Talking Movies: Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Talking Movies

Released: 17 March 2023
Director: David F. Sandberg
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $110 to 125 million
Stars: Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Lucy Liu, Grace Caroline Currey, Helen Mirren, and Djimon Hounsou

Troubled orphan turned magically-empowered superhero Billy Batson/Shazam (Angel/Levi) struggles to keep his adopted family together as a superhuman team. However, when the daughters of Atlas – led by Hespera (Mirren) and Kalypso (Liu) – arrive seeking to reclaim the Wizards (Hounsou) powers, Billy and his family must come together to defend their city and reinforce their bond.

The Background:
In a bid to cash in on the success of Clark Kent/Superman and Bruce Wayne/Batman, Fawcett Publications drafted ideas for their own colourful superheroes, each imbued with the powers of Greco-Roman Gods, before Ralph Daigh combined them into a superpowered entity to rival Superman eventually dubbed Captain Marvel. While battling legal issues around his name, Captain Marvel and his colourful extended family joined DC Comics and found some success on the small screen with the 1970s live-action television show. Initially, Captain Marvels big-screen debut was to feature former wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Teth-Adam/Black Adam, though the project lingered in Development Hell before director David F. Sandberg delivered a critically and commercially successful action/comedy that was soon followed by the mixed reviews of Johnsons solo Black Adam venture. Plans for a sequel to Shazam! (Sandberg, 2019) began soon after the films opening weekend, with star Zachary Levi and many of his co-stars signed on to return for multiple films. Mark Strong was revealed to not be returning, and Sandberg was forced to cut classic Shazam villain Mister Mind from the script to keep the focus on the family dynamic and the battle against Atlass daughters, with veteran actress Helen Mirren landing a prominent role as Hespera. Although the sequel was delayed numerous times thanks to the impact and fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, Shazam! Fury of the Gods finally released earlier this month but, as of this writing, hajust barely cleared $100 million at the box office. Reviews also appear somewhat mixed; some saw it as corny, but harmless, fun, while others regarded it as one of the worst DCEU movies ever made. Although newly-appointed DCEU head honcho James Gunn expressed interest in continuing Shazam’s story in future films, director David F. Sandberg stated this would depend on the film’s reception and hinted that he was burned out with superhero films after seeing the mixed critical response to the movie.

The Review:
I really enjoyed Shazam!; even now, it’s one of the better DCEU films since it really embraced the colourful spirit of the character and delivered not only some surprisingly poignant messages about friendship and family but stood as a stark contrast to the rest of the disappointingly bleak and gritty DCEU. Now, I’m not against this in principle; a great way for the DCEU to stand out against the Marvel films is to adopt a more mature and darker aesthetic, but that tone doesn’t work for every superhero. As much as I loved Henry Cavill as Superman, for instance, I don’t really enjoy seeing him moping about, barely saying a word, and being openly, routinely, and publicly criticised; similarly, while I like the idea of Ben Affleck’s older, jaded Batman, it’s not really true to Batman’s character to have him swearing and running around murdering everyone but his most iconic villains. Thus, yeah, sue me; I was all onboard for a more jovial adventure and, for me, movies like Shazam! and Aquaman (Wan, 2018) and even Wonder Woman (Jenkins, 2017) represented the direction I wanted the DCU to steer towards. Although I was annoyed and disappointed to find that Black Adam wouldn’t feature in the Shazam! sequel, especially as that would’ve made perfect sense and would’ve been a great way to expand on the lore established in the first film, I was still excited for it as I enjoyed the goofy humour, carefree action, and heartfelt message of Shazam!, especially as it co-existed alongside some surprisingly disturbing scenes.

Billy struggles to keep his family together as a superhero unit out of fear of losing them.

Shazam! Fury of the Gods picks up about two years after Billy and his adopted siblings – half-crippled Frederick “Freddy” Freeman (Grazer), budding academic Mary Bromfield (Currey), enthusiastic daydreamer Darla Dudley (Faithe Herman), gaming aficionado Eugene Choi (Ian Chen), and introvert homosexual  Pedro Peña (Jovan Armand) – defeated Doctor Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) and using their superhero forms, in which they possess the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. Since then, this unnamed group have set up a base within the magical Rock of Eternity (an extradimensional cavern that was once home to the Council of Wizards and contains an endless library, countless doors to other realms and locations, and apparently a bitter Wi-Fi signal that most urban areas) and regularly workshop their strategies as superheroes. Unfortunately for them, their hometown of Philadelphia has been less than impressed with their superhero antics; they’re regularly called out for the destruction their blunders causes and it’s safe to say that they don’t have the best reputation. Nor, it turns out, do they have official superhero names or a team name; despite the fact that the Wizard clearly told Billy what his name was in the last film, a major side plot in Shazam! Fury of the Gods revolves around him – and his siblings – trying to settle on an appropriate name, something that vaguely ties into a general sense of teenage identity and the group forging a name for themselves individually and collectively, but primarily ends up being an extended commentary on how the characters are incapable of telling people their superhero names without turning to and from their child and adult forms.

Freddy’s role is greatly expanded as he seeks to strike out his own and embarks on a few side quests.

Oddly, Billy Batson is strangely absent from the film; he spends the majority of the movie in his superhuman form though, thankfully, there’s less of a disparity between the two; Shazam still acts like more of a man-child than Billy, but it no longer feels like they’re two completely different characters and there’s even an acknowledgement that he rarely employs the wisdom of Solomon and instead relies on his family, specifically Mary, to help him make decisions). On the cusp of turning eighteen, Billy is afraid that the only family he’s ever had will turf him out once he’s no longer legally obligated to remain under the care of his loving foster parents, Rosa and Victor Vásquez (Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews) and, since he’s been abandoned by everyone he’s ever loved up until this point, he’s holding on a little too tight, trying a little too hard, to keep his family together both in and out of costume. This is causes some tension between him and Mary, who it turns out didn’t go off to college (for unspecified reasons but it’s implied to be because of her duties as Mary Marvel), but more explicitly between him and Freddy. Freddy actually has a far larger role here than Billy; he he’s eager to go out on his own as “Captain Everypower” (Adam Brody) and, despite his love and friendship for Billy, can’t help but feel suffocated by Billy’s insecurities. When he meets and falls for new girl Anne (Rachel Zegler), Freddy gets an opportunity to stand on his own and forge his own path, one where his quirky, awkward sense of humour and encyclopaedic knowledge of superheroes is seen as a positive. Even when Anne begrudgingly betrays him and reveals herself to be the 6000-year-old Anthea, the third daughter of Atlas who wields the confusing (but visually impressive) power to rearrange the environment at will, and loses his powers to the Wizard’s staff, Fredy continues to play a prominent role. Imprisoned in a dungeon is the desolate realm of the Gods, Freddy teams up with the depowered but randomly very much alive Wizard in a bid to stop the daughters of Atlas from destroying Earth, thereby showing his heroism even without his amazing powers.

When the daughters of Atlas disagree, Kalypso seizes the staff and launches a campaign against the mortals.

The daughters of Atlas are, as far as I am aware, brand-new characters for this movie; rather than deliver on the promise of the Monster Society of Evil, led by Mister Mind (David F. Sandberg) teased at the end of the last movie (and this one), or include a throwdown against Black Adam, Billy and his family must contend with Hespera and Kalypso, the enraged daughters of Zeus who Billy unknowingly freed from confinement when he destroy the Wizard’s staff in the last movie. Hespera, who wields the power of the elements, is capable of turning men to stone and even encases much of Philadelphia in an impenetrable dome, to say nothing of being able to instantly nerf the Shazam Family with the Wizard’s reconstructed staff in a bid to rob them of the powers she feels they are unworthy to possess. While both she and Kalypso have a grudge against the Wizard and his Champions for stealing the power of the Gods, Kalypso is the only one of them driven by an inconsolable rage; able to twist the mind’s of others and bend them to her will, Kalypso isn’t satisfied with merely reclaiming the powers and the lost seed that will restore their world and instead turns on her sisters, planting the seed on Earth and birthing not only a legion of demonic, mythological creatures (including harpies, chimeras, and cyclopes) but also commanding the terrifying dragon Ladon, a being so immensely powerful that it cripples its prey by literally emanating fear and is cable to charbroil Shazam’s costume with is magical fire breath. Although Hespera attempts to oppose Kalypso’s plot, suggesting she has some morals, both characters are painfully one-dimensional and rely solely on the star power of their actors and the impressive visuals of their costumes and powers. Their anger is justified, and the power is more than a match for the Champions, especially as they’re able to remove their powers at will, and yet all too often the battle against them boils down to simple stuff like manhandling them or blasting them with lightning.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Shazam! surprised me with it’s poignant message about family; Billy’s arc of being a bit of a troublemaker who had no interest in forging ties with anyone as he was determined to find his mother, only to discover that his true family lay in his adopted home, really separated the film from other superhero productions. In that respect, I can somewhat understand why Billy takes a bit of a backseat here; however, the name of the movie is Shazam! so I was surprised to see that Billy’s arc was more concerned with him not being such a control freak and learning to trust that he’s accepted within his family unit, and that more of the film focused on Freddy. As a result, there really isn’t much for his other siblings to do: Mary expresses frustration at having missed out on college but otherwise remains loyal to her siblings, with no real explanation given as to why she didn’t go or resolution to this plot thread; Pedro randomly blurts out that he’s gay and is immediately accepted by his family, with his only other characteristic being that even his superhero persona (D. J. Cotrona) sucks at dodging. Although Eugene is reduced to exploring the many doors in the Rock of Eternity, this doesn’t really factor into the plot in a meaningful way, though Darla is able to help the depowered Champions assist Shazam in the finale by randomly tracking down a herd of unicorns (strangely the only creature the mythological demons fear) and taming them with Skittles. Indeed, as much as I enjoy the Shazam Family, their colourful costumes, youthful demeanours, and fun dynamic, I can’t help but feel like there’s too many of them; just Billy, Freddy, and Mary would be enough, I think, as the other siblings are just left making up the numbers.

Some fun visuals and action scenes keep the film entertaining, if a little muddled at times.

Thankfully, there’s some decent action, effects, and visuals on offer here that help to keep the film entertaining. The Shazam costumes have been tweaked and now look better than ever (though Zachary Levi continues to look a little out of proportion, especially in the head and neck area), and I loved that we get to see more of the Rock of Eternity. The Champions have pimped it out with TVs and games and such, but the depths hide doorways to strange dimensions and a library full of flying books and home to a helpful magic pen named Steve. When the Champions are in action, they work pretty well together; there’s not a huge amount of forethought to their strategy, which mainly boils down to saving as many people as possibly and trying to prevent greater damage and results in a fair amount of resentment as they’d unable to fulfil this latter objective, but it like that Shazam tried to do post-mission team talks to help them improve as a group. Each of them exhibits the same powers, including flight, super strength and speed, and the ability to shoot lighting from their hands, but all of them are rendered powerless at various points throughout the film (with the exception of Billy) and are forced to find other means to help out. As fun as it is to see Shazam fist fight a dragon and slam it through a building, and as impressive as Ladon’s effects are, the CGI takes a serious hit once Kalypso raises her army of monsters. These scenes, and the opening heist in a museum, recall the disturbing violence perpetrated by the Seven Deadly Sins in the first film but are somehow rendered a little more toothless thanks to the mythological creatures lacking substance and looking a little too cartoonish. The daughters of Atlas showcase ill-defined powers that make for some interesting visuals, such as Hespera turning a room full of people to stone and Kalypso cutting through the skyline on Ladon’s back, but I’m still confused by Anthea’s powers. She appears to be able to rearrange buildings and the environment to confuse, teleport, and attack her foes, but at the same time she isn’t actually rearranging the city as it returns to normal and these powers are rendered mute when she tries to avoid Kalypso’s depowering shot only for the bolt to find her anyway.

Whatever meaning Shazam’s sacrifice has is undone when Wonder Woman steals his thunder…

Despite Freddy’s best efforts, the daughters of Atlas are able to retrieve the seed from the Rock of Eternity after Hespera allows herself to get captured and the Champions just…forget that she’s a God of immense power and believe a simple cage will hold her. From the seed spawns a corrupted Tree of Life and, from that, Kalypso’s demonic creatures, which lay siege to Philadelphia and force the depowered Champions to recruit the aid of a herd of unicorns to help create a distraction for Shazam, the last empowered Champion standing. Thanks to this, and his own unique blend of distraction and fighting, Shazam is able to retrieve the Wizard’s staff from Kalypso; realising that the staff absorbs magical power and can be used to destroy the Tree of Life, Shazam convinces the dying Hespera to help him contain the force of the explosion by reducing the protective dome to a small area, trapping himself, Kalypso, and Ladon within and preparing to sacrifice himself after a tearful farewell to his family. The bold move is successful; the Tree of Life is destroyed, taking all the mythological creatures with it and reducing the slighted Gods to ash, however Billy is killed in the process. Heartbroken, his family lay him to rest in the desolate God world but, at the very last second, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) conveniently shows up (since Billy had been pestering her for a date throughout the film) and uses her divine power to restore the God world, and Shazam, to life, thereby allowing the Champions to return to action and the Wizard to begin exploring man’s world. This deus ex machina of a cameo really didn’t sit right with me; I think if they were going to do that, it would’ve been better to have Wonder Woman show up right as Billy lay dead on the battlefield rather than waste time pretending like he’s really gone, and it takes away from the characters to have all their problems solved so easily. Compounding matters are the two completely pointless post-credit scenes in which Shazam is approached about joining the Justice Society and Dr. Sivana continues to plot with Mr. Mind, two plot threads that I really doubt we’ll ever see resolved in the near future.

The Summary:
To say I was disappointed by Shazam! Fury of the Gods would be a bit of an understatement. In many ways, I don’t think it’s fair to punish the film because egos, politics, and production shenanigans meant that we couldn’t see Black Adam in this film…but man, would have made so much more sense for Black Adam to have been introduced here, or at least show up looking to reclaim the power of the Gods from unworthy children, and therefore give the Champions a far more charismatic and interesting threat to go up against. There’s a lot to like here regardless, such as the expansion of this more colourful corner of the DCEU, the dynamic between the Champions, and Billy’s relationship to his family. I especially liked Freddy’s side plot of him wanting to strike out on his own, and Billy learning that he’ll always have a place with his family, but it’s very strange to see so little of Billy in the film. I equally found it odd that at least one of the characters, such as Mary, didn’t express relief at losing their powers and exploring what it meant to return to a more normal life. While the visuals were impressive for the most part, things got really muddled and CGI heavy once the digital minions swarmed the streets and the villains, while slightly compelling in their motivations, just didn’t interest me as much as I think the filmmakers were hoping for given the actors cast in those roles. I also feel like it’s hard to really care that much about Shazam! Fury of the Gods as we have no idea if these characters have a place in the DCEU going forward, resulting in a decent enough movie that just felt lacking in some areas; it’s a good companion piece to the first one, which I guess is a positive, but didn’t really impress in the same way and so, ultimately, I ended up feeling a little disappointed with the final product.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Did you enjoy Shazam! Fury of the Gods? Were you disappointed at Billy’s absence in the film? What did you think to his character arc and Freddy’s solo ventures? Do you agree that there are too many characters in the film to sustain the plot? What did you think to the daughters of Atlas, their powers and motivations, and were you disappointed that Black Adam or the Monster Society of Evil didn’t feature in the film? Where do you think we’ll see Shazam next, if at all, in the revamped DCEU? Whatever your thoughts on Shazam! Fury of the Gods, feel free to drop them below or leave a comment on my social media.


Talking Movies: Black Adam

Talking Movies

Released: 21 October 2022
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $195 to 200 million
Dwayne Johnson, Marwan Kenzari, Sarah Shahi, Bodhi Sabongui, Aldis Hodge, Noah Centineo, Quintessa Swindell, and Pierce Brosnan

The Plot:
After nearly five thousand years of imprisonment, Teth-Adam (Johnson), an ancient magical champion said to have liberated Kahndaq, is unleashed into modern times. His brutal form of justice attracts the attention of the Justice Society of America (JSA), who try to stop his rampage and bring him into custody whilee investigating a centuries-old evil force whose power matches that of Teth-Adam.

The Background:
Following the incredible success of Clark Kent/Superman and Bruce Wayne/Batman, Fawcett Publications looked to get in on the superhero craze. While the initial plan was for a team of heroes, Ralph Daigh combined them into one superpowered entity to directly oppose Superman. Originally dubbed “Captain Thunder”, trademark issues led to artist Pete Costanza suggesting the name “Captain Marvelous”, soon shortened to Captain Marvel, and the character proved a big success. Captain Marvel soon became a franchise all unto himself after sharing his powers with a colourful extended family and, about six years after his debut, he and his Marvel Family met their dark opposite in the form of Black Adam, a corrupted version of the Big Red Cheese. Although Black Adam only appeared once in Fawcett’s original run, he saw a new lease of life after the publisher was absorbed into DC Comics, becoming a complex anti-hero often as reprehensible as the villains he opposed. Ranked as one of comics most interesting anti-heroes, Black Adam has featured in animated ventures but this live-action adaptation has spent nearly twenty years in Development Hell. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has been attached to the role since the project first stumbled to life in 2006 and, given Johnson’s prominence in Hollywood, the decision was made early on to keep Black Adam separated from Shazam! (Sandberg, 2019) in order to best capitalise on his star power before an inevitable confrontation with Billy Batson/Shazam (Asher Angel/Zachary Levi). Initial plans to feature Black Adam in The Suicide Squad (Gunn, 2021) were scrapped in favour of pitting him against the JSA. Johnson was keen to play up the character’s no-nonsense nature and went all-in with marketing Black Adam as a game-changer in the DC Extended Universe. After numerous delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Black Adam finally released to mixed reviews; as of this writing, the film has made nearly $153 million at the box office but, while many praised The Rock’s performance and the implications Black Adam has on the future of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), others took issue with the film’s conflated plot and pacing, though all involved (and especially Johnson) were adamant that Black Adam represented a new phase of the DCEU.

The Review:
What a strange, long, and winding road this film has been on; it’s been in production for so long that I was starting to wonder if it would ever come out, especially after the character failed to appear in Shazam! I kinda get why he didn’t; it’s possible that the Rock’s star power would’ve dwarfed that movie’s heart-warming, handholding introduction to this side of the DCEU and people always complain that superhero films rely on the dark doppelgänger trope too much, which I get, but I think the contrast between Black Adam and Captain Marvel helps to elevate the latter into a more wholesome hero. Black Adam also would’ve been a great fit for either of the Suicide Squad films, especially the God-awful first one, but I do understand the idea of capitalising on the Rock’s star power to give him his own feature film, even if I don’t fully agree with it or his insistence on hyping up a clash between him and Superman (Henry Cavill) rather than him and Shazam, which would be my first choice, but maybe all three could meet up in a future movie, that would be a happy compromise. I am pretty familiar with Black Adam, though; I’ve read a bunch of his stories, especially during his time on the JSA, and really dig his no-nonsense attitude and the complex relationship he has with Captain Marvel, which is aways one clash of ideals away from degenerating into all-out war. I also really hope that the Rock is committed enough to the role that he sticks around for a bit; obviously, Dwayne Johnson is a massive Hollywood star and is in high demand so I do wonder about his longevity in the DCEU, especially considering how quickly Ben Affleck burned out (and I was worried that he would when he was cast), but he’s pursued the role for a good ten years and really threw himself into the marketing so I’m hoping he gets to reappear a few more times, though I do somewhat disagree with the idea of rebuilding the DCEU entirely around a character like Black Adam instead of, say, Superman. Black Adam gets off to a shaky start, with a ten-to-fifteen-minute opening and narration that rushes through the titular anti-hero’s origins in ancient Kahndaq and sets up the McGuffin that much of the film’s plot revolves around. Centuries ago, a tyrant named Ahk-Ton (Kenzari) enslaved Kahndaq and forced its people to dig for a rare and incredibly powerful mineral known as “Eternium”, the only material powerful enough to force the Crown of Sabbac, an item powerful by six demonic entities from what can only be described as Hell.

