Joker Review: A Medley Of Madness

By Drew Kiess

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Joker stars Joaquin Phoenix and is directed by Todd Phillips. Based on the villain we all know and love to hate from DC Comics, Joker is a one-and-done psychological thriller that has no franchise ambition, which is something that the comic book movie sub-genre is sadly lacking. Sequels and franchise-starters are the name of the game, and if nothing else, maybe that trend will finally be bucked. One can dream.

Once upon a time, I wrote about how dumb of an idea I thought a Joker movie was. I am happy to report that in the case of this film, I was dead wrong. Joker is a freight train and it hits hard. Like its subject, the film slithers and contorts as it weaves an uncomfortable story about the relationship of mental illness and violence, as well as explore, more superficially, how a character like the Joker could possibly come to exist.

This film is not unique in its depiction of madness. As has been pointed out by many before me, Taxi Driver, King of Comedy, and American Psycho all have shown a main character fall into murderousness. But when you take the most high profile villain in the most high profile subgenre of film and entertainment and give him a similar treatment, people are going to react. It’s not part of the plan. And that reaction has been harsh. Some are simply trying to score woke points in a world where clicks equal dollars (I don’t get paid to write these reviews, by the way). Others are striking against a preconceived idea of what a film like this ought to be. But Joker has opened up conversations like no other movie in recent memory, regardless of its quality.

Luckily, it is quite good. I will even dare to say that Joker is great. It is repetitive at this point to praise Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Arthur Fleck and Joker, but I will do it anyways because it is deserving of the praise. What Phoenix manages to pull off is incredible. He is physically unlikable at all points in this movie, yet somehow manages to maintain a certain quality of helplessness that it is reasonable to feel some empathy towards him early in his downward spiral. However, that quality of helplessness vanishes as we reach the final stage of development in this two hour thriller. Fears that Joker would somehow make the Joker’s violence attractive are, in my opinion, unmerited. In any other story, a likeable character would choose option “A” at critical moments in his narrative. Arthur, every time, chooses option “B”, moving him further away from the character we as an audience empathized with at the beginning. The film, instead of glorifying the violence, makes us mourn for the fall of the offender. We wanted better for him and he fell short of that hope. It is a tragedy, which is nothing new to the arts. Just ask Bill Shakespeare.

It is a shame that we will never see this Joker get punched in the face by a man dressed like a bat, but for once, the Joker will get all the press in this film. But if you are a Batman fan, fear not: there are so many nods to other iterations of the character, and his eighty year legacy is honored well by the Phillip’s script. From references to Cesar Romero and Heath Ledger, to plot points ripped from the pages of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, this elseworld’s tale does not shy away from its comic book lineage. There is a wonderful blend of source material and creative license that keeps us on our toes while never straying away from the black heart of the clown prince.

Joker is one of those movies that it is hard to fully commit to an opinion on. It is deserving of long conversations and quiet reflection. While the internet is buzzing about whether or not it will lead to gun violence, it bluntly asks whether our monsters are born in a vacuum, or are they born out of a society going to hell? Perhaps in a climate of over-sensitivity and stark black and white morality, this question lands with a dud, but, it might just be the kind of important questions we need to be asking as our handbasket closes in on its final destination.

The film is not for everyone. It is audacious, violent, uncomfortable, and beautifully gross. It is also fascinating, thought provoking, and provocative. It is tempting for me to believe that those who do not see the message in the film are those who want to avoid it, but I also think that there are many who are simply not ready to have that conversation just yet. How are we responsible for our monsters? What have we done to create the awful world our villains live in? These are the questions that we are left with, and I hope that we begin to ask them.

Final score: Full House

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NEWS: Pattinson Approved as Batman

by Drew Kiess

Smoke rises from the Gotham Cathedral. A new Batman has been chosen.

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Last month, Variety reported that Robert Pattinson had been cast as Batman in Matt Reeves’ The Batman. However, that story was dampened when other outlets said that it was not official and that it was down to Pattinson and Nicholas Hoult. However, today Deadline has reported that Pattinson, who was thought to be the frontrunner, has been approved by Warner Bros. to star as Bruce Wayne in the upcoming film trilogy, set to start production later this year, or early next year.

 

For most, Pattinson may seem like an odd fit, as he is mainly known as the guy from Twilight. Those who follow independent film, though, will know that Pattinson has created an impressive resume’ as of late, starring in indie darling films such as The Rover, Good Time, and The Lighthouse.

 

Details about The Batman are sparse, but it is believed that the film will feature several members of the rogue’s gallery, in a detective noir story, including The Penguin and Catwoman, as well as Riddler, among others. The Batman is scheduled to release June 25th, 2021.

Holy Moly! Shazam! Is A Triumph For DC

By Drew Kiess

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It seems like a lifetime ago that we fans were speculating that Dwayne Johnson was hinting at the possibility of a DC Universe movie featuring Shazam. Of course, when the movie was initially announced five years ago, Dwayne Johnson was announced as Black Adam. Things have changed, and while many (including me on some, but not all, fronts) will bemoan that change at Warner Bros. and DC Films, we now have our first winning streak as fans of this world on screen.

