The Batman review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Matt Reeves
Cast : Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Colin Farrell
Genre: Action/Adventure
Run Time : 176 min
Opens : 3 March 2022
Rating : PG13

In 1979, a young man named Michael E. Uslan purchased the film rights to the DC Comics character Batman. It seemed like nobody wanted to make a Batman movie, and it took him ten years for that film to come to fruition. Today, it feels like we get a new Batman movie with some regularity. With every new iteration comes a new take, defenders and detractors; a new actor in the cowl audiences must warm to or despise. That time has come again.

It is Bruce Wayne’s (Robert Pattinson) second year on the streets of Gotham City as the masked vigilante called the Batman. A serial killer known as the Riddler (Paul Dano) starts leaving cryptic notes addressed to Batman at the scene of his crimes. While most of the Gotham City Police Department is suspicious of Batman, Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) views him as a trusted ally. The Riddler’s clues lead to the Iceberg Lounge, a nightspot operated by Oz Cobblepot/The Penguin (Colin Farrell), the right-hand man of powerful mobster Carmine Falcone (John Turturro). Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), who works at the Iceberg Lounge as a waitress, wants to get to the bottom of her roommate and friend Annika’s (Hana Hrzic) disappearance, believing the Penguin and Falcone to be involved. Following the Riddler’s trail of bodies and clues, Batman unravels a far-reaching conspiracy that implicates those closest to him.

Director Matt Reeves has a proven track record, having most recently helmed Dawn of and War for the Planet of the Apes. Reeves demonstrates a mastery of tone, presiding over a take on Batman that is dark, rich and layered, like a decadent, particularly vengeful chocolate cake. Building on a storied legacy in the comics and on screen, The Batman is a smart adaptation, keeping what works and whittling away what doesn’t. With cinematography by Greig Fraser and production design by James Chinlund, Reeves’ Gotham City is one that neither feels too much like a theme park or like it exists on a soundstage, nor is it just Pittsburgh. Michael Giacchino’s Batman theme might sound simple, but its relentless drive effectively puts audiences in the headspace of this version of the character. The Batman hits the sweet spot, getting so many things right when it is dangerously easy to get a lot wrong. More than just a sensory feast, The Batman boasts an intricate, compelling story with a tantalising mystery at its core.

As is often the case in Batman movies, Batman himself is far from the most interesting part, although there is a strong effort made to get into the character’s head. The film might also alienate audiences looking for typical blockbuster thrills, because it is not action or spectacle-driven, even though there are well-crafted action sequences in it. If one already has Bat-fatigue, The Batman might not be the cure, despite this version of Bruce Wayne often looking like the lead singer of The Cure. There are also some who will mourn the version that could have been, a solo Batman film starring Ben Affleck and featuring Deathstroke as the main villain. This is great, but that could have been worthwhile too.

Robert Pattinson’s casting was met with considerable scepticism, in addition to scorn from those unable to disassociate him with Twilight (exposing their own fragility in the process). Pattinson acquits himself well as a brooding, tormented Batman, in the early days of working through his considerable pain. Haunted and intense, this is a Batman who only ever has dark (k)nights of the soul. He is also a detective, a side of the character the movies have largely overlooked. Pattinson’s reclusive, sullen Bruce Wayne is far from the billionaire playboy façade the character traditionally dons, but he could come out of his shell yet.

Zoë Kravitz is a spectacular Catwoman, coming the closest to how this reviewer pictures the character. She effortlessly essays Selina Kyle’s intelligence and knack for survival, and completely owns the screen whenever she appears. It’s only natural that the cat burglar should steal the entire movie.

For those whose only impression of the Riddler is Jim Carrey (or maybe Frank Gorshin too), Paul Dano’s terrifying portrayal will be something alien. However, this is another way in which the film is smart about the way it adapts the material. While basing the Riddler on the Zodiac Killer could come off as unnecessarily edgy, it works within the context of the story. The riddles themselves are also a great deal of fun, the movie getting a lot of mileage out of puzzles with multiple solutions.

Jeffrey Wright is a steadfast, dependable Jim Gordon. One of the most satisfying elements of the film is the partnership between Batman and Gordon and the way they work as a team.

Colin Farrell may seem like completely oddball casting as the Penguin, but Farrell once again proves that he is a character actor trapped in a leading man’s body. The prosthetic makeup frees him from those constraints. The Penguin is not the focal point of the movie, but this gives the effect that many comic books do, of a villain who could pop up as the main threat in another story and who plays a strictly supporting role here.

This film does not dedicate a great deal of time to the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Alfred (Andy Serkis), but there are moments when we glimpse just how important Alfred is to Bruce and vice versa.

One of the risks Reeves takes is telling a Year Two story: this is not strictly an origin story, but neither does it feature an established Batman surrounded by a fully-formed milieu and supporting cast. The main points of reference appear to be Batman: Year One, Batman: Earth One and Batman: The Long Halloween. The iconography hasn’t yet arrived at the place audiences are familiar with – Reeves is promising that eventually, the Batsuit, the Batmobile and various other elements will reach a place where they are more strongly recognisable, but as it stands, the rough-hewn nature of the iconography does work for the story.