Awakened in modern times, Teth-Adam’s violent ways earn him the adulation of the oppressed Kahndaq.

Kahndaq’s spirit was well and truly broken but one boy, Hurut (Jalon Christian), dared to try and inspire an uprising. For this, he was sentenced to public execution but, at the last second, was spirited away to the Rock of Eternity and infused with the stamina of Shu, the speed of Horus, the strength of Amon, the wisdom of Zehuti, the power of Aten, and the courage of Mehen by the Council of Wizards. The legend becomes sketchy after the defeat of Ahk-Ton, but Kahndaq has revered their Champion ever since, with great statues erected celebrating their saviour; in modern day Kahndaq, their symbolism has all but faded thanks to the oppression of Intergang, a mercenary military force that has imposed martial law throughout the city and is seeking to strip it of all its natural resources. With Kahndaq virtually a police state, young Amon Tomaz (Sabongui) echoes the rebellious spirit of Hurut in his desire to fight back against their oppressors, but his mother, Adrianna (Shahi), is more concerned with keeping him safe from reprisals and tracking down the legendary and forgotten Crown of Sabbac to keep it out of Intergang’s hands. Here efforts lead her, her bumbling technician brother Karim (Mo Amer), and Ishmael Gregor (Kenzari) to a mountain where they successfully recover the crown but, after being accosted by Intergang’s forces, Adrianna speaks the magical word of Shazam to awaken the Champion from his long slumber. Thus, Teth-Adam arrives, garbed in a form-fitting black suit and sporting both the Wizard’s (Djimon Hounsou) lightning symbol and a hooded cape and immediately dispatches the Intergang thugs without mercy or quarter. His superhuman speed, strength, and command over lightning make him virtually indestructible to all man-made weapons; his skin is only pierced by Eternium, and his powers even allow him to cauterise and recover from wounds in moments. Bulletproof and capable of reducing a man to a chargrilled skeleton or a pile of ashes with a single bolt of lightning, Teth-Adam lays wastes to the armed thugs but, in the chaos, notably makes the effort to save Adrianna from being crushed by a falling boulder. A stoic, grim-faced man, Teth-Adam tears through Intergang with ease, mocking their “weak magic”, catching bullets, and swatting aside missiles like they were nothing. When he’s injured by an Eternium blast, Adrianna and Karim take him back to their flat to recuperate; there, he quickly learns English (how is never explained but I’ll assume it was through the wisdom of Zehuti) and is accosted by Amon, who very much fills a similar role to Frederick “Freddy” Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) in Shazam; he’s an absolute superhero nut, with posters and comics and action figures of all of DC’s heroes plastered around his bedroom, and enthusiastically runs down the gamut of Teth-Adam’s powers and tries to teach him to embrace his role as a superhero, somewhat similar to young John Connor’s (Eddie Furlong) relationship with the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger). However, Teth-Adam has about as much interest in being a hero as he does using doors or being polite; he simply floats and flies around, barging through walls, spouting his dogma regarding lethal force to Amon, and rejecting claims that he’s Kahndaq’s fabled Champion. Despite this, he does have something of a moral code; when Intergang arrive looking for the crown and put Amon in danger, Teth-Adam continues his merciless slaughter, amusingly struggling to deliver the-ass one-liner Amon taught him as he kills people too quickly for such traditions and attracting the attention of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis).

Black Adam’s rampage brings him into conflict with the morally-righteous Justice Society.

Oddly, Waller’s first port of call isn’t the Suicide Squad or the Justice League, but Carter Hall/Hawkman (Hodge) of the JSA; it seems Waller has been reconfigured into a character more akin to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), someone who recruits and directs a variety of metahumans, which I find is an ill-fitting role for her and I would’ve preferred to see her interaction with Hawkman tweaked or removed entirely and saved her appearance for when they bring the depowered Teth-Adam into custody later in the film. Regardless, Hawkman recruits his old friend and team mate Hector Hall/Doctor Fate (Brosnan) and two rookie metahumans, Albert “Al” Rothstein/Atom Smasher (Centineo) and Maxine Hunkel/Cyclone (Swindell), to intercept and subdue Teth-Adam in Kahndaq. I really like the inclusion of the JSA here; it’s fitting, given that Black Adam spent some time with the team in the comics, and helps to open up the DC Universe to new heroes and stories, while also not overshadowing Teth-Adam with more recognisable heroes. Unfortunately, we don’t learn a great deal about them; Atom Smasher and Cyclone are relatively one-dimensional, despite a budding attraction, Al’s need to consume food to maintain his size-changing abilities and desire to live up to his uncle’s (Henry Winkler) legacy and a brief mention of Cyclone’s traumatic background. Similarly, there’s a history and a strong bond between Hawkman and the mysterious Dr. Fate that is only briefly touched upon; we learn nothing about their origins, the nature of their powers, or even their limits. Dr. Fate is able to see visions of the future through his magical, alien helmet and conjures doubles of himself, mystical barriers, and crystalline weapons and Hawkman clearly has some form of superhuman durability since he can go toe-to-toe with Teth-Adam, as well as sporting his trademark wings and mace, but Black Adam doesn’t waste any time digging into the depths of the JSA’s background. Instead, they’re there as a peacekeeping force, one who strive to set an example to the world and their peers by upholding justice and sparing lives, rather than taking them. This not only contrasts with Teth-Adam’s more totalitarian methods and leads to many a conflict, both physical and philosophical, with the team (especially the proud and hot-headed Hawkman) but also raises the ire of Adrianna and Kahndaq. After decades of oppression and being left to fend for themselves, she and her fellow countrymen reject the JSA’s involvement and holier-than-thou attitude, especially as Hawkman’s temper and Atom Smasher’s inexperience leads to more damage to their country. Indeed, Kahndaq openly cheers for Teth-Adam, revering him as their Champion and approving of his more direct, lethal measures, a feeling Adrianna also shares despite her wishes to spare Amon from inflicting violence upon others. Teth-Adam is doing what needs to be done and actually fighting back against the likes of Intergang, whereas the JSA and the wider world simply ignored Kahndaq’s problems, thus casting the JSA in an interestingly villainous role as they go to great lengths to try and end Teth-Adam’s rampage before his rage gets out of control.

Despite their technology, and being possessed by a demonic force, Intergang is little threat to Teth-Adam.

Their justification comes from having access to ancient texts that detail that Teth-Adam isn’t as righteous as Kahndaq believes; it turns out that, while Hurut was celebrated as Kahndaq’s Champion (Uli Latukefu), Teth-Adam and his wife, Shiruta (Odelya Halevi), paid the price with their lives. When Hurut shared his powers with his father to spare his life, he left himself vulnerable and was killed by Ahk-Ton’s assassins, driving Teth-Adam into a murderous rage so severe that the Wizard was forced to imprison him to contain his power and anger. Now unleashed into the world, the JSA bsaelieves that it’s only a matter of time before history repeats itself and, when Hawkman’s attempts to instil qualities of mercy into Teth-Adam fail (despite almost all of DC’s superheroes having a notable body count), the JSA attempt to force him into submission or to speak his magic word so he can be delivered into Waller’s custody. Ultimately, it’s Teth-Adam’s rage that sees him willing return to his mortal form (Benjamin Patterson) and be taken into custody after he accidentally injures Amon with his powers. With Teth-Adam left in suspended animation and unable to speak his magic word, the JSA believe they’ve accomplished their mission but a greater threat emerges from their conflict with Intergang. While Intergang aren’t really much to shout about, being simply a military force to intimidates Kahndaq’s citizenship, they do inexplicably wield Eternium weapons and hoverbikes, though none of this really matter sin the face of Teth-Adam’s awesome power. They’re the very definition of nameless, faceless, disposable goons for Teth-Adam to tear through; I quickly lost count of how many he turns to ash and bones and the film makes his toying with their lives into a bit of a gag. Intergang also disappear for the film’s final act, their threat and control over Kahndaq forgotten in favour of the power of the Crown of Sabbac, a power that Ishmael craves so badly that he not only aligned with Intergang, but betrayed Adrianna, shot Karim (though, thankfully, he doesn’t kill him as Karim is one of the film’s comedic highlights), and purposely put Amon in danger all to claim the crown for himself and to make Teth-Adam so bad that he would kill him. Sadly, for all the gravitas Pierce Brosnan brings to the film and the awesome, charismatic presence of The Rock, Ishmael ends up being a pretty weak villain; I literally forgot he was even in it for big chunks of the movie, and you can see his heel turn coming a mile away. His transformation into a literal devil for the finale isn’t exactly inspiring either, and his final confrontation with Teth-Adam is very similar to the ending of Shazam!, though the primary focus of Black Adam is on exploring Teth-Adam’s morality and methods and this is a very interesting and entertaining aspect of the film so I can ignore the lame villain, though I do think the film would’ve benefitted from someone like Arnold Vosloo in the role instead.

The Nitty-Gritty:
It’s these themes of morality that form the heart of Black Adam; having witnessed the enslavement and subjugation of his people, the death of his beloved wife and child, and the hypocrisy of the Wizard and the Gods, Teth-Adam has been left a cold, emotionless, rage-filled force of nature. This is a very different role for The Rock, one that downplays his usual affable nature in favour of a more stoic demeanour, one that showcases a different side of his charisma. He still has a presence and a biting wit, but it’s one seeped in rage and tragedy; initially, Teth-Adam was a mere powerless slave, one who tried to keep his son from speaking of rebellion, but he was driven into a fury after losing everything and has no qualms about lashing out at those who seek to harm or oppress others. His no-nonsense morality most notably conflicts with Hawkman, who believes heroes shouldn’t kill and tries to emphasise the benefits of sparing lives as it allows one to learn information about their enemy or objective. Teth-Adam is much more direct; even when he begrudgingly teams up with the JSA to rescue Amon, he just flies off and storms Ahk-Ton’s ruins, completely ignoring Hawkman’s plan of attack, an approach that works perfectly well for him as he’s functionally invulnerable. There are some interesting dichotomies at work in Black Adam; Hawkman coms across as a bit of a hypocrite because, while he’s all about saving lives, he does put people in danger with his insistence on beating Teth-Adam into submission and there’s a grey question mark hovering over the JSA’s moral high ground since they only came to Kahndaq’s aid once a superhuman presence emerged there. Similarly, Teth-Adam never harms or kills innocent people; he might claim to have no interest or care for the lives of mortals, but he repeatedly goes out of his way to help Adrianna and Amon and only kills Intergang’s mercenaries, something that the people of Kahndaq naturally cheer for as they just want to be free of their oppressors.

The film looks amazing and is full of fun action scenes, despite some dodgy CGI shots.

Visually, Black Adam is quite the spectacle; the whole movie is shot beautifully, and the costume design is absolutely on-point. The Rock looks like a walking mountain of ashen black in his comic-accurate costume and even the always-ridiculous Hawkman ends up being realised very well onscreen, though I could’ve done without the nanotechnology that allows his helmet to magically form over his head and his wings to fold away. Dr. Fate looks magnificent, if a little rubbery at times since he’s a mostly CGI creation, but the effects fall apart a little when bringing the gigantic Atom Smasher and the wind-bending Cyclone to life; I applaud the filmmakers for choosing such effects-heavy characters but I do think the film might’ve benefitted from picking less visually demanding characters since Atom Smasher doesn’t really get a lot of play (and is portrayed as a bit of a buffoon) and Cyclone just dances around in slow motion whipping up projectiles and dirt. There’s a surprising amount of slow motion here, almost Zack Snyder levels of the effect, as Black Adam goes out of its way to emphasise Teth-Adam’s incredible superhuman speed; for the most part, it works, though some parts that are clearly supposed to be dramatic can come off as a little hokey thanks to The Rock’s grimacing or screaming face lunging at the camera in su-u-per sl-lo-ow mo-tion. Mostly, though, the effects are pretty good; the sequence where the JSA’s futuristic place takes off is a bit over the top and the final form of Sabbac is disappointingly underwhelming, but Teth-Adam’s many fight scenes against Intergang and the JSA work really well. Similar to some surprisingly violent scenes in Shazam!, there’s a level of violence in Black Adam that nicely skirts the limits of what’s acceptable for a 12A film; while there’s no gore or blood splattering everywhere, Teth-Adam rams grenades in people’s mouths, causes aircraft to collide in mid-air, and indiscriminately blasts at his enemies with his lightning and comically sends them flying into the sea or across the screen. Charbroiled skeletons, ashes, and even severed limbs are all over the film as Teth-Adam tears through his opponents without remorse, culminating in a pretty gruesome end for Sabbac when Teth-Adam rips him in two, spilling not blood but molten lava.

While Teth-Adam ultimately chooses to defend the world, the question of his morality is left up in the air…

All throughout the movie, Dr. Fate is haunted by a vision of the future in which the world is reduced to a burning cinder, presumably because of Teth-Adam’s rage, and his good friend Hawkman is killed in conflict. When Teth-Adam finally surrenders and his threat is naturalised, Dr. Fate is disturbed to find his vision remains unchanged; this is because they were too slow to realise that Ishmael’s plan all along was to die at Teth-Adam’s hands so he could meet the six demons of Sabbac in Hell and become their demonic champion. Imbued with their demonic power, Ishmael returns to life as Sabbac, a literal horned demon with a pentagram carved into his chest and with designs of claiming his birth right as Kahndaq’s true ruler (since he’s the last living descendant of Ahk-Ton). Thanks to the demons’ powers, Sabbac sports all the same abilities as Teth-Adam but wielding fire instead of lightning; Ishmael’s humanity is completely consumed by this underwhelming CGI form, which has little motivation other than death and destruction. Although they’re able to battle Teth-Adam and even Sabbac on equal ground thanks to their superhuman powers, the JSA are no match for either of them; in a bid to change the future and save his friend’s life, Dr. Fate willingly meets Sabbac head on and sacrifices himself to free Teth-Adam from his confinement and convince him to live up to Hurut’s example by becoming the world’s saviour. What follows is a pretty intense brawl between Sabbac and Teth-Adam; since both are capable of hurting the other, and yet are also equally matched, there’s a degree of uncertainty about the battle but, thanks to Dr. Fate’s words, Teth-Adam learns to co-operate with the JSA, setting aside his differences with Hawkman long enough for the latter to use Dr. Fate’s helmet to distract Sabbac and allow Teth-Adam to deliver not only his one-liner but a killing blow to the raging demon. In the aftermath, a begrudging respect between Teth-Adam and the JSA is acknowledged, though Hawkman warns him not to step out of line, and Teth-Adam adamantly rejects Kahndaq’s throne and vows to instead be the country’s protector. A mid-credits scene then sees Amanda Waller also warning Teth-Adam, now rechristened as “Black Adam”, against stepping out of Kahndaq; she even calls in a favour and sends Superman to have a chat with him, returning not only Henry Cavill to the DC Universe but also John Williams’ iconic theme, and setting the stage for a showdown between the two that I can only hope will not forget about Shazam.

The Summary:
Truthfully, I was unsure about Black Adam; I still maintain that it’s a little self-indulgent to give him his own solo movie simply because of The Rock’s star power and he’s a strange character to rebuild the mess that is the DCEU around since there’s only so much you can do with him. However, I am a big fan of the character, and The Rock, and was excited by the trailers and the hype surrounding the film, and to see the JSA and Pierce Brosnan in a superhero film. Despite a troublesome start, which rushes through what seems like a whole movie’s worth of story, Black Adam soon found its groove and settled into an enjoyable action romp designed to showcase a meaner side of The Rock, who is clearly enjoying himself in revelling in Teth-Adam’s power. I enjoyed the complexity of Teth-Adam’s character; he’s burdened by loss and rage and not only feels like he has no place in the world but also that he’s unworthy of his powers since his first instinct is the hurt and kill others. The entire film is geared around showing him that he can just as easily b the saviour of humanity, but there’s still a question about his motivations by the finale; he seems content to remain in Kahndaq as its defender, but there’s literally nothing stopping him going out and enforcing his will in the wider world. The JSA came off really well; while we don’t learn much about them and I think I would’ve preferred Atom Smasher and Cyclone to be a little more experienced, they added some visual variety to the fight sequences and nicely opened up the DCEU to new superpowered characters, as well as helping to set an example for the violent anti-hero. While the villains weren’t much of a threat, or very interesting even when turned into a literal demon, but I can overlook that (and some of the wonkier CGI) because of The Rock’s undeniable charisma. The jury’s out on what’s next for Black Adam and how his presence will really affect the hierarchy of the DC Universe, but this was an entertaining spectacle that I enjoyed far more than I expected to.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Did you enjoy Black Adam? Do you think the character deserved his own solo movie, one that skipped over his relationship with Shazam? What did you think to The Rock’s portrayal of the character, his violent tendencies, and the realisation of his powers and costume? Were you also disappointed by the villains? What did you think to the JSA? Would you have liked to learn more about them, and which member of the team was your favourite? What did you think to Henry Cavill’s long-awaited return to the DCEU and where do you think Black Adam will go next? Whatever your opinions on Black Adam, feel free to share your thoughts down below or leave a comment on my social media.

Talking Movies: Wonder Woman 1984

Talking Movies

Released: 16 December 2020
Director: Patty Jenkins
Warner Bros. Pictures
$200 million
Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, and Connie Nielsen

The Plot:
Decades after losing her former love, Steve Trevor (Pine), during the First World War, Princess Diana of Themyscira (Gadot) works at the Smithsonian Institution while covertly helping others in her guise as Wonder Woman. After befriending shy geologist and cryptozoologist Barbara Ann Minerva (Wiig), both Diana and her friend find themselves forever changed when business tycoon Maxwell Lorenzano/Max Lord acquires a mystical artefact, the “Dreamstone”, and begins bringing people’s deepest wishes to life.

The Background:
Following her creation by psychologist William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman has been a firm staple of DC Comics and an influential feminist icon. Wonder Woman achieved mainstream success as a pop culture icon following Lynda Carter’s portrayal of the character in the 1970s and she finally proved to be a massive critical and commercial box office success with the release of Wonder Woman (ibid, 2017). Although the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) was in flux following the poor reception of Justice League (Whedon/Snyder, 2017), production of a Wonder Woman sequel was officially announced in 2017, with both stars Gadot and Pine and director Jenkins set to return. Rather than produce a direct sequel,Wonder Woman 1984 (or simply WW84) jumped ahead to another unexplored period in the character’s long history, the 1980s, to capitalise on the recent interest in the decade. The film’s release was hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic but WW84 finally saw the light of day at the end of 2020, where it was met with a lukewarm and underwhelming critical response. This, coupled with its limited release, meant the film massively underperformed and brought in only $166.4 million at the box office; however, while many criticised certain narrative elements of the film, Gadot’s performance was praised as a highlight and a third entry in the franchise is was greenlit soon after the film’s release.

The Review:
Like the first film, WW84 begins with Diana narrating a flashback to her childhood where, as a girl (Lilly Aspell) on the island of Themyscira, she competes in a gruelling obstacle course. Although she’s able to hold her own for the most part, she is knocked from her horse at a crucial moment and, in order to catch up, opts to take a shortcut and, as a result, is penalised and reprimanded by her aunt and mentor, Antiope (Robin Wright), who teaches her a valuable lesson that forms the basis for the film’s main theme: that she must be honest and true to herself and that she must have patience in order to succeed in life.

Despite claiming to have left the world of man, Diana is covertly saving lives as Wonder Woman in 1984.

Despite claiming to have walked away from man’s world for a hundred years after Steve Trevor’s death, Diana is living and working in Washington, D.C. and we’re reintroduced to her as she performs various heroic deeds as Wonder Woman in an amusingly edited montage that is both bright and vibrant thanks to the excess of the eighties and comically exaggerated in a way that recalls Superman (Donner, 1978). Although Diana makes an effort to destroy security cameras and move quickly to largely avoid being seen, she does appear in full costume in the middle of a shopping mall in front of numerous witnesses, though the film does make a point to show that her identity is unknown. Still, regardless of the continuity blip this causes (it’s hard to imagine Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) wouldn’t have been somewhat aware of Diana before he first encountered her judging by this film’s events), it’s a fun and exciting way to be reintroduce to Diana that is immediately offset by the emotion of seeing that she’s largely closed off from the wider world.

