Tag Archives: Batman

On… Batman vs. Superman

Bat-cards on the Bat-table first: I loved Batman vs. Superman. The thing is, though, I was always going to. The film could have centred around Batman playing a six-hour game of Ludo against his Kryptonian counterpart and I would still have gladly given money to Warner Bros. to go and see it. As a huge fan of both characters – and DC stuff in general – there was never a chance that I wouldn’t enjoy the film on some level. And, indeed, I did, though I have thought a fair amount since watching it about whether or not it’s a good film.

The short answer is no, it isn’t. Given the pretty terrible reviews it’s had (at the time of writing it was on 28% at Rotten Tomatoes), this probably comes as a surprise to no-one. I can certainly see why this is the case, and in part it’s because of what BvS is and isn’t. What it isn’t is a fully-formed, singular narrative piece that can stand in isolation. It isn’t a great example of how to tell a story, nor how to draw convincing characters. This, I imagine, is the reason why critically it has failed.

As far as I can see, there are three major problems with BvS. The first is that it is trying to do too much. It’s been advertised from the very beginning that this is intended as the start of a DC Cinematic Universe, and just the first in what Warner hope will be a long-running series of films. As such, it’s trying to be a gateway to a larger world than we’ve ever seen in a DC film. Previously we’ve been concentrated solely on Superman or Batman or (shudder) Green Lantern, and – throwaway references aside – there has been no attempt to link them together. Many people who haven’t got knowledge from the comics or cartoon series may not even know that the characters are even meant to inhabit the same fictional universe. BvS is thus attempting to be a starting point for the shared continuity, as well as a blockbuster film in its own right, an introduction to a new Batman and  a semi-sequel to Man of Steel all at the same time. I can’t help feeling that’s a bit too much for any one film to handle. The Marvel films had a slightly easier job, with snippets across individual early entries eventually going together to make up a shared cinematic universe that, let’s face it, probably wouldn’t have happened if Iron Man or Captain America had been poorly received.

On the subject of Marvel, another problem with BvS is that it seems DC are attempting to distinguish themselves from their old competitors by being the ‘dark’ and ‘gritty’ counterpart to the lighter, more humourous (dare I say ‘Disneyfied’?) Marvel films. Whilst I don’t quite go along with some commentators and think they that this film (and Man of Steel) go too far down the ‘dark’ path in totality, there are moments when you just wish they would take it down a peg or two. There’s the problem that the tone and the subject matter are a bit dichotomous. Whilst it’s relatively easy to make Batman into a dark, brooding figure, it’s harder to do that with Superman without losing some of the essence of what makes the character so appealing. Superman is meant to be an ‘overgrown boy scout’, a figure of hope that Batman can never be. There are moments in the film that allude to this, but they’ve overtaken by the number that concentrate on the fear of the character. It’s hard to see how the Justice League films are going to be able to carry on in this style when they introduce characters like Aquaman and the Flash.

The final main issue I had with BvS is that the central conceit as a whole was slightly doomed from the start. Okay: any superhero fan would probably want to see two of the most iconic figures in the oeuvre battle it out on the big screen, but deep down, I think we all knew it would never really match our expectations. We always knew the story arc would have to include them meeting for the first time, fighting and then – because this is Hollywood – making friends at the end before fighting a common cause. Echoing what I said before, this was just too much. The upcoming Captain America: Civil War has had the luxury of building character relationships across at least three films beforehand. BvS just had to leap into it. Any storyline would have been pushing credibility, but in honesty the film doesn’t help itself by the tack it takes. It just rather left me asking myself whether Batman truly would have been so gullible.

For all its faults, though, I did enjoy the film. I’ve read elsewhere that some people think it will be better viewed in several years time when the later films have arrived and make it a more ’rounded’ story. Whilst this isn’t meant to excuse any of its flaws, I think that’s arguably true. It’s worth noting as well that Ben Affleck – who I must admit I have previously doubted – is fantastic as Batman, and dominates every scene he’s in. Henry Cavill, returning as Superman, is also very good. Perhaps a different interpretation of the character than we would like, but still very good. Some of the supporting cast are less impressive. I can’t work out whether I thought Jesse Eisenberg was a good Lex Luthor, but then I don’t think I’ve ever seen a decent live-action interpretation of him, save maybe John Shea in Lois and Clark (Gene Hackman is a great actor, but the character wasn’t well-written in the Christopher Reeve films). Amy Adams returns from Man of Steel as Lois Lane with a surprisingly large role; she’s good but still strikes me as not having enough ‘spunk’ (no sniggering at the back there). Gal Gadot makes for a decent Wonder Woman, though we don’t get a great deal of time here to explore much about her.