Summary: It’s a little funny how this tale about a Batman in his second year is such a fully formed film. Carefully designed and constructed, intelligently written and beautifully acted, The Batman will likely win over scores of doubters. Director Matt Reeves demonstrates an innate understanding of what works about the character, crafting a story that has a satisfying conclusion but also hints at exciting things to come. Robert Pattinson is a haunted, intense Batman while Zoë Kravitz probably captures the essence of the Catwoman character better than any actress before her. Many might have been asking: do we really need another Batman movie? This movie is almost three hours long, and I only wanted more.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Teen Titans Go! To the Movies review

TEEN TITANS GO! TO THE MOVIES

Director : Peter Rida Michall, Aaron Horvath
Cast : Greg Cipes, Scott Menville, Hynden Walch, Khary Payton, Tara Strong, Will Arnett, Kristen Bell, Nicolas Cage, Jimmy Kimmel, Halsey, Lil Yachty, Wil Wheaton, Patton Oswalt
Genre : Animation/Comedy
Run Time : 88 mins
Opens : 30 August 2018

Superhero movie saturation has become such a commonplace topic that there now exists a superhero movie specifically about that phenomenon. In Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, the titular DC team of junior superheroes is feeling left out – it seems that everyone, even the obscure likes of the Challengers of the Unknown, is getting their own movie.

This hits Robin (Scott Menville) particularly hard, because his guardian Batman (Jimmy Kimmel) seems to get movie after movie, while he is left in the shadows. Robin’s teammates Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), Starfire (Hynden Walch), Cyborg (Khary Payton) and Raven (Tara Strong) try to cheer him up, but to no avail. Robin lobbies film director Jade Wilson (Kristen Bell) to make a movie about him.

Deciding that what the team needs is an arch-nemesis to make a compelling movie, the Teen Titans take on Slade (Will Arnett), a dastardly mercenary looking to steal a powerful crystal. In their quest for justice/a movie deal, the Titans run into a variety of other heroes, including Superman (Nicolas Cage), Wonder Woman (Halsey), Green Lantern (Lil Yachty) and The Flash (Wil Wheaton).

There have been many incarnations of the Teen Titans in the comics, arguably the best-known being The New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is an extension of the Teen Titans Go! TV series, a comedic spinoff of the 2003 Teen Titans animated series. Teen Titans Go! has long been a bugbear of many fans. Those who grew up on the anime-esque Teen Titans series in the early 2000s consider the parody series to be an affront to their memory of the earlier show. Having grown up on the DC Animated Universe, which began with 1992’s Batman: The Animated Series, this reviewer would argue that while not without many redeeming qualities, the 2003 Teen Titans series was itself a marked step down from the DCAU.

This is a roundabout way of saying that the backlash to Teen Titans Go! mostly stems from a rejection of ‘childishness’ – quite cleverly, this is one of the themes in Teen Titans Go! To the Movies. In the film, the Teen Titans are dismissed by the other heroes because they can’t take anything seriously. This is a very silly film about just how silly superhero movies can be. On the surface, it’s all pratfalls, toilet humour and incongruous song and dance numbers. Beneath that, this movie delights in a playful meta deconstruction of superhero movies and their conventions, without losing sight of its primary audience.

The popular public conception of DC media as being darker than that of rival Marvel, sometimes to a self-conscious extent, gets a lot of play. We wish that directors Peter Rida Michall and Aaron Horvath could’ve seen bits of the upcoming live-action TV series Titans, which appears to fundamentally misunderstand the source material, just so the Teen Titans Go! version of Robin could mutter “fudge Batman”. Alas, we must make do with yet another Martha joke.

There’s a Catch-22 here: on the one hand, the detail-light and deliberately cartoony animation style of Teen Titans Go! doesn’t work particularly well on the big screen, especially when compared to the richness and technical wizardry of something like The LEGO Batman Movie. On the other hand, this being a theatrically-released movie is integral to the central premise of the Teen Titans going in search of their own movie.

The central voice cast from Teen Titans Go! and the original Teen Titans series returns, with several celebrities joining them. While notable-ish names from the music world Halsey and Lil Yachty don’t contribute too much, getting Nicolas Cage to voice Superman is a bit of a casting coup. Cage was attached to play Superman in Tim Burton’s Superman Lives, a film which didn’t come to fruition and is now legend among comic book movie fans.

Will Arnett, who voiced Batman in The LEGO Movie and The LEGO Batman Movie, voices Slade, and just like everyone else involved, sounds like he’s having the greatest time. There are several cameos which will elicit a chuckle or two.

Fans of comics and related media are often afraid of being perceived as childish, because of the long-held stigma that people who read comics or collect toys are socially mal-adjusted. While that appears to be changing, there’s still a fear of embracing silliness within the genre, which has led to overcompensating with ‘grimdark’ takes on the source material. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies examines this in a surprisingly nimble way. This reviewer still isn’t sure that it works amazingly on the big screen, especially in a summer which has given us Incredibles 2, but if you’re willing to let loose for a bit and not take yourself too seriously, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is worth a look.

Stick around for a stinger after the main-on-end titles.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Wonder Woman

For F*** Magazine

WONDER WOMAN 

Director : Patty Jenkins
Cast : Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya, Lucy Davis, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock
Genre : Action/Comics
Run Time : 2h 21min
Opens : 31 May 2017
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

All the world’s been waiting for her, and at long last, here she is in a movie of her own. Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gadot) is a demigoddess raised by the mythical Amazons on the island of Themyscira. Diana’s mother Queen Hippolyta (Nielsen) wants to shield her from the outside world, while Diana’s aunt General Antiope (Wright) wants to train Diana into a warrior. When American pilot Captain Steve Trevor (Pine) crash-lands on Themyscira, Diana volunteers to escort him back to the outside world, against her mother’s wishes. It is the final days of World War I, and German General Erich Ludendorff (Huston) is working alongside treacherous chemist Dr. Maru/Dr. Poison (Anaya), devising deadly weapons to use in the war. Diana befriends Steve’s secretary Etta Candy (Davis), and goes to the front to end the war. Diana is accompanied by Steve’s ragtag band of operatives, including Sameer (Taghmaoui), Charlie (Bremner) and Chief (Brave Rock). However, the forces they face are beyond mere armies of men.