The insecure and shy Barbara instantly idolises Diana.

Thanks to brief shots of photographs in her apartment, we see that Diana continued to maintain a friendship with Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) and ties with Steve Trevor but is, otherwise, quite a lonely individual. In this regard, she meets a kindred spirit in Barbara Minerva, a quirky, social inept, and insecure geologist who is largely ignored by her co-workers and those around her. Barbara is excited when Diana actually gives her the time of day and the two bond over their interest in history; the two quickly form a friendship, filling the gaps in each other’s lives, and Barbara comes to idolise Diana for being everything she wishes to be.

Max Lord is a charismatic con man obsessed with obtaining power and the Dreamstone.

After foiling a robbery in the film’s opening, Barbara is asked to examine an artefact that was recovered, which claims to be a wish-granted stone, the Dreamstone. Although both are sceptical about this, the stone’s powers turn out to be genuine when Barbara wishes to “be like” Diana and wakes up the next day to find herself suddenly noticed by others, slipping into sexier clothing, and her fortunes generally turning for the better. Sadly, however, her insecurities remain the same and she is easily tricked by the film’s main antagonist is Max Lord, into allowing him to steal the stone for himself. Lord, a prominent figure in DC Comics and, here, is portrayed as a charismatic and silver-tongued oil tycoon and enigmatic television personality who appears to be another corporate, suit-wearing industrialist. Behind his public façade, however, is a is a con man whose oil business is slowly falling apart around him, whose debts are being called in, and who desperately wishes to make his son, Alistair (Lucian Perez) proud of him.

Diana unwittingly wishes Steve back to life and the two pick up right where they left off.

Another consequence of Barbara’s wish is that she develops superhuman strength and agility, just like Diana has, while Lord does the natural thing and wishes to embody its powers, thus turning his fortunes around overnight. The stone’s powers also have a startling affect on Diana when she unknowingly wishes for Steve Trevor to be resurrected; the stone accomplishes this by having his spirit inhabit the body of another man (Kristoffer Polaha). Overjoyed at being reunited with him, Diana and Steve immediately pick up where they left off and, despite how awkward it is for Diana to be taking advantage of a random stranger, this allows the film to present the reverse of the first movie’s concept. Now, Steve is the fish out of water, confused and puzzled by “the future” he has returned to, and it is Diana who has to guide him through navigating the world and the garish style of the eighties.

The Dreamstone’s powers come at a price, weakening the character’s physical and mental health.

Perturbed by the stone’s powers, Diana and Steve set out to investigate it; while Barbara begins to revel in her newfound confidence, abilities, and popularity, possessing the stone’s powers turn Lord into an influential, Donald Trump-like figure and Diana is horrified to discover that the Dreamstone is a construct of the Gods, specifically Mendacius, the “Duke of Deception”. Like all good things, the stone’s powers come at a cost; Diana finds her superhuman abilities beginning to wane, Max’s mind and body starts to deteriorate from the immense power, and Barbara slowly loses her humanity until she eventually transforms entirely into the cat-like Cheetah. The only way to reverse the damage is for them tor enounce their wishes, something none of them are willing to do at first since it would mean losing everything they have desired for so long

The Nitty-Gritty:
WW84 is a much more character-driven film that it’s predecessor; much of the runtime is spent exploring Diana and Steve’s renewed relationship, acclimatising him to the then-modern world, and rekindling their passion. Thankfully, Gadot and Pine still make for a charismatic and engaging duo and the two gel really well together as equals but it can’t be denied that things would have been much less awkward if the stone had literally returned Steve to life rather than having him possess an unassuming stranger’s body Quantum Leap (1989 to 1993) style.

Diana is forced to let Steve go once again in order to put a stop to Lord’s carnage.

Still, on the one hand, spending so much time on Diana and Steve’s relationship does help to further develop her character; she’s clearly still grieving his loss, even after all these years, and doesn’t have much of a social life, though she still uses her abilities to help others as covertly as possible. She forms a real bond with Barbara, perhaps the first real friendship she’s had in some time, and is elated to be reunited with Steve. Her character arc in this film is learning to rediscover her humanity, somewhat, and to let go of the past, something we know from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Snyder, 2016) that she doesn’t really do after these events but it’s still wonderfully realised here as Diana applies the lesson she learned as a child to her current situation and, however reluctantly, renounces her wish to regain her strength and put the world to rights after Lord’s actions cause worldwide upheaval.

When the action does kick in, it’s exhilarating and thrilling.

This has a detrimental effect on Lord, who begins to suffer more and more physical pain and consequences for playing Wishmaster (Kurtzman, 1997); driven to desperation, he finds himself unable to stop granting wishes and tries to restore himself by absorbing the energy of others, plunging the world into chaos in the process. Ultimately, rather than engaging him in a fist fight, Diana is able to convince him to renounce his abilities after forcing him to relive his own unhappy childhood and reconnect with his son. That’s not to say that WW84 doesn’t have its fair share of action; the opening sequence in the mall is a lot of fun and Diana’s attempt to chase down Max Lord in Egypt seems to be a homage to the seventies show, and Diana’s lasso-based fight scene in the White House was very thrilling, but the scene-stealing sequence is the moment when Diana dramatically swings her way through the storm-swept sky by lassoing onto lighting!

Diana dons ceremonial armour to battle Cheetah in the film’s finale.

Diana’s journey in WW84 is one of gaining strength from these decisions; she demonstrates the ability to turn a jet invisible, acquires the golden armour of Asteria (Lynda Carter), and gains the ability to fly (to the stirring chords of “Adagio in D Minor”) after renouncing her wish and regaining her full powers. This comes in handy for her big showdown with Cheetah; earlier, Cheetah had been able to defeat Diana since her powers were fading, which helped to showcase Barbara as a physical threat to Diana. Drunk on the power and freedom offered by the stone’s powers, Barbara becomes a formidable and fierce adversary and a far cry from the meek character she was at the start of the film. Unfortunately, Cheetah kind of lets the film down a bit in the effects department; even though her fight with Diana takes place in the murkiness of night, the CGI is quite wonky, which is a shame as the practical effects look pretty good. Still, it’s a thrilling climax to the film, which even goes a long way to showing Diana’s compassion as she chooses to save Barbara and even Max rather than just kill them.

The Summary:
Wonder Woman 1984 is a curious film; rather than being bigger and better than the original, it opts to tell a more dramatic, character-based story that focuses more on Diana coping with her grief and loss and learning to let go of the past rather than being a bombastic, action-packed sequel. This is pretty good for Diana’s character development; it’s clear that she is overjoyed to have Steve returned to her and torn between wanting to be with him even if it means leaving the world to its fate and seeing her step into the role of a full-blown hero and saviour is very gratifying. The twist of Steve being the fish out of water this time around was interesting but, at the same time, could potentially have been handled differently or excised entirely in some ways, and I was surprised to find that Barbara’s “geeky, quirky, obsessed” character cliché wasn’t as annoying or aggravating as in other superhero films; it’s perfectly suited to Wiig’s strengths and she pulled off the character’s descent into villainy really well. Thanks to his charisma and magnetism, Pascal successfully walked the fine line between being a scenery chewing character and a cartoonish villain and it was great to see Pine and Gadot’s chemistry back in action. My only real gripes with the film were its length (and even that wasn’t that big a deal as I was interested throughout) and some continuity hiccups with the larger DCEU but, considering the mess the DCEU has become since then, I think I can forgive it and would say WW84 manages to be just as enjoyable as the first film while still mixing things up with its presentation and narrative.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What are your thoughts on Wonder Woman 1984? How do you feel it compared to the first film and were you disappointed by it? Were you happy to see Chris Pine return and what did you think to Diana’s character arc in this film? Were you a fan of Max Lord and Cheetah? What are your thoughts on WW84’s placement in the wider DCEU?What are some of your favourite Wonder Woman stories, characters, and moments? How are did you celebrate Wonder Woman Day this year? Whatever your thoughts on Wonder Woman, drop a comment down below.

Talking Movies: Wonder Woman

Talking Movies

Released: 15 May 2017
Director: Patty Jenkins
Warner Bros. Pictures
$120 to 150 million
Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Danny Huston, Elena Anaya, Connie Nielsen, Lucy Davis, and David Thewlis

The Plot:
Before taking the mantle of Wonder Woman, Princess Diana of Themyscira (Gadot) was an Amazonian warrior raised in seclusion on an island paradise. However, when American pilot Steve Trevor (Pine) crashes on their shores and brings awareness of a worldwide conflict, Diana finds herself compelled to leave her home and take up arms in a bid to destroy the God she believes is responsible.

The Background:
Created by psychologist William Moulton Marston to be a symbol of the superiority of the female gender, Princess Diana of Themyscira/Wonder Woman has been a firm staple of DC Comics since her debut appearance in All Star Comics #8. With her origins heavily drawing from Greek mythology, Wonder Woman has been portrayed as a warrior and an ambassador for peace and, alongside Clark Kent/Superman and Bruce Wayne/Batman, makes up DC’s “Trinity” as a prominent figure on DC’s super teams, the Justice Society and Justice League of America. Wonder Woman’s popularity has spread outside of the comic books, too; Lynda Carter famously portrayed the character in the seventies television show, cementing Wonder Woman as a pop culture icon, and a big screen live-action adaptation had been wallowing in development hell for decades before Gal Gadot made her first surprise appearance in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Snyder, 2016). Following that dramatic debut, production of a solo film for the character that would act as a prequel to the larger DC Extended Universe (DCEU) finally got underway and released to widespread critical acclaim. The film was also a massive box office success and made over $820 million in worldwide revenue, which all-but-guaranteed the production of a sequel, and galvanised the character as a feminist icon for an entirely new generation. Since tomorrow is “Wonder Woman Day”, this seems like as good a time as any to shine a spotlight on one of DC Comics’ most popular and influential characters.

The Review:
Wonder Woman begins in the present day, between the end of Batman v Superman and the start of Justice League (Whedon/Snyder, 2017), and is framed by Diana’s narration concerning her past after having a photograph of her time in the First World War sent back to her by Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck). From there, the film flashes back over a hundred years into the past and to the secluded island paradise of Themyscira where we see a young Diana (Lilly Aspell), emulating the ways of her warrior sisters and yearning to begin her training as a warrior. Diana’s mother, Queen Hippolyta (Nielsen) is vehemently against Diana becoming a fighter; instead she wishes that Diana would be better served learning the ways of peace and tolerance. To emphasise the foils of war and conflict, she tells Diana a harrowing story of Zeus’s son, the warmongering Areas, influencing the hearts and minds of man into bloodshed and his subsequent slaughter of the Greek pantheon. After defeating Ares, Zeus created Themyscira with his dying breath to shield them from the outside world so that their natural ways of peace and love could prosper far away from the easily manipulated ravages of Man.

Diana’s curiosity at Steve’s presence turns to rage when German forces kill her aunt.

Hippolyta also shows Diana the ancient sword, Godkiller, a weapon only the fiercest of Amazons could hope to wield. Despite her mother’s wishes, the young Diana (Emily Carey) is inspired by the stories of battle and glory and secretly trains with her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) in the ways of the warrior. Antiope is finally able to convince Hippolyta to train Diana “harder than any Amazon before her” to make her powerful enough to stand against Ares when he inevitably finds her. However, while Diana (now played by the gorgeous Gadot) becomes a fierce warrior thanks to this rigorous training, her powers (mainly tied to her magical gauntlets) make her unpredictable and dangerous. It is while lamenting these issues that Diana rescues Steve Trevor after his plane crash-lands in the waters around Themyscira; this action not only brings a man onto the hidden island for the first time since its creation (which is of immediate curiosity and interest to Diana) but also the greater worldwide conflict currently gripping the globe as German forces invade Themyscira in pursuit of Steve. Although the Amazonians fend off and defeat the invaders, they suffer heavy losses thanks to the German artillery and, in the battle, Diana’s beloved aunt Antiope is killed. It’s a great scene to showcase the warrior ways of the Amazons and their incredible prowess with swords, bows and arrows, and to give Diana a personal reason to leave the island and get involved in the War, while also showcasing that, as powerful and skilled as the Amazons and even Diana are, they are not invulnerable.

Diana is puzzled by “man’s world” and the film’s comedy comes from her being an outsider in modern society.

Angered at Steve’s presence and the invasion of men, Hippolyta interrogates him using the magical Lasso of Hestia, which compels him to reveal the truth; in the process, and despite attempting to resist, he reveals that he is a spy for the Allied Forces who discovered a plot by General Erich Ludendorff (Huston) to develop a potent and deadly new strain of mustard gas using the research of the disfigured Doctor Isabel Maru/Doctor Poison (Anaya). This story not only establishes the film’s two main antagonist but also Steve’s conviction and bravery as he goes against his orders to steal Maru’s notebook to warn the Allies of Maru’s weapons. Convinced that this World War is the product of Ares’ return, Diana defies her mother’s wishes once more and arms herself with the Godkiller sword, ceremonial armour, and the magical lasso to accompany Steve back to London. This gives the film a chance to be a bit more playful as Diana is a fish out of water in the modern world; confused and intrigued by men, their society and their ways, she’s puzzled by the simplest of things (watches, ice creams, consumerism, romance, vehicles, revolving doors, and the like) and her interactions with Etta Candy (Davis) really give Gadot a chance to shine and add some depth and personality to Diana’s character. She’s a character of great love, curiosity, and conviction but also naivety; even on Themyscira she is something of an outsider, believing fully in the Amazons’ destiny to defend the world from evil and stop Areas, and her character development includes not just becoming wiser in the world of man but also in the ways of her own world and she is forced to learn, the hard way, that the world’s conflicts are far more complicated than the machinations of one singular being, even a God like Ares.

Steve Trevor has seen a lot in his time and is focused on the big picture.

Steve is similarly intrigued by Diana; obviously, he has a near-instant attraction to her (and, truth be told, she to him) and marvels at her island and her convictions but, as charming and charismatic as he is, he is also somewhat world-weary. Having witnessed first-hand the atrocities of war and the folly of man, he believes that all people are capable of unspeakable acts out of their pure nature rather than the influence of a supernatural being, which is a harsh lesson he is forced to teach Diana. Similarly, Diana is disturbed by Steve’s focus on the big picture and adherence to staying on mission, which leaves innocents suffering the cost of the war, but his reasons are perfectly valid and believable: the War is horrendous and brutal and his focus cannot be on saving every single person, only trying to stop the most direct threat and he remains a likable and appealing character thanks to Pine’s fantastic charisma and onscreen chemistry with Gadot and, even in the face of Diana’s amazing abilities he is able to hold his own as a soldier and a hero.

Lundendorff and Maru are real threats but war-time politics are also an obstacle.

Similarly, Huston is as captivating as always in the role of Ludendorff, a brutal German general who enforces his will through strict corporal punishment and high expectations. Thanks to Mau’s potions and elixirs, he is granted a degree of superhuman strength and heightened aggression and Maru herself is a sadistic and hideously alluring villain whose experiments with chemistry produce a gas capable not just of choking the life out of those exposed to it but also eating through protective gear like gas masks. As real and credible as their combined threat is, however, it is the politics of war and society that prove the greatest hurdle in the early going as Sir Patrick Morgan (Thewlis) and others in the upper echelon are more concerned with agreeing an armistice with the Germans than proactively moving against them. Interestingly, the German forces are depicted as desperate, running low on resources, and on the verge of agreeing to the armistice and, disgusted by their weakness and unable to simply give up on the conflict, Ludendorff assassinates them in order to strike his decisive blow against the Allies.

Steve puts a rag-tag team together to put a stop to Ludendorff’s plot.

This leads to Steve recruiting a rag-tag team of misfits to head to the Front Line and take out Ludendorff’s chemical facilities; despite them being a little rough around the edges, his group is made up of some colourful characters: Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), a smooth-talking French spy; Charlie (Ewen Bremner), an expert sharpshooter with a drinking problem and traumatised by his experiences in war; and the Native American smuggler Chief Napi (Eugene Brave Rock), who initially refuses to take sides in the War given everything his people lost colonisers. With these allies, and surreptitious assistance from Morgan, they are able to reach the Western Front for one of the film’s breakout sequences: with the Allies pinned down by gunfire, Diana boldly steps into No Man’s Land to deflect the gunfire and take the enemy trench and, in the process, not only liberate a village from the Germans but also share an intimate moment with Steve.

The Nitty-Gritty:
One of the most memorable aspects of Wonder Woman’s debut in Batman v Superman was her stirring orchestral theme, which her solo movie beautifully expands upon to turn it from a bad-ass battle theme into a rousing, heroic melody that punctuates Diana’s evolution as a character and her actions throughout the film. Given the film’s period setting, there is also a great deal of commentary on the role of women in society at the time; Diana is confused and insulted by man’s opinions and treatment of women, having grown up in a warrior society where woman are strong and independent, and brings (through her words but also simply by her appearance and actions) these principals to the wider world long before they really became a talking point.

Costume design is on point and Gadot looks breathtaking as Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman shines in its visual aesthetic and costume design; Themyscira is a beautiful environment and full of interesting little elements and a rich lore that is only hinted at in the film. This is, however, largely for the best as Wonder Woman is more focused on the greater conflict of the First World War, meaning it is full of period-accurate costumes, technology, and bleak depictions of the folly and futility of warfare. Amongst these drab and depressing elements, and against the smoke-filled hustle and bustle of London, Diana stands out wonderfully in her amazingly realised and faithful costume. Wonder Woman’s outfit is often one of contention but the DCEU version of the character brought her classic look to screen in the best way possible by infusing it with realistic elements of Greek armour and it’s honestly one of the best and most accurate comic book costumes ever made.

Diana is obsessed with killing Ares to “free” men from his evil and distraught to find the truth far more complicated.

The film’s themes of warfare and suffering are potent thanks to its setting; while there are obvious comparisons to be made to Captain America: The First Avenger (Johnston, 2011), Wonder Woman is a very different film to that one and these comparisons are superficial, at best. Instead the focus is on Diana trying to acclimatise to man’s world and her total dedication to ending Ares’ threat; initially, she believes that Ares has taken Ludendorff’s form in order to spread chaos and devastation and is horrified to learn that her mother and Steve were both accurate in how easily men can be corrupted by their own evils and destructive impulses. This by itself would have made for a striking theme about the inherent evil that we are all capable of but, of course, Wonder Woman is a blockbuster superhero film that needs to end with Diana realising her destiny as the “Godkiller” and battling Ares (revealed to have been Morgan all along).

Steve sacrifices himself to prove the quality of man and Diana ends Ares’ threat.

As exciting and thrilling as this conclusion is, since it finally allows Diana the chance to showcase the full extent of her powers, it is kind of a shame that Ares is a vague and ominous threat for the majority of the film rather than actually being a tangible antagonist for us to learn about. In fact, we learn very little about Ludendorff or Maru, who are both criminally underused despite giving really good performances. However, it does serve the overall message of the film and the harsh lesson that Diana is forced to learn about human nature; when Ares finally reveals himself to Diana, it is at her lowest moment and he tempts her into joining his cause and destroying humanity but Diana’s convictions to her cause remain steadfast and are further emboldened when Steve comes to exemplify man’s capacity for good by sacrificing himself to end Maru’s threat just as Diana kills Ares once and for all.

