Full disclosure: I’m more of a DC Comics man than a Marvel reader. So I was very much anticipating the first big-screen depiction of the Justice League, despite Warner Brothers’ questionable and stumbling towards creating a DC movie universe. The bar is pretty low for this film, which is rather disappointing for DC’s first theatrical ensemble picture. Though Snyder’s direction is still spotty and flawed, there are small bursts of hope present, more so than the painfully dark and muddy Batman v. Superman, though not as many as the triumphantly bold Wonder Woman movie.
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Wonder Woman is more of a superhero movie than a movie with superheroes in it. Warner Brothers’ previous DC Comics “superhero” movies seemed to deal with wavering themes, much too heavy for the likes of capes and cowls. Considering how obsessed Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice became with the idea of gods to the point of crucifying Superman, I wasn’t looking forward to a DC movie about actual gods. Thankfully, director Patty Jenkins knew what she was doing to make a Wonder Woman movie work. She knew you couldn’t take a superhero film too seriously when a tiara-wearing Amazon warrior tries to stop the God of War and his evil sidekick Doctor Poison.
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The villains of Batman tend to be much more intriguing than the title hero and now a handful of them have been given their own animated film. But rather than admiring their pathos, this film is more a Dirty Dozen deal. The villains are not spruced up to be more redeemable protagonists and are instead given the reluctant rouge angle. They’re all still evil characters, but just evil enough to be likable for the rather violent mission forced upon them.
The secret government organization known as Suicide Squad takes in villains and offers them a chance to shave off some time from their prison sentence. In exchange, they must complete a secret mission for the government. If they fail, being captured won’t be an issue as the explosives attached to their necks will explode. And, naturally, these missions are not voluntary. The group selected for this mission includes the keen-eyed assassin Deadshot, the witty Captain Boomerang and the overly eccentric Harley Quinn among others. Their mission is to break into Arkham Asylum and take out the recently captured Edward Niggma. But once the group starts questioning the reasons behind the secret murder, they try to stay one step ahead of Suicide Squad supervisor Amanda Waller. And with The Joker running loose inside the asylum and Batman hot on their trails, they’ve got their work cut out for them in addition to dealing with the security.
While the villains we follow for this story are mostly B and C listers of the DC Comics roster, they’re still very fun to follow in a darkly comedic way. It helps that the film is setup with this tone similar to that of a 1970’s mercenary ensemble feature. I was reminded of those 1980’s mercenery ensemble pictures if not for the music and editing than for the slick introductions given to our key players. The manner in which they proceed to carry out their tasks while retaining their despicable behavior is incredibly entertaining. I guess I was just more impressed that film did not dial back on the villainy. This is a group that while reluctantly working together still will not hesitate to kill one of their own if they can get ahead. There is just enough backstory given to Deadshot where we identify with him the most and hope he’ll make it out alive.
It may sound strange writing this, but Batman and Joker are the weaker links of this movie. The Dark Knight manages to pull off shreds of good detective work, but his master plan for infiltrating the Suicide Squad could be seen a mile away and wasn’t all that surprising when it was revealed. The twisted love triangle between Joker, Harley and Deadshot was not as strong acting as a setup for the third act showdown. Joker manages to get in some mildly amusing bits, but nowhere near as entertaining as the relationship between Killer Frost and King Shark or the sly wit of Captain Boomerang. This group manages to hold their own in this thriller of bad guys working for people are far more worse.
While ‘Batman: Assault on Arkham’ does have a thriller angle to uncovering the secrets of the Suicide Squad program, it’s much more enjoyable for its bombastic directing. It’s ruthlessly violent, scandalously sexual and a clever script to boot. This all manages to come together in a fun, almost campy appeal to prisoners breaking into a prison. It manages to be vastly different from DC Comic’s previous direct-to-video animated films which all seem to follow a similar template. For being so wildly different, I can’t help but recommend such a movie even with our title character missing for half the film.
I fear that Warner Brothers may have exhausted their Batman animated movie ideas if they’re now resorting to estranged child plots. Such a concept seems like something more common for a television program in the twilight of its run. It’s a move that one would have to be very brave and very capable of pulling off to make for an entertaining movie. This is not that movie as the whole idea is given a very lukewarm presentation.