Aquaman was a moderate critical success and a major box office force. Following in the footsteps of James Wan, David Sandberg brought a truckload of magic into the DC universe with Shazam. Written by Henry Gayden and Darren Lemke, Shazam brings back the Amblin spirit and tells the tale of an orphaned Billy Batson and his search for family…and there just so happens to be an ancient wizard looking to hand out superpowers to someone pure of heart.

Zachary Levi and Asher Angel together create a likeable Billy Batson. The movie works because these two actors convey an undying hopefulness and despite perhaps him behaving badly at times, we empathize with his journey. Jack Dylan Grazer as his foster-brother Freddy brings a nerdy perspective to the cast, and he is very much the audience’s viewfinder into the superhero world at-large. Mark Strong as the villainous Sivana adds a level of gravity to the proceedings and provides a poignant foe for our hero. The rest of the cast fills in beautifully, and I cannot find a weak point.

Where Shazam! soars where other superhero movies have fallen short for me is the use of humor. Most of the jokes land well and feel character appropriate. The film balances comedy and the understanding that the situations are, in fact, serious, very well. The humor is the kind of humor a fourteen-year-old would use in similar situations that Billy finds himself in, while Sivana is allowed to carry the weight of the darker elements of the story.

And the story does have darker elements. Sivana channels the Seven Deadly Sins in his search for power. Sandberg taps into his horror roots and creates a threat that has vibes of Gremlins-style horror, all balanced by Big-style heart. Levi’s childlike glee contrasts nicely with Strong’s childish envy.

Shazam! is the film that will win over many stragglers onto the DC Films bandwagon. It is a true crowd-pleaser and offers something for the whole family. My only concern heading out of this movie is the DC slate moving forward. Yes, Wonder Woman 84 hits theaters next summer, but between now and then, Joker and Birds of Prey, both of which are expected to be rater R, are on the horizon. Will this darker turn turn-off the fans hopping on board with the Aquaman-Shazam! vibe? Time will tell. But for now, get ready to enjoy one of the most joy-filled superhero movies we may ever see.

 

Final rating: A

Aquaman Keeps DC Afloat

by Drew Kiess

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It feels like an eternity since Justice League landed with a thud last November, the film that introduced us (officially) to Jason Momoa’s Arthur Curry. Irrespective of your opinion on that film (I still watch that movie with a stupid, childish grin on my face, despite its flaws), we all knew coming out of it that the landscape of DC on film was going to be changed forever.

The Snyder era, in practicality, was over (The Snyders are listed as producers for Aquaman, but likely had very little creative control). Aquaman is the first true post-Snyder DC film and the first film who’s post-production (and some production) overseen by Walter Hamada. This is the new DC Films, for better and worse.

By the time my “early” screening started, it felt like everyone in the world had already seen the film. In fact, it had already become a smash hit in China and had many screenings around the world. The word-of-mouth on the movie felt really strong, but the critical reception was lukewarm. Heading in, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was in for.

Ever since Geoff Johns took over the book in 2011 at the beginning of the “New 52” era, Aquaman has remained at the top of my favorite comic books. There’s been something exciting about the character for me for some time, and I have long wanted to see what the world of Atlantis would look like on the bigscreen. Finally, James Wan has brought this dream to life.

Aquaman looks gorgeous. Yes, it’s a CGI heavy film, but there’s probably a good reason for that. Rumor has it that Jason Momoa and Amber Heard are not actually fish-people. Once we accept the world, then hopefully we can acknowledge just how well crafted it is visually. But CGI always has a way of drawing criticism, warranted or not.

The cast of Aquaman, from Momoa’s Arthur to Heard’s Mera, and from Wilson’s Orm to DaFoe’s Vulko, are all pitch-perfect castings and seem to have good chemistry. It is an overused trite of film criticism to say that actors seemed to have a fun time making a movie (who cares? So long as it’s a great performance, they can be miserable for all I care), but Momoa had an energy about him that was absolutely infectious, and Heard played Mera with a light-hearted royal air.

Aquaman, however, squanders its cast’s chemistry with some fairly cliche’ emotional writing. There’s nothing wrong with a conventional Joseph Campbell-esque hero’s journey, but the writing needs to be less conventional and on-the-nose. Too often, David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall’s screenplay held the hand of the audience through emotional beats, and some of these beats were delivered in flashback, without our heroes. Much of the humor falls flat as well, which falls square at the feet of the screenwriters The break-neck pace of the film and the consistency and quality of the action make up for much of what is lacking in the screenplay’s dialogue, but script-wise, it may be the weakest of these DCU films for me (remembering, of course, that I haven’t disliked one outright yet).

That hero’s journey is well-plotted. Arthur’s journey from reluctant hero to king is about as classic as it gets, and is a quintessential part of who this character is. He shows us that being heroic isn’t about whether we are worthy of our heroic stature, but it’s about what we decide to fight for–ourselves or those around us?