The Summary:
Honestly, I didn’t expect to like Wonder Woman as much as I did; I like the character and enjoy her involvement in team-up comics but have never been a massive Wonder Woman fan but the film won me over with its fantastically realised themes of war, and, sacrifice. The First World War setting was an inspired choice and really gave Diana a chance to see first-hand the atrocities of man and the complexities of human nature. Obviously, both her world and Steve’s world came to be true to a degree, with Ares ultimately revealed to have been influenced the human antagonists and inspiring the tools necessary for war, and this merging of these two separate worlds was wonderfully realised in the characterisations of Steve and Diana and their growing relationship over the course of the film. While I would have preferred Ares to be a more tangible threat throughout the film rather than a surprise twist at the end, I cannot fault the movie for its direction, cinematography, or presentation; there’s just as much heart and humour at work in the film alongside some stunningly realised action sequences that portray Wonder Woman as both beautiful and formidable and Gadot does an impressive job of giving some real depth and tragedy to Diana’s character that help to inform her portrayal and overall character arc in Batman v Superman and subsequent DCEU films.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think to Wonder Woman? Do you feel it deserved all the praise that it got? What did you think to Gal Gadot and Chris Pine’s performances, the characterisations of Diana and Steve, and their relationship? Did you enjoy the themes at work in the film and the “fish out of water” aspects? Did you see the Ares reveal coming and would you have preferred that the antagonists got a bit more time to shine or were you satisfied with the film overall? What are some of your favourite Wonder Woman stories, characters, and moments? How are you celebrating Wonder Woman Day tomorrow? Whatever your thoughts on Wonder Woman, leave a comment below and check out my review of the sequel.

Screen Time: Swamp Thing

Air Date: 31 May 2019 to 2 August 2019
UK Distributor: Netflix
Original Network: DC Universe
Stars: Derek Mears, Crystal Reed, Andy Bean, Will Patton, Virginia Madsen, Kevin Durand, Maria Sten, and Jeryl Prescott

The Background:
Although the monstrous swamp creature known as Swamp Thing first appeared in July 1971, the character is best known for his Alec Holland incarnation, though both characters were created by writer Len Wein and artist Bernie Wrightson. Not to be confused with a similar swamp monster published by Marvel Comics, the Man-Thing, Swamp Thing has long been personified as the protector of the “Green” and all environmental life. Considering how obscure the character is, Swamp Thing has quite a lucrative history in adaptation; he received two live-action horror/comedies in the 1980s, a spin-off live action series, a cartoon, and often crops up in animated ventures and videogames. Development of a new horror series based on the character began in 2018; ostensibly produced to provide more content for DC Universe, DC’s now-defunct video-on-demand streaming service. Existing in a separate continuity to other DC live-action shows, Swamp Thing was cancelled almost as soon as it began airing because of creative differences and financial concerns, which killed any plans for follow-up seasons and spin-offs. Despite this, Swamp Thing was generally very well received and the popularity of the show, in addition to the character’s very brief cameo in the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover (Various, 2019 to 2020), has left the vague lingering hope that Swamp Thing might be integrated into the “Arrowverse” in the same was as Matt Ryan’s John Constantine.

The Plot:
When a deadly illness hits a small town in Louisiana, Doctor Abby Arcane (Reed) is sent to investigate and begins to suspect that disgraced scientist Alec Holland’s (Bean) research may be related to the outbreak. However, in the midst of her investigation into shady businessman Avery Sunderland (Patton) and the mysteries of the nearby swamp, Alec is suddenly killed but appears to live on as a monstrous swamp creature.

The Review:
All throughout Swamp Thing, the swamp is treated as a dark, ominous force that stalks intruders and actively hunts those who venture within it, no matter their intentions. Thanks to the dumping of mutagen accelerator, the swamp is alive, malevolent, and brutally kill those who invade its depths, and its influence has begun to spread into the nearby town of Marais, causing a debilitating virus known as the “Green Flu”. The town is understandably disturbed by the virus but also believes that the swamp, their primary source of income, is responsible and is striking back at those who would seek to destroy or damage it. Local businessman Avery Sunderland, who has brought prosperity to the town, is fascinated by the swamp after witnessing its power as a boy when his father, Burritt (Steve Wilcox), was murdered by the swamp for attacking one of its trees was when Avery was a boy.

Abby is puzzled by the Green Flu, which appears to be connected to Alec’s research.

The mysterious plague brings Abby back to Marais, her hometown; she’s a pretty, smart CDC doctor who immediately and affably takes charge of the hospital staff and the organisation of a response team but is haunted by memories of her childhood in Marais. Though stumped by the potency of the disease, which mutilates its victims with swamp life and roots and is capable of reanimating corpses into violent planet creatures, Abby’s investigation is aided Alec Holland, a quirky and mysterious but brilliant biologist who clearly knows more about the infection than he’s letting on. His research focuses on dangerous mutagens, which he has identified growing and mutating out in the swamp, and he explicitly demonstrates to Abby that the swamp is growing aggressively and malevolently and causing the disease. Although unsure of Alec’s odd demeanour, he and Abby quickly pool their talents; a quick Google reveals to Abby Alec’s sketchy past, which saw him disgraced after manipulating data to prove his theories, but instead of arguing, they bond over their past mistakes and remain focused on figuring out the Green Flu. During their efforts, they are horrified to witness the swamp’s malevolent effects but, right when they are on the cusp of figuring out how the Green Flu came about, Alec is suddenly shot and killed.

Swamp Thing isn’t the only thing brought to monstrous life by the swamp’s malevolent forces.

In his place is a large, monstrous bog monster (the titular Swamp Thing) that emerges from the swamp in a confused and agonised daze and, for a brief period, has a strange connection to Susie Coyle (Elle Graham), a young girl infected by the swamp. Susie is able to sense Swamp Thing’s emotions and even see through his eyes, to an extent, which causes her a great deal of distress, nightmares, and to leave the hospital in search of Swamp Thing. There, she witnesses two of men dumping the mutagen, a particularly brutal murder, and Swamp Thing violently attack and kill one of the men, Munson (Micah Fitzgerald), using the roots and branches of the swamp. Now able to communicate with the swamp and other plant life (known as the “Green”), Swamp Thing is functionally immortal as he’s able to almost immediately heal from any injury and has no need for his plant-like organs. Thanks to Swamp Thing’s unique connection to the swamp, Abby is able to suppress the Green Flu but this also alerts him to a foreboding, oncoming Darkness that has spread death and devastation throughout the swamp. When the Darkness manifests as the Rot, it reanimates Munson’s body into a zombie-like creature who spews and controls insects and goes on a killing spree until Swamp Thing defeats it. He’s also instrumental in curing and counteracting an infection that spreads from the Darkness and causes this exposed to see disturbing, nightmarish visions of their worst fears that lead them to violently injure and kill themselves and others in a frenzied panic.

Matt and Lucilia’s lives are turned upside down by Abby’s return and drive them down a dark path.

Abby’s return to Marais causes quite a stir for many characters; for her childhood friend, Matt Cable (Henderson Wade), who is now a police officer, she reawakens his childhood feelings for her. These drive him to accompany her into the swamp and to aid with her search for Alec, much to the chagrin of his mother, Lucilia (Jennifer Beals), who is also the town sheriff. Resentful and distrustful of Abby, Lucilia dissuades Matt from helping Abby, believing her to be nothing but trouble who will just break his heart, but, when Matt learns that Lucilia is little more than a corrupt official who has lied about his true parentage and been covering up evidence of Avery’s wrongdoings, he begins to consider transferring to a different department. Lucilia, who murders without a thought to protect her son, is driven to conspiring against Avery when she discovers that he manipulated his son into killing Alec, an action that ultimately dooms her to further betrayal and murder.

Maria regresses when Abby returns to town and soon descends into mania and insanity.

Like Lucilia, Avery’s wife, Maria (Madsen), is extremely perturbed by Abby’s return; blaming Abby for the death of her daughter, Shawna (Given Sharp), Maria is cold and hostile towards Abby and demands that she leave the moment her work in Marais is done. Having struggled with alcoholism after Shawna’s death, Abby’s return causes Maria to regress; she takes to sleeping in Shawna’s death and turns to local blind fortune teller, Nimue Inwudu/Madame Xanadu (Prescott) for comfort, only to be driven to both violence and near madness by Shawna’s vengeful spirit, which possesses Susie and attempts to kill both Maria and Abby. Fully aware of Avery’s transgressions, and having grown weary of him using her wealth to her own ends, she cuts him off and, after conspiring to kill him, appropriates Avery’s research for her own to enter into an alliance with Nathan Ellery (Michael Beach) and the shadowy Conclave Group. Abby also reconnects with another of her friends, Liz Tremayne (Sten), a local reporter who believes that uncovering the truth behind Avery’s shady operation will be her big break. At every turn, even after encountering Swamp Thing, Abby confides in Liz and is met with nothing but unconditional support as Liz takes every opportunity to aid Abby in her efforts to help Alec, solve the mysteries of the swamp, and expose Avery’s true nature.

The supernatural and the macabre are pivotal aspects of Swamp Thing‘s appeal.

Liz’s investigative abilities not only help to lead Abby to Swamp Thing after he is captured by the mysterious Conclave Group but also leads her to Daniel Cassidy (Ian Ziering), an former stuntman and actor who found fame as a live-action version of the superhero Blue Devil and runs a video rental store where Alec lived and worked. Unable to leave Marais due to a supernatural force, Daniel is compelled to assist Abby by the mysterious Phantom Stranger (Macon Blair), who bound him to Marais some time ago, even when this leaves him comatose and trapped in the town. Supernatural elements such as these are a pivotal aspect of Swamp Thing: Xanadu finds her visions and psychic abilities augmented by the dark forces growing in the swamp, Shawna’s ghost spirit torments Maria and Abby, and Alec’s presence haunt Abby, the show, and Swamp Thing himself. The ghosts of his former life echo in Swamp Thing’s dreams alongside disturbing visions of numerous dead bodies, which the Phantom Stranger explains are actually the memories of all the events the trees and the swamp and the Green have witnessed over the centuries. The Phantom Stranger encourages Swamp Thing to hold on to the humanity still in his heart and soul and to embrace his newfound connection to the Green, which allows Abby the see the truth about Shawna’s death, but it is through his continued relationship with Abby that Swamp Thing finds his most potent connection to his humanity. Desperate to find out what happened to him and return him to normal, Abby reconnects with Alec in the episode “Brilliant Disguise” (Ostrander, 2019), which sees him temporarily reassume his human guise thanks to a mysterious flower. Here, Alec reveals the true extent of the Darkness and the Rot and believes that he has been transformed into a warrior to combat these malevolent forces and, accepting his new destiny, reluctantly asks her to leave and move on with her life.

With Maria committed, Avery ends up little more than a murderer infected by the swamp’s darkness.

Of course, the dark forces in the swamp aren’t the only things Swamp Thing has to content with in the show; Avery’s dumping of the mutagen accelerator was meant to bring him more opportunities for profit and expansion but, after witnessing the power of the swamp and seeing what Alec has transformed into, he begins to manipulate the situation back into his favour. A disreputable and manipulative individual, he Avery regularly engages in extramarital relations with Lucilia (which ultimately turn Maria against him) delivers thinly veiled threats to Abby and Liz when they continue to poke their nose into his business, and purposely exploited Matt to eliminate Alec when he got close to discovering Avery’s plot. A slick and deceptive individual, he’s even able to trick Swamp Thing into trusting him and doesn’t hesitate to twist the narrative in his favour wherever possible, including having his wife committed to a mental hospital and threatening friend and foe alike. I found Avery to be quite an intriguing character and he had a lot of complex layers to him; though both he and Maria were heartbroken at Shawna’s death, Maria’s reaction is far rawer and more aggressive, and Avery is much more accepting of Abby. Rather than blaming her for Shawna’s death, he sees her as a surrogate daughter and regrets not defending her in the past and there’s a genuine sense that he cares for her even when he’s clearly primarily concerned with his own self interests. A master manipulator, he’s able to prey upon Maria’s fragile state of mind and lingering fears about Susie’s health into continuing his funding in order to improve the image of their family in the eyes of the public and the investors. Despite being betrayed by all those around him and having lost everything, Avery remains adamant in his ability to bounce back from his losses out of a pig-headed belief that the town is reliant upon his generosity and influence. With Maria reduced to a mindless shell of her former self, and having learnt that he is Matt’s true father, he attempts to rekindle his relationship with Lucilia only to be adamantly rebuked by her after everything he’s done to her and Matt.

Thanks to Woodrue’s invasive experiments, Swamp Thing is dismayed by the truth about his origins.

Although Lucilia reconciles with Matt, she doesn’t live to see that through as Avery stabs her from the backseat of her car and dumps her body, and the car, in the swamp. By the end, he’s been reduced from an affluent and influential industrialist to a cold-blooded, remorseless killer; he mysteriously spits up a piece of the swamp, hinting that he may have been infected by the Rot. Avery also forges an alliance with Doctor Jason Woodrue (Durand), an unorthodox biogeneticist with an unhealthy obsession with plants who was responsible for creating Avery’s mutagen accelerant and causing the plague. While Woodrue is incredulous since the swamp’s very nature invites disease, Avery is unimpressed with Woodrue’s efforts, which were supposed to allow him to profit and have, instead, brought an unwelcome amount of attention and death to his doorstep. Woodrue is both in admiration of the aggressiveness and potency of the Green Flu and the swamp but also determined to stay support his wife, Caroline (Selena Anduze), as she suffers from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Like Abby, Woodrue is astounded by Swamp Thing’s genetic make-up and the regenerative capabilities and, upon discovering evidence of Swamp Thing’s existence, convinces Avery to provide him the resources to hunt down and capture the creature, alive, for further research. Ever the opportunist, Woodrue willingly betrays and allies with each of the Sunderland’s in his desperate bid to find a cure for his wife’s condition; to that end, Ellery provides Woodrue with the proper facilities to continue his research and is instrumental in luring Swamp Thing into a trap to freeze him with nitrogen blasts. Subjected to an invasive examination more akin to an autopsy and subdued by special lights, Swamp Thing is horrified when Woodrue discovers that he has no nerve or pain receptors (despite the fact that he clearly reacts to injury), can survive without any internal organs, and his theory that Alec’s consciousness was merely absorbed by the swamp and given a humanoid form by its mutagenic properties. Disturbed by Woodrue’s claims, Swamp Thing returns to the swamp after being rescued and is devested when he retrieves Alec’s mangled corpse from its depths, confirming that he is merely an autonomous plant creature possessing the shadow of Alec’s consciousness. Thought despondent at this discovery, Abby insists that Swamp Thing is imbued with Alec’s heart and soul regardless and, after mercilessly slaughtering Ellery’s men in retaliation for the suffering they caused him, he is bolstered by Alec’s sprit and Abby’s devotion to stay in the swamp and find a new path for himself against the coming Darkness.

The Summary:
I really enjoyed Swamp Thing; at only ten episodes long, the show is paced incredibly well and the structure is just about perfect; it never feels like there’s any filler and everything flows naturally and nicely and with a real purpose. The show’s emphasis on dark, gritty horror really makes it stand out against other superhero shows and it does a really good job of explaining its unique lore and introducing just enough intrigue to keep you hooked; the supernatural elements are seen as equal parts mysterious and dangerous and beautiful and alluring, and the ominous presence of the oncoming Darkness was a fascinating inclusion that I’m sad to see has not been resolved in the Arrowverse as of late. In many ways, it feels like the showrunners should have tried to slightly rewrite the concept to refer to the destructive anti-mater wave that was the subject of the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover but I remain hopeful that Swamp Thing’s loose ends will be addressed in some way, shape or form at some point.

Swamp Thing excels in its fantastic and creative use of practical and special effects.

One of the most appealing aspects of Swamp Thing is how well it utilises its special effects; the swamp, a living, largely malevolent being in and of itself, writhes and squirms through a mixture of practical and special effects that reanimates dead bodies with a sickening burst of ever-growing and malicious tentacles but nowhere is its influence more impressively realised that in Swamp Thing himself. Brought to life through the power of an impressive practical suit and augmented by animatronics and just the right amount of CGI, Swamp Thing is both impressive and horrific in his appearance thanks to an abundance of dark lighting, shadows, and well-framed shots but he also impresses when seen in full lighting. It seems like the showrunners wisely put a great deal of Swamp Thing’s budget into the titular creature, which results in them creatively cutting corners when it comes to Blue Devil. Sadly, we never get to see a clear shot of Blue Devil, who slaughters the Conclave’s goons through the power of frenetic and blood-soaked editing; to be fair, though, this does work to emphasise the brutality, horror, and mystery of Blue Devil. Performances are strong throughout Swamp Thing; Crystal Reed is a fantastically alluring lead actress, carrying just the right mixture of gumption, intelligence, and empathy. She feels a tremendous amount of guilt over her part on Shawna’s death and is both heartbroken and desperate to try and help Alec after he’s transformed into Swamp Thing. Similarly, while she’s little more than a supporting character, there’s a surprising amount of depth to Liz; I was very pleased to see that the two never fell out or had any interpersonal drama and were simply two close friends who supported each other no matter what, even in the face of their own deaths.

Sadly, as good as Swamp Thing was, its loose ends probably won’t be tied up any time soon.

I was impressed with Durand’s range for his portrayal of Woodrue, who is continually torn between his work and his wife just as Swamp Thing is torn between his humanity and the creature he has become, and his descent into insanity and villainy was all the more affecting because he wasn’t just some over the top comic book villain. I was similarly intrigued by Patton’s performance as Avery; a deceitful, manipulative character who always has the upper hand, he fought and clawed against his descent from his lofty position and always had another scheme, another option, at hand to try and turn things to his advantage. The only real issue I had, in fact (apart from the show being cancelled) was that Susie seems like she’s going to be important but basically disappears from the show after a few prominent episodes and her connection to Swamp Thing is not as pivotal as it seems at first. Honestly, it’s a real shame that Swamp Thing was cancelled almost as immediately as it started as it was very entertaining as a horror/mystery show and was a very different type of comic book adaptation. The show was also packed with some clever additions and references to the wider DC universe; Adrienne Barbeau, who starred in the first live-action movie, makes a cameo appearance as the CDC’s new assistant director, the Phantom Stranger was a surprising and welcome inclusion, and the show even does a good job of bringing Blue Devil to life when Daniel eventual transforms into an actual, fire-breathing demon. The show even ends on a massive cliff-hanger when Woodrue, driven to madness by his wife’s accidental overdose and his obsession with curing her, ingests Swamp Thing’s organs and transforms himself into the Floronic Man.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


Were you a fan of Swamp Thing? Did you enjoy the show’s emphasis on horror and practical effects or was a bit too obscure and dark for you? What did you think to the Swamp Thing suit and effects and Derek Mears’ performance as the character? Which of the show’s characters and sub-plots was your favourite and did you enjoy the inclusions of names like the Phantom Stranger and the Blue Devil? How well do you think the show did at adapting the source material and were there any characters and plots you would have liked to see included in the show? Were you disappointed that Swamp Thing was cancelled and would you like the see the character and the show’s loose ends tied up in the Arrowverse? Whatever your opinions on Swamp Thing, leave your  thoughts down below.

Talking Movies: The Suicide Squad

Talking Movies

Released: 30 July 2021
Director: James Gunn
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $34 million
Stars: Idris Elba, Margot Robbie, John Cena, Sylvester Stallone/Steve Agee, David Dastmalchian, Daniela Melchior, Joel Kinnaman, Peter Capaldi, and Viola Davis

The Plot:
After Colonel Rick Flag (Kinnaman) and Doctor Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn (Robbie) are captured and presumed killed during a mission into the war-torn nation of Corto Maltese, Amanda Waller (Davis) blackmails former mercenary and marksman Robert DuBois/Bloodsport (Elba) into leading a new Task Force X team on a suicide mission into the nation to acquire Gaius Grieves/The Thinker (Capaldi), who has vital information regarding the mysterious and potentially cataclysmic “Project: Starfish”.