Wonder Woman made her first appearance in Sensation Comics in 1941, and a big screen solo outing for the superheroine is long overdue. After varied failed attempts to bring the character to the screen, DC has finally found success – and what a success this is. The DC Extended Universe has generally been greeted with scorn. Moviegoers heading into this movie can be roughly grouped into two categories: those who are eager to see this fail because it’s a DC film, and those who are cautiously optimistic. With Wonder Woman, director Patty Jenkins has crafted a movie that might stun detractors into silence. Working from a screenplay by Allan Heinberg (known in the comics sphere for Young Avengers and his Wonder Woman run), who rewrote earlier drafts by Jason Fuchs and Zack Snyder, Jenkins has delivered a worthy epic that does the iconic character great justice. The filmmakers demonstrate an innate understanding of what makes Wonder Woman tick, and eloquently articulate her motivations, laying out the events that shape her into the heroine she becomes.

Jenkins must have faced the dilemma of depicting an action heroine who’s all about peace, love and understanding: as the lyrics of the theme song go, “make a hawk a dove, stop a war with love”. On one hand, Diana stands for all that is good and pure, and on the other, she’s a bona fide badass who is formidable in battle. Wonder Woman navigates the quandary admirably, and gets surprisingly moving in the process. While the film doesn’t try to give a simple answer to why it’s in mankind’s nature to fight, it attempts to make sense of why conflict comes so naturally to us, and how someone from outside man’s world would process this. It’s also tonally assured: the scenes of war get the appropriate gravitas, but there is a healthy amount of fish-out-of-water comedy, though not so much as to take one out of it. Some took issue with Batman v Superman’s handling of philosophical issues, and Wonder Woman doesn’t get too bogged down with big questions as it serves up plenty of spectacle.

There’s a grandeur to the film, which takes us from the idyllic fantasy paradise of Themyscira to the gritty corpse-strewn battlefield of the Western Front. Aline Bonetto’s production design and Lindy Hemming’s costume design makes Themyscira a thoroughly-realised world, supplemented by location filming on the Italian coast. The statuesque Amazons are fantastical figures, yes, but their domain is immersive and believable. There is enough authenticity to the settings of London, Belgium and the Ottoman Empire, such that this works as a war movie. The action sequences are exciting and staged with finesse, the fight choreography incorporating Diana’s sword, shield, lasso and bracelets. They are just the right degree of showy, a dazzling blend of elegance and strength. When Wonder Woman climbs out of the trenches and charges brazenly through No Man’s Land, it’s wont to give viewers quite the buzz.

Gadot’s casting was met with considerable backlash, and if her turn in Batman v Superman made doubters eat their words, she’s back with a heaping second serving here. Gadot more than proves herself as the ideal embodiment of the superheroine. Diana starts out as an idealist, and Gadot parses the character’s status as an invincible naïf. Audiences at large are not as familiar with Wonder Woman’s back-story as they are the origin tales of Superman, Batman or Spider-Man, and it is told coherently and engagingly. Not only does Gadot truly come into her own as a leading lady in this film, but she looks absolutely fantastic doing it – in both the action sequences and the quiet dramatic moments.

In many comic book films, the romance tends to feel tacked on. This isn’t the case here. The strapping, roguish Steve Trevor is Diana’s primary link to man’s world, and the relationship between the two is crucial to the plot. Through Steve’s eyes, Diana sees both the good and the evil that man is capable of. Pine is charming as always, with a twinkle in his eye and never a hair out of place. It seems like a bit of a waste to cast him as Steve Trevor instead of Hal Jordan/Green Lantern, since Hal is pretty much Captain Kirk. Still, it’s great that Steve is drawn with some depth, instead of being the standard dashing but boring hero. Owing to the respect he shows Diana, he’s as good a role model as she is.

Davis’ bubbly Etta Candy is true to how the character is portrayed in the comics, and as the designated comic relief, she stays a safe distance from being annoying. While Steve’s band of merry men all exhibit stereotypical traits, they get enough development. Taghmaoui is suave and amusing, Bremner has fun playing the wild-eyed Scotsman but also brings out the trauma that mars the character, and Brave Rock is steadfast and a comforting presence as Chief. While Huston and Anaya play largely generic villains, they serve the plot well and chew just enough scenery.

There was a lot riding on this film, with the fear that if it failed, it would spell doom for any female-led comic book movies going forward, just as Catwoman and Elektra sounded the death knell all those years ago. Those fears should be allayed, as this is a grand, heartfelt and rousing film. Despite its 141-minute running time, Wonder Woman doesn’t feel bloated and is light on its feet. At once refreshing and reminiscent of classic wartime romance films, Wonder Woman is a giant leap forward for the DC Extended Universe.