In a better world, this would have been a two-part film, giving some of the ideas and character development room to breathe. But because superhero movie sequels are not a guarantee outside of the mighty MCU, this film had quite a bit of ground to cover. The result is a fast-paced, wacky, and action-packed adventure. For the most part, it’s fun. It brings a comic book character to life in a way that I had not thought possible. Wan certainly deserves a chance to direct the sequel, and all signs point to him getting that chance. Aquaman is poised to become Warner Bros.’ biggest box-office superhero success since The Dark Knight Rises, but even if it falls short of that billion dollar mark, it should land happily in the neighborhood of Wonder Woman‘s $822 million dollar hull. The new DC Films is here, boys and girls. Let’s hope it sticks around.

Final Grade: Comics Code Approved Approved_by_the_Comics_Code_Authority

 

Aquaman is in U.S. theaters December 21st

10 Memorable Moments from ‘The Dark Knight’

10 Most Memorable Moments From The Dark Knight 

By Jeff Grantz

When Christopher Nolan’s reboot of the Batman franchise hit theaters in the summer of 2005, it was coming off of the 8-year-spanning dark ages that followed the release of Joel Schumacher’s horrendous second Bat-film. Batman & Robin was thought to have killed the franchise for good, but Nolan was able to pull off the unthinkable with Batman Begins: he took a character that a lot of non-comic fans (like Schumacher) might dismiss as campy kid’s stuff and delivered a film that finally realized the gravitas that true Batman fans knew was there all along. However, that was nothing compared to what came next…

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since the release of The Dark Knight. I remember being out of my mind excited after that final scene in Batman Begins, in which Lieutenant Gordon (Gary Oldman) summoned Batman (Christian Bale) to the roof of the GCPD with their brand new Bat-Signal to inform him of a new criminal with “a taste for the theatrical.” Looking back, that calling card was the very first inkling that Nolan and company truly had something special planned for us next.

I remember the following three years to be a truly exciting – and tragic – time as we eagerly awaited every morsel of information we could get our grubby little hands on. I remember the speculation. Who’s gonna play the Joker? (my choice was Crispin Glover, who was yours?). I remember the backlash upon Heath Ledger’s casting. The Knight’s Tale guy is the Joker? Dude from Brokeback Mountain? Mr. 10 Things I Hate About You? I remember the intrigue when we finally started to see what the actor was bringing to the role. And sadly, I remember the heartbreak when it was reported that Heath Ledger had tragically passed away at the age of 28. Thankfully, by that time, we had already seen enough of his take on Joker to realize just how remarkable his performance was going to be. There was a lot on the line going into July 18, 2008, but no matter how high I cranked up my expectation, the film delivered and then some.

The Dark Knight is nothing short of a masterpiece. It’s arguably one of – if not the – greatest comic book film ever made. It changed the game for superhero storytelling and taught us that these characters can be taken seriously. It spawned or inspired countless later superhero films and TV shows, from the darker take on Superman in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (and the direction taken by practically all subsequent DC films to this point) to Arrow on The CW. This film left a mark that we are still living in the shadow of to this day, a decade later.

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the 10 Most Memorable Moments from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (in chronological order)…

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10. “Whatever Doesn’t Kill You Simply Makes You Stranger.”

I remember waiting in line to see I Am Legend in IMAX opening night for the sole purpose of seeing TDK’s opening bank heist scene a whole SEVEN months before the film would eventually hit theaters. While superhero origin stories can be fun, I always feel that it’s way more exciting to hit the ground running and TDK did just that with one hell of an opening sequence that is on par with the likes of James Bond or Indiana Jones films.

First impressions are important, and The Joker certainly gave a good one here, even though we don’t see Ledger’s face until the final moments of the scene. We are introduced to this maniacal madman and are shown not only how ruthless he is, but how brilliant as well. The scene is made even better by the fact that all of the goons he hired to pull the job off spend the entire scene talking about this mysterious Joker guy, not realizing he’s right there alongside them the whole time. As each step in his master plan is successfully executed, he successfully executes the guy who performed the task, until there’s no one left to go splitsies with on the haul. This is a wonderfully rendered depiction of what it’s like working for the Joker of the comics: he might need something from you, but the guy isn’t really big on loyalty.

The Dark Knight Rises continued this trend, and while Nolan certainly went bigger with Bane’s introduction in that film’s plane-hijacking opening, certainly a fantastic sequence, bigger does not always equal better.

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9. “That’s More Like It.”

While the scene featuring Batman’s first appearance in the film is more often than not remembered for the “hockey pads” line (one that, for some reason, is one of the go-to’s for mocking Christian Bale’s Batman voice, along with “Swear to me!” and “I’m Batman” from Begins), I will long remember it as the first modern day superhero film to really get on board with something that comic book movie fans were long hungering for: continuity.

Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow is the first big screen Batman villain to ever return for a sequel. I’m not really a big fan of the villains being killed off in superhero movies, because I love the fact that, in the comics, they always come back, no matter what. Dr. Jonathan Crane was a perfect character to do something like this with too. Having a bad guy who we all know is very familiar with the Batman is always a great way of illustrating how the city as a whole has reacted to him. Some thugs might talk a big game, but only those who have actually crossed paths with him before really know how feared the man should be. I love the certainty with which Scarecrow utters, “That’s not him,” as the fake Batmen break up the drug meet, and the fear in his voice when he definitively states, “That’s more like it,” after the Batmobile crashes its way into parking structure.

Besides, Murphy’s performance in Batman Begins was terrific, so he more than earned himself a small cameo in this film, as well as its sequel.

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8. “How About a Magic Trick?”

Fully understanding Joker’s place in Gotham’s criminal underworld is important. Plus, the man not only likes to make an entrance, he likes to leave an impression, and he does just that in record time in the scene where he interrupts the Salvatore Maroni (Eric Roberts), Gambol (Michael Jai White) and the rest of the crime lords’ secret daytime meeting.

Obviously, everyone remembers the pencil trick (“Ta-da! It’s gone.”), but like with any great sleight-of-hand artist, the trick is only meant to drawn us in while something else is happening altogether. This is a scene that people remember, for the most part, because of the violent nature of it, but there’s so much more to it than that.

We’re drawn into the incredible performance that Heath Ledger was giving in this role – a role he posthumously, but deservedly won the Best-Supporting Actor Oscar for – but we’re also getting an insight into what makes this character tick. He’s the kinda guy who walks around with a couple dozen grenades in his jacket. We get to see how this character is planning on making a name for himself in this town. Simply stated: “Kill the Batman.” One man declaring war on the Batman is insane, but it’s a job this man is perfectly suited for.

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7. “You Wanna Know How I Got These Scars?”

Personally, I am of the firm belief that The Joker does not need an origin story (sorry, Todd Phillips). In the comics world, the only thing that ever dared to come close to being considered a canonical origin for the Joker was Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke, and even in that, Moore left himself a little wiggle room, with Joker’s line, “If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!” His proclamation that even he sometimes remembers it happening one way and sometimes another was excellently worked into Joker’s shtick in this film.

The first story Joker tells Gambol, about his abusive alcoholic father cutting his mother’s, then his face, is horrific, and might make the character somewhat sympathetic, if it was to be believed. In addition to the line I’ve plucked to title this entry, this first scene also features a couple other instantly famous lines, like “Let’s put a smile on that face,” and of course, the iconic, “Why so serious?”

The second story, Joker tells to Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) when he crashes the Dent fundraiser at Bruce Wayne’s apartment. When he grabs the man that he says reminds him of his father, you think he’s about to go into the whole drunk dad spiel again, but this time, his story’s a bit different, with a tale of a gambling wife cut up by loan sharks and his twisted way of cheering her up. And, of course, this scene is wonderfully capped off with the Joker’s line to Rachel, “You got a little fight in you, I like that,” met with Batman’s, “Then you’re gonna love me.” This was an excellent first face-to-face meeting between these two historic adversaries.

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6. “Come on, hit me!”

Sometimes, a Batman film is all about the spectacle. The Hong Kong gliding sequence earlier in the film is a beautifully-photographed example of this, but nothing says spectacle like flipping a big ass 18-wheeler in the middle of the street. And doing it practically, no less! Now, that’s what going to the movies is all about!

This entire chase sequence – where the Joker attempts to get his hands on Dent who publically proclaimed himself to be the Batman – is fantastic. The truck flip is epic, but the following events are what make this scene one of my favorite Joker vs. Batman moments in the whole film. The game of chicken Joker plays with Bats is so indicative of how unhinged the villain really is. There was no way Batman was going to win that one. Also, I’ve always loved the little trip Joker does immediately after getting out of the flipped truck where his gun goes off randomly.

And, of course, there’s the awesome conversion from the Tumbler to the Batpod that, granted, feels a bit like they’re trying to sell toys, but isn’t that like 90% of a Batman movie’s job?

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5. “To Them You’re Just a Freak, Like Me.”

While the previous entry is, in my opinion, one of the best Batman/Joker action sequences in the film, the interrogation is their best performance-based scene. Straightforward dialogue scenes between the Caped Crusader and the Clown Prince of Crime are always favorites of mine, on screen or in print, whether it’s Bale and Ledger, Keaton and Nicholson, or Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill. These types of scenes are always the introductory course for their relationship, and this one is no exception.

Needless to say, Ledger and Bale both give incredible performances in this scene, as does Oldman. Each and every thing Joker says about how similar the two of them are unnerves Batman more and more, because Joker knows just how to press all of Batman’s buttons. The truth is, Joker might understand Batman better than anyone. Even in a verbal back and forth, though, things with Bats and Joker still tend to get physical (“Never start with the head, the victim gets all fuzzy.”), but as Gordon says, “He’s in control.” Though, when the threats start to get a little closer to home, that’s when the chairs get jammed under doorknobs.