The Background:
Task Force X, otherwise known by the more colourful sobriquet of “The Suicide Squad”, is a team of supervillains, anti-heroes, and convicts that first appeared in The Brave and the Bold #25 in September 1059. Created by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru, the team’s initial six-issue run was later expanded upon exponentially by writer John Ostrander in 1987; Ostrander defined many of the elements that are now closely associated with the team, such as them being commanded by Amanda Waller and forced into behaving under threat of remote execution. Due to the very nature of the team (the clue’s in the name after all), the Suicide Squad has seen many different incarnations over the years and has featured in a number of adaptations outside of the comics. They made their live-action debut in Suicide Squad (Ayer, 2016), a film that arguably was the DC Extended Universe’s (DCEU) attempt to emulate the success of Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014); despite heavyweights like Will Smith and Jared Leto attached and bringing in nearly $750 million against a $175 million budget, Suicide Squad was a critical disaster. However, Suicide Squad did give us Margot Robbie’s fantastic portrayal of Harley Quinn, which received significant praise (and her own spin-off), and there has been a major fan demand for Warner Bros. to release the director’s cut of the film. Still, Suicide Squad made money and had a bankable star so a sequel (and several other spin-offs) was put into development. Perhaps because of Ayer’s public lambasting of Warner Bros.’ interference with his film, a new director was courted for the follow-up, with James Gunn being hired after he was briefly fired from Disney and Marvel Studios. Given complete creative control of the project, Gunn decided to produce a standalone sequel that featured some of DC’s most ridiculous villains and mashed them into a team of losers, misfits, and combustible personalities. Delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Suicide Squad was eventually released to overwhelmingly positive reviews that praised its action, gore, and humour. As of this writing, the film has only grossed $7 million at the box office but is projected to bring in $35 to 60 million and Gunn has already completed a spin-off series for HBO Max starring Christopher Smith/Peacemaker (John Cena).

The Review:
My experience of the Suicide Squad is basically almost zero; they rarely appear as a team in the DC Comics I read and usually just kind of crop up as a team of misfits for DC’s superheroes to fight with. As a result, when I heard that Warner Bros. were going to be putting time, effort, and money into a big-screen version of the team, my first question was…why? Why are we getting that and not a standalone Batman movie for Ben Affleck, or a Flash movie, or a Cyborg one…anything but randomly tossing out a Suicide Squad film. To this day, I’ll never understand why Warner Bros. didn’t retool the script to have Batman battling against Waller’s team that acted as a prequel to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Snyder, 2014) and showed exactly how and why Batman has fallen so far into the dark by explicitly centring around the Joker (Jared Leto) killing Jason Todd/Robin. Instead, the film didn’t really add all that much to the DCEU; it completely wasted Will Smith on a nobody like Floyd Lawton/Deadshot (he really should have been Slade Wilson/Deathstroke) and was so cut up by the studio that it’s basically been swept under the carpet now, and that’s a shame as its cast and concepts could have been used to far greater effect in a Ben Affleck-led Batman film.

Blackmailed by Amanda Waller, Bloodsport is forced to lead the new team to spare his daughter.

Thankfully, The Suicide Squad doesn’t go out of its way to retcon or erase the original film form continuity; I never expected that it would since Flag, Quinn, Waller, and Digger Harkness/Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) all returned to the film but you wouldn’t believe the arguments I had online with people who insisted that this wasn’t a sequel…when it clearly is. Sure, Harley’s reasoning for being back on the team is kind of hand-waved away and they don’t explicitly refer to events of any prefers DCEU films, but there’s an obvious and oft-stated familiarity between these characters, which is enough for me. Of course, we have a slew of new characters here, many of whom I am completely unfamiliar with, such as Bloodsport and Peacemaker. Although Gunn stated that he wrote the script specifically with Elba in mind for Bloodsport rather than a replacement for Deadshot…he basically is Deadshot but with a fancier suit. Like Deadshot, Bloodsport has a strained relationship with his daughter and is an expert marksman but he’s made a character all his own through his disinterest in joining the team, working with others, doing good, and his high-tech, quasi-alien suit that allows him to generate and assemble a wide variety of weaponry.

Peacemaker loves peace so much that he’s willing to kill for it!

Bloodsport not only immediately clashes with Waller when she threatens his daughter to coerce him into leading her new Suicide Squad, he also forms a fast rivalry with Peacemaker; another character I’m not too familiar with, Peacemaker is a unit of man who is so obsessed with peace that he’s willing to kill anyone to attain it. A psychopath hiding behind patriotism, Peacemaker is adept with melee weapons and guns but his presence by no means makes Bloodsport redundant as their personalities and methods are entirely different. Garbed in a ludicrous comic-accurate costume and built like a brick shithouse, Peacemaker is seemingly willing to align with the team to achieve peace but continuously grates against his teammates. He and Bloodsport often engage in a silent, unstated competition to see who can kill the most people in the most flamboyant or impressive ways but he does find common ground with the team when they share a few drinks while staking out the Thinker’s favourite night club.

Flag is a far more amiable character this time around, while Harley’s crazy has been dialled up a notch.

Returning from the last film are Rick Flag and Harley Quinn; unlike in the first film, Flag has, apparently, lost the rod up his ass and is a far more laid back and amiable character. Rather than seeing commanding Task Force X as his duty or a punishment of sorts, he treats them like friends or comrades and strikes up a camaraderie with most of them. While he also butts heads with Peacemaker, he has a former relationship with Bloodsport that allows the two to work as a more cohesive unit and, in turn, help galvanise the team of misfits into coming together in a workable strategy. Harley, by comparison, is largely the same character as before except her craziness has been dialled up somewhat. Still a bit of an odd choice for such a team, Harley proves that appearances are deceiving as her craziness makes her a formidable and unpredictable opponent who is just as likely to bust out a rocket launcher as she is to strangle a man to death with her legs during severe torture. Harley has a bit of a side story where she’s courted by President Silvio Luna (Juan Diego Botto) and provides much of the more explicit comedic moments thanks to her trademark mad-cap nature and her gunning down countless soldiers while animated flowers and birds fly around in the background.

The team is rounded about by some of DC’s most ridiculous characters.

The team is rounded out by a couple of new characters, most notably Cleo Cazo/Ratcatcher II (Melchior), Nanaue/King Shark (Stallone/Agee), and Abner Krill/Polka-Dot Man (Dastmalchian). While we learn a bit about Bloodsport and his relationship with his daughter and there’s a bit of character development for Quinn in her vow to not let men use her again, we don’t really learn too much about Peacemaker’s background and these three latter characters get quite a bit of play and have quite an impact on the film. We learn all about Ratcatcher II’s childhood, for example, and her fondness for rats (which Bloodsport is deathly afraid of); despite her lethargic attitude and borderline narcolepsy, she is also the only one of the team to actually befriend and treat King Shark like an actual person rather than a burden. King Shark looks absolutely fantastic and is characterised as a ravenous, child-like creature who is often the butt of the team’s mistreatment, though he is also responsible for some of the film’s most humorous moments. And then there’s Polka-Dot Man, a ridiculous character on paper who is given new life as a bat-shit insane psychopath who is constantly spawning and at threat from cosmic polka dots thanks to his mother’s experimentations. By the finale, his character arc becomes a tragic story of redemption, of sorts, since he begins the film literally hoping for them all to die and end sit ready to sacrifice himself to save Corto Maltese from a rampaging monster.

Waller is determined to use the Thinker to keep America’s involvement in Project: Starfish under wraps.

Behind the team, safe in the United States, is the ice-queen herself; Amanda Waller is just as impassive and manipulative as ever, fully prepared to use any means necessary to coerce the convicts into getting bombs implanted into their necks and heading out on a suicide mission in the hopes of shaving ten years off their sentences. Once they’re out in the field, Waller tells them only what they need to know and, the moment they go off-mission, doesn’t hesitate to remote detonate the bombs and blow their heads off. Similar to the last film, Waller’s motivations for the team’s excursion into Corto Maltese are shrouded in deception and revolve more around trying to cover up America’s part in Project Starfish rather than destroying the weapon but, this time around, her control staff are aghast at her extreme methods. Also similar to the first film is the fact that the team is battling against an army of foes rather than tackling a singular enemy head-on; the Thinker fills the roles of a secondary antagonist to a degree, being a maniacal scientist who has gleefully spent the last thirty years experimenting with Project: Starfish on humans in a variety of gruesome and reprehensible ways though, in the end, his role in the story is quite small beyond the team forcing him to get them into Jötunheim, the Nazi-era bunker where the project is based.

The Nitty-Gritty (Minor Spoilers Ahead):
Like the first film, The Suicide Squad (terrible title, by the way; adding a “The” to a sequel’s title is always a red flag for me and smacks of laziness) uses music to punctuate many of its scenes. Unlike that film, though, it benefits from far better editing and pacing; where Suicide Squad was like a frenetic music video (especially in the first ten minutes or so, which bombard the viewer with so much sensory input that it’s nearly impossible to know what’s going on), The Suicide Squad is far more deliberate and conservative with its use of music and edits. The film begins in media res and then flashes back to show us how Waller’s two teams ended up being recruited and sent off to Jötunheim and, at various points, the film cuts off a dramatic reveal or moment to skip over to the other characters and show us what they’ve been up to. The film also contains a number of creative on-screen titles, presumably to make the film easier to watch when on HBO Max or simply to add to the zany nature of the film.

The Suicide Squad trumps its predecessor by upping the action, violence, and destruction.

Where The Suicide Squad really stands out from, and trumps, the last film is in its use of gore, copious swearing, violence, and explosive action. The first film felt like it was holding back by having the team battling glorified zombies but this one pulls absolutely no punches; the opening scene alone sets the tone by showing Flag lead a doomed beach-front assault that sees members of his team getting immolate, shot to pieces, and blown into bloody chunks. King Shark is responsible for many moments of bloody violent thanks to his ravenous hunger and the competition between Bloodsport and Peacemaker lead the two to murdering numerous members of the Corto Maltese rebellion. Hell, Harley gets an entire side plot where she fights, shoots, and kills her way out of Luna’s mansion and the film’s hard-hitting action scenes are punctuated by endlessly entertaining explosions, gore, and over the top violence that finally does what the first film so desperately tried to do (i.e. take what we saw in the first two Deadpool films (Miller, 2016; Leitch, 2018) and ramp it up a few notches).

Based on the team’s nature, not every character gets out alive, especially when Starro goes on a rampage!

Gunn packs the film with all kinds of C- to G-tier characters from DC Comics’ vast library; given free reign to use, and kill, whichever characters he wanted, no character is safe no matter how powerful they are or how established they are from the first film. This is exemplified in the gory opening but continues throughout the film as the team are constantly against the odds, and themselves, and comes to a head in the finale. I don’t think it’s really a spoiler to say that the team end up battling against Starro the Conqueror since trailers and interviews have already shown this but seeing Starro, of all things, onscreen is just…exhilarating. Reminiscent of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, Starro goes on a rampage through Corto Maltese, spewing out tiny Facehugger extensions of itself to instantly create an army of brainless zombies to spread its influence and oppose the Suicide Squad. Even better, Starro is presented in full daylight and looks equal parts incredible and ludicrous, which is entirely the point, of course. Still, I am a little confused as to where these Suicide Squad films feel they have to pit the team against armies of zombie-like enemies and cosmic-level threats when they’re arguably better suited to black ops missions and such but seeing the remnants of the team come together as a unit to try and take Starro down is something that appeals to the comic book, action, and Kaiju fan in me and it was massively entertaining as a finale. It’s just a shame that we’ll probably never see these characters interacting with the Justice League given the state of the DCEU.

The Summary:
While I don’t agree with the state of the DCEU, or Warner Bros. decision to funnel funds and certain actors into projects like The Suicide Squad when they should be concentrating on bringing some of their more well-known heroes and properties to life, and while I had some problems with the film’s presentation (those titles, for example, were a little distracting at times), The Suicide Squad was an absolute blast. Clearly evoking the bombastic action movies of the eighties and nineties and embracing the most ridiculous aspects of the source material, it presents its over the top characters and premise without shame or embarrassment and goes all-in with the concept of a team of disposable misfits being in over their heads. Punctuated by some amusing moments and character beats, copious amounts of gratuitous gore and violence, and a surprising amount of poignant heart and characterisation (to say nothing of a few unexpected twists along the way), The Suicide Squad more than makes up for the failings of the last film. Again, it’s just a shame that it’s so unpredictable as to whether or not these characters will actually interact with their respective heroes in the wider DCEU as I’d love to see more of them and for the DCEU to actually, properly bring all these disparate threads together but if all you’re looking for is a kick-ass action film that isn’t shy about pulling its punches then The Suicide Squad has you well covered!

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Have you seen The Suicide Squad? If so, what did you think to it and how would you rate it compared to the first film? Which of the new characters was your favourite? Who did you think was going to die and who were you surprised to see survive? Are you a fan of the Suicide Squad concept and comics? Would you have preferred to see the villains appear elsewhere, like in a solo Batman or Flash movie or do you think it’s a good thing that the DCEU is so sporadic? Are there any villains you’d like to see included in another Suicide Squad film and are you going to be watching the Peacemaker spin-off? Whatever your thoughts about The Suicide Squad, feel free to leave a comment below.

Talking Movies: Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Talking Movies

Released: 18 March 2021
Director: Zack Snyder
Distributor: HBO Max/Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Budget: $70 million (on top of the original $300 million production costs)
Stars: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ciarán Hinds, Amy Adams, and Henry Cavill

The Plot:
Following the death of Clark Kent/Superman (Cavill), Bruce Wayne/Batman (Affleck) scrambles to bring together a team of super-powered heroes when the disgraced New God Steppenwolf (Hinds) arrives on Earth and begins violently searching for the mysterious “Mother Boxes”.

The Background:
Oh God, where to start with this? Okay, so, after the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) became this super successful juggernaut, Warner Bros. scrambled to try and catch up and craft their own cinematic universe. The first step was Man of Steel (ibid, 2013); Zack Snyder was picked to helm the project and steer the direction of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) and, initially, the results were promising. Despite some mixed reviews, Man of Steel was a financial success but the cracks in Snyder’s vision started to form with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (ibid, 2016). Despite the presence of acclaimed superstar Ben Affleck and reaping a hefty box office, the film divided many due to its pace and bleak tone and Warner Bros. started to get cold feet regarding Snyder’s vision for the DCEU. As a result, they brought in Joss Whedon to lighten the follow-up’s tone and ultimately replace Snyder after the tragic death of his daughter. Despite a similar box office gross to its predecessors, Justice League (Whedon/Snyder, 2017) released to scathing criticism and the film was disowned by even DCEU collaborators.

After years of speculation, Snyder returned to complete and enhance his original cut.

The DCEU chugged along regardless but, very quickly, reports of Whedon’s reprehensible behaviour surfaced alongside rumours that a “Snyder Cut” was all but completed in Warner’s vaults and fans all over the world began campaigning hard for the release Snyder’s original version. While this did lead to a toxic community that I cannot condone, the movement gained serious traction when members of the cast voiced their support and Snyder finally returned to complete the film and was even afforded additional money and resources to film new scenes for his four-hour epic for the HBO Max streaming service. To the delight of Snyder’s fans, Zack Snyder’s Justice League finally released and drew a lot of attention to HBO Max. The general critical consensus, however, was mixed; though reviews praised the film as a coherent story and the culmination of Snyder’s vision, its length and excess were criticised. After the film’s release, Warner Bros. made the decision not to capitalise on its success and fans immediately campaigned to complete Snyder’s vision for the DCEU, despite his lack of interest in returning to the property, proving that some fans are just never satisfied.

The Review:
When I reviewed the original, theatrical cut of Justice League (no, I will not call it “Josstice League”), I gave it a ten out of ten. This was primarily because I am a massive DC Comics fan and, after years (literally decades) of DC’s live-action characters always existing in their own self-contained bubbles, I was just happy to see them all onscreen together and co-existing and felt that this was the most positive thing to take away from Snyder’s rushed attempt to build DC’s cinematic universe. Time, however, has changed this perspective; Justice League is by no means perfect but it was honestly never going to be. Warner Bros. scrambled about trying to play catch up to the MCU and, in focusing on cramming everyone together as quickly as possible and sucking the fun out of many of their most popular characters, they lost me a little along the way.

Snyder jumped into Multiversal shenanigans way too fast and put everything into his cut of Justice League.

So to say I was excited for the Snyder Cut is to lie, honestly. As much as I enjoyed Man of Steel, Snyder really dropped the ball with Batman v Superman, which was more a collection of ideas and themes than a coherent movie, and I took massive issue with his grandiose vision of the DCEU which jumped from Superman’s origin all the way to Multiversal shenanigans in, like, two films. Still, as a rule, I generally do enjoy a longer director’s cut as you get more bang for your buck and, in that regard, Snyder certainly goes above and beyond to present the closest version of his vision for Justice League as possible, even going so far as to present the film in a 4:3 aspect ratio.

Superman’s death cry activates the Mother Boxes and calls Steppenwolf to Earth.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League begins with an egregiously slow-motion recap of Superman’s dramatic (and, in my view, unnecessary) death in battle against Doomsday. His death rattle (which seriously goes on for about six minutes), echoes all around the world, activating the Mother Boxes stored in Atlantis and Themyscira and sending a beacon out into the void of space with a simple message: Earth is vulnerable. Steppenwolf (now dramatically redesigned into a hulking creature wearing razor-sharp armour that honestly looks just as ugly as his original design but for different reasons) once again arrives to reclaim the Boxes; this time, however, his slaughter of the Amazons is much more brutal, featuring far more Parademons and presenting Steppenwolf as a formidable and imposing force.

Steppenwolf not only looks more fearsome but is a far more interesting character now.

Indeed, compared to his theatrical counterpart, Steppenwolf is a much more well-rounded and interesting character; in the original cut, he was little more than a means to an end, an obscure and generic bad guy for the titular heroes to unite against in order to save the world but, here, he’s a driven, focused, and aggressive foe who is motivated not just by loyalty to his master and devotion to bringing about “the great darkness” but also desperate to regain his place among the New Gods after losing favour centuries before. Owing Darkseid (Ray Porter) a debt of fifty thousand worlds for his failures, Steppenwolf has been ostracised and forced to toil in endless conquest to regain his place at his master’s side; this desperation and motivation transforms Steppenwolf from a mere disposable hulk and into a surprisingly complex villain who seeks redemption and validation in the eyes of his master and will do anything to appease the will of Darkseid.

Superman’s loss affects each of the characters in different ways.

While the Man of Steel’s loss was felt in the theatrical cut, Superman’s death is a much bigger aspect of the Snyder Cut; carrying the guilt of Superman’s death on his shoulders, Bruce Wayne sets out to build an alliance of metahumans to combat this threat. While Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gadot) is reluctantly onboard with the plan and Barry Allen/The Flash (Miller) signs up immediately and enthusiastically, Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Momoa) basically laughs in his face and Victor Stone/Cyborg (Fisher) is busy struggling to reconcile his humanity after a horrific accident leaves him part machine. Furthermore, Superman’s loss is embodied here not just in Bruce’s guilt and desire to honour Superman’s legacy with a team of superheroes but in both Lois Lane (Adams) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane), both of whom struggle to adjust to life without Clark. Since Bruce has already been told that “Lois [is] the key” to reaching Superman, it makes sense to give Lois and Martha a little more prominence in the film, especially as her death is what causes Superman’s corruption in the dark future that looms over Snyder’s films.

Batman is now absolutely focused on bringing together a team to honour Superman’s memory.

Bruce Wayne is, of course, extremely different compared to his characterisation in Batman v Superman. Now driven by an obsessive desire to make good on his promise to unite Earth’s heroes in Superman’s name, he works himself tirelessly to track down the metahumans from Lex Luthor’s (Jesse Eisenberg) file, much to the continued chagrin of his faithful butler and father-figure, Alfred Pennyworth (Jeremy Irons). Since he works closely with Diana to find and appeal to these metahumans, there’s even a little (microscopic, even) bit of romantic chemistry between the two and there’s now a nice little scene of Alfred making tea with Diana and showing her Batman’s new Parademon-absorbent gauntlet (which replaces the original cut’s side plot regarding Batman luring the Parademons out with “fear”). Mostly, though, Bruce remains the same character as in the theatrical cut; he’s still blinkered in his focus on bringing the team together, resurrecting Superman, and preparing the world to face escalating threats but all of his weird little attempts at humour are thankfully gone (sadly, that God-awful “I’m rich” line remains but, thankfully, we get the return of his “I’m real when it’s useful” line).

Wonder Woman now warns the team of Darkseid’s intentions for Earth.