Summary: A soaring, inspiring adventure centred by Gal Gadot’s assured star turn, Wonder Woman is the movie long-time fans of the iconic superheroine have been waiting for.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Lego Batman Movie

For F*** Magazine

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE

Director : Chris McKay
Cast : (Voice Cast) Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Jenny Slate, Mariah Carey, Billy Dee Williams
Genre : Action/Animation
Run Time : 1h 45min
Opens : 9 February 2017
Rating : PG

the-lego-batman-movie-posterHe puts the ‘bat’ in ‘brickbat’ and serves as a stumbling block to Gotham City’s evildoers: he is Lego Batman (Arnett). When the Joker (Galifianakis) leads a collection of Batman’s rogues gallery in an assault on Gotham, Batman is confident that he alone can take them on. Police Commissioner Jim Gordon (Elizondo), whose primary job has been activating the Bat-signal to summon Batman, retires. Replacing Gordon is his daughter Barbara (Dawson), who calls attention to Batman’s inefficacy in keeping Gotham’s streets crime-free, much to Batman’s chagrin. Alfred Pennyworth (Fiennes), loyal butler to Batman/Bruce Wayne, sees Batman’s self-aggrandizement as a façade. After accidentally adopting orphan Dick Grayson (Cera), Bruce must learn that relying on others in the face of overwhelming odds isn’t a sign of weakness, eventually teaming up with Robin/Dick Grayson, Alfred and Batgirl/Barbara Gordon to face an other-worldly threat.

the-lego-batman-movie-batman-robin-alfred-and-barbara-in-the-scuttler-cockpit

The Lego Batman Movie is a spin-off of 2014’s The Lego Movie, and is directed by Chris McKay, who served as an animation co-director on The Lego Movie. McKay has also directed multiple episodes of Robot Chicken, the stop-motion sketch comedy series which lampoons comics, cartoons and other aspects of geek culture. The Lego Batman Movie is reminiscent of Robot Chicken in its style of humour, which is heavily reference-based, albeit more kid-friendly than Robot Chicken. There are shout-outs to elements both well-known and obscure of the DC Comics universe and beyond, which are rewarding to spot. However, since this is based on a line of toys and primarily made to sell toys, there are moments when it’s evident that The Lego Batman Movie struggles to strike a balance between appealing to geeks and appealing to children.

the-lego-batman-movie-batman-1

The animation by Animal Logic Studios is done in the same style as The Lego Movie, which emulates stop-motion animation using computer graphics. Each frame bursts with lovingly-rendered detail and the film is consistently eye-catching, if not quite as creatively designed as The Lego Movie. This version of the Batcave is delightfully outlandish, packed with needlessly extravagant machinery and containing a ludicrous number of vehicles with a ‘Bat’ prefix in their names. Of the various and sundry modes of transportation utilised by the Dark Knight in this movie, something called ‘the Scuttler’ is the most interesting. It’s a mecha that walks on four stilt-like legs and expresses emotion with dog-like ears which can droop to indicate sadness.

the-lego-batman-movie-batman-in-costume-chamber

There is a Batman for all seasons, and part of the character’s longevity is his malleability. The Lego Batman Movie does a fine job of gently poking fun at various incarnations of the Caped Crusader, from the 1966 TV show to the 1989 film to the recent Batman v Superman. At times, it’s evident that this wants to be Deadpool for Juniors, the film begins with Batman breaking the fourth wall and providing voiceover as the opening logos roll. Arnett’s performance, impeccable in its timing and just the right pitch of gruff, suits the tone of the film to a tee. Fiennes’ drolly prim and proper Alfred serves as a wonderful complement.

the-lego-batman-movie-joker

Galifianakis’ turn as the Joker is passable, but is far from the high bar set by Mark Hamill, whose indelible vocal performance as the Clown Prince of Crime has made him the definitive voice of the Joker in many fans’ eyes (make that ears). The film addresses the psychosexual nature of Joker and Batman’s mutual obsession with the other, which Batman vehemently denies. Jenny Slate’s Harley Quinn is a slight disappointment, largely lacking the character’s signature Brooklyn accent.

the-lego-batman-movie-bane-clayface-and-other-villains

While Batman’s rogues gallery is generally agreed on as being the most dynamic in all of comics, these villains don’t make too much of an impact in The Lego Batman Movie. Sure, the film crams a lot of them in, but the likes of Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), Poison Ivy (Riki Lindhome), Clayface (Kate Miccuci), Mr. Freeze and anyone who isn’t the Joker seem relegated to the background. It is fun to see D-listers like Condiment King and Kite-Man onscreen. Bane (Doug Benson) speaks in the same accent Tom Hardy affected for The Dark Knight Rises, even more amusing given how Bane was quoted in a certain inaugural address.

the-lego-batman-movie-robins-cape-in-batmans-face

One of the funniest aspects of the story is how Bruce Wayne adopts Dick Grayson completely by accident. The interpretation of Dick as a wide-eyed, bespectacled dork is a departure from the source material, but Cera’s inherent awkwardness as a performer suits this version fine. This reviewer enjoyed the changes made to the Barbara Gordon character, who is introduced as her father’s successor as Police Commissioner long before she dons the Batgirl costume. Batman has romantic designs on Batgirl – this is a pairing which many fans understandably find icky, and was a major factor in the backlash against the animated film The Killing Joke. Thankfully, Barbara does not reciprocate Bruce’s advances. The stunt casting of Mariah Carey as Mayor MacCaskill is completely unnecessary – but perhaps this can be viewed as akin to the celebrity cast on the ’66 Batman TV show.

the-lego-batman-movie-speedwagon

The Lego Batman Movie’s final act does involve a giant portal opening up in the sky, unleashing destruction that the townsfolk must scurry away from. There are some surprises as to who or what emerges from said portal, but even given that, it’s easy to tune out during the climactic battle. There’s an overreliance on incongruous pop ditties and not all the jokes land, but things are funny and frenetic enough to propel The Lego Batman Movie forward.