If you’re on the fence about seeing the film, I’d say go and watch it. It’s definitely worth the price of admission and, whilst I can’t say you’ll come out of it thinking that you’ve just witnessed the greatest piece of cinematic entertainment since Orson Welles lost his sled, you’ll at least enjoy it on some level.

Riddle me this, riddle me that, who's afraid of the big black Bat?
Riddle me this, riddle me that, who’s afraid of the big black Bat?

On… Gotham S2E7 (the good one)

I’ve been a little critical of Gotham, especially this season, but episode 7 (Mommy’s Little Monster) stood out for me as being the best so far. Certainly the best this year and close to being the best in the series. Admittedly, the competition for that title isn’t exactly stellar, but still…

Needless to say, spoilers for this episode of Gotham and season two up to this point follow.

Cory Michael Smith as Ed Nygma, easily one of the best things about Gotham.
Cory Michael Smith as Ed Nygma, easily one of the best things about Gotham.

It probably helps that the first section of the episode centres on the two best characters in the show, the Penguin and the proto-Riddler Ed Nygma. Following on from the previous episode’s brilliant scene in which Ed semi-inadvertently strangles his girlfriend, the lovely-but-annoying Kris Kringle, after he confesses to murdering her former abusive boyfriend, there’s a wonderful sequence in which Ed is confronted by his more sinister split personality. It seems that Bad Ed has been out hiding Miss Kringle’s body whilst Good(ish) Ed has been ‘asleep’, and he has left some clues – signposted initially with the Riddler-brand question mark – for his other half to follow. In some ways this should come across as utterly ridiculous, but Cory Michael Smith does a brilliant job in making this believable. Smith is obviously relishing playing a more thoroughly villainous Nygma, and every scene with him in this episode is a treat. By the episode’s end it seems that ‘Bad Ed’ might have taken control, so it’ll be interesting to see where this goes from here.

All of that is a bit of a side-story in the episode, though, which mainly centres around Penguin and his increasingly poor mental state following the kidnapping of his mother. Galavan thinks he has the Penguin at his knees when Butch – now freed from his mind control thanks to Galavan’s sister and a whip – double-crosses his former master and lures him to the warehouse where Penguin’s mother is being held captive. Gotham hasn’t added a great deal of interest thus far to the Batman mythology, but the relationship between Penguin and his mother has been one of the standout pieces. It’s testament to actor Robin Taylor’s performance as Penguin that, even though he’s a terrible person, you really feel his pain at the utterly abrupt murder of his mother. It’s a shame that veteran comic actor Carol Kane’s performance had to come to an end (assuming there are no flashback or dream sequences), but it marks a very obvious turning point in the Penguin’s story arc.

Through a series of Machiavellian and, honestly, downright crazy machinations, Galavan manages to get himself elected major of Gotham (a polling result which was hardly in question given that all the other candidates were the wrong side of dead). His victory party is cut short by an attack by Penguin and an assortment of Penguin imitators. The sight of them waddling towards Galavan’s manor is a great scene.  A stand-off between Penguin, Gordon, Galavan and Bullock provides a fitting end to the episode, although the tension is reduced a bit since it’s fairly obvious the rules of episodic television dictate that no-one is going to die just yet. At least Gordon manages to come to the realisation that Galavan isn’t as much a servant of the light as he has made out, something that really should have been blindingly obvious from the start, but at least he’s worked it out before too long.

Yes, there are some typically rubbish bits in the episode. The scene where Gordon and Bullock trade bullets with Zsasz and anonymous goons seems utterly pointless and, frankly, ridiculous. Given that hundreds of rounds of ammunition were spent it seems ludicrous that nobody actually got hit, and everybody just walks away. The embryonic plot line featuring Bruce Wayne and Galavan’s niece (who may as well just have the word ‘Bitch’ tattooed on her forehead, it’s that obvious) is dull. Worse, it portrays Bruce as utterly naive. I realise he’s still young and isn’t Batman yet, but it just strikes the wrong chord with me that a boy who is supposed to be so haunted by the death of his parents would be taken in quite so easily. Maybe there’s a twist coming with this somewhere down the line, though. One can but hope.