Wonder Woman, however, is noticeably different this time around; more time is spent showing her as a willing ally of Bruce’s and she is also part of a pivotal extended scene that explores Steppenwolf’s previous campaign against the Earth. This sequence, which expands upon the prologue seen in the theatrical cut, shows the forces of man, Gods, Atlantis, Themyscira, and beyond uniting not just against Steppenwolf and his Parademons but also their exalted and imposing leader, Darkseid. Darkseid received only a passing mention in the original cut but, here, Diana’s obvious fear of the New God helps to establish early on that an even greater threat looms behind Steppenwolf’s actions. Furthermore, when out in the field with the team, Wonder Woman directs the fledging Justice League in the best way to attack Steppenwolf and his Parademons, which places greater emphasis on her capabilities as a warrior and leader.

The Snyder Cut retains Aquaman’s characterisation but explores a little more of his world.

Aquaman is largely the same as in the theatrical cut except, unsurprisingly, more haggard and bleak rather than being an obnoxious jock. Though he claims to have no interest in Bruce’s crusade or working with others and has turned his back on Atlantis, he continues to do good and help those in need in his own way to get his hands on more whiskey. Bruce’s warning, though, compels him to return to the ocean and converse with Nuidis Vulko (Willem Dafoe), his former mentor, and ultimately to arrive all too late to help Mera (Amber Heard) defend the Mother Box from Steppenwolf. A couple of odd continuity issues are raised with all this, however, that fly in the face of DC’s directors wanting to align their movies with the Snyder Cut; first there’s Mera’s accent, which jumps from British to American to whatever the hell she likes, and second is the Atlantean’s ability to communicate using dolphin squeaks rather than just talking underwater as they do in Aquaman (Wan, 2018). Regardless, this version of Justice League does a far better job of setting up Aquaman’s solo film by showing more hints towards his world and Aquaman remains the film’s breakout character for me for me thanks to Momoa’s charismatic portrayal of the character.

Though still very neurotic, Barry plays a pivotal role in the film’s events and finale.

Barry Allen also gets a bit more time to shine this time around; this includes the restoration of his encounter with Iris West (Kiersey Clemons) and just more time to explore his awkward, energetic, and socially inept character traits. Barry was very much the comic relief of the theatrical cut and those who disliked many of his annoying character traits will be disappointed to find most of them intact and given more prominence in his increased screen time but I can’t fault Snyder’s attention to detail in showcasing Barry’s superspeed: his shoes and clothes disintegrate, the street is wrecked by his footfalls, and he experiences time in extreme slow motion when utilising the Speed Force. While the Flash loses one of my favourite scenes from the original cut (the “Just save one” moment), he plays a far greater role in not just the rescue of scientists from Steppenwolf’s clutches but also the film’s finale where, faced with defeat at the hands of Steppenwolf’s forces, he summons all of his super speed to travel back in time using the Speed Force and ensure that the invasion is halted.

Cyborg’s role is greatly expanded, making him the heart of the film and fleshing out his character.

Of course, the character who benefits the most from the Snyder Cut is Cyborg; in the theatrical cut, Cyborg is a stoic, confused young man who resents his father, Doctor Silas Stone (Joe Morton), for transforming him into a machine-monster in order to save his life. While this remains at the start of Cyborg’s character arc in the Snyder Cut, Snyder restores not just Cyborg’s importance to the film as the “heart” of the Justice League but also his eventual reconciliation with his father and showcases excised scenes of his promising career as a college football player, his natural aptitude for hacking (which he used to help those in need), and the horrific accident which left him near death. While I’m personally not a fan of Cyborg being on the Justice League, it was clear that there was originally more to his inclusion and importance to the film’s plot; since he’s literally comprised on a Mother Box and Apokoliptian technology, he is afforded numerous abilities and insights into the invading New Box forces and, here, Silas actually guides and mentors him in exploring these abilities (which includes his ability to access every technological device and network and essentially makes him the most powerful man on Earth).

Superman returns, now in a black suit, and galvanises the team.

Finally, there’s Superman; as you might expect, Superman is absent for a massive amount of the film on a small account of being dead. Like Darkseid, Superman looms over the film but as a hero lost and much needed as a symbol for the world’s heroes to properly rally behind. Bruce’s plan to resurrect Superman with the Mother Box is discussed (and edited) far more competently this time around; although there’s doubt about the moral and ethical implications of the plan (mainly from Alfred this time around), Bruce and Diana don’t come to blows like in the original film but the outcome remains the same. Like before, Superman is disorientated upon returning to life and attacks the fledgling Justice League in his confusion; his confrontation with Batman is a little different (and not as good as in the original cut, in my opinion) and there’s more to his return to the Kent farm but, upon regaining his senses, he returns to action as the team’s ace in the hole for the finale. Cavill is an absolutely fantastic Superman and Justice League finally got the character to a place where he is the charming symbol of hope and strength that the world needs and, despite his new black suit, Zack Snyder’s Justice League only expands upon that (of course, Cavill’s natural charisma and the absence of a horrible CGI face play a huge part in that).

The Nitty-Gritty:
One word to describe Zack Snyder’s Justice League (apart from “long”) would certainly be “epic”; Snyder pads the film’s runtime out with not only an abundance of never-before-seen footage, alternate takes, and new content but also an overuse of slow-motion and long establishing shots. To help make the film more accessible to viewers, the film is also split into six chapters, which was probably a great way to view it on HBO Max, and the DVD version of the film is split across two discs but, either way you slice it, this is a slog to get through and I have to believe that Snyder simply milked the extra time and money he was afforded just to capitalise on all the hype surrounding his version of the film. The closest comparison I can make is with his director’s cut of Watchmen (Snyder, 2009), which was similarly epic and ambitious in its scope, presentation, use of music, and its presentation of its costumed adventurers.

Some shots effects, and inconsistencies negatively affect the Snyder Cut.

It has to be said, though, that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has quite a few faults; some of the new special effects shots understandably look worse than others (and Cyborg still looks like dog shit), it’s pretty crazy that Darkseid and his forces just forgot where Earth was for hundreds of years (especially considering how badly he wants the secret of the Anti-Life Equation), the score has been completely reworked to remove Danny Elfman’s contributions (though, thankfully, Wonder Woman’s kick-ass musical theme remains), and many of the new scenes shot exclusively for the film suffer from poor lighting, inconsistent editing, and stand out like a sore thumb to the point where I’d much rather Snyder hadn’t bothered including the likes of the Joker (Jared Leto) when it makes little sense narratively (you’re telling me that in a grim, apocalyptic future where Superman has gone bad the Joker is alive but Aquaman isn’t?) Personally, I have never been a fan of Snyder’s “Knightmare” timeline; it made no sense in Batman v Superman and, thanks to Warner Bros. having no interest in allowing Snyder to fully explore this alternate timeline in Justice League sequels, it makes even less sense to me that he chose to continue pushing this dark vision of a future ruled by Darkseid and a corrupted version of Superman in the Snyder Cut (but, at least, it’s mainly confined to the film’s final moments rather than being awkwardly wedged in the middle of the film like in Batman v Superman).

Snyder’s cut expands and recontextualises many of the film’s existing scenes and characters.

Although many scenes and sequences may be familiar to anyone who has seen the theatrical cut of the film, the Snyder Cut expands upon every single one of these and, in many cases, recontextualises them into this larger narrative. This includes a longer scene of Bruce Wayne meeting and attempting to recruit Aquaman (accompanied by a lengthy song of reverence for the Atlantean), an expanded version of Wonder Woman’s introduction (including the first of a handful of pointless f-bombs), a longer version of Steppenwolf’s attack on Themyscira and the recap of Darkseid’s defeat centuries ago, more scenes of Steppenwolf and his Parademons’ search for the Mother Boxes (including torturing Atlanteans for information and a far better sequence where he acquires the final Box), and even recontextualising the interactions between Lois and Martha with the reveal that General Calvin Swanwick (Harry Lennix) has been J’onn J’onnz/Martian Manhunter all along.

The Snyder Cut restores and dramatically changes excised characters.

One of the main selling points of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, however, is the restoration of scenes and plot threads excised from the theatrical version. This includes characters removed from the original film, like Doctor Ryan Choi (Ryan Zheng), Vulko, Iris, DeSaad (Peter Guinness), Cybrog’s mother, Elinor Stone (Karen Bryson), and more time devoted to side characters like Silas (who now gives his life to mark the final Mother Box) and the origins of the Mother Boxes. One of the benefits of this is that we actually get to see an in-depth look into Cyborg’s expansive abilities (which includes a deep dive into the way he now perceives reality). Much of the Snyder Cut’s hype was also built around the inclusion of Darkseid but, in truth, the character is little more than a cameo; he simply takes Steppenwolf’s place in the flashback of the war between the allied forces of Earth and Apokolips and looms over the film like an ominous shadow as the ultimate threat for the united Justice League. Sadly, despite Snyder choosing to push his Knightmare future throughout the film and concluding it with a tease of Darkseid’s impending retaliation against the Justice League, it seems like we won’t be seeing Darkseid (or any of the New Gods for that matter) in the DCEU again any time soon.

Snyder’s muted colour palette and bleak presentation makes an epic return.

Snyder’s vision of the DCEU remains extremely bleak in its presentation; for all the characters’ talk of “hope” and the better nature of men, Snyder continues to suck all the life and colour out of these vivid characters. One thing I liked about Justice League was that it did a fantastic job of bringing some life and colour to this world, allowing the costumes to pop out on screen but, here, everything retains the same muted look and sombre tones of Batman v Superman. This is best exampled in Snyder’s instance on garbing the resurrected Superman in his black suit; Superman wore this in the comics after returning to life for about three issues and it was later stated to have helped aid his recovery but, here, no real reason is given for his choice of attire and it honestly would have made more sense for the evil Knightmare Superman to have worn the suit instead. Additionally, Snyder removes the red tint and tumultuous skies from the finale of the film, which admittedly does make the climatic battle against Steppenwolf’s forces easier to see but I feel the original colouring worked a lot better as a reference to the red skies that were are of DC’s various Crises.

Thanks to the team, and time travel shenanigans, Darkseid is left humiliated.

Speaking of the finale, Zack Snyder’s Justice League slightly recontextualises the ending. Although there’s still an implication that Batman is heading into battle with the intention of dying, it’s not as explicit as in the theatrical cut; what is much more explicit, though, is the feeling of team work between the Justice League as they each play their part in breeching Steppenwolf’s defences (Flash, again, gets way more to do in using his Speed Force charge to help Cyborg interact with the Mother Boxes) before Superman dramatically shows up to again completely lay waste to Steppenwolf. I’m glad that this beatdown is maintained as it was always a glorious showcase of Superman’s return and of the team coming together against a common enemy but, here, things go slightly differently as the heroes fail to stop the unity between the Mother Boxes and prevent Darkseid’s arrival. With no other choice, the Flash enters the Speed Force and reverses time in a beautifully surreal sequence, allowing Cyborg to reject the Apokolips’ influence and Wonder Woman to decapitate Steppenwolf right before Darkseid’s eyes.

The Summary:
I went into Zack Snyder’s Justice League with low expectations. Toxic fans and a rabid, almost cult-like online community had beaten any sort of excitement and wonder out of me. I quite enjoyed the theatrical cut; it wasn’t perfect but, news flash: none of the DCEU has been perfect and few films really are. Knowing that Snyder got so screwed over by Warner Bros. stung and it definitely frustrated me that we didn’t get a concise and more accurate version of Justice League years ago so that maybe the DCEU would be in a slightly better place but it was hard for me to feel invested in the film when it was so self-indulgent and so clouded by negativity and entitlement.

Bigger and more epic, Snyder’s cut is the definitive version of Justice League.

In this case, though, I am glad to be wrong; there are many benefits to Zack Snyder’s Justice League. For one thing, it actually feels like a coherent story (even more so than Batman v Superman) and each member of the team is given so much more time to shine and showcase their powers and personality. Thus, when the Justice League unite for the finale, it means that much more as we actually get to know them all a little better and see them grow as a team through their interactions; it’s still a rush job as so much had to be crammed into so few films but, as a big fan I am of DC Comics and these characters, it remains a real thrill to actually get to see Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg all in a big budget, live-action film rather than constantly existing in self-contained bubbles (which seems where the DCEU will be heading again going forward). I’m not a massive fan of Snyder’s vision for the DCEU or many of the decisions he made but it’s better than nothing and not seeing an interconnected series of DC films so, while I was initially hesitant to enjoy Zack Snyder’s Justice League, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised in the end. Had Warner Bros. not interfered and screwed things up, we probably would’ve gotten a two-and-a-half-hour long film that would have satisfied everyone enough to justify at least one more team effort but it is what it as and at least we got to see the closest approximation of Zack Snyder’s true vision of the film in the end and that’s something to be celebrated rather than simply, selfishly, demanding more.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


What did you think to Zack Snyder’s Justice League? Do you think it lived up to all the hype or was it all style and no substance? What did you think to the additional, extended and recontextualised scenes from Justice League and how do you feel the Snyder Cut compares to the theatrical version? Which of the characters was your favourite and what did you think to their extended screen time? How did you watch the film; in sections or as one long movie? Would you like to see more from Snyder’s DCEU or are you happy with the direction Warner Bros. is taking? What did you think to the whole Knightmare timeline Snyder tried to push and were you a fan of Superman donning the black suit? Whatever you thought about Zack Snyder’s Justice League, good or bad feel free to leave a comment below (even if it is super toxic).

Talking Movies: Joker

Talking Movies

Released: 4 October 2017 (Hey, that’s my birthday!)
Director: Todd Phillips
Warner Bros. Pictures
$55 to 70 million
Joaquin Phoenix, Frances Conroy, Zazie Beetz, Brett Cullen, and Robert De Niro

The Plot:
In 1981, party clown Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) suffers from a medical disorder that causes him to laugh at inappropriate times and lives with his mother, Penny (Conroy), in Gotham City. With Gotham overwhelmed by crime and unemployment, Arthur’s dreams of being a stand-up comedian and meeting his idol, talk show host Murray Franklin (De Niro), soon give way to a nihilistic insanity that inspires a violent counter-cultural revolution against the wealthy.

The Background:
The Joker has long been a staple of DC Comics and is widely regarded as Bruce Wayne/Batman’s arch-nemesis; first appearing all the way back in 1940, the self-styled “Clown Prince of Crime” was created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane and has been responsible for a great many tragedies in the Dark Knight’s life, from the death of Jason Todd/Robin to the crippling of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, and has gone through a number of iterations over the years, from madcap extortionist, to demented serial killer, to self-mutilating madman. The Joker has also been adapted to film on numerous occasions; Cesar Romero famously refused to shave his moustache for the role in the sixties Batman show, Jack Nicholson brought the character to life in Batman (Burton, 1989), Heath Ledger was posthumously honoured for his incredible performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008), and Jared Leto had his time in the role significantly cut from the theatrical release of Suicide Squad (Ayer, 2016).

The Joker has seen many different live-action interpretations over the years.

Development of a standalone Joker movie was initially planned as a spin-off of Suicide Squad and would have featured Leto returning to the role; however, after a series of blunders caused Warner Bros. to rethink their strategy regarding the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), production shifted towards an unrelated interpretation of the character. Phoenix, who had previously turned down superhero roles, shared director Todd Phillips’ desire to produce a gritty character study that delved into the psychosis of the character, which is traditionally left ambiguous in the source material.  Afforded a far smaller budget than other DC movies and also the first DCEU film to earn an “R” rating, Joker was a phenomenal commercial success and made over $1 billion at the box office. The critical reception was generally very positive as well; many praised the film’s uncompromisingly bleak narrative and for subverting the norms of comic book movies, while others were disturbed by the film, which controversially and inadvertently inspired both protesters and deplorable violence.

The Review:
When Joker was first announced, I have to admit that I was sceptical; I wasn’t a massive fan of Leto’s performance in Suicide Squad but, if it’s one thing I desire in my comic book movies these days, it’s continuity and the idea of producing a standalone Joker film didn’t sit right with me in general, much less that it wouldn’t be a part of the DCEU. Instead, Warner Bros. made the decision to lean into the idea of the multiverse, a concept that has been used for decades in comic books to present wildly different, alternative takes on characters and which, essentially, allows everything to be canon even when it’s not. Even as a die-hard, life-long comic book fan, this concept is confusing and I was surprised when the general audience, and many comic book fans, reacted positively to the idea of two Joker’s being active in cinema at the same time. I found it difficult to consolidate these feelings, though, and still firmly believe that the DCEU would be in a much better shape now if the producers had taken the Joker and Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (Yan, 2020) and combined the two into something that could actually fit in with the janky continuity of the mainstream DCEU. Thus, I was hesitant to even give Joker the time of day; no matter how much praise I heard or how many awards it won or how much money it made, I just found the idea of having another version of the character active that is separate from the DCEU was a bit daft, to say nothing of favouring a dive into the motivations of one of comic’s most notoriously ambiguous characters over a sequel to Man of Steel (Snyder, 2013).

Arthur is probably Gotham’s lowliest citizen and has many personal and sociological issues.

When we first meet Arthur Fleck, he’s a pathetic excuse for a man; reduced to dressing up in clown make-up and forcing himself to be a smiley, jolly clown for hire, he’s beaten down (literally) by both life and society. Right away, it’s pretty clear that something’s very wrong in his head and with his demeanour; his social skills are questionable, his self-confidence almost non-existent, and his ironic pathological need to laugh uncontrollably at the most inappropriate times make him an inherently damaged individual. In a city drowning in chaos and unemployment, with life at its bleakest, Arthur may be one of the lowliest and most despondent citizens of Gotham.

Arthur is just barely able to function in society by putting on a false face.

Although he attends regular therapy sessions and is encouraged to write his thoughts and feelings in a journal, these outlets are of little help to his mental state; awkward, insecure, full of nervous ticks and tricks, he’s kept in a fragile stability only by numerous ambiguous medications and his desire to be a stand-up comedian. Ironically, just as he tends to descend into maniacal laughter in uncomfortable and awkward situations, his comedy routines and sense of humour are openly ridiculed and his medication seems to be holding him back from unleashing all of the pent up aggression and emotion bubbling just beneath his surface.

Arthur searches for surrogate father figures to fill a void in his life.

Arthur’s reality is one of pain and suffering and oppression; when not eking out a mediocre living during the day, he’s looking after his bed-ridden and increasingly confused mother, Penny (Conroy). Arthur’s main source of escapism is in watching Live! With Murray Franklin and imaging forming a bond with its host, and his idol, Murray Franklin. Lacking a true father figure, Arthur imagines himself connecting with Murray to fill that void in his life and this sense of abandonment and desperate need for acceptance, love, and understanding only fuels his despondency and anger. However, already on the razor’s edge of sanity at the best of times, Arthur snaps after first losing his beloved job as a clown and then taking a beating on the subway from three Wayne Enterprises employees, whom he shoots in cold blood. In this version of Gotham City, Thomas Wayne (Cullen) is a Mayoral candidate and both directly and indirectly responsible for Arthur’s state of mind and living conditions, and eventual turn into an anarchistic figure. Condemning the shootings as the work of “clowns”, Thomas champions the social elite and the top one percent over fixing the problems of the destitute and unemployed and, as a result, inspires a great deal of the social unrest and crime that plagues the city. It’s a very different and disturbing take on the character, who is normally a moral and socially just individual; he reacts with anger when Arthur confronts him and seems to care very little for actually improving the lives of the city’s destitute populace.

Arthur finds a freedom in embracing his violent urges, which transforms his demeanour.

The discovery that Thomas may in fact be his biological father fractures Arthur’s already damaged psyche almost as much as Murray’s subsequent mocking of his awkward and embarrassing stand-up act and he is driven further to the edge by the discovery that he was actually adopted. No longer able to rely on his medicine to hold him at bay and finding a freedom in his murderous actions, when Arthur finally does give in to his base urges, his entire demeanour changes; in the beginning of the film, he slouches and slumps around the place like little more than a zombie. A gaunt, lowly speck of a man, it’s all he can do to get through each day much less trudge up the now iconic flight of stairs but, after killing for the first time, he finds himself liberated. No longer bogged down by his inhibitions and embracing his newfound freedom, he stands upright, moves with a grace and flamboyance and breaking into disturbing dances, and his descent into madness and violence only escalates from that moment on.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Joker goes to extreme lengths to evoke the spirit of the eighties; not only is the old school Warner Bros. Pictures logo featured at the beginning of the film, but the whole movie is full of a dirty, grimy appearance indicative of movies such as Taxi Driver (Scorsese, 1976) and The King of Comedy (ibid, 1982), both of which play as big an influence in the film’s plot and Phoenix’s portrayal as classic Joker-centric stories like Batman: The Killing Joke (Moore, et al, 1988). Additionally, Gotham City itself becomes as central as a character to the film as any of the living actors; a desolate, crime-ridden, bleak place overrun with violence, this is probably the best look at the seedy, street-level crime that plagues Gotham. I find this very appealing as, normally, Batman stories tend to focus more on organised crime, supervillains, and corrupt officials rather than the very random acts of violence that caused his creation in the first place.

