Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

Image is property of Warner Bros and DC Comics

Wonder Woman 1984  – Film Review

Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen

Director: Patty Jenkins

Synopsis:  Having spent several decades quietly living among humanity in Washington DC, Diana Prince must spring into action as Wonder Woman when a nefarious businessman threatens to reap chaos across the world….

Review: Ever since superhero films have enjoyed a surge in popularity from the late 2000s onwards, the number of films that had women at the front and centre of them were few and far between. It wasn’t until 2017, that a major Hollywood studio produced a female led superhero film. That film was of course, Wonder Woman, which brought the DCEU back from a likely early demise, whilst blazing a trail for other studios to follow in DC’s wake. With the same creative minds returning to helm this sequel to its trailblazing predecessor, it’s extremely disheartening to say that that having worked wonders with the first film, these creative minds have returned to offer a sequel that is a colossal disappointment.

Swapping the trenches of World War I, for the bright lights of 1984 USA, Diana Prince has now settled down in Washington DC quietly living amongst humanity. Whilst occasionally suiting up as Wonder Woman, to protect humanity in any way she can, her life is quite a lonely one without her fellow Amazonians for company. However, whilst helping to collect rare artefacts as part of her job working for the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC, she befriends Barbara Minerva (Wiig) a shy and awkward geologist. The pair of them encounter a rare artefact that intrigues them both, but also captures the attention of Maxwell Lord (Pascal), a business tycoon who wants this artefact for his own selfish purposes, that threatens to unleash catastrophic consequences for humanity.

One of the few saving graces for this sequel, is that of Gal Gadot’s performance as the titular heroine. Once again, she proves what an inspired casting choice she was to play this role, as she has no shortage charisma and charm to make the audience want to root for her. The dynamic between her and Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor proved to be one of the strongest aspects of the first film, as well as being ripe material for comedy. While it is good to have Pine back in this role, and the role reversal in their relationship is intriguing, the explanation for his return is merely given the most fleeting of mentions, which makes his whole return feel really undeserved and sloppily written.

This feeds into what amounts to be the film’s biggest problem, namely that the film’s script, written by Jenkins, Geoff Johns and David Callaham is extremely clichéd and shockingly lacklustre. While the first film, touched on fascinating themes of humanity, and the ugliness and devastation of war, the themes explored here are nowhere near as interesting. The plot goes in such a nonsensical and frankly ridiculous convoluted direction, that it feels like it would be far more appropriate for some kind of low-budget horror film, not befitting for one of the most iconic superheroes in comic book history.  Furthermore, despite the best efforts of talented actors like Kristen Wiig and Pedro Pascal, the motivations for the film’s antagonists are extremely weak and are not given time to be properly explored and developed. Additionally, while Wiig tries her hardest to make Barbara/Cheetah a compelling villain, Pascal’s performance is so extremely hammy, that it dials the cheesiness to such an absurd degree that he’s more comical than threatening. While he was far from the perfect villain, the shortcomings of the antagonists here make Ares seem like the most cunning and ruthless villain ever seen in a comic book film to date.

While the action is once again competently directed by Jenkins, there’s nothing here that comes anywhere close to recapturing the thrills and the sheer awesomeness that is the No Man’s Land sequence in the first film. While that film’s climax came in for criticism for a overly CGI third act, there was heart to it that made it compelling to watch. That heart is nowhere to be found for WW84‘s anti-climatic third act, which is compounded by some inexcusably poor CGI for Cheetah. While Hans Zimmer doesn’t disappoint with his score, it’s a great shame that the film surrounding it falls woefully short of recapturing the wonder of the film’s predecessor.

Even with a stellar leading performance from Gal Gadot, Wonder Woman 1984 is an incredibly disappointing sequel falling far below the standards set by the first film, due to a messy script, and extremely nonsensical plot.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Birds of Prey (2020)

Image is property of Warner Bros and DC

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)– Film Review

Cast: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong, Ewan McGregor

Director: Cathy Yan

Synopsis: Following a split from The Joker, Harley Quinn is determined to start fresh and get back on her feet. However, she soon realises that a number of people in Gotham want her dead…

Review: 2016, a year that promised so much for the DC Extended Universe. Two massive flagship blockbusters in the shape of Batman V Superman, and Suicide Squad were lined up. These were the two films that were supposed to kick-start their cinematic universe to the next level. Unfortunately, that hype soon turned to disappointment as neither lived up to those lofty expectations. Yet through that disappointment,  Margot Robbie’s performance bringing the much loved Harley Quinn to life proved to be one of the few rays of light. Subsequently along with a certain Amazonian warrior, a platform for the DCEU to build on going forward.

Following a brief recap of the events of Suicide Squad, Harley Quinn’s relationship with The Joker is over, something she announces in quite the dramatic fashion. Seeking to put this behind her and move on, it dawns on her that being with The Joker offered her protection from some of Gotham’s underworld. With that gone, a lot of these people are now baying for her blood, and they sense an opportunity to exact revenge on Harley for past grievances. Soon enough, Harley comes to the attention of crime boss Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) who’s seeking possession of a rare artefact that would enable him to take control of Gotham’s Underworld, putting him on a collision course with Harley and an array of other badass ladies.