Still, after a few weeks where I’ve been continually asking myself why I bother to watch it, Gotham seems at last to have taken a turn for the interesting. Hopefully the following episodes can keep up the momentum.

On… Arkham Knight: A Matter of Family and the Problem With DLC

Potential spoilers for Batman: Arkham Knight – A Matter of Family DLC follow…

I finally got around to playing the A Matter of Family DLC for Arkham Knight yesterday. For those who don’t know, it’s a story-driven add-on for the main game that centres for the first time in the series around Batgirl, specifically the Barbara Gordon version of the character. Set at some point prior to the events of the original Arkham Asylum game, it revolves around Batgirl – assisted mostly ably by Time Drake’s Robin – attempting to rescue her father from the clutches of the Joker.

Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, looking suitably Bat-ish and girl-ish.
Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, looking suitably Bat-ish and girl-ish.

When it came out a few months after the release of the main game, AMoF came in for a fair bit of criticism. In some respects it’s easy to see why: it’s short and, for an add-on that’s meant to be story-focused, doesn’t really have much of one. There’s no real explanation given as to why Joker has kidnapped Commissioner Gordon. There are some mutterings about him trying to provide a ‘Valentine’s Day present’ for Batman by killing Batgirl and Robin, but that would seem to suggest that Joker at least knows who Batgirl is, and I didn’t think that he did. And aside from the fact that it makes for an interesting environment, it’s not clear why Joker felt the best place to keep Gordon is in an abandoned theme park.

Playing as Batgirl was quite interesting, though in truth she’s very similar in style of attack to Batman, albeit slightly more vulnerable and with fewer gadgets. There’s supposed to be more of a focus on hacking, which makes sense given that Barbara eventually goes on to become Oracle. Unfortunately again this seems a little undercooked, as apart from a neat bit involving a fibreglass octopus and a giant skull, all you really do is exchange some passwords and move a couple of cranes.

The DLC is short: I completed my full story playthrough in a little over two hours, and doubtless someone who is less incompetent with a controller than I could do a lot better. I wasn’t that bothered by the length, though. The DLC only costs around £5, which does seem worth it to me. I think the problem a lot of people have with DLC is that they compare it in price to the full game, where invariably it pales. If you’ve paid £40 for a game that’s provided 30 hours of entertainment, another £5 for an additional two hours seems a little mean. Still, you’d pay double that for a DVD film that lasted only 90 minutes. It’s all relative, I guess.

My real issue with AMoF was just that it didn’t do enough to differentiate it from the main game. As already noted, Batgirl plays very similarly to Batman, and the missions involve the same mix of random bad guys to beat up and predator encounters. They’re as fun as they ever are in the Arkham games, but you’ve done it all as Batman before. There are a couple of neat tricks you can pull with hacking devices to ‘frighten’ criminals and make them more vulnerable, and these are good but since they’re used so sparingly in the short campaign they don’t register a lot. It’s a real shame, as it’s obvious a lot of work has gone into the DLC. The theme park setting is neat and very well realised, fitting nicely into the Arkham style (though given how grotesque some of the exhibitions were I doubt Disneyland was ever worried about the competition). Equally, Batgirl’s animation and design are wonderful, really making me hopeful that we might get to see more of her sometime. It’s also neat seeing Harley Quinn in a costume that’s much more reminiscent of her original look in Batman: The Animated Series than the rather hypersexualised outfits she’s had in Arkham Knight and City.

The Joker and Harley Quinn in her 'Animated Series' costume.
The Joker and Harley Quinn in her ‘Animated Series’ costume.

Speaking of which, the final fight between Batgirl and Robin against Harley and the Joker is a lot of fun too. It’s over rather quickly, and won’t be much of a challenge to anybody who has beaten the main game, but it’s emphasis on the ‘tag-team-combat’ that Knight introduced and only used in a handful of occasions makes it great fun.

So… would I recommend this as a purchase? Yes, but only if you’re happy to accept the short length and still consider it worth your money. I don’t regret buying it – I did have fun playing it. However, it could have been so much more.