Of course, the scene’s sets up the devastating choice that Joker gives Batman – to save the woman he loves or the hero his city needs – getting Batman out of his way while he makes his escape. After all, he planned on getting caught all along. Now, that’s a criminal genius.

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4. “You Either Die a Hero, or You Live Long Enough To See Yourself Become the Villain.”:

For the most part, I’ve barely touched on Aaron Eckhart’s phenomenal turn as Harvey Dent in this film. Whenever people complain about comic book movies having too many villains, I always point to this film as a shining example of just how to pull this kind of thing off.

For the most part, Dent’s fall from grace is so beautifully done. Sure, there were some liberties taken on the part of the filmmakers in regards to Two-Face’s origin, but we’ve already seen how stupid the original looked in Batman Forever (Really, a single sheet of paper can perfectly shield half of his face from acid?). The origin here is made much more impactful with Rachel’s death, not to mention it plays so much better into Two-Face’s theme of the 50/50 chance and making choices (a theme that the film is pretty heavy on aside from just Dent’s involvement – see next entry). The real cherry on top, however, comes in the hospital scene that follows soon after.

As a whole, Two-Face’s quest for vengeance from the ones that played some part in Rachel’s death is really well executed. My only qualm, and my only issue with this film in the slightest, is that they killed off Two-Face. This was especially disappointing seeing as how they wouldn’t be able to have him nor the Joker return in The Dark Knight Rises. Not only could Dent have been a great recurring villain in the series if not for his demise, but Batman’s decision to take the fall (both figuratively and literally) for Dent’s crimes led to him spending 8 years on the shelf between this film and the next. This was my biggest problem with TDKR, because Batman, especially a Batman whose only been doing it a year, would not take 8 years off under any circumstances. Not when his city needs him. But at the time that this film came out, I didn’t yet realize just how disappointed I would be in this story point in just three years time.

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3. “Some Men Just Wanna Watch the World Burn.”

The above line from the story that Alfred (Michael Caine) tells Bruce perfectly encapsulates the Joker’s whole m.o. (it also happens to be another of the film’s highly quoted lines). He isn’t after riches. All of his favorite things come relatively cheap. What he wants is complete and utter anarchy. The anarchy part is on full display in the scene with the two ferries – one carrying civilians, the other, prisoners – with a bomb on each and its detonator onboard the other.

Also, I’ll always remember the scene where Joker burns the money, if only for the Joker’s joyful slide down the giant mountain of cash. His burning the money is his declaration to the criminal underworld that Gotham City belongs to him now. Hell, by this point, this film belongs to him. Seriously, you mention The Dark Knight to me, the first thing I think about is Ledger’s Joker. Batman almost takes a backseat in his own film, but hey, that’s pretty much the case whenever these two share the screen together.

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2. “I’m a Dog Chasing Cars…”

The Joker’s brilliant manipulation of a vulnerable Harvey Dent in the hospital scene is yet another one of those great glimpses into the mind of a maniacal agent of chaos. In every conceivable way, the Joker is responsible for the birth of Two-Face in this film. He orchestrated all of the events leading to this moment, were Dent lies in a hospital bed and he utilizes the power of suggestion to arm Dent and point him in his desired direction.

There are so many incredible lines of dialogue in this film, but there are a few that I think are simply perfection. Joker’s speech here is expertly summarized by his line about being a dog chasing a car and not knowing what he’d do if he ever actually caught one. To me, the car in question is Batman. He can play the mastermind all he wants, but even he doesn’t know what he wants from Bats in the grand scheme of things. All he knows is that he’s fun. The fact that he delivers this whole speech while dressed as a female nurse is delightful. It’s something I could easily see the Joker of the comic books or even Mark Hamill’s animated Joker doing.

Almost as an added bonus, the hospital scene crescendos into one of those true movie magic moments when, after Joker exits the hospital and hits the trigger, the final, big real-life explosives didn’t go off, so Ledger stayed in character while the cameras rolled on before they finally detonated and he could make his big exit. They had one chance to get that shot right and that one little hiccup made the scene that much more iconic.

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1. “You and I Are Destined To Do This Forever.”

The film’s big finale, set opposite the two ferries Joker turned against one another, features a scene not all that dissimilar to the finale of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. Batman lays siege upon a tall building and it all ends with one hell of a physical altercation between the two. Batman is always an impressive fighter, but Joker doesn’t always cut the mustard in that regard if not portrayed correctly. With the Joker utilizing the dogs and dual-wielding blunt weapons, it is perhaps the best fight scene ever between the two characters. At the end, he plummets over the side, only this time around, Batman saves him.

The Joker’s final speech as he hangs upside down from an under-construction building sums up the Batman/Joker relationship perfectly: “I think you and I are destined to do this forever.” If the interrogation scene is the introductory class, this line is the thesis statement. What Joker tells him about their relationship – how neither one can kill the other, because of Batman’s moral code and Joker just finding him too much fun – is everything you need to know about these two characters. No matter the medium, Batman and the Joker have such a co-dependent relationship it’s crazy… like, literally crazy. They need each other. Okay, so one more so than the other, but still.

