the twisted dependency we see with The Joker and Batman. Franz ends up being a very forgettable villain and the writing for his character is mainly what makes the prelude unwelcome.

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Another issue, is the infamous sex scene. Sorry if it is a spoiler but it is a part of the story that I can’t review this film without mentioning. If I simply said there is a sex scene, then it would still be pretty easy to figure out which characters I am referring to. Although I am not personally a fan of a Batman/Batgirl relationship, I know it exists in some of the comics. What annoys me most about the sex scene isn’t the fact that a relationship I like to think of as father-daughter is changed; I just hated the fact that it was precipitated by a slap-slap-kiss trope. I didn’t even know that this was a trope until a year ago, but seeing it time after time led me to believe that other people must have noticed how often it pops up in romantic situations. Two people are fighting; they often start pushing or come to blows. Then they suddenly stop, stare into each other’s eyes, and kiss. It is hack writing at its best.

With that said, the rest of The Killing Joke is much better. Firstly, we have a better villain. Mark Hamill plays The Prince of Crime, and also plays The Joker in flashbacks that reveal how he became The Joker. The graphic novel is famous partly for introducing a tragic Joker origin story and the transformation from Jack Napier to the Prince of Crime is one of the film’s most haunting.

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The Joker’s actions in this film make you hate him, but you also can’t deny his charisma and his skills as a wordsmith. I enjoyed John DiMaggio as The Joker in Under the Red Hood but it is great to have Hamill back for this role, alongside Kevin Conroy. One of my favourite parts of the film is a Batman monologue near the beginning. While Conroy is famous for portraying Batman’s menace, his ability to convey the character’s (often hidden) warmth was also a treat to watch.

Joker’s kidnapping of Barbara is the central crux of the story, and the scene is a tough one to watch. The animation, the music (or lack thereof) and the voice acting make it one of my favourite scenes among all the DC animated films. Hamill brings a blend of menace and humour to the role, while navigating his way through one of the most pivotal moments in Batman’s history.

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The kidnapping also represents a high-point in the film, which is followed by the final showdown between Batman and The Joker. From what I remember, the kidnapping of Commissioner Gordon was more enthralling in the graphic novel. Here, the voice acting from Gordon and Joker’s gang of freaks brought this section of the film down.

Overall, I enjoyed The Killing Joke. However, the faults I’ve mentioned prevent it from being among the top-tier of the DCUAOM films. As it stands, it is a decent entry that had a lot of potential.