Talking Movies: Wonder Woman 1984

Talking Movies

Released: 16 December 2020
Director: Patty Jenkins
Distributor:
Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget:
$200 million
Stars:
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
Distributor:
Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget:
$120 to 150 million
Stars:
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.

Fantastic

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.

Suicide Squad was critically mauled but its box office led to spin-offs and a standalone sequel.

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.

Fantastic

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
Distributor:
Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget:
$55 to 70 million
Stars:
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

BackIssues

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

10 FTW: Super-Suits

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With over eighty years of continuous publication behind him, it’s no surprise that, over the many years and through numerous alternate realities and reality-shattering Crises, Superman has gone through more than a few wardrobe changes. Initially debuting in what amounted to a traditional strongman costume, Superman soon adopted the iconic “S” shield to uphold his values of “truth, justice, and the American way” but has, over time, mixed up his colour scheme about as often as he’s developed strange new powers. Today, I’m going to go through ten of my favourite looks for Superman; a lot of these featured solely in out-of-continuity tales or were worn by Supermen from parallel Earths but some were, however briefly, an actual part of Superman’s canon.

10 The Black Recovery Suit

Superman’s black suit first appeared right at the conclusion of the “Reign of the Superman” (Jurgens, et al, 1993) storyline, the conclusion to the infamous “Death of Superman” (ibid, 1992 to 1993) storyline. After the Man of Steel was beaten to death by Doomsday, his body was placed into a Kryptonian regeneration chamber, which restored his cells to life and, when he emerged, he was forced to wear this suit while his powers recovered. Honestly, this was just an excuse to get Superman’s mullet on the list but I also dig the simplicity of this suit (and I always love a black variant); it’s just plain black with a silver symbol. It also lacks a cape, giving Superman a far more streamlined and serious look that, considering all of Superman’s replacements bore dramatically different suits of their own, cast more doubt on the identity of this new Superman. The suit made a brief return in Countdown to Final Crisis (Dini, et al, 2007 to 2008), when it was worn by Superman-Prime, and was donned by the pre-Flashpoint (Johns, et al, 2011) when he showed up (rocking a beard!) to replace the crappy New 52-Superman (whose suit will, spoilers, not be making this list), and was also set to appear in Justice League (Snyder/Whedon, 2017) before Warner Bros. re-edited the film.

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9 Speeding Bullets

Bit of a cheat here as this suit was worn a violent and brutal version of Kal-El who was raised by Thomas and Martha Kent and, thus, is actually a composite of Superman and Batman who leans far more into Batman’s characterisation than Superman’s. Still, this is a great combination of the Bat- and Super-Suits, featuring a cowl that covers Kal’s entire head and a amalgamated version of both character’s iconic emblems. If you’re a bit annoyed by me basically using a Batman suit on a Superman list, there was a more traditional Super-Suit featured in this story right at the end, when Kal is convinced to turn away from the darkness and be a symbol of hope. But, as this is a dreadful looking costume that looks way too much like the awful Injustice suit (NetherRealm Studios, 2013; 2017).

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8 Lantern Superman

Let’s face it: any time Superman gets a power ring, we are treated to an awesome variation of his suit. Whether it’s in an alternate reality where Superman operates as Green Lantern (and sports a lovely white cape and an amalgamated “G”/Green Lantern symbol), or the original, super-powerful, pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1985 to 1986) Superman, Kal-L being reanimated as a zombified Black Lantern in Blackest Night (Johns, et al, 2009 to 2010), or Superman-Prime joining the Sinestro Corps, there’s something about mixing Superman’s suit with the Lantern’s attire that always results in gold. Superman’s also been decked out as a dazzling beacon of triumph as a White Lantern and we’ve even seen a glimpse of what his suit could look like spewing blood from his mouth during Supergirl’s brief stint as a Red Lantern. Hands down, my favourite is the Black Lantern Superman though; there’s just something about a zombified Superman in a black suit with a tattered cape that is really striking to me, like all of his values and morals have been cast aside in favour of ripping hearts from chests.

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7 Overman / Red Son

I’m lumping these two together as I honestly cannot pick between the two; both suits were worn by alternative versions of Superman who were raised and indoctrinated with anti-American principles, making for a complete reversal of Superman’s traditionally patriotic views. Overman, a Nazi version of Superman, appeared during the God-awful Final Crisis (Morrison, et al, 2008 to 2009) event, while the communist version most famously appeared in Superman: Red Son (Millar, et al, 2003). Both wear a fascist symbol in place of the traditional “S” and favoured big buckles on their belts and a darker, subdued colour scheme, with Overman’s costume fittingly being reminiscent of the Schutzstaffel  uniform.

6 The Dark Side

Continuing the theme of alternative versions of Superman raised by tyrannical dictators, Superman: The Dark Side (Moore, et al, 1998) presented a version of Superman raised by Darkseid to be a ruthless soldier in the New Gods’ war against the peaceful New Genesis. Once again sporting a corrupted version of the “S” symbol (which was almost exactly the same as the Schutzstaffel symbol, something that, ironically, even Overman was missing…), Dark Side’s Superman had a haircut you could set your watch to, and a fittingly grim and stoic personality that was more akin to Darkseid’s actual son, Orion. He was also decked out in sweet jet-black armour forged from the fire pits of Apokolips, carried a sword and had no compunction about slaughtering his enemies without mercy in the name of his dark overlord.

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5 Superman Prime (DC One Million)

The Superman Prime (not to be confused with his genocidal counterpart of the same name) that appears in DC One Million (Morrison, et al, 1998) has lived for so long thanks to his Kryptonian physiology that he’s seen all his friends and family die. Despondent, he left Earth in the care of his heir, travelled the universe for a few centauries, and eventually went into self-imposed exile in the centre of the sun. Unlike the previous Super-Suits, this Superman is a glowing, golden beacon of hope and serenity; his powers amplified to almost God-like levels, this Superman is decked out entirely in gold to match his new divine stature.

4 Brutaal (Earth-2)

This version of Superman is a Bizarro-like clone engineered by Darkseid to mirror his Earth-2 counterpart, Val-Zod (another contender for this list) in very way…except for being absolutely ruthless and lacking in mercy. Very much like by his Dark Side incarnation, Brutaal stands out by wearing a suit that closely resembles versions of the Eradicator or Cyborg-Superman, favouring a largely black-and-red colour scheme (that just works for alternative, evil takes on Superman) and some wicked chains to hold his cape in place.

3 Electric Superman

Probably the most controversial choice for this list, in the late-nineties, DC Comics apparently decided that Superman needed a complete shake-up (despite the fact that he’d already returned from the dead!) and had him transform into a purely energy-based lifeform. He could now travel at the speed of light, emit energy blasts, and become incorporeal but also (for some inexplicable reason) would become completely human when he transformed back into Clark Kent! As if this wasn’t mental enough, he was then split into two beings, a red variant and a blue one, each with different personalities! None of this changes the fact, though, that the suit he wore during this time was awesome! Lacking a cape and featuring a streamlined design comprised of blue (…or red) and white and a new, more radical logo. Honestly, I feel like the suit’s design and Superman’s new powers were pretty great…just maybe not suitable for Superman. This suit actually cropped up again in the early-2000s when it was worn by Strange Visitor (Sharon Vance) but I would love to see it recycled for the likes of the Eradicator, who’s always been more energy-based in his powers anyway.

2 Rebirth / Man of Steel

After subjecting us to a God-awful characterisation of Superman throughout the five years or so of the “New 52” reboot, DC Comics finally saw sense and killed off that jerk and ditched his dreadful quasi-armoured costume in favour of not only the definitive version of Superman (pre-Flashpoint, of course) but also a far more traditional version of the Super-Suit. This suit, largely reminiscent of the equally-fantastic costume worn by Henry Cavill in the DC Extended Universe movies (Various, 2013 to present) took all the dramatic changes made by the New 52 suit and merged them with Superman’s more traditional styling. This meant that Kal again ditched the red trunks and yellow belt but also dropped the overly busy and unnecessarily detailed nature of the New 52 suit. Eventually, the trunks and the red boots would make a return but, either way, for a modern take on the classic Super-Suit, they don’t get much better than this.

1 Kingdom Come

For me, the definitive alternative version of the Super-Suit is the one designed by Alex Ross in the gorgeous and seminal Kingdom Come (Waid, et al, 1996). Taking place on Earth-22, where Superman has largely separated himself from humanity, which has begun to favour more aggressive superheroes, this Superman sports not only a streak of white hair but also a sleek, traditional Super-Suit with one noticeable different: a diagonal line against a black background in place of the traditional red-and-yellow “S” shield. It’s a small change but one that speaks volumes of this Superman’s current mindset; he’s lost faith in humanity and is in mourning. This costume has endured over the years, inspiring numerous revisions of Superman’s costume (generally whenever depicting an elderly or despondent version of Kal) but, most notably, the Earth-22 Superman later paid a visit to the mainstream DC universe to team with the Justice Society, Superman adopted a very similar version of this shield after the “Our Worlds at War” (Loeb, et al, 2001) storyline, and even prominently featured in the Crisis on Infinite Earths (Various, 2019 to 2020) crossover event that saw Brandon Routh reprise his role from Superman Returns (Singer, 2006) wearing an incredibly faithful rendition of this iconic outfit for his portrayal of a similarly-beleaguered version of Superman.

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Which Super-Suit is your favourite? Did it make the list or was there one I missed? What do you look for in a Super-Suit? Drop a comment below and share your thoughts on what makes the quintessential Super-Suit.

Game Corner: Lego DC Super-Villains (Xbox One)

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Released: October 2018
Developer: Traveller’s Tales
Also Available For: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC

The Background:
You’ve heard of Lego, right? Those little Danish plastic blocks that you can slot together to build all kinds of shit and make you wish you were dead when you step on them? Well, some time ago (around 2014), they started producing playsets based on DC Comics characters. After the release of Lego Star Wars: The Video Game (Traveller’s Tales, 2005) laid the groundwork for what would become numerous licensed Lego videogames, Traveller’s Tales released Lego Batman: The Videogame (ibid, 2008), the first in a series of Lego-themed videogames based on DC Comics characters. Lego DC Super-Villains came hot on the heels of The Lego Batman Movie (McKay, 2017) and was a spin-off of its immediate predecessor, Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham (Traveller’s Tales, 2014). While the gameplay and narrative may have expanded beyond simple pantomiming in enclosed environments to fully-voiced open worlds, the core blueprint of building increasingly ridiculous Lego constructs in a DC-themed world remained unchanged.

The Plot:
When the evil Justice Syndicate arrive from Earth-3, pose as superheroes, and promptly dispose of the Justice League, the super-villains of the DC Universe must join forces with a mysterious new villain in order to expose the Syndicate as frauds and reclaim their place as the world’s number one villains.

Gameplay:
If you’ve ever played a Lego videogame before, you’ve played them all; gameplay is ridiculously simple and yet fun, with the games designed to be accessible to younger players and emphasising pick-up-and-play, co-operative gameplay, and simple, easy to master mechanics. The first thing you’ll do is design your own Lego supervillain from a range of available heads, costumes, and powers, which you’ll unlock more of as you play through the game’s story mode and find hidden Gold and Red Bricks. Once you have your Rookie, you’ll adventure with some of DC’s most notorious super-villains (including Harley Quinn, Lex Luthor, and Black Adam) across some of DC’s most recognisable locations (from Slaughter Swamp, to Metropolis, to the fire-pits of Apokolips).

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Learn new abilities as you play through the story mode.

Gameplay couldn’t be simpler; you can attack enemies with combos, ranged weapons, energy blasts, and crowd-clearing ground pounds, or fly and flip across the skies of the game’s various open worlds, amongst many other attributes. The Rookie’s abilities can be customised as you play and his ability to absorb and learn new powers is a crucial part of the game’s amusing story mode.

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There are many secrets to find in the game’s many locations.

Considering the Lego videogame formula hasn’t changed since their first Lego Star Wars videogame, there’s a lot to see and do here; every time you complete a chapter of the story mode, you unlock it for use in Free Play mode. As each environment has many hidden secrets that can only be uncovered by using characters and abilities not initially available in the story mode, this encourages a great deal of exploration and replayability if you want to find everything and earn all of the Achievements. Combat and gameplay are simple enough, and the game’s puzzles aren’t generally much to worry about; Lego DC Super-Villains’ challenge comes in the multitude of secrets hidden in the game’s multiple overworlds and individual chapters and in the vast amount of side missions on offer. You’ll be tasked with photographing goons, destroying certain objects, or collecting certain items, all to either obtain another hidden brick or unlock an extra playable character in the game’s already stacked roster.

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You’ll need to build all manner of Lego toys to progress.

A crucial aspect of any Lego videogame is smashing everything in your path, collecting Lego studs, and building, building, building. Holding down B near a cluster of Lego pieces will see your character piece together all manner of Lego constructs, from weapons, to computer terminals, vehicles, and even the Flash’s Cosmic Treadmill, all of which will spew out yet more Lego studs, open up new areas, or allow you to progress further.

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Everyone is represented, from the iconic to the obscure.

Collecting studs is vital to your progression; although you have a heart-based life system, you can return to the game as many times as you like after dying as long as you have enough studs. However, as they’re scattered across every inch of the Lego DC world, you’ll never be running short of these, and enemies will often drop hearts upon their defeat. Studs can also be used to purchase new characters and vehicles, both of which are essential to earning some of the game’s Achievements.

Graphics and Sound:
A key aspect of all of Lego’s multimedia ventures is just how well they recreate the feeling of playing with actual Lego toys; everything in their movies, animated shorts, and videogames has some basis in reality and is either based on, or available as, an existing Lego playset.