As many have noted, Phoenix steals the show with his captivating performance.

Of course, the real star of the show here is Phoenix’s performance; thanks to a dramatic weight loss, he appears almost emaciated and constantly on edge, as though his very skin is crawling with repressed emotion. He runs through a gamut of emotions throughout the film, from despondency and oppression to passion and anger, to a cold disgust and an unhinged mania. Phoenix perfectly encapsulates the random, volatile chaos that is the Joker, humanising this traditionally ambiguous and unpredictable madman in an unsettling way. Pathological laughter aside, Arthur is exactly the kind of unassuming, downtrodden man you’d walk past in the street on any given day without a second’s thought; until he finds solace in killing and carnage, Arthur’s only comfort comes from living in a dream world of his own creation where he’s beloved and successful and accepted, but, when that shatters before his eyes, he replaces it with the euphoria of inciting anarchy through his actions as the Joker.

Arthur is tipped over the edge when he realises this relationship is a figment of his deranged imagination.

Nowhere is Arthur’s fragile and demented mindset more apparent than in his relationship with Sophie Dumond (Beetz); as you might imagine, considering he still lives with (and has a worryingly close dependency on) his increasingly frail mother, Arthur’s attempts to woo Sophie are clumsy and disturbing. He follows her (stalks, you might say) across the city but apparently seems to win her over with his sense of humour; feeling the rush of killing, he goes to her and she attends his stand-up routine, which is a hit, and supports his endeavours. After finding out the truth about his parentage, Arthur goes to Sophie for comfort…only to discover that their entire relationship was another aspect of his dream world. Frightened and disturbed by his presence, she begs him to leave and, already driven to the edge by his mother’s lies and the knowledge that his stand-up act was actually a complete screw up that his idol mocked on live television, Arthur reacts to the loss of his last tenuous grip on sanity by brutally killing his mother.

Freed from his inhibitions, the Joker inspires chaos and revels in the adulation of the oppressed.

Thomas’s derogatory comments about the “clowns” of Gotham incite the downtrodden and the desperate, like Arthur, into a rampant mob who don clown masks and believe that the Joker is sticking it to the wealthy and the oppressive elite. Seeing this, and his unintentional influence on people, excites Arthur, who finds himself in a position of power for the first time in his life. Betrayed by everything and everyone he’s ever known, Arthur is apathetic when he’s invited to fulfil his life’s dream and appear on Live! With Murray Franklin and instead sees it as an opportunity to spread his unique message and brand of chaos by shooting Murray in the head on live television while a city-wide riot breaks out. Although immediately arrested for the crime, the chaos that grips the city allows Arthur, now fully embracing his role as the Joker, to escape and stand amidst the adulation of his admirers having finally found his place in the world.

The Summary:
Joker is definitely an intense psychological thriller; as an exploration of the mind of a psychopath, it’s right up there with films like American Psycho (Harron, 2000) for the surreal and disturbing way it presents Arthur’s world and perception of reality. A traditional comic book movie it is not and that is immediately clear from the grounded, dirty aesthetic and twisted nature of the narrative, which focuses on an already disturbed and fractured man’s descent into complete anarchy. Joaquin Phoenix, of course, delivers a spellbinding performance and seems completely lost in the role; his commitment to the physicality and mentality of the character is commendable and he deserves all the praise in the world for delivering one of the most nuance and unsettling interpretations of the Joker ever seen.

While an intense interpretation of the character, I question the place of Joker in the DCEU.

Sadly, my initial misgivings about the film continue to hold true; the fact that the film ends with the suggestion that all of the events we witness may have been as much a figment of Arthur’s imagination as Sophie or anything else we see really doesn’t help with that, either. It’s perfectly in keeping with the Joker’s status as an unreliable narrator but it just adds to the pointlessness of the film in many ways. Sure, Phoenix is great and the film does a fantastic job of telling a self-contained Joker story without Batman but what is the point of really getting under the Joker’s skin if we’re never going to see him clash with his long-time nemesis? If Arthur isn’t the true Joker, as is also suggested, then again what’s the point as it adds nothing to the actual Joker’s story, which continues to run contrary to Joker in both comics, movies, and television. As a result, while Joker is an impressive and disturbing psychological thriller, it’s not really a very good Joker story and I can’t help but feel that it’s handicapped by being associated with DC Comics as a result. I get why it did so well and got so much praise but it just seems like a waste of time, money, and talent when it’s going to mean nothing in the big picture of the DCEU.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Do you agree with my assessment of Joker or do you think I’m just talking bollocks? If you’re a fan of the film, what was it about it that you enjoyed? Do you agree that it’s disappointing that we won’t see this version of the character play a role in the DCEU or do you think such concerns aren’t as important as telling a good story? What did you think to Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of the character and how does it hold up for you compared to other Jokers? Are you a fan of the DC movies exploring the multiverse and producing disconnected films or, like me, do you prefer them to be part of a larger shared universe? What are some of your favourite Joker-centric stories over the years? Whatever you think, good or bad, about Joker, drop a comment down below and let me know your thoughts.

Screen Time [Robin Month]: Titans (Season One)

In April of 1940, about a year after the debut of arguably their most popular character, Bruce Wayne/Batman, DC Comics debuted “the sensational find of [that year]”, Dick Grayson/Robin. Since then, Batman’s pixie-boots-wearing partner has changed outfits and a number of different characters have assumed the mantle as the Dynamic Duo of Batman and Robin have become an iconic staple of DC Comics. Considering my fondness for the character and those who assumed the mantle over the years, what better way to celebrate this dynamic debut than to dedicate an entire month to celebrating the character?

Season One

Air Date: 12 October 2018 to 21 December 2018
UK Network: Netflix
Original Network: DC Universe
Stars: Brenton Thwaites, Teagan Croft, Anna Diop, Ryan Potter, Alan Ritchson, Minka Kelly, and Curran Walters

The Background:
In July of 1964, the sidekicks of DC Comics’ most powerful superheroes came together under the leadership of Dick Grayson/Robin to form the Teen Titans, a crimefighting group of teenagers who were designed to better appeal to younger readers. Since then, the group has undergone many changes, with runs by the likes of Marv Wolfman and George George Pérez being notably influential, and the team has seen success in a number of animated ventures. Development of a live-action adaption was first announced in 2014; the series, which would have aired on TNT, never came to fruition but the concept was resurrected to produce content for DC Universe, DC’s now-defunct video-on-demand streaming service. Separate from the ongoing “Arrowverse” continuity, Titans got off to a bit of a bad start due to the violent and adult nature of the show and was criticised for its abrupt cliffhanger ending after the true season finale was pulled to become the first episode of the second series. Regardless (and despite the vitriol I often see towards the show on my Twitter feed), Titans impressed enough to earn subsequent seasons, inspired a spin-off show, and was even acknowledged as being adjacent to the Arrowverse during the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event (Various, 2019 to 2020).

The Plot:
Dick Grayson/Robin (Thwaites), who is attempting to make a name for himself outside of Bruce Wayne/Batman’s (Alain Moussi/Maxime Savaria) shadow, works as a police detective by day and violent vigilante by night. When the mysterious Rachel Roth/Raven (Croft) comes to him for protection against the dangerous forces pursuing her, Dick finds himself joining forces with not only similarly confused and superpowered misfits but also his former Titans teammates to combat a threat to the entire world.

The Review:
Unsurprisingly, much of Titans’ plot revolves around Dick Grayson, who now works as a police detective in Detroit; trying to make a name for himself as a solo act, he is very much against being partnered up with anyone, even within his own department, which makes him somewhat cold and rude towards his new partner, Amy Rohrbach (Lindsey Gort). Dick uses the information and resources of the Detroit police department to track down criminals and bring them to justice as Robin; while the scum he targets immediately dismiss him and are more concerned about Batman, they quickly regret it when faced with Robin’s ferocity and his presence concerns his superior (and the mayor).

Dick uses his position as a cop to track down and bring criminals to justice as Robin.

Dick reveals to Amy that he and his former partner disagreed on the way to go about their work; initially, Dick admired him and saw him as a hero, just like everyone else, but chose to walk away when he saw that he (Dick) was becoming too much like him. Clearly, he’s talking about Batman and this is a recurring theme throughout the show; a much darker and more violent figure, his vicious nature is augmented by his great physical skill and Batman’s training, making him a formidable and well-training combatant who is easily able to take on groups of armed men. Dick isn’t adverse to using knives, guns, and whatever means necessary (even appearing to fatally wound some thugs) to put a beating on lowlifes and seems to both revel in, and be disgusted by, his violent impulses.

Rachel’s nightmares and experiences lead her to seek out Dick for help.

However, as meticulous and skilled as he is, he’s still vulnerable and carries the results of his actions on his body in the forms of bruises, cuts, and scars; his primary motivation, as Robin and as a police detective, is to help out troubled kids and youngsters targeted by criminals. This naturally leads to him to Rachel, who is clearly framed as the audience surrogate right from the start (her nightmares of Haley’s Circus show her (and us) Dick’s origins as a trapeze artist and the tragic death of his parents) and is our unknown, confused, window into this world of costumes and masks. Such nightmares are a regular occurrence for her that, despite her mother Melissa’s (Sherilyn Fenn) best efforts, continue to torment and frighten Rachel; Rachel, clearly influenced by some dark power, is an empath and can sense a great fear emanating from her deeply religious mother. An outcast at school, Rachel’s fears and confusion lead her to sporadic outbursts of aggression, often accompanied by a dark reflection of herself and a shadowy, ethereal aura. When a mysterious man forces Melissa to reveal that she’s not Rachel’s actual mother and then brutally murders her right in front of Rachel’s eyes, she goes on the run and, driven by her nightmares, heads to Detroit to track down Dick Grayson for help. Though she fears her dark half, which encourages both violence and the need to kill, it acts primarily to protect her from lies and deceit, which allows her to escape from some suspicious types and end up right where she needs to be: police custody. Dick’s relationship with Rachel is a pivotal aspect of Titans; at first, though driven to help her, he plans to leave her in the care of others (with a payoff to sweeten the deal) since he feels that he’s damaged after what Bruce trained him to become.

Kory uncovers evidence that links Rachel and her dark powers to a prophecy.

While his mindset soon changes and he becomes fiercely protective of her, she forms a bond out of necessity with Kory Anders (Diop) when her trust in Dick is shaken. A mysterious and enigmatic young woman suffering from amnesia, Kory’s relationship with Rachel is based as much on necessity as Rachel’s inability to feel anything from Kory, who is inexplicably able to read and speak foreign languages and wields an equally destructive power. Desperate to unlock her memories and find out who she really is, and believing that Rachel is the key to her true identity, Kory uncovers evidence linking Rachel to an apocalyptic prophecy concerning ravens and a vast underworld conspiracy involving the convent where Rachel was raised. However, while Sister Catherine (Meagen Fay) immediately recognises them both and reveals some scant information on Rachel’s childhood and Kory’s mission to track her down, she quickly drugs Rachel and locks her in the convent’s basement in order to hide her from “him”. Rachel’s dark half manifests and, after tormenting her with taunts, empowers her to escape from her confinement and out into the nearby forest.

While Gar’s CGI is questionable, the Doom Patrol are brought to life with impressive fidelity.

Scared and alone, she crosses paths with Gar Logan/Beast Boy (Potter), a green-haired boy who can transform into a disappointingly rendered CGI tiger. Obsessed with pop culture, movies, videogames, and geek culture, Gar is an awkward, quirky outcast who sees a kindred spirit in Rachel and who desires to explore the outside world and, in an effort to connect with her, brings Rachel to the manor house he shares with his fellow misfits, the Doom Patrol: Cliff Steel/Robotman (Jake Michaels and Brendan Fraser), Larry Trainor/Negative Man (Dwain Murphy and Matt Bomer), and Rita Farr/Elasti-Woman (April Bowlby). Each of them, like Gar, was involved in some kind of hideous accident that left them near death only to be saved (and horrifically changed) through the innovation and genius of the mysterious Niles Caulder/The Chief (Bruno Bichir). Rachel finally feels a sense of belonging amongst these freaks and outcasts, each of whom reflect the complex nature of her own self and dark powers: hidden behind his bandages, Larry is unable to reveal himself because of the destructive nature of his condition, Cliff is robbed of the trivial pleasures we all take for granted, and Rita is barely able to hold herself together to appear normal.

The Chief’s clandestine nature causes Rachel to lash out and drives Gar from the Doom Patrol.

The Chief, however, is angered that Gar threatened their sanctity by leaving the house and bringing an outsider amongst them; despite a glimmer of a threatening, dubious nature, the Doom Patrol are all incredibly thankful and loyal to him for saving their lives and willingly allow the Chief to run his experiments in order to advance the betterment of human lives. The Chief promises that he can also help Rachel and her condition as well but, while she initially allows him to run some tests, she almost immediately changes her mind and grows scared. Although Gar tries to help her, the Chief tranquilises him and, angered by this, Rachel’s dark half manifests as a swirling dark liquid that attacks and paralyses him and frees her. Dick and Kory arrive just in time and Dick is able to talk Rachel down and promises to help her, reuniting them once more. Encouraged by Cliff, Gar goes with them to live a life outside of the mansion, setting the team up for their own strangely unrelated spin-off.

Brought together by tragedy, Hawk and Dove continue to fight crime as costumed vigilantes.

Not that Dick is without his allies as well; initially, he plans to leave Rachel with Hank Hall/Hawk (Ritchson) and Dawn Granger/Dove (Kelly) in Washington, two of his former Titans allies who continue to operate as costumed vigilantes. As damaged as Dick is, Hank is equally traumatised by his past when, as a young boy (Tait Blum), he was sexually abused by his football coach to spare his younger half-brother Don (Jayden Marine). As teenagers, Hank and Don (Elliot Knight) became the first Hawk and Dove to specifically target sex offenders and to give Hank an outlet for his anger but Hank’s world was shattered when Don was killed in a random car accident. This same accident also took the life of Dawn’s mother, Marie (Marina Sirtis), and, in time, the two form a bond over their shared grief and need for an outlet for their unresolved issues. After she discovers Hank’s makeshift Hawk gear, Hank finally opens up about the abuse he suffered as a child and, together, they bring justice to his abuser and become the new Hawk and Dove. By the time of Titans, however, Hank is heavily reliant upon painkillers and pills, carries multiple scars, and is in near constant pain from a lifetime of crimefighting in addition to the multiple concussions he suffered during his college football days. The two plan on retiring from their violent double life once they finish breaking up a gang of gunrunners and, though he’s stubborn and pig-headed, Dawn is clearly devoted to Hank and supportive of him despite his injuries and impotence.

Dick is disturbed to find Bruce has replaced him with the arrogant and violent Jason Todd.

Flashbacks cast some light on their time together as Titans, where Dawn had a thing for Dick and Hank, being the arrogant meathead that he is, was rightly jealous and condescending towards Robin. Hank is unimpressed that Dick has come back into their lives and, resentful of Dick’s former relationship with Dawn, also has no faith or trust in Dick at all because of their past in the Titans. However, even Hank is horrified to see how brutal Robin has become as he throws his shurikens into a man’s eye, crushes another man’s balls, and viciously takes out the gun dealers before their shocked eyes, while Dawn sees a correlation between Dick’s relationship with Rachel and how Bruce helped him as a kid. Dick is disturbed, angry, and resentful to discover that Bruce has replaced him with Jason Todd (Walters), who acts as the new Robin, a vicious and arrogant youth who revels in being Batman’s partner, basks in the upgrades in his suit compared to Dick’s, and takes a perverse pleasure in being Robin and part of Batman’s legacy (even while acknowledging that his role is mainly to draw fire away from Batman). A largely annoying and grating character without even really needing to be, Dick is annoyed when Jason reveals that Bruce implanted tracking devices into the both of them and revoked his access to his newer technology. Dick tries to send Jason back to Gotham City and discourages him from continuing his life as Robin; despite trying to convince him that Bruce’s methods and motivations are less than benign, Jason reveals that he was sent there with evidence that his old circus family has been brutally murdered to send a message to him and that someone knows his true identity.

Jason revels in his role as Robin and takes his anger out on anyone he wishes.

Together, they track down the last surviving member of the circus, Clayton Williams (Lester Speight), who was like Dick’s surrogate father back in the day, who is almost immediately abducted by the perpetrator of the murders, the Phantom-like Nick Zucco (Kyle Mac), the “Melting Man” and son of gangster Tony Zucco (Richard Zeppieri), the man who killed Dick’s parents. Nick is out for revenge because Dick, as Robin, intercepted Zucco during his transfer, mercilessly beat him and left him to die (watched him, no less) at the hands of the Maroni’s and their acid-firing weapons and then murdered the rest of Nick’s family. Goaded into a trap by Nick, Robin goes to save Clayton and, thanks to Jason, is able to subdue him. When the local cops show up, though, Jason brutalises them and, seeing the darkness he fears in himself mirrored in Jason, Dick is disgusted at Jason’s attitude. Initially, Jason regards Dick with awe and respect and they form a tenuous brotherly bond but, as their relationship sours due to their conflicting methods and attitudes, this is replaced a mixture of contempt and loathing for having walked away from such a sweet gig. Dick struggles with the idea of being replaced so quickly; he doesn’t want to be Robin and is trying to step away from Bruce’s shadow and influence but doesn’t want to see another kid be turned into a weapon like he was and resents the fact that Bruce has been keeping tabs on him while simultaneously keeping him out of the loop.

Donna advises Dick and helps uncover the truth about Kory and Rachel.

When Dick finally decides to walk away from his Robin persona and burns his uniform, he seeks out another of his former Titans allies, Donna Troy/Wonder Girl (Conor Leslie). Having first met as teenage sidekicks, Dick and Donna formed the Titans back in the day and she’s one of the few people left who Dick feels will properly understand what he’s going through. Donna, now an investigative journalist, has long since walked away from her life as a costumed adventurer, Amazon, and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman’s sidekick, and is able to offer Dick some insight into what it means to redefine oneself outside of the shadow of one’s mentor and to help improve his social skills. Dick, however, finds it difficult to socialise and to keep his mind from wandering back to the “job”; despite being so composed, confident, and controlled when in the field or concentrating on superhero work, he’s a bit of a fish out of water in normal, everyday situations. His paranoia leads to him following Donna as she meets with a game hunter in pursuit of a story and disrupting her attempts to bring down a much bigger operation through his reckless attempt to take one more scumbag off the streets. Although Donna chastises him for his efforts, she encourages him to find a new path, one that isn’t Robin or Batman and is more productive than violent. Donna is also able to offer some insight into the strange text from Kory’s lockup that suggests that Kory’s true mission is actually to kill Rachel.

Adamson sends the disturbing Nuclear Family to track down Rachel.

The intrigue regarding the true nature of Rachel’s power and destiny is a central aspect of Titans; an empath, she’s able to feel and sense the pain of those around her, is frequently tormented by her dark half (which manifests in reflective surfaces and possess her during times of great stress), but also demonstrates the ability to heal the wounds of others. Rachel is targeted by the mysterious Organisation, which is headed by the dubious Dr. Adamson (Reed Birney); Adamson activates the “Nuclear Family” (a group of brainwashed psychopaths comprised of  Nuclear Dad (Jeff Clarke), Nuclear Mom (Melody Johnson), Nuclear Sis (Jeni Ross), and Nuclear Biff (Logan Thompson) and, later, Nuclear Stepdad (Zach Smadu)) to track Rachel down so that she can fulfil her destiny to “purify the world”. Disturbingly polite and unnervingly relentless, the Nuclear Family gain formidable abilities from a mysterious vitamin shot, dog the protagonists at every turn, and even put Dawn into a coma during a particularly ferocious attack. Thanks to Dick’s intervention, the team are able to subdue the family but they are killed when Adamson remote detonates the explosives in their heads though, in the process, the team are led to the asylum where Rachel’s real mother, Angela Azarath (Rachel Nichols), is being held captive.