Joker’s destiny line is made all the more heartbreaking by Ledger’s death and the simple fact that this would be the only time we would ever get to see Heath Ledger’s Joker and Christian Bale’s Batman share the screen together. But damn, it was good while it lasted.

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So, that’s my list, as tough as it was to narrow it down to just 10 moments. So many more could have made this list, moments big – such as the Joker’s attempt on the Mayor’s life at Commissioner Loeb’s funeral (he loves a good parade, doesn’t he?) or his videos sent to news outlets (which Ledger directed himself) – and small – like Joker clapping at Gordon’s promotion or even Lucius Fox’s (Morgan Freeman) chat with the would-be blackmailer Mr. Reese (an apparent Riddler nod: E. Nygma/Enigma, Mr. Reese/Mysteries. Get it?).

Now, it’s your turn. Tell us what your favorite moments are from the film. Leave a comment or reach out on Twitter (you can find me @Jeff_Grantz). And if you haven’t already, celebrate the tenth anniversary of a true cinematic classic and revisit The Dark Knight today.

Another Joker Movie On The Way?

by Drew Kiess

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Can I rant for a minute? Because I feel like ranting. Every other blog writer for geek stuff gets to do it, so why not me?

 

Overall, it has been a bad year for fandom. Not just DC fandom, mind you– all of fandom. Star Wars fans turning on each other and bullying individuals involved in a movie they didn’t like, Marvel fans using success as a weapon instead of an invitation for improvement, and Snyder fans turning every possible scenario into an opportunity to harass and belittle individuals who were only doing their job. The rest of us are left in the cold trying to fend for ourselves.

 

The reality is that we have created this mess. Our feverish desire for more of our geek-flavored product has caused a cheapening of what we once held precious. This is why we get a Han Solo movie that no one asked for (regardless of whether you liked the film or not, can we at least admit it’s still a little bizarre?) and its why we have Warner Bros. now scrambling to find Jared Leto’s Joker something to do.

 

Suicide Squad 2 is in apparent limbo, and Matt Reeves doesn’t want anything to do with Joker, and with Margot Robbie now attached to the moving train that is Birds of Prey, there isn’t really an obvious landing place for the character that for some reason, Warner Bros. has deemed a priority. Thus, we get the announcement today that Jared Leto will be starring in his own film as the Joker.
We may not have asked for this, but we absolutely asked for this.

 

The only thing that is currently known about this film is that Leto will star and produce. No writer, no director, and no production date have been given. So, in essence, its a concept without any skeleton.

 

I have done my best to remain positive regarding DC Films. As a matter of fact, I have liked to even loved every single entry to this point (yes, I liked Suicide Squad, Leto included). But it is becoming increasingly difficult to stand behind a studio that doesn’t seem to understand why these characters matter in the first place. Joker exists to challenge Batman. Without that dynamic, it is difficult to comprehend what the draw will be. Add that to the fact that Leto’s Joker was not particularly well received. It makes me wonder who exactly this film will be aimed at.

 

Time will tell if this will even be made (I have my doubts), but it seems like this is what happens when we push these studios for content. Long gone are the days when we were happy we had just one great comic book franchise. Now we need ten, plus.

 

And all this… and still no Superman movie. Explain that.

 

 

Batman Ninja: A Beautiful Frustration

By Drew Kiess

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Oh, boy… where to start with this one?

I suppose I will start by admitting that this is a review of the dubbed version of Batman Ninja. I am not an anime fan, so watching the movie with subtitles would have been a chore for me. For some, that may disqualify me altogether from reviewing this. That would be fair. I can only approach this from the standpoint of being a Batman fan, so that is the angle from which this review is written.

There. The qualifier is done.

Batman Ninja is the newest addition in the long line of DC Animated movies, this time from Warner Bros. proper and not from any of its subdivisions, such as Warner Premier. This movie will see a theatrical release in Japan, and I sincerely wish it all the success in the world there. The film was directed by Junpei Mizusaki, with Roger Craig Smith providing the dubbing for Batman, Tara Strong for Harley Quinn, Grey Griffin for Selina Kyle, and Tony Hale for the Joker.

When Gorilla Grodd’s time travelling experiment sends Batman, his allies—Nightwing, Red Robin, Robin, Alfred, Red Hood, and Catwoman—and his greatest foes—Joker, Harley Quinn, Two-Face, Penguin, and Deathstroke—back in time to feudal Japan, Batman must learn the ways of the ninja in order to return everyone back to Gotham. As the movie opens, the CG animation is striking. The movements look fluid and the action is more captivating than anything DC animation has put out in some time.

This quality in the visuals is almost constant throughout and the eyes never get bored watching the movie. The one strike against this is a baffling change in style about midway through the film that seemingly serves no storytelling purpose, but this alone does not sink this movie.