Summary: The Lego Batman movie prizes reference-based humour over plot, but even if it doesn’t use the Lego Batman world to its full comic potential, it’s an entertaining time.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Suicide Squad

For F*** Magazine

SUICIDE SQUAD

Director : David Ayer
Cast : Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Karen Fukuhara, Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje, Cara Delevingne, Jay Hernandez, Adam Beach, Ben Affleck
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 2 hrs 3 mins
Opens : 4 August 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

Suicide Squad posterThe heroes of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) have been pretty sullen thus far, so here we get to know if bad guys really have more fun (spoiler: they do). Government official Amanda Waller (Davis) assembles ‘Task Force X’, a covert team of supervillains coerced into doing her dirty work. On the roster are hitman Deadshot/Floyd Lawton (Smith), the unhinged ex-psychiatrist Harley Quinn/Harleen Quinzel (Robbie), cannibalistic beast Killer Croc/Waylon Jones (Akinnouye-Agbaje), Aussie bank robber Captain Boomerang/Digger Harkness (Courtney), pyrokinetic gangster El Diablo/Chato Santana (Hernandez), assassin Slipknot/Christopher Weiss (Beach) and the possessed archaeologist Enchantress/June Moone (Delevingne). Wrangling the team are elite operative Rick Flag (Kinnaman) and swordswoman Katana/Tatsu Yamashiro (Fukuhara). When a powerful mystical entity throws Midway City into chaos, Task Force X are sent in to mitigate the situation. Between the in-fighting, Waller’s machinations and the intervention of the Joker (Leto), the object of Harley’s affections, it will be anything but smooth sailing.

Suicide Squad group shot 1

This year’s Batman v Superman took quite the beating from critics and while many conceded that the extended Ultimate Edition was a massive improvement, the damage was done. The DCEU has a great deal of catching up to do, seeing as how Marvel continues to rule the roost at the cinemas. A Suicide Squad movie is a step in the right direction: it’s smaller than your typical superhero blockbuster so it won’t feel bloated, DC has a rich menagerie of villains to play with, and it won’t take itself too seriously. Writer-director David Ayer is an excellent get: he has a proven track record of grimy, street-level flicks carried by characters who wouldn’t normally be considered likeable. This is messy fun, akin to splashing about in mud. It’s not always pleasant, nor is it meant to be, but it’s enjoyable in its own way.

Suicide Squad Margot Robbie and Jared Leto

There’s plenty of dark comedy to be mined from the inherent dysfunction of the titular team, and while some of the jokes feel crowbarred in, the tone is generally appropriate for the material. The dialogue occasionally sounds like it’s trying too hard to sound tough, but the interplay within the team is engaging. At 123 minutes, it’s a smidgen too long, with multiple flashbacks required to fill the audience in on the backstories of our many characters. However, it scuttles along at a satisfactory pace and the action flies thick and fast. It’s far from the most aesthetically pleasing comic book film and it’s easy to see why several design choices (most having to do with Joker and Harley) have been decried by fans. However, there are moments that are visually exciting, and the lack of polish belies a healthy amount of visceral thrills.

Suicide Squad Will Smith and Joel Kinnaman

Ayer does a decent job of juggling quite a number of characters, by delineating which ones are worthy of exploration, and which ones just serve to fill a slot on the attendance sheet. The film retains the key component of Deadshot’s attachment to his daughter, and casting Will Smith means no matter how many times the character proclaims he’s a “bad guy”, we’ll have at a least a little sympathy for him. The emotional moments don’t work as well as they should, but Deadshot is appropriately quippy and cocky, with Smith’s charisma serving as a rallying point for the rest of the film. Does his star power pull one out of it? It turns out, not as much as you’d expect.

Suicide Squad Margot Robbie

Harley Quinn is a fan-favourite for many reasons, and when the character was reinvented during DC’s New 52 comics reboot, writer Adam Glass even received death threats. As such, Robbie’s performance won’t fit the ideal Harley in everyone’s heads, but this reviewer feels she displays a good understanding of the character, sprightly physicality and is immense fun to watch. Harley’s twisted joie de vivre is faithful to the source material, even if the outfit she sports for the bulk of the movie isn’t.

Suicide Squad Jared Leto

The Joker is wisely not overused. Leto’s on-set antics, including mailing a severed pig’s head to co-star Davis, raised a lot of eyebrows. He makes for a fine Joker who feels like he fits right into this particular cinematic universe, and it might sound silly, but this reviewer was thrilled to hear Harley call the Joker “Puddin’” and “Mistah J” on the big screen. It’s not as virtuosic a performance as the late Heath Ledger’s, but it fits the requirements of the story. Similarly, the way Batman is used in the narrative is just right – it’s not a sizeable part, but he does make an impact and provides connective tissue to the rest of the DCEU.

Suicide Squad Viola Davis

A key factor in making the audience buy the outlandish premise is by putting someone scary enough in charge, and Davis’ authoritative presence anchors Suicide Squad. Her Amanda Waller is nigh perfect, no-nonsense and manipulative without being one-note, and Davis’ gravitas is a force to be reckoned with. Kinnaman is probably a better fit for the straight arrow soldier than the originally-cast Tom Hardy would’ve been.