Margot Robbie continues to prove that she was perfectly cast to bring the one of the most beloved comic book characters to life. She might (read probably) be a complete psychopath, but Robbie imbues Harley such charisma that it’s impossible not to get on her side. Gone are her Suicide Squad associates and in their place we are introduced to an exciting crop of badass heroines. We have Black Canary (Smollett-Bell), Cassandra Cain (Basco), Huntress (Winstead) and Renee Montaya (Perez). Though they all get a moment to shine, the most compelling character of the new crop is Huntress, an archer who is on a deeply personal mission of revenge, and who could definitely use her bow to kill you one hand tied behind her back.

For her first foray into the realm of super-hero film-making, Cathy Yan brings a vibrant, colourful energy to the action scenes, which never fail to be consistently entertaining. However, with the exception of one enthralling showdown in the second act, there’s a majority of these don’t take place until the film arrives at its concluding act, and all the pieces have fallen into place. Consequently, while they are consistently entertaining, there’s a distinct dearth of punch-the-air-in-delight moments, to really get the adrenaline pumping. With female empowerment beating at at the heart of the film, screenwriter Christina Hodson certainly captures that strong camaraderie and teamwork between the titular Birds of Prey. In spite of this being their first time on screen together, there’s a real feeling of sisterhood between the women, and it helps each of their performances shine.

Ewan McGregor as Roman Sionis was certainly a strong piece of casting and while he’s clearly having fun with playing a villain, he frustratingly doesn’t get enough material to sink his teeth into. While he’s certainly far from the least interesting to villain to have emerged from the DC Cinematic Universe, there’s just not enough material for him to create a lasting impression, which is a shame when you think of the calibre of dastardly villains that DC have in their repertoire, feels like a missed opportunity. Birds of Prey may not have been the home run DC wanted it to be, but with Harley and her baseball bat in hand, it’s certainly a solid swing in the right direction.

There’s vibrancy and entertainment to be found, but even with another pitch-perfect performance from Robbie, the screenplay frustratingly gives the titular team little time to shine.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Joker (2019)

Image is property of DC Films and Warner Bros Pictures

Joker  – Film Review

By Aiden Mills

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert DeNiro, Zazie Beetz, Brian Tyree Henry

Director: Todd Phillips 

Synopsis: Struggling comedian Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) finds himself rock bottom and ostracised from society until a series of violent incidents leads him to find a new purpose in life.

Review: When the news came out that DC and Warner Bros were making a standalone Joker film with Todd Phillips at the helm, the red flags started waving. Even when news that Scorsese was on-board as Producer and the phenomenal Joaquin Phoenix was cast as the infamous villain, doubts still lingered in the minds of DC fans. Since Heath Ledger’s much loved portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime, could anyone go some way to matching that iconic performance? Well, rest assured, they have.

Joker starts with struggling comedian Arthur Fleck looking at himself in the mirror and forcing himself to smile, a single tear rolling down his cheek. Hunched over, and with a body shape reminiscent of Christian Bale in The Machinist, we know from the very get go that this is a man on the outskirts of society, no more than a cockroach living in the shadows. A man metaphorically and literally beaten down by the world around him, before a series of violent events leads him to fall into a cocoon of insanity before emerging as the villain we all know and love dancing and prancing through the streets of Gotham City, a crazy butterfly. While this is for all intents and purposes an “origin story,” it is more of a character study as well as a test to the audience. Specifically, how far can this guy go before our empathy runs out?

The world Phillips builds is phenomenal. With the use of a moody and ominous soundtrack, a vibrant use of neon lighting and a gloomy filter, he manages to seamlessly blend Scorsese’s New York with Tim Burton’s Gotham- the perfect stomping ground for Phoenix’s Joker. The Gotham we see in Joker is one on the verge of eruption, unemployment and poverty is on the rise along with crime and corruption. Garbage litters the streets and to top it all off super rats are running wild. The people are angry and are out for justice and are quick to direct their anger at the rich one percent who run Gotham.  Arthur is a product of these hostile societies, a person on the brink who is ostracised and isolated from everyone around him and left alone with his negative thoughts. He idolises Talk Show Host, Murray Franklin (Robert DeNiro) and sees him as the father figure he never had.

If a laugh could say a thousand words that would be Phoenix’s. At times it carries a great measure of pain and angst which is being bellowed out, at others, like a true psychopath. It is empty, hollow, and like the noise a hyena makes, almost a reflex. Phoenix is truly a behemoth to hold as he gives a breathtaking performance, one of which just holds your attention at every frame. In some ways this is an end to his “Lonely Man Trilogy” (Her, The Master) and perhaps his best iteration. Phoenix does a masterful job in making a complex character and creates a myriad of feelings from the audience.  To compare Phoenix to Ledger however would be a disservice to both actors, Arthur is a completely different Joker to the one in The Dark Knight and both give completely different powerhouse performances.

Recently this film has come under scrutiny for its use of violence and focus in on a traditional villain, but Phoenix says it best, the film cannot be accountable for the moralities of the people who watch it.  If it is championed by the “incels” and violent males as an anthem, we should look at the society who breeds these people as opposed to a film that condemns it. If the take away is that Arthur is the hero of this story, you would have completely missed the point of the film.

Joker seamlessly blends some of the classic films of the 70s/80s with comic culture in a truly breathtaking and emotionally challenging film. It’s a character study on a complex and troubled individual delivered by a beautifully nuanced performance from Phoenix. Joker puts its foot on your throat from the very start and doesn’t let go until the credits roll.