The team is left traumatised by their experiences, leading to Dick renouncing his Robin persona.

This leads to probably the weakest episode of the season, “Asylum” (Kalymnios, 2018), which sees the team captured when they attempt to breach the facility and rescue Angela. The main reason this makes for the weakest episode is the unnecessary drama that sees Rachel and Gar head off on their own foolhardy rescue mission simply because Rachel couldn’t wait ten minutes for Dick to scope out the asylum’s defences and layout. As a result, all of them are captured and subjected to Adamson’s torturous experiments): Dick struggles to counteract Adamson’s serum, which forces him to confront his worst fears about himself and his past; Kory is locked in a dark cell that renders her powers useless and forced to endure an invasive procedure; and Gar is routinely poked with a cattle prod to provoke his transformation. Rachel is left in the disturbing company of Adamson himself, who tries to coerce her into assisting him by forcing her to watch her newfound friends suffer their individual tortures and winds up choking to death on his own blood as a result of Rachel’s unleashed wrath. Rachel then rescues her mother and teammates with a ridiculous amount of ease but Gar is left traumatised after he mauls one of his tormentors to death and this continues to haunt him throughout the remainder of the season.

Dick struggles against his violent impulses and often loses control of himself.

A primary plot point of Titans revolves around Dick’s struggle against his violent nature; believing that Batman’s training turned him into little more than a living weapon, he reveals to Rachel that he began to fear the violence he was forced to inflict to help others and to Kory that he had to walk away from his past because he was growing dangerously close to the edge. While he hasn’t operated as Robin for at least a year by the start of the season, he vehemently opposes any machinations to turn innocent kids into weapons and, even when not in his Robin costume, Dick often struggles with his violent nature; desperate to find Rachel after she goes missing, he briefly loses control and viciously beats a hunter who spotted her in the forest in front of his child, much to Kory’s shock, and absolutely brutalises the asylum’s guards during their escape from the facility and even instructs Kory burn the entire building to the ground (presumably killing everyone left inside). His rage stems from his traumatic childhood after first witnessing the murder of his parents and then having his rage and grief turned towards costumed crimefighting by Batman. However, as violent as Dick can be, Bruce’s training also made him a competent and capable leader; when Dick, Kory, Gar, and Rachel make their new alliance official, Dick begins a training regime to teach them how to master their individual abilities and work together as a cohesive team. All of these plot threads culminate in the season’s final episode, “Dick Grayson” (Winter, 2018); by this time, Kory’s true identity as Koriand’r of the alien world Tamaran is revealed and, with it, the knowledge that Rachel is doomed to bring her demonic father, Trigon (Seamus Dever), into being so that he can devour both of their worlds.

Dick is drawn into a confrontation with Batman after his mentor goes on a killing spree.

Betrayed by Angela, who was in league with Trigon all along, Rachel is manipulated into summoning her father to save Gar’s life and, after restoring Gar, Trigon sets in motion a plot to break Rachel’s heart in order to facilitate his master plan. He does this by thrusting Dick into a dreamworld where he is happily retired and settled down with Dawn; however, his idyllic life is shattered when Jason, now confined to a wheelchair after a botched mission against Edward Nygma/The Riddler, arrives to tell him that Batman has become obsessed with killing Joker in retaliation for his torture and killing of Commissioner James Gordon. Thanks to Trigon’s influence, Dick is compelled to return to Gotham (a dreary and rainswept hellhole where crime, debauchery, and violence are rife, turning the very streets into a desolate warzone) to try and talk Bruce away from the edge. However, despite Dick’s best efforts, Batman murders the Joker in cold blood and then goes on a killing spree throughout Arkham Asylum, killing the Riddler, Harvey Dent/Two-Face, Arnold Wesker/The Ventriloquist and many of the other guards and patients. After revealing Bruce’s identity to the authorities, Dick directs a SWAT team on an all-out assault on Wayne Manor that leaves them all slaughtered at Batman’s hands (including Kory, thanks to Batman busting out Doctor Victor Fries/Mister Freeze’s cold gun). Enraged, Dick orders the entire mansion to be destroyed by C4 explosives and, amongst the rubble and the wreckage, he finds Batman pinned helplessly beneath the debris; driven to the edge, Dick succumbs to the darkness and, with one swift boot, murders his mentor and father figure and, in the process, falls under Trigon’s spell to end the season on a massive cliff-hanger made all the more intriguing by the brief tease of Kon-El/Superboy (Brooker Muir) in a post credits scene.

The Summary:
As much as I enjoy Titans (and, honestly, I really do, being a big fan of Robin and happy to see him actually get some acknowledgement and spotlight in live-action for a change), there are a couple of things that I find more than a little disappointing about it. Like many, I was a bit perturbed by Robin’s “Fuck Batman!” line and, while the violence and swearing was entertaining and brutal throughout the show, I do question if it’s really necessary in superhero adaptations that aren’t traditionally violent characters, like Frank Castle/The Punisher or Wade Wilson/Deadpool. Next is the fact that it exists in its own continuity separate from both the DC movies and television shows and this is a shame as it could easily have bridged to the Arrowverse by including Wally West/Kid Flash (Keiynan Lonsdale) or even been adjacent to the DC Extended Universe by including a cameo by Jeremy Irons as Alfred. Titans’ position as a separate, unrelated continuity was solidified in the second season, which upgraded Bruce Wayne from a mere cameo and into a fully realised (and surprisingly old) character played by Iain Glen.

Both Robin suits are impressive and Batman cuts a monstrous figure.

However, Titans excels in both casting and costume design; Brenton Thwaites is great as Dick Grayson and made for a pretty fantastic Robin and his costume, especially, is absolutely top notch in Titans. Both Robin suits look amazing and have probably the best and most practical look of any superhero show; clearly inspired by the awesome and sadly doomed suit that appeared all-too-briefly in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Snyder, 2016) and Tim Drake’s Robin costume, their dark, gritty, armoured look enables both Robins to not only appear imposing but also move unimpeded and look like they would hold up perfectly well in a big budget film. Similarly, although he only appears very briefly in the final episode, Batman also looks particularly impressive, especially compared to his depictions in Gotham (2014 to 2019) and Batwoman (2019 to present). Referenced continuously throughout the season, Batman is built up as this elusive, near mythological figure and his brief appearance leans heavily into that; frantic editing makes him appear as a monstrous, inhuman figure and the nightmarish appearance of his suit only serves to emphasis this further.

Sadly, the special effects don’t always do justice to the characters or the practical suits.

Hawk and Dove also benefit from Titans’ high-quality costume design; though very different from my limited experience with their comic book counterparts, their heavily armoured suits look both practical and ridiculous at the same time, appearing well-worn and dangerous thanks to their sharp appendages. However, it goes a bit downhill once we get to Kory; for the most part, she’s serviceable enough despite being a far more promiscuous and forthright character than in most interpretations, but her outfits are limited to tight fitting dresses that only somewhat recall her traditional costume. Similarly, Rachel’s not quite the sour, serious and withdrawn goth she’s usually characterised as and is, generally, portrayed as more of a confused and troubled teenager garbed in a vaguely raven-like hoody. Sadly, it’s Gar that suffers the most in Titans; of all the characters, he’s the one that sticks out the most to me as he doesn’t seem to really fit with the rest of the team and ends up being more of an afterthought most of the time. While the special effects used to bring Kory’s powers work, largely due to how infrequent and grounded they are depicted, Gar’s are pretty dreadful, making his animal forms resemble little more than cartoony creatures, which is a bit disappointing considering the quality of the special effects in the likes of Swamp Thing (2019), how impressive the CGI is in shows like The Flash (2014 to present), and the effort Titans went to the faithfully recreate the other members of the Doom Patrol.

Trigon manipulates Dick into succumbing to his influence in order to devour the world.

References to the larger DC universe are prominent throughout Titans thanks to Gar, who fawns over the likes of Batman and Wonder Woman, and the fact that many characters wear Superman t-shirts. For the most part, though, Titans is concerned only with its own gritty, grounded narrative that becomes increasingly more supernatural and elaborate as the plot progresses. The show builds towards these moments over time, with both Rachel and Kory discovering the full extent of their otherworldly abilities as the season progresses, but never shying away from the more flamboyant aspects of the source material with characters like the Doom Patrol and interdimensional beings such as Trigon. Largely based on Marv Wolfman’s initial run on The New Teen Titans, Titans primarily deals with Trigon’s impending arrival through Rachel and the formation of a new version of the Titans but, for the most part, is just as much a journey of self-discovery for Dick as he struggles to define himself outside of his role as Robin. Personally, I found this the most appealing part of Titans and would have happily ditched all the other side plots and storylines to focus entirely on this one plot point but, thanks to each episode focusing on different characters and their sub-plots and building intrigue around this world and the former iteration of the Titans, I found Titans to be incredibly enjoyable and was chomping at the bit for the second season to release to see how things turned out.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think to season one of Titans? Were you a fan of the season, and the show, or did its gritty, violent take on the traditionally plucky and colourful characters turn you off? Which character was your favourite and what did you think to the plots involving Dick’s struggle against his violent impulses and the mystery about Kory and Rachel? Did you enjoy the cameo appearance from the Doom Patrol and other references to DC heroes and properties? Did the climax of the season leave you wanting more or were you turned off by the concept? What did you think to the show’s portrayal of Robin, the inclusion of Jason Todd, and their costumes? Whatever your thoughts on Titans season one, feel free to leave a comment down below.

Back Issues: Ranking Robins


Call me crazy, but I have a real fondness for the character of Robin. It really irks me when people (especially movie directors) rag on Batman’s colourful sidekick; debuting in 1940, about a year after Batman’s momentous first appearance, Robin has been an essential staple of Batman’s world for over eighty years so to suggest that he’s somehow “unsuitable” is, in my opinion, laughable. Over the years, numerous individuals have taken up the red tunic and green tights, some with more success than others. Yet, the iconic imagery evoked by the term “Batman and Robin” cannot be denied and, when talking about Robin, one of the first questions anyone will ask is: Who was the best Robin? So, with that in mind, I figured I’d do my own ranking and shine a bit of spotlight on this under-rated and criminally under-represented (in movies, at least) character.

8 Elseworlds Robins

Over the years, there have been many different interpretations of Batman’s kid sidekick in DC’s Elseworlds titles and in out of continuity stories that have since been rendered non-canon. Perhaps two of the most famous are the Dick Grayson of Earth-Two, who never grew out of the role and instead continued to fight crime in a garish Robin outfit into adulthood, and the “Toy Wonder”, a little robotic Robin who assisted the mysterious Batman of the DC One Million (Morrison, et al, 1998) crossover. Yet, we’ve also seen Batman’s faithful butler, Alfred Pennyworth, take on the Robin codename in Batman: Dark Allegiances (Chaykin, et al, 1996), Bruce Wayne’s son assume the role in the Superman & Batman: Generations (Byrne, et al, 1989 to 2004) series, an ape equivalent in Batman: Dark Knight Dynasty (Barr, et al, 1997), and even a story in 1955 that had a young Bruce Wayne take on the mantle during his early days of trying to learn the skills that he would eventually hone as Batman. I’m obviously lumping all of these kinds of interpretations together as, while DC may revisit and bungle the Multiverse concept more often than they have hot dinners, none of these versions of Robin have ever managed to get a footing in true DC canon and are generally regarded as being outside of mainstream continuity.

7 Carrie Kelley

While you could make an argument that Carrie doesn’t deserve her own entry considering her introduction and most famous appearances have been in Frank Miller’s (thankfully) out of continuity Dark Knight (1986 to 2017) stories, I’d say she deserves to get her own entry on any Robin ranking simply for being the first, full-time female iteration of the character. Yet, I can’t rank Carrie much higher than this because of a few reasons: one is my obvious dislike for Miller’s Dark Knight works but, that aside, Carrie’s tenure as Robin is extremely brief. After being saved by Batman, Carrie is inspired to buy a Robin costume and fight petty thugs with a slingshot and firecrackers. Yet, despite earning Batman’s seal of approval and joining him in the resurrection of his never-ending war on crime, Carrie progressed to Catgirl and, eventually, Batwoman. She might have been a trend-setter by being the first true female Robin but it didn’t take her long to switch to a different identity and was easily one of the least prepared to assume the long-standing mantle of Batman’s partner.

6 We Are Robin

After Batman was believed to be dead at the conclusion of the “Endgame” (Snyder, et al, 2014 to 2015) storyline, a whole bunch of Gotham City’s youthful decided to take on the mantle of Robin to keep the streets safe in the Dark Knight’s absence. I actually really like the concept of teenagers of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and abilities taking to the streets as a vigilante force and feel this concept could have real legs in a live-action interpretation of Robin. Yet, this group is most notable for introducing Duke Thomas to the DC Universe, a character who would go on to break away from the Robin moniker and become the Signal. Unfortunately, neither Duke nor his gang of Robins can rank much higher as DC seems to have forgotten about them all in recent years; Duke eventually developed metahuman abilities and seems to have fallen out of prominence as Batman’s partner and his fellow Robins have fallen by the wayside as DC prefers to focus on the Bat Family of characters rather than this sub-team.

5 Stephanie Brown

Daughter of a Z-list villain and Riddler knock-off, the Cluemaster, Stephanie Brown originally fought crime as the Spoiler to foil her father’s plots. Eventually, she became associated with the Bat Family when she started dating Tim Drake, though Batman (famous for opposing vigilantes not approved by him) openly disproved of her vigilante career. Yet, Batman turned to Steph and offered her the mantle of Robin after Tim was forced to retire from the role by his father. Lacking the experience and ability of previous Robins, Steph struggled in the role and, eventually, unwittingly initiated a gang war in an attempt to earn Batman’s respect, an action that led to her being tortured by Black Mask and eventually dying from her wounds.

Steph is fine as Spoiler but she was a great Batgirl.

It later transpired that her death was faked and Steph returned to active duty as Batgirl, for a time, a role that reflected her growth and maturity as a character…until DC made the inexplicable decision to reset continuity, force Barbara Gordon back into the Bat tights, and relegate Steph back to being Spoiler. Steph’s time as Robin may have been brief but, man, did she look good in the suit and her exuberance and enthusiasm could have made for a return to the 1960’s depiction of Robin as this hyperactive, fast-talking bundle of energy. Unfortunately, Steph became Robin during one of the darkest, grittiest, and grimmest times in DC Comics and, for the longest time, her death tainted many a Bat character.

4 Jason Todd

Initially portrayed as a near-identical copy of Dick Grayson, Jason Todd was eventually retconned as being a wise-talking kid from the streets who stole the tyres off the Batmobile and was a disobedient, arrogant, angry little kid who was constantly at odds with Batman during his tenure as Robin. This isn’t necessarily the case but it is the story DC likes to tell these days; flashbacks will generally always show Jason being disobedient, violent, and moody rather than being as accomplished a Robin as Dick was. Nevertheless, Jason can’t take a top three spot as he’s most famous for being beaten with a crowbar and then blown up by the Joker.

Red Hood eventually became a full-fledged Bat buddy.

Indeed, Jason was far more popular in death, a memorial in the Batcave, and a reminder of Bruce’s greatest failure in his career as Batman, and after his return to life under the guise of the gun-toting vigilante, Red Hood. Red Hood has been everything from a sadistic antagonist to a begrudging anti-hero but is, generally, now regarded as the black sheep of the Bat Family but one who is nevertheless an essential ally of Batman’s; he even wears the Bat logo on his chest these days though, if you ask me, he should have been Hush all along.

3 Dick Grayson

For many, Dick is the quintessential Robin; he was the first to take on the mantle, after all, and whenever you talk about Robin or see him in other media (cartoon, television shows, movies, and the like), Robin is pretty much always shown as being the alias of Dick Grayson. Yet, while Dick pioneered the role and excelled in it in every way, unlike other characters who have taken on the Robin identity, Dick successfully managed to grow out of the role and assume the identity of Nightwing. As Nightwing, Dick led the Teen Titans and defended the nearby city of Blüdhaven and, while he’s dabbled with other roles since then (including Agent 37 of Spyral and becoming Batman for an all-too-brief period), he’s far more associated with the role of Nightwing than Robin these days.

Nightwing forms the basis of Grayson’s growth as a character.

Even Dick himself has gone on to praise subsequent Robins for being more suitable to the role than he is and, having been Nightwing pretty consistently for over thirty years now, Dick has largely separated himself from being Batman’s “sidekick”. The fantastic Titans (2018 to present) show went in-depth into Dick Grayson’s (Brenton Thwaites) journey from Robin to Nightwing and even the diabolical Batman & Robin (Schumacher, 1997), has Dick Grayson/Robin (Chris O’Donnell) don an outfit that is visually very similar to Nightwing’s as part of his desire to establish his crimefighting career out of Batman’s (George Clooney) shadow.

2 Damian Wayne

The illegitimate son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul, daughter of the functionally immortal Ra’s al Ghul, Damian Wayne was initially considered to be a character that existed outside of mainstream DC continuity until he was officially made a part of DC canon in Batman and Son (Morrison, et al, 2006).

Damian was a massive jerk for quite a while.

Trained from birth by the League of Assassins, Damian was initially portrayed as a bratty, violent young boy who was arrogant, rude, disrespectful, and had no compunction about killing his opponents. He believed that, as Batman’s true son, the role of Robin was rightfully his and nearly killed Tim Drake just to prove it. Eventually, though, Damian softened and earned his place in the Bat Family; after Bruce Wayne appeared to die in the awful Batman R.I.P. (ibid, 2008), Dick Grayson briefly operated as Batman and took Damian as his Robin. While this initially created an interesting reversal of the Batman and Robin dynamic (with Dick being a more light-hearted Batman and Damian as a grim and stoic Robin), Damian has since excelled in the role, having joined the Teen Titans, returned from the dead, and forged friendships with both John Kent/Superboy and others in the Bat Family.

1 Tim Drake

Damian may very well be on the path to being the most accomplished of all the Robins but he’s still relatively new to the role. His fighting proficiency and augmented knowledge and intelligence make him a formidable opponent but it seems as though Damian’s destiny is to one day break away from Batman’s shadow and either become Batman himself or forge a new identity. Therefore, while he has since gone on to assume the role of Red Robin and…Drake…Tim Drake is still the definitive Robin for me. Introduced some time after Jason’s death, when Batman was in a violent downward spiral, Tim wanted nothing more than to reunite Dick and Bruce as Batman and Robin and wound up assuming the mantle for himself. A keen detective and computer whiz, Tim brought something new to the role; for one thing, he was the first to ditch the short-shorts and pixie boots and wear a functional, respectable Robin costume and, for another, he was far more grounded and relatable than other Robins.

Tim had a lengthy career as Red Robin.

Although he never aspired to be anything other than Robin, Tim did briefly assume the mantle of Batman after Batman R.I.P. and has been shown, on multiple occasions, to eventually become a violent Batman in the future. However, Tim is probably most well-known for having taken up the identity of Red Robin; while I find the “Red” portion of this identity redundant and wish he had, like Dick, forged an entirely separate code-name, it showed that Tim still very much considered himself Robin first and foremost (except for that weird period when he inexplicably took the identity of “Drake”). Tim was also the first Robin to get his own ongoing comic book series and that he is, for all intents and purposes, probably the most successful of the full-time Robins at really making the identity his own as Batman’s sidekick, a solo hero, or as part of the Teen Titans and Young Justice.


What are your thoughts on Robin? Do you feel he’s too bright and cheerful for the normally grim and gritty Batman or is he an essential part of the Batman mythos? Who was your favourite Robin? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.