Suicide Squad Jai Courtney and Karen Fukuhara

Courtney is a hoot here – he may have had little success as a cookie cutter action hero, but as the crass Aussie thug, he’s right on the money. Hernandez provides a surprising amount of heart as the repentant former gangster, while Akinnuoye-Agbaje competently fills the role of burly big guy (Croc’s head just seems too big for his body). Alas, Delevingne isn’t convincing as an archaeologist or as an ancient witch. The central antagonist, whose identity we shan’t spoil, serves as a formidable physical and psychological threat to the Squad while not requiring too much characterisation, so we can focus on the team members themselves. It’s also convenient that the villain’s minions are faceless monsters, so they can get shot at and hacked apart in graphic fashion without breaking the PG-13 limit.

Suicide Squad group shot 2

Suicide Squad has its flaws, but the film scores a victory in not trying to ape the Marvel Studios formula. Like its central characters, it’s unpolished and rough around the edges. It’s spirited and entertaining without sacrificing too much of the graveness that has become DC’s calling card at the movies. The story is relatively easy to follow even for a neophyte, but fans will be rewarded with a couple of cool cameos and plenty of Easter Eggs, including a respectful nod to writer John Ostrander, who co-created the Suicide Squad team in the comics. Stick around for a mid-credits scene after the main-on-end titles.

Summary: It won’t please everyone, but Suicide Squad is an ideal marriage of director and comic book property. Jump on in and get messy.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Batman and Superman: Drawn to Justice

As published in Issue 74 of F*** Magazine

Text: 

BATMAN AND SUPERMAN: DRAWN TO JUSTICE

F*** looks at the animated escapades of the World’s Finest
By Jedd Jong

The Dark Knight will come face to face with the Man of Steel on the big screen at long last in this month’s superhero blockbuster, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The two big guns in DC’s stable of characters have not always seen eye to eye, but have been associated with each other since they first shared the cover of New York World’s Fair Comics #2 in 1940, having their first proper crossover story in 1952. Interestingly, the first shared storyline wasn’t in the comics but in the Adventures of Superman radio play, in 1945.
We’ll be taking a look at some of this duo’s memorable encounters in the realm between comics and live-action movies: that of animation.  For a long time, DC fans thought a live-action World’s Finest movie would be forever outside the realm of possibility, with an attempt in the early 2000s falling through. However, the various animated alternatives were more than an adequate substitute and after the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it will be fun to compare the common threads that movie shares with previous depictions of the earth-shattering first encounter between two very different heroes.
Super Friends (1973-1986)
Allow us to issue the disclaimer any writer has to when discussing comics-related media: this might be confusing. In 1968, CBS aired The Batman/Superman Hour, a Filmation animated series that consisted of episodes from The Adventures of Batman packaged together with shorts from The New Adventures of Superman and The Adventures of Superboy. Now, the name “The Batman/Superman Hour” naturally makes it sound like our heroes team up, but they do not and the Batman and Superman segments of the show are separate. The Batman/Tarzan Adventure Hour, aired from 1977-1978, shares a similar principle.
The first time Batman and Superman actually interacted with each other in a cartoon was in the animated series Super Friends, produced by Hanna-Barbera, the animation studio known for Scooby-Doo, The Flintstones, The Jetsons and Yogi Bear. Based on the Justice League comics, the first season of Super Friends featured Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Robin as the core members, with new characters being added over the course of the show’s run. Additionally, the sidekick characters of Wendy, Marvin and Wonder Dog were created for the show, for kids to identify with.
Super Friends popularised the catch phrase “Meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice…”, delivered by the Narrator. Super Friends was, as expected of Saturday morning cartoons at the period, generally pretty goofy and it’s been poked fun at a fair few times in recent memory. Also, even though this is the first time Batman and Superman are seen on the same team in a cartoon, their first meeting is not depicted. Episodes that focus specifically on the duo include Invasion of the Brain Creatures, in which Batman and Superman get possessed by – you guessed it – brain creatures, and Warpland, in which they’re pulled into a space warp and Superman is transformed into an eagle and Batman gets turned into an actual bat. It’s safe to assume these wacky fates won’t befall Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck.
World’s Finest (The Batman/Superman Movie) (1997)

The DC Animated Universe (DCAU), which began with 1992’s Batman: The Animated Series (B:TAS), is widely regarded by fans as the pinnacle of DC media outside the comics. Key figures in the development of B:TAS  and its follow-up Superman: The Animated Series (S:TAS) include animators Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski and writers Paul Dini and Alan Burnett. B:TAS was praised for its maturity, thematic complexity and the quality of its animation and voice acting. The success of B:TAS led to the creators of the show making a series starring Superman, which first aired in 1996 and was similarly well-received, with the general consensus being that it had updated the character for the 90s while retaining his spirit. The DCAU continuity would eventually encompass Batman Beyond, Static Shock, The Zeta Project, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, as well as four Batman-centric animated feature films.
In the S:TASepisode Superman: The Last Son of Krypton: Part III, Clark Kent’s beloved Ma tells him “I don’t want anyone thinking you’re like that nut in Gotham City.” Clark and said nut would finally meet in the three-episode World’s Finestarc, which was later re-packaged as an animated film and released on video as The Batman/Superman Movie. A joint venture between Wayne Enterprises and Lexcorp brings billionaire Bruce Wayne to Metropolis. As the Batman, Wayne has an ulterior motive: he is hot on the trail of the Joker, who has stolen a priceless statue known as “the Laughing Dragon”. The Laughing Dragon is carved from Kryptonite, and the Joker makes Lex Luthor this offer: for $1 billion, he will kill Superman. Wayne intends that the Wayne/Lex T-7, an insect-like robotic probe being developed by the two companies, be used for space exploration, while Luthor pushes for it to be fitted with guns for military applications. Superman disapproves of Batman’s brand of vigilantism and the two get into an argument as Batman is interrogating a thug. Further causing the tensions between the pair is Lois Lane, the reporter developing a crush on Wayne.

If Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ends up as much like the S:TAS World’s Finest arc as possible, we’ll be happy. There’s a great central conflict that brings the heroes together, they initially get off on the wrong foot but soon discover their differing approaches to justice are complementary, and we also get a villainous team-up, with the intelligent, conniving Luthor and the unrestrained, insane Joker as the antagonists.
Building off this fateful first meeting, Batman and Superman would form the anchors of the Justice League. This incarnation of the team had Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Hawkgirl, Green Lantern and the Flash as additional founding members.
The Batman/Superman Story (2007)
In 2004, an animated series called The Batman began airing. This show was unrelated to the DCAU, with a different voice cast, creative team and featuring character designs by Jeff Matsuda of The Jackie Chan Adventures. The Batman was not warmly received by fans of B:TAS and its affiliated shows, but things started to turn around with the fourth season, which introduced Robin (in this continuity, Batgirl became Batman’s sidekick first) and was closer to B:TAS in tone. In the last episode of Season Four, Batman meets Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Hawkman and the Flash aboard the Watchtower satellite, base of operations for the Justice League.

Season Five kicked off the with The Batman/Superman Story, a two-parter in which this version of the Caped Crusader and the Big Blue Boy Scout first meet. Superman has arrived in Gotham to deliver a check from the city of Metropolis to aid rebuilding efforts following an alien invasion of Gotham in the last season. This is interrupted by Metallo, who has been sent by Lex Luthor to kill Superman.  When Metallo fails, Luthor unleashes members of Batman’s rogues gallery, including Black Mask, Bane, Clayface and Poison Ivy, to finish Superman off after kidnapping Lois Lane. Luthor drugs Superman with Poison Ivy’s mind control gas, which Luthor has laced with Kryptonite. Donning mechanized suits of armour, Batman and Robin have to engage in combat with Superman, now under Luthor’s thrall.
Several voice actors from the DCAU were roped in to reprise their roles, including George Newbern as Superman, Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor, Dana Delaney as Lois Lane and Lex Lang as Metallo. Newbern replaced Daly as the voice of Superman in the Justice League animated series. Luthor co-opting Poison Ivy’s mind control plant spores to use against Superman is reminiscent of when Poison Ivy directly controlled Superman’s mind in the comic book arc Batman: Hush. Also, this incarnation of Mercy Graves, Luthor’s icy personal assistant, appears to be of Asian descent and is voiced by Singaporean actress Gwendoline Yeo. In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Mercy Graves is also Asian, played by The Wolverine’s Tao Okamoto.
When Batman brings up that Superman declined an invitation by Martian Manhunter to join the Justice League, Superman replies “I prefer to work alone.”
“So did I, once,” Batman answers. “But I found out you never know when you might need a friend.” Aww!
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)
Warner Bros. Animation and Warner Premiere have been steadily releasing direct-to-video DC animated films since 2007, putting out three such movies on average per year. These films do not tie in to the DCAU and while some of the DC Animated Movies are related, some are stand-alone stories directly adapted from existing graphic novels or comic book story arcs.

2009’s Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is based on Public Enemies, the opening story arc of the Superman/Batman DC Comics title. The comic was written by Jeph Loeb and pencilled by Ed McGuinness, with the animation style in this movie taking inspiration from McGuinness’ designs.
It’s Batman and Superman against the world as Lex Luthor is elected president, forming a government-assembled task force of superheroes including Captain Atom, Katana, Black Lightning, Power Girl, Starfire, and Major Force. The World’s Finest remain untrusting of Luthor, and their suspicions are confirmed when the President frames Superman for killing Metallo and puts a one-billion-dollar bounty on the Man of Steel’s head. Batman and Superman fend off a horde of supervillains, including Cheetah, Bane, Captain Cold, Black Manta, Deadshot, King Shark and Lady Shiva, in an attempt to prove Superman’s innocence. They also have to stop a meteorite from hitting the earth. In the meantime, Power Girl’s loyalties are torn, and government official Amanda Waller discovers the extent of Luthor’s schemes.
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies showcases just what a great team the Dark Knight and Man of Steel make and that it’s generally better off if they figure a way to work together instead of trying to take each other down. Voice director Andrea Romano fought hard to get many of the voice actors from the DCAU to reprise their roles. Conroy is back as Batman, Daly as Superman, Brown as Luthor and CCH Pounder as Amanda Waller. Allison Mack, who played Chloe Sullivan on Smallville, voices Power Girl.
Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010)
Public Enemies was followed up with a direct sequel, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, based on the comics arc entitled The Supergirl from Krypton, also written by Loeb. This time, the animation style was based on the art of late penciller Michael Turner.
In this story, Batman and Superman first meet Kara Zor-el a.k.a. Supergirl, Superman’s cousin, when her spaceship crash-lands in Gotham Harbour. While Superman welcomes his long-lost relative and helps her adjust to life on earth, Batman has his suspicions of the newcomer. Agreeing with Batman, Wonder Woman and Harbinger take Kara to Themyscira where she can be trained, and Superman reluctantly agrees, preferring to watch over Kara himself. Darkseid, the ruthless ruler of the planet Apokolips, learns of Kara’s arrival on earth and plots to capture her and make her serve him as one of the Female Furies. When Kara is abducted, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman contact Big Barda, a former Female Fury who has defected to the side of good, to help them journey to Apokolips to rescue Kara. The Trinity has to battle a brainwashed Kara and break Darkseid’s control over her.