What keeps this movie from being great in my eyes is its over reliance on its own medium. The film sets itself up in ”our Gotham”, and then transports the familiar back in time to feudal Japan, but the rules of feudal Japan are not the rules of “our Gotham”—it exists very much by the rules of anime.

And this would be fine, if the movie set itself up as an anime first, set in an anime world. By trying to its cake and eat it, too, the film loses its punch. If fighting mechanical castles were necessary to the overall arc of the film, perhaps it would have been better to simply establish that the world that this Batman lives in is that kind of world, and not bother with the whole time travel ruse (It’s hard not to feel like Randall from Clerks, here. “I don’t appreciate your ruse, ma’am. Your cunning attempt to trick me).

What saves this movie for me is the characterization of Batman, which never feels false to the character, and the aesthetic. It is also incredibly refreshing to see a DC animated movie that doesn’t feel reliant on sophomoric sexual overtones that have become tiresome in recent entries. The characterization of the other characters, however—save, perhaps, Selina Kyle—is all over the map and not really as true as I would prefer.

Overall, I am lukewarm on Batman Ninja. This very well may be a great movie that simply wasn’t made for me. What I can say is that the film is absolutely gorgeous, and the marketing on just how good this film looks was not overstated. If you are a Batman fan or an anime fan, I would say that Batman Ninja is worth checking out. But if you are not as into anime as you are into Batman, then this may not be for you, either.

 

Final Grade: B-

 

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Suicide Squad: Hell To Pay

By Drew Kiess

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Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay is the latest addition to the DC Animated Universe that began with Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox and is the first to feature the Suicide Squad. The film stars Christian Slater as Deadshot, Vanessa Williams as Amanda Waller, Billy Brown as the Bronze Tiger, Kristen Bauer van Straten as Killer Frost, Gideon Emery as Copperhead, Liam McIntyre as Captain Boomerang, and Tara Strong as Harley Quinn. It was written by Alan Burnett (Batman: Mask of the Phantasm) and was directed by Sam Liu (Batman: The Killing Joke).

Can we be honest about these animated films for a moment? There has been a narrative about DC’s animated projects that has been all the rage that these are the DC movies that are knocking it out of the park. And at one time, that was honestly true. From Wonder Woman, New Frontier, The Dark Knight Returns, and Flashpoint Paradox, there was a strong string of good to great animated features in a short amount of time.

Since then, there has been less consistency. Killing Joke and Batman and Harley Quinn are far removed from the glory days of DC animated films. And for every Gotham by Gaslight, there is the unavoidable realization that the production quality is not what it once was. And I don’t think it’s a problem with the creative team, but there might just be too many projects for not enough people.

Suicide Squad: Hell To Pay may be one of the better productions from this universe in a while, but the story as a whole feels somewhat lacking. The Squad is sent to retrieve a get out of hell card for Waller, but they have some competition from various baddies across the DC Universe, including Blockbuster, Vandal and Scandal Savage, and Professor Zoom. A grindhouse road trip ensues to find the card.

Where this movie thrives is with the villains—that is, the bad bad-guys. The connections to the greater universe that is weaved into this film may be the best use of this connected universe to date. If this were the focal point of the movie (you know, telling an interesting story within a larger comic book universe) it would have been one of my favorites. That’s not what we got.

What we got was a movie that promised a sexy, violent action movie that could not separate itself from past attempts by these animated movies to be more “adult”, succeeding only in fulfilling the most juvenile of expectations on both fronts. Fetishizing strippers and lesbians is not something I associate with “edgy” and it, unsurprisingly, falls incredibly short here.

I have said it before with these movies and apparently it needs repeating: not everything needs to push the boundaries. Cool stories that exploit what makes these characters interesting will forever be preferable than using these characters to prove some point that comic book stories can be “grown up”. It’s a trend that is in desperate need of ending and I seriously hope it finds its demise before Death of Superman.

Here’s hoping.

 

 

Star Wars and the Falsehood of Correct Opinions

by Drew Kiess

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Nothing like a Star Wars movie to bring us together, right?

Being a DC Comics fan, I’m in an interesting position to comment on divisive movies. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is certainly just that, but in a fascinating way that I am struggling to find a parallel to. Perhaps J.J. Abram’s Star Trek, ironically, has had a similar reaction to where it is a critical hit and seemingly well liked among casual moviegoers and fans, but incredibly divisive among the more faithful fanbase.

I will get this out of the way now: I did not particularly like The Last Jedi. I found the plot to be clunky and full of holes that would make Mr. Sir proud. It was an incredibly uneven experience with the things that I loved about it clashing with the things that I didn’t. This, however, does not mean that the film was without merit or should, as some zealous fans have suggested, be stricken from the official canon. That is just nonsense.

All students surpass their masters. This is the way things work. This is the theme of Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi and is easily the greatest thing this movie can add to the franchise. We can always move beyond the things that have come in the past and embrace the future, even if that future makes us uneasy.