Damien Wayne has grown up far from his father Bruce Wayne in the mountain HQ for the League of Assassins. His entire life has been spent on intense warrior training with his mother Talia and his grandfather Ra’s. Terror strikes, however, when the evil Deathstroke descends on the stronghold with his highly-trained minions to destroy the League. When Ra’s is murdered in the scuffle, Damien vows swift revenge for the death of his grandfather. His quest leads him to Gotham City where he finally comes face to face with his father. Naturally, being the dark knight, it isn’t long before Damien takes an interest in the Robin costume and the dynamic duo takes on a father-son relationship.
The two are polar opposites, however, with Damien being more of a killer than a crime fighter. Growing up with assassins, he’s been taught some rather nasty lessons that Bruce must now rectify with his more humane approach to vigilantism. He shows him the ropes by following the trail of clues that leads them to some fights with Killer Croc and a gang of Man Bats. Those fight scenes are decent, but never really ascend past the level of television animation. And the final showdown between the two and Deathstroke is so underwhelming for a fight with swords and martial arts. These three are supposed to be masters of their fighting craft and here they’re pulling out amateur moves and mistakes. This could have been an impressive display and instead it just feels like another uninspired moment.
What’s really so disappointing about the film is the very poor choice in voice talents. None of these voices really fit all that well. I couldn’t buy the emotion of Bruce Wayne, the cruelness of Damien and the evil of Deathstroke. All of the voice acting either feels ill-fitting or phoned in with a dry delivery. The animation looks decent, but does appear to be a step down from Warner Brothers’ previous direct-to-video animations. It has that sort of stylized jerkiness you’d see on ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’. For television, it looks great. But as an animated film for video, this needs an upgrade. I wasn’t entirely uninvested in the film as there are some great dialogue exchanges between Bruce and Damien as well as some fun lines for Alfred and Nightwing. As a whole, however, I was more distracted by the dip in quality for just about every department. In the canon of these direct-to-video DC Comics movies, this is certainly not a highlight and may be one of the worst they’ve made.
It’s been a long time since there has been a decent Superman movie. Superman 3 and Superman 4: The Quest for Peace were lackluster to the say least and Superman Returns was more of a love-letter than an actual remake or sequel. In the crafty hands of Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan, Man of Steel manages to be the Superman I’ve been waiting for. He doesn’t explode on to the screen with the same resonance as Batman’s reimagining, but it does lay a solid foundation for the primary-colored cape.
Told in a slightly non-linear fashion, we get to see the last son of Krypton rise to the title of Superman. The film explores how Clark Kent learns to find his place in the world and cope with his powers that become painfully overwhelming at times. In his early adult years, Clark Kent wanders the globe just trying to blend in, but always seems to end up using his powers. Eventually, he discovers the secret of his alien race via an alien vessel buried in the ice. At which point, we finally get to see the iconic suit. It took an hour, but it was well worth the build-up.
Our antagonist for the movie is Zod; not an original villain, but a strong choice that fits with the story. Having escaped the Phantom Zone for his crimes against Krypton’s council, Zod wants to turn Earth into a new Krypton with a giant gravity-smashing device. In addition, he also wants to retrieve the vital codex of his people who were actually stored within Superman’s DNA. Realizing he doesn’t need Superman alive to retrieve this information, it isn’t long before the two duke it out in a city-smashing brawl that makes Superman 2’s fight look like a minor scuffle.
This is a much different Superman than the usual movie affair. Unlike like previous incarnations which dive straight into the heroism theatrics, fun though they may be, this is man struggling to both function with and properly use his superpowers. It gives a reason for why Clark dons the cape and why he decides to lead the life we know he’ll pursue. The scene where he first learns to fly by taking massive leaps and bounds is the best moment of the film as we actually get to see Superman take shape before our eyes.
This is not a perfect movie. It has some pacing problems and the third act fight scene goes on a little too long. And the biggest concern seems to be the violence in how Superman seems to decimate Metropolis and ultimately murder his enemies. But this is actually the most unique aspect of Superman as a character. When he reaches the climax which results in him murdering his foes, he’s frustrated and angry. He realizes he has to be smart about how he uses his powers and foils the bad guys. This is a man still struggling to find his place in the world and how to be a hero. I enjoyed the development in how he still has a ways to go instead of just quickly jumping into the suit and knowing exactly what to do.
For all its questionable flaws, Man of Steel is on the same level as Batman Begins. And that movie had a few problems as well, but the sequel more than learned from those mistakes. That’s why I was so excited after seeing Man of Steel for how much potential a sequel can hold for being the best Superman movie since the original. At any rate, Superman is back and I couldn’t be happier.