On… Gotham series two (so far)

— Warning: Spoilers for the first three or so episodes of Gotham season two —

With all the ballyhoo that Channel Five could muster, Gotham returned to UK TV screens a couple of weeks ago. The first season I had found to be watchable but a little tedious in places, particularly during the mid-season. The characters of Fish and Barbara were also two of the most annoying ever committed to genre television (almost, but not quite, at Neelix-level). For season two, though, the makers seem to have dialed up the bonkers-o-meter, and any semblance of realism the show may have had has been thrown out of the window along with all the nameless criminals Jim Gordon suddenly seems to have developed a penchant for defenestrating.

The focus at the start of the season is the ‘rise of the villains’. This is demonstrated in the first few episodes by the re-appearance of the he’s-a-bit-like-the-Joker-but-obviously-can’t-be-the-Joker-because-we-really-shouldn’t-know-too-much-about-the-Joker Jerome (played with gusto by Cameron Monaghan), and a number of other Arkham Asylum escapees including the now-criminally-insane Barbara. Now, for most of the first season Barbara was so dull you felt that her scenes could be used as a surgical anesthetic. The writers must have realised this  and thus had her kidnapped in the last few episodes and forced to kill her parents. I admit that, never having committed parricide, I’m not entirely sure what impact it would have on your mental health, but it does seem a bit odd that suddenly Barbara has flipped to be a psychotic, nymphomaniac criminal who seemingly has no issue with random murdering.

But, hey, at least she’s more interesting now, right?

Well, yes and no. Her actions are certainly less boring, but because her motivations are entirely unclear (is she doing this because she has literally gone mad? Is she driven by jealousy over Jim Gordon and his relationship with Hot Female Doctor?) I find it hard to get invested in the character. I don’t really care whether she makes it to the end of the season or suffers some doubtless-grissly demise. And, also, why on Earth did the dress code in Arkham Asylum include this Hamburgler-esque ballgown?

Gotham-Rise-of-the-Villains-Arkham-Asylum-900x440

The current Big Bad is the excellent James Frain (you may remember him as Thomas Cromwell in The Tudors or some other historical figure in The White Queen) who is making the best job he can of a rather confusingly written role. Again, his motivations aren’t exactly clear and even when he does given some explanation as to why he wants to cause mayhem and destruction it doesn’t make an awful lot of sense.

In fact, very little in this series so far seems to make sense. Jim Gordon has gone from being the kind of police officer who you imagine fills in all his paperwork on time to, as noted before, the kind of police officer who randomly throws people out of windows. At one point in the first episode he says to Hot Female Doctor that he’s ‘done a bad thing’, which makes it sound like he’s soiled his nappy rather than anything liable to get his badge taken off him (again).

So far, the show’s most interesting characters – Bullock, the Penguin and Nygma – have been given precious little to do. Bullock starts off working in a bar snarling ‘I’m never coming back to the force!’ approximately six minutes before he comes back to the force. The Penguin seems to be discovering that being ‘King of Gotham’ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and mainly appears to involve sitting in a room watching TV, drinking wine and being visited by members of the GCPD. Following on from his sympathetic killing of Miss Kringle’s abusive boyfriend, Nygma has developed a split personality. There’s been little shown of this so far, but it does at least suggest something intriguing for later in the season.

Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne continues his inevitable rise towards being Batman. In honesty, it’s hard to see at the moment too clearly how this will happen, as the character is still written as a bit overly wishy-washy, seemingly more intent on chasing after Selina Kyle (who makes random appearances in a variety of scenes, as if no-one is quite sure what to do with her). David Mazouz continues to play Bruce with aplomb, though, and he does such a good glower that I wish the storylines would give him more excuses to use it.

In the first two episodes, Bruce, ably assisted by Alfred discovers the proto-Batcave kept by his father. This is neat, though does make you wonder whether it wouldn’t just have been easier for Thomas Wayne to have kept everything on a USB pen that was really well hidden. Sean Pertwee is excellent as ever, bringing a suitable mean streak to the erstwhile Wayne family retainer whilst also showing the deep care he has for his ward. Lucius Fox also makes a reappearance, though seems to have all his lines written with the stage direction {Omnious] scribbled at the top.

The main problem with Gotham, as I and a million people have said before, is that Batman isn’t in. With the exception of a few villains, most of the characters in Batman are only interesting because of the shadows he casts upon them. There isn’t a scene in Gotham that wouldn’t be better if Batman wasn’t in it. But he isn’t, and Jim Gordon isn’t fleshed out in an interesting enough way to carry the show, which probably explains why the second season has lurched into craziness so swiftly.

Still, I’ll keep watching it because, well, it’s like car-crash TV in a way.