And I embrace that lesson. I will be the first to admit, while I was fighting the good fight for Man of Steel against the “Not My Superman” crowd, I was planted directly in the middle of the “Not my Star Wars” crowd as a proud member. The year 2005 changed the way I viewed Star Wars with the conclusion of Revenge of the Sith. The Star War was over. It was a thing of the past. The next month, I would read for the first time Batman Year One and watch Batman Begins and my conversion to being a comic book nerd from being a Star Wars nerd was completed. “When I was a child, I thought as a child…”

And so Star Wars was cemented as an element of my childhood. I was fourteen when Revenge of the Sith hit cinemas and Star Wars has always been a relic for me of that time period. I have flippantly referred to Star Wars as the nerd starter pack. I still (kind of) stand by that.

The prospect of bringing them back and even deconstructing these heroes was not and is not an idea that I am entirely game for. I have a deeper understanding of those who dislike Man of Steel for that reason. However, that was my problem with The Force Awakens. I do suspect that is also the problem for some with this film, but it reveals another dark side to fandom:

If someone disagrees with our opinion, we have to explain it away.

The reason I didn’t like The Last Jedi is simple: the negative subjectively outweighed the positive. The reason others liked it is because they had the reverse experience. The common theory that has been thrown around is that those who dislike it are throwing some kind of tantrum because of their fan theories is actually a disservice to the movie you love.

I fully believe that The Last Jedi is a bold movie that makes bold decisions. If those worked for you, great. I would hope that if you are a fan of a controversial movie that you would choose to engage in the conversation rather than categorize dissention and write them off. Engaging with it is the best way to embrace it.

On the flip side, if you hated it, do not conflate those who love it with blind brand loyalists. Any movie worthy of a strong negative reaction must have qualities that are bold enough to warrant appreciation from someone else.

I believe that conversations about movies can and should include discussing different opinions and not become a shouting match. We all have a different road that leads us to these movies and so we all have a different experience with them. Hear from them, and let it inform and even strengthen your own opinion. You might actually learn something along the way. Learn the lessons from the film arguments in the past and make the ones coming up better. Movies shouldn’t be something that rips us apart, but something that brings us together—even if we disagree.

 

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Justice League Review

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by Drew Kiess

 

How to describe a movie like Justice League? Or, a better question, how to describe a movie like Justice League in a way that it has not already been described?

Let’s look over what we know: yes, we know that the post-production process on this movie was less than smooth for various reasons, chief among them a personal tragedy in the director’s family. Yes, we also know that the critical hill for this movie to climb was probably much too steep and the comparisons to the distinguished competition were unavoidable (how could anything measure up to what is already locked-in as a cultural phenomenon?). And yes, we also know that the tone of this film was shifted even further from the somberness of its predecessor due to critical feedback.

We know all that. What we don’t know is how things would have turned out otherwise. I can only review this movie for the movie I saw in the theaters and not the movie that I thought we were getting. Maybe someday we’ll get to see that movie (we’re just now getting to see the three hour version of 1978’s Superman The Movie, so there’s always hope), but this is the Justice League movie we got. And—honestly—I loved it.

To say a movie is imperfect seems like a critical cheat, but it is also important to say in this case. While I think most of the imperfections pointed out aren’t necessarily the same problems I have with the film (most of my complaints involve the ever-hated spoilers, so I will avoid talking too much about them), this is the first of the three Snyder DC Films entries that I’m comfortable with letting the critical onslaught hit without much argument. Perhaps that says more about me than the movie, but this is not quite the same kind of movie as Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. If you hated those movies, you might take that as a relief. As someone who loved them, it is a bit of a dunk in cold water.

What exists instead, though, is just as reverent a love letter to DC Comics fans. Never did I dream of seeing pieces from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World on a big screen. Seeing Commissioner Gordon (played well by J.K. Simmons) speaking with Batman and Wonder Woman and The Flash and Cyborg on a rooftop is a treat. And for anyone who has read the works of Kirby, Grant Morrison’s Rock of Ages, or Geoff John’s Justice League: Origins, there is plenty to keep you geeking out from the opening titles to the close of the credits. And yes, that end credits scene is as good as you’ve been told.

Of the major characters, most for me were given a fantastic show case as to what makes them amazing characters. There is one character that I felt may have been shortchanged, but that may be super spoilery (see what I did there?). Steppenwolf was fine. The great thing about using a character like Steppenwolf is that he does not come with a lot of baggage and is disposable without having his fan club become up-in-arms. Quick, name your favorite Steppenwolf comic book! He serves the purpose of providing a threat daunting enough to get the team together, but is not the kind of character who merits a long-winded motivation.

What the movie does well for me is not shying away from the comic book-ness of the whole thing. While the humor, thanks in part to screenwriter (and post-production supervisor) Joss Whedon, is cranked up in Justice League, it never feels aimed at the audience for enjoying these types of stories. It managed to have fun while still telling a cool story ripped almost perfectly from the pages of a comic book. And that may make it a movie that’s not for everyone. But if you’re someone who loves these characters, I highly recommend seeing Justice League with someone who loves these characters with you. There’ll be plenty for you to talk about.

Final score: Comic Code Approved

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