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You’ll visit some of DC’s most iconic locations.

To that end, all of the characters look and act exactly as a Lego toy would; they’re made of shiny, stiff plastic and it always feels as though you’ve just dropped a bucket of your Lego out on the floor and started playing with them. Iconic DC locales are lovingly crafted out of the iconic bricks to the point where you’re smashing your way through a dark and stormy Gotham City that evokes exactly the same sense of gloomy dread as anything produced by Rocksteady.

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You’ll recognise a lot of the voices in Lego DC Super-Villains.

While early Lego videogames based on movie properties utilised the soundtrack and vocal performances of their source materials, Lego DC Super-Villains favours a largely original score and goes all-in with the quality of its voice actors. You’ve got the likes of Kevin Conroy, Clancy Brown, and Michael Ironside reprising their roles from various DC cartoons and animated movies alongside John Barrowman, Zachary Levi, and Brandon Routh voicing their respective characters from DC’s live-action television shows and movies.

Enemies and Bosses:
As you journey to expose the Justice Syndicate, you’ll naturally face opposition from local law enforcement and rival goons before squaring off with members of the Justice Syndicate and the Justice League.

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You’ll eventually take on Darkseid in an epic encounter!

As a result, you’ll inevitably end up in battle against the likes of Ultraman, Mazahs, Owlman, Johnny Quick, and Superwoman but you’ll also fight against Solivar, Doomsday, and the titanic New God Darkseid. Each boss battle has a unique twist, forcing you to use different abilities to break through their defences and chip away at their health.

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Bosses are grandiose, but simple, affairs.

In many instances, bosses will use the environment to their advantage (such as Sea-King, who attacks with a giant octopus) or send waves of goons against you. Luckily, however, you can utilise different abilities to uncover building bricks around these environments to construct weapons and other Lego that will turn the tide in your favour.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you play Lego DC Super-Villains, you’ll find Gold and Red Bricks, hidden Batman-branded Minikits, and various graffiti points. Each of these, and the collecting of studs, will unlock and allow you to purchase a treasure trove of in-game modifiers which will double your stud bonus, detect secrets, enable one-hit kills, and even flash up the Batman (1966 to 1968) “Pow!” sound effects.

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Some characters drastically change form to reach new areas.

Additionally, every Lego character has their own unique weapon and playstyle; some, like Clayface, can increase or decrease in size to smash through obstacles or fit through vents; others, like Livewire, can charge electrical conduits with their electricity powers. The likes of the Joker and Scarecrow can collect special items to brew up fear gas or laughing gas, respectively, while also commanding goons found in each level to form bridges or activate switches. Similarly, there are some characters, like Tigress, who can dig up hidden treasures or use their acrobatic abilities to jump across rooftops. While it would be wrong to say that no two characters play the same, as there are many who share recognisable traits, playing as Superman is a markedly different experience to playing as Chang Tzu. Add on to that the Rookie’s ability to learn and combine these different abilities and you have a lot of different options available to you to progress through the game’s story and side quests.

Additional Features:
Once you clear the game’s substantial story mode, which will see you take command of various different DC villains across multiple locations, you unlock five bonus levels that are narrated by Lobo and located around Apokolips. These extra missions allow you to play as the various members of the Justice League as they battle their way to freedom out of Darkseid’s hellish homeworld. There’s also a fair amount of downloadable content on offer that adds characters and levels based on DC films like Shazam! (Sandberg, 2019) and Aquaman (Wan, 2018) and DC’s live-action shows, like Arrow (2012 to 2020) and The Flash (2014 to present), among others.

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The Summary:
I’ve always enjoyed the simple pleasure of the Lego videogames; they’re not exactly taxing to play through and are easy to slip right back into after years away as the fundamental basics have remained unchanged since 2005. Not only are they harmless fun to play, they’re also pretty funny; Traveller’s Tales have put a lot of work into the game’s story and dialogue and much of the game’s humour comes from genuinely funny jokes, gags, one-liners, Easter eggs, and sight-gags. Saying that, though, Lego DC Super-Villains is best played with a friend so you can easily smash your way through the story mode and side quests and uncover every hidden trinket on offer. As a solo experience, it’s serviceable enough but these are games built to be enjoyed with a friend or, more ideally, a younger sibling or a child (preferably yours…) as the challenge on offer is tailor made for a younger audience. There’s a lot to like, here, though, especially if you’re a fan of DC Comics or their animated endeavours.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think about Lego DC Super-Villains? Are you a fan of the Lego videogames or do you find the formula to be wearing a bit thin by now? Feel free to leave a comment and give me your thoughts and feedback.