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse heavily features elements of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, a storyline in the comics focusing on the alien planets of Apokolips and New Genesis that was a combination of epic space opera and superhero fiction. The tyrannical supervillain Darkseid, considered one of the Justice League’s arch-nemeses and who succeeded in killing Batman in the comics story arc Final Crisis, was created by Kirby in 1970. Thanos, the Marvel supervillain inspired by Darkseid, debuted in 1973. Concept art for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justicereveals Darkseid’s Omega symbol, which the villain uses to mark those he deems susceptible to his corruption. It’s very plausible that Darkseid could be the central villain of the two-part Justice League movie, due out in 2017 and 2018.
Battle of the Superheroes!(2011)

Batman: The Brave and the Bold is an animated series that ran from 2008 to 2011. The bright colours and cartoony animation style, as well as the storytelling, were nods to the “Silver Age” of comic books circa the 1960s. It’s sometimes dismissed as kiddie fare, the episodes are packed with Easter Eggs and loving obscure references for DC aficionados to pick out.
 Battle of the Superheroes! is a Season 3 episode which goes all-out with its Silver Age homages, complete with inter-dimensional imps and wacky talking animals. After battling a series of villains including Lex Luthor, Metallo, El Gar-Kur, Mister Mxyzptlk, and Toyman, Superman is infected with a Red Kryptonite necklace. Luthor secretly snuck the necklace to Lois Lane and the radiation from the Red Kryptonite makes Superman irrational and rage-filled. Batman must team up with Krypto the Super-Dog to hold off Superman until the effects of the Red Kryptonite wear off.

The suit of armour that Batman dons to fend off the Red Kryptonite-addled Superman is taken from The Dark Knight Returns (more on that in a bit). The concept of Red Kryptonite is taken from the TV series Smallville, in which this substance causes Superman to become erratic, emotional and makes him act on selfish impulses.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns(Part 2) (2013)
The Dark Knight Returns, the seminal 1986 graphic novel by Frank Miller which was one of the key forces in changing the direction of comic books in the mid-late 1980s, has remained a cornerstone of the Batman mythos even though Miller’s later works are of very questionable quality. The graphic novel was adapted into a two-part animated film, starring Peter Weller (RoboCop) as the voice of an elderly Batman.

The centrepiece of Part 2 is an epic throw-down between Batman and Superman, with the Man of Steel being dispatched by President Ronald Reagan to put an end of Batman’s unchecked vigilante activity. Batman teams up with Oliver Queen a.k.a. Green Arrow, now missing an arm and sporting a full beard. Green Arrow fires Kryptonite arrows at Superman to weaken him while Batman dons a powerful armoured exo-suit to go mano a mano with Superman.
The Dark Knight Returns is one of the main points of reference for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The grizzled, veteran Batman with a stockier frame draws from his depiction in The Dark Knight Returns, as does his use of a full suit of robotic armour to fight Superman. It will be interesting to see how Batman v Superman re-fashions this into a story of the duo’s first encounter, seeing as they’ve already known each other for years at this point in the graphic novel. Star City 2046, the episode of the TV show Legends of Tomorrow, also draws on The Dark Knight Returns, with Oliver Queen sporting a scraggly beard and a robotic arm.
Justice League: War (2014)
This animated movie is based on the Justice League: Originstoryline from the comics, that was the foundation for DC’s comprehensive “New 52” reboot in 2011. The event storyline known as Flashpoint (adapted into the animated movie Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox) wiped the slate clean, and in this story the heroes of the Justice League, including Batman and Superman, meet for the first time.

The story takes place against an invasion of Parademons, Darkseid’s troops. When Batman and Green Lantern first meet Superman, Superman believes the two are working with the Parademons and engages in fierce battle with them. As far as first meetings between Batman and Superman go, this one’s definitely of the “hit first, ask questions later” variety. Eventually, Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg and Shazam form the Justice League.
While some viewers enjoyed the film for its depiction of the heroes not getting along, the drastic changes in the characters’ personalities as part of the reboot did not sit well with others. Several elements of the New 52 will be carried over into the DC Extended Universe, including Wonder Woman’s reworked origins where she is a demigoddess and daughter of Zeus, instead of being carved out of clay by her mother Hippolyta. 

Capitaland Malls Be the Hero launch: Batman v Superman statues and Batmobile replica

BE THE HERO (OR DON’T BE, YOU DON’T OWE THIS WORLD A THING) 

I covered the launch of the Capitaland Malls Be the Hero exhibit, comprising three life-sized statues and interactive game corners at Bugis+ and a life-sized replica of the Batmobile as seen in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice over at Clarke Quay, on the night of 4th March.

The launch was hosted by actor/deejay Bobby Tonelli, and kicked off with two teams of stuntmen, one wearing Batman shirts and the other wearing Superman shirts, brawling as if it were a football hooligan riot. Capitaland’s head of marketing Steve Ng, Warner Bros. Singapore’s Marketing Director Diane Chan and Pacific Licensing Studio Partner, Director Wallace Tay helped remove the tarps on the statues of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. Later, cosplayers who had dressed as Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman were invited to pose in front of the statues.

We later adjourned to Clarke Quay, where street performers were warming up the crowd for the big event. The new Batmobile, which marries the sleekness of the Batman ’89 car with the militarised robustness of the Tumbler from the Dark Knight trilogy, sat under a white sheet in a pavilion. A light show comprising patterns projected onto the sheet preceded the tarp being reeled back with the Batmobile unveiled.

The Be The Hero exhibits run from 4 March to 3rd April 2016.

